Karl Kautsky

Are the Jews a Race?

Chapter III
The Races of Man

We have found that the races of animals in the natural condition, and the races of domestic animals, are two very different things. It would, therefore, be erroneous to apply to one of these groups observations made in the case of the other.

The pure race of domestic animals may always be traced back to a specific parent couple. A specific race (variety) of wild animals may be traced to a certain region. The naive view of primitive peoples derived each species of wild animals from a specific parent couple as they also derived each nation from such a couple. When the Deluge was impending, Noah, in order to preserve the animal creation, took of each species “a male and his female” into the Ark, later liberating them again. We are not told how the carnivorous animals kept alive when only two specimens of each variety of herbivorous animals were available.

Primitive though this view may be, it still prevails to a great extent even in present-day thinking. In the case of related varieties and species, we still speak of a “common blood”, a common descent.

Darwin says:

“All the individuals of the same species, and all the species of the same genus, or even higher group, must have descended from common parents; and therefore, in however distant and isolated parts of the world they are now found, they must, in the course of successive generations, have passed from some one part to the others.” [1]

This common descent from a single parent couple, which may be observed in races produced artificially, is extremely improbable in the case of natural species.

We know nothing of the origin of life, but we must assume that, like all other phenomena, this origin is subject to the law that like causes under like circumstances will always produce like effects. As soon as the conditions and causes of organic life were present on earth, it is not probable that an isolated speck of albumen took shape, with living functions, multiplying its number by growth and fission, thus becoming the parent of all existing organisms, but we must assume that primitive organisms, however we may conceive their shape – were formed in all places in which the conditions for their existence were given – and that they immediately expanded and peopled their entire “nutrition area”. They began to multiply as soon as suitable areas were available, and they began to assume varying forms as these areas, and with them the conditions of life, became more manifold. Each new higher species therefore must have been present in numerous specimens from its very beginning.

And we must make this assumption even in the case of the highest forms. We have no evidence that humanity is descended from a single couple of ape-men. It is more probable that the evolution proceeded on the basis of an entire species of ape-like animals, which had become subject to conditions bringing about their development into humans. Common racial traits among animals in the natural condition do not therefore by any means point to a common origin – not to the remotest degree – in a single parent couple, and therefore not to blood relationship. But it may be assumed that a great number of them are more or less closely related. The number of blood relations within a variety will probably be the greater, the longer this variety has been in existence and the smaller the territory now inhabited by it.

The varieties of an animal species in the natural state within a certain region are extremely limited; therefore, there is only one such variety in a specific region, and this variety does not change as long as the conditions of the region remain the same. The races of a species of domestic animals within a certain region may, on the other hand, be quite numerous. They are being constantly transformed, become constantly more numerous, and become more and more different from the primitive race from which they take their origin.

This condition is brought about by the fact that man is able to provide an artificial environment for the animal races shaped by him, thus abolishing in great measure the effects of the natural environment. In the case of animals in the natural state, the organism is adapted to its life conditions: in the case of domestic conditions, the life conditions are adapted to the organism which man is breeding in accordance with his needs. High-breed domestic animals could probably no longer exist without the aid of man.

This new kind of adaptation – not of the organism to its environment, but of the environment to the organism – conducted by man for his domestic animals, he, of course, applies in the highest degree when dealing with himself. It is this process which causes man to cease to be a wild animal, but it does not make him a domestic animal.

In the accommodation of its life conditions to the organism, the domestic animal is purely passive; this adaptation is undertaken by man for the animal. Man is the active element in the process. But the animal ceases to be an end in itself. Its organism becomes subservient to the purposes of man. But, like the animal in the wild state, man knows no higher end than himself; he alters his milieu to suit himself.

To be sure, the purpose served by man may not be exclusively his own personality. Even among animals in the natural state there are social animals, among whom the individual cannot exist for itself alone, or at least it cannot exist fully for itself alone; each is obliged to cooperate with others; its welfare depends on the welfare of the social group to which it belongs. Society is higher than the individual; its purposes are higher than those of the individual.

