Marxism vs. the Jews
Why is anti-Semitism, at least in its new “respectable” form of anti-Zionism, now found predominantly on the Left of the political spectrum? Why in particular is this new form increasingly common among intellectuals?
If we begin by tackling the second question first, we find a curious paradox. Anti-Semitism is one of the oldest and most persistent forms of human irrationality; yet its theoretical basis has always been the work of intellectuals.
The paradox can be explained. It is true that intellectuals seek to understand phenomena by reason. But in their search for radical explanations, which excite the mind by their audacity and comprehensiveness, they tend to stumble into gigantic fallacies. Inside many intellectuals there is a conspiracy theory of the universe struggling to get out, and sometimes succeeding. And anti-Semitism is the father of all conspiracy theory.
The first layer of anti-Semitism, itself a form of anti-Zionism, was laid down by Manetho, a priest from the intellectual community of Heliopolis in Ptolemaic Egypt, about 280 B.C.E. He presented the Jews as wanderers by nature, descendants of an outcast tribe of lepers, who had no natural land of their own. His theory underlay the response of Hellenistic intellectuals to the disquieting phenomenon of Judaism: they argued that the Jewish rejection of Greek syncretism and universalism was a form of misanthropy; the Jews were a dislocated people without true territorial title deeds, and their Diaspora was a conspiracy-against humankind. This was the intellectual justification for the first systematic persecution of Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes in the 2nd century B.C.E. In Roman times a second layer of theory was added by both Greek and Latin writers: Lysimachus of Alexandria; Apion; Nero’s tutor Chaeremon, who inspired the second great wave of persecutions; and by Horace, Martial, Tacitus, and Juvenal.
A third layer was contributed by Christian writers, including some of the greatest doctors of the church, such as Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine, and Gregory the Great. Some Christians taught that the deicidal Jews were in both local and universal conspiracies with Satan, a notion later explored in innumerable plots and sub-plots by the investigators of the Inquisition. The writings of Luther added yet another layer of anti-Semitic theory which became the pattern for prejudice in Protestant Europe. When the intellectuals of the Enlightenment came to undermine Christianity in the 18th century, they produced the first secular layer of anti-Semitism: Diderot and still more Voltaire engaged in the most virulent attacks on Judaism, partly as an indirect but safer way of attacking the more dangerous target of Christianity.
This meant that the intellectual foundations of the modern world were warped by anti-Semitism, for virtually all modern writers were influenced, directly or indirectly, by Voltaire. So at a time when the old Christian myth of the Jews in conspiracy with the Devil was losing its force, at least in Western and Central Europe, anti-Semitism acquired a non-religious dynamism. It was at this point that a connection between the Left and anti-Semitic theory was first established. The early French socialists linked the Jews to the new Industrial Revolution and the vast increase in world commerce which marked the beginning of the 19th century. In a book published in 1808, François Fourier identified commerce as “the source of all evil” and the Jews as “the incarnation of commerce.” The same line was taken by Pierre Joseph Proudhon: in a world poisoned by greed and materialism, the Jews were “the source of evil,” who had “rendered the bourgeoisie, high and low, similar to them all over Europe.” “We should send this race back to Asia or exterminate it.” Fourier’s pupil, Alphonse Toussenel, worked out in detail the notion of a worldwide financial conspiracy against humanity, run by Jews.
These ideas of the early French socialists became part of the mainstream of French anti-Semitism, later reflected in the propaganda of Edouard Drumont and Charles Maurras’s Action Française. They were also an early prototype for the National Socialism of Hitler’s Germany. Equally important, however, they formed part of the background to Karl Marx’s notions of how the world economy worked. The main element in Marx’s intellectual formation was, of course, German idealism. Thanks partly to Voltaire, this had always possessed a certain anti-Jewish coloring. As Robert Wistrich has pointed out, the antagonism toward the Jewish religion of the German idealists underwent “a progressive vulgarization,” through Kant, Fichte, Hegel, and then Ludwig Feuerbach and the Young Hegelian Bruno Bauer, the last of whom was Marx’s particular mentor. It was Marx’s sinister achievement to marry the economic anti-Semitism of the French socialists to the philosophical anti-Semitism of the German idealists and so to construct a new kind of anti-Semitic conspiracy theory which was to be an intellectual rehearsal for his general theory of capital.
