Of course, not all Marxists at all times were prepared to abandon Marx's cosmopolitan outlook. Rosa Luxemburg, for example, is well known for stressing the dangers of nationalism: that it created barriers between workers, since it promoted the primacy of national identities and made loyalty to the nation a supreme political value. She maintained that it turned the right of nations to self-determination into a warrant for new states to oppress minorities in their midst — a warrant that was to have serious consequences for Jews, who were minorities in both old and new states.
In the aftermath of the First World War, which Luxemburg had opposed from a broadly cosmopolitan perspective, the newly formed nation states of Central and Eastern Europe manifested just such a drive to homogenise populations and do what was necessary to achieve it, including the exclusion of minorities deemed to belong to other nations or, as in the case of the Jews, to no nation at all.
The failure of the Polish national movement to recognise the dangers posed by antisemitism confirmed Luxemburg in her view that the nationalism they prioritised aligned them effectively with the political Right. What happened in was a foretaste of more serious developments that Luxemburg experienced personally in the course of the German revolution of — Mainstream Marxism, both in its reformist and revolutionary wings, was opposed to antisemitism and to the antisemitic parties, but did not understand the central role played by antisemitism for the counter-revolution.
Inside Germany, neither wing of the Marxist movement appeared to think that antisemitism was central to the Nazi agenda. Both decided it did not call for specific rebuttal and rarely took direct action on this issue. Nazi antisemitism was a global project, nurtured inside one nation state and then broadened out to eliminate Jews from the world.
German Marxists were not alone in failing to respond to the threat posed by Nazi antisemitism, but at a time when the legacy of Marx's critique of the Jewish question was most urgently needed, it was ignored, distorted or squandered. Resistance to the assault on Jews was circumscribed within a frame of reference that did not make what was happening to Jews a priority. For example, when Jews in France were being deported to the camps, the Communist Resistance was still reluctant to make antisemitism a major issue, and no propaganda was produced to highlight what was being done to the Jews in France or elsewhere.
The universalism which underpinned the commitment of Jews to the Communist resistance had been tested to the extreme at the time of the Nazi-Soviet pact and led to some Jews leaving the Party in disgust; now it was seen by the Stalinist leadership as such a potent source of disloyalty that they gave orders for Jewish Communist resistance groups in Paris and Toulouse to be betrayed to the Gestapo. The strategic responses of Marxists organised in Communist Parties were designed and directed from the Soviet Union, even if they were interpreted and applied at the local level.
Here the refusal to face up to antisemitism, especially as it became genocidal, was to have disastrous consequences. One effect of the Nazi-Soviet pact of , which allowed Hitler to fight a war of aggression against Poland with Soviet help, was that it was also effectively an arrangement with the most powerful antisemite in the world, which opened the way for the destruction of the largest homeland of Jews in the world. By this time, many Jews had a developed sense of what was in stock for them. Five years of accelerating antisemitic repression in Germany had been followed by shocking violence against Jews in Austria after the Anschluss and in Czechoslovakia when it too was annexed.
When news of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact came through to the Zionist World Congress, everyone there understood what it meant for Jews. When large numbers of Jews fell rapidly under Nazi control in , some managed to flee to the Soviet Union, but the Soviet state did not make any plans that took into account the dangers facing the Jewish population across the border. For example, the first report that 52, Jews had been murdered at Babi Yar was revised down to a figure of 1, These Jews are mistaken. After the Holocaust, such indifference evolved into a more familiar pattern.
As the Red Army swept west, a Soviet Extraordinary State Commission to Investigate German-Fascist Crimes was set up and given specific instructions to avoid stating that the victims of massacres had been Jews. Along with four other anti-fascist committees, a Jewish anti-Fascist Committee JAC had been set up by the Soviet regime in and had made efforts to publicise for a Western audience what the Nazis were doing to Jews.
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The fate of this book and the committee is instructive. Even though the regime had carefully vetted membership of the JAC, it was, from the outset, concerned with potential deviations from party orthodoxy on the Jewish question. All copies were destroyed, along with the typesetting. The first victim was its leading activist and spokesman, the playwright Solomon Mikhoels, who was murdered on Stalin's personal orders in January Other members, some of them die-hard Stalinists, were arrested, tortured, charged and in almost all cases shot.
In the late s and s, this repertoire was polished in a series of show trials throughout Eastern Europe, most infamously in that of Rudolf Slansky in Eastern Europe, a template for many others. What connected these charges as new forms of the Jewish question was the representation of Jews both as a transnational group with connections and loyalties which ran across national boundaries, and as a national group with connections and loyalties to a nation state of their own.
Either way, Jews could be treated as enemies of the internationalism supposedly embodied in the Soviet state. Left Marxism, whose centre of gravity was the Trotskyist movement but which also included more libertarian sections of the radical left, was ferociously critical of Stalinised Marxism but was not necessarily able to frame a more coherent understanding of antisemitism. Although it is true that the official position of the Bolsheviks, at least after , was that antisemitism was a fundamentally reactionary force, when it came to combating antisemitism even and perhaps especially during the revolution, the practice was quite different.
