Lethal anti-Semitism originated on the Left
The Marxist Left has a long and sordid history of anti-Semitism. The core belief was that Jews must cease to be Jews in order to be liberated. That has now been extended to virulent hostility to the Jewish State of Israel
Is the western Left’s opposition to Israel anti-Semitism? That’s a question that many on the Left feel they should not even have to answer.
With all the moral high ground they can occupy, the Left vehemently deny anti-Semitism and point to their historical opposition to German fascism. Those on the left say that they, just like the Jews, were specifically targeted by Hitler and the Nazis; indeed many on the left were Jews, so why should the Left be accused of hatred of Jews and Israel?
It’s a poor defence. Having a common enemy in Hitler unites everyone who is not morally dysfunctional. Looked at historically, the fact is that a particularly lethal form of anti-Semitism did originate on the Left, in fact on the Jewish left with the father of so called “scientific” communism Karl Marx the main instigator.
Even before Marx, however, there had been in socialist thinking a powerful strain of anti-Semitism. From the stereotypical Jewish street pedlar to the Rothschild banker, both were seen by socialists as rapacious agents of capitalism. The French socialist Proudhon (whom Marx met) provides a good example of such anti-Semitism.
In his latest book From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel, Robert Wistrich (Professor of European and Jewish history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem) makes the point: “Socialist thought was tainted from its very origins with the heavy baggage of anti-Jewish stereotypes”.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that early socialists imbibed the wider and deeply ingrained stereotype of the Jew as the money-grubbing outsider.
After all, the emancipation of Europe’s Jews in the nineteenth century was held to mean that Jews should lose much of their Jewish identity. They would no longer be outsiders, and would no longer need to be Jewish.
That conception of Jewish identity -- as alleged hucksters and rapacious capitalists -- had been deeply internalised throughout society and accepted as an obvious fact. Socialism merely reflected that "fact".
Marx, however, gave a lethal twist to socialist anti-Semitism.
As Robert Wistrich puts it in an earlier work Revolutionary Jews: From Marx to Trotsky: “only Marx went so far as to equate this ‘universal dominion’ of money with the ‘Jewish spirit’, and to transform the issue of Jewish emancipation into its dialectical antithesis -- the liberation of society from Judaism.”
Judaism and Jews were, for Karl Marx, not peripheral issues. They were central both to his tortured personality and to his economic and class theories about society. He came to believe that society, not just the Jews, needed to be “de-judaized” if it were ever to be free:
“The emancipation of the Jews means ultimately the emancipation of humanity from Judaism.”
Judaism and the Jewish cult of capitalist money-making, Marx believed, must be eradicated if society were to progress.
With this belief that Judaism was a secular cult of money-making that had poisoned society, Marx created something more than your everyday anti-Semitism. He created a lethal pathology that eventually made its way into Hitler’s National Socialism. The world, Hitler would later argue, must be de-Judaized if it is ever to be free.
Both Marx and Hitler saw the “necessity” to give a final answer to die Judenfrage, the Jewish Question. And both Marx and Hitler proposed extreme violence to bring about that final answer.
Marx proposed murderous revolution which would involve “expropriating” (murdering) the capitalist class (including Jews). Hitler, agreeing with Marx that “money domination” was an ineradicable part of the “Jewish spirit”, proposed the eradication of the entire Jewish people.
Marx was a Jew. But he was also an enraged, self-hating Jew with a deep sense of inferiority (not uncommon among European Jewish intellectuals at the time), an inferiority that he was quite capable of projecting onto others.
He referred to Polish Jews as the “filthiest of all races” (How Stalin and Hitler would have liked that), and to the socialist Ferdinand Lassalle as a "Judel Itzig", "a Jewish nigger".
Marx’s extreme self-hating anti-Semitism, according to Wistrich, goes a long way in explaining why Marx developed a poisonous antipathy to capitalism and to all religions, but particularly to Judaism, which he thought the earthly embodiment of capitalist greed and exploitation.
Many might find it hard to believe that Marx’s theory of communism was little more than towering rage at his Jewish background. But as many critics have observed, Marx’s economic and social theories lack economic and social realism and are in fact utopian religious dreams of a world free of human strife, particularly a world where he would not be seen as a Jew.
With such an attitude to Judaism, Marx also strongly rejected any suggestion of a national identity or a national homeland for the Jews. Such a solution to the “Jewish Question”, he believed, would perpetuate the very problem he wanted permanently to solve.
Many of Marx’s Jewish followers, such as Rosa Luxemburg, also naively rejected the need for a Jewish national identity and homeland, even in the face of virulent pogroms. Come the Revolution, Marxists believed, and still believe, all class distinctions will be abolished and everyone will live in peace and harmony; heaven on earth.
Was there ever a more dangerous and more utopian religious doctrine than Marxism?
Vincent Cooper is a regular contributor to The Commentator
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