Here it is not amiss to reflect on the rational frailty of intellectuals. The moment they emerge from one form of obscurantism, they plunge eagerly into another. In the second quarter of the 19th century they were stripping away, as they saw it, the accumulated layers of millennia of religious superstition. But almost in the same moment they substituted new, secular ones. Satan was dead but lo! legions of new devils were everywhere conspiring against mankind. In Italy it was the Freemasons, in France it was the Protestants, in Germany it was the Jesuits; and always, everywhere, it was the Jews too. If one conflated these various conspiracy theories, the Jews were revealed as simultaneously in league with Freemasons, Protestants, and Jesuits. Satan might be dead but Rothschild had taken his place. Jewish intellectuals abandoning their Judaism were almost as prone to these fantasies as Christian intellectuals abandoning their Christianity. It was Heine who coined the characteristic epigram of the epoch: “Money is the God of our time and Rothschild is his prophet.”
Marx, the self-elected scourge of all superstition, religious or secular, the paladin of rationality, who set out to sweep away all the cobwebs of the past from the face of the world, and to reveal it as it really was, might not Marx of all people—himself descended from long lines of rabbis on both sides—have disposed of this particular superstition once and for all, and finally rid the world of its two-thousand-year-old burden of anti-Semitic fantasy? In fact he did the opposite. He reinforced it. He gave it a whole new lease on life, and new, respectable garments of pseudo-rationality, calculated to appeal to the young of successive generations.
There can be no doubt that as a young man Marx was anti-Semitic. He got his theoretical anti-Semitism from Bruno Bauer, a lifelong anti-Semite. In the early and mid-1840’s, when Marx was in his twenties, his anti-Semitism was acute. It is true that, later, anti-Semitism ceased to be, for Marx, one of the keys to the universe. But there is ample evidence that his prejudice remained. In 1861, to quote only one significant example of many, we find him in a letter to Engels repeating as “proved” Manetho’s original claim that the Jews were a race of lepers, a rootless people without a country—what might be called the primeval matrix of anti-Semitism.
Like most cases of anti-Semitism, Marx’s was based on ignorance, reinforced by a personal experience from which he generalized. His father was baptized a Lutheran the year before Marx was born. His education was classical, not Jewish, and took place mainly at a former Jesuit academy whose other pupils were predominantly Catholic. Marx knew very little about Jewish religion, history, or culture and never showed any desire to acquire any knowledge. He knew very few Jews. His mother remained more attached to Judaism than his father, and when Marx married a Christian girl in 1843 he quarreled with his mother about this and about money. When Marx wrote about the Jews in 1843—44, this quarrel gave a personal edge to his anti-Jewish prejudice, which otherwise was based on the common anti-Semitism of the cafe and the university, and on certain specific writings, such as Bauer’s. Shorn of its Hegelian idealism, Marx’s tract, “On the Jewish Question,” had the same factual basis as Toussenel’s philippic, published the following year, entitled Les Juifs, rois de l’époque: histoire de la féodalité financière (“The Jews, Kings of the Era: A History of Financial Feudalism”)—the work which later inspired Drumont to write perhaps the most influential of all anti-Semitic books, La France juive.
I find it hard to believe that those who deny Marx’s anti-Semitism can have read this essay, or at any rate progressed beyond the first part. As Wistrich has pointed out, the attempts by later Jewish socialists, like Rosa Luxemburg, to present it as a scientific demystification of the Jewish problem can only be sustained by deliberate misquotation or willful misunderstanding of what Marx wrote. In any case, the word “scientific” is absurdly misplaced since Marx wrote without any attempt at an objective inquiry.
