Some particularly unpleasant consequences of the ‘Great War’
During July and August, 2014, Israel waged a brutal one-sided “war”—if it can be called a war—against tiny Gaza. More than 2,200 Palestinians, the vast majority civilians, and around 500 children were killed. The Israeli slaughter created a worldwide wave of outrage. Demonstrations against the Israeli actions were held around the world.
This latest Israeli assault on the Palestinian people is part of a long-running conflict rooted in what the Palestinians call al Nakba—“the catastrophe,” in Arabic—that occurred in 1948. In that year, Jewish settlers systematically drove the majority of the residents of Arab Palestine out of their native country into refugee camps, where survivors and their descendants are still to be found 65 years later.
There have been many attempts by well-meaning people to solve this conflict. Why can’t the Israeli Jews and the Palestinians, both Muslims and Christians, learn to live together in peace? Though “historic Palestine” is a small country, there is room enough for all present Jewish residents of Israel and all Palestinians in the refugee camps and the Diaspora to live happily together. The real question is not why can’t they live together but why don’t they?
Is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict about religion?
At first glance, the conflict is about religion, pitting the followers of the Jewish religion and the followers of Islam, the majority of Palestinians, and Christians, a minority of Palestinians, against one another. In ancient times—just before what Christians call “the time of Christ”—the Jewish Hasmonean dynasty succeeded in bringing what was later called Palestine under its control. This dynasty then imposed the Jewish religion on all non-Jewish occupants of Palestine.
The Hasmonean dynasty is often criticized by present-day liberals—including many supporters of today’s state of Israel—for violating our modern bourgeois-democratic freedom of (and from) religion. But at least the Hasmoneans gave the ancient non-Jewish Palestinians the option of converting to Judaism, which the Hasmoneans believed was the one true religion.
In contrast, the leaders of present-day Israel—who presumably also believe that Judaism is the one true religion—make no attempt to convert the present-day non-Jewish Arab Palestinians to Judaism. Even if we leave aside the considerable differences between ancient and present-day society, the policies of the Hasmonean dynasty rulers was quite humane and enlightened compared to that of the rulers of present-day Israel. Whatever the conflict is about, it is not about religion.
Is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict about nationality?
The Zionists, backed up by official imperialist “public opinion,” claim that the conflict is actually about nationality. According to Zionist doctrine, the Jewish people are the real indigenous inhabitants of Palestine—”the land of Israel,” as they call it. According to the Zionist version of history, the Jews were driven out of their homeland by the Roman Empire about 2,000 years ago through a series of wars. The Jewish people were then scattered around the world but never forgot either their religion or ancient nationality.
With the foundation of modern Israel, the Jewish people have returned to their homeland. The Jews, therefore, have simply exercised their right of self-determination in their native land, which all nations have the right to do. Anybody who denies the right of self-determination to the Jewish nation in its native land, the Zionists claim, is an “anti-Semite.”
This version of history is not only bad politics, it is bad history. Already on the eve of the wars of Rome against the Jews of ancient Palestine, the great majority of Jews lived outside of Palestine and had done so for many centuries.
Most Jews lived at that time in religious minority communities scattered about the Roman Empire, the Parthian Empire and beyond. Like many other peoples have done throughout history, the ancestors of the “diaspora” Jews that had once lived in Palestine left their homeland in search of better economic opportunities.
Over time, Jews inevitably had children with non-Jews, who were then raised as Jews, or converted people they met in their new countries to the Jewish religion. So even in ancient times, many of the ancestors of the Jewish people were natives of countries other than Palestine.
The Jewish religious minority communities tended to represent commodity-money relationships in societies that were still largely natural economies, where the bulk of the products produced were directly for use as opposed to being for sale. It is reasonable to assume that modern Jewish communities developed from these ancient caste-based religious minority communities rather than from the Jewish nation that once existed in Palestine. In Palestine itself, the ancient Jewish nation mixing over time with residents of Palestine belonging to other nations and religions developed into the modern Palestinian Arabs.
Roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Therefore, the real roots of todays Palestinian-Israeli conflict lie not in the Roman-Jewish wars that occurred 20 centuries ago, nor in any other biblical-era conflicts, or the later conflicts between Muslim Arabs and Jews described in the Koran and other old Islamic texts. Instead, they are rooted in two much more recent events.
One was the economic crisis of 1873 and the subsequent transformation of the old capitalism based on free competition into modern imperialism. The other even more recent event was the “Great War” that began exactly a century ago. As we saw last month, the Great War was a consequence of imperialism and also caused a tremendous sharpening of the contradictions inherent in imperialism, extending from the outbreak of the war in 1914 until 1945, the end of World War II.
Anti-Semitism a product of modern imperialism
But hasn’t anti-Semitism existed for thousands of years? How then can it be a product of modern imperialism? As is well known, the fate of the Jews was often indeed an unhappy one under Christian rule. The Christian Gospels claim that the Jews forced a reluctant Pontius Pilate to crucify Jesus Christ.
Consequently, in Christian—but not Muslim (1) —countries, Jews were often accused of being “Christ killers.” And since Christ—or the Son, the second person of the Christian trinity—is “fully God” alongside the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Jews by “killing Christ” were and are guilty of “killing God himself.” (2) What crime can be greater than killing God?
According to traditional Christianity, this is the greatest crime in all human history and the Jews are primarily responsible. Therefore, while the antagonism between the Jewish religious minority communities and their Christian neighbors was largely rooted in the economic conflicts inherent in the caste structure of pre-capitalist class society, the religious antagonisms contributed by Christianity sharpened the conflict further. Even Zionist historians are forced to admit that the Jews fared much better in the Muslim countries governed by Sharia law.
Jews and Christians under Islamic rule
While Sharia law seems from the viewpoint of modern Western liberals to be incredibly backward, it was actually far more advanced than the “canon law” that prevailed in countries dominated by the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church claimed that there is “no salvation outside of the Church,” and held that those who did not accept the Catholic interpretation of Christianity and pay tithes to the church were doomed to everlasting hell.
Sharia law, in contrast, respects the “peoples of the book,” the Jews and Christians. The existence of synagogues and churches is therefore allowed under Sharia law, though with certain limitations such as special taxes and other restrictions that violate our modern views of freedom of (and from) religion. These modern freedoms are the product of the revolutionary struggles of the last few centuries, and even today the Christian religious establishment and reactionary politicians allied to them often do all they can to undermine them.
Islam, in contrast to traditional Christianity, holds that sincere Jews and Christians as well as followers of other “monotheistic” religions—not, however, followers of polytheistic religions or atheists—can be saved (spend eternity in paradise) even if they do not become Muslims.
