Monday, 8 July 2013

On the Anti-Semitism of Karl Marx

Karl Marx - Highgate Cemetery
by Robert Edwards
ESA No 45

To be the perfect Marxist you would need to take on all of Karl Marx’s opinions and ideas ... and not simply The Communist Manifesto and the complete text of Das Kapital. For Marx was far more than the revolutionary economist and theorist. He was a man of his time and his own personal and family circumstances.

For example, he was not Karl Marx the Jew, as right wing reactionaries have dubbed him in an attempt at identifying him as part of a cosmopolitan international conspiracy. To Adolf Hitler, for example, he was “the Jew Karl Marx”.

His father had converted to Lutheranism before Karl Marx was born and so the future revolutionary theorist would have known nothing of the Jewish belief system until much later into his life and only then in complete opposition to it.

Marx was of Jewish extraction but he was not a Jew. This is a phenomenon that was more widespread than acknowledged. There is a long tradition of apostasy which continues today with men like Israel Shamir and Gilad Atzmon who have reacted aggressively to the Jewish mindset and set themselves the task of exposing its more contentious aspects. Israel Shamir has explained he had shed his Jewishness, like a snake sheds its skin, and then converted to Coptic Christianity, one of the earliest expressions of the first Christian churches. His apostasy is complete and cemented by his outspoken views on the Zionist state and all the trappings of Jewish supremacism that go with it. Gilad Atzmon started out as a fervent nationalistic Israeli Zionist and then turned on it with a ferocity so often associated with the convert. He now lives in London.

Karl Marx was none of these things. His father was the apostate and the son was born into a Lutheran upbringing, the Jewish background, or “heritage” as it is now called, being a mere detail of ancestry. So Karl Marx was never a Jew, in the sense that he did not possess the mindset of a Jew. He was baptised at six.

Political opponents at the time liked to make references to Marx’s perceived “Jewishness”. For example, the anarchist Bakunin, who had collaborated with him, wrote on Marx, “Himself a Jew, he attracts, whether in London or in France, but especially in Germany, a whole heap of Yids, more or less intelligent, intriguers, busybodies and speculators, as the Jews are likely to be, commercial and bank agents, writers ... correspondents ... who stand one foot in the world of finance and the other in socialism”.

As much as Marx denied being Jewish, the more his critics and opponents insisted he was a Jew, attributing Jewish traits to his ideas. According to Robert Weltsch, editor of Jüdische Rundschau from 1919-1938 and a prominent German Zionist who used the slogan in his paper, “wear it with pride - the yellow badge”, in response to the Nazi boycott of Jewish shops, “It can be said that his Jewish origin has been stressed more by those who regard him as a disaster for mankind than by those who see in him as one of the blessed pioneers of a new era of human existence”. There were exceptions to this rule.

The German Marxist, Otto Rühle, (1874-1943) held a different, less charitable, explanation with, “As soon as he began to come into contact with the Gentile world and was intelligent enough to make comparisons, it was inevitable that he should feel his Jewish origin to be a disadvantage, a shackle upon his aspirations ... declaring himself before all the world not to be a Jew ... but one who takes so much trouble to declare that he is not a Jew must have reason for being afraid of being regarded as a Jew”.

Marx’s Jewish origins were a matter of indifference to himself, however.

In 1843, a German historian and close friend of Marx, Bruno Bauer, published a book titled The Jewish Question ... or Die Judenfrage in German ... which proposed the abolition of religion, leading to the emancipation of Jews in Germany and Prussia in particular. He believed only a secular state could lead to this freedom, with all religion eradicated. Prussia was very much a Christian state, restricting the rights of Jews. Perhaps this ‘detail of history’ contributed largely to the abolition of Prussia after 1945 by the victors of war.

Marx responded immediately to Bauer with his On The Jewish Question (written in 1843 and published in 1844), containing some controversial opinions that would be deemed anti-Semitic today. Marx disliked Judaism as a secular religion and made that very clear. The concept of ‘anti-Semitism’ did not exist in those days, it should be understood, and antipathy towards Jews was more or less the norm, Marx being no exception in that respect.

