in review

Road to end Jew-hating violence is for workers to take power

November 27, 2023
In 1939 hundreds of Jewish refugees from Nazi persecution on the ship St. Louis were forced back to Europe after Washington and Ottawa denied them entry. Many died in the Holocaust. Imperialist powers bar on Jews before, during, after the war helped lead to creation of Israel.
U.S. Holocaust Memorial MuseumIn 1939 hundreds of Jewish refugees from Nazi persecution on the ship St. Louis were forced back to Europe after Washington and Ottawa denied them entry. Many died in the Holocaust. Imperialist powers bar on Jews before, during, after the war helped lead to creation of Israel.

Below is an excerpt from the review of the new edition of   The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation by Abram Leon published in the Feb. 1, 2021, issue of the Militant. It has been updated since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre in Israel set off a wave of Jew-hating actions around the world. 


The murderous Oct. 7 pogrom by Tehran-backed Hamas that killed over 1,200 people in Israel, overwhelmingly Jews, shattered the illusion that virulent Jew-hatred ended with the fall of the Nazi regime decades ago. Or that it is only a minor question today.

Why does Jew-hatred persist and how can it be eradicated? This book, kept in print and actively distributed since 1950 by the Socialist Workers Party, answers those questions and shows the road to ending the national oppression of the Jews, which along with the fight for Black emancipation, is an essential component of the coming American revolution.Abram Leon, a communist and a Polish-born Jew, wrote the book as he took part in leading the underground working-class movement in Nazi-occupied Belgium in the 1940s before being captured by the Gestapo and sent to his death in the Auschwitz gas chambers.

In the crucible of war and pre-revolutionary turmoil, Leon, who had been a teenage leader of a socialist Zionist youth group, went through a rapid political evolution. “Under the impact of the sharpening class struggle … he broke with its political course and led a fight to win its members to the communist program of the world movement led by Leon Trotsky,” the biography of Leon in the book explains. He was only 26 when he died in 1944.

I was born five years after 6 million Jews were killed under that Nazi-organized Holocaust. My Jewish father and Christian mother gave their bookworm daughter The Diary of a Young Girl  by Anne Frank, which chronicles a Jewish teenage girl and her family hiding from the Nazis in Holland in 1942. They also gave me The Wall, John Hersey’s historical novel about the heroic 1943 uprising of Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. The books gnawed at me. I preferred the one about fighting to the one about waiting to die. But they didn’t help me understand why  the Jews are persecuted or what to do about it.

That’s the most important reason to study The Jewish Question.

Capitalists exploit Jew-hatred

Leon explains that “the profound roots of twentieth century anti-Semitism” were not a “German” or “Hitler” phenomenon, but a product of the rule of the capitalist class and will continue to be a threat as long as dog-eat-dog capitalist social relations dominate.

He chronicles the relationship of Jews to other classes over earlier social stages of human development, explaining that under Greek and Roman rule through the end of antiquity and into the feudal era Jews occupied a distinct social niche, with Jewish merchants thriving. “Jews are historically a social group with a specific economic function. They are a class, or more precisely, a people-class,” Leon writes.

He describes how Jewish merchants also became money-lenders under feudalism and developed economic relations with kings, nobles, artisans and peasants, and the incipient bourgeoisie.

What changed? Capitalism emerged to replace feudalism as the dominant form of class society and exploitation. “It is only from the twelfth century on, parallel with the economic development of Western Europe, with the growth of cities and the formation of a native commercial and industrial class, that the condition of the Jews begins to worsen seriously, leading to their almost complete elimination from most of the Western countries,” Leon writes. “Persecutions of the Jews take on increasingly violent forms.”

As capitalism became dominant, a social differentiation began among the Jewish people and consequently the coming apart of the people-class. For the first time in centuries, a Jewish working class was created, including in garment and textile. And there was a mass emigration of persecuted Jews from backward Eastern Europe, particularly to the U.S.

“By socially differentiating Jews, by integrating the latter into economic life, and by emigration,” Leon says, “capitalism has laid the bases for the solution of the Jewish problem.”

But crisis-wracked capitalism couldn’t assimilate the Jews. “The fearsome crisis of the capitalist regime in the twentieth century has aggravated the plight of the Jews to an unparalleled degree,” Leon writes. And the capitalist rulers found they needed anti-Semitism and Jew-hatred to survive.

This reached a deadly high point with the victory of fascism in Germany and that regime’s use of anti-Semitism to win over millions of ruined middle-class people and sections of the demoralized working class after openings for a proletarian revolution there were destroyed by the counterrevolutionary policies of the Stalinists and Social Democrats.

This led to Hitler’s “Final Solution.”

Though Jew-hatred has declined among working people today, anti-Semitism remains a crucial tool the capitalist rulers will employ when social crisis again creates a pre-revolutionary rise of working-class resistance. Studying Leon’s book and fighting all acts of Jew-hatred remains crucial for the working-class movement.

Workers in their millions must fight and speak out against all forms of oppression and exploitation under capitalism, along a course of action toward taking political power into our own hands. This is the road toward winning the ruined small proprietors to see their salvation in a workers and farmers government.

There can be no revolution in the United States without understanding the Jewish question and fighting against Jew-hatred, just as working people in the United States cannot establish a workers and farmers government capable of ending the dictatorship of capital unless the fight against the national oppression of 44 million African Americans is a central part of the struggle.

Understanding and acting on the fight against Jew-hatred in the U.S., where there are nearly 7 million Jews — more than in any other country, including Israel — is a life-or-death question for the working class.