Abram Leon

The Jewish Question


The decay of capitalism and the tragedy of the Jews in the 20th century

The primary merit of the capitalist regime lay in its tremendous expansion of the productive forces, its creation of a world economy, its permitting an unprecedented development of technology and science. As against the stagnation of the feudal world, capitalism presented an unparalleled dynamism. Hundreds of millions of people, immobilized up to then in a routinized, horizonless existence, suddenly found themselves drawn into the current of a feverish and intensive life.

The Jews lived within the pores of feudal society. When the feudal structure started to crumble, it began expelling elements which were, at one and the same time, foreign to it and indispensable to it. Even before the peasant had left the village for the industrial center, the Jew had abandoned the small medieval town in order to emigrate to the great cities of the world. The destruction of the secular function of Judaism within feudal society is accompanied by its passive penetration into capitalist society.

But if capitalism has given humanity certain tremendous conquests, only its disappearance can allow humanity to enjoy them. Only socialism will be able to lift humanity to the level of the material bases of civilization. But capitalism survives and all the enormous acquisitions turn more and more against the most elementary interests of humanity.

The progress of technology and science has become the progress of the science of death and its technology. The development of the means of production is nothing but the growth of the means of destruction. The world, become too small for the productive apparatus built up by capitalism, is constricted even further by the desperate efforts of each imperialism to extend its sphere of influence. While unbridled export constitutes an inseparable phenomenon of the capitalist mode of production, decaying capitalism tries to get along without it, that is to say, it adds to its disorders the disorder of its own suppression.

Powerful barriers impede the free circulation of merchandise and men. Insurmountable obstacles arise before the masses deprived of work and bread following the breakdown of the traditional feudal world. The decay of capitalism has not only accelerated the decomposition of feudal society but has multiplied a hundredfold the sufferings which resulted from it. The bearers of civilization, in a blind alley, bar the road to those who wish to become civilized. Unable to attain civilization, the latter are still less able to remain in the stage of barbarism. To the peoples whose traditional bases of existence it has destroyed, capitalism bars the road of the future after having closed the road of the past.

It is with these general phenomena that the Jewish tragedy of the twentieth century is tied up. The highly tragic situation of Judaism in our epoch is explained by the extreme precariousness of its social and economic position. The first to be eliminated by decaying feudalism, the Jews were also the first to be rejected by the convulsions of dying capitalism. The Jewish masses find themselves wedged between the anvil of decaying feudalism and the hammer of rotting capitalism.

A. The Jews in Eastern Europe

The entire situation of Judaism in Eastern Europe is explained by the combination of the decline of the old feudal forms and of the degeneration of capitalism. The social differentiation which took place in the village as a result of capitalist penetration brought about an influx into the cities of enriched as well as proletarianized peasants; the former wanted to invest their capital; the latter to offer their labor. But the openings for the placement of capital were as slight as those for work. Hardly born, the capitalist system already showed all the symptoms of senility. The general decay of capitalism manifested itself in crises and unemployment within the countries of Eastern Europe; by the closing of all the outlets for emigration outside their frontiers. Seven to eight million peasants were landless and almost without work in “independent” Poland. Placed between two fires, the Jews were exposed to the hostility of the petty bourgeoisie and the peasantry; who sought to find a place for themselves at the expense of the Jews. “Jewish positions are particularly threatened by the urban Polish bourgeoisie and by the rich peasants who seek a solution for their difficulties through a fierce economic nationalism, whereas the Polish working class suffering from permanent unemployment, seeks a remedy for its poverty through social liberation and puts its reliance upon economic and political solidarity rather than upon a sterile and murderous competition ....” [1]

It is precisely in the regions which capitalism had most developed that a non-Jewish commercial class formed most rapidly. It is there that the anti-Semitic struggle was fiercest. “The decrease in the number of Jewish shops has been greatest in the central provinces, that is to say, in a region where the population is purely Polish, where the peasants have attained a higher standard of living, where industry is more developed, which is very important for the material and intellectual situation of the village.” [2]

Whereas in 1914, 72 percent of the stores in the villages were Jewish, this fell to 34 percent in 1935, that is to say, by more than one-half. The situation was better for the Jews in territories less developed economically. “The participation of Jews in commerce is more important in the most backward provinces,” maintains Lipovski. “The eastern sections belonging to White Russians are, in all their relations – economic, intellectual, and political – the most backward part of Poland. In these regions, the absolute majority of Jewish businessmen has increased by a third.” [3] In 1938, 82.6 percent of the shops in the backward regions of Poland were in the hands of Jews. [4]

All of these facts are further proof that the destruction of feudalism is at the bottom of the Jewish question in Eastern Europe. The more backward a region is, the more easily are the Jews able to preserve their secular positions. But it is the general decay of capitalism which renders the Jewish question impossible of solution. The crisis and chronic unemployment make it impossible for the Jews to go into other professions, producing a frightful crowding in the professions which they follow and unceasingly augmenting anti-Semitic violence. The governments of the provincial nobles and large capitalists naturally endeavored to organize the anti-Jewish current and thereby divert the masses from their real enemy. “Resolve the Jewish question” became for them a synonym for the solution of the social question. In order to make place for the “national forces,” the state organized a systematic struggle for “dejudifying” all the professions. The methods of “Polanizing” business in Poland proceeded from simple boycotting of Jewish stores by means of propaganda, right up to pogroms and incendiarism. Here, by way of example, is a “victory bulletin” published June 14, 1936, in the governmental paper Illustrowany Kurjer codztienny: “One hundred and sixty Polish business positions were conquered during the first months of this year in the Madom district. At Przktyk alone – a notorious pogrom city – 50 business licenses were purchased by Poles. All in all, 2,500 Polish business positions were conquered in the various districts.” [5]

Jewish craftsmanship was no more tenderly handled by the Polish governments. Boycott, exorbitant taxes, Polish examinations (thousands of Jewish craftsmen did not know this language), contributed to grinding down the Jewish artisans. Deprived of unemployment relief, the craft proletariat was one of the most disinherited. The wages of Jewish workers were very low and their living conditions frightful (workday up to eighteen hours).

