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Jack Weber

The Jewish Question

(April l938)

From New International, Vol.4 No.4, April 1938, pp.110-112.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

THE RISE OF FASCISM to power in one country after the other in Europe, poses acutely again and again, along with the problems faced by the working class, the entire Jewish Question. King Carol’s dictatorial “solution” of the social and political crisis in Rumania, and now the extension of Hitler’s power to Austria, serve to widen the scope of the problem. Already a major social catastrophe in time of “peace”, the plight of Jewry seems destined to be frightful indeed in the coming World War, acknowledgedly close upon us.

Where shall the Jew turn? Where lies his salvation? The question takes on a different aspect indeed from that faced in the period of the rise of capitalism. The Jews played a highly progressive role in helping to bring into being and firmly establish the capitalist system. With the movement toward national capitalist unification, it seemed possible that the Jews might become assimilated in the various lands of their dispersion. Particularly did this seem likely as social and political rights were granted to the Jews and as the ghettos began to disappear. The early Marxists felt that this process of assimilation would solve the Jewish Question. But the epoch of decay of capitalism has brought with it a tremendous resurgence of nationalism which in turn engenders anti-semitism.

Obviously there is nothing new in the methods of persecution adopted by Hitlerism in Germany—neither specifically nor in general. Imperialism maintains its sway by sowing division and hatred everywhere, at home and abroad. In India it pits Hindu against Moslem, in the Balkans one race against another, in Palestine Arab against Jew. In old Russia the Czars thought to divert the Revolution from its channel by instigating pogroms. Hitler borrows this self-same weapon from the arsenal of Czarist reaction. True he does not permit a Kishenev in Germany, but applies the far worse method of slow starvation, the “cold” pogrom. What is new about this decadence is that the rise of Hitler to power has contributed a political technique to the reactionaries of all Europe for their emulation. Thus anti-semitism is part of the cancer of Nazism that spreads poisonously outwards from the center of infection, Germany, the very country in which the Jews had been more nearly assimilated than anywhere else in the world. Hitler has elevated anti-semitism into a part of reaction’s Weltanschauung and into a world problem.

At a time when the right of unrestricted immigration would prove of invaluable aid to the persecuted Jews, all lands are more or less closed to them. The great influx of Jews into the United States was stopped by the Johnson Quota Law of 1924 (a law promulgated not during any period of crisis, but entirely on the basis of reactionary racial politics). At that time Canada and South Africa followed suit and closed their doors. Thus when the terrible Polish crisis developed in that year and the Jews were oppressed unbearably under Grabski’s economic policies, the wave of migration that followed could seek the shores of Palestine alone. The pressure of economic necessity awakened a new interest in the idea of a Jewish homeland. Whether one sympathizes with this idea or not it must be acknowledged that Zionism grew as a force among Jews. Certainly one can have only the profoundest sympathy with the idealism of the Jewish masses who longed for some solution of their desperate plight during and after the World War. But we have had a whole generation of experience with Palestine since the War and surely it is now possible to evaluate that experience.

What a tragic experience it has been! View it from any angle one chooses, the short history of Palestine can only convince those whose minds are at all open to the simple truth, that the establishing of a “free and independent” Jewish homeland there or anywhere else is an impossibility so long as capitalism lasts. How can the Jews, for one thing, entrust their fate to British imperialism? That imperialism seeks only its own interests, the defense of the imperial trade routes through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal, the establishing of a naval base and a protected air base in the Near East, the protection of its oil fields, the setting up of some force completely dependent on Britain to act as a counterfoil, if and when necessary, to the Arabs seeking their national independence. How can the Jewish masses—we do not speak here of the Jewish big bourgeoisie or their close henchmen—seeking freedom and liberation from oppression ally themselves with the greatest oppressor of all, British imperialism?

