Friday, November 10, 2006

More on Marx and his alleged Anti-Semitism

I was asked by a reader "what other arguments do people have that Karl Marx was anti-Semitic?"

When I Google 'Marx' and 'anti-Semitism' the first page I get is James B. Wisker's slanderous post on the 'book' A World Without Jews.

Ostensibly written by Marx, the book was compiled by Dagobert Runes who edited together a series of remarks by Marx from different sources. Runes furthered his deception by giving the book its fictitious title.

Much of the focus of Marx's alleged anit-Semitism is concentrated on Marx's essay On the Jewish Question. The essay in question is in fact a defense of Jewish Political Rights, not proof of Marx's bias towards Jews.
But general ignorance of the style, content and true target of the essay allow for an easy effort by duplicitious scholars to repackage the powerful defense of Jewish rights as a ruthlessly anti-Semitic piece of propaganda.
Hal Draper concludes, "few discussions of the essay explain clearly its political purpose and content in connection with the Jewish emancipation question, or even accurately present the views of its target, Bauer." [1]

The second page Google directs us to ;however, is a powerful champion of Marx's essay as a defense of Jewish rights. The article by Robert Fine appears in the journal Engage. Engage is a resource which "challenges contemporary Anti-Semitism."

In the article Mr. Fine comes out swinging against any pretension that Marx was an Anti-Semite.

"Let us explode the myth that Karl Marx was in some sense anti-Semitic in his critique of capitalism."

Robert Fine's case is echoed by my statement that much of the misunderstanding of Marx stems from what he calls the "deafness to the uses of the ironic style in Marx’s writings."

Mr. Fine explains that behind Marx's article regarding the 'Jewish Question' was a plan "to develop a radical critique of all existing conditions which distinguished itself from other forms of radicalism by its complete and explicit rejection of any anti-Semitic coloration."

Taking advantage of the ignorance and general hostility towards Communists, opponents of Marx advanced numerous fabrications against his essay On the Jewish Question.

For a fuller understanding of the background of the Western anti-Semitism entailed here see Hal Draper's account in Marx and the Economic-Jew Stereotype.

The first of the many fabrications against the essay implies that it is in fact an attack on Jewish People, when the actual "target" was another member of the "Young Hegelians" Bruno Bauer.

In contrast to Bruno Bauer's stereotypical portrayal of Jews in 'How can Jews obtain Civil Rights until Germans themselves obtain Civil Rights?' Marx advocated giving full citizenship to Jews.

While Bauer relied on historical and pejorative stereotypes of the Jew as "hucksters" and "moneymen " to deny Jews full rights, Marx demolished such claims by advancing the notion that in the age of Capitalism ‘money has become a world power and the practical spirit of the Jews has become the practical spirit of the Christian peoples.’

In other words, there was no difference between the typical and idealized merchants of capital and the condescending stereotype of the Jew that Bruno offered.

Furthermore; in the most offending of passages of On the Jewish Question, Marx is actually engaged in a viciously ironic attack of the stereotypes he uses. Marx is accepting those prejudices only to criticize them on their own terms.

Marx suggests that even if Bauer "blames the Jew for the ‘Judaism’ of civil society, that is, for the fact that self-interest and money are the principles of civil society," the same could equally be said of Christians and Germans.

Therefore, Marx insists, we can not simply deny Jews political citizenship and give them citizenship only if they converted, because political emancipation for the Jews requires the "the emancipation of the state from all religion – i.e. the abolition of all religious qualifications for participation in public life – even if the overwhelming majority of Jews remain strictly Jewish."

If Marx was an anti-Semite, his anti-Semitism was a strange one, since it involved advocating political emancipation for Jews and full civil rights for the Jewish people.


Mobius said...

As far as I understand "On The Jewish Question," Marx agrees with Bauer's basic premise:

Jews are wholly entitled to their rights. But to be truly free, they must fully assimilate and abandon their national and religious identity, adopting scientism as their modus operandi as opposed to Judaism itself.

The "debate" between Bauer and Marx appears to boil down to whether Jews should be given their political rights before or after they assimilate.