The universities constituted the favorite arena for the anti-Semitic struggle. The Polish bourgeoisie exerted all its efforts to prevent Jews from entering the intellectual professions. The Polish universities became places of veritable pogroms, throwing people out of windows, etc. Well before Hitler’s stars of David, the Polish bourgeoisie initiated ghetto benches in the umversities. “Legal” measures, more circumspect but no less effective, rendered entry into the universities almost impossible for the Jewish youth, whose ancestral heritage had strongly developed their intellectual faculties. The percentage of Jewish students in Poland declined from 24.5 percent in 1923–33 to 13.2 percent in 1933–36. [6]

The same policy of excluding Jewish students was followed in Lithuania and Hungary. The percentage of Jewish students in Lithuania declined from 15.7 percent in 1920 to 8.5 percent in 1931; in Hungary, from 31.7 percent in 1918 to 10.5 percent in 1931. In general the situation of the Jews in Hungary had for centuries resembled in every way that of Poland.

In the country of great feudal magnates, the Jews for a long time played the role of an intermediary class between the lords and the peasants.

“One of our correspondents reminds us that at the end of the nineteenth century; a certain Count de Palugyay had great trouble in avoiding expulsion from the National Club of the Hungarian nobility at Budapest, because he wanted to take charge personally of the industrial transformation of his agricultural products, particularly the distillation of alcohol and whiskey from potatoes; he had even gone so far as to take charge of their sale!

“The liberal professions were likewise not unaffected by this prejudice, which was as widespread among the high aristocracy as among the petty nobility. Shortly before the fall of the dual monarchy, a Hungarian magnate expressed his disgust of noblemen, who ‘for money, examined the throats of individuals whom they did not know.’ A natural consequence of this attitude was that the Jews formed the intermediary class between the peasantry and the nobility, particularly in the towns ... Trade, and especially petty trade, was a Jewish matter in the eyes of the people.

“Even today, in the minds of the masses of the Magyar population, the shop, and in a general way everything connected with the exploitation of the shop, are thought of as Jewish, even if this shop has become an instrument of economic struggle against the Jews.

“Here is a story which strikingly illustrates this state of mind: A peasant woman sent her son on some purchasing errands. She wanted them taken care of at the semistateized Hangya cooperative and not at a Jewish shop, so she said to him: ‘Pista, go to the Jew; not to the Jew who is a Jew, but to the new shop.’ ” [7]

The process of elimination of the Jews from their economic positions took place in all of Eastern Europe. The situation of the Jewish masses became hopeless. A declassed youth, having no possibility of integrating itself into economic life, lived in black despair. Prior to the second war, 40 percent of the Jewish population of Poland had to resort to philanthropic institutions. Tuberculosis raged.

“Let us give the floor to correspondents of the Economic and Statistical Section of the Jewish Scientific Institute residing in regions where despair and the complete absence of a better future were stifling the Jewish youth. Here is what one wrote of Miedzyrzecze, province of Volhynia: ‘The condition of the Jewish youth is very difficult, notably that of the sons and daughters of tradesmen who are without work because their parents do not require assistance. It is impossible to open new businesses. Seventy-five boys and 120 young girls, aged 15 to 28 years, have no hope whatever of integrating themselves into the economic life of the country.’ Of Sulejow (province of Lodz) we are in possession of a more detailed picture, which is characteristic of the small towns of Poland: ‘Almost 50 percent of the children of Jewish businesspeople work with their parents, but solely because they are unable to find another job. Twenty-five percent are learning some sort of trade and 25 percent are completely idle. Seventy percent of the children of artisans remain in the workshops of their parents even though the latter are almost without work and can very well get along without assistants. Ten percent are learning new trades ... twenty percent have nothing to do. The sons of rabbis and of employees of Jewish communities are trying to attain a livelihood by learning a trade. The entire youth desires to emigrate, 90 percent to Palestine, but because of the limited number of emigration visas, their chances are slim. And yet they are ready to go to the North Pole or the South Pole, just so long as they can tear themselves out of this stagnation. More and more the youth is turning towards the crafts and the number of young people in business is on the decline.’ ” [8]

B. The Jews in Western Europe

The condition of Judaism, rendered hopeless in Eastern Europe by the combined decay of feudalism and capitalism – which created a stifling atmosphere filled with insane antagonisms – had repercussions of a certain worldwide character. Western and Central Europe became the theater of a frightful rise of anti-Semitism. Whereas the reduction in Jewish emigration, whose average annual rate declined from 155,000 between 1901 and 1914 to 43,657 between 1926 and 1935, greatly aggravated the situation of the Jews in Eastern Europe, the general crisis of capitalism made even this reduced emigration an intolerable burden to the Western countries. [9]

The Jewish question reached unprecedented sharpness not only in the countries of emigration but in the countries of immigration as well. Even before the first imperialist war, the mass arrival of Jewish immigrants created a strong anti-Semitic movement among the middle classes of several Central and Western European countries. We need only recall the great successes of the anti-Semitic Social Christian Party at Vienna and of its leader, Lueger; the sweeping rise of anti-Semitism in Germany (Treitschke), and the Dreyfus Affair. Anti-Semitism showed its roots most clearly in Vienna, one of the great centers of Jewish immigration before the first imperialist war. The petty bourgeoisie, ruined by the development of monopoly capitalism and headed for proletarianization, was exasperated by the mass arrival of the Jewish element, traditionally petty-bourgeois and artisan.

After the first imperialist war, the countries of Western and Central Europe: Germany, Austria, France, and Belgium, saw tens of thousands of Jewish immigrants, in tatters, lacking all resources, pour in from Eastern Europe. The seeming postwar prosperity permitted these elements to penetrate into all branches of business and artisanry. But even the Jewish immigrants who had penetrated into the plants did not remain there for long.

