The Western Socialist
Vol. 27 - No. 212
No. 1, 1960
Under the above heading a small book has been issued consisting mainly of articles by Karl Marx on "The Jewish Question." These articles were first published in 1844, partly in the "German-French Yearbook" (1) and partly in "The Holy Family" (2), and form part of the criticism by Marx and Engels of the Young Hegelian viewpoint, with particular reference to the views of Bruno Bauer, a leading exponent of this viewpoint.
But it is not the purpose of the publishers of "A World Without Jews" to give publicity to Marxian thought. Their purpose is to advance the preposterous claim that Marx was anti-Semitic; and his articles on the Jewish question, together with an introductory article by a certain Dagobert D. Runes, are considered to substantiate this claim. Runes is described in the publishers' note as an "eminent philosopher," a description that will have to find support elsewhere.
The literary works of Marx are voluminous and were written during a period of more than forty years. Through these years Marx took up many problems and faced many opponents. Towards the latter he was not always soft-spoken; he was often satirical, sarcastic, even brutal. Of the English Church he wrote, "The English Established Church will more readily pardon an attack on 38 of its 39 articles than on one thirty-ninth of its income." (3) Of Christianity he said, "The social principles of Christianity preach cowardice, self-contempt, abasement, submission, humility, in a word, all the qualities of the canaille ... The social principles of Christianity are lick-spittle ..." (4) Speaking of religion in general, he said, "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the feelings of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of unspiritual conditions. It is the opium of the people." (5).
Statements such as these have often provided an excuse for the claim by apologists for capitalism that Marx was embittered (Runes echoes this claim); but we have yet to observe even his most vicious foes claiming that Marx would have welcomed the return of the Christians to the Colosseum. Marx's attitude was explanatory, not punitive. In commenting on his treatment of the capitalist and the landlord he said, "I paint the capitalist and the landlord in no sense coleur de rose. But here individuals are dealt with only insofar as they are the personifications of economic categories, embodiments of particular class-relations and class-interests." (6) Such an attitude through all the works of Marx, including his criticisms of the Jews, is readily apparent to the student of Marx, and nowhere in his utterances or activities is there evidence that he supported anti-Semitism.
Marx's articles on the Jewish question dealt with the demand of the Jews for "emancipation." He countered this demand by showing the extent to which the Jews had become adapted to bourgeois society. He wrote:
"Judaism has persisted alongside of Christianity not only as religious criticism of Christianity, not only as the embodiment of doubt in the religious parentage of Christianity, but equally because Judaism has maintained itself, and even received its supreme development, in Christian society. The Jew who exists as a peculiar member of bourgeois society, is only the particular expression of the Judaism of bourgeois society. Judaism has survived not in spite of, but by virtue of history." (7)
The Jew had succeeded in an effective and material way under capitalism. To Marx, however, the one task worth considering was not the political aspirations of a section of mankind but the emancipation of mankind itself, a task to which his whole life became dedicated:
"As soon as society succeeds in abolishing the empirical essence of Judaism, the huckster, and the conditions which produce him, the Jew will become impossible, because his consciousness will no longer have a corresponding object, because the subjective basis of Judaism, viz.: practical needs, will have been humanized, because the conflict of the individual sensual existence with the generic existence of the individual will have been abolished.
"The social emancipation of the Jew is the emancipation of society from Judaism." (8)
Wilhelm Liebknecht, one of Marx's closest friends, commenting on Marx's views in this respect, wrote as follows:
"To the language of the Hegelian school still used by Marx in this essay, the reader may reconcile himself as best he can. The course of the reasoning is clear to everybody. Marx conceives the Hebrew question as an economic question, as a capitalistic question. The persecution of the Jews ... is simply the competitive envy of Christian barter directed against Jewish barter, and not until human society emancipates itself from this spirit of barter, i. e., expressed in modern language of Capitalism, will the Jew be emancipated, like all the rest of humanity and nations." (9)
And Karl Kautsky, the greatest of the Marxian theoreticians after Engels, must have had the thoughts of Marx in mind when he wrote:
"The disappearance of the Jews will not involve a tragic process like the disappearance of the American Indians or the Tasmanians. It will not be equivalent to a declining into stupidity and degradation, but to a rising to greater strength, to prosperity and well-being, to the opening up of an immense field of activity. It will not mean a mere shifting of domicile from one mediaeval ruin to another, not a transition from orthodox Judaism to ecclesiastical Christianity, but the creation of a new and higher type of man." (10)
"Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew, will at last have found a haven of rest. He will continue to live in the memory of man as man's greatest sufferer, as he who has been dealt with most severely by mankind, to whom he has given most."
Turning now to Runes, he writes in his introduction, "It is with some reluctance that I have agreed to write these introductory lines ...." But this reluctance lacks the magnitude of his reluctance to give serious time and study to Marx. To him it is sufficient that Marx criticised Judaism; his imagination completes the picture. The ghetto and the gas chamber rise before his eyes and Marx becomes at once associated with all the Jew-baiting elements in society. Even representatives of those capitalist nations which have found themselves in opposition to "the liberal and democratic State of Israel" are paraded forth as living proof of Marx's iniquities, among those named being Stalin, Khrushchev, Nasser, Nehru and Mao Tse tung. But that is not surprising considering that he also links Marx with Adolph Hitler of recent years, Torquemada of the Spanish Inquisition and Emperor Titus of early Rome!
Runes is evidently prepared to heap any kind of filth on Marx, an activity that is undoubtedly helpful in preserving the enslavement of the working class; but it does nothing to advance the cause of the Jews. He shows instead that he has much in common with the kind of people who rouse his fears.
(1) Deutsch-Franzosische Jahrbucher. A short-lived journal. Marx was one of the founders.
(2) Die Heilige Familie, by Marx and Engels.
(3) Preface, first edition, Capital, by Marx.
(4) Literary Remains, by Marx.
(5) Zur Kritik der Hegelschen Rechtphilosophie. (Critique of the Hegelian Philosophy of Right.)
(6) Preface, first edition, Capital.
(7) and (8) Deutsch-Franzosische Jahrbucher. Also in the book under review.
(9) Karl Marx: Biographical Memoirs, by Liebknecht.
(10) Are the Jews a Race?, by Kautsky.