Of course, since Islam considers itself the only completely true religion, conversion to Islam is the preferred solution for Jews, Christians and everybody else. Sharia law, therefore, while falling far short of our modern enlightened views of freedom of (and from) religion, forms part of the bridge between the “Dark Ages” doctrine of the Catholic Church of “no salvation outside the church” and modern-day bourgeois secular liberalism.
Until very recent times, Islam was completely banned in all Christian countries—no Mosques were allowed—and Judaism was often banned as well. Even where Judaism was tolerated, Jews were often subject to brutal persecution. The same was true of non-Catholic Christian sects. And later, during the reformation, Catholics themselves were often banned or subject to severe persecution when Protestants were in power.
It is not altogether an accident that mathematics, philosophy and science flourished under the relatively enlightened Sharia law when they were little in evidence in Christian Europe.
Racism, the crucial difference between medieval persecution of Jews and modern anti-Semitism
Persecution of the Jews, therefore, predates modern anti-Semitism by many centuries. However, as bad as the persecution of Jews often was under Christian rule, Christianity always provided an escape clause to the individual Jew, at least in theory—conversion. According to Christian doctrine, once a Jew—or anybody else—accepts Jesus Christ as his or her “Lord and Savior,” they are members of the Christian community and are guaranteed salvation. Christians believe that Jesus’s mother, Mary, was a Jew—making Jesus himself Jewish on his mother’s side, and his father was no less than the God of Israel, who was presumably Jewish as well.
In addition, according to the Christian gospels, during his time on Earth Jesus practiced the Jewish religion. Among the titles that the Christians gave to Jesus was “King of the Jews.” All the Apostles, according to Christian belief, including St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, were also Jews.
Christianity was many things, but as a product of the multi-racial world of the ancient Mediterranean and Middle East, it wasn’t racist. The same was true of Islam. Therefore, bad as the traditional persecution of the Jews was, it was not identical to modern anti-Semitism because it lacked the racist element. As we will see, this is not a small difference.
The Jews and capitalism’s liberal phase
Within Europe by the 19th century, especially after the publication of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” in 1859, Christian belief was in decline among members of the ruling class and other educated people. The ancient Christian charges against the Jews such as “deicide” no longer made much sense in the light of the findings of both science and modern Bible criticism. Even before the publication of “On the Origin of Species,” modern Bible criticism, which first arose in Germany, had questioned the historical nature of the “life of Christ” as recorded in the New Testament Gospels.
This cast grave doubt on the Gospels’ claims that “the Jews” actually forced the Roman governor of Palestine to crucify Jesus. On the other side, the old Jewish religious minority communities—often called “ghettos”—were disappearing from Western Europe. Freed from the tyranny of the ghetto, many Jews abandoned Judaism altogether. An example was Karl Marx’s father, Hershel Marx, who converted more or less tongue and cheek to Lutheran Christianity. In matters of nationality, Hershel, like his much more famous son Karl, considered himself a German and not a member of the long-vanished “nation of Israel.”
Conversion to Lutheranism was Hershel’s—he later changed his name to the more Germanic Heinrich—way of saying that in respect to nationality he was a German and nothing but a German. Karl went one step further and became an atheist.
German reactionaries who upheld “traditional” feudal values opposed what seemed to be an irreversible trend toward the emancipation of the Jews. These reactionaries counterposed the “Jewish spirit” to the “German spirit” and insisted that the Jews must never be considered Germans. But as Germany’s rapidly developing capitalism undermined the remains of the old feudal society, the reactionaries seemed to be fighting a losing battle.
Class composition of the Jews in the West under liberal capitalism
As capitalism took hold in Western Europe, some Jews became modern capitalists. There was a tendency for Jewish capitalists to predominate more in the financial sector, the Rothschilds’ banking dynasty being the most infamous. There were relatively fewer Jews among the industrial capitalists.
Where Jewish capitalists did develop into industrial capitalists, it was usually in light industry such as the textile industry and garment as opposed to heavy industries such as iron and steel. Within the old pre-capitalist religious minority communities, the Jews had to make their own clothing, so it was natural for the emerging Jewish industrial bourgeoisie as well as the Jewish industrial workers to be concentrated in this sector.
In Western Europe and the United States, Jews—or people of Jewish descent—were often and still are found among the members of the middle-class intelligentsia. Many doctors and lawyers as well as liberal journalists were of Jewish descent. These are therefore seen as the “traditional” Jewish professions. Many of these intellectuals of Jewish descent liberated from the “chains” of the ghetto—both physical and intellectual—were to revolutionize their respective fields.
David Ricardo, the great English classical economist who so influenced Marx, was descended from Sephardic, or Spanish, Jews. This explains his Latino last name. The Ricardos converted to Christianity for the same reason that Marx’s family did, to remove the last barrier to their complete assimilation into their modern bourgeois nation state—England for Ricardo’s family and Germany for Marx’s.
In many other fields as well, the contributions of people of Jewish origin are nothing short of amazing. Albert Einstein and many others in physics and Sigmund Freud in psychology are perhaps the best known. The same is true in many other branches of science, and in the arts as well. The modern culture of the West—not least of all Marxism—would be a faint echo of what it is if the contributions of Jews or people of Jewish origin were subtracted.
The Jews under monopoly capitalism and the birth of anti-Semitism
The economic crisis of 1873 hit Germany, Austria and the United States hardest and marks the beginning of the transition from industrial capitalism based on free competition to monopoly capitalism—imperialism—dominated by finance capital. Like was the case in the crisis of 2008, this earlier capitalist crisis brought to the surface the swindling operations of many capitalists in the financial sector, including a number of capitalists of Jewish origin.
The reactionaries of the time blamed the crisis not on the contradictions of the capitalist system but on Jewish financiers. The problem, according to the reactionaries, was therefore not the capitalist system but the Jews.
At the same time, the crisis of 1873 brought a great rise in unemployment and increased struggles for markets among the “great” capitalist powers, giving a huge impulse to colonialism. More and more, “the West” enslaved the non-white people of what was later called the “Third World” and today is often called “the Global South.”
This situation sharpened a growing contradiction within bourgeois ideology. This ideology preaches, in contrast to the ideologies of the old caste-ridden pre-capitalist class societies, the equality of all people, or more specifically, the equality of all commodity owners. However, as it developed concretely in the 19th century, Western capitalism super-exploited or enslaved increasing numbers of non-white people.
Therefore, the only way the super-exploitation of “non-white” people could be reconciled with the “equality of all men” was to picture non-white people as less than fully human. This was especially true in the United States, where from the beginning side by side with capitalism proper based on “free labor” there grew up a system of African slavery. Because of this, racism was rampant in England’s North American colonies from the beginning.
