The early left did not like Jews

At the current time when the more radical elements of the American left are turning against Israel, it is interesting to read that the early left did not like Jews. (The information below is taken from Paul Johnson’s 1987 book A History of the Jews.) He writes that at the time of Karl Marx, radical German writers discussed the idea that solving the ‘Jewish problem’ might provide a key to solving the problems of humanity. In 1843 Bruno Bauer, the anti-Semitic leader of the Hegelian left, published an essay demanding that the Jews abandon Judaism completely and transform their plea for equal rights into a general campaign for human liberation both from religion and from state tyranny.

Karl Marx replied to Bauer’s work in two essays called “On the Jewish Question”. He quoted with approval Bauer’s maliciously exaggerated assertion that ‘the Jew determines the fate of the whole [Austrian] empire by his money power… [and] decides the destiny of Europe.”
However Marx disagreed with the idea that removing the religion would solve the problem. The worldly god of the Jew, he said, was money. He added:

“Money abases all the gods of mankind and changes them into commodities. Money is the self-sufficient value of all things. It has, therefore, deprived the whole world, both the human world and nature, of their own proper value. Money is the alienated essence of man’s work and existence: this essence dominates him and he worships it. The god of the Jews has been secularized and has become the god of this world.

The Jews, Marx continued, were turning Christians into replicas of themselves, so that the once staunchly Christian New Englanders, for example, were now the slaves of Mammon. Using his money power, the Jew had emancipated himself and had gone on to enslave Christianity. The Jew-corrupted Christian ‘is convinced he has no other destiny here below than to become richer than his neighbours’ and ‘the world is a stock exchange’.

Marx’s solution, therefore, is not like Bauer’s religious, but economic. To ‘make the Jew impossible’ it was necessary to abolish the ‘preconditions’ of the kind of money activities for which he was notorious. Marx advocated the abolition of private property and the personal pursuit of money. This would transform not only the Jewish relation to society but all human relations and the human personality itself. Later in the century August Bebel, the German Social Democrat, coined a phrase that Lenin picked up “Anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools.” Behind this epigram was this argument: we all know that Jewish money-men, who never soil their hands with toil, exploit the poor workers and peasants. But only a fool blames the Jews alone. The mature man, the socialist, has grasped the point that the Jews are only symptoms of the disease, not the disease itself. The disease is the religion of money, and its modern form is capitalism. Workers and peasants are exploited not just by the Jews but by the entire bourgeois-capitalist class-and it is the class as a whole, not just its Jewish element, which must be destroyed.

So if I understand the above, the early left was against Jews, not because of Israel and the Palestinians (Israel was under Turkish rule at this point), but because Jews were seen as taking away from the really important things in life, and substituting the pursuit of money. Personally this seems ridiculous. Money in itself is just paper, or metal coins or Bitcoin. It is valued for what it can buy, which not only includes the necessities of life, but vacation trips around the world, or scientific efforts to reveal the mysteries of the universe. By itself, it is just an improvement on barter. Its true many people would rather stay home and do other things than work for a living, but that is just as true under Communist societies. Some people in Capitalist societies are overly materialistic, some people are greedy, but many are neither.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s