‘How Shall We Fight Anti-Semitism?’ by Felix Morrow from Socialist Appeal. Vol 2 No. 53-55. December 10, 17, 24, 1938.
“It may be that the only thing left for us to do is to die with as much dignity and nobility as we can muster. Sometimes I think we shall end up like those Jewish communities in Poland in the Sixteenth Century, for whom there was no other way out, except to meet death steadfastly, with the words of Kiddush Hashem on their lips.”
The speaker was a Jewish business man in a mid-Western commercial city. We had been discussing the virulent anti-Semitism that has been growing beneath the surface in cities like Seattle, Des Moines, Portland, Minneapolis – the typical American city outside the mass production centers. We agreed on the extent of this anti-Semitic growth. But why it was growing, why it was closer to the surface than ever before, what to do about it – on these fundamental questions my host and I were poles apart.
As my host leaned back in his easy chair, in his more than comfortable private home, his posture of gentle resignation recalled to me an incident some years ago in a Pennsylvania town. The Coal & Iron cossacks were smashing a coal strike. I had come to a liberal businessman for help in organizing aid for the miners. In our conversation my host identified himself with the oppressed strikers; but the proposals I brought from the strike committee, he rejected: visionary, impractical, etc., etc. What then? I asked. Cheerfully philosophical, he replied: “Maybe the only thing left for us is to go down underneath the reaction. The spirit of intolerance may prove too much for us.”
The posture of neither businessman could really be taken seriously. Their expression of defeatism was merely their genteel way of refusing to go on the firing line. The fact was that, whatever happened to the strike, the Pennsylvania liberal would go on living, not quite as before – he was known as a friend of the miners, and smashing of the strike would cause timid associates to loosen their ties with him, might lose him some business – but still live comfortably. My Jewish host was expressing in very elegant language the simple fact that his life was far-removed from the workers and lower middle-class who made up the majority of the Jewish community and that his separation from them unconsciously led him to hope that somehow, some way, he would share only partially any fate that might befall them.
Fortunately, the Pennsylvania miners did not share my host’s philosophical pessimism, and fought their way through to victory, thereby preserving one of the fortresses from which the labor movement was to advance with such giant strides in 1933. Unfortunately, however, my Jewish host’s pessimism approximated the general mood of the Jewish masses.
Defeatism Paralyzes Jewry
Yes, a dangerous mood of defeatism is current in American Jewry. That defeatism must be burned out at its roots, for it is paralyzing any serious and effective participation of Jewry in the fight against anti-Semitism. But to replace that defeatism by a courageous outlook requires, first, that the roots of that defeatism be understood.
Jewish workers, intellectuals, most professionals and businessmen cannot afford the luxury of upper-class philosophical pessimism. For if we fail to find a way out, on our backs will fall the whips of the Fascist thugs who, even today, are throughout America preparing for a totalitarian regime.
Certainly one basic factor creating the sense of impotence which pervades American Jewry is the fact that, unlike all other national minorities, the Jews have no national soil under their feet anywhere. The Irish are a majority in Ireland, the Croats in Croatia, etc., but the Jews nowhere. In Palestine the 400,000 Jews are a beleaguered garrison, surrounded by some 50 million Arab-speaking Moslems of the Near East. What follows? No large section of Jewry has the conviction, intellectual or emotional, that Jewry can prevail against its enemies. A terrible fact!
Contrast the history of Jewish resistance to anti-Semitism with the history of the resistance of almost any other national minority against its oppressors, and the difference stands out in bold relief. Think of the almost numberless revolts of the Irish against Britain, a history studded with “the martyrs” – the Irish terrorists who gave vent, in this desperate and futile way, to the Irish aspirations for freedom. Think, too, of the veneration in which the Irish held “the martyrs.” Woe to the Philistine who expressed disapproval of their deeds.
But among the Jews, far more persecuted than most other minorities, such martyrs have been almost non-existent. Who can recall the predecessor of Hershel Grynszpan? And how Jews speak out to defend his deed? It remained for the liberals and the labor movement to organize his defense. The argument that it is better for the Jews to remain in the background in the defense is an argument which would never occur to the Irish, Croatian, Macedonian societies which, whenever the need arises, spring to the defense of their Grynszpans. That argument is simply another expression of the defeatism which pervades Jewry.
How to overcome the sense of isolation which underlies this defeatism? This, in essence, has been the problem of Jewry in the modern world.