Even in the animal world, the dependence of the individual on the group to which it belongs is carried to a high stage. It is probably not an accident that precisely those animal species were best fitted to become domestic animals which were able to subordinate their individuality to an outer compulsion. In the case of man, the social cohesion, owing to language and economy, is much closer than in most animals – perhaps excepting bees and ants. The individual’s dependence on society increases. But great as may be the occasional contradiction between the interests of the totality and those of the individual, in the case of man, the social interests are always human interests, and are therefore always directly or indirectly the interests of the individual himself. We are here dealing with a primitive, simple society, and are therefore disregarding class differences.

Removal from the natural state usually has not the same effect on man as on the other animals. This removal is man’s own work, the product of his knowledge of the conditions of life, of his mental superiority over the rest of organic nature. It is the outcome of his ability to strengthen and variegate his organs of sensual perception and motion by means of artificial organs, and thereby to surmount the obstacles in surrounding nature to a greater extent than he could in the natural condition, i.e., aided by his bodily organs alone. Each new advance in this field, each victory over a natural barrier, makes man face a new difficulty, new problems, but also provides him with new, hitherto unknown means and knowledge for their solution. The natural environment to which the organisms of wild animals are adapted do not change in historical times, i.e., as measured in human records. The artificial environment adapted by man to his own organism, has been changing considerably in historical times. Doubtless nature also is in constant flux, but the rate of change is imperceptible, as measured by the advances in the evolution of technology and social forms among men. The natural environment of wild animals may therefore be considered unchanging as compared with the constantly changing artificial environment of man.

This environment is adapted to the needs of the human organism. But it also has its effect on this organism. It makes no new demands on most of the bodily organs, perhaps even reduces the number of its former demands; for example, in the case of the teeth, which may deteriorate as a result. But it makes more and more demands on those organs which have created this environment, the organs of cognition and judgment, or, in other words, of mental activity in general.

In the natural state, the same situations repeat themselves again and again with very slight differences for each animal species, so long as no alterations ensue in the environment. The experiences, judgments and actions arising from these situations therefore tend to uniformity, to become fixed habits. And, like other acquired characteristics, habits practised for generations and turning out to be expedient for the organism, finally become hereditary; they become impulses, instincts, which are followed without thought.

In the case of man, the instinctive life is more and more forced into the background, as the natural environment is replaced by an artificial environment and as the changes in the latter proceed more and more rapidly, as they introduce more and more new problems, which cannot be solved without careful investigation. The organs of mental activity are therefore made to deal with more and more varied new tasks, are put to more and more exertion and thus develop more and more. The demands made upon the mental organs are of increasing complexity and variety; likewise, the manner in which these organs are called upon to act. Simultaneously, the relations of men to each other, both between individuals and tribes, become quite varied, with the result that the most manifold possibilities arise for mental development. The organs of the human spirit become the most valuable, but also the most adaptable of all organs, those subject to the swiftest and most powerful transformations.

We find an opposite evolutionary trend among domestic animals, the development of whose organs depends on man. But from most of these animals man asks only more meat, milk, wool, eggs, traction power; he rarely asks increased intelligence, never independent judgment. Aside from dogs, the progress of breeding, in the case of domestic animals, is accompanied by a decrease of intelligence, and even in the case of the dog, it is doubtful whether the “noblest” races are also the most intelligent.

As man’s intelligence and technology improve, he becomes more able to offer resistance to the influences of the life conditions surrounding him. He may, therefore, when geographical conditions change, maintain his hereditary somatic traits, his racial peculiarities, better than in the natural condition. This reduces the effect of accommodation in man, and emphasises that of heredity. But this applies only to the somatic traits in the narrower sense, not to the organs of mental life, which, when enhanced in sensitiveness and variability, at once react to any alteration in the life conditions.

But in the case of man, a change, not only in the artificial conditions of life, but also in those that are natural, may easily ensue, while such changes are rare in the natural state. In nature, we have usually only slow changes, alterations over geological periods, such as in ice ages, in the rising and subsiding of continents, which cause important and permanent migrations of animal species. Such processes take place so slowly that the organisms concerned are eliminated almost imperceptibly, step by step, thus facilitating their adaptation to the new conditions of neighbouring regions. Man, however, acquires means of locomotion enabling him to cover great distances with increasing speed, and his technology in the winning of foodstuffs, the manufacturing of clothing, the construction of houses, the uses of fuel, illumination, etc., enable him to enter regions in which he could not possibly maintain himself in his natural state.