In the late 19th century, after the publication of “On the Origin of Species,” white European anthropologists (3) speculated that different “races” of humanity were descended from different species of apes. If that were true, different “races” of humans would themselves be entirely different biological species unable to have fertile children with one another.
The fact that members of all modern human “races” can freely interbreed with one another and produce fertile offspring was a fact that these “racial scientists” had to explain away. After 1873, the racism already rampant in Europe and the United States greatly intensified.
Anti-Semitism a form of racism
The term anti-Semitism wasn’t even coined until 1879, only six years after the 1873 crisis. It is a peculiar word. Today, the most “Semitic” people on earth, the native people of Palestine—are regularly accused by the Western imperialist media and the Zionists of being “anti-Semitic.” This is much like accusing the native people of Europe of being “anti-white.”
The word anti-Semitism actually derives from the name Shem, who in the Old Testament is one of three sons of Noah—the fellow who built the ark. Shem is, according to the Old Testament, the ancestor of Abraham, who is in turn the father of Issac, the ancestor of the Israelites, and of Ishmael and his descendants. According to old Jewish lore, Ishmael is the ancestor of the Arabs. (4) Today, fanatical Zionists often refer to Arabs as the “Ishmaelites.”
In the 19th century, it was realized that modern-day languages can be grouped together in families that descend from a common ancestral language, somewhat like biological species do. Latin and its modern-day descendants such as Italian, Spanish, French, German and English; Greek, Farsi and the Slavic languages; as well as many of the languages of India and Pakistan are descended from a language dubbed Indo-European spoken many thousands of years ago. Languages related to modern Arabic, including Hebrew, Aramaic, and the languages of both ancient and modern Ethiopia, are grouped together as “Semitic languages.”
The white European racists of Europe and America made the leap from language to race. According to them, speakers of Semitic languages are members of a “Semitic” race that would include all modern Arabs, Jews and Ethiopians. This theory ignored the fact that most European Jews spoke Yiddish, a dialect of German with some Polish, Ukrainian, Russian influence—all of which happen to be Indo-European languages.
The racists concluded that since “the Arabs,” not to speak of Ethiopians, are “obviously” not white, neither are the European—or any other Jews—appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. And this is crucial. Since the Jews are, according to the anti-Semites, a biological race, the conversion of Jews to Christianity means nothing. Once a Jew or a descendant of Jews, always a Jew.
The anti-Semites argued that due to their “racial characteristics”—not religion—the Jews were not only responsible for capitalism—the Rothchilds and other Jewish bankers being the primary examples—but were also just as responsible for the socialist workers’ movement! The anti-Semites never tired of pointing out that Karl Marx and many other leaders of the workers’ movement were Jews—again using their “racial criteria” as to who was a Jew. When many—not all—Jews opposed white racism or supported democratic ideals, “the Jews” were accused by the anti-Semities of aiming to overthrow the rule of the white—or Aryan—race’s supremacy in order to establish their own supremacy.
The ‘Jewish question’ becomes a class question
Based on these “ideas,” in the late 19th century anti-Semitic parties formed in Germany and other countries. Their real purpose was to prevent the lower middle class from making common cause with the working class in its struggle with the capitalist class.
While the anti-Semitic parties remained small in Europe, most mainstream bourgeois parties wrote anti-Semitic planks into their party programs. By contrast, the European Social Democratic parties consistently opposed anti-Semitism. In this way, the “Jewish question” became like much else a class question.
In the West, anti-Semitism was generally non-violent and, beside political demagoguery aimed at winning votes from middle-class voters, featured exclusion of or limiting of the numbers of Jews from certain occupations and universities. For example, Jews were rarely military officers in either Europe or the United States. Engineering was also largely closed to Jews until after World War II.
Far worse was anti-Semitic persecution of Jews in the Czarist Empire, where in the 19th century most European Jews lived. The supporters of czarism encouraged the peasants, whose situation was worsening after their formal “emancipation” from serfdom (5) in 1861, to attack the Jews, the age-old scapegoats. At the same time, the Jewish religious minority communities were themselves in crisis as the feudal society they had been rooted in disintegrated around them.
While the upper layer of Jews converted themselves into modern capitalists, many more eastern European Jews fell into extreme poverty, becoming proletarianized. As a modern Jewish intelligentsia developed, it faced extremely limited career options, causing many Jewish intellectuals to turn toward the workers’ movement.
The rise of Zionism
As the anti-Semitism and colonialism bred by developing monopoly capitalism spread after the 1873 crisis, Great Britain and France moved to seize Egypt, still nominally part of the decaying Ottoman Empire, in order to build the Suez Canal. Britain wanted to gain control of Egypt and the Suez Canal because it connected the British-dominated Mediterranean Sea to India.
After a period of inter-imperialist struggles—short of war—France ceded control of Egypt and the Suez Canal to Great Britain. France was compensated with control of Morocco. In order to safeguard the Suez Canal, Britain desired to establish a “white colony” in Palestine, then a province of the Ottoman Empire.
However, there was a problem. The unemployed and other potential white colonists in Britain were not very attracted to Palestine. They saw far better possibilities of getting rich at the expense of native peoples in Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States—which though it was an independent capitalist country retained many features of the British white colony it had once been.
This is where Zionism came to the rescue. While the Jews of Western Europe and the United States including Germany were generally quite happy where they were, the same could not be said of the Jews who lived under the czar and formed the great mass of European Jews. To a much greater extent than had been the case in western and central Europe, the poorer Jews of the Russian Empire were developing into proletarians. Because of their dual oppression as workers and Jews—and among women the triple oppression of Jews, workers and women—Jewish workers were much more receptive to the ideas of the Social Democracy—and later the Communists—than were “gentile” workers.
In addition to the Jewish capitalists and wage workers, there were many impoverished intellectuals and small-business people among the Jews who were trying desperately to stay out of the growing Jewish proletariat. This layer became open to fantastic ideas such as the “return” of the Jews to Palestine—which they knew nothing about—and the restoration of the purely imaginary glories of biblical Israel.
Zionism came into the world as an expression of opposition to both the modern democratic ideas of the emancipation of the European Jews and even more so of opposition to socialist ideas. From the very beginning, the Zionists accepted the growing racism of European society—in both east and west—and put forward the perspective that the Jews could gain the respect of the racist and increasingly anti-Semitic rulers of Europe if they served as racist colonizers in Palestine.
The Zionist Program—a Europe without Jews, a Palestine without Arabs!
