Anti-Semitism – rooting out oppression or ruling class hypocrisy?

With a Conservative Party in disarray over Brexit and the British state clearly incapable of solving a whole host of social and economic problems there remains a serious possibility that “Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition”, aka the Labour Party, forms the next government. As we have written many times [1] Labour under Corbyn represents no threat to the system and no hope for the working class. This fact does not stop capitalists fretting that their profits will be hit by even a minor redistribution of income. Cue the latest attempt by the establishment media to discredit Corbyn’s Labour in a campaign which actually detracts from the real issue of anti-semitism.

On 28 March 2018 the “Daily Mail” carried a front page objecting to “the stench of anti-Semitism” in the Labour Party. This is the same “Daily Mail” who, in the 1930s trumpeted “Hurrah for the Blackshirts”, the British Union of Fascists whose favoured chant was “The Yids, the Yids, we’ve got to get rid of the Yids”. The same paper in 1938 also published a denunciation of “German Jews Pouring into this country” which the paper argued had to be stopped. A fine display of how the ruling class’s propaganda machine has demoted the real poison of anti-Semitism into a ploy to manoeuvre for or against political parties and factions.

In early April, the degree of farce escalated when Jeremy Corbyn attended a Passover event hosted by Jewdas, an organisation of Jews in the pro-Corbyn camp in the left of the capitalist political spectrum. In response, anti-Corbyn elements tried to use this as evidence of anti-Semitism because Corbyn mixed with Jews with whom they had political differences.

Behind the ruling class hypocritical cant lies the reality of violence and oppression flowing from the anti-semitic sewer. On March 23 Mireille Knoll an 86 year Parisian who had managed to escape the Holocaust was repeatedly stabbed to death in her flat. It was one incident amongst many in France. Last year it was 65 Sarah Halimi’s murder that brought about demonstrations against anti-Semitism.

In Hungary, in 2017 the government erected many billboards with a large picture of George Soros, an international financier who was born in Hungary and is Jewish. The posters’ slogan was “Don’t let Soros have the last laugh”. The “dog whistle” message was clear – Reuters reported that, “Some Soros billboards have been defaced with the words ‘stinking Jew’ in magic marker”. In Poland, about 60,000 took part in a nationalist and xenophobic demonstration in Warsaw in November, 2017 [2] . The Guardian reported on 12th November

Demonstrators with faces covered chanted “Pure Poland, white Poland!” and “Refugees get out!”. Unsurprisingly, in a country where there is a significant historic strand of anti-Semitism the same paper reported “A demonstrator interviewed by state television TVP said he was on the march to ‘remove Jewry from power’.

In Britain there is a bleak reality hidden under the media focus on the political infighting. The Community Security Trust that monitors anti-Semitic “hate crimes” reports the highest number of incidents since they started recording. In 2017 they reported 1,382 incidents, a rise of 3% from 2016 which had also been the highest on record. Violent anti-Semitic assaults increased by more than a third (34 per cent), from 108 in 2016 to 145 in 2017.

For many months, factions in the Labour Party have tried to outdo each other in appearing as the true opponents of anti-Semitism. These party political spats only disguise the real depth of anti-Semitism embedded in late capitalism. Specifically they spread the lie that anti-Semitism can be eliminated by “progressive” elements in and around the parties that jostle for position on the Parliamentary gravy train.

The British state’s acceptance of anti-Semitism in the emerging Imperialist order is clearly illustrated in their first efforts to control the migration of workers and dispossessed. The first appearance of specific controls was in 1905 when the Aliens Act was introduced, undoubtedly aimed to limit the flow of Jewish migrants who were predominantly fleeing repression and state supported violence in the Tsarist Russian Empire.

Rooting out exploitation and oppressions

As we have already written: The ruling class is … able to rely on various ideologies and a whole network of traditional relations of domination. These forms of oppression already existed in previous class societies, but under capitalism have taken on a modified shape corresponding to the interests of the system. Framing and maintaining the divisions within the working class into local and foreign, men and women, hetero- and homosexual, etc., is central to the security of the ruling class. The stirring up of prejudice and bigotry has always been an important ideological weapon of the bourgeoisie. It is all the more important for communists to resolutely stand up against all forms of oppression and the manifold ideological mystification of class domination. (For Communism, Section 3, The Struggle for Class Autonomy).

Anti-Semitism is firmly within that category of oppressions which existed long before the emergence of capitalism but was zealously adopted by bourgeois forces.