But with the possibility of undertaking swift and extended journeys, man’s desire for such journeys is awakened. In the natural state, the fruitfulness of each species of organisms is adapted to its life conditions, with a resulting state of equilibrium between the various species. My book on increase and evolution takes up this question more in detail. I am here obliged merely to suggest this thought, like so many others.

Man’s technology disturbs this condition of equilibrium. His fruitfulness is now subject to changing conditions, likewise his mortality. This may sometimes lead to the dying out of certain tribes, while at other times it may cause so extensive an increase as to deprive posterity of the necessary space in the home country. Later, the attraction of certain regions for strangers also is an element, even when such strangers are not driven from their homes by overpopulation. This attraction itself depends on the evolution of technology and economy and may be of varying nature. River constructions or improvements in navigation may render the shores of rivers or the coasts of oceans, formerly desolate and inaccessible, so attractive as to make them a goal for poorer tribes. In our own days, the gold resources of Alaska have caused a migration into that region.

The most varied causes and opportunities for migrations arise. The same race may now be found living in the most varied regions and climates. These migrations may proceed so swiftly, and be so temporary, as to preclude any possibility of the race’s adaptation to the new conditions, its acquisition of new hereditary traits. But even when a migration leads to permanent settlement in a new region, the artificial environment created by man in that region will be so powerful as to enable it to resist the influence of the natural environment over periods that may be of relatively considerable duration.

We know nothing of man in the natural state. Even the most primitive men we know have a certain technology. We do not know whether man in the natural state inhabited only a specific region of uniform character, or several regions with varying character, whether he then constituted a single geographical race or several such. At any rate, his race character must have been entirely dependent on nature.

Technical and economic progress then creates two different tendencies. Increased impulses and opportunities for migrations induce many races gradually to spread over the most varied regions; the varying natural conditions of the new environments have an influence in the direction of substituting changed race traits for old race traits, of substituting for the old race, or placing by its side – if not all of the race has emigrated – a group of new races. The alteration in race traits takes place either directly, through the influence of natural factors: heat, cold, drought, moisture, light, darkness, etc.; or, indirectly, through the struggle against these factors, through the use of certain organs, disuse of others. Depending on the development of technology and of the social conditions, this struggle may assume different forms, and in the same region may therefore produce various race types among varying modes of production. If a steppe becomes inhabited by fugitive nomads, it will produce different traits in these nomads from those produced in a later population with a sufficiently developed technology to enable it to transform the steppe into fruitful farm land by means of irrigation, and therefore cultivating this land as a permanent peasantry.

Therefore, the advances in technology and the migrations increase the number of race differences and create new geographical races. On the other hand, however, technology, beyond a certain level, may retard the formation of such races. The higher the evolution of human technology, the more independent becomes the race of the nature of the environment. The race may maintain its character in the most varied regions, even such as have no similarity with the region in which the race originated. Thus, we find Europeans, Chinese, Negroes, in the most varied parts of the world, living under the most different climates.

But no matter how highly developed its technology, no race can permanently and completely escape from the influence of the environment. It may most easily escape from the organic environment, the flora and fauna, which may be changed rather easily by human intervention. On the other hand, the influence of telluric factors – altitude above sea level, configuration of the soil, quantity of sunlight, heat, cold – can never be entirely eliminated.

But even here our remarks refer only to somatic race traits proper. Even the most temporary change in the location of a race, producing no alteration in the physical appearance, may, by opening up new regions, with new conditions, produce new impressions, new problems, may not be without effect on the mental life, and therefore also on its organs, whose quality, like that of any organ, depends on the degree and nature of their use. The more diligently the race applies itself to resist the influence of the new milieu, the more its somatic race traits are thus retained, the more will its organs of mental life be exerted in a new manner and consequently be subject to change under the influence of the new environment.

