Karl Kautsky

Are the Jews a Race?

Chapter VII
The Assimilation of the Jews

THE mental race traits of the Jews are said to be of such nature as to constitute a profound and impassable gulf between them and all other races. On examination, this information resolves itself into the fact that the great mass of the Jews has constituted for two thousand years an exclusive, hereditary caste of urban merchants, financiers, intellectuals, including some artisans, and has developed, by practice and accumulation from generation to generation, more and more of the traits peculiar to all these strata, as opposed to the peasant masses of the rest of the population.

The Jews have always been distinguished from the latter since the termination of the existence of the Jewish state; they have always seemed strangers to the rest of the population, a condition encouraged in the Middle Ages by the fact that each vocation within the city was always concentrated in a certain quarter of the city. Within this quarter, if several races were represented, each of the races had its specific section. In addition, in the case of the Jews, we also have the peculiarity of their religion and their rite, all of which are matters that have nothing to do with race traits. But while the Jews may always have appeared foreign, they were not always treated as enemies. Whether the Jews were regarded favourably or not depended entirely on the needs and conditions of the country in which they lived. The opposition which is frequently represented as a natural race hostility was determined by very mutable economic circumstances.

Wherever there was need of merchants or financiers, or intellectuals in general, and wherever the native supply of such elements was insufficient, the Jew was welcome. Such was the case in the Christian empires of Western and Northern Europe in the centuries after the migration of nations, in other words, at precisely the period when “Germanism” must have been in evidence in its purest form. Cities then developed with the utmost difficulty. The Jews were welcome as a means of invigorating the economic life of the cities.

“At all points where this formation of cities is going on, where an urban community is developing out of the former castellum of the Romans, the Jews contributed a decisive element by bringing trade within the walls. This is expressed in a truly classic manner in the words in which Bishop Rüdiger of Speyer opens his Charter to the Jews in the year 1084: ‘Desiring to make a city out of the village of Speyer, I have admitted the Jews ...’ The Bishop not only points out that the Jews enjoy the same rights in other cities, such as complete trade privileges, property in land, local autonomy, but adds also: ‘I have thought to multiply one thousand times the honour of our city by gathering the Jews within its walls’. This Charter was expanded into a general privilege by Emperor Henry IV. The Archbishop of Cologne in his Charter of 1252 says: ‘We believe that it will redound not a little to our prosperity and honour if the Jews who entrust themselves to our support and who – hoping for our protection and our favour – submit to our rule may actually enjoy this protection.’” [1]

The Jews of Cologne obtained not only autonomy within the Jewish quarter but full rights of citizenship and admission to parish offices. Thus, G.L. von Maurer quotes a document dating from “about 1200”, in which a Jew named Egeberth is appointed as Alderman of the Parish of Saint Lorenz. [2] But von Maurer is obliged to admit that the Jews did not hold this favourable position except “for a time”. “On the whole, they had greater privileges in the earlier period than in the later.” [3]

For the Jews in Christendom fared somewhat as the Germans in Bohemia. As long as they were needed in order to develop and encourage the growth of cities and in order to invigorate trade, they were welcome. When the cities began to develop a class of native financiers, traders, and artisans, the imported foreigners, once they had become established, were no longer regarded as a welcome assistance, but as an undesirable competition, as “undesirable aliens”. The population suddenly bethought itself that some difference or other, of religious or other nature – the distinctions between races had not yet been invented in those “dark” ages – constituted an opposition obliging one to persecute the foreigners. While the Jews had been sought for in Western Europe down into the Thirteenth Century, every effort was made from that time on to make life unbearable for them, to abridge their rights; they were maltreated, plundered, and driven out, if not actually slain. Wherever a wretched existence is still possible for them, their activity is restricted in every possible way. They are prevented from engaging in large-scale commercial enterprises, are forbidden to own land, to practise a trade. Nothing is left to them but the trade of usury and a petty huckstery and colportage. The haggling Jew as a type of the Jewish “race” is a product of Christian charity.

We may mention – merely as a curiosity – the fact that it was during this period of the most intense persecutions that the Jews were forbidden to visit disorderly houses. Thus Queen Jeanne I issued such a prohibition in 1347 for the City of Avignon. This pious and virtuous potentate reserved the privilege of visiting the bordello to Christians. By reason of its enduring into the Sixteenth Century, this privilege was transformed into a greater privilege on the part of Christians to acquire syphilis. [4] Perhaps as a measure of compensatory justice, Christians were forbidden to obtain treatment from Jewish physicians.

The reader will observe that the health of the Christians was not enhanced by the persecutions of the Jews.