The second part of Marx’s essay is almost a classic anti-Semitic tract, based upon a fantasied Jewish archetype and a conspiracy to corrupt the world. Marx says he is concerned with “the real Jew: not the sabbath Jew . . . but the everyday Jew” (Marx’s emphasis throughout). He asks: “What is the profane basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly cult of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money.” This point is repeated again and again. What was “the basis of the Jewish religion? Practical need, egoism” and “the god of practical need and self-interest is money. Money is the jealous god of Israel, beside which no other god may exist. Money abases all the gods of mankind and changes them into commodities. . . . Money is the alienated essence of man’s work and existence; this essence dominates him and he worships it. The god of the Jews has been secularized and has become the god of this world. The bill of exchange is the real god of the Jews.”
The Jews, Marx maintained, had corrupted the Christians, indeed the whole world. Jews did not need emancipating since the Jew “has already emancipated himself in a Jewish fashion” by using the power of money. Marx quoted with approval Bauer’s assertion that the Jew already “determines the fate of the whole [Austrian] empire by his financial power . . . [and] decides the destiny of Europe.” Indeed, he adds, the Jew “by acquiring the power of money” has turned money itself into “a world power.”
There are, needless to say, fundamental confusions in Marx’s reckless analysis of the world’s ills. He says that the characteristics of the Jew are to be explained “not by his religion, but rather by the human basis of his religion—practical need and egoism.” Hence the problem is a cultural one. On the other hand, he seems to be arguing that, since the essence of the few is not his religion but his attitude to money, by abolishing property, society would automatically destroy the Jewish religion, and in so doing free not only the Jews but all mankind: “In emancipating itself from hucksterism and money, and thus from real and practical Judaism, our age would emancipate itself.”
Marx’s essay on the Jews thus contains, in embryonic form, the essence of his theory of human regeneration: by abolishing private property society would transform human relationships and thus the human personality. Marx’s form of anti-Semitism was a dress rehearsal for Marxism itself. Later in the century, August Bebel would coin the phrase, much used by Lenin: “Anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools.” Behind this revealing epigram lay the following crude argument, which might be paraphrased thus: We all know that Jewish middlemen, who never soil their hands with toil, exploit the poor workers and peasants. But only a fool blames the Jews alone. The mature man, the socialist, has grasped the point that the Jews are only the symptoms of the disease, not the disease itself. The disease is the religion of money, and its modern form is capitalism. Workers and peasants are exploited not just by the Jews but by the bourgeois-capitalist class as a whole—and it is that entire class, not only its Jewish element, which must be destroyed.
Thus understood, the militant socialism Marx adopted in the later 1840’s can be seen as an expanded and transmuted form of his earlier anti-Semitism. The Jewish world-conspiracy theory is not so much abandoned as extended to include the entire bourgeois class. Marx retained the fundamental fallacy that the making of money through trade and finance is essentially a parasitical activity, but he now placed it, not on a basis of race or religion, but of class.
The refinement or enlargement does not improve the validity of the theory. It merely makes the theory more dangerous, if put into practice, because it expands its scope and multiplies the number of those to be treated as conspirators, and so victims. Marx is no longer concerned with specifically Jewish witches to be hunted, but with generalized human witches. The theory is still fundamentally irrational, but it has a more sophisticated appearance. To reverse Bebel’s epigram, if anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools, socialism is the anti-Semitism of intellectuals. An intellectual like Lenin, who clearly perceived the irrationality of anti-Semitism, and would have been ashamed to be heard defending a pogrom, let alone conducting one, nevertheless fully accepted its spirit once the target was generalized into the capitalist class as a whole—and went on to conduct pogroms against the bourgeoisie on an infinitely greater scale, murdering hundreds of thousands not on the basis of individual guilt, but merely membership in a condemned group.
