By Yossi Schwartz, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), July 2015, www.thecommunists.net
Yossi Schwartz continues his analysis of the origins of the Jews by looking at the relationship between anti-Semitism and Zionism, as well as other nationalist movements in the early half of the 20th century.
The Law of Uneven and Combined Development
Opposite to Leon's thesis, Jews were welcome in developing societies and oppressed in declining societies. If history were simply a mechanical process and Eastern Europe at the end of the 19th century had been able to repeat the same process as in Western Europe, the story of the Jews would be very different. History however, as Lenin and Trotsky argued many times, is a process of uneven and combined development. When capitalism reached Eastern Europe the capitalist world system was already in decay. Capitalism could not fully develop in Russia. A further development of the forces of production required a socialist revolution. Thus in the 19th century in Eastern Europe the situation continually worsened. The aristocracy subjected the Jewish craftsmen and petty bourgeoisie to fierce competition with the small rising local capitalists. This national rivalry combined with the rapid development of large-scale industry undermined the foundations of the old agrarian economy of the peasants and craft manufacturing and made it impossible for the Jews to play the role of capitalists. From its first appearance, Eastern European capitalism bore the mark of degeneration. Economic crisis became permanent and unemployment endemic. In these conditions the economic nationalism of the native petty bourgeoisie grew more intense and took the form of virulent anti-Semitism. A large Jewish proletariat existed in Eastern Europe at the end of the 19th century. However, the structure of the Jewish working class was considerably different from that of the working class in general. The majority of Jewish wage earners were in fact artisans working for small Jewish employers in workshops or small consumer industries. It is not that the Jews' specific position as the sole agents of monetary economy in feudal society was undermined by economic development, nor is it the case that this was the basis for modern anti-Semitism, as Leon and others have argued. It is the decline of the capitalist world system from the end of the 19th century that has produced this ugly form of racism. "The socialism of the fools" as Bebel correctly called it.
Thus from the last part of the 19th century, anti-Semitism grew in Eastern Europe and in the West at the same time. It was a reflection of the general and historical crisis of the capitalist world system. In Eastern Europe it took the form of discriminating laws and pogroms. In Western Europe, decaying capitalism, after the 1873 crash, the anti-Semitic movement grew in strength and anti-Semitic ideology (Treitschke, Marr, Duhring) became widespread. France underwent a similar evolution (Drumont, the Dreyfus Affair). It was fed by the growing emigration of Jews from Eastern Europe to Western and Central Europe.
Contemporary anti-Semitism, like all other forms of racism, is an ideological expression of the contradictions of imperialism. This contradiction is the expression of the rivalry among the imperialists struggling among themselves to re-divide the world market while there is a lack of domestic markets for the petty bourgeoisie. Fascism exploited the anti-Semitism fostered by the petty bourgeoisie's fierce national competition. They used it as a device to channel the confused anti-capitalist sentiments of the masses into the poison of anti-Semitism.
The consequence of the anti-Semitism of the Nazis is well known: six million Jews exterminated in the crematoria.
If until 1880 Jewish migration was mainly from Western to Eastern Europe. Later on it shifted mainly to the United States and later on to Israel. This trend developed considerably under the reactionary decrees of 1882 and the pogroms that grew worse and worse from 1881 onwards.
Migration to the United States alone exceeded 533,000 people between 1881 and 1898, and 1,200,000 between 1900 and 1914. Thus the American Jewish community, which numbered 230,000 in 1880, had grown to 1,500,000 by 1904. As severe restrictions were placed on immigration to the United States, Jews from Eastern Europe continued to emigrate to Central and Western Europe, Canada, Argentina, Australia and other countries. In these countries they became much more integrated and ended their existence as members of a caste.
The Zionists argue that they are the expression of the historical dream of the Jews to return to their "Promised Land". In reality each time the basis of Jewish social life has come under serious threat, a section of the Jewish population has created a form of Messianic mysticism.