But even the most sanguine of the Zionists, the most trusting in the good faith of the “democratic” English bourgeoisie, have received a rude lesson from that source recently. The White Paper calling tentatively for the partition of Palestine into two separate states, the smaller one for the Jews, indicates quite clearly that England is seeking the best way to satisfy its own needs in the situation. The times do change, and English policy changes accordingly. Those Zionists who are willing to foster the complete dependence of their movement on English bounty, have already adapted themselves to a bad bargain and are even willing to accept the much narrowed base for their state existence, as a lesser evil. The trouble is that behind the purposely vague plans for partition all Zionists can see plainly the possible preparation for a complete abandonment of support for a Jewish homeland. In the debate in the House of Commons on the Palestine question between Ormsby-Gore, Secretary of State for the Colonies, and Colonel Wedgwood, that “Laborite champion of the Zionists”, the best solution this good friend could advance was for England to arm the Jews, withdraw all British troops and “let them fight it out with the Arabs”. This can be understood in only one way: Wedgwood, Laborite adherent to the Second International, has no solution to offer and would like to have England wash her hands of the whole matter. Wedgwood demands that the Jews be allowed unrestricted entry—into Palestine. He makes no effort to have England herself, or South Africa, or Australia, open the door to unrestricted immigration. In that respect he agrees with Hitler.

But even if we ignore the ever-present threat of a complete collapse of the homeland idea, we are bound to face another side of the question: in a world dominated by the great powers, with no part of it free from their influence (not even Russia with its one sixth of the globe) what sort of homeland could be set up in Palestine? Only a replica of the capitalist state with all its class oppression. And that is, of course, precisely what has been set up there. The Jewish toilers, pioneering in a country without great natural resources and with no free land available, have suffered as much misery in Palestine as anywhere else. If there was any delusion in the minds of Jews that the artificial and short-lived prosperity of Palestine during the worst years of the world crisis would endure, the present desperate situation there has brought quick disillusion. The boom period of speculation has been followed by the complete prostration of economy so that the trade union movement is faced with a herculean task in coming to the relief of its members.

Palestine is an integral part of the world capitalist system, subject to the same laws of crises and unemployment. Truly when the Jews migrated to Palestine, the dalles (poverty) went with them. It is utterly unthinkable—that goes without saying—that the Jews could set up socialism and a planned economy in Palestine alone. The class struggle in Palestine presents the same features so familiar in other capitalist countries. There is even a movement afoot, that of the Revisionists, to suppress working class organizations, particularly the trade unions. In short, the so-called Jewish fascist movement, with its gangsterism.

Finally, the terror that hangs like a pall over Palestine, due to the conflict with the Arabs, has placed the Jews in a most tragic situation from which there seems little hope for escape so long as the present capitalist system remains dominant. If the Jews must depend on Palestine for a solution to their problems, then it can only be said that they have reached an utter impasse. Palestine offers no way out—unless the rest of the world is changed first, unless capitalism is abolished from the earth. For only with the disappearance of exploitation will the fierce race hatreds and racial oppression die down and finally vanish.

Trotsky has pointed out that to establish real self-determination for the Jew would require that all those desiring to foster a Jewish culture and to participate in a common life, should be free to travel to some assigned spot—whether Palestine or any other—and that this transportation of millions of human beings would require the voluntary agreement of many different countries and the providing of vast facilities. Such voluntary aid on so vast a scale is absolutely unrealizable so long as capitalism lasts. It could become possible only under a cooperative, a socialist system of society. The conclusion is inevitable that even for those Jews who desire a separate homeland, the path to the realization of their goal lies through the class struggle, through allying themselves with the rest of the working class and the masses everywhere to bring about the proletarian world revolution. This involves first of all a struggle in their own ranks against their own bourgeoisie and all the propounders of capitalist ideology. It means the utter repudiation of the upholders of imperialism, of the Revisionists with their vicious pan-Jewish (what an ironic anomaly!) brand of chauvinism. It means the repudiation of the leadership of types like Jabotinsky and Lord Melchett (the same Sir Alfred Mond who sells nickel and other metals to all the world’s armament manufacturers), who speak openly of making Palestine the Singapore of the Near East for England. Their leadership means offering the Jewish masses in bondage to English imperialism.

The Jews the world over must commit themselves to the defeat of fascism. In this struggle they become inevitably the allies of the workers in the anti-fascist movement. At the same time the anti-fascist cause comes naturally to the defense of the Jews. Thus it comes about that the Polish workers, the greatest victims of the anti-Semitic poison spread by the Polish rulers, have begun to come to the defense of their Jewish brothers, a striking instance being the rout of the pogromists a short time ago by an organized detachment of PPS workers at the Iron Gate of Warsaw. In Vienna during the short-lived opposition to Hitler’s conquest of Austria, the workers also fought against the pogromist activities of the Nazis. In Rumania also, although this may prove temporary, the anti-fascist peasant party came to the defense of the Jews, the Peasant Guards fighting the fascist Iron Guards in their behalf.