It is misleading to contrast the activist violence of Lenin with the theoretical abstractions of Marx, who seems to have imagined that the capitalist class would be eliminated by the painless process of historical determinism. Marxist theory cannot be divorced from the verbal violence with which Marx expressed it. Nor is it possible to make absolute distinctions between violence against a race and violence against a class—between genocide and class warfare. They were in fact confused in Marx’s own mind. As he saw it, races, peoples, nations were subjected to the same Hegelian processes as classes. He often discussed with Engels the notion of inferior or superior nations or races, and of races in the process of decay and disappearance, what Engels called “dying nationalities.” Engels liked to quote a saying of Hegel’s that “residual fragments of peoples” always become “fanatical standard-bearers of counterrevolution.” Thus you could have a reactionary people as well as a reactionary class—a thought which appealed strongly to Stalin as well as Hitler, and indeed to Mao Zedong too when he dealt, in 1950, with that reactionary little people, the Tibetans. Engels wrote in Marx’s newspaper, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung: “The next world war will result in the disappearance from the face of the earth not only of reactionary classes and dynasties, but also of entire reactionary peoples. And that, too, is a step forward.” Thus Engels, who specifically repudiated political anti-Semitism in 1879, saw Marxism as a sufficient warrant for genocide as well as class warfare.
Equally important, I think, is that the emotional tone remained similar both in Marx’s anti-Semitic essay and in his subsequent writings about the capitalist class as a whole. The archetype Jew was replaced by the archetype capitalist, but the features of the caricature were essentially the same and the venom with which Marx portrayed them was, if anything, greater. Take, for instance, the presentation of Marx’s capitalist monster in Das Kapital (Volume II, Part VII, Chapter 22, Section 3):
Only insofar as the capitalist is personified capital has he a historical value; only as such has he that historical right to exist. . . . Fanatically bent upon the exploitation of value, he relentlessly drives human beings to production for production’s sake. . . . Only as the personification of capital is the capitalist respectable. As such he shares with the miser the passion for wealth as wealth. But that which in the miser assumes the aspect of mania, is in the capitalist the effect of the social mechanism in which he is only a driving wheel . . . his actions are a mere function of the capital which, through his instrumentality, is endowed with will and consciousness, so that his own private consumption must be regarded by him as a robbery perpetrated on accumulation.
Could such a weird personification of inhumanity ever have existed? Did Marx actually believe in such a creature? But then, when had an anti-Semitic propagandist believed in the archetypal hate figure he presented as a living person? That Marx still, in his mind, saw the capitalist archetype as essentially the Jewish archetype is suggested to me by the footnote he added to this passage. It deals with the usurer, whom Marx terms “the old-fashioned but perennially renewed form of the capitalist.” Marx knew that, in the minds of most of his readers, the usurer was the Jew—as Toussenel put it, the terms usurer and Jew are interchangeable. Most of the footnote consists of a violent quotation from Luther who, as Marx was well aware, was among the most furious anti-Semitic writers. A usurer, Marx quotes Luther as saying,
is a double-died thief and murderer. . . . Whoever eats up, rots, and steals the nourishment of another, that man commits as great a murder (so far as in him lies) as he who starves a man or utterly undoes him. Such does a usurer, and sits there while safe on his stool when he ought rather to be hanging on the gallows, and be eaten by as many ravens as he has stolen guilders, if only there were so much flesh on him, that so many ravens could stick their beaks in and share it. . . . Therefore is there, on this earth, no greater enemy of man (after the Devil) than a gripe-money and usurer, for he wants to be God over all men . . . such a one would have the whole world perish of hunger and thirst, misery and want. . . . Usury is a great huge monster, like a werewolf. . . . And since we break on the wheel and behead highwaymen, murderers, and house-breakers, how much more ought we to break on the wheel and kill . . . hunt down, curse, and behead all usurers!
I find it suggestive that Marx should quote this brutal exhortation to kill from an anti-Semitic writer, in a work purporting to be scientific—suggestive, that is, both of Marx’s own violence and of the emotional inationality which expressed itself first as anti-Semitism and then as generalized anti-capitalism.
The origins of Marxism in anti-Semitic conspiracy theory can never be wholly erased. Whatever guise Marxism may take, it retains this stigma, like a mark of Cain; sometimes palimpsest, sometimes brazen. Marxism always was, and it remains, a theory and practice which will not accommodate the Jews as they are.
