Books of the Month

‘There is no solution to the Jewish question under capitalism’

By Dave Prince
June 5, 2023
When fascist groups called a rally at Madison Square Garden in 1939, 50,000 working people came out in New York for a countermobilization called by the Socialist Workers Party.
When fascist groups called a rally at Madison Square Garden in 1939, 50,000 working people came out in New York for a countermobilization called by the Socialist Workers Party.

The French edition of The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation by Abram Leon is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for May. Leon’s centurieslong history of the Jewish people and the struggle against Jew-hatred was begun on the eve of the second imperialist world war as the Nazi regime in Germany began what became the Holocaust. He completed the book as a revolutionary communist leading underground resistance against the Nazi occupation of Belgium. The fate of the Jews and all humanity, he wrote, was tied to the victory of proletarian revolutions against imperialist war and fascism. In 1944 he was arrested and sent to Auschwitz, where he was killed in the gas chambers at 26. Copyright © 2020 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission. 


The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation was completed by Abram Leon in 1942 in Belgium during the wartime occupation by Germany. As the twin slaughters of World War II and the Nazis’ “Final Solution” were unfolding, Leon wrote the book to explain the foundations of Jew-hatred in the imperialist epoch, as well as the road to its eradication.

“There is no solution to the Jewish question under capitalism,” he said, “just as there is no solution to other problems posed before humanity, without pro-found social upheavals,” revolutionary upheavals. “Unless the deep roots of the Jewish question are eliminated, the effects cannot be eliminated.”

That fact of history, of the class struggle, has been confirmed and reconfirmed many times during the last one hundred and fifty years, as capitalism has become more and more dominant the world over.

In addition to murderous pogroms across Eastern and Central Europe and Russia during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, 40 percent of the world’s 16.6 million Jews were slaughtered between 1941 and 1945. That’s 6 million human beings. Today, seventy-five years after the end of World War II, the world Jewish population is 14.5 million, still some 15 percent below what it had been when the war began. Over that same period, the overall population of the earth has more than tripled.

The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation is a contribution to under-standing the place of the fight against Jew-hatred as an integral part of the program and strategy of the revolutionary workers movement. …

These conclusions have been reinforced by the anti-Semitic demagogy and activity spreading among bourgeois liberals and the middle-class left in the United States, United Kingdom, and other imperialist countries. In the UK we’ve seen the deepening anti-Jewish evolution of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, while in the US, Democratic Party leaders in Congress refused to call for a vote censuring one of their own members for making anti-Jewish slurs.

The so-called Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign rampant on campuses seeks to quarantine Israel as a pariah among nations. It systematically targets those in North America, Europe, and elsewhere who do business with individuals, companies, and institutions in Israel and organizes to exclude Israeli Jews from participation in the arts, sports, medical conferences, and university-sponsored events the world over.

Anti-Semitic rants and violence against Jews today are not an historical aberration. They are not one-off events. The underlying causes of Jew-hatred remain unresolved and are fueled today by accelerating class polarization as a result of the deepening capitalist crisis. …

Individuals and groups guilty of acts of Jew-hatred and anti-Semitic venom in recent years not only cross the spectrum of bourgeois politics from left to right, but also skin colors, religious creeds, and national origins. Whether carried out by white supremacists, Islamists, or those who themselves face racial, religious, or national oppression, assaults against Jews are an attack on human solidarity within the working class and its allies. They are a deadly diversion from, an obstacle to, forging in struggle the revolutionary working-class solidarity necessary to bring closer a socialist world.

Such actions meet with opposition and revulsion among broad layers of working people and the oppressed. …

Among Jews and other oppressed peoples across Russia and Eastern Europe, Lenin and the Bolsheviks were held in high regard for their uncompromising combat against anti-Semitic persecution. “It is not the Jews who are enemies of the toilers,” said Lenin in a speech to the workers and peasants of Soviet Russia in March 1919. “The enemies of the workers are the capitalists of all lands. … Disgrace and infamy to whoever sows enmity against Jews and hatred against other nations!”

From their origins in 1903 as a politically distinct working-class current, the Bolsheviks had led the fight throughout the tsarist empire against pogroms and persecution of Jews. The new workers and peasants government in Soviet Russia established by the October 1917 Revolution not only ensured the political rights of Jews but also encouraged a Jewish cultural revival — from everyday life to music, literature, painting, and theater. Publications and performances in the Yiddish language flourished.

The Bolshevik-led government put an end to murderous pogroms against Jews. It did so during the devastation of a three-year-long counterrevolutionary war waged by Russia’s toppled landlords and capitalists, who joined forces with invading armies of fourteen imperialist powers — from London and Paris, to Tokyo and Washington. …

The Bolshevik course to end oppression of the Jews was incorporated into the programmatic foundations of the Communist International. The Comintern, as it became known, was founded in March 1919 at the Bolsheviks’ initiative as a world movement of proletarian parties seeking to emulate in each country what workers and peasants had begun in Russia a year and a half earlier.

That program and political line of march remain to this day the foundation on which the Socialist Workers Party and the world communist movement of which it is part stand.