But the anti-fascist struggle can only mean the fight for socialism. Every new happening on the international arena brings that lesson home—unless the workers seize the power in the cause of socialism, all other expedients to prevent the coming to power of fascism prove to be merely temporary stop-gaps. This in turn means that the Jews must define their attitude clearly to all working class forces and parties. Immediately the question arises as to which International to support. The Second International, with its reliance on the forces of bourgeois democracy alone, forces which are the first to disappear under the heels of the armed bands of fascism, has proved completely bankrupt, utterly impotent to bring about socialism. By all its collaborationist policies and tactics the Second International gave objective support to the victory of fascism and hence betrayed the workers and also the Jews. In the present instance the Second International betrays the Jews anew by assisting actively in linking their fate and the fate of Palestine with that of “democratic” British imperialism. But then how about the Third International?

At once the question of Biro-Bidjan comes to mind. This should serve as a crucial test of the Stalinist Comintern for the Jews, bearing always in mind the clear-cut distinction to be drawn between the Soviet Union set up by the October Revolution and the ruling Stalinist caste. The Jews were to be permitted to build an autonomous national republic as part of the Federated Soviet Union, thus carrying out for the Jews the democratic right of national liberation in accordance with the ideas of Leninism. Certain “friends of the Soviet Union”, notably Lord Marley, once told us that “The number of Jews who could be received in Biro-Bidjan is quite unlimited [his own italics] and there is no problem of an existing local population to be dealt with”. He pointed out that this republic was more than half the size of England. Unlimited space, opportunities, vast natural resources! The American section of the ICOR alone was to be permitted to send over one thousand families (not so many, after all!).

What has become of Biro-Bidjan and why? We demand an explanation! Why has Russia, that country above all others that should be the spokesman for all the oppressed, the logical spokesman therefore to defend the persecuted Jews, not only remained completely silent but actually closed her doors to all “foreign” Jews? Nay, more, why has Stalin refused to accept back those sixty Russian Jewish families, Soviet citizens, that Hitler wanted to deport to Russia? Why did Stalin purge the administration of Biro-Bidjan along with that of every other national republic without exception? These republics were all founded with a view to permitting the unhampered development of national cultures within the framework of the Soviet system. Stalin, that erstwhile People’s Commissar of Nationalities, removes entire national governments, administrations previously hand-picked by himself, without so much as a by-your-leave on the part of the peoples involved—on the pretext that they are “nationalistic”!

The truth is that the Stalinist bureaucracy, among all its other crimes, has completely ignored the “rights” of nationalities; Stalin has restored the old Czarist system of centralized bureaucratic control of the various nations that constitute Russia. The Stalinist clique has reconstituted the Great Russian administrative center with its oppression of other nationalities. It was inevitable that the counter-revolutionary Stalinist caste should come into violent conflict with, among other democratic rights, that of national democracy and national autonomy guaranteed by the obsolete Leninist Soviet Constitution. Far from becoming the spokesman for the Jews, Stalin stated, when he closed the door to foreign Jews, that he wanted to avoid “international complication”. Evidently he did not want to embarrass the fascist dictators! Truth to tell, Stalin also does not want any foreigners at all, Jew or non-Jew, to enter Russia to discover what is actually happening there.

The lot of the Jew in Russia is far from being that free and equal life that the Stalinist apologists, the Jewish hirelings included, would have us believe. Quite the contrary, true reactionary “leader” of a totalitarian state, Stalin has taken a leaf from the notebook of Hitler and attempts to divert the smoldering hatred of the Russian masses away from the reactionary tops of the bureaucracy to the middle and lower layers, frequently Jews. Anti-semitism is again becoming part of the Russian system, though not yet quite as openly as under Czarism. Indeed one must ask, when Jews among others are removed from near the frontiers (as enemies of the people!) in furtherance of the plans for military defense, where are they sent? Is it possible that Biro-Bidjan will be converted into a national ghetto?

By his betrayal of the October Revolution and his active aid against world revolution, Stalin has been, along with the leaders of the Second International, the outright betrayer of the working class and of the Jews. The Third International bears just as much responsibility for the advent of fascism in one country after the other as does the Second. The Jews must throw their lot with those forces in the ranks of the working class really working for the social revolution; that can mean only those forces striving to constitute the Fourth International on the foundations of Marxism and Leninism. In turn the Fourth International is the true spokesman for the Jewish masses who form one section of that oppressed humanity to whose liberation the Fourth International is devoted.