It is not accidental that the very word "Anti-Semitism" became commonly used at the dawn of the Imperialist epoch. It was first used around 1860 and was “popularised” by the German writer Wilhelm Marr in pamphlets published in 1879 and 1880. In 1879 he published a pamphlet "Der Sieg des Judenthums über das Germanenthum. Vom nichtconfessionellen Standpunkt aus betrachtet" (The Victory of the Jewish Spirit over the Germanic Spirit. Observed from a non-religious perspective). A further pamphlet was produced the following year when Marr founded the Antisemitenliga (League of Antisemites).

As some left liberal opponents of anti-Semitism have commented,

When Marr and his movement designed this term, to degrade a whole people, they couldn't care less that they were using it inaccurately by designating it for Jews specifically. (The Past Didn’t Go Away, 2007).

“Jewish Capitalism” and “Jewish Communism” – Inventions of anti-Semitism

At the start of the 20th century the Okhrana, the Tsarist secret police, produced and distributed a document which became totemic for all subsequent anti-Semitism. The “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” (referred to simply as Protocols in further references) purported to describe meetings of Jewish leaders in which they planned to dominate the world and destroy the existing “civilised order”. One of the key levers that was to establish this control of the world was the invented idea of Jewish control of finance and the banks.

That pillar of the forgery developed an anti-Semitic strand that has its origins in medieval Europe. Because of religious restrictions the nobility chose to take out loans from Jewish merchants. Often, these were loans that they were never able to, or never chose to, repay. A convenient way of avoiding payments was the physical removal of the money lenders. In England, for example, mass murder could take place such as at Clifford’s Tower in York in 1190. This was followed 100 years later by the expulsion of all Jews from England.

For anti-Semites in the Imperialist epoch, the Protocols helped crystallise the modern version of attacking supposed Jewish control of finance as a way of validating and encouraging acts of violence and oppression. Relying on the fact that a small fraction of Jews had become prominent in banking, the Rothschild family being the most quoted example, the anti-Semites built up the myth of Jewish finance both controlling and corrupting the world. Supposedly this banking/finance mechanism stands in “parasitic” contrast to the “productive”, “natural”, healthy development of “national” capitalist systems. That calumny is palpable nonsense in that the reality is that finance capital and industrial capital are intrinsically intertwined and mutually dependent. However, truth is no problem for the myth-peddlers. Inevitably, they can select historic examples where elements of the bourgeoisie, other than themselves, have depended on finance capital to better exploit the working class. Find someone identifiably Jewish involved in the dealing and “hey presto” the reality of exploitative capitalist development is portrayed as an alien Jewish conspiracy.

The protocols also developed an anti-Semitic aspect to the Okhranist authors’ natural opposition to Communism. Communism, the project to destroy capitalism and lay the basis for a moneyless future was portrayed as part of the Jewish conspiracy. Now, readers may puzzle about this Jewish conspiracy where finance capital and Communism are its two main pillars. Again, no problem to our sophisticated Mr/Ms anti-Semite. Why, these cunning Jews, if they can’t destroy civilisation one way then they’ll do it another way. Why expect spokespeople for irrational divisions to trouble themselves with anything approaching a defensible argument!

Nonsense it may have been and remains but the myth of “Jewish Communism” was prominent in the propaganda of both the Russian counter-revolutionaries and the German Nazis. The rational kernel that they were able to point to and misrepresent is that around the end of the 19th and early 20th century many Jews had rallied to revolutionary socialism as a route to ending oppression. This was partly linked to the development of a Jewish proletariat after the emancipatory initiatives of the bourgeois revolutions had dismantled the older forms of discrimination. In the first decades of the 20th Century, Jews had formed their own mass membership Socialist Party, the Bund, within the Tsarist Empire. Many secular Jews also joined the Bolsheviks and other revolutionary fractions in Russia and elsewhere. That process continued after the start of the Revolutionary wave in 1917 when Third Internationalist parties were formed in many parts of the world.

For the anti-Semites the participation of people of Jewish background in revolutionary socialist organisations was “proof” of a conspiracy. For Internationalists it is simply evidence of the Marxist revolutionary vision as a “pole of attraction” to those whose exploitation and oppression will continue as long as the capitalist order continues.

Anti-Zionism – the great confusion

If slurs and distortions about Jewish Communism and Jewish Capitalism have served the anti-Semites well there is also a third aspect which has developed since the founding of the Israeli state in 1948.

The Zionist movement was created in 1897 with the aim of creating a “national home” for Jewish people in Palestine, an area under the control of the Turkish Sultanate until the end of the First World War. In the carve-up of the former Turkish Empire, Britain was granted the “Mandate” (political, military and economic domination) of areas including Palestine west of the River Jordan. Zionism had degrees of support from some leading British politicians, including David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister who negotiated the mandate. On the other hand, in Britain and across the world, Zionism was a minority political belief amongst working class and petit bourgeois Jews. More significant layers were committed to the politics of the Second International and of the Third, both during its revolutionary phase and during its degeneration into a cheerleader for the state capitalist Soviet Union.

