Karl Kautsky

Are the Jews a Race?

Chapter XII
The Last Stages of Judaism

ZIONISM is an untenable Utopia. On the other hand, liberalism is no longer capable – and perhaps not even desirous – of carrying out what it has neglected hitherto. Besides, its resources and its backing in the population are weakening. Wherever the liberals have not succeeded in bringing about a complete emancipation of the Jews – not merely a legal emancipation, but a real social equality of the Jews – it is certain that they will not be able to do so in the future.

The capitalist Jews are in all countries content with what has been attained. Though they may not have gotten as much as they wished, they at least have power enough, by reason of their wealth, to overcome slight inconveniences. This was true even in Czarist Russia, and in places where it is not the case these disabilities do not appear important enough, in their eyes, to justify a risk of revolution in order to overcome them. The capitalist Jews themselves are becoming conservative and are accepting conditions as they are.

The only force capable of a thorough overturning of the present order and of a complete destruction of all oppression, of all legal and social inequality, now remains the proletariat, which must achieve this end in order to achieve its own liberation. Only a victorious proletariat can bring complete emancipation for the Jews; all of Jewry, except in so far as it is already fettered to capitalism, is interested in a proletarian victory.

There is no doubt that the liberation of the Jews will be equivalent to their absorption to the extent to which this liberation is achieved.

The centre of gravity of the Jewish question now lies in the great areas of former Russia. If Russia achieves full civil equality for the Jews, and if the country becomes economically prosperous and develops growing industries, we shall not again encounter a Jewish migration to the west. But this will mean that the process of Jewish assimilation, already so far advanced in the past, but somewhat retarded within the last decades, will again set in. Even in England and America, the assimilation of the new strata of Russian Jews will proceed at a rapid pace. If the accessions from Russia cease to arrive, probably the second generation and surely the third generation of the Jews in the London East End and on the East Side of New York, will no longer understand Yiddish but will all speak English; they will no longer live in a single section of the city, closely congested in a few sweated industries that yield but slight opportunity to live, but will spread throughout the country and find the same opportunities as the rest of the population for earning a living in the most varied occupations. And religion will probably have become a matter of indifference to these Jews; thus the last barrier to their assimilation will be removed.

This prophecy, which I already made before the war, is also confirmed by the observation of Zollschan as contained in his book printed in 1919:

“The second generation of the inhabitants in this country speak Yiddish only in their parental environment, and later generations speak it only in unusual cases ... The Yiddish theatre has already passed beyond its culmination. My questions as to the basic reasons for this condition always brought the answer that the second generation has entirely lost interest in it as well as the language itself.” [1]

In the Chinese quarter Zollschan even found two Russian Jewesses who had married Chinese!

The process of the disintegration of Judaism will proceed more slowly in Eastern Europe than in America. But even in Eastern Europe, the process must go on, in spite of the fact that the struggle for the emancipation of the Jews has at this moment led to the laying of greater emphasis on their Jewish traits.

Like other nations who have been ruled by a master class which prevented them from securing contact with modern civilisation, the Jews of Russia have also created a literature in their own language, which hitherto had had no literature, as soon as they began to develop an aspiration towards independence. There resulted the growth of a Yiddish literature, a Yiddish theatre, a Yiddish press, which in America includes great daily newspapers and periodicals, and had already attained large dimensions even in Russia when the war opened.

“The ‘Yiddish’ daily press, after having been in existence for ten years, exceeds the Polish press in circulation and in Russia is second in this respect only to the Russian press proper.” [2]

The productions and resources of an active national life on the part of the Russian Jews will become progressively greater and stronger as long as the struggle for Jewish freedom advances. But that which we call the Jewish nation can achieve the victory only in order then to disappear.