The long commercial past of the Jews weighed heavily on their descendants and the favorable postwar economic conditions brought about a perceptible process of deproletarianization in Western Europe as well as in the United States. The Jewish workers retained their artisan position in the countries of immigration. In Paris in 1936 out of 21,083 Jewish workers belonging to trade unions, 9,253 worked at home.

The economic catastrophe of 1929 threw the petty-bourgeois masses into a hopeless situation. The overcrowding in small business, artisanry and the intellectual professions took on unheard of proportions. The petty bourgeois regarded his Jewish competitor with growing hostility; for the latter’s professional cleverness, the result of centuries of practice, often enabled him to survive hard times more easily. Anti-Semitism even gained the ear of wide layers of worker-artisans, who traditionally had been under petty-bourgeois influence.

It is consequently incorrect to accuse big business of having brought about anti-Semitism. Big business only proceeded to make use of the elementary anti-Semitism of the petty-bourgeois masses. It fashioned it into a major component of fascist ideology. By the myth of “Jewish capitalism,” big business endeavored to divert and control the anticapitalist hatred of the masses for its own exclusive profit. The real possibility of an agitation against Jewish capitalists lay in the antagonism between monopoly capital and speculative-commercial capital, which Jewish capital was in the main. The relatively greater permeability of speculative capital (stock exchange scandal) allowed monopoly capital to channel the hatred of the petty-bourgeois masses and even of a part of the workers against “Jewish capitalism.”

C. Racism

“Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, indeed, but with a false consciousness. The real motives impelling him remain unknown to him, otherwise it would not be an ideological process at all. Hence he imagines false or apparent motive forces.” [10]

Up to now we have tried to understand the real bases of anti-Semitism in our time. But it is sufficient to consider the role played in the development of anti-Semitism by the wretched document fabricated by the Tsarist Okhrana, The Protocols of Zion, to become aware of the importance of the “false or apparent motive forces” of anti-Semitism. In Hitlerite propaganda today, the real motivation of anti-Semitism in Western Europe – the economic competition of the petty bourgeoisie – no longer plays any role. On the contrary; the most fantastic allegations of The Protocols of Zion – the plans of universal domination by international Judaism – reappear in every speech and manifesto of Hitler. We must therefore analyze this mythical ideological element of anti-Semitism.

Religion constitutes the most characteristic example of an ideology. Its true motive forces must be sought in the very prosaic domain of the material interests of a class, but it is in the most ethereal spheres that its apparent motive forces are found. Nevertheless, the God who launched the Puritan fanatics of Cromwell against the English aristocracy and Charles I was nothing but the reflection or symbol of the interests of the English peasantry and bourgeoisie. Every religious revolution is in reality a social revolution.

It is the unbridled development of the productive forces colliding against the narrow limits of consumption which constitute the true motive force of imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism. But it is the “race” which seems to be its most characteristic apparent force. Racism is therefore in the first place the ideological disguise of modern imperialism. The “race struggling for its living space” is nothing but the reflection of the permanent necessity for expansion which characterizes finance or monopoly capitalism.

While the fundamental contradiction of capitalism, the contradiction between production and consumption, involves for the big bourgeoisie the necessity to struggle for the conquest of foreign markets, it compels the petty bourgeoisie to struggle for the expansion of the domestic market. The lack of foreign markets for the big capitalists proceeds hand in hand with the lack of domestic markets for the small capitalists. Whereas the big bourgeoisie struggles furiously against its competitors on the foreign market, the petty bourgeoisie combats its competitors on the domestic market not a whit less fiercely. “Racism” abroad is consequently accompanied by “racism” at home. The unprecedented aggravation of capitalist contradictions in the twentieth century brings with it a growing exacerbation of “racism” abroad as well as “racism” at home.

The primarily commercial and artisan character of Judaism, heritage of a long historical past, makes it Enemy Number One of the petty bourgeoisie on the domestic market. It is therefore the petty-bourgeois character of Judaism which makes it so odious to the petty bourgeoisie. But while the historical past of Judaism exercises a determining influence on its present social composition, it has effects no less important on the representation of the Jews in the consciousness of the popular masses. For the latter, the Jew remains the traditional representative of the “money power.”

This fact is of great importance because the petty bourgeoisie is not only a “capitalist” class, that is to say, a repository “in miniature” of all capitalist tendencies; it is also “anticapitalist.” It has a strong, though vague, consciousness of being ruined and despoiled by big business. But its hybrid character, its interclass position, does not permit it to understand the true structure of society nor the real character of big business. It is incapable of understanding the true tendencies of social evolution, for it has a presentiment that this evolution cannot help but be fatal for it. It wants to be anticapitalist without ceasing to be capitalist. It wants to destroy the “bad” character of capitalism, that is to say, the tendencies which are ruining it, while preserving the “good” character of capitalism which permits it to live and get rich. But since there does not exist a capitalism which has the “good” tendencies without also possessing the “bad,” the petty bourgeoisie is forced to dream it up. It is no accident that the petty bourgeoisie has invented “supercapitalism,” the “bad” deviation of capitalism, its evil spirit. It is no accident that its theoreticians have struggled mightily for over a century (Proudhon) against “bad speculative capitalism” and defended “useful productive capitalism.” [11] The attempt of Nazi theoreticians to distinguish between “national productive capital” and “Jewish parasitic capital” is probably the last attempt of this kind. “Jewish capitalism” can best represent the myth of “bad capitalism.” The concept of “Jewish wealth” is in truth solidly entrenched in the consciousness of the popular masses. It is only a question of reawakening and giving “presence,” by means of a well-orchestrated propaganda, to the image of the “usurious” Jew, against whom peasant, petty bourgeois, and lord had struggled over a long period. The petty bourgeoisie and a layer of workers remaining under its sway are easily influenced by such propaganda and fall into this trap of “Jewish capitalism.”