Jewish nationalism, however, in particular in its Zionist form, was a new conception born of the socio-political context of Eastern Europe in the 19th century. Victims of the aggressive nationalism of the rising bourgeoisie in the countries of Eastern Europe, the Jewish middle class adopted, in their turn, the nationalist ideology of their neighbors.
The Zionist dogma has incorporated most elements of the doctrines of anti-Semitism, starting from the argument of the incompatibility of the Jews and the Gentiles, through the call for the massive migration of the Jews to Palestine with the aim of establishing a Jewish State. It was not Herzel who was the first advocate of the Zionist ideas. Moses Hess, an associate in his youth of Marx and Engels, was the first theoretician of Zionism. In 1860 Hess wrote "Rome and Jerusalem", which turned out to be a Zionist manifesto where he called for the return of the Jewish people to their ancestral homeland. This idea however can be traced to a pamphlet that appeared in 1860, written by Napoleon III's personal secretary, Ernest Laharanne in which he laid down the suggested role of the Jews for the occupation of Syria by France. In fact, it was precisely the same idea suggested by Lord Palmerston, in 1840, when Britain had established a consulate in Jerusalem, who proposed the founding of a European Jewish settler colony to "preserve the larger interests of the British Empire." (Hidden History of Zionism, by Ralph Schoenman, Chapter 2)
This same idea was expressed in "Rome and Jerusalem", which advocated the idea that Jewish settlers should undertake military training in order to fight the resistance of the Bedouins.
The principal ideologist of the Zionist movement however was Theodor Herzl, who in reaction to the 'Dreyfus Affair' published a pamphlet by the name "Der Judenstaat" (The State of the Jews). In this book Herzl argued that anti-Semitism could be eliminated only by the concentration of the Jews in an autonomous centre. This center in Herzl's own view was not necessary Palestine but a state established with the backing of the colonial powers in exchange of the services offered by the Zionists.
"We should there form a portion of the rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilisation as opposed to barbarism." (Theodor Herzl, A Jewish State. London: 1896, p.29)
He appealed to Kaiser Wilhelm, Sultan Abdul Hamid II (at the time Palestine was a province of Syria under the Ottoman Empire), Plehve, the Tsarist Minister of the Interior and a major organiser of pogroms, Witte, another of the Tsar's ministers and a rabid anti-Semite, the Pope, Victor-Emmanuel and Chamberlain, the British Colonial Secretary. Herzl failed in this mission but his successor Haim Weitzman, who would become the first president of Israel, was able to secure the charter known as the Balfour Declaration. Zionism has indeed been able to build a state, but only within the framework of Western, and in particular British, colonial expansion.
The objective of Zionism has never been to colonize Palestine in order to exploit the native people - as was the goal of some colonial and imperial movements during the 19th and 20th centuries. The Zionists aim was to build a Jewish state and this could not be done without dispersing the local population and dispossessing them. From the very beginning the Zionists pretended that the country was empty and waiting for the dispersed Jews to return to their ancient home. In essence this was the same attitude of all the colonialists who claimed the doctrine of "discovery" over "empty" lands. The Zionists had for the Palestinians the same solution the Europeans had for the Indians whom they saw as a savage obstacle.
Palestine at the end of the 19th century was not an empty land. There were over one thousand villages in Palestine at the turn of the 19th century. Jerusalem, Haifa, Gaza, Jaffa, Nablus, Acre, Jericho, Ramle, Hebron and Nazareth were flourishing towns. Over half a million Palestinians lived in the country on the eve of the British occupation.
The British issued the Balfour Declaration not only as a payment for years of the Zionist leadership's support for its war against Imperial Germany, but as an instrument for the colonization of Palestine and the instrument for political control over the Palestinian population.
"Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad is rooted in present needs, in future hopes of far profounder import than the desires of the 700,000-plus Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land." (Cited in Harry N. Howard, The King Commission: An American Inquiry in the Middle East. Beirut: 1963. See also The Hidden History of Zionism: Chapter Two). It is not a great surprise to discover that the future Prime Minister of South Africa, General Jan Smuts, who, as the South African delegate to the British War Cabinet during World War I, helped to secure the Balfour Declaration. By the turn of the century, a large Jewish population, primarily from Lithuania, had settled in South Africa. The Zionist leaders regarded this population as potential supporters of Zionist ideas because of their own settler status in South Africa. This however does not mean that Israel and South Africa are identical. South Africa is based on the exploitation of the black working class. Israel is a new class society based mainly on the exploitation of Jewish workers.
In 1923 the father of right wing Zionism, Jabotinsky, in total honesty wrote an article "The Iron Wall," in which he explained the essential premises of Zionism which had, indeed, been laid out before, if not as eloquently, by Theodor Herzl himself:
"There can be no discussion of voluntary reconciliation between us and the Arabs, not now, and not in the foreseeable future. All well-meaning people, with the exception of those blind from birth, understood long ago the complete impossibility of arriving at a voluntary agreement with the Arabs of Palestine for the transformation of Palestine from an Arab country to a country with a Jewish majority. Each of you has some general understanding of the history of colonization. Try to find even one example when the colonization of a country took place with the agreement of the native population. Such an event has never occurred.
"Whether through the Balfour Declaration or the Mandate, external force is a necessity for establishing in the country conditions of rule and defense through which the local population, regardless of what it wishes, will be deprived of the possibility of impeding our colonization, administratively or physically. Force must play its role - with strength and without indulgence. In this, there are no meaningful differences between our militarists and our vegetarians. One prefers an Iron Wall of Jewish bayonets; the other an Iron Wall of English bayonets."
The crimes of the Zionist movement against the Palestinians are well documented. Much less known is the scope of the crimes that the leaders of this bourgeois movement have committed against the Jewish masses. To begin with, the Zionists share with the anti-Semites the attitude of the Jew as a foreigner in the countries Jews have lived for many generations.
Herzl himself wrote of the Jews in the following fashion: '' I achieved a freer attitude toward anti-Semitism, which I now began to understand historically and to pardon. Above all, I recognized the emptiness and futility of trying to 'combat' anti-Semitism." (Marvin Lowenthal, ed., The Diaries of Theodor Herzl, p. 6. Cited in Lenni Brenner, Zionism in the Age of the Dictators. Westport, Conn.: Lawrence Hill, 1983. page 6).
"The Jewish people," wrote Jabotinsky in the same way, "is a very bad people; its neighbors hate it and rightly so ... its only salvation lies in a general immigration to the land of Israel." (Brenner, The Iron Wall).
The founders of Zionism not only did not believe in fighting anti-Semitism but saw themselves as allies of the most reactionary anti-Semites in the battle against the revolutionary movement. In his meeting with Count von Plehve, the organizer of the worst pogroms in Russia, including the pogroms of Kishinev, Theodor Herzl offered him: "Help me to reach the land (Palestine) sooner and the revolt (against Czarist rule) will end."(Brenner, The Iron Wall. page 14).
Count von Plehve agreed, and he undertook to finance the Zionist movement. He was later to complain to Herzl: "The Jews have been joining the revolutionary parties. We were sympathetic to your Zionist movement as long as it worked toward emigration. You don't have to justify the movement to me. You are preaching to a convert." (lbid)
Jabotinsky negotiated an alliance with Petilura, proposing a Jewish police force to accompany Petilura's forces in their counter-revolutionary fight against the Red Army and the Bolshevik Revolution. Simon Petilura was a Ukrainian fascist who personally directed pogroms which killed 28,000 people.
After the Nazis took power many attempts were made to change the immigration laws of the United States and Western Europe in order to provide refuge for persecuted Jews of Europe. It was the Zionists who actively tried to stop these efforts. For the Zionists however, the only Jews who counted were those who emigrated to Palestine. Ben Gurion informed a meeting of Labour Zionists in Great Britain in 1938: "If I knew that it would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to England and only half of them by transporting them to Eretz Israel, then I opt for the second alternative." (Brenner, Zionism at the age of Dictatorship. page. 48).