The Jewish masses must recognize that their plight is the obverse side of the plight of capitalism and nationalism in general. The Jews have reached an impasse because the capitalist system as a whole has reached an impasse. It is no accident at all that in its dying agony capitalism should reflect its struggle for continued existence in the form of rampant nationalist chauvinism. Early capitalism found the national state a powerful weapon with which to pulverize the feudal enemy, but also through which it could set up its new system of exploitation on a sufficiently broad basis. The new forces of production needed a wide area as a free market in order to give these forces the chance to grow. The national boundaries shut in such an area for the national capitalists, at the same time shutting off the encroachment of foreign capitalists.

In time these walls became too narrow for the powerful forces of production that developed in all the advanced countries. Hence there arose the system of extending the national economic boundaries by the seizure of colonies. Colonial imperialism thereby served to prolong the life of the capitalist system. But that road to expansion is now inexorably closing. If each country now strives desperately to extend its boundaries for national capitalist exploitation and this striving creates a life and death struggle that culminates in imperialist war, that now means only that the national boundaries themselves have become unbearable chains on society. It means that all further growth of the economic forces, as well as the very preservation of what has been achieved thus far, demands the sweeping aside of the national boundaries. Internationalism has become a necessity for humanity if civilization is to survive. What stands in the way of this necessary development is the capitalist class in each country, holding its possessions in a death grip. No wonder it wants to defend and maintain the national idea, the national boundaries. Its fate is inextricably tied up with those boundaries.

But the appeal to nationalism and to racialism in the advanced countries solves nothing. It can for a time serve to delude a larger or smaller section of the masses, but it is incapable of leading capitalism out of its complete impasse. All the reactionary ideas and programs of rabid nationalism, leading backwards with giant strides toward the Middle Ages, give way to renewed attempts at imperialist robbery. As a cover for this unrestrained plundering, German, Polish, French, all capitalist classes try to persuade their victimized people that the preservation of culture and people is identical with the preservation of the respective capitalism. Precisely the opposite is true. Having reached an impasse, capitalism begins visibly to decay. The accustomed class relationships begin to give way. The golden age of opportunity vanishes into the past and all classes feel themselves suspended over an abyss. The old loyalty of the petty bourgeoisie to the big bourgeoisie is replaced by awful fear and bitter hatred. Hence the ruling class, acting for its self-preservation, attempts everywhere to divert this wrath away from itself by using all the prejudices and hatreds engendered for decades by the capitalist system itself. And the easiest scapegoat is always the Jew.

Hence it is clear that the solution of the Jewish Question is the same identical solution as that for the present world system as a whole. Only the abolition of the capitalist system can put an end to national oppression, which is one expression of political oppression in general. The attempt, while the present system endures, to establish a homeland anywhere on the earth for the Jews, as Palestine amply demonstrates, can only succeed in involving the Jews in all the contradictions of capitalism. And of course it cannot be a solution for the overwhelming majority of the Jews, even granting that it might help that small minority that could find its way to the homeland. For the vast majority are tied down by economic necessity in whatever country they happen to be.

The coming imperialist war, brought much closer by Hitler’s march into Austria, means a catastrophe if anything more profound for Jewry than for any other section of the population. In many lands they will become automatically “enemy aliens” to be herded into concentration camps to starve or to die of plagues of one kind or another. Or they will be driven from their homes without notice by one army or the other, leaving all their little possessions behind. Pogroms are already the order of the day in Europe even before the war, and they have always accompanied capitalist wars. The Jewish masses must enlist in the struggle against imperialist war. For them to follow acquiescently those Jewish misleaders who would place them at the service of one imperialism or the other, would mean to give willing aid in fastening the yoke of slavery on themselves and on others. Nor will silence, in the hope that they will be let alone, help. Their only defense is whole-hearted participation in the struggle against the capitalist oppressors. The cause of struggle against imperialist war coincides with the fight against fascism and for socialism. But that means that the Jewish masses must give their support to and fight with the Fourth International, the only force really opposed to imperialist war, the only force capable of leading the working class and the oppressed to victory in the transformation of capitalist into socialist society.

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