By fighting the native Arabs, the Jews would prove that they were “white” after all! The Zionists were in full agreement with anti-Semites that European Jews should leave Europe where they had lived for thousands of years. Their program can be summed up as a “Europe without Jews”—the same as the anti-Semites on that point—and “a Palestine without Arabs!” Therefore, unlike the Social Democracy and later the Communists and even many bourgeois democrats, the Zionists did not fight anti-Semitism but accepted it as both a proper and inevitable part of “gentile” society. Without the “eternal anti-Semitism” of gentile society, Zionist ideology made no sense then and makes even less sense today.
Starting in the late 19th century, the first Zionist communities were formed in Palestine, mostly by Jews from the Czarist Empire. Palestine as the “Holy Land” of both Judaism and Christianity had become accustomed to foreign Christians and Jews living side by side with the native Palestinian Arabs for many centuries with minimal friction. Therefore, the first Zionist settlements appeared harmless to the native Palestinians, who didn’t realize the danger they represented.
Indeed, these communities, notwithstanding their racist and colonialist ideology, on their own represented little danger to the native Palestinians—unless they linked up with one or more of the major imperialist powers.
Zionism’s role in eastern Europe before 1914
As modern politics developed in the Russian Empire following the revolution of 1905, many Jewish businessmen formed Zionist political parties. It seems unlikely that these Jewish businessmen were really interested in moving to Palestine. Instead, they simply wanted to keep the Jewish workers from joining up with the Russian and Polish workers and workers of the other nationalities of the Russian Empire in the fight against the bosses.
In order to spread confusion, some Zionists formed so-called socialist-Zionist parties, claiming to mix socialism with Zionism. But in reality, Zionism was from the beginning incompatible with even bourgeois democratic ideas and all the more so with socialist ideas. This is true whatever was in heads of individual “socialist-Zionists.” (6)
The real aim of the socialist-Zionist movement was to split the Jewish workers from the “gentile” workers, thus weakening the entire workers’ movement. In pre-1914 Germany, the eastern European socialist-Zionist movement had a counterpart in the national-socialist movement—that is what it was called—that tried to win German workers away from the German Social Democratic Party. The pre-1914 German national-socialist movement claimed to combine the fight for socialism with German nationalism and anti-Semitism. The Social Democracy, therefore, had to fight these pre-1914 “national socialists” in Germany along with the Zionist businessmen’s parties and the fake Zionist “socialists” among eastern European Jews.
The Great War transforms the ‘Jewish question’
During the pre-1914 capitalist prosperity, the anti-Semitic parties lost ground, and it seemed then as though the Russian Empire was destined to evolve toward Western European-style bourgeois democracy, through reforms, revolution or some combination of both.
As this happened, it was widely believed even among the revolutionaries of the left wing of the Social Democracy that anti-Semitism would decline and eventually fade away in eastern Europe. The expectation was that the already decaying Jewish religious minority communities would continue to split up along class lines as they were absorbed into the Russian, Polish, Ukrainian and other nations of eastern Europe.
Part of the Jews—or former Jews—would be integrated into the workers’ movement, and the capitalist Jews—or former Jews—would join hands with the Christian capitalists in their fight against the workers. The remaining middle-class Jews would waver like the rest of the middle class between the two class poles of modern capitalist society. In Palestine, the still small colonies formed by Zionist settlers would either return to Europe or become part of the pluralistic religious landscape that had long characterized Ottoman Palestine. In this way, the “Jewish question” would be solved through assimilation and fade away.
But that was before the events of the summer of 1914, which were to completely transform the “Jewish question,” along with much else. In 1917, with the war still in full swing, Britain issued the “Balfour Declaration,” which committed Britain to supporting a “national home” for Jews in Palestine.
The Zionists had scored a major breakthrough by successfully linking up with an imperialist power, Great Britain. The British—they had plenty of experience—knew full well that the Zionist colonizers, as they stole more and more Arab land and tried to drive the native Palestinians out of their country, would face the increasing hatred first among the Palestinian Arabs, then all Arabs and finally the world’s Muslims regardless of nationality. The Zionist colonizers would therefore be forced to serve the British rulers, who would appear to them as their protectors against the vastly more numerous Arab and Muslim masses.
In contrast to these reactionary developments, the Russian Revolution opened an entirely different perspective for the Jewish people. From Lenin on down, the Bolsheviks were strongly opposed to both anti-Semitism and Zionism and all other forms of racism and colonialism. Instead, the Bolsheviks championed all genuine national liberation movements of peoples oppressed by imperialism, including the movements of the Arab and other Muslim peoples. It was the Bolsheviks who published the notorious Sykes-Picot agreement.
Within the new Soviet state, the Jewish workers proved to be the most enthusiastic supporters of the revolution. In contrast, the counterrevolutionary White armies in Russia and Ukraine resorted to an anti-Semitism far more virulent than anything known before the Great War. The White propaganda claimed that the Bolsheviks were “Jewish,” and the Whites often massacred whole Jewish communities.
The Russian Whites and Ukrainian nationalists were not alone in this. Winston Churchill, falsely pictured in U.S. propaganda today as a great democrat, also blamed the Jews for “Bolshevism.” More than ever before, the Jewish question was a class question.
The Jewish bourgeoisie under Soviet power
The Jewish bourgeoisie (7) and the parts of the Jewish petty bourgeois strongly attached to private property found themselves caught in the middle. On one side, “the Reds” wanted to take away their property; on the other side, the Whites were all for private property but wanted to kill the Jews. Those who could, emigrated, mostly to the United States. The bourgeois Jews who found themselves stranded in the world’s first workers’ republic, like the bourgeoisie of other nationalities, hoped for the eventual restoration of capitalism but without the murderous anti-Semitism that had characterized the White Russian and Ukrainian “nationalist” movements.
During World War II—called the Great Patriotic War in the Soviet Union—a Nazi victory would have led to the restoration of “the right of private property” but would have also meant the physical extermination of the Jews—including the members of the Jewish bourgeoisie. Therefore, the Jewish bourgeoisie, unlike the bourgeoisie of other Soviet nationalities, had no alternative but to support Soviet power during World War II. Their biological interests in remaining alive for once trumped their class interests.
After World War II, however, these same bourgeois Jews oriented to the United States and its “Free World” empire, which now included Zionist Israel. In time, many of these bourgeois Jews and their like-minded descendants became strong supporters and beneficiaries of “perestroika” and the restoration of capitalism that resulted. The pro-capitalist “reformers” of perestroika in the changed circumstances of the post-World II era, unlike earlier movements to restore capitalism, generally avoided virulent anti-Semitism.