Historically, the success of racism means that capitalism has managed to channel the anticapitalist consciousness of the masses into a form that antedates capitalism and which no longer exists except in a vestigial state; this vestige is nevertheless still sufficiently great to give a certain appearance of reality to the myth.

We see that racism is made up of rather strange elements. It reflects the expansionist will of big capital. It expresses the hatred of the petty bourgeoisie for “foreign” elements within the domestic market as well as its anticapitalist tendencies.

It is in its aspect as a capitalist element that the petty bourgeoisie fights its Jewish competitor, and in its capitalist aspect that it struggles against “Jewish capital.” Racism finally diverts the anticapitalist struggle of the masses into a form that antedates capitalism, persisting only in a vestigial state.

But while scientific analysis permits us to reveal its component parts, racist ideology must appear as an absolutely homogeneous “doctrine.” Racism serves precisely to cast all classes into the crucible of a “racial community” opposed to other races. The racist myth strives to appear as a whole, having only vague connections with its origins which are often very different. It endeavors to fuse its different elements together in perfect fashion.

Thus, for example, “foreign” racism, the ideological disguise of imperialism, is not compelled, in and of itself, to adopt a strong anti-Semitic coloration. But from the necessity of synchronization, it generally does take on this character. The anticapitalism of the masses, first channeled in the direction of Judaism, is then carried over against the “foreign enemy,” which is identified with Judaism. The “Germanic race” will find itself faced with the duty of fighting the “Jew,” its principal enemy, in all his disguises: that of domestic Bolshevism and liberalism, of Anglo-Saxon plutocracy and of foreign Bolshevism. Hitler states in Mein Kampf that it is indispensable to present the various enemies under a common aspect, otherwise there is a danger that the masses will start thinking too much about the differences which exist among those enemies. That is why racism is a myth and not a doctrine. It demands faith, and fears reason like the plague. Anti-Semitism contributes most to cementing the different elements of racism.

Just as it is necessary to cast the different classes into one single race, so is it also necessary that this “race” have only a single enemy: “the international Jew.” The myth of race is necessarily accompanied by its “negative” – the antirace, the Jew. The racial “community” is built on hatred of the Jews, a hatred of which the most solid “racial” foundation is buried in history in a period when the Jew was in effect a foreign body and hostile to all classes. The irony of history wills that the most radical anti-Semitic ideology in all history should triumph precisely in the period when Judaism is on the road of economic and social assimilation. But like all “ironies of history” this seeming paradox is very understandable. At the time when the Jew was unassimilable, at a time when he really represented “capital,” he was indispensable to society. There could be no question of destroying him. At the present time, capitalist society, on the edge of the abyss, tries to save itself by resurrecting the Jew and the hatred of the Jews. But it is precisely because the Jews do not play the role which is attributed to them that anti-Semitic persecution can take on such an amplitude. Jewish capitalism is a myth; that is why it is so easily vanquished. But in vanquishing its “negative,” racism at the same time destroys the foundations for its own existence. In the measure that the phantom of “Jewish capitalism” disappears, capitalist reality appears in all its ugliness. The social contradictions, banished for a moment by the fumes of “racial” intoxication, reappear in all their sharpness. In the long run, the myth proves powerless against reality.

Despite its apparent homogeneity, the very evolution of racism allows to be clearly discerned the economic, social, and political transformations that it strives to conceal. At the beginning, in order to arm itself for the struggle for its “living space,” for imperialist war, big business must beat down its domestic enemy, the proletariat. It is the petty bourgeoisie and declassed proletarian elements that furnish it with its shock troops, capable of smashing the economic and political organizations of the proletariat. Racism, at the beginning, appears therefore as an ideology of the petty bourgeoisie. Its program reflects the interests and illusions of this class. It promises struggle against “supercapitalism,” against the trusts, stock exchange, big department stores, etc. But as soon as big business has succeeded in smashing the proletariat, thanks to the support of the petty bourgeoisie, the latter becomes an unbearable burden to it. The program of preparation for war implies precisely the ruthless elimination of small business, a prodigious development of the trusts, an intensive proletarianization. This same military preparation necessitates the support or at least a kind of neutrality from the proletariat, the most important factor in production. Thus big business does not hesitate for a moment to violate its most solemn promises in the most cynical way and to strangle the petty bourgeoisie in the most brutal fashion. Racism now devotes itself to flattering the proletariat, to appearing as a radically “socialist” movement. It is here that the Judaist-capitalist identification plays its most important role. The radical expropriation of Jewish capitalists has to fulfill the role of “collateral,” of “endorser” of racism’s anticapitalist will to struggle. The anonymous character of the capitalism of the monopolies, in contrast to the generally personal (and often speculative commercial) character of Jewish businesses, facilitates this operation of spiritual swindling. The common man more readily sees the “real” capitalist, the businessman, the manufacturer, the speculator, than the “respectable” director of a corporation who is made to pass as an “indispensable” factor in production. It is in this way that racist ideology reaches the following identifications: Judaism = capitalism; racism = socialism; a regulated war economy = a planned socialist economy.

It is undeniable that large layers of workers, deprived of their organizations, blinded by the foreign political successes of Hitler, have allowed themselves to be taken in by racist mythology, just as was the case previously with the petty bourgeoisie. For the time being the bourgeoisie appears to have attained its objective. The furious anti-Jewish persecution extending throughout Europe serves to indicate the “definitive” victory of racism, the final defeat of “international Judaism.”

D. The Jewish Race

The racial “theory” now dominant is nothing but an attempt to establish racism “on a scientific basis.” It is devoid of any scientific value. It is enough to observe the pitiful acrobatics which the racist theoreticians perform to demonstrate the relationship of the “Germans and the Nipponese” or the irrevocable antagonism between “the heroic German spirit” and the “commercial Anglo-Saxon spirit” in order to be completely convinced of this. The ramblings of a Montadon on “deprostituting” the Jewish “ethnic entity” by ... compelling the Jews to wear stars of David, are certainly not worth much. The real prostitution of certain “scholars” to racism presents an unusual spectacle of the decline of human dignity. But we see there only an end product of the complete decay of bourgeois science which had already, under democracy, lost its objectivity.