Two main solutions have been proposed by Jewish leadership during the last century. The first solution pursued was assimilationism and, when that showed its limits, there arose the proposed solution of Zionism.
The Road of Assimilationism
In the fully-developed form in which it flourished in the Nineteenth Century, the doctrine of assimilationism is no longer fashionable. Hitler has put a rude end to it! Nevertheless, it still exists, and its present half-hidden forms are actually far more repulsive than its earlier explicit form.
The fact is that assimilationism, in the first half of the Nineteenth Century, played a progressive role. The era of democracy opened up by the French Revolution found the Jews a semi-caste, pursuing the occupations to which they had been limited by medieval society and looking upon themselves as a race-nation destined to remain separated from the general community life. Capitalism, youthful, progressive, with a world to conquer, in its upward course provided hospitable room for all talents to develop; the first, progressive period of the development of the bourgeois state therefore resulted in a process of liberalism toward the Jews. For a time and in those countries in which capitalism early freed itself of feudal ties and created a modern bourgeois state, the Jew was afforded the opportunity to become, to a considerable extent, a political equal, to live where he pleased and pursue any occupation he choose. The assimilationist movement sought to utilize these new opportunities to the fullest extent.
To do so required that the Jews divest themselves of any peculiar status as Jews. Reform Judaism, born in Germany, was the best-organized expression of this movement: “We are Germans in everything, in hopes, beliefs, language and outlook; we are merely of the Judaic religion as some Germans are Catholics, others Lutheran, etc.” Such was the outlook, throughout most of the Nineteenth Century, of Western European Jewry and with it of great influxes into America from Eastern Europe. To the assimilationist leaders of the generation of 1848, the process opened up for Jewish integration into modern capitalist state-society seemed a process which would continue ever upward.
But even in those halycon years they could not exorcise from their pleasant homes the spectre of Jewish persecution, which raged unabated in Eastern Europe, where capitalist development took place – in Russia and the Balkans, in most of the Austro-Hungarian empire – not in the democratic forms of earlier countries, but tied up with the most reactionary elements of the past. Jewish persecution in Eastern Europe was revealing, already in the Nineteenth Century, that the mere development of capitalism was not going to guarantee a continuous liberation of governmental treatment of Jewry. And in the rest of the capitalist world, too, assimilationism soon demonstrated its extreme limits. The very birthplace of assimilationism, Germany, became toward the close of the Nineteenth Century, the birthplace of modern anti-Semitism. The process of liberalization did not continue forward indefinitely. For, scarcely grown to manhood, capitalism began to decay, and with it decayed the democracy which capitalism had created in its youth.
The Decay of Assimilationism
With the first signs of decay within capitalism, the assimilationist movement began to lose its progressive character. It finally ossified into the repulsive Philistinism of the contemporary Reform Temple. No discriminating and thoughtful Jew, growing up after the generation of ’48 had opened the doors to the general community and modern culture, could look upon the further fruits of assimilationism as a way of life.
What were the latter fruits of assimilationism, once it had broken down the doors of the ghetto? An assertive and noisy patriotism, a Philistine conformism to the ruling ideas and customs – that is to say, to the ideas and customs laid down by the ruling class in Western Europe and America – and the utterly meager and pseudo-Protestant religion, if one could call it a religion, of Reform Judaism.
To say, “we are Germans (or Americans, etc.) in everything” in 1848, in the lusty manhood of capitalism, meant to be for progress, for democracy, for freedom of culture. To say, “we are Germans (or Americans, etc.) in everything” in 1914 and thereafter meant to be for the imperialist war, to make jingoistic speeches and oppose radicalism, to join the Elks and Masons and the Rotary Club – in short, to become loyal vassals of the ruling powers.
Assimilationism revealed itself as assimilation to the bourgeois state. Body and sold, the assimiliationists, with the Jewish bankers and industrialists at their head, had delivered themselves up to capitalist reactoin.
This ugly spectacle of assimilationism is not the less repellent because, in the face of the indubitable growth of anti-Semitism, assimilationism is little defended as a rounded doctrine. No longer an ideal, assimilationism is all the more a practice. It has deep roots in the Jewish bourgeoisie’s desire (and interest) to conform to the rules laid down by the buorgeoisie as a whole, and the wealthy Jews drag along in their wake a large part of the Jewish population.