As late as 1943, while the Jews of Europe were being exterminated by the millions, the US Congress proposed to set up a commission to "study" the problem. Rabbi Stephen Wise, who was the principal American spokesperson for Zionism, came to Washington to testify against the rescue bill because it would divert attention from the colonization of Palestine.
This is the same Rabbi Wise who in 1938, in his capacity as leader of the American Jewish Congress, wrote a letter in which he opposed any change in U.S. immigration laws that would enable Jews to find refuge. He stated:
"It may interest you to know that some weeks ago the representatives of all the leading Jewish organizations met in conference. ... It was decided that no Jewish organization would, at this time, sponsor a bill which would in any way alter the immigration laws." (lbid. page149).
Chaim Weizmann, the Zionist leader who had arranged the Balfour Declaration and was to become the first president of Israel, made this Zionist policy very explicit:
"The hopes of Europe's six million Jews are centered on emigration. I was asked: 'Can you bring six million Jews to Palestine?' I replied, 'No.' ... From the depths of the tragedy I want to save ... young people [for Palestine]. The old ones will pass. They will bear their fate or they will not. They are dust, economic and moral dust in a cruel world. ... Only the branch of the young shall survive. They have to accept it." (Chaim Weizmann reporting to the Zionist Congress in 1937 on his testimony before the Peel Commission in London, July 1937. Cited in Yahya, page 55. )
This policy of saving only the Jews for the Zionist project in Palestine led to the agreements between the Zionist movement and Nazi Germany, which first became known in 1953. Dr. Rudolph Kastner of the Jewish Agency Rescue Committee in Budapest signed a secret pact with Adolf Eichmann to "settle the Jewish question" in Hungary. This took place in 1944. The pact sealed the fate of 800,000 Jews. It was to be revealed later that Kastner was under the direction of the Zionist leaders abroad when he made this agreement with Eichmann. The agreement entailed the saving of six hundred prominent Jews on the condition that silence was maintained about the fate of the Hungarian Jews.
It was exposed however in Israel by a survivor, Malchiel Greenwald, who denounced Kastner as a Nazi collaborator whose deeds in Budapest cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Jews. Greenwald was sued by the Israeli government, the same leaders who had drawn up the terms of the Kastner pact.
The Israeli Court came to the following conclusion:
"The sacrifice of the majority of the Jews, in order to rescue the prominents was the basic element in the agreement between Kastner and the Nazis. This agreement fixed the division of the nation into two unequal camps, a small fragment of prominents, whom the Nazis promised Kastner to save, on the one hand, and the great majority of Hungarian Jews whom the Nazis designated for death, on the other hand." (Judgment given on June 22, 1955, Protocol of Criminal Case 124/53 in District Court, Jerusalem. Ibid. page 58).
The court declared that the imperative condition of this pact was that neither Kastner nor the Zionist leaders would interfere in the action of the Nazis against the Jews. These leaders undertook not only to eschew interference, but they agreed they would not, in the words of the Israeli court, "hamper them in the extermination." Collaboration between the Jewish Agency Rescue Committee and the exterminators of the Jews was solidified in Budapest and Vienna.
Later it was revealed that Kastner intervened to save SS-General Kurt Becher from being tried for war crimes. Becher was one of the leading negotiators of the deal with the Zionists in 1944. He was also an SS-Major in Poland, and a member of the Death Corps. He was appointed Commissioner of all Nazi concentration camps by Heinrich Himmler.
The study of the real history of the Zionist movement leads to a clear conclusion: it is a nationalist movement serving the interests of the elite. As Marxists we condemn all of the crimes it has committed against the Arab and Jews alike. However unlike those who think that there is something that set the Zionist movement apart from other nationalist movements in support of the decaying capitalist order, as Marxists we understand that Zionism reflects the same class nature of the nationalist movements who pretend that the other nationalists are bad while they are somehow better. We oppose any attempt on the part of left wing intellectuals since the war of 1967 to portray the Zionists as an unusual monstrous branch of nationalists. All nationalists serve the same rotten order that continue to exist while the masses suffer terribly. The Zionists are as bad as all other nationalists.
