Complicity in Anti-Semitism

There have been periods in this country, as elsewhere, when sections of the Left, far from fighting anti-semitism have threatened to unleash pogroms against Jews. An article in Justice claimed that socialists

"have no feelings against Jews as Jews, but as nefarious capitalists and poisoners of the wells of public information we denounce them. It would be easy enough to get up a capitalist Jew-bait here in London if we wished to do so" (21.1.1893).

It is, incidentally, not insignificant that the medieval accusation of Jews poisoning the water wells reappears under a different guise in imperialist England. Moreover the S.D.F, like many other 'socialists' believed that pogroms were a prelude to an anti-capitalist revolution. Thus Hyndman applauded popular attacks on Jews in Austria on the grounds that:

"The attack upon Jews is a convenient cover for a more direct attack upon the great landlords and Christian capitalists" (The Historical Basis of Socialism, 1883).

However, the reality is that even where the Left has purported to struggle against anti-semitism it has frequently compromised itself with anti-Jewish feelings.

For instance the most classic form of compromise is to appeal to anti-semites to fight fascism! If Hyndman could call upon anti-semites to destroy capitalism (as represented by Jews), then it is equally 'logical' to call upon anti-semites to fight fascism as a manifestation of capitalism. In 1937 the Left Book Club published a book by G. Sacks entitled The Jewish Question. This proclaimed:

"Hate the Jew if you must but do not allow your hatred to make you the victim of the fascist who, on the plea that he also hates the Jew, makes you his accomplice in worse crimes".

Sacks then went on to point out that what was wrong with fascism was not its attacks on the Jews but that these attacks were no guarantee of a better society, thus:

"If fascism really meant the end of the class struggle, then the humiliation and destruction of sixteen million Jews would be worthwhile, for the ultimate benefit to humanity would transcend that of a small minority of people who would scarcely be missed".

In other words the 'explanation' we have previously examined, that anti-semitism is just a series of 'mistakes', appears here in its ultimate form—namely as a total concession to anti-semitic ideology.

It would be wrong to see this form of complicity as being confined to the Stalinist and social democratic tradition around the Left Book Club. Thus the Big Flame editorial of September 1982 actually stated that as a socialist response to the Israeli invasion of the Lebanon "it would be a serious error to participate in or help incite the emergence of a new wave of anti-semitism". The use of the word 'error' implies that the question of unleashing pogroms is merely one of tactics. The perverse logic of this is that if anti-semitism acted as a break on the Israeli government then it would in some way be legitimate.

Even amongst those on the contemporary Left fighting fascism, there is occasionally a residual belief that Jews are somehow legitimate targets for popular hatred. For instance Ed Rosen in an article in Peace News (21.3.80) wrote that the Nazis used anti-semitism in order "to break the power of a privileged Jewish economic community". In other words, German Jews were supposedly rich and powerful—so what else could they expect? They asked for it. Indeed, we have already seen that advocating assimilation, as an answer to anti-semitism, itself rests on the assumption that there exists something actual and tangible in Jewish behaviour to which the anti-semite is merely responding.

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© 1984 Steve Cohen, edited and produced by Libby Lawson and Erica Bunnan.
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