Racist stupidities must not however deter us from examining the extent to which it is necessary to speak of a Jewish race. The most superficial examination of the question leads us to the conclusion that the Jews constitute in reality a mixture of the most diverse races. It is evidently the Diaspora character of Judaism which is the fundamental cause of this fact. But even in Palestine, the Jews were far from constituting a “pure race.” Leaving aside the fact that, according to the Bible, the Israelites brought a mass of Egyptians with them when they left Egypt and that Strabo considered them as descendants of Egyptians, it is enough to recall the numerous races which had established themselves in Palestine: Hittites, Canaanites, Philistines (“Aryans”), Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks, and Arabs. According to Strabo, Judea was inhabited by Phoenicians, Egyptians, and Arabs. The development of Jewish proselytism during the Greek and Roman era strongly accentuated the mixed character of Judaism. As early as 139 B.C., the Jews were driven out of Rome for having made proselytes there. The community of Antioch was composed in large part of proselytes. Proselytism continued even during subsequent eras. The compulsory conversion of slaves to Judaism, the conversion of the Khazars as well as of other races and tribes in the course of the long Diaspora, have been so many factors which have made a characteristic conglomeration of races out of Judaism.

At the present time there is absolutely no racial homogeneity between the Yemenite Jews, for example, and the Jews of Dagestan. The first are Oriental in type while the second belong to the Mongol race. There are black Jews in India, Ethiopian Jews (Falasha), “Troglodyte” Jews in Africa. However, this fundamental difference which exists, for example, between the Jews of Dagestan and the Yemenite Jews, does not exhaust the question. Actually nine-tenths of today’s Jews are inhabitants of Eastern Europe or descendants of Jews from this area.

Is there a European-Oriental Jewish race? Here is how the anti-Semitic theoretician, Hans Gunther, answers this question: “Eastern Judaism, which comprised close to nine-tenths of the Jews, consisting today of the Jews of Russia, Poland, Galicia, Hungary Austria, and Germany, as well as the largest part of the Jews in North America and a large part of Western European Jewry constitutes a racial mixture which we may designate as Western Asiatic-Oriental-East Baltic-Eastern-Central Asiatic-Nordic-Hamitic-Negroid.” [12]

According to research undertaken in NewYork of 4,235 Jews there were:















14.25 percent of Jews and 12.7 percent of Jewesses had what is called the Jewish nose, which is nothing else but the nose common to the peoples of Asia Minor, especially widespread among the Armenians. This nose is also common among the Mediterranean peoples as well as among the Bavarians (Dinaric race). These few observations permit us to see how stupid the concept of the “Jewish race” is. The Jewish race is a myth. On the other hand, it is correct to say that the Jews constitute a racial mixture that is different from the racial mixtures of most of the European peoples, especially the Slavs and Germans.

However, it is not so much the anthropological characteristics of the Jews which distinguish them from other peoples as their physiological, pathological, and, above all, psychological characteristics.

It is primarily the economic and social function of Judaism throughout history which explains this phenomenon. For centuries the Jews were the inhabitants of cities, occupied in trade. The Jewish type is far more the result of this secular function than a racial characteristic. The Jews have absorbed a mass of heterogeneous racial elements but all these elements have been subjected to the influence of the special conditions in which the Jews lived, which, in the long run, ended up with the creation of the so-called “Jewish type.” This is the result of a long selection, not racial but economic and social. The physical weakness, the frequency of certain illnesses like diabetes, nervous disorders, a specific body posture, etc., are not racial characteristics but are the result of a specific social position. Nothing is more ridiculous than to explain, for example, the Jews’ penchant for trade or their tendency to abstract thinking on the basis of their race. Wherever the Jews are assimilated economically, wherever they cease to form a class, they rapidly lose all these characteristics. And so it happens that where the racist theoreticians thought they were face to face with a “genuine race,” they were in reality only viewing a human community, whose specific characteristics are above all the result of the social conditions in which it lived for many centuries. A change in these social conditions must naturally bring with it the disappearance of the “racial characteristics” of Judaism.

E. Zionism

Zionism was born in the light of the incendiary fires of the Russian pogroms of 1882 and in the tumult of the Dreyfus Affair – two events which expressed the sharpness that the Jewish problem began to assume at the end of the nineteenth century.

The rapid capitalist development of Russian economy after the reform of 1863 made the situation of the Jewish masses in the small towns untenable. In the West, the middle classes, shattered by capitalist concentration, began to turn against the Jewish element whose competition aggravated their situation. In Russia, the association of the “Lovers of Zion” was founded. Leo Pinsker wrote Auto-emancipation, in which he called for a return to Palestine as the sole possible solution of the Jewish question. In Paris, Baron Rothschild, who like all the Jewish magnates viewed with very little favor the mass arrival of Jewish immigrants in the Western countries, became interested in Jewish colonization in Palestine. To help “their unfortunate brothers” to return to the land of their “ancestors,” that is to say, to go as far away as possible, contained nothing displeasing to the Jewish bourgeoisie of the West, who with reason feared the rise of anti-Semitism. A short while after the publication of Leo Pinsker’s book, a Jewish journalist of Budapest, Theodor Herzl, saw anti-Semitic demonstrations at Paris provoked by the Dreyfus Affair. Soon he wrote The Jewish State, which to this day remains the bible of the Zionist movement. From its inception, Zionism appeared as a reaction of the Jewish petty bourgeoisie (which still forms the core of Judaism), hard hit by the mounting anti-Semitic wave, kicked from one country to another, and striving to attain the Promised Land where it might find shelter from the tempests sweeping the modern world.