Most Zionists try of course to deny this obvious truth by arguing that the Zionist movement has been very different from any other known colonialist movement, namely that it protects the interest of the Jewish masses. Zionism according to them is a movement for self-redemption and the return of a displaced people to the land of its origins. All others were conquerors --Greeks, Assyrians, Romans, Turks, English, etc. The Jews who returned to Israel redeemed the land, and they then reclaimed it from 2,000 years of neglect. They prospered, in spite of great hardships and dangers. As they redeemed the land and increasing numbers of Jews arrived, so too did Arabs flock to this new prosperity.
The Zionist ideology has a striking similarity to the ideology of Apartheid of the original Dutch-origin "Afrikaners." They believe in the divine election. They too understood themselves as God's 'Chosen People'. South Africa was their 'Promised Land'. The Dutch arrived on the tip of Africa in 1652 when the Dutch East India Company set up an outpost. Soon after, the company began bringing settlers from Holland. They became known as the "Boers" or "farmers." The Afrikaners believed the British persecuted Dutch settlers. In 1836, the Afrikaners abandoned the Cape area. They set out for the Transvaal region in the north to establish their own republic. This movement north became known as the "Great Trek." In their minds it "forms the national epic-formal proof of God's election of the Afrikaner people and His special destiny for them." (Apartheid and the Promised Land: Afrikaners and the "Great Trek")
As they set out in covered wagons, according to their viewpoint: "They were followed by the British army, like that of Pharaoh, and everywhere were beset by the unbelieving black "Canaanites." Yet because God's people acted according to His will, He delivered them out of the hands of their enemies and gave them their freedom in the Promised Land."
Many Afrikaners died during the trek. Others were killed in battles with Africans. The decisive battle was at Blood River on December 16, 1838. 10,000 Zulu warriors attacked the trekkers. Over 3,000 Zulus were killed. No Afrikaners died. The Afrikaners attributed their victory to God's intervention. They claimed it was a covenant God had made with them. They established their own republic, but continued to be in conflict with the British over land and minerals. The Afrikaners defeated the British in 1880-1881 in the first Anglo-Boer War. The second Anglo-Boer War ended with the Afrikaners' decisive defeat in 1902.
This bitter historical experience was perceived as the "sacred saga of Afrikanerdom." Old Testament stories, especially from the Exodus and Promised Land traditions, were prominent. They were guiding images for their self-understanding. An Afrikaner poet put it this way:
But see! the world becomes wilder;
the fierce vermin worsen,
stark naked black hordes,
How the handful of trekkers suffer,
the freedom seekers, creators of a People.
Just like another Israel,
by enemies surrounded, lost in the veld,
but for another Canaan elected,
led forward by God' plan.
The Afrikaners were the People of the Covenant. Land was central to this self-image. The very backbone of Afrikaner history (no less than the historical sense of the Hebrew scriptures upon which it is based) involves the winning of the 'Land' from alien, and indeed, evil forces. The land had to be redeemed. These alien and evil forces included the British, but especially the indigenous Africans. They were viewed as inferior. They were Canaanites destined to be the servants of the Afrikaners. Over the years black Africans were thrown off their farms and grazing lands so that extremely few continued to live in the rural areas as landholders.
As we have written elsewhere, despite the ideological similarity between the situation in Israel and Apartheid era South Africa, there is one fundamental difference between them. In contrast to South African Apartheid, the Zionists expelled most of the native population and created a new state and a new working class in Israel.
The similarity of the Zionists and the ideology of the Boers is known to many politically oriented people. It is important however to realize that Herzl and Zionism are similar to other political movements, for example to Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association.