Bauer says they must assimilate first, because otherwise those darn uncivilized Jews may not know to use their rights properly.

Marx says they must be given their rights before they assimilate, because the shift to assimilation can only be made via a socialist transformation that removes the conditions which cause Jews to engage in "Jewish behavior."

Marx then exemplifies Jewish behavior with several antisemitic canards involving Jews and money.

Marx shines for the briefest moment when he defends the Jewish right to free worship. But to advance his greater argument, he then undercuts this right as an unenlightened human demand that will vanish under socialism.

Ultimately, the one thing both Marx and Bauer agree on is that Jews should give up being Jewish.

The only thing I can imagine that's more antisemitic than denying our rights to our national identity and religious worship -- ie., not allowing us to be who we are -- is sending us up the chimney.

Romius T. said...


You do bring up some good points. It is clear that I will need to devote a few more posts to this subject.

First, I would suggest that Marx and Bauer are not at all in agreement of the "basic" points.

Bauer believed that if "jews" were to hold on to their religion they would be incapable of being citizens who had access to the "rights of man."

He believed the jewish religion was incompatible with the rights of man.

Marx on the other hand criticized the rights of man as being anit-species being or anti- social.

They were negative rights and therefore completely compataible with religious freedom.

It is true that Marx was a atheist and as such held out hope for a communal society that had shrugged off the parochial contraints of race, religion, and tribe.

Those are the hopes of every secular humanist and as such I think pose no real threat to jewish existence.

Marx never suggests that jews should have to give up anything, he believes that in the era of communism humans will have no need for superstitions.

To borrow a phraseology here, Marx believes in the withering away of religious feeling.

But he believes this will require no direct intervention.

Anonymous said...

"It is true that Marx was a atheist and as such held out hope for a communal society that had shrugged off the parochial contraints of race, religion, and tribe.

Those are the hopes of every secular humanist and as such I think pose no real threat to jewish existence."

These are also the "hopes" of anti-semites, and as such, do pose a threat to Jewish existence. It wasn't too long ago that Russian Jews were not allowed to own prayer books, thus making it necessary for these prayer books to be smuggled into the country.
Roddy Frankel, MD, PhD

Romius T. said...

Dr. Frankel,

Marx and the "hopes of all secularists (like those of any opinion holders) hope that eventually all people have the same opinions. To suggest that a danger (if by danger you mean the destruction of jewish people or their beliefs) exists from atheists in general is unwarranted.

Atheists don't believe in god and as such assmume that belief to be real. If is real eventually the human race will discover that understanding on their own terms.

I do not believe Marx or most humanists encourage a destructive set of programs to eliminate religion. They have just found for themeselves that is an unneeded hypothesis.

Cucox said...

"ON THE JEWISH CUESTION" (1843, Marx´s discussion with Otto Bauer, is where Marx expresses his opinions about the jewish community and there is no trace or sign of antisemitism. The same thing can be said about Marx´s major works. In his letters (several volumes; I had read only some of them)there is no antisemitism.


Anonymous said...

In "On the Jewish Question," Marx himself refers to Jews as "hucksters". As a Jew I find this to be obviously offensive. If you don't think it is, good luck to you.

Romius T. said...


The language is obviously offensive. the question is does Marx's appropriation of anti-Jewish stereotypes makes him an anti-semite.

I would answer in the negative.

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Ce Jeu said...

"In "On the Jewish Question," Marx himself refers to Jews as "hucksters". As a Jew I find this to be obviously offensive. If you don't think it is, good luck to you."

Marx is saying that Jews HAD to resort to huckstering etc in order to survive, and that Christians eventually adopted what used to be Jews' means of survival as a way of amassing wealth. It isn't a negative judgment of Jews, it is just a statement of what Jews were forced to do as economic outsiders by the Christian powers that were.

Ce Jeu said...

It's the equivalent of saying "blacks are slaves" in pre-Civil War America.

Ce Jeu said...

He also makes it clear that he isn't talking about Judaism as a religion and Jews as religious people, but rather Judaism and Jews as they are forced to live pragmatically. The "practical" Jew.