The possibility that a race may pass beyond the geographical boundaries set up by nature, that therefore the human races may cease to be geographical races, like the varieties of animals in the natural state, often leads – and has led more and more of late – to the presence of a number of races in the same region, living together more or less amicably. There results a new possibility which is very exceptional in the natural state, namely, that of race mixture, which may at times lead to the creation of new races, but very often merely disintegrates the old races, for which it substitutes a conglomeration of the most varied ingredients. This process of race mixture has been going on for tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of years:

“The present presents millions of cases of this, as did also the past, and there is no such thing as an unmixed race on this small planet with its easy communications ... On this earth, all the races gradually merge into each other, and each race is composed of various subdivisions.” [2]

The further a race is removed from its original habitations and its original conditions, the greater its migrations, the richer its history, the more developed its commerce; in other words, the higher its status, the more will be the opportunities it has had for race mixture, the less will it retain of its original “race”; the more has it ceased to be a “pure” race, and the more varied will be the race elements of other provenience which it has absorbed. Unless the rather permanent influence of uniform natural conditions in a certain region has opposed this manifold character and tended to create a new homogeneous geographical race, cross-breedings and atavism in such a population will produce the greatest variety of somatic, and particularly, of mental, traits, the latter being far more variable than the former. The higher the technical and social stages of evolution, therefore, the smaller will be the influence of the natural conditions.

But social progress produces not only a tendency to dissolve the old traditional forms, but also gives rise to factors tending to create new types within a population. This is brought about by the division of labour, which is but rarely found in the animal kingdom – again excepting bees and ants – but which attains considerable proportions in human society and becomes one of the most important bases of its progress.

The division into callings sometimes becomes a division into classes, ruling and ruled classes, exploiting and exploited. The division of labour finally leads to a division of society into workers and non-workers. Such divisions result in the formation of groups within a people, each of which makes use of its natural organs differently, or makes use of different organs, and in their living each under different conditions, in a different environment. Under these circumstances, each of these groups acquires its special properties; sometimes somatic traits, but chiefly mental traits, for the economic and social divisions create more differences in mental aptitudes than of occupation in those that are physical in the narrower sense.

We have already observed that the same race, by scattering over various regions, with different modes of production, may suffer changes. We now find that the same race, within the same region, may present such divisions, owing to economic influences. On the other hand, similarity of occupation may impress the same trait upon members of different races and tend to eliminate such differences as may have been present.

Ratzel, for instance, observes: “In many cases, when we speak of ‘race’, it would be better to speak of ‘class’. Throughout all peoples, somatic differences accompany the division into castes, which division is the more emphatic, the further removed the races are from culture and freedom ... The distribution of skin pigment most frequently accompanies differences of castes, for obvious reasons ... We cannot trace the precise scale of colour dividing the upper and lower classes upon one and the same island. Cook and Forster state that the former are lighter in colour, also taller and more refined in bearing. G. Forster, in his exaggerated manner, imagines that these nobles are so far ahead of the ordinary man as to appear an entirely different type of human. Yet, he expressly emphasises the relation between a lighter skin and delicate features with a more comfortable, inactive mode of life. But he found in the mind and character of these individuals a certain refinement, if not a certain nobility. The nobles, being both chieftains and priests, were also the will-power and the intelligentsia of Polynesia, with a monopoly of knowledge and of philosophy based on knowledge.” [3] Such is Ratzel’s view of this question.

Different classes may assume the character of different races. On the other hand, the meeting of many races, each developing an occupation of its own, may lead to their taking up various callings or social positions within the same community; race becomes class. Particularly frequent is the case of a poor but warlike nomadic race attacking a prosperous, peaceful peasant population and subjecting it, the former race then assuming the function of a warrior nobility with a monopoly of national defence. This nobility will develop exclusively warlike properties, despise productive labour, and the workers will become poor, badly nourished, defenceless, and unmilitant, which qualities may, in some cases, develop to the point of cowardice.

When race traits coincide with vocational traits, they are further sharpened and intensified by the division of labour.

