On Marx and Anti-Semitism

LeoCasey at aol.com LeoCasey at aol.com
Wed Aug 9 20:56:07 MDT 1995


Our friends can't decide whether or not they want to refer to actual texts of
Marx. When I used historical examples, they demanded textual quotes. When
they have actual texts before them, they choose to ignore their content.

It seemed appropriate to me that if we were goinf to discuss Marx's approach
to race and ethnicity, we might consider the one text, _On The Jewish
Question_, specifically dedicated to that end. I offered an analysis and an
illustrative passage from that text -- "The emancipation of the Jews is, in
the last analysis, the emancipation of mankind from Judaism." Aware of the
controversy surrounding the interpretation of the text, I chose the cautious
path and said that it was "tinged" with anti-Semitism. Gerry thinks this is
an understatement, and I would agree with him; I chose understatement as an
appropriate rhetorical form here, in the hope that it might make a difficult
truth a little more palatable. What a vain hope.

Louis objects to my analysis. Does he offer different passages, or does he
show how my interpretation of the text is flawed? No, he announces that
because he is Jewish, and was raised and educated in what seems to be at
least a small 'o' orthodox setting, his reading of the text is obviously
superior to this goy:
> I read and spoke Hebrew and Yiddish by the age
>of fourteen. I majored in the history of religion at Bard College, with a
>concentration in the history of Judaism. I have maintained an interest
>in Jewish studies since the early 1960's and have a library of more
>than a thousand books on Judaism at my house up-state. I wonder
>what base of knowledge Leo Casey is operating from when he speaks
>about Jewish identity and Marx's "anti-Semitism".

I believe that in logic classes this falacy is known as argument from
authority. (And I used to think that on the left it was the responsibility of
those who were not the object of prejudice to chauvinism to confront it --
for the white to combat racism, the man to face racism... the gentile to take
on anti-Semitism.)

Jim accuses me of resurrecting an old canard about the anti-semitic nature of
_On The Jewish Question_. Does he offer different passages, or does he show
how my interpretation of the text is flawed? No. He also adopts Louis'
argument from authority, but more modestly cites not himself, but Hal Draper:
>I notice that Leo Casey brings up the old canard about Marx being
anti-semitic.
>Louis, please forward the message to the list that this viewpoint
>has been totally discredited by serious scholars. See, for
>example, Hal Draper's appendix to volume I of his KARL MARX'S
>THEORY OF REVOLUTION. His main point is that _everyone_ during
>the 19th century was anti-semitic.

Now some of us have read Draper (and Harrington and a host of others) on this
issue, and have not been convinced by these authorities. But let us assume
that Draper's argument, as recounted by Jim, is correct. Where does that
leave us? I would suggest that the following syllogism is operative.
1. Everyone in the 19th century was anti-Semitic.
2. Marx was part of everyone in the 19th century.
3. Therefore, Marx was anti-Semitic.
(Note: I am not saying this is a convincing argument; I am just pointing out
what follows from Jim's account of Draper.)

Should it really be necessary to point out that what this argument shows,
should we accept it, is _not_ that Marx was not anti-Semitic, but that he
shared his anti-Semitism with a lot of other folks?

Let's be clear that are far more gratitiously anti-Semitic passages in _On
The Jewish Question_ than the one I originally chose to quote. For example,
Marx employs the usual crude stereotypes of Judaism:
>What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest.
>What is the secular cult of the Jew? Haggling.
>What is his secular God? Money.
>Well then! Emancipation from haggling and from money, ie, from practical,
real >Judaism, would be the same as the self-emancipation of our age.
>An organization of society that abolished the basis upon which haggling
exists, ie, the >possibility of haggling, would have made the Jew impossible.

Now I will be glad to entertain anyone, Jew or Gentile, believer or atheist,
Marxist- Leninist or radical democrat, who can put forward a serious argument
that this is not an anti-Semitic passage.

Finally, with respect to the closest thing in all of this that resembles an
argument, Louis quotes from two historians about the "backward" nature of
19th century Jewish life in Europe. I would note that those who have studied
the nature of Enlightenment philosophy, or maybe even just read the
_Dialectic of Enlightenment_, will recognize that the category of the
superstitious and the backward is employed therein to construct a people as
the (unreasonable, irrational) 'other.'  In my own research on the origins
and uses of the symbol "leviathan," I found it very revealing that
Enlightenment genealogies of the term "leviathan" (there is a wonderful entry
in Diderot's Encyclopedia which illustrates this point) conveniently
highlights the mythological qualities of the term in the Jewish talmudic
tradition while ignoring those same qualities in the Christian tradition. I
am afraid, Louis, that I don't have to read Yiddish and Hebrew to recognize
that as anti-Semitic.



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