Marx and Anti-Semitism: A Reply to David Finkel
David Finkel's defense of Marx (New Politics, No. 44, Winter 2008) against charges of anti-Semitism is pathetic. First he excuses Marx's early essay "On the Jewish Question" that reeked of anti-Semitic stereotypes as a product of its times, i.e. 1843. This might make sense if Marx was a Gentile, but since he was born a Jew and had Jewish relatives, he should have known that not all Jews were capitalist exploiters and that Judaism, as a religion, was not a smoke screen for capitalism. Then he excuses Marx's failure to denounce the rise of racist anti-Semitism in Europe and the 1881-82 pogroms in Russia, or to recognize the emergence of a Jewish labor movement in Eastern Europe as a result of Marx's bad health in his old age! First too young and then too old to see Jews as people rather than a stereotype.
Sorry, Marx died in 1883 and he kept writing until the end. Furthermore, he just did not ignore the origins of a Jewish working class movement in Eastern Europe -- he ignored the one that grew up right under his nose in London -- when he was still healthy in the mid 1870s.
And what about the 40 years in between 1843 and 1883? Did he retract a word of his anti-Semitic essay? Did he ever use the term "Jew' except as a term of abuse? Did he ever once differentiate between exploiting Jews, exploited Jews, religious Jews, secular Jews or those in-between? Did he say one word against the discrimination, prejudice or violence directed against European Jews in that period?
For a man of Jewish origins to write about Jews with such contempt should tell Finkel something about the phenomenon of self-hatred. Marx's father had him converted to Lutheranism. Did he disparage Lutherans like he disparaged Jews? The fact that Marx stood for the political emancipation of Jews as part of the democratization of European society does not relieve him from the charge of anti-Semitism.
BENNETT MURASKIN is a union representative for college faculty in NJ. He writes regularly for Jewish Currents, Humanistic Judaism and Outlook (Canada) and is the Adult Education Director for the Jewish Cultural School and Society in NJ. He has written two books, Humanist Readings in Jewish Folklore and Let Justice Well Up Like Water: Progressive Jews from Hillel to Helen Suzman.