Zionism is thus a very young movement; it is the youngest of the European national movements. That does not prevent it from pretending, even more than all other nationalism, that it draws its substance from a far distant past. Whereas Zionism is in fact the product of the last phase of capitalism, of capitalism beginning to decay, it pretends to draw its origin from a past more than two thousand years old. Whereas Zionism is essentially a reaction against the situation created for Judaism by the combination of the destruction of feudalism and the decay of capitalism, it affirms that it constitutes a reaction against the state of things existing since the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70 of the Christian era. Its recent birth is naturally the best reply to these pretensions. As a matter of fact, how can one believe that the remedy for an evil existing for two thousand years was discovered only at the end of the nineteenth century? But like all nationalisms – and even more intensely – Zionism views the historic past in the light of the present. In this way, too, it distorts the present-day picture. Just as France is represented to French children as existing since the Gaul of Vercingetorix, just as the children of Provence are told that the victories that the kings of Ile de France won over their ancestors were their own successes, in the same way Zionism tries to create the myth of an eternal Judaism, eternally the prey of the same persecutions. Zionism sees in the fall of Jerusalem the cause of the dispersion, and consequently, the fountainhead of all Jewish misfortunes of the past, present, and future. “The source of all the misfortunes of the Jewish people is the loss of its historic country and its dispersion in all countries,” declares the Marxist delegation of the Poale-Zion to the Dutch-Scandinavian committee. After the violent dispersion of the Jews by the Romans, their tragic history continues. Driven out of their country, the Jews did not wish (oh beauty of free will!) to assimilate. Imbued with their “national cohesiveness,” “with a superior ethical feeling,” and with “an indestructible belief in a single God” (see the article of Ben-Adir on Anti-Semitism in the General Encyclopedia), they have resisted all attempts at assimilation. Their sole hope during these somber days which lasted two thousand years has been the vision of a return to their ancient country.

Zionism has never seriously posed this question: Why, during these two thousand years, have not the Jews really tried to return to this country? Why was it necessary to wait until the end of the nineteenth century for a Herzl to succeed in convincing them of this necessity? Why were all the predecessors of Herzl, like the famous Sabbatai Zebi, treated as false Messiahs? Why were the adherents of Sabbatai Zebi fiercely persecuted by orthodox Judaism?

Naturally, in replying to these interesting questions, refuge is sought behind religion. “As long as the masses believed that they had to remain in the Diaspora until the advent of the Messiah, they had to suffer in silence,” states Zitlovski [13], whose Zionism is moreover quite conditional. Nevertheless this explanation tells us nothing. What is required is precisely an answer to the question of why the Jewish masses believed that they had to await the Messiah in order to be able to “return to their country.” Religion being an ideological reflection of social interests, it must perforce correspond to them. Today religion does not at all constitute an obstacle to Zionism. [14]

In reality just so long as Judaism was incorporated in the feudal system, the “dream of Zion” was nothing but a dream and did not correspond to any real interest of Judaism. The Jewish tavern owner or “farmer” of sixteenth-century Poland thought as little of “returning” to Palestine as does the Jewish millionaire in America today. Jewish religious Messianism was no whit different from the Messianism belonging to other religions. Jewish pilgrims who went to Palestine met Catholic, Orthodox, and Moslem pilgrims. Besides it was not so much the “return to Palestine” which constituted the foundation of this Messianism as the belief in the rebuilding of the temple of Jerusalem.

All of these idealist conceptions of Zionism are naturally inseparable from the dogma of eternal anti-Semitism. “As long as the Jews will live in the Diaspora, they will be hated by the natives.” This essential point of view for Zionism, its spinal column so to speak, is naturally given different nuances by its various currents. Zionism transposes modern anti-Semitism to all of history; it saves itself the trouble of studying the various forms of anti-Semitism and their evolution. However, we have seen that in different historical periods, Judaism made up part of the possessing classes and was treated as such. To sum up [the idealist conception], the sources of Zionism must be sought in the impossibility of assimilation because of “eternal anti-Semitism” and of the will to safeguard the “treasures of Judaism.” [15]

In reality, Zionist ideology, like all ideologies, is only the distorted reflection of the interests of a class. It is the ideology of the Jewish petty bourgeoisie, suffocating between feudalism in ruins and capitalism in decay. The refutation of the ideological fantasies of Zionism does not naturally refute the real needs which brought them into being. It is modern anti-Semitism, and not mythical “eternal” anti-Semitism, which is the best agitator in favor of Zionism. Similarly, the basic question to determine is: To what extent is Zionism capable of resolving not the “eternal” Jewish problem but the Jewish question in the period of capitalist decay?

Zionist theoreticians like to compare Zionism with all other national movements. But in reality, the foundations of the national movements and that of Zionism are altogether different. The national movement of the European bourgeoisie is the consequence of capitalist development; it reflects the will of the bourgeoisie to create the national bases for production, to abolish feudal remnants. The national movement of the European bourgeoisie is closely linked with the ascending phase of capitalism. But in the nineteenth century, in the period of the flowering of nationalisms, far from being “Zionist,” the Jewish bourgeoisie was profoundly assimilationist. The economic process from which the modern nations issued laid the foundations for integration of the Jewish bourgeoisie into the bourgeois nation.

It is only when the process of the formation of nations approaches its end, when the productive forces have for a long time found themselves constricted within national boundaries, that the process of expulsion of Jews from capitalist society begins to manifest itself, that modern anti-Semitism begins to develop. The elimination of Judaism accompanies the decline of capitalism. Far from being a product of the development of the productive forces, Zionism is precisely the consequence of the complete halt of this development, the result of the petrifaction of capitalism. Whereas the national movement is the product of the ascending period of capitalism, Zionism is the product of the imperialist era. The Jewish tragedy of the twentieth century is a direct consequence of the decline of capitalism.

Therein lies the principal obstacle to the realization of Zionism. Capitalist decay – basis for the growth of Zionism – is also the cause of the impossibility of its realization. The Jewish bourgeoisie is compelled to create a national state, to assure itself of the objective framework for the development of its productive forces, precisely in the period when the conditions for such a development have long since disappeared. The conditions of the decline of capitalism which have posed so sharply the Jewish question make its solution equally impossible along the Zionist road. And there is nothing astonishing in that. An evil cannot be suppressed without destroying its causes. But Zionism wishes to resolve the Jewish question without destroying capitalism, which is the principal source of the suffering of the Jews.

