Frederick Engels 1890

On Anti-Semitism

Written: by Frederick Engels, April 19, 1890;
Source: Karl Marx and Frederick Engels Correspondence 1846-1895, London 1934;
First published: in the Arbeiter-Zeitung, No. 19, May 9, 1890.

...But whether you might not be doing more harm than good with your anti-Semitism is something I would ask you to consider. For anti-Semitism betokens a retarded culture, which is why it is found only in Prussia and Austria, and in Russia too. Anyone dabbling in anti-Semitism, either in England or in America, would simply be ridiculed, while in Paris the only impression created by M. Drumont’s writings – wittier by far than those of the German anti-Semites – was that of a somewhat ineffectual flash in the pan.

Moreover, now that he is standing for the Municipal Council he has actually had to declare himself an opponent of Christian no less than of Jewish capital. And M. Drumont would be read even were he to take the opposite view.

In Prussia it is the lesser nobility, the Junkers with an income of 10,000 marks and outgoings of 20,000, and hence subject to usury, who indulge in anti-Semitism, while both in Prussia and Austria a vociferous chorus is provided by those whom competition from big capital has ruined – the petty bourgeoisie, skilled craftsmen and small shop-keepers. But in as much as capital, whether Semitic or Aryan, circumcised or baptised, is destroying these classes of society which are reactionary through and through, it is only doing what pertains to its office, and doing it well; it is helping to impel the retarded Prussians and Austrians forward until they eventually attain the present-day level at which all the old social distinctions resolve themselves in the one great antithesis – capitalists and wage-labourers. Only in places where this has not yet happened, where there is no strong capitalist class and hence no strong class of wage-labourers, where capital is not yet strong enough to gain control of national production as a whole, so that its activities are mainly confined to the Stock Exchange – in other words, where production is still in the hands of the farmers, landowners, craftsmen and suchlike classes surviving from the Middle Ages – there, and there alone, is capital mainly Jewish, and there alone is anti-Semitism rife.

In North America not a single Jew is to be found among the millionaires whose wealth can, in some cases, scarcely be expressed in terms of our paltry marks, gulden or francs and, by comparison with these Americans, the Rothschilds are veritable paupers. And even in England, Rothschild is a man of modest means when set, for example, against the Duke of Westminster. Even in our own Rhineland from which, with the help of the French, we drove the aristocracy 95 years ago and where we have established modern industry, one may look in vain for Jews.

Hence anti-Semitism is merely the reaction of declining medieval social strata against a modern society consisting essentially of capitalists and wage-labourers, so that all it serves are reactionary ends under a purportedly socialist cloak; it is a degenerate form of feudal socialism and we can have nothing to do with that. The very fact of its existence in a region is proof that there is not yet enough capital there. Capital and wage-labour are today indivisible. The stronger capital and hence the wage-earning class becomes, the closer will be the demise of capitalist domination. So what I would wish for us Germans, amongst whom I also count the Viennese, is that the capitalist economy should develop at a truly spanking pace rather than slowly decline into stagnation.

In addition, the anti-Semite presents the facts in an entirely false light. He doesn’t even know the Jews he decries, otherwise he would be aware that, thanks to anti-Semitism in eastern Europe, and to the Spanish Inquisition in Turkey, there are here in England and in America thousands upon thousands of Jewish proletarians; and it is precisely, these Jewish workers who are the worst exploited and the most poverty-stricken. In England during the past twelve months we have had three strikes by Jewish workers. Are we then expected to engage in anti-Semitism in our struggle against capital?

Furthermore, we are far too deeply indebted to the Jews. Leaving aside Heine and Börne, Marx was a full-blooded Jew; Lassalle was a Jew. Many of our best people are Jews. My friend Victor Adler, who is now atoning in a Viennese prison for his devotion to the cause of the proletariat, Eduard Bernstein, editor of the London Sozialdemokrat, Paul Singer, one of our best men in the Reichstag – people whom I am proud to call my friends, and all of them Jewish! After all, I myself was dubbed a Jew by the Gartenlaube and, indeed, if given the choice, I'd as lief be a Jew as a ‘Herr von'!

London, April 19, 1890
Frederick Engels