“How, as a socialist, can you not be an anti-Semite?” Adolf Hitler asked his party members in 1920. No one thought it an odd question. Anti-Semitism was at that time widely understood to be part of the broader revolutionary movement against markets, property and capital.
The man who coined the term “socialism,” the nineteenth-century French revolutionary, Pierre Leroux, had told his comrades: “When we speak of the Jews, we mean the Jewish spirit – the spirit of profit, of lucre, of gain, of speculation; in a word, the banker’s spirit.”
The man who popularised the term “anti-Semitism” had taken a similar line. Wilhelm Marr, a radical nineteenth-century German Leftist, may not have been the first person to use the word, but he certainly – and approvingly – brought it to a wide audience: “Anti-Semitism is a Socialist movement,” he pronounced, “only nobler and purer in form than Social Democracy”.
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Not untypical was Karl Marx himself, whose writings on “the Jewish Question” have, again, been tidied away from popular recollection. The grandson of two rabbis, he disliked all religions, but reserved a vehemence for Judaism that we never find in his writings on Christianity – about which he could be rather sentimental, though he deplored its corruption by the “Jewish spirit”. In 1844, the odious cadger wrote:
The essence of Judaism and the root of the Jewish soul is expediency and self-interest; the God of Israel is Mammon, who expresses himself in the lust for money. Judaism is the embodiment of anti-social attitudes.
[. . .]
Hannah Arendt recorded how, at his trial, Adolf Eichmann, who had read several Zionist tracts and learned some Hebrew and Yiddish, argued with evident sincerity that, in seeking to remove Jews from Europe, he had hoped to realise the vision a Jewish state in Palestine. Similarly, when the father of Zionism, the Assyrian-bearded Theodor Herzl, protested to Tsarist officials about pogroms, he was told that they were intended to give “your people” a helpful push in the right direction.
Left-wing anti-Semitism is anything but a new phenomenon
By Daniel Hannan