The End of the Assimilationist Road
The meaning of assimilation, of identification with the bourgeois state, is clear. If bourgeois German Jewry were not bestially persecuted by Hitler, it would have to join him, however reluctantly and squeamishly, in his bestial persecution of the German labor movement. Until yesterday anti-Semitism was not part of the fascist apparatus of Italy; and until yesterday Jewish diplomats, generals, financiers and industrialists, were members of the Fascist party of Italy; a Jewish general led one of Mussolini’s armies against Loyalist Spain! In British South Africa, Jews are part of the white community which exploits the black natives and in innumerable humiliating ways maintains a system of racial superiority. As a matter of fact, one need go no further than the American South to see the same phenomenon of Jews Jim-crowing Negroes.
Quite apart from anti-Semitism, therefore, the Jew must take his place: either with the persecutors or join with the persecuted in the struggle for liberation. There is no third category in modern capitalist society, whether fascist or democratic! Such is the structure of rotting capitalist society.
The Road of Zionism
Theodore Herzl, founder of Zionism, typifies the leadership of that movement: disappointed assimilationists seeking their own (bourgeois) nation at a time when the productive forces of the world are strangling within the confining national boundaries.
But we, as revolutionary socialists, precisely because we are internationalists, stand for the unconditional freedom of every people. If only a small segment of Jewry, if only a million Jews, desired a Jewish Homeland, they would have the right to establish it. But under what conditions and by what methods can a Jewish Homeland be established? We declare categorically that it is only possible in a Socialist world.
For the Jews are not only dispersed and have no national state; the same is, in essence, true of the Irish, for every Irish nationalist knows that the government of “Eire” is a puppet of British imperialism. But the inhabitants of Ireland are Irish, while the inhabitants of Palestine are predominantly Arabs.
Under what conditions, then, can one envisage a Jewish Palestine? Obviously only two: (1) By agreement with the Arabs, who inhabit not only Palestine but the Near East; or (2) by driving the Arabs out of Palestine with fire and sword. There is no third real alternative. An ostensible third alternative, the proposal that Jews enter Palestine in such numbers that they will constitute the majority in the country, is merely a variation of either (1) or (2) for it means Jewish domination of Palestine.
The actual course followed by the Zionists has been a futile attempt to avoid these plain alternatives. The leaders of the Histadruth (Federation of Trade Unions) understood quite well in the early post-war years that to reach an agreement with the Arabs meant to unite the Arab peasants and workers with the ]ewish agricultural and industrial workers against their oppressors, the Jewish and Arab bourgeoisie and landlords and the British overlords, the “mandate power.” But the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund were dominated by the Jewish capitalists, especially the American-Jewish capitalists – incidentally, dominated by the non-Zionist Jewish capitalists and financiers, who looked upon Palestine as merely one form of Jewish charity. The Histadruth adopted regulations providing for Arab-Jewish labor unions; but it remained a platonic gesture, for the Zionist leadership feared to antagonize those who held the purse strings. They feared, too, a collision with the mandate power, Great Britain, which of course would have understood that Arab-Jewish labor unions would be a revolutionary force endangering imperialist hegemony in the Near East. They took the road of opportunism: class-collaboration with their own capitalists and with Britain.
While the Irish nationalists denounce collaboration with Britain as treason to Irish freedom, Ben-Gurion, head of the Histadurth, denounces opposition to collaboration with Britain as treason to Zionism. The result? Britain has been enabled to pit Jew and Arab against each other. The British have been helped in this by Zionists of every hue, including the “Socialists.” It is enough to recall the shameful slogan, “Conquer Jewish Work,” i.e., get the jobs for the Jews, which has thrown the Arab workers and peasants into the arms of their bourgeois-feudal leaders who, for their own reasons, are irreconcilably opposed to Jewish expansion in Palestine. The Jewish Fascists, Jabotinsky’s Revisionists, are at least realistic when they draw the conclusion that the way to establish a Jewish state is to demonstrate their usefulness and indispensability to British imperialism and thereby secure a free hand to drive the Arabs out by armed force. Without British bayonets, the Jews today would be driven out of Palestine by the Arabs. Jewish colonization in Palestine continues only thanks to British imperialism.
The Price We Pay for Zionism
This is understood, and resented, by the other nations oppressed by British might. When Mahatma Ghandi, after solidarizing himself with the Jewish victims of Nazi persecution, goes on to speak bitterly of the Jews being imposed on the Arabs, he is undoubtedly expressing the feelings of the Hindu people. Leaders of the black peoples oppressed by Britain have expressed themselves similarly. When these people, the natural allies of the Jews – and who moreover understand their common cause with the Jews – speak out against Zionism in Palestine, every Jew should take heed.