Lfnin not only repudiated anti-Semitism but took steps to stamp it out. How then could such a tradition carry with it, uncured, indeed undiagnosed and untreated, the anti-Semitic virus? The answer is that the secularized or non-Jewish Jews who were among the principal architects of the Leninist state shared with Lenin a fallacy almost as egregious as the fallacies of traditional anti-Semitism, or the variety peddled by Marx in 1844. They did not see the Jews as a world conspiracy but went almost to the opposite extreme: they denied that Jews had any cultural particularity at all. The notion of Jewishness would simply disappear after the revolution. The Jew, and his Doppelgänger the anti-Semite, were transient phenomena to be erased by the ineluctable logic of history. Hence Jewish socialists were not entitled to their own Bund, or party. Still less were Jews, as a nation or race, entitled to their own nationality status in the socialist community, and least of all to their own Zionist state.
Most of these non-Jewish Jews, though socialists, knew nothing about the proletariat as it actually existed. Like Lenin, they had no direct experience of working-class society. They came from Poland and Russia but they had left the ghetto; they led the lives of students, café agitators, political activists in a middle-class or bohemian environment far from the Jewish masses. By denying the undoubted fact of the Jewish proletariat, of Jewish society, of Jewish culture, they made trouble inevitable. For facts that are denied by authority yet obstinately make their reappearance are liable to be treated as hostile or malevolent phenomena. Hence when, in the Soviet Union, Jewish religion and culture, and even Zionism itself, far from disappearing, persisted and sought to express themselves, they were interpreted by the ruling elite, above all by Stalin but to sonie degree by all his successors, as a conspiracy. Thus anti-Semitic conspiracy theory was revived, within the wider conspiracy theory of Marxism itself.
Stalin termed the new Jewish conspiracy “cosmopolitanism.” He thus reunited two streams of anti-Semitism, which had diverged in Napoleonic times but now flowed together again. As we have noted, the crime of “rootlessness” was the oldest of all accusations hurled against the Jews, from Manetho to Marx. The socialist progeny of Voltaire saw the Jewish threat as a conspiracy of rich exploiters. But the French Revolution and empire, in provoking reactions among the traditionalist forces in Europe, brought into existence yet another variety of anti-Semitism.
Like all children of the Enlightenment, Napoleon sought a rational “solution” to the “Jewish problem.” He liberated Jews just as he liberated nations. He also conceived the idea of convoking a “Grand Sanhedrin” in Paris in 1807 to help him solve the “problem.” The idea was unfortunate because it did nothing for the Jews but set up terrifying vibrations among their conservative enemies. Traditional anti-Semitic conspiracy theory had been kept alive by the ecclesiastical Inquisitions of Spain and Rome. When they fell in the revolutionary convulsions, the torch was handed to the new and growing secret-police forces of the European empires, especially Austria and Russia. They saw all Jews as potential or actual partisans of Napoleon and took a close interest in covert Jewish activities. The idea of the Grand Sanhedrin fed their paranoia.
So, in addition to the radical anti-Semitic conspiracy theory of the type favored by Marx, there grew up a “reactionary” theory of Jewish elders meeting in secret to overthrow established society. The actual Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion were forged by the czarist secret police who also arranged for their publication in 1905. When Stalin took over Russia he inherited a country which had not only practiced anti-Semitism as systematic state policy from 1881 to 1917, but whose political police had deliberately fabricated the materials of anti-Semitism. The resumption of anti-Semitism in Soviet Russia from 1937 onward, culminating in the terrible years 1949—53, was not therefore surprising.
Stalinist anti-Semitism had much in common with the Nazi variety. Stalin’s hatred of “cosmopolitanism” ran parallel with the Nazi distinction between culture, associated with the best qualities of the German race, and “civilization,” which the Nazis associated with Jewish internationalism and the materialistic capitalism of the West. The Nazis hated big cities, huge factories, the impersonality of large-scale finance capitalism, which had no home and knew no frontiers; it “alienated” man from his own homeland. All these malign forces they attributed to the Jews. This is not very far from the Marx of 1843—44. Indeed, the Marxist and Nazi concepts of alienation, a source of anti-Semitism in both, are similar, and this is hardly surprising for each had its origin in Hegel.