UNIA was probably the largest mass movement of black people in the history of the United State. Proclaiming a black nationalist "Back to Africa" message, Garvey and UNIA established 700 branches in thirty-eight states by the early 1920s.
Later groups such as Father Divine's Universal Peace Mission Movement and the Nation of Islam drew members and philosophy from Garvey's organization, and UNIA's appeal and influence were felt not only in America but also in Canada, the Caribbean, and throughout Africa.
Garvey's philosophy and organization had a rich religious component that he blended with political and economic aspects.
Garvey stated that his "Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World," along with the Bible, served as "the Holy Writ for our Negro Race." Garvey was born in 1887 in St. Anne's Bay, Jamaica. He travelled to London in 1912 and stayed in England for two years. During this time he was exposed to the arguments of Irish nationalists. He was also exposed to Booker T. Washington's autobiography "Up From Slavery". Washington believed African-Americans needed to improve themselves first, showing whites in America that they deserved equal rights. Washington repeatedly rejected political action of the masses. He argued that African-Americans would not benefit from political activism but rather from practical industrial training. Garvey embraced Washington's ideas and returned to Jamaica in 1914 to found UNIA with the motto "One God! One Aim! One Destiny!" He moved to the US and discovered the diminishing hope on the part of African-Americans that they would ever gain the rights enjoyed by every white American citizen. They were losing hope that they would ever be integrated into American society. African-Americans served in large numbers in the war, and many expected some kind of respect and acknowledgment that they too were equal citizens. However, as black soldiers returned from the war, and more and more African-Americans moved into the urban areas, racial tensions grew. Between 1917 and 1919 race riots erupted in East St. Louis, Chicago, Tulsa, and other cities, demonstrating that the white rulers did not intend to treat African-Americans any differently than they had before the war.
Garvey like Herzl was convinced that integration would never happen. He established the headquarters of UNIA in New York in 1917 and began to spread a message of black nationalism and the eventual return to Africa of all people of African descent. Garvey's ideology became one held that people of African descent could establish a great independent nation in their ancient homeland of Africa. Like Herzl, he took the message of Washington, opting not to struggle against the ruling class but rather to turn the class struggle into nationalist dream.
In 1919 Garvey purchased an auditorium in Harlem and named it Liberty Hall. There he held nightly meetings to get his message out, sometimes to an audience of six thousand. In 1918 he began a newspaper, Negro World, which by 1920 had a circulation somewhere between 50,000 and 200,000. Membership in UNIA is difficult to assess. At one point, Garvey claimed to have six million members. That figure is most likely inflated. However, it is beyond dispute that many and even millions were involved.
Garvey hammered home the idea of racial pride by celebrating the African past and encouraging African-Americans to be proud of their heritage and proud of the way they looked. Garvey proclaimed "black is beautiful" long before it became popular in the 1960s. He wanted African-Americans to see themselves as members of a mighty race. "We must canonize our own saints, create our own martyrs, and elevate to positions of fame and honor black men and women who have made their distinct contributions to our racial history"
Garvey created an African Legion that dressed in military garb, uniformed marching bands, and other auxiliary groups such as the Black Cross Nurses.
Marcus Garvey along with Potentate Gabriel M. Johnson of Liberia, Supreme Deputy G.O. Marke of Sierra Leone, and other UNIA leaders reviewed the parade opening the 1922 UNIA convention, in New York City.
While racial pride and unity played important roles in Garvey's black nationalism, he touted capitalism as the tool that would establish African-Americans as an independent group. His message has been called the evangel of black success, for he believed economic success was the quickest and most effective way to independence. In 1919 he established the Negro Factories Corporation and offered stock for African-Americans to buy. He wanted to produce everything that a nation needed so that African-Americans could completely rely on their own efforts. At one point the corporation operated three grocery stores, two restaurants, a printing plant, a steam laundry, and owned several buildings and trucks in New York City alone. His most famous economic venture was a shipping company known as the Black Star Line, a counterpart to a white-owned company called the White Star Line. Garvey started the shipping company in 1919 as a way to promote trade but also to transport passengers to Africa, in particular to Liberia. He believed it could also serve as an important and tangible sign of black success. However the shipping company eventually failed due to expensive repairs, mismanagement, and corruption.