U.S. racist restrictions on immigration trapped Jews in Europe
The United States passed a series of racist laws in 1921 and 1924 that effectively closed the immigration door for European Jews. As a result, working-class and bourgeois Jews alike were trapped in an increasingly anti-Semitic Europe. Especially dangerous was the situation in Poland.
Virulent anti-Semitism characterized the politics of the new Polish mini-empire (8) that arose out of the Great War. As the United States slammed shut the immigration door, the Polish Jews—by far the largest Jewish community in Europe—were in a particularly vulnerable position. Caught in this impasse, many Polish Jews including working-class Jews were susceptible to the siren song of Zionist ideology, which in order to attract working-class Jews often dressed itself up as “socialist-Zionism.”
Anti-Semitism in post-World War I Germany
World War I brutalized many individuals, not least a certain former Viennese and Munich street artist who we met last month, named Adolf Hitler. Hitler seems to have been transformed from a run-of-the-mill Austrian anti-Semite—who all the same had some Jewish friends and associates—into a virulent anti-Semite determined to drive all Jews out of Germany and Austria once and for all.
Hitler was far from the only virulently anti-Semitic agitator in postwar Germany. Virtually all supporters of the “nationalist anti-Communist German right” shared Hitler’s virulent brand of anti-Semitism. Unlike the case with Italian fascism, anti-Semitism was the glue that tied the confused ideology of German fascism—or National Socialism as it called itself—together.
However, as U.S. loans stabilized the new German mark after the hyper-inflation of 1923, German capitalism appeared to stabilize and the Nazis were reduced to a fringe party. Though more virulent than the anti-Semitism of pre-war Germany, as far as most members of Germany’s overwhelmingly middle-class Jewish community were concerned, the Nazis seemed to represent little real threat. They believed that as the effects of the Great War and Germany’s defeat faded and renewed capitalist prosperity took hold, anti-Semitism would decline just like it had done in the pre-1914 years. Zionism, therefore, had little support among German Jews in these years.
All this changed, however, when another consequence of the Great War—the super crisis of 1929-32—arrived. As American loans dried up, the super-crisis hit highly indebted Germany harder than any other imperialist country. This caused Hitler’s fringe Nazi Party to grow into Germany’s largest party within just a few years. The Nazis grew both in the streets and at the ballot box, using extreme anti-Semitic demagoguery to gain recruits.
The Nazi agitators “explained” that it was “the Jews” who had stabbed Germany in the back during World War I, robbing her of the victory that its brave soldiers—like Hitler—had won for her on the battlefield. The Jews were blamed for the super-crisis as well, with its unprecedented levels of unemployment. After all, the Nazis claimed, didn’t Jews dominate banking, and hadn’t the “Jewish-controlled” banks both on Wall Street and in Germany caused the crisis?
And, of course, the Jews were held responsible for communism, which was menacing the middle class from the other side. Hadn’t Karl Marx been a Jew, and wasn’t the Soviet Union dominated by the “Jewish-Bolsheviks,” now plotting to create a similar “Jewish Bolshevik dictatorship” in Germany? And wasn’t Germany already dominated by the Jews through the “capitalist-democracy” of the Wiemar Republic that was ruining Germany? Everything that was wrong in Germany, according to the Nazis, was the fault of “the Jews.” The only solution for Germany’s woes was therefore the expulsion of all Jews—defined in terms of race and not religion—from Germany and eventually from all of Europe.
Even after the former street artist became dictator in 1933, many German Jews refused to leave Germany. They simply couldn’t believe what was happening to them. Surely, German middle-class Jews figured, now that they had the responsibilities of power the Nazis would move toward “the center” and moderate their ideology. And anyway, how long could a party with such a crazy ideology as “National Socialism” hold power in advanced industrial and highly civilized Germany, the land of poets and philosophers? German Jews had lived in Germany for thousands of years and they thought they could easily outlast Hitler.
The German Jews under the Nazi rule
By the time the German Jews realized their mistake, it was for most of them too late. Within months of Hitler’s coming to power, all non-Nazi political organizations were outlawed except the Zionists. The creation of a Germany without Jews was a goal shared by the Nazis and Zionists alike. Where the Jews ended up was of little interest to the Nazis. During the 1930s, Palestine was as good as any other destination as far as the Nazis were concerned. It was only after World War II stranded the Jews in Nazi-controlled Europe that Hitler, following the advice of his foreign office, emerged as the champion of the Arabs and the enemy of Zionism.
The German Jews faced a combined Nazi and Zionist assault on their very identity as Germans. Remember, it was “race” and not religion that defined who was a real German—or Aryan—and who was a Jew. Therefore, the Nazis and their laws defined Jews in “racial terms”—conversion to Christianity was no longer an escape. All “racial” Jews were stripped of their German citizenship, fired from civil service jobs and progressively ousted from liberal professions as the Nazi leadership, collaborating with the Zionists, attempted to force the Jews to leave their German homeland.
Hitler himself sneered that no country including the United States—where anti-Semitism was also growing due to the Depression—wanted to take the German Jews in. When World War II erupted, the trap door closed shut on the European Jews, above all the Polish Jews. The Nazis, not knowing what to do with the Jews who they had not been able to oust from Europe despite the help offered by the Zionists, finally decided that the only solution was to kill every Jew—again defined in terms of race, not religion. This was to be done either by working them to death, or if they were deemed incapable of work, killing them outright—including old people, children and infants.
The U.S. media often claims that the Jews of Europe died “because of their religion”—the implication being that if only they had converted to Christianity everything would have been alright. But the Jews of Europe could no more escape the holocaust by converting to Christianity than the residents of Gaza in 2014 can escape their holocaust by converting to Judaism.
In both cases, the author of the racism used to justify the holocausts and genocide is imperialism, the same imperialism responsible for the Great War, the Great Depression, fascism, World War II, the death of millions of Koreans and Vietnamese, the creation of Zionist Israel and al Nakba, and many other crimes far too numerous to list here.
Israel, al Nakba, and the Palestinians and Jews after World War II
The sequel to the Great War known as World War II again transformed the “Jewish question.” As the extent of the holocaust became known, a great revulsion against anti-Semitism swept across Europe and the United States.
If the U.S. had been willing to take in the survivors of the holocaust who did not want to remain in Europe while at the same time opposing the British-backed Zionist project to colonize Palestine, the “Jewish question” might have been solved once and for all. Anti-Semitism was now a completely discredited ideology, and Zionism without the sponsorship of the most powerful empire on Earth would have withered away.
But U.S. imperialism followed a course that was to give the “Jewish question” a whole new lease on life while creating the “Palestinian question.”
