Denying The Significance Of Anti-Semitism As An Ideology

Central to the socialist compromise with anti-semitism, and the underestimation of its material consequences, is the failure to perceive anti-semitism as an ideological force existing in daily life. It has already been emphasised in the previous chapter how anti-semitism is wrongly seen as a series of 'mistakes' made by its proponents. There is a reverse side, though, to this analysis. Anti-semitism is viewed as a series of tactical manoeuvres by the bourgeoisie designed to mislead the workers. The conventional wisdom of the Left is that 'pogroms' are simply a diversionary tactic by the ruling class: for tactical considerations the ruling class spreads false propaganda about Jews in order to induce erroneous perceptions in the rest of the workers. It is often presented as openly as this. For instance, the Daily Worker, then the paper of the Communist Party, stated that anti-semitism was a vehicle "to divert the attack upon the capitalist class as a whole into an attack upon a section of that class—the Jewish section (2.3.1933). In similar vein and in the same period, A.M. Wall, the Secretary of the London Trades Council, in addressing a meeting called by the Jewish People's Council in London's East End, said

"Anti-semitism has always been used for the same purpose—in order to give the masses an enemy to attack so they won't discover the real enemy" (Jewish Chronicle 16.10.36).

This analysis permeates every single part of the Left and can easily be found today. Thus Big Flame in its editorial of September 1982 explained anti-semitism by asserting that Jews are used as 'scape-goats' in periods of crisis. Newsline, as has already been seen, described anti-semitism as a 'trump-card' which the Tories have 'up their sleeves'. In other words, anti-semitism is viewed as some form of magic trick that is kept hidden until a period of capitalist crisis, and is then used to divide the workers—who apparently have not been previously divided by it.

This is a nonsense. People are already divided by reactionary ideas of all kinds. Anti-semitism exists in daily life. It does not need a conspiracy of the bourgeoisie to convince people. Anti-semitism may be, in Marxist terms, ruling class ideology, in that it arguably serves the interests of any particular governing class. However, it has also developed a relative and extremely strong autonomy over the last two millennia. It is genuinely believed by all classes.

One of the reasons why Nazism was so successfully expansionist right through Europe and into parts of the USSR, was because there was a large measure of popular support for the anti-semitism that was explicitly central to it. For instance, Polish Jewry was under increasing attack in the years prior to the Nazi take-over, and at least one village to which Jews returned after the Nazi defeat suffered massacres in 1945. The myth that Jews went like sheep to the slaughter is parallel to the myth that the mass of the local populace throughout Europe was either ignorant or immobilised through fear. The holocaust had popular support in many places in the occupied countries. Indeed, complicity in the 'final solution' is now a national scandal in France today.

However, just as people like G. Sacks tried to win anti-semites to the anti-fascist cause, so today some of the Left seek to deny the popular appeal of the Nazi anti-semitism. They do this by disputing the centrality of anti-semitism to Nazi theory. Thus Ed Rosen in his article in Peace News wrote that anti-semitism was a "sideshow" with Nazism. He also stated that "both before and after Hitler came to power anti-semitism was never a mass movement in Germany" and that it occurred only "periodically" under the Nazis. The assumption is that the Nazis did not believe their own anti-semitic ideology. It was just a tactic—and not an important one—that could be turned on and off like a tap. This is almost the 'reductio ad absurdam' of the denial of the mass appeal of the ideology of anti-semitism as an explanation of the world. To present this ideology as a tactical 'invention' by fascist demagogues to divide the workers, simply misunderstands the depths of its roots.

Moreover, behind this lies a completely cynical amoralism which exists today with respect to the struggle by Left groups against anti-black racism. The suggestion is that racism of any kind is not to be opposed for its own sake, but because it divides the class. Socialist ideologues are apparently immune to it by definition. Within the class, it is simply an 'error'. The logical conclusion of this is that Jewish people, along with everyone else, should not be fighting anti-semitism because it is anti-Jewish, but because it divides the class! Indeed, A.M. Wall actually did say that in the struggle against fascism ... "It was necessary for the Jews not to talk of themselves as Jews" as this was somehow divisive. There is another logical conclusion to this: where there are no Jews, or where all Jews have been massacred and there is no longer a danger of class division, then presumably anti-semitism is permissible.

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