And to what end do the Zionists thus endanger the friendship of the colonial peoples of Asia and Africa for the Jews? Is it not clear that no matter how servile the Zionist movement will be to Britain it will not receive in return the right of unrestricted immigration into Palestine? That is excluded in advance. British imperialism weighs in the balance: 400,000 Jews in Palestine, backed by some part of the 16 million Jews of the world – against 50 million Arab-speaking Moslems backed by the whole Moslem world! Lest the Arabs seek freedom from Britain, the British ruling class diverts them from that path by preoccupying the Arabs with the Jewish problem. The Jew thus serves Britain as scapegoat in the Near East, as he serves Hitler and Mussolini and the Polish and Rumanian gangster-rulers as scapegoat in Europe. But in return for the collaboration of the most powerful Arab landlords and capitalists, Britain keeps a sharp rein on the influx of Jews into Palestine and never, under British imperialism, will the Jews be freed from that rein. In return for this mess of pottage, shall world Jewry lose the friendship and potential alliance with the peoples of Asia and Africa, the colonial peoples everywhere, the oppressed of the earth? No, it is too high a price to pay when the only result is perpetual civil-war in Palestine in which a small segment of Jewry faces the Arab masses.
In any event, it is abundantly clear, the salvation of most of the sixteen million Jews of the world cannot be sought in Palestine. Not even the Zionists contend that Palestine under the British Empire can absorb more than a small part of Jewry. We must look elsewhere than in Zionism for the solution.
Breaking with orthodox Judaism and its yearning for Jerusalem, the assimilationists had declared: “We live already in our promised land, here in this (German, English, French, American) fatherland which we love as fervently as do our fellow-countrymen of other faiths. This government is our government, we are its loyal citizens.” None held to this so fervently as the German Jews; and nevertheless their Reform Temples are smoking ruins. So, too, the populous Jewish cemeteries of Palestine the victims of civil war, mutely testify to the hopeless Utopianism of the Zionist dream.
Two Immediate Tasks
Immediate measures are not merely vitally necessary, but constitute the acid test distinguishing the serious fighters against anti-Semitism from the hypocritical word-mongers. “Enough Pious Tears: Admit the Refugees!” Around this demand, the Socialist Workers Party is organizing a campaign to render immediate aid to the victims of Nazi persecution. In cooperation with the American Fund for Political Prisoners and Refugees and other organizations, we are enlisting every honest believer in the right of asylum in a national campaign to demand from the forthcoming session of Congress the lifting of all quota and financial restrictions upon immigration, so that the victims of Nazi persecution may enter America. The distinguished name of John Dewey heads the list of those really sincere democrats who have joined with us in this demand. Only the granting of this demand can make possible the survival of hundreds of thousands of German Jews.
Likewise, in the fight against organized anti-Semitism right here in America, our comrades have taken the initiative: organizing Union Defense Guards to smash the fascist gangster-bands.
In combating the Silver Shirts in Minnesota, the Minneapolis trade union movement is teaching the workers that anti-Semites are enemies of organized labor and that the fascist gangs must be fought not merely by words but by the physical power of the Union Defense Guards. Another inspiring example has been that of the Youngstown trade unionists who recently drove the Silver Shirts away from meeting halls in the Mahoning Valley. Minneapolis and Youngstown have shown how fascists shall be fought, and we are proud of our association with these pioneers in the American labor movement.
These immediate tasks deserve the support of every antifascist, Jew or Gentile, But these immediate steps must be integrated into a general program to fight anti-Semitism.
That program involves the utter eradication of anti-Semitism from the earth.
“But you can never eradicate it. It has always existed. It always will exist.” Thus the defeatists.
The Roots Of Anti-Semitism
The answer to the defeatists may be put in the form of an analogy. There are germs which exist everywhere, are breathed in by everyone. But they flourish and infect the human organism only under certain specific conditions. What is important, then, is not the mere existence of these germs, but the conditions under which they break out into disease. What is important, what really makes all the difference, is the condition under which anti-Semitism ceases to be dormant and becomes an organized assault upon the very existence of the Jewish people.
Czarist Russia exemplifies the condition under which anti-Semitism is virulent. Why did the court circles and financiers encourage the Black Hundreds, the pogromchiks? Why the Kishineff massacre of 1907? At the time, not only Jewry but liberal and labor spokesmen everywhere understood just why: the decaying, tottering system of Czarism systematically attempted to turn the peasant’s hatred of his oppressors – Czar and landlord – away from the oppressors and to a fancied oppressor: the Jews. The more the Czarist regime decayed, the more systematically and deliberately did it turn to using anti-Semitism as an instrument to preserve the rotting regime.