The Zionist project advanced massively in the 1930s and 1940s. Until the end of the Second World War many millions of Jews were slaughtered or displaced because of the systematic adoption of the most prolonged and barbaric anti-Semitic atrocities carried out by the fascist German state and its allies. Jews seeking to escape to democracies such as Britain or USA were refused admittance. As repression in Germany became more evident and brutal a conference was held at Evian les Bains in France to discuss admitting Jewish refugees. The attending 32 states included USA, Great Britain and the main British “Dominions” and European democracies such as Netherlands, France and Switzerland. The participants – with the exception of the Dominican Republic and, subsequently Costa Rica – refused to agree any, even partial, “open door” policy.

After the end of the war in Europe, Jews attempting to return to their former homes were often thwarted in the new de-Nazified states. Some of the worst examples were in the areas which had become part of the Empire controlled by Moscow. One of the most notorious was the pogrom carried out in 1946 in Kielce, Poland where more than 40 returning Jews were murdered.

While the British retained control of Palestine, ships carrying Jewish refugees from Europe were still refused permission to unload their “human cargo” in Palestine. The end of the Mandate arrangement allowed the Imperialist order to minimise the likelihood of displaced Jews disrupting the process of capitalist reconstruction throughout Europe. Britain was as unwelcoming to Jewish immigration in 1945 as it had been in 1938. The creation of Israel provided an ideal solution whereby displaced Jewry would be welcomed to a new state which the “big powers” hoped would be a long-term ally. Both the USA and the Soviet Union recognised the new state in the days immediately following its Declaration of Independence. In the process some 700,000 of the non-Jewish residents of Palestine were permanently driven from their homes. They became part of the horrific wave of ethnic cleansing which swept across Europe and the Indian sub-continent during the post-war Imperialist settlement.

The fact that the new state could only originate and survive as an agent for bigger powers fully matches the understanding of communist internationalists who have developed the positions explained by Rosa Luxemburg and others that there is now a complete separation between proletarian revolution and national liberationism. The reactionary nature of support for national states in the late Imperialist epoch is fully illustrated by the antics of those who argue in support of either Israel or Palestine. It is that background which has brought in the great fog around “anti-Zionism” and anti-Semitism.

Many of those who support Palestinian nationalism have developed an anti-Zionist discourse which includes undeniably anti-Semitic aspects. That includes extensive use of the tripe about Jewish conspiracies now sometimes re-entitled Zionist conspiracies. It also overlaps with the re-publishing and dissemination of the Protocols as a validatory document for their ideology.

On the other hand, the supporters of Israel, both Jewish and non-Jewish argue that opposition to the Israeli state, or even challenging its specific actions, is intrinsically and unavoidably anti-Semitic.

The reality of the competing nationalist ideologies is that both the supporters of the Israeli state and the supporters of a stronger Palestinian state both conflate anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism for their own ends.

The path to cutting through this tangle does not lie in the disputes in the Labour Party or any other parts of the ruling class political machine. The real alternative is the Internationalist rejection of support for any capitalist states in this epoch. Neither support for the Israeli nor Palestinian states is compatible with the call for international working-class unity across all national boundaries. Internationalists reject all the variations around one or two state solutions. Instead we argue for working-class unity and struggle that can point the way towards socialism – a stateless future that will transcend national antagonisms.

Destroy Capitalism to Destroy Oppressions

The rejection of national solutions is anathema to those who are committed to the advocates of a “peaceful and progressive” capitalist order.

However, it is only through the destruction of antagonisms, unavoidable and essential within capitalism, that national conflicts will be removed. Most pertinently the host of ideologies which spread divisive poison about real or imagined national, racial or ethnic differences would have their material basis destroyed by the proletarian revolution. The capitalist class who breed and nurture ideas of superiority/inferiority would lose their power to continue their miseducation.

The perpetuation of anti-Semitism is “hand in glove” with the continuation of capitalist social relations. The sweeping away of capitalism is not on the immediate agenda. The necessary extensions of proletarian class consciousness and organisation have yet to be achieved. Those who see the need to eliminate anti-Semitism should involve themselves in the struggle for a classless and nationless world. The current media circus about Parliamentary factions is totally removed from the necessary struggle to root out anti-Semitism through the struggle to destroy capitalism.

KT

Notes

[1] See leftcom.org for one among many articles.

[2] For our report on this see leftcom.org

Sunday, April 8, 2018