With all his talk of a mighty race that would one-day rule Africa, like the Zionists, he understood the role of religion as an important tool for controlling people. In the African-American community Christianity played this role.
The UNIA meetings at Liberty Hall in Harlem were rich with religious ritual and language, as Randall Burkett points out in his book "Black Redemption: Churchmen Speak for the Garvey Movement".
Garvey blended his black nationalism based on capitalist interests with his Christian outlook rather dramatically when he claimed that African-Americans should view God "through our own spectacles." If whites could view God as white, then blacks could view God as black.
Garvey's message of black nationalism and a free black Africa met considerable resistance from other more left leaning African-American leaders like W.E.B. DuBois. By 1922 his rhetoric shifted away from a confrontational stance against white racist America to a position of separatism mixed with just enough cooperation. Like Herzl who met with the Russian pogromists he applauded whites who promoted the idea of sending African Americans back to Africa. He even met with a prominent leader of the Ku Klux Klan in Atlanta in 1922 to discuss their views on miscegenation and social equality. In 1924 DuBois claimed that "Marcus Garvey is the most dangerous enemy of the Negro race in America and in the world." Owen and Randolph, whose paper saw the race issue as one of class more than one of skin color, called Garvey the "messenger boy of the Klan" and a "Supreme Negro Jamaican jackass" while labeling his organization the "Uninformed Negroes Infamous Association."
While there are the similarities mentioned above, there also exists an important difference between the Zionist movement with the Black Nationalist movement of Markus Garvey. The Garvey movement – despite all its reactionary features – was historically progressive insofar as it represented the first “national/racial” political mass awakening of the black minority in the US (after centuries of extreme oppression and super-exploitation). Of course, there existed various other Black nationalist organizations like those of W.E.B. DuBois and the Niagara movement and later the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Even more important were black Communists like Claude McKay and Otto Huiswoud and in particular the socialist African Blood Brotherhood which had close to 4,000 members and which was close to the Communist International. However, in contrast to the Garvey movement, which claimed several millions members, these progressive left-wing organizations were not mass movements.
Unlike Garvey’s movement, Zionism did not represent a first “national/racial” political mass awakening of oppressed Jews. Much larger and more progressive mass organizations fighting for the rights of the Jews (the socialists, the Bund, etc.) already existed when Zionism made its debut. From the beginning Zionism was a reactionary movement fomented by sectors of the Jewish middle class while in parallel many progressive working class and petty-bourgeois Jewish and pro-Jewish movements already existed.
Zionism was born as the expression of the crisis and inabilty of the Jewish middle class to be integrated with the European ruling class and at the same time rejecting the working class solution for the oppression of the Jews. Herzl met Plehve, the Russian Minister of Police, 'the founder of the Black Hundreds', the man considered by Jews, not without reason, to be responsible for the pogrom at Kishinev. But Herzl realized that they had the same interest in maintaining the same political order based on capitalism.
It is true that Zionism has never been made of one social group. On the left flank of the Zionist movement there were many people who honestly saw themselves as socialists. Contrary to the Jewish socialists, active in the non-Jewish workers' parties or the Bund, the left Zionists despaired over working-class solidarity and found a solution by deserting the class struggle. Left Zionist had to embrace the reformist dogma of the two-stage revolution in order to be Zionists ans still claim to be socialists. In this way they could renounce the struggle for socialism in the present and push for a future struggle in a Jewish Palestine where the social structure had been 'normalized'.
The Labour wing of Zionism was represented by the Poale-Zion (Workers of Zion) party, and its principal theoretician was Ber Borochov (1881-1917). There can be no doubt that many of them aspired to be Zionists and revolutionaries. During the First World War the Russian Poale Zion took an anti-imperialist stand. During the Russian civil war the Borochov Regiment, participated in the struggles of the Red Army.