Today anti-Semitism is used for exactly the same purpose by decaying capitalism. As anti-Semitism was an index to the decay of the Czarist regime, so today anti-Semitism is an index to the decay of the capitalist states. The outcry against the Kishineff Massacre of 1907 was raised throughout the world, and not least in Germany: the German equivalents of the Myron Taylors then enunciated their wordy sympathy for the persecuted: they could afford then to be liberals on this question. But the decline of German capitalism, its absolute desperation in attempting to survive, has brought yesterday’s enlightened German capitalists to the point where they welcome and encourage the Nazis in shifting the hatred of the peasants and backward workers from their real oppressors, i.e., these selfsame capitalists, to their fancied oppressors, the Jews.
Fritz Thyssen, the German steelmaster who persuaded the big capitalists to back Hitler, was in his time at least as much a liberal as Myron Taylor, the American steelmaster. What happened in Germany will happen in England, in France, in America as, one after another, these capitalist regimes reach the stage of decline which Germany reached in 1933. The “liberal” capitalists, at the end of their rope, will turn to the fascist gangsters for support. Only the overthrow of these capitalist regimes, only the smashing of the fascist bands by the working class and its allies and the establishment of Workers’ Republics in these countries will save the Jews from the fate of German Jewry. Already the paper of Pemier Daladier, L’Ere Nouvelle, proposes the restriction of the number of Jews in French government services!
Yesterday’s “democrats” in Czechoslovakia today bar Jewish membership in the single party in which all the “democratic” parties have been merged! Who does not know that the upper strata of American and English society are already rife with anti-Semitism? Look at what is happening in France, mother of Continental European democracy. The French capitalists and their government enviously point to Germany, where workers cannot strike, work sixty hours or more for coolie wages, get no unemployment insurance or sick benefits, etc. The French bosses are saying publicly we cannot compete with Germany unless our production costs are the same, i.e., unless French labor works under the same conditions as in Germany. Of course, the French bosses would like to have what their competitors in Germany have, without using a Hitler: it would be nicer to have it that way. But the French workers have no intention of submitting to slavery. Therefore? Therefore the French bosses are getting ready to smash the labor unions by fascist methods. And that means, as part of the arsenal of Fascism, anti-Semitism.
Capitalism Lives by Race-Hatred
To insure their continued power, the capitalists must systematically cultivate racial and national hatreds. White supremacy is cultivated as a doctrine in British and French Africa and South ern America as a way of keeping the Negroes in subjection and separating them from their natural allies, the white workers The Hindu is pitted against the Moslem in India. The big corporations – Ford, “Little Steel,” etc. – deliberately foster antagonisms among the various races which labor side by side in the mills; As capitalism declines, this weapon becomes ever more necessary to the perpetuation of capitalism. That is why anti-Semitism grows: because the capitalists make it grow.
Alone, the Jewish people cannot hope to prevail capitalism’s need of anti-Semitism. The salvation of the Jews depends upon the victory of the labor movement. Where a strong labor movement still exists, there the Jews still have rights. Where the labor movement has gone under, there the Jews have gone under. The way to save the labor movement is also the way to save the Jews.
There have been a number of periodicals named Socialist Appeal in our history, this Socialist Appeal was edited in New York City by the “Left Wing Branches of the Socialist Party”. After the Workers Party (International Left Opposition) entered the Socialist Party in 1936, the Trotskyists did not have an independent publication. However, Albert Goldman began publishing a monthly Socialist Appeal in Chicago in February 1935 before the bulk of Trotskyist entered the SP. When there, they began publishing Socialist Appeal in August 1937 as the weekly paper of the “Left Wing Branches of the Socialist Party” but in reality edited by Cannon and other leaders. Goldman’s Chicago Socialist Appeal would fold into the New York paper and this Socialist Appeal would replace New Militant as the main voice of Fourth Internationalist in the US. After the expulsion of the Trotskyists from the the Socialist Party, Socialist Appeal became the weekly organ of the newly constituted Socialist Workers Party in early 1938. Edited by James Cannon and Max Shachtman, Felix Morrow, and Albert Goldman. In 1941 Socialist Appeal became The Militant again.
Link to PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/themilitant/socialist-appeal-1938/v2n53-dec-10-1938-SA.pdf