The Background

The period 1880 to 1914 is central to understanding how anti-semitism has permeated much of the socialist tradition. This was an epoch which witnessed:

(a) the consolidation of world imperialism.

(b) the formation of the first self-styled socialist organisations such as the Social Democratic Federation—the S.D.F.—and the Independent Labour Party—the I.L.P.

(c) the development of industrial trades unionism.

The impact of imperialism was to imbue the labour movement and the socialist organisation with national and chauvinistic ideas—ideas which persist today. Another phenomenon also occurred in these years—the mass immigration of Jews into England as they fled from the progroms of Russia and Eastern Europe.

The immigrants arrived into a country that was already deeply anti-semitic. Anti-semitism in England had existed well before imperialism or capitalism. It was pre-feudal and rooted in Christianity. The entire Jewish population had already been forcibly expelled by Edward 1st in 1290. Readmitted by Cromwell, they were ghettoised and portrayed through popular mythology as Shylocks and Fagins. It is not surprising, therefore, that Jews in the 1880's were greeted by anti-semitism on arrival. A significant consequence of this was that the chauvinism of the socialist and labour movement became fuelled by a specific and virulent anti-semitism. Like all anti-semitism this was based, to a greater or lesser extent, on notions of the world Jewish conspiracy.

The most obvious example of this was the equation of Jews with capitalism—the classic socialism of fools. For instance, Today, the monthly magazine of Scientific Socialism, in its first issue of 1884 printed an article where it was taken for granted that "economically and socially Jews are our antagonists". This equation was not simply of Jews with capitalism. It was an equation of Jews with imperialist domination—a domination that was conscious and conspiratorial. Justice, the paper of the S.D.F., claimed that:

"Jew moneylenders now control every Foreign Office in Europe" (5.4.1884)

and that:

"It seems to be an open secret that the government of France is too much in the grip of Jews to take active measures against them as a body" (25.6.1898).

This latter quote was taken from the time of the Dreyfus affair in France. Similarly, Robert Blatchford's journal, The Clarion (around which the Clarion Clubs were organised), quoted with approval the claim that:

"Modern imperialism is really run by half a dozen financial houses, many of them Jewish, to whom politics is a counter in the game of buying and selling securities and the people are convenient pawns." (24.2.1900)

It was frequently alleged that all imperialist wars were organised and manipulated by Jews, in the interest of Jewish finance. Sometimes it was suggested that this was channelled through just one family—the Rothschilds. Labour Leader, the paper of the I.L.P., stated that:

"Wherever there is trouble in Europe, wherever rumours of war circulate and men's minds are distraught with fear of change and calamity, you may be sure that a hooked-nosed Rothschild is at his games somewhere near the region of the disturbances" (19.12.1891).

In particular, the Boer War and the events leading up to it were frequently pictured as being in defence of Jewish financial interests in South Africa. H.M. Hyndman, the leader of the S.D.F., warned against the construction of an

"Anglo-Hebraic empire in Africa" (Justice, 25.4.1896).

Not only did Jews allegedly control the world through financial and military domination—but also, apparently, through control of the media. Justice spoke of supposed Jewish press power in England acting

"in accord with their fellow capitalist Jews all over the world" (5.7.1890).

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