Why did Washington do this? One reason is that the U.S. was launching the “Cold War”—better described as a global class struggle—against the Soviet Union and its new allies in eastern Europe and Asia. Rabid anti-Communism was to become the coin—some call it the religion—of U.S. imperialist politics. Jews, above all the survivors of the holocaust, had learned to associate anti-communism with anti-Semitism. In addition, Jews were highly sympathetic to the Soviet Union. It was no secret to the Jews that it was primarily the Soviet Union that had destroyed Nazi Germany and liberated most of the death camps, thus bringing the holocaust to a screeching halt.
An influx of European Jews to the U.S. would therefore have greatly strengthened the besieged anti-Cold War left in the U.S. This was the last thing the U.S. government wanted. However, Washington knew that if the holocaust survivors went to Palestine instead, they would under Zionist leadership inevitably come into deadly conflict with Palestine’s native Arab population.
In this way, Washington would kill two birds with one stone. Like the British Empire before it, the U.S. wanted a reliable “white colony” to guard the Suez Canal that linked Europe to Asia. In addition, the more Israel fought the Arabs—not only Palestinian but other Arabs as well—the less fighting U.S. “boys” themselves would have to do, and the less opposition there would be to imperialist war within the U.S. And some of the dirtiest jobs could be left to Israel. In this way, “the Jews” and not “the Yanks” would get the blame.
Over the 65 years since Israel’s founding, Israelis have emerged as the world’s leading “counter-insurgency” experts. They have used their talents as imperialist hit men and terrorists not only against the Arab people but other peoples of the Middle East and beyond. A recent example of this was the campaign to murder Iranian scientists involved in Iran’s peaceful nuclear energy program.
This is true not only in the Middle East. Israelis helped the contras in their struggle against Nicaragua’s democratic revolution during the 1980s. It is therefore no accident that Israel has little sympathy south of the Rio Grande these days. And it is no surprise that Israel is increasingly hated among U.S. Latinos. This is reflected even among Latino Hollywood cultural figures who have spoken up against the Gaza massacre and are refusing to perform in Israel.
Israeli thugs and hit men have been active advancing the interests of the U.S. empire in sub-Saharan Africa as well, and African Americans have long been sympathetic to the Palestinian people. Nor has Israel’s alliance with apartheid South Africa—many of whose leaders had been sympathetic to the Nazis—been forgotten among Africans and people of African descent. As Israel has become ever more hated throughout the world, its dependence on its one real “ally” the U.S. world empire has grown.
Israel’s ‘war of independence’ against Britain
The early post-World War II years saw a struggle between Britain and a U.S. determined to replace British and French imperialism in the Middle East. The Zionist leadership in Palestine took full advantage of this struggle by aligning itself with the new U.S. world empire against the fading British Empire.
The Zionists launched their “war of independence” against their earlier sponsor Britain. The Zionist war of “independence” ended with the expulsion of the bulk of the native Palestinian Arab population from their homeland—one of the great crimes of the 20th century. It goes without saying that no genuine national liberation movement would do anything like this.
In 1967, the Zionists seized the rest of Palestine—the West Bank and Gaza—and have attempted to repeat al Nakba in those regions as well. However, they faced organized resistance from the native Palestinian Arabs, who by now had few illusions left about what the Zionists had in store for them. And unlike the case right after World War II, the Zionists were losing the battle of world public opinion.
The Zionists and world public opinion
In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the revelations of the holocaust shocked European, including Soviet, public opinion. As a result, the Soviet government and its associated Communist—former Third International—movement reversed the historic opposition of the workers’ movement to Zionism and supported the creation of the state of Israel on stolen Arab land.
However, since 1967, European democratic public opinion has swung decisively against Zionist Israel, and the left has returned to its historic opposition to Zionism. In these changed circumstances, the Zionists have had great difficulty in repeating al Nakba in either Gaza or the West Bank, though as the recent events of Gaza showed, they are still trying—killing many Palestinians including women and children in the process.
As a result of imperialist domination, the development of Arab economies has been crippled. Therefore, once expelled from their homeland, most Palestinians have not been able to integrate themselves into the economies of other Arab nations. Instead, more than two generations have grown up and lived in refugee camps located in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. This has created a whole new “Palestinian question” that did not exist before World War II.
The Arab Jews, Zionism and Israel
Zionism was a movement based only on European Jews. In the early 20th century, not all Jews lived in Europe. A large Arabic-speaking Jewish community existed in the Arab world, especially Iraq. The Iraqi Jewish community was perhaps the oldest such community in the world, having existed for at least 2,500 years. At the beginning of the 20th century, Jewish communities in the Arab world were typically pre-capitalist religious minority communities that had lived side by side with their non-Jewish neighbors with far less friction than was the case in Christian Europe.
During the first half of the 20th century, the first stirrings of modern Arab nationalism attracted some Arab Jews who realized that possibilities would open up to them of assimilating into a liberated modern Arab nation. However, Zionism and the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 put an end to all that. Instead, the expulsion of the Palestinians Arabs from their homeland caused a wave of hatred of Jews to sweep the Arab world.
With the encouragement of the U.S., Israel and the reactionary Arab governments, Arab Jews were stampeded into Palestine, taking the place of the newly expelled Palestinian Arabs. Later, in the wake of the Ethiopian democratic revolution of the 1970s, Black African Jews, who are only distantly related even in terms of religion to European Jews, were encouraged to move to Palestine by both the U.S. and the Zionists and Israel.
The result again was to close off the possibility of a 19th-century-like emancipation of the Ethiopian Jews from their ancient religious minority communities. Today the “brown and black” Jews of color—now the actual majority in Israel—are deprived of any viable national identity. Instead, they are trapped in a racist Israel, which is despised by the numerous peoples that surround it.
In addition, the leaders of Israel like to boast that they are really a “European”—read white—country. The “brown-and black” majority in Israel is instead encouraged to hate and fight the Arabs—much like the poor Southern whites were—and still are—encouraged to hate Black people in the U.S.
A new full-scale holocaust?
As the Zionist persecution and murders of the Palestinian people are increasingly compared to the Nazis’ persecution of Jews, the defenders of Zionism have one last argument. Say what you may, most Zionists and their apologists proclaim, though we have killed many Palestinian women and children and have driven them out of their homeland, we have not physically exterminated the bulk of the Palestinians.
What a pathetic argument! We the Zionists are not as bad as the Nazis were! But is this really true?
We shouldn’t forget that the anti-Semitism that began in the 1870s didn’t begin with the Holocaust, it ended with it. If we looked at Nazi Germany as late as 1939, relatively few Jews had been killed or even beaten up. They were “only” deprived of the possibilities of making a living in order to force them to emigrate.