At the end of the nineteenth century in the period when the Jewish problem was just beginning to be posed in all its sharpness, 150,000 Jews each year left their countries of origin. Between 1881 and 1925, nearly four million Jews emigrated. Despite these enormous figures, the Jewish population of Eastern Europe rose from six to eight million.

Thus, even when capitalism was still developing, even when the countries across the ocean were still receiving immigrants, the Jewish question could not even begin to be resolved (in the Zionist sense); far from diminishing, the Jewish population showed a bad penchant of wanting to grow. In order to begin to resolve the Jewish question, that is to say, in order to begin really to transplant the Jewish masses, it would be necessary for the countries of immigration to absorb at least a little more than the natural growth of Jews in the Diaspora, that is at least three hundred thousand Jews per year. And if such a figure could not be reached before the first imperialist war, when all the conditions were still favorable for emigration, when all developed countries such as the United States were permitting the mass entry of immigrants, then how can we think that it is possible in the period of the continuous crisis of capitalism, in the period of almost incessant wars?

Naturally there are enough ships in the world to transport hundreds of thousands, even millions of Jews. But if all countries have closed their doors to immigrants, it is because there is an overproduction of labor forces just as there is an overproduction of commodities. Contrary to Malthus, who believed that there would be too many people because there would be too few goods, it is precisely the abundance of goods which is the cause of the “plethora” of human beings. By what miracle, in a period when the world markets are saturated with goods, in a period when unemployment has everywhere become a permanent fixture, by what miracle can a country, however great and rich it may be (we pass over the data relating to poor and small Palestine), develop its productive forces to the point of being able to welcome three hundred thousand immigrants each year? In reality the possibilities for Jewish emigration diminish at the same time that the need for it increases. The causes which promote the need for emigration are the same as those which prevent its realization; they all spring from the decline of capitalism.

It is from this fundamental contradiction between the necessity for and the possibility of emigration that the political difficulties of Zionism flow. The period of development of the European nations was also the period of an intensive colonization in the countries across the ocean. It was at the beginning and middle of the nineteenth century in the golden age of European nationalism, that North America was colonized; it was also in this period that South America and Australia began to be developed. Vast areas of the earth were practically without a master and lent themselves marvelously to the establishment of millions of European emigrants. In that period, for reasons that we have studied, the Jews gave almost no thought to emigrating.

Today the whole world is colonized, industrialized, and divided among the various imperialisms. Everywhere Jewish emigrants come into collision at one and the same time with the nationalism of the “natives” and with the ruling imperialism. In Palestine, Jewish nationalism collides with an increasingly aggressive Arab nationalism. The development of Palestine by Jewish immigration tends to increase the intensity of this Arab nationalism. The economic development of the country results in the growth of the Arab population, its social differentiation, the growth of a national capitalism. To overcome Arab resistance the Jews need English imperialism. But its “support” is as harmful as is Arab resistance. English imperialism views with a favorable eye a weak Jewish immigration to constitute a counterweight to the Arab factor, but it is intensely hostile to the establishment of a big Jewish population in Palestine, to its industrial development, to the growth of its proletariat. It merely uses the Jews as a counterweight to the Arab threat but does everything to raise difficulties for Jewish immigration. Thus, to the increasing difficulties flowing from Arab resistance, there is added the perfidious game of British imperialism.

Finally, we must draw still one more conclusion from the fundamental premises which have been established. Because of its necessarily artificial character, because of the slim perspectives for a rapid and normal development of Palestinian economy in our period, the task of Zionist colonization requires considerable capital. Zionism demands incessantly increasing sacrifices from the Jewish communities of the world. But so long as the situation of the Jews is more or less bearable in the Diaspora, no Jewish class feels the necessity of making these sacrifices. To the extent that the Jewish masses feel the necessity of having a “country,” to the extent also that persecutions mount in intensity, so much the less are the Jewish masses able to contribute to Zionist construction. “A strong Jewish people in the Diaspora is necessary for Palestinian reconstruction,” states Ruppin. But so long as the Jewish people is strong in the Diaspora, it feels no need for Palestinian reconstruction. When it strongly feels this necessity, the possibility for realizing it no longer exists. It would be difficult today to ask European Jews, who have a pressing need to emigrate, to give aid for the rebuilding of Palestine. The day when they will be able to do it, it is a safe assumption that their enthusiasm for this task will have considerably cooled.

A relative success for Zionism, along the lines of creating a Jewish majority in Palestine and even of the formation of a “Jewish state,” that is to say, a state placed under the complete domination of English or American imperialism, cannot, naturally, be excluded. This would in some ways be a return to the state of things which existed in Palestine before the destruction of Jerusalem and, from this point of view, there will be “reparation of a two-thousand-year-old injustice.” But this tiny “independent” Jewish state in the midst of a worldwide Diaspora will be only an apparent return to the state of things before the year 70. It will not even be the beginning of the solution of the Jewish question. The Jewish Diaspora of the Roman era was in effect based on solid economic ground; the Jews played an important economic role in the world. The existence or absence of a Palestinian mother country had for the Jews of this period only a secondary importance. Today it is not a question of giving the Jews a political or spiritual center (as Achaad Haam would have it). It is a question of saving Judaism from the annihilation which threatens it in the Diaspora. But in what way will the existence of a small Jewish state in Palestine change anything in the situation of the Polish or German Jews? Admitting even that all the Jews in the world were today Palestinian citizens, would the policy of Hitler have been any different?

