A debate: Marxism and the fight against Jew-hatred

March 2, 2020
Jewish Press ran Socialist Workers Party statement on fight against Jew-hatred in Dec. 27 issue, which drew an attack.
Jewish Press ran Socialist Workers Party statement on fight against Jew-hatred in Dec. 27 issue, which drew an attack.

A debate has unfolded in the Jewish Press, the largest Jewish weekly in the U.S., over the origins of Jew-hatred and how to fight it. The Dec. 27 issue reprinted a Dec. 17 statement by Seth Galinsky for the Socialist Workers Party. Two weeks later it printed a letter to the editor attacking the party’s views, as well as the book promoted by Galinsky, The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation, by Belgian revolutionary Abram Leon.

The SWP statement points out that “the scapegoating of Jews for economic and social problems and the violence it breeds is a deadly threat to all Jews, religious and secular, in all walks of life and of all viewpoints.” 

The statement was issued in response to the murder of three people at a kosher market in Jersey City, New Jersey, Dec. 10 in an anti-Semitic attack. It called on “working people, their unions and other working-class organizations to join us in speaking out against Jew-hatred and all acts of anti-Semitic violence.” (See Dec. 30 issue of the Militant.)

The statement noted that “Jew-hatred plays a unique role under capitalism. When the capitalist rulers’ hold on power is threatened by a rising working-class movement, the bourgeoisie will fund and build up rightist forces and try to convince small-business people facing disaster, demoralized workers and others that their problems are caused by rapacious Jewish capitalists. Their goal is to provide a scapegoat to divert us from seeing the real enemy — the capitalist system itself.”

The SWP statement also took on the anti-Semitism that is rampant in the left, including under  the banner of “Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions against Israel.”

And it encouraged all those who oppose Jew-hatred to read The Jewish Question, where Leon wrote that “there is no solution to the Jewish question under capitalism, just as there is no solution to the other problems posed before humanity — without profound social upheavals.” 

The editor of the Jewish Press  wrote that “since socialist literature — especially in light of 20th century history — is often tragically comic to read (and since socialists have on occasion actually helped people), we thought it worthwhile to share Galinsky’s statement.”

One reader of the Jewish Press, Stephen Norwood, a professor at the University of Oklahoma, wrote to attack the SWP statement. His letter to the editor was printed in the paper’s Jan. 29 issue.

In the interest of furthering the necessary debate on where Jew-hatred comes from and how to combat it, we reprint Norwood’s letter below and Galinsky’s response.

‘Pernicious anti-Semitic tract’

Last month, the Jewish Press  published a statement by Socialist Workers Party candidate Seth Galinsky, in which he promotes Abram Leon’s The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation.

That work is actually one of the most pernicious anti-Semitic tracts the Left has ever produced. Ignoring the Christian (and Islamic) theological roots of anti-Semitism, Leon identifies Jewish “usury” as the cause of pogroms from the Middle Ages to modern times.

As I explained in my book Antisemitism and the American Far Left  (2013), Leon went beyond previous Marxist writers in declaring that medieval prohibitions against Jews’ owning land or working as artisans were “a fable.” He claimed that Jews were psychologically drawn to moneylending.

Guilds that excluded Jews were not motivated by “religious animosity or racial hatred,” according to Leon. They didn’t want Jews because they considered usury and peddling dishonest.

A militant anti-Zionist, Leon insisted that the Jewish population had been widely dispersed across the Middle East, North Africa, and the Mediterranean long before 70 CE, with Judea containing only its “smallest” and “least vital part.” It is deeply disturbing that many contemporary far leftists and black militants have been attracted to Leon’s combination of anti-Zionist invective and crude economic stereotyping of Jews.
Stephen H. Norwood
Professor of History and Judaic Studies
University of Oklahoma

Fight against Jew-hatred

Professor Stephen H. Norwood, in his Jan. 29 letter, tries to discredit the Socialist Workers Party’s uncompromising opposition to Jew-hatred in the statement in my name printed in the Dec. 27 Jewish Press. The SWP has combated anti-Semitic persecution and violence from our origins. By falsely claiming the party’s views are anti-Semitic, he sets back the fight against such heinous acts.

Norwood does so by defaming the book the SWP statement points to as an essential account of the causes of Jew-hatred in the imperialist epoch: The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation  by Abram Leon. Leon, a fighter in underground workers committees in Belgium during the Nazi occupation, completed the book under those murderous conditions. He was arrested in 1944, sent to Auschwitz, and executed in the gas chambers at age 26.

Professor Norwood differs with Leon’s explanation that Jew-hatred is rooted in class society and, as the past century proves, has reached its peak of savagery under capitalism and imperialism. But smearing the book as a “pernicious anti-Semitic tract” is demagogy pure and simple. 

By distorting Leon’s views, Norwood disarms opponents of Jew-hatred. He aims to discourage them from reading how the rulers use anti-Semitism at times of deep social crisis to scapegoat Jews, and to divert attention from the real cause of misery and war for hundreds of millions — capitalism’s dog-eat-dog operations and values.

Worse, Norwood writes off the historic place of the working class in the battle to end Jew-hatred of all kinds. It is the class that can and will lead broad layers of the population to fight alongside Jews against anti-Semitic acts and put an end to capitalism, the source of outrages against Jews, once and for all. 

Read the book and make up your own mind! It’s available to order on pathfinderpress.com.
Seth Galinsky
Socialist Workers Party candidate for U.S. Congress, 10th District, New York