That is exactly Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians today. The Nazis even among themselves often said we cannot actually kill the Jews—we are Germans after all—we only want to expel them. But a few years later, they were doing just that. When the Nazis’ declared “war” against the Jews, as with all wars, there were certain consequences that those who started the war had not anticipated.
Like the Jews and the native peoples of North America before them, the Palestinians are viewed by the Israelis and other capitalists as a troublesome people who are not good “exploitable material”—surplus-value producers. What then is to be done with them?
Some in Israel are saying that since the Palestinians are refusing to disappear, and no capitalist country—including the United States—seems eager to take them in, they should be physically killed just like so many native Americans and later on European Jews were killed. Some in Zionist circles are beginning to sense they may have to go all the way.
Recently, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz had an article on a forthcoming book “Scenes from School Life” (in Hebrew) by Idan Yaron and Yoram Harpaz on the genocidal—there is no other word for it—racism that is being taught in Israeli schools. “Much of the chapter on racism” according to the Haaretz review, “revolves around the Bible lessons in a ninth-grade class, whose theme was revenge.”
“The class starts, and the students’ suggestions of examples of revenge are written on the blackboard,” the teacher told Yaron. A student named Yoav “insists that revenge is an important emotion. He utilizes the material being studied to hammer home his semi-covert message: All [emphasis added—SW] the Arabs should be killed. The class goes into an uproar. Five students agree with Yoav and say openly: The Arabs should be killed.”
The Haaretz review goes on: “One student relates that he heard in the synagogue on Shabbat that ‘Aravim zeh erev rav’ [‘Arabs are a rabble,’ in a play on words], and also Amalek, and there is a commandment to kill them all,’ [emphasis added—SW] a reference to the prototypical biblical enemy of the Children of Israel.”
Preventing a new holocaust
Fortunately for now, worldwide democratic public opinion, including that in the United States, makes translating the sentiments expressed here into a full-scale physical extermination of the Palestinian people impossible. But this shows just how vital the solidarity movement with the Palestinian people is, above all the solidarity movement in the center of the Empire, the United States.
But there are also counter-currents. In 1975, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution denouncing Zionism as racism, reflecting the view of the great majority of the world’s people even at that time. But following the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, Washington was able to reverse this resolution. More recently, however, the tide has shifted again.
Gorbachev is now hated by the overwhelming majority of the peoples of the former Soviet Union, even if he is still lionized by the imperialist media as a hero for bringing “democracy” to the former Soviet Union. The struggle against the far-right, Washington-created regime in Kiev has in recent weeks beaten back Kiev’s drive to crush the resistance in southeastern Ukraine. More and more people in Russia, the Ukraine and other former Soviet lands are drawing the conclusion that in some form or other the Soviet Union must be restored. If things keep moving in this direction, it will only be a matter of time before Palestine is free “from the river to sea.”
But we shouldn’t make the same mistake that many in the left-wing Social Democracy made in 1914. What will happen if the forces of reaction are for a certain historical period—even if not forever—victorious?
If, to assume the worst case, fascism was to triumph in the U.S. world empire, the physical extermination of the bulk of the Palestinians could very well be one of the consequences. The logic of imperialism and its Zionist agency indeed points in this direction. The basic tendency of capitalism, especially in its imperialist phase, is to physically exterminate those peoples it views for whatever reason as poor material for surplus-value production.
A new Jewish holocaust?
And what about the Jews themselves? After World War II, the Jews enjoyed the sympathy of the peoples—especially the oppressed peoples—of the world. However, after 65 years of Zionist crimes in the name of the Jewish people, what is left of that sympathy today?
In the wake of World War II, Washington realized that if it raised the banner of anti-Semitism, this would only strengthen the resistance of the peoples of Europe and the world to the new U.S. world empire. Instead, it played the “philo-semitic” card. It painted itself as the champion of the suffering Jewish people.
Before World War II, communism was pictured by the reactionaries, including U.S. reactionaries, as “Jewish.” After World War II, Washington propagandists claimed that communism, because it was against private property, was “anti-Semitic.” Its friendship with the Jewish people “naturally” took the form of its sponsorship of the “state of Israel,” a country where the right of private property for the Jewish settlers, if not the native Arabs, has always been respected.
Most U.S. Jews, with few exceptions, did not want to actually move to Israel—life was too good in the United States. But a wave of pride in the achievements of the new “Jewish state,” made up of holocaust survivors, that “was making the desert bloom” swept through the U.S. and other Jewish communities worldwide. Until 1967, most of the left was sympathetic to the new state as the myth grew up that the survivors of the holocaust were creating a new progressive and even socialist society in Israel. Even after the six-day war of 1967, socialist groups had to print whole pamphlets explaining that despite the fact that Israeli politics was dominated by the “socialist Zionist left,” Israel was not a socialist society.
It has been many years now since there has been a need for such pamphlets. Today, Zionism shows a different face as the far-right racist “Likudniks” are being challenged by forces even further to the right. As we have seen, the right-wing racist face of Zionism has always been its real face. The “socialist” face was only a mask that has now been discarded.
Israel and Zionism are now seen as representing everything that the rising young generation of the U.S., whose economic opportunities were rapidly diminishing even before the Great Recession, have learned to despise. And a growing number of young American Jews, though still unfortunately a minority, are beginning to reject Zionism and its state of Israel completely.
A greater number of young U.S. Jews are adopting an ambivalent attitude toward Zionism and Israel. They have been taught in school and in the reformed “Jewish Temples” that Israel is the very essence of what it means to be a Jew in the modern world. But this same Israel is increasingly despised by the majority of people of their generation. Young U.S. Jews today sense that the very existence of Israel and the official Zionist leadership of U.S. Jews is a barrier to their final irreversible assimilation into modern multi-racial U.S. society.
These are hopeful trends. But this doesn’t mean anti-Semitism has gone away. The far-right fringes of U.S. politics rage against the ZOG—Zionist Occupation Government—as they call it. And now they have the Internet as a platform to spread their racist garbage.
On the other side, Zionism and Israel have pretty much completely destroyed the natural sympathy the Jews once enjoyed among Black, Latino, Arab and Muslim people. If the growth of reaction were to enable the Zionists of Israel with U.S. complicity to physically exterminate a large part of the Palestinian people—it is unthinkable that they could exterminate hundreds of millions of Arabs, not to speak of a billion Muslims, who “would never forget”—the hatred toward the Jews provoked by the crimes of the Zionists and their state of Israel would grow.
