First Published: Jewish Affairs, Vol. 5, No. 3, May-June 1975.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Some 6 million Jews live in the United States–by far the largest Jewish community in the world. Concentrated in the major urban centers of the country (nearly half live in the New York area), it is a compact, highly organized community with a substantial body of Anglo-Jewish cultural and religious activity as well as a continuing older Yiddish-language sector.
In its class composition it reflects that of U.S. society as a whole. At one extreme is the Jewish big bourgeoisie, reaching into the top ranks of U.S. finance capital; at the other extreme are some 15 per cent of Jewish families who are officially classified as “poor.” The great majority, though no longer concentrated in the garment industry and in other traditionally sweatshop industries, are wage and salaried workers, suffering the same exploitation and sharing the same problems as other workers. Today they suffer together with others from the effects of unemployment and inflation and, along with other workers are being stirred into action. It is to this mass of working people that our Party must address itself. It is among them that our efforts must be concentrated.
The Jewish people have played a notable role in the working-class and democratic anti-monopoly struggles in our country in the recent period. Jewish workers and trade union leaders have been prominent in numerous trade union struggles. Jewish groups and organizations have been in the forefront of the fight for peace and made a significant contribution to the great civil rights struggles of the sixties. The Jewish masses must be recognized as a powerful force for progress and a highly significant factor in today’s struggles against the monopolies, a factor which should not be neglected.
The Jewish people in the United States are victims of anti-Semitism which, like all other forms of racism and national chauvinism, is an instrument of monopoly capital for dividing the working-class and intensifying capitalist exploitation and oppression. Jews are subjected to discrimination in employment, housing, education, access to recreational facilities and other respects. Synagogues and other Jewish institutions are increasingly objects of vandalism. The Jewish people are one of the chief targets of the mountainous outpourings of racist filth by the rabid ultra-Right. And the big lie of the tsarist forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, fraudulently alleging the existence of a conspiracy of “Jewish bankers” to gain world domination, continues to find wide currency, not only in the ultra-Right but also in “respectable” bourgeois circles.
Central to the fight for the interests of the Jewish people, therefore, is the struggle against the virus of anti-Semitism and for full democratic rights and equality for the Jewish people in all respects. This struggle must be based on proletarian internationalism–on joining with all working people in struggle against all national and racial oppression. It must be based above all on unity of the Jewish and Black peoples, in particular on combatting racism among the Jewish people.
The struggle against anti-Semitism demands the exposure and repudiation of the poisonous ideology of Zionism, which asserts that anti-Semitism is eternal and incurable, that the national interests of the Jewish people are opposed to those of other peoples, and that the basic ties of Jewish workers are not with other workers but with other Jews, including the big Jewish capitalists.
Equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, the Zionists strive to create false targets of so-called “anti-Semitism of the Left” and “Black anti-Semitism,” thus diverting the Jewish people from the struggle against the class enemy–against the real source of anti-Semitism–and misleading them into paths of racism and anti-Sovietism. They call for “going easy” on the anti-Semitism of the Reagans, Buckleys and General Browns on the grounds that these are “friends of Israel.” They oppose all compensatory measures to overcome the effects of centuries of discrimination against Black and other oppressed peoples and against women, labelling them “discrimination in reverse.”
All these are roadblocks to the struggle against anti-Semitism, whose manifestations in this country are growing alarmingly. The absence of a serious campaign against anti-Semitism here, coupled with the Zionist concentration on its phoney crusade for “liberation” of Soviet Jews, gives encouragement to the forces of racism and anti-Semitism and it conceals the true situation of Jews in the socialist Soviet Union, where anti-Semitism has been virtually wiped out. What is called for is a major offensive against anti-Semitism in the United States. In particular, it is a prime responsibility of our Party to take the initiative in launching such a campaign.
Key in all our work among the Jewish people is the struggle against the pernicious influence of Zionism in the Jewish community. With the 1967 war in the Middle East, which produced a powerful emotional reaction among many Jewish people, Zionist influence greatly increased, and during this period the Zionist movement has become increasingly a bulwark of reaction among Jews.
There has been a distinct trend to the Right in bourgeois Jewish circles. It is reflected in: 1) the growing ties with Right-wing political elements and the shift of a portion of the Jewish vote to Nixon in 1972; 2) a sharp rise of racism in the Jewish community, as evidenced by the campaign against so-called “Black anti-Semitism,” by the leading role of Jewish organizations in opposing preferential hiring and open enrollment, by such racist outbreaks as those in Forest Hills and Canarsie in New York, and by the rise of Shankerism in the teachers* union; 3) the upsurge of anti-Sovietism and the campaign by the leading Jewish organizations to utilize the Jewish people as the spearhead of opposition to detente in the name of fighting alleged “Soviet anti-Semitism”; 4) the emergence of the gang of fascist hoodlums calling itself the “Jewish Defense League.”
