Victor Serge

The Jewish Question

(October 1944)

Written: October 12, 1944.
Source: Jean Rière (ed.), L’Extermination des Juifs de Varsovie et autres textes sur l’anti-semitisme, Paris, Joseph K., 2011:
Translated: for by Mitch Abidor.
The following article, a response to a questionnaire from the Santiago, Chile based Jewish magazine Babel, appeared in that magazine’s March 1945 issue.

1 – My observations lead me to consider the Jewish nation as one of the most gifted of nations. In the modern world, divided by social struggles, it has furnished big capitalists, able merchants, intellectuals of high quality, and a mass of socialists and revolutionaries whose contribution to society was essential. All of this means that, socially divided like all nations, it has distinguished itself in all domains. If we consider the great thinkers of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century we are struck by the fact that the Jews have supplied us with incomparable figures whose influence remains immense. And so we have Karl Marx, the founder of scientific socialism; Sigmund Freud, one of the founders of modern psychology; Albert Einstein the reviver of modern physics and scientific philosophy; and Leon Trotsky, the man of action. Other names deserve to be mentioned here, like those of the French philosopher Henri Bergson, the sociologist Levy-Bruhl, the writer Stefan Zweig, and the critic Georg Brandes. It is unjust to cite just these few names: one can see that the contribution of the Jews to the intelligence of our time has been powerful and fertile. Personally, I’ve known many Jews belonging to all social conditions. I’ve known some who were heroes and others who were extremely disagreeable, but all were intelligent and active.

2 – It seems to me that à propos of the Jews it is appropriate to use the term nation or people rather than race, because there are now no longer any pure races (as long as one doesn’t content oneself with large divisions of the human species into white, black, yellow and copper races). The Semitic family is made up of Arabs, Bedouins, Ethiopians and the Jews, but since its origin it has gone through countless mixings. The Ethiopians are black, or nearly so; the Arabs and Bedouins and the Jews are white. The Jewish people have been sustained over the course of four millennia through many conquests and mixings by an historical and religious tradition. In Russia, on the Volga, at the beginning of the Middle Ages, there was a Khazar empire, probably Mongolian, that converted to Judaism. There are Chinese, Tartar and other populations that practice Judaism. Finally, since the dispersion of the Kingdom of Israel in the first century of our era the Jewish colonies of Europe, the Middle East, and America have undergone so much ethnic mixing that there are blond, redheaded, brunette, and black-haired Jewish types, often recognizable and often indistinguishable from other European types. To speak in these cases of racial differentiation means falling into reactionary absurdity through the adoption of an anti-scientific attitude.

It would not be superfluous to recall that the spiritual and social revolution that most strongly marked the entire development of European civilization came out of Judea, fomented at its beginnings by important Jews of whom Jesus of Nazareth remains the best known. To speak schematically, the origins of our civilization are Greco-Roman and Judaic.

Another important consideration presents itself in favor of the Jews and helps explain their great intellectual quality. They are the only white people that has, like the Hindus and the Chinese, a tradition of civilization that goes back 4,000 years. The white peoples that founded that first civilizations in the Middle East and the Mediterranean didn’t leave any direct descendants. At a time when the Jews were already an ancient, cultivated people possessing a long history and a monotheistic philosophy, the European peoples were still only primitive peoples.

3 – Anti-Semitism demands a psychological and social analysis that I can only outline here. In practice it arose in Russia during the revolution of 1905 as an expedient of monarchist reaction aimed at diverting the violent instincts of the ignorant and impoverished masses against a defenseless religious minority. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion were deliberately fabricated by the Russian police with the assistance of a handful of visionaries (this story has been reconstituted in all its details). The function of Nazi anti-Semitism was the same: at a time when European capitalism had collapsed to divert the anti-capitalist sentiments of the masses towards Jewish capitalists, to divert the sadistic instincts of a portion of the disoriented masses towards aggression against a defenseless minority; to create an irrational psychology at a moment when rational thought was becoming dangerous for the rulers; to create through violet spoliation and massacres the horrible tie of criminal complicity among all the participants in anti-Semitism (in order to solidify their capacity for resistance); to degrade man in general in order to more easily smash his opposition to the totalitarian regime. For it goes without saying that after having humiliated and murdered a Jew on the street it becomes easy to humiliate and murder anyone at all; that a precedent is created, a sentiment of powerlessness and degradation is imposed, and humanity is destroyed. The politically utilitarian side of Nazi anti-Semitism emerges from the fact that Hitlerite racism, in concluding an alliance with Japan, abandoned the doctrine of the Yellow Peril that was a founding component of German racism, notably that of Wilhelm II. The counter-revolutionary (anti-socialist) character of anti-Semitism can be seen in the fact that in Russia, after the bloody pogroms of 1905–06 and the massacres of the Jews of the Ukraine by the reactionary bandits in 1918, the victorious revolution put a definitive end to anti-Semitism without any effort and almost without repression.

In Russia, in Poland, in Occupied Europe the Nazis exterminated with scientific organization (rolling gas chambers, etc.), several million Jews, i.e., gifted European workers. (The Nazis hid the extent of their crime from the German people for as long as they could) In doing this they did grave harm to Europe and the civilized world, and this will have long-term effects. In cultivating an ideology of irrational murder they succeeded in awakening and mobilizing around the world sadistic instincts that Christian civilization, scientific civilization, European humanism and socialism appeared to have mastered. The psychological and social consequences of this degradation of modern man will certainly persist long after the liquidation of Nazism and the punishment of the guilty. Which is to say that the fight for the grandeur and liberation of man, for a new humanism, and the combat against anti-Semitism – conscious or not – will be long, difficult, unending, and will constitute one of our most pressing duties.

Last updated on 24 April 2015