The rise of the modern state at first brought no alleviation to the Jews. To be sure, the state’s strong police power considerably abridged irregular plundering – the plunderings of its subjects now became the monopoly of the state, and were applied, with the aid of its organized power, in the form of taxes.

On the other hand, this same state authority showed itself to be very suspicious toward all autonomous bodies. Any independence, any deviation from the mode of thought prescribed by the state power was tabooed and often subject to cruel penalties. Thus, the religion of the ruling monarch was considered to determine also the religious feeling of all his subjects. Where the Jews were weak and not numerous, their religious peculiarities might still be tolerated. Where they constituted a power, they were now most brutally maltreated by the state authority, frequently driven out of the country, as was the case particularly in Spain and Portugal. Hundreds of thousands were banished from the former country in 1492, and hundreds of thousands of others converted to Christianity by force. A similar compulsion was carried out in Portugal shortly thereafter.

It was not until industrial capital became strong that the general position became more favourable to the Jews.

Industrial capital arises not only in opposition to feudal landlordism and to guild handicraft and financial capital. The latter aim at attaining privileges from the state, while industrial capital seeks to maintain free competition within its ranks. The greater the competition among merchants and those who hold the power to grant credits, the better will industry flourish. It was in the interest of industry to permit Jewish traders and Jewish financiers to compete with Christians, to abolish the barriers which kept out the former. This attitude was fully in keeping with the general tendency to abolish mediaeval guilds. The ghetto was one of the mediaeval corporations. It had to go, in the interest of a speedy evolution of capitalism; though it continued, in some cities, into the Modern Era, its fate was sealed.

But industrial capitalism is distinguished from the artisanry of the Feudal Era not only by reason of the fact that it is obliged to break down all the guild barriers, but also because of the fact that it substitutes an application of science for the traditional routine. Simultaneously there ensues a necessary expansion of the newspaper system. For these reasons, as well as for others, the enumeration of which would take us too far afield, the demand for intellectuals of every variety increased. But the supply offered by the feudal state was comparatively low. The Church still absorbed so many intellectuals as to constitute a serious interference with the demands of learning and capital. It became absolutely necessary for the new and rising mode of production to liberate the Jewish intelligentsia and to cut off the uninterrupted blood-letting practised by the Church, particularly the Catholic Church, with its commandment of celibacy, on the non-Jewish intelligentsia.

In all these efforts, industrial capitalism found itself impeded more and more not only by feudal landlordism, by guild handicraft, by the Church, by the privileged strata among the intellectuals, by the commercial organisations, by high finance, but also by the power of the state itself, which was ruled by these classes, and which was naturally applying the means of its authority in the interests of these classes.

Only by overthrowing this authority could the path be cleared for a most speedy evolution of the new mode of production. In this process, industrial capitalism found allies only in the lower classes, in the proletariat and in the peasantry, as well as in those strata of the petty bourgeoisie and the intelligentsia which were not among the privileged classes and which could advance only by means of an elimination of all privileges. Thus modern democracy arose with its pronouncement of the equality of all creatures in human form. The natural consequence was an effort to emancipate Judaism, and also – on the other hand – an alliance between the energetic, aggressive elements of Judaism and revolution. Only through revolution could Judaism be liberated.

The negative, destructive, critical spirit which is said to be a natural trait of the Jewish race is in reality the necessary outcome of the social and political situation of Judaism, which excluded it from all the advantages of existing society, and made the Jews feel their disadvantages most keenly. If this spirit is a race trait, it is among the invariable race traits of every oppressed and exploited class during such period of oppression and exploitation.

The liberation of the Jews was realised in the great French Revolution and in its minor successors. It was heralded by an increasing tolerance for the Jews in the more advanced capitalist states, first in Holland, then in England, beginning with the Seventeenth Century, a change which brought many Spanish and Portuguese Jewish or pseudo-Christian capitalists to those states. Finally, the Jew obtained equal rights with all other citizens. Thereupon he began to rise rapidly in capitalistic society, to whose needs he had become so perfectly adapted, in trade, in banking, in journalism, in medicine, in jurisprudence. But simultaneously there also began the Jew’s adaptation to non-Jewish society, his assimilation.

