How the left turned against the Jews
Anti-Semitism has never been confined to the Right. Its latest manifestation is the left-wing campaign to undermine Israel
In Weimar Germany, riddled with resentment after defeat in World War I and the national catastrophe of the Treaty of Versailles, demagogues knew that they could win the attention of the mob by palming the race card from the bottom of the deck.
"You cry out against Jewish capital, gentlemen?" cried one. "You are against Jewish capital and want to eliminate the stock manipulators. Rightly so. Trample the Jewish capitalists under foot, hang them from the street lamps, stamp them out."
Ruth Fischer sounded like a Nazi. She used the same hate-filled language. She wanted to murder Jews. But Hitler would never have accepted her. Fischer was a leader of the German Communist Party. She made her small differences of opinion with the Nazis clear when she went on to say that her audience should not just trample Jewish capitalists to death, but all capitalists.
Unconcerned by the contradiction, Hitler said the Jews were at once a "Judaeo-Bolshevik" conspiracy and a capitalist conspiracy. In Fischer's case, he was half right. The rabble-rouser who wanted to hang Jewish capitalists was a Jewish Communist, the sister of Hanns Eisler, who wrote music for some of Brecht's early plays. Eisler and Brecht fled the Nazis in 1933. A sense of self-preservation triumphed over ideology, and they found permanent sanctuary in America rather than in Stalin's Soviet Union. Hanns could not have been surprised when the House Committee on Un-American Activities demanded his deportation. He was a prominent Communist composer who worked for Hollywood, which the American Right considered a nest of reds. Eisler was perhaps more surprised to discover that his own sister Ruth was a witness for the prosecution when the McCarthyites arraigned him in 1947. Supporters of Stalin had denounced her as a "Left oppositionist" Trotskyist. She responded by not only going over to the "capitalist camp" but by providing evidence against Hanns, and against a second brother, Gerhart, who was a leading agent in the Comintern.
Political and personal betrayals filled her life. But as Colin Shindler shows in his Israel and the European Left (Continuum, £17.99), her embrace of anti-Semitism would have struck her fellow Communists as no betrayal at all.
Before I go further, I should say that Shindler's book is superb: a well-written and meticulously researched history of the horrors and ironies of the last 100 years. He shows how screaming stereotypes and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories developed by Marxists — not by fascists or Islamists or Catholic and Orthodox nationalists, but by the Left — have survived while all around has changed...
Nick Cohen is a columnist for Standpoint and the Observer. His most recent book, You Can't Read this Book, was published in 2012
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