It would be ironic indeed if a Zionist physical genocide of the Palestinians were to lead in the longer run to a final physical extermination of U.S. Jews under some future U.S. fascist government seeking scapegoats for the U.S. “losing the Middle East” and/or sinking into a cataclysmic economic crisis.
But such a crime in our enlightened time is impossible, just like a general European war in enlightened civilized Europe was in those August days of 1914 was, isn’t it?
Palestine will be free from the river to the sea! Down with anti-Semitism, Zionism and all other forms of racism from Ferguson to Jerusalem and to the ends of the solar system!
Next: Can it happen again?
1 Any claim that the Jews “killed God” makes no sense in Islam. Islamic theology is strictly unitarian. It rejects the whole concept of the trinity. Muslims consider Jesus to have been a great prophet, the messiah and son of the Virgin Mary and without sin. But it denies that Jesus was either the son of God, still less God himself. In addition, most Muslims believe that while the Jews tried to kill Jesus, God rescued him from the Jews by bringing him directly up into heaven. Therefore, the majority Muslim belief is that Jesus did not die on the cross. The Jews are therefore guilty of attempted “prophetcide,” a serious infraction, but not deicide. (back)
2 Many modern Christians reject these views, but these are indeed the traditional views of Christianity. (back)
3 The various “races” are increasingly mixing with one another as modern transportation and communications are knitting diverse humanity into one world. It therefore becomes virtually impossible for any human group to remain biologically isolated from any other human group for very long. This is further reducing the slight physical differences between various groups of people today.
But if you wind the clock backwards, you would expect that the physical differences between different human groups would have been considerably greater in the distant past, and this is what science has found. Forty or more thousands of year ago, the people that lived in Europe and southwestern Asia were the so-called Neanderthals, whose skeletal features differ slightly but unmistakably from those of modern people. The Neanderthals, however, should not be confused with far more distant smaller-brained human ancestors. They were in no sense “ape people.” The brains of Neanderthals were at least as large and indeed on average slightly larger than the people who live in those regions today.
In contrast, many of the people who lived in Africa already had “modern” skeletal features. Jumping on these still fairly minor physical differences between the Neanderthals and present-day peoples, most Western physical anthropologists by the late 20th century had convinced themselves that the Neanderthals were a completely different biological species of “human-like” creatures who couldn’t possibility have interbred with “true humans.”
However, modern science through the analysis of DNA has finally been able to answer the question whether the Neanderthals bred with “modern” humans. As lay people would expect, but to the surprise of most Western physical anthropologists, it has been demonstrated that virtually all people whose relatively recent ancestors originate outside of Africa, though mostly descended from Africans who lived within the last several hundreds of thousands of years, show slight but definite traces of Neanderthal ancestry as well.
Still, the Western press continues to write about how Neanderthals are the “closest relatives of humans,” implying that Neanderthals though “human like” are “non-human.” While racism directed against people who have been dead for 40,000 years or more may seem harmless, it shows how deeply rooted are the racist modes of thought in the West.
Still more recently, it has been discovered that genes that determine skin and hair—the biggest differences between modern human “races”—among non-Africans are largely derived from Neanderthals, though most other genes of modern European, Asian, and Native American people come from Africans. So it appears that physical features that modern European white racists are most proud of and that distinguish them from “barely human” Africans are derived from the “non-human” Neanderthals! In academia, racism is dying a very slow death, and as it does so, it is even today generating ever greater absurdities. (back)
4 The first Arab Muslims were delighted to find out from the Jews that, unlike the Christians who have to settle for being mere “spiritual” descendants of Abraham, they were themselves actual biological descendants of Abraham through his son Ishmael. Today, however, most Muslims are not Arabs, so just like Christians most Muslims have to settle for being simply the “spiritual” descendants of Abraham. (back)
5 The reason being that the serfs had to “compensate” their former masters for the loss of their feudal property rights in human beings. Under feudalism, a serf, unlike a slave, had the right to remain on the land, but they could not leave the land without the lord’s permission, and naturally the lord would expect a certain compensation. (back)
6 As is often the case when two polar trends emerge in politics, centrist tendencies form that try to combine the “best” of both. The Jewish Socialist Bund was an example of just such a centrist tendency. It combined the Zionist idea that the Jewish workers should be organized separately from the “gentile” workers, but it rejected the perspective of the Jews leaving Europe and colonizing Palestine. The Bund, because its views divided the Jewish workers from the workers of other nationalities, was strongly opposed by most of the Russian Social Democrats including Lenin. (back)
7 The fact that all large-scale means of production were nationalized or collectivized did not mean that the bourgeoisie disappeared in the Soviet Union. In addition to the “second economy” that inevitably arose as a result of scarcity, many people from pre-revolutionary capitalist families due to their higher cultural level found employment in the bureaucracy and intelligentsia but never really accepted socialist values. These types felt they and their families were being persecuted by the ruling Communists because they didn’t come from proletarian families. An example was physicist Andrei Sakharov, who later became a pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist “dissident” and looked to the pressure of the U.S. world empire to bring “human rights” and “the rule of law” to the Soviet Union. Sakharov, who did not come from a Jewish family, was a staunch defender of Israel as part of his pro-imperialist politics.
In addition, people from working-class families could also become involved in the second economy or rise into the ranks of the bureaucracy and intelligentsia and end up as bourgeois-minded as those from pre-revolutonary bourgeois and landlord families. They also did all they could to undermine and defeat the attempt to build a socialist society, and finally with perestroika they succeeded. It is in that sense that I refer to the “bourgeoisie” in the Soviet Union and not as a fully functioning capitalist class. Under Soviet power, the “bourgeoisie,” in the sense defined above, was not the ruling class and was prevented by Soviet power from becoming large-scale capitalists. (back)
8 Unlike present-day Poland, inter-war Poland ruled non-Polish regions of the western Ukraine, Belorussia (now Belarus) and certain areas of Germany as well. In addition, as we have seen, it ruled over and cruelly oppressed Europe’s largest Jewish community. During the war, almost all Polish Jews were physically exterminated by the Nazis. In addition, Poland’s post-World War II borders were redrawn depriving Poland of its former western Ukrainian and Belorussian territories. Poland was compensated by receiving more land in the west from defeated Germany. The Germans, regardless of whether or not they had supported the Nazis, were then forced to leave.
However, the expelled Germans could find jobs and be fully absorbed in either East Germany or West Germany—unlike the case with the “ethnically cleansed” Palestinians, whose descendants are living in refugee camps. Although the way it came about was hardly just—on the contrary—today the borders of Poland correspond pretty much to ethnic Poland. So while Poland has been a capitalist country since 1989, present-day Poland is not an empire. (back)