The racism of Shanker and others of his kind is characteristic of Right-wing social democracy, which is crassly class-collaborationist, pro-Zionist and violently anti-Soviet. It is essential to fight against its influence among Jewish workers.
In combatting Zionism it must be recognized that the great majority of Jewish people are not Zionists but are moved rather by sentiments of national pride and by concern for the welfare of fellow Jews in Israel, sentiments which Zionism seeks to pervert for its own purposes. Hence the Jewish masses can be won away from Zionist influence, and it is the Party’s task to strive to achieve this. Likewise, there exists among Jewish workers a long-standing tradition of militance and of support for progress and socialism. This tradition the Dubinskys, Shankers and their ilk have striven to destroy. It is our task to fight to restore it, to bring it forward as a living force among Jewish workers. Indeed, the conditions are now developing for new and greater initiatives in these struggles on our part.
The October 1973 war, which created a new balance of forces in the Middle East and shattered the illusions that the security of the Israeli people could be assured through military superiority and territorial expansion, has led to a growing questioning of Zionist premises, both in Israel and here. To a growing extent, the policies of the Israeli government are being subjected to criticism.
These policies, in conjunction with the maneuvers of Kissinger, have been directed to preserving the status quo, that is, to seeking “partial” and “step-by-step” agreements yielding bits of conquered territory in return for Arab capitulation, while rejecting the just national claims of the Palestinian Arab people. These efforts have failed. It is now clearer than ever that a just and durable peace in the Middle East can be secured only through resumption of the Geneva negotiations, full implementation of UN Resolution 242 and fulfillment of the right of self-determination of the Palestinian Arabs, represented by the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Whereas previously the Party was almost alone among the Jewish people in its opposition to the aggressive, annexationist policies of the Israeli government and their support by the U.S. government, today there are growing breaks in the wall. Both in Israel and in this country, voices are increasingly being heard–both of prominent individuals and of organized groups, of Jews and non-Jews–calling for abandonment of the present policies which can lead only to war and disaster. Growing opportunities are developing, therefore, to build a movement of some breadth, particularly within the Jewish community, in support of the one genuine path to peace in the Middle East, thus eliminating this area as a major potential source of a new world war. To build such a movement is of utmost urgency, and it rests with our Party to take the necessary initiatives in this direction.
Our work in the Jewish field has been seriously affected by the ideological split which has developed in Party and progressive Jewish ranks–a split created by the opportunist course of certain Jewish leaders who have sought, through their control of progressive Jewish publications and organizations, to lead the progressive Jewish masses down the path of reactionary Jewish nationalism, racism and Right opportunism. This has necessitated a difficult, uphill ideological fight in defense of a Marxist-Leninist line on the Jewish question. We have made important headway in this struggle and have won a growing body of solid support for our Party’s policies in this field; however, the battle is far from won. The editors of the Morning Freiheit have taken it almost completely into the camp of the pro-Zionist, anti-Soviet forces and have tied it more closely with the degenerate MAKI in Israel and with Jewish Currents in this country, which has long abandoned any serious pretense to progressivism.
In this struggle, we have built a valuable instrument in the magazine Jewish Affairs. It is an effective publication, but much more must be done to build and improve it. Its circulation is as yet comparatively small, and its editorial staff is not yet adequate to accomplish what is possible and necessary. Jewish Affairs can be built into an attractive monthly magazine capable of attracting a large body of readers, and all necessary effort should be put into accomplishing this.
We have also built a valuable instrument in the Committee for a Just Peace in the Middle East in New York. This has become an important base of activity, through public meetings, literature, demonstrations, ads and other actions, as well as a medium of contact with other groups. It is distinctly a Left group with a relatively narrow base, but it can be built and can be important in the creation of a broader peace organization.
These accomplishments are a tribute to the work of the National Jewish Commission, which has carried on consistent work in its field However, its work continues to suffer from certain weaknesses which have long characterized our work in the Jewish field. Our activities and contacts are confined almost entirely to the older Yiddish-speaking groups. We are in the main divorced from those who constitute the main body of the Jewish people, Anglo-Jewish elements, and from the Jewish youth. As a result we lack contact with the new developing peace groups and the necessary base for working to build a united peace front with the Party as an accepted participant. We are separated from the broader struggle for Jewish-Black unity and from the struggles being waged around the so-called “quota” question. Serious consideration must be given toward, breaking with our sectarianism in this whole field of work.
The Commission needs to be strengthened through the addition of trade union, youth and forces involved in other Jewish organizations or activities. A full-time organizer should be assigned to this field of work, capable of travelling extensively, establishing contacts, building Jewish Affairs and strengthening and coordinating the Party’s work organizationally.
It is also necessary to strengthen ourselves ideologically, to improve our understanding of the Jewish question, the nature of Zionism, the character of the Jewish community and the necessity of building the Party among its working-class elements. And it is necessary to make clear the importance to the entire Party of the struggles against anti-Semitism, against Zionism, against U.S.-Israeli maneuvers in the Middle East, and against racism and reaction in the Jewish community.