The Jewish nation could maintain itself only by means of a living together of all the Jews in close contact with each other. But the callings to which the great mass of the Jews in Eastern Europe chiefly flock are not compatible in great measure with such a congestion of population. Persons engaged in these callings can prosper only when they are living among great numbers of persons engaged in other occupations, in which the non-Jewish population predominates. Precisely the compulsory congestion of population in a small space – which today still gives plausibility to the conception of a Jewish nationality has also created the specific Jewish misery. With the disappearance of the latter will come also the disappearance of the conditions for a Jewish nationality. The Jewish misery can disappear only under a political and social condition of Eastern Europe which will impel the Jews in those regions to speak the language of their environment, which means the beginning of this assimilation. The latter will be further stimulated by the fact that in an Eastern Europe which is politically free, the intellectual advancement of the entire population will become one of the most important tasks of the state. Judaism draws its strength – as a specific group, segregated from its environment – from anti-Semitism alone, from persecution. In the absence of the latter, it would have been absorbed long ago. Counter-revolution might imbue Judaism with a new lease of life; but counter-revolution can be nothing more than a temporary phenomenon. When the Jews shall have ceased to be persecuted and outlawed, the Jews themselves will cease to exist.

Have we any reason to deplore this prospect?

Our answer will of course depend on the point of view from which we judge the matter. But it seems to me that for the Jew himself the ghetto – which is the specific Jewish form of life – is not a phenomenon calculated to give rise to melancholy longings. And the friends of human progress have far less cause than the conservative Jew to shed a tear over the disappearance of Judaism.

We have seen that Judaism developed to the highest point the properties of the city-dweller. These are precisely the mental properties at present most required for the progress of humanity. We find accordingly that the comparatively insignificant number of Jews in Western Europe has produced an astonishingly long list of epoch-making minds, the proud enumeration of which would extend from Baruch Spinoza to Heinrich Heine, Ferdinand Lassalle, and Karl Marx.

But although the Jews developed as their culminating properties such immense mental abilities, they became more and more unfitted to apply the abilities they had developed. Until late in the Middle Ages, the Jews, like the Catholic Church, had constituted an element of progress; but – again like the Catholic Church – they have since cut themselves off from progress; even more than the Catholic Church, owing to the narrow limits of Judaism and its strict segregation from the non-Jewish world, which had begun to widen its horizon immensely after the Fifteenth Century, and to pass through an era of continuous mental revolutions, the Jewish community ceased to participate in the work of progress. The Jews, restricted to the ghetto by their orthodoxy, remained totally untouched by this great transformation of the human mind; they assumed a hostile position to the new philosophy. The spiritual giants produced by modern Judaism could bring their forces into action only after they had burst the fetters of Judaism. Their activities were carried on, without exception, outside of the bounds of Judaism, and within the realm of modern culture, which is as little Jewish as it is Christian, and often their activities were in complete conscious opposition to Judaism – by which we mean, as it may be necessary to point out again, not the total number of Jews, but those Jews who are comprised in a specific group and as such are cut off from the rest of mankind. Even the pioneers of Zionism, such men as Herzl, Nordau, Zangwill, make use of the so-called world languages and not of “Yiddish”. The Jews have become an eminently revolutionary factor, while Judaism has become a reactionary factor. It is like a weight of lead attached to the feet of the Jews who eagerly seek to progress, one of the last remnants of the feudal Middle Ages, a social ghetto still maintaining its existence in the consciousness, after the tangible, physical ghetto has disappeared. We cannot say we have completely emerged from the Middle Ages as long as Judaism still exists among us. The sooner it disappears, the better it will be, not only for society, but also for the Jews themselves.

The disappearance of the Jews will not involve a tragic process like the disappearance of the American Indians or the Tasmanians. It will not be equivalent to a declining into stupidity and degradation, but to a rising to greater strength, to prosperity and well-being, to the opening up of an immense field of activity. It will not mean a mere shifting of domicile from one mediaeval ruin to another, not a transition from orthodox Judaism to ecclesiastical Christianity, but the creation of a new and higher type of man.

Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew, will at last have found a haven of rest. He will continue to live in the memory of man as man’s greatest sufferer, as he who has been dealt with most severely by mankind, to whom he has given most.



1. Zollschan, Revision des jüdischen Nationalismus, p. 14.

2. Hersch, Le Juif, p. 9.


Last updated on 10 June 2020