One must be stricken with an incurable juridical cretinism to believe that the creation of a small Jewish state in Palestine can change anything at all in the situation of the Jews throughout the world, especially in the present period. The situation after the eventual creation of a Jewish state in Palestine will resemble the state of things that existed in the Roman era only in the fact that in both cases the existence of a small Jewish state in Palestine could in no way influence the situation of the Jews in the Diaspora. In the Roman era, the economic and social position of Judaism in the Diaspora was very strong, so that the disappearance of this Jewish state did not in any way compromise it. Today the situation of the Jews in the world is very bad; so the reestablishment of a Jewish state in Palestine cannot in any way restore it. In both cases the situation of the Jews does not at all depend on the existence of a state in Palestine but is a function of the general economic, social, and political situation. Even supposing that the Zionist dream is realized and the “secular injustice” is undone – and we are still very far from that – the situation of Judaism throughout the world will in no way be modified by that. The temple will perhaps be rebuilt but the faithful will continue to suffer.

The history of Zionism is the best illustration of the insurmountable difficulties that it encounters, difficulties resulting, in the last analysis, from the fundamental contradiction which tears it apart: the contradiction between the growing necessity of resolving the Jewish question and the growing impossibility of resolving it under the conditions of decaying capitalism. Immediately following the first imperialist war, Jewish emigration to Palestine encountered no great obstacles in its path. Despite that, there were relatively few immigrants; the economic conditions of capitalist countries after the war made the need to emigrate less pressing. It was, moreover, because of this light emigration that the British movement did not feel obliged to set up bars to the entry of Jews into Palestine. In the years 1924, 1925, 1926, the Polish bourgeoisie opened an economic offensive against the Jewish masses. These years are also the period of a very important immigration into Palestine. But this massive immigration soon collided with insurmountable economic difficulties. The ebb was almost as great as was the flood tide. Up to 1933, the date of Hitler’s arrival to power, immigration was of little importance. After this date, tens of thousands of Jews began to arrive in Palestine. But this “conjuncture” was soon arrested by a storm of anti-Jewish demonstrations and massacres. The Arabs seriously feared becoming a minority in the country. The Arab feudal elements feared being submerged by the capitalist wave. British imperialism profited from this tension by piling up obstacles to the entry of the Jews, by working to deepen the gulf existing between the Jews and the Arabs, by proposing the partition of Palestine. Up to the second imperialist war, Zionism thus found itself in the grip of mounting difficulties. The Palestinian population lived in a state of permanent terror. Precisely when the situation of the Jews became ever more desperate, Zionism showed itself absolutely incapable of providing a remedy. “Illegal” Jewish immigrants were greeted with rifle fire by their British “protectors.”

The Zionist illusion began to lose its attractiveness even in the eyes of the most uninformed. In Poland, the last elections revealed that the Jewish masses were turning completely away from Zionism. The Jewish masses began to understand that Zionism not only could not seriously improve their situation, but that it was furnishing weapons to the anti-Semites by its theories of the “objective necessity of Jewish emigration.” The imperialist war and the triumph of Hitlerism in Europe are an unprecedented disaster for Judaism. Judaism is confronted with the threat of total extinction. What can Zionism do to counteract such a disaster? Is it not obvious that the Jewish question is very little dependent upon the future destiny of Tel Aviv but very greatly upon the regime which will be set up tomorrow in Europe and in the world? The Zionists have a great deal of faith in a victory of Anglo-American imperialism. But is there a single reason for believing that the attitude of the Anglo-American imperialists will differ after their eventual victory from their prewar attitude? It is obvious that there is none. Even admitting that Anglo-American imperialism will create some kind of abortive Jewish state, we have seen that the situation of world Judaism will hardly be affected. A great Jewish immigration into Palestine after this war will confront the same difficulties as previously. Under conditions of capitalist decay, it is impossible to transplant millions of Jews. Only a worldwide socialist planned economy would be capable of such a miracle. Naturally this presupposes the proletarian revolution.

But Zionism wishes precisely to resolve the Jewish question independently of the world revolution. By misconstruing the real sources of the Jewish question in our period, by lulling itself with puerile dreams and silly hopes, Zionism proves that it is an ideological excrescence and not a scientific doctrine. [16]



1. Congrès Juif Mondial, op. cit., pp. 246–47.

2. Ibid., p. 249.

3. Ibid., p. 249.

4. Yiddishe Economic (September–October 1938), p. 437.

5. At Warsaw in 1882, 79.3 percent of businessmen were Jews; in 1931, 51.4 percent of the businessmen were Jews. Jacob Lestschinsky, Der Wirtschaftliche Zusammenbruch der Juden in Deutschland u. Polen (Paris 1938), p. 48.

6. In the period when Jewish and non-Jewish petty-bourgeois intellectuals represent Hitler as the sole responsible party for anti-Semitism in our time, in the period when the United Nations, among them Poland, lay claim to being defenders of the “rights of man” – recalling this fact will most certainly not be devoid of usefulness. Of course Hitler organized, in a premeditated way, the destruction of European Judaism, and personified capitalist barbarism in this sphere as in others. But the various more or less “democratic” governments which followed each other in Poland could not have learned very much from him. The disappearance of Hitler can change nothing fundamental in the situation of the Jews. A transitory improvement of their condition will in no wise alter the profound roots of twentieth-century anti-Semitism.

7. Congrès Juif Mondial, op. cit., pp. 120–121.

8. Ibid., p. 254.

9. Yiddishe Economic (July–August 1938), p. 353.

10. Engels to Mehring, Selected Correspondence of Marx and Engels (New York 1942), p. 511.

11. See the Proudhon Utopia of free credit.

12. Hans Günther, Rassenkunde des Jüdischen Volkes (Munich 1930), p. 191.

13. Materialism and the National Question.

14. There is a religious Zionist bourgeois party, Misrakhi, and a religious Zionist workers party, Poale-Misrakhi.

15. Adolf Böhm, Die Zionistische Bewegung (Berlin 1935), vol. 1, chapter 3.

16. In this chapter, Zionism has been treated only insofar as it is linked with the Jewish question. The role of Zionism in Palestine naturally constitutes another problem.


Last updated: 19 August 2020