Long live Soviet power! It is in this context that we might consider the evolution of Leon Trotsky's understanding of the threat posed by antisemitism. In Trotsky, like Luxemburg, had seen for himself how antisemitism had been whipped up by the state and how quickly it could mobilise and license the mob to perform acts of extreme violence.
This did not prevent him being alarmingly slow, along with other Bolshevik leaders, to react to the antisemitic violence carried out by the Red Army, much of it before he assumed control, 46 but he did have a more acute sense than other Marxists of where it might lead. Mandel was by no means alone in displaying such reluctance. For example, those involved in one of the most intellectually fertile splits from orthodox Trotskyism, grouped around the journal Socialisme ou Barbarie , largely ignored the Holocaust. Several decades after his first foray into writing about the Holocaust, Mandel reformulated his position.
Mandel's reformulation was part of a growing literature exploring connections between imperialism and genocide, an approach that illuminates important elements of the Nazi project, especially in relation to the killing fields of Eastern Europe, 55 but not the role of antisemitism in the conception and execution of the Holocaust. Jews were not just one of many targets but the primary focus of a movement designed to bring about their total annihilation; Jews were not just colonial subjects exploited in Eastern Europe but were transported there from all over Europe to be tormented, tortured and finally murdered.
While most Marxists had great difficulty in thinking about how Jews could be cast as such an enemy, we have seen that there were exceptions able to develop a more critical and self-critical approach. The most significant contribution to our understanding of antisemitism from within the Marxist tradition, widely conceived, was that developed by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno.
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Like the rest of their colleagues in the Frankfurt School, they were initially reluctant to make antisemitism a central focus of their research, and even as they deployed new methods of enquiry — designed to integrate insights from psychoanalysis into a Marxist frame of reference in order to explain how and why the proletariat failed to halt Hitler's rise to power — they eschewed any sustained discussion of antisemitism. Although many of the School's most prominent members were targeted as Jews, they initially preferred to downplay the question of antisemitism and think of themselves at risk predominantly because they were Marxists.
Horkheimer reverted in this essay to an economistic form of Marxism that elsewhere he and his colleagues had gone beyond, seeking to explain what was happening to Jews primarily as an effect of changes in capitalism that made them economically redundant. Identifying Jews as representative of commercial capital, he argued that they were losing their social function as capitalism entered a new phase of development. They are being run over. At most, antisemitism in Germany is a safety valve for the younger members of the SA. It serves to intimidate the populace by showing that the system will stop at nothing.
The pogroms are aimed politically more at the spectators than the Jews. This line of argument reappeared in the Frankfurt School's major work on the Nazi state, Franz Neumann's Behemoth This is not, however, a compelling explanation, given that Neumann as well as his close colleague, Herbert Marcuse was employed as an analyst of Nazi Germany by the US government, which was better informed about the mass killing of Jews than was for many years admitted.
Adorno had already begun to have premonitions about what the Nazis might be intending. The elimination of a whole group of people, the attempt to remove them not only from one geographical area but also from the human world, raised fundamental questions about civilisation, the direction of historical development and the prospects for humanity itself.
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In Horkheimer wrote:. The Jews have become the martyrs of civilisation … To protect the Jews has come to be a symbol of everything mankind stands for … The Jews have been made what the Nazis always pretended they were — the focal point of world history. To understand how and why this group became the object of such dedicated destructive intent required a major re-assessment, not only of antisemitism but also of the Marxist tradition itself. This major project was to be conducted at several levels.
Working with Jewish organisations such as the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Labour Committee, they developed several research proposals on antisemitism that involved collaboration with a wide range of scholars. Indeed, for centuries learned men and women have supplied elaborate theories spelling out conflicting rights and duties and unattainable conditions for their satisfaction.
That political judgment is cursed by a perpetual wandering between vision and practicality, between high moral ideals and the pragmatics of political life, is something Aristotle already warned about. Aristotle observed that even though justice might be essential for political life, a science of politics and therefore a scientific theory of justice is unattainable.
In matters political, he claimed, the particulars of our collective existence are the proper object of judgment. Therefore, practical wisdom, not general principles and theoretical reasoning, is what is needed when we judge the right organization of society. Ironically, the design of a theory of justice seems to be as impossible as justice is essential for politics. The book offers a way out of this conundrum by replacing the search for high-minded theory of justice with a model of practical judgment. The public does not realize that this statement is not an established scientific principle but an ethical preference.
Nonetheless, this belief has created a moral confusion among North Americans and Europeans because the evolution of our species was accompanied by the disposition to worry about kin and the collectives to which one belongs. Piet Strydom - - Philosophy and Social Criticism 25 2 What Is Critique? James D. Marshall - - Studies in Philosophy and Education 20 1 Dick Howard - - Critical Horizons 1 2 Norman Stockman - - Sold and Distributed in the U.
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