Borochov met Lenin and asked him what he thought of his theory. Lenin told him that it must be very difficult to sit between the chairs. Borochov's analysis begins from the idea that the Jews were economically, Luftmenschen, literally, suspended in mid-air, an observation which connects with Marx's famous remark about the Polish Jews living "in the pores" of society. The Jewish working class, he argued was handicapped by the abnormal social structure of the Jewish people. The Jewish workers, predominately ruined artisans and wage earners employed in small manufacturing industries, were particularly vulnerable to the slightest economic recession. Moreover, capitalist development tends to eliminate the smaller businesses within the retail trade and the Jewish workers were exposed to relentless national competition. In these conditions, for lack of an adequate "strategic base", the Jewish proletariat could not wage a class struggle and the petty-bourgeois masses failed to undergo proletarianisation. It was therefore necessary to "normalize" the Jewish social structure and to this end Zionism appeared as a historical necessity.
The formation of a Jewish proletariat in agriculture and basic industry would be possible only through Jewish "territorial political autonomy". This could not be accomplished in Russia after a socialist revolution but in an under-developed, semi-agrarian country, where petty Jewish capital and labor may be utilized. In such a country of low cultural and political development there would be no fear of competition.
But why Palestine precisely? Borochov does not give a clear answer to this question, and the reason is simple: his theoretical schemes are really a rationalization and an attempt to harmonize socialism and nationalism.
In "Class and Nation", Borochov extends the notion of national competition to all classes, resolving the national question through the "solidarity of national interests" which will assure the proletariat a normal base for its labor and class struggle. Once again class and nation appear to him to be in harmony and he does not conceive the development of the national struggle of an oppressed proletariat into the same movement of the general working class struggle for social emancipation. This position contradicted the long list of socialist leaders of Jewish origin (Rosa Luxemburg, Axelrod, Martov, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Trotsky, etc…).
Borochov pointed out the problem of the relationship of the Jewish masses to the productive sectors of the economy. But far from being a "Jewish problem", what is involved here is a much larger question: the need of the workers of the oppressed nations to be part of the general working class movement. Furthermore, it is only when this united proletarian movement comes to power that it can begin to solve the problems that the capitalist system has created. Ironically, the same problems that Borchov pointed out in his writings on the Jewish question exist today for the Palestinian working class.
Israel and Anti-Semitism
These days we are witnessing a new wave of anti-Semitism. It is rooted like in previous days in the economic crisis and the historical crisis of the capitalist system. At the same time the criminal actions of the Israeli ruling class against the Palestinians is contributing to the rise of anti-Semitism. Contrary to the predictions of the Marxists, an Israeli state has been established. However, the Zionist success is not only the result of anti-Semitism in Europe culminating in the Holocaust. One cannot forget about the rise of Stalinism, which along with Nazism pushed the Jews to the hands of the Zionists. Israel has been the main tool of imperialist domination in the Middle East. At the time of the economic boom after the Second World War it attracted many Jews who found social safety in Israel. Israel has been identified by many people with the interests of US imperialism. Israel has been identified with support for the US in Iraq. Hatred towards the US ruling class has been connected in many peoples' minds with hatred of the Jews. It is the socialism of the fools as Babel correctly called the hatred of the Jews who were identified with the ruling class. However as long as Jews continue to identify themselves with the crimes of the US and the Israeli state, it will be difficult to fight successfully the racist slurs of the anti-Semites. However, we live now in a different situation. The Israeli ruling class is in charge of a system mired in a very deep economic, social, and political crisis. The Israeli working class is under attack and sooner or later, in spite of the existing right wing leadership of the Histadruth, will begin to fight back. Such a struggle will open the possibilities for many Jews to separate themselves from the American and the Israeli ruling class and allow them to identify themselves with working class internationalism. This is the only way to fight anti-Semitism.
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