On the other hand, the intensification of a property acquired in vocational life or class life into a race trait may be encouraged by the fact that the members of a class or of a calling are forced to marry only within their own group. This may be in part a consequence of the arrogance of the upper class, which despises the other classes, but it may also result from reasons of selection: the ruling class wishes to preserve undiminished its predominant qualities, by which it has obtained power, and therefore seeks to avoid any mingling with other groups, lacking in such qualities. The heredity of the traits of the dominant class must be rendered safe. On the other hand, groups that have been depressed to the lowest level are prohibited from mingling with, the rest of the population, in order that the latter may not be contaminated with the defects of these outcasts.

As in the case of domestic animals it is also sought to conserve predominant traits among the classes by maintaining the race “pure”. But man is not a domestic animal, and purity of race encounters many difficulties in the human existence.

It is not sufficient, in the case of domestic animals, that the stud-animals be preserved from breeding with foreign species. Even among these race animals, it is always the best specimens that are chosen and used as reproducing animals. The others, less excellent, are often destroyed and always excluded from reproduction.

But no class among humans may proceed so harshly toward its own members, no matter how far superior the class interest may appear in its eyes to that of the individual. A class often arrogates to itself, or bestows upon the child’s father, the right to decide whether the child is to be brought up or killed. The Christian order of Teutonic Knights were freed from the necessity of making this choice by their opportunity to put into a monastery weak or unwarlike boys, and thus prevent them from producing legitimate offspring. But these methods of selection were not always applied in accordance with considerations of breeding only, often being crossed by other considerations. A father desiring an heir, and not having obtained one that was healthy, probably did not kill his weak child, but brought him up, and instead of condemning him to celibacy may even have married him off.

In order to preserve the race pure as a class, it is necessary to have complete control of the sexual life of woman – not of man. The man’s illegitimate offspring do not become members of the ruling class, but adultery on the part of the legitimate wife, unless discovered, impairs the purity of the race. The freer woman is, the easier it will be for her to commit adultery. Lack of freedom for the woman, when it goes so far as to shut her up in a harem, like a cow in a stable, is always associated with polygamy, but since the number of women everywhere is about equal to that of men, it implies that women not belonging to the ruling class may be elevated to the status of wife. Furthermore, even the woman in the harem is by no means a cow in a stable and completely deprived of her freedom of action. Even such a woman may find opportunities for adultery, as was already observed by the Sultan Scheherban, who said there was only one means of assuring oneself of a woman’s fidelity: killing her after the first embrace.

If, in spite of all these obstacles, the purity of a race is maintained intact, further misfortune threatens from inbreeding. Inbreeding may remain harmless for long periods, when only healthy individuals are chosen for reproduction. The exploiting class, which has consolidated its power and controls great wealth, is, however, likely to yield to a life of idle enjoyment, with its degenerating results. When this is the case, inbreeding still further accentuates decay, and it does this the more, the purer the race.

We thus find that the phenomenon of race is far more complicated in man than in the animal world. The sharpness of race demarcation, which is evident in the case of animals, disappears more and more among men. In the place of sharply distinct races, unchanged for long periods, we find a constant and increasingly rapid process of race disintegration; the formation of new races, race mixtures, conditioned by the general process of technical, economic, social evolution, arising from this process and closely interlaced with it. It becomes more and more difficult to distinguish between inherited properties and those acquired by the individual; races become more manifold, also the race traits, more and more varied are the individuals within each human group, more and more variable and important become the extremely changeable mental traits, instead of the less easily changing somatic traits; these mental traits cannot be completely defined by any measurement, and may often be inferred only from the most fugitive observations.

There is probably no more difficult task than that of observing the influence of race, as an isolated factor, in any specific phenomenon of human history. The task becomes the more difficult and – at least for our present ways and means of investigation – more hopeless, the more we advance in history, the more the races mingle, the more varied and powerful become the artificial conditions under which they live.

Our race theoreticians regard that which is perhaps the most complicated problem in human history as the simple and self-evident explanation of this history. The concept of race, extremely fluctuating even in the case of animal and vegetable organisms, where it is not complicated, is regarded by them as a firm basis upon which the entire theory and practice of human society may be built up without hesitation.



1. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, New York 1860, p. 400.

2. Ratzel: Anthropogeographie, vol. ii, p. 587.

3. Ratzel, op. cit., vol. ii, pp. 690, 691.


Last updated on 1 June 2020