This process was apparent in his language; the modern Jew no longer speaks with a Jewish accent. Then it ensued in his rite: the dietary laws and commandments for the celebration of festivals, which once separated the Jew from the non-Jew, constituting such a profound gulf between them, now cease to govern the Jew entirely. More and more Jews leave their religious community. Zollschan cites an estimate made by Licencie de la Roy, to the effect that more than two hundred thousand Jews were baptised in the course of the Nineteenth Century, not including conversions to dissenting groups or the baptisms of children of mixed marriages. And this tendency to conversions from Judaism is on the increase. In Vienna, the annual number of conversions was as follows


from Judaism

No. of Jews
per Conversion












After giving these data, together with many others, Zollschan draws the following inference:

“If we recapitulate all this material, we shall find a considerable increase in the number of Jewish baptisms in western countries. Judaism in Austria (not counting Galicia) is losing more than 2 per 1,000 of its adherents annually; in Germany, at least 1 per 1,000; in Hungary, about 3/4 per 1,000, to Christianity. On the other hand, the huge Jewish zone in Russia and Galicia is maintaining its ground against Christian influences and is suffering only slight abrasions.” [5]

Far greater than the number of Jews who abandon their religious affiliation is the number of those who, though they remain in it, nevertheless completely relinquish their religious practice and their religious mode of thought. Of course, the same process is simultaneously going on among the great majority of the non-Jewish urban population, who also, by force of habit, still remain within the field of the traditional religious organisations, without having the slightest share in the religious life of these organisations. The religious assimilation of the Jews in Western Europe is making rapid progress, not so much because the Jews are accepting the Christian faith or the Christians accepting the Jewish faith, as because both parties are succumbing to the same unbelief and to the same religious indifferentism.

This finds its expression also in the number of mixed marriages, which is increasing rapidly. Thus, the number of mixed marriages between Jews and non-Jews in Prussia was:

Average for the Years



Percentage of
Purely Jewish Marriages













In the large cities with a numerous Jewish population, the number of mixed marriages is either already very large, or is rapidly increasing.

The figures for a few of these cities are given below.


for the Years

Number of Mixed Marriages
Between Jews and Non-Jews

(Given as a Percentage of
Purely Jewish Marriages)






Frankfort on the Main























The figures for Amsterdam especially show a rapid increase in mixed marriages.

In Italy, France, England, and the United States, there are no religious statistics. Zollschan sadly observes that in these countries, in which the Jews have the fullest freedom, “the process of dissolution of the native Jewry is proceeding at full speed”. [6] In the Jewish families of Italy which belong to the higher social classes he says it has “almost become a rule to marry their children only to Christians”.

The figures from Trieste, until recently an Austrian city, but which has always had a predominantly Italian population, point in the same direction. In Austria, mixed marriages were subject to considerable limitation, being permitted only between Jews and unbelievers. And marriages in which both the Jewish and the Christian party were without religious affiliation were not considered as mixed marriages.

In spite of all this, the number of mixed marriages in Trieste, as a percentage of purely Jewish marriages, was as follows







To be sure, this is in the country of “black” Italians. But – oh, horror! – in the land of the noblest blonds, the “black-blond mix-up”, in spite of all the offence this may give to Sombart’s holiest emotions, is proceeding most abominably. In Copenhagen, the number of mixed marriages between Jews and non-Jews, expressed as a percentage of the purely Jewish marriages, was as follows:







Accordingly, Zollschan declares:

“It is apparent that the Jewish population of Denmark has not increased in the sixty years from 1840 to 1901, but has decreased absolutely and even more, relatively. In 1840, 0.3 per cent. of the total population was still Jewish; in 1901, only 0.14 per cent. The proportion of Jews had therefore decreased by more than one-half. The reason is not only the comparatively small number of children, but chiefly the numerous mixed marriages by means of which the Danish Jews are being gradually absorbed by the non-Jewish population.” [7]

The examples of Italy and Denmark go to show how correct were the calculations of those champions of Jewish emancipation who expected that it would result in a complete absorption of the Jews by the races among which they lived. Zollschan is right; it is only in the ghetto, in a condition of compulsory exclusion from their environment, and under political pressure, deprived of their rights and surrounded by hostility, that the Jews can maintain themselves among other peoples. They will dissolve, unite with their environment and disappear, where the Jew is regarded and treated as a free man and as an equal.

There now remains only one possible source of a new lease of life for Judaism and therefore also for the “Jewish peril”, namely, the peril that non-Jews will be forced out by Jews in the struggle of capitalist competition. This new lease of life for the “Jewish peril” may come from anti-Semitism.




1. Zollschan, Das Rassenproblem, pp.351, 353.

2. Geschichte der Städteverfassung, vol.ii, p.232.

3. Op. cit., p.230.

4. Lecky, op cit., vol.ii, pp.100, 101, especially the footnotes.

5. Zollschan, op. cit., p.475.

6. Zollschan, op. cit., p.477.

7. Zollschan, op. cit., p.478.


Last updated on 7 June 2020