In his response to Bauer he wrote, “Let us consider  the actual, worldly Jew - not the sabbath Jew, as Bauer does, but the everyday Jew.

Let us not look at the secret of the Jew in his religion but let us look for the secret of his religion in the real Jew.

What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self interest. What is the worldly religion of the Jew? *Huckstering, What is his worldly God? Money.

Very well then! Emancipation from huckstering and money, consequently from practical, real Judaism, would be the self-emancipation of our time.

Where Bauer calls for the abolition of all religion in a secular state as the way forward to the emancipation of the Jews, Marx called for the Jew to first emancipate himself, to rid himself of his nature as a Jew through his secular religion of Judaism.

Marx then went on to state, “We recognise in Judaism, therefore, a general anti-social element of the present time, an element which through historical development to which in this harmful respect the Jews have zealously contributed has been brought to its present high  level, at which it must necessarily begin to disintegrate. In the final analysis, the emancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism.

But Bauer in his The Jewish Question is no less an “anti-Semite” than Karl Marx.

Bauer writes on page 114, “The Jew, who in Vienna, for example, is only tolerated, determines the fate of the whole Empire by his financial power. The Jew, who may have no rights in the smallest German state, decides the fate of Europe”.

To which Marx responds, “This is no isolated fact. The Jew has emancipated himself in a Jewish manner, not only because he has acquired financial power but also because, through him and also apart from him, money has become a world power and the practical Jewish spirit has become the practical spirit of the Christian nations. The Jews have emancipated themselves insofar as the Christians have become Jews.

Marx is a prophet of our Modern Age insofar that he recognises the origins of American capitalism, in particular. They are Jewish, he says.

He quotes a certain Captain Hamilton (Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father and the 1st US Secretary of the Treasury): “The devout and politically free inhabitant of New England is a kind of Laocoön who makes not the least effort to escape from the serpents which are crushing him. Mammon is his idol which he adores not only with his lips but with the whole force of his body and mind. In his view, the world is no more than a Stock Exchange and he is convinced that he has no other destiny here below than to become richer than his neighbour ...”.

Was Marx simply using Bauer’s essay Die Judenfrage as an excuse for espousing his own particular brand of anti-Semitism because, in today’s terms, that is what it is. If you place the Jews in a bad light then you are an anti-Semite, by definition.

He is right in criticising Bauer’s mistaken claim that a secular state would abolish religion. It did nothing of the sort in the United States which has no state religion. In reality, religions flourished there more than anywhere else. The American religious Right, along with the Zionist Christians, in the United States exert enormous influence in this secular state.

Religions exist side by side more comfortably in a secular state. They did so in Syria under President Assad, before the West and Saudi Arabia supported a violent rebellion composed of mercenaries and terrorists. The Christian community, in particular, was protected by Assad, himself of a Shia sect. The rebels very soon set about desecrating the objects of other religions while the West turned a blind eye to their atrocities.

It was Marx’s view that the secular state is not a threat to the existence of religions. His answer to the “Jewish problem” was that, in the case of the Jews, emancipation must first come from within.

Marx had not achieved the completion of his now famous critiques of capitalism that subsequently made him widely known as an economist of some gravitas. It is said that the conclusions he arrived at within On The Jewish Question set the tone for his anti-capitalism and related theories on economic inequality.

If the foundations of Marxism are based firmly on his anti-Semitism in On The Jewish Question, discussed here, then surely all those who call themselves Marxists need to rethink their position. The same goes for the anti-Marxists who attack the “Jew Karl Marx” for simply being a Jew and the claim that Marxism is somehow Jewish. It is clearly not, based on the text of On The Jewish Question.

Towards the end of his essay he wrote, “Money is the jealous god of Israel, in face of which no other gods exist. Money degrades all the gods of man and turns them into commodities. Money is the self-established value of all things. It has, therefore, robbed the whole world —  both the world of men and nature. The god of the Jews has become secularised and has become the god of the world. The bill of exchange is the real god of the Jew. His god is only an illusionary bill of exchange.

copyright © Robert Edwards 2013

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