Hitler regarded both Marxism and capitalism as Jewish conspiracies. Had not Werner Sombart, one of capitalism’s defenders, “proved scientifically” in 1911 that the origins of capitalism were in all essentials Jewish? This book paid generous tribute to Marx’s 1844 essay, which helped to inspire it. Yet Marx’s notion of the Jewish attitude to money slowly infecting Christianity, then the whole of society, was akin to Hitler’s nightmare of the “Jewish bacillus” getting a grip on the world, using both Bolshevism and international finance capital as its carriers. Hitler, a romantic who saw himself as an idealist and an anti-materialist, hated the capitalist system, though he was prepared to use it on his terms, just as Lenin, then Stalin, used state capitalism. Where the two forms of anti-Semitism differed was in the intensity of Hitler’s paranoia and the central position the Jews occupied in his thought and strategy. That was what made the Holocaust possible. In Soviet demonology, by contrast, Jewish cosmopolitanism was only one of many enemies. But even there, from the end of 1948 onward, there are signs that it had begun to obsess Stalin, to the exclusion of other hostile fantasies. The “Doctors’ Plot” of 1952-53, just before his timely death, suggests that his reign too—had he lived longer—might have culminated in a general assault on Soviet Jewry.
This episode reminds us that all totalitarian systems based on conspiracy theory are prone to anti-Semitism, the oldest conspiracy theory of all. It is latent in their ideology and is liable to become active without warning in moments of “crisis,” real or imaginary. Socialism, both in its nationalist and its Marxist-Leninist form, cannot escape the deformation of its origins, which lie in a grotesquely oversimplified explanation of how capitalism originated and functions. Societies built upon irrational premises must be expected to act irrationally when they feel threatened. So no Jewish minority can ever be wholly safe in a non-democratic socialist society, especially one based on Marxist dogma, which itself evolved from a primitive anti-Semitic model.
Equally significant is the way in which Marxist conspiracy theory lends itself to the new and virulent anti-Zionism which is the contemporary expression of anti-Semitic irrationality. Hatred of Zionism fits neatly into Marxist-Leninist theory at two levels. Lenin, having denied Jewish particularism, and therefore the validity of Zionism, was bound to attack it once he seized power. At that time Zionism was by far the strongest element within Russian Jewry, with 1,200 local groups totaling over 300,000 members. From September 1, 1919 onward, Lenin used the Cheka (secret police) and the Yevsektsia (the Jewish section of the propaganda department of the Communist party) to destroy Zionism systematically. Its conspiratorial object, it was argued, was “to corrupt Jewish youth and throw them into the arms of the counterrevolutionary bourgeoisie in the interests of Anglo-French capitalism.” Any Soviet Jew who asserted his essential Jewishness was thus a Zionist and an enemy of the state.
As Zionism was an affront to Marxist-Leninist logic, it followed that an actual Zionist state could only be an artificial creation promoted by the bourgeois powers to serve the interests of capitalism, and of its international superstructure, imperialism. At this second level, there was no difficulty in finding “evidence” for this new conspiracy theory, which might well have appealed strongly to Marx himself. For the Jews, it seemed, had a leading role in imperialism too! In 1900 the English economist J.A. Hobson published his book, The War in South Africa, Its Causes and Effects, which contained an entire chapter, “For Whom Are We Fighting?,” proving that this imperialist war had been promoted by Jewish financial interests. Two years later he broadened his thesis in his famous work, Imperialism: A Study, which showed that international finance capital was behind the drive to colonize backward people all over the world. His chapter “Economic Parasites of Imperialism,” the heart of his theory, contains this key passage:
These great businesses—banking, brokering, bill discounting, loan floating, company promoting—form the central ganglion of international capitalism. United by the strongest bonds of organization, always in closest and quickest touch with one another, situated in the very heart of the business capital of every state, controlled, so far as Europe is concerned, chiefly by men of a single and peculiar race, who have behind them many centuries of financial experience, they are in a unique position to control the policy of nations. No great quick direction of capital is possible save by their consent and through their agency. Does anyone seriously suppose that a great war could be undertaken by any European state, or a great state loan subscribed, if the house of Rothschild and its connections set their face against it?
It was Hobson’s book which formed the basis for Lenin’s own economic theory of colonialism, set out in Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916). This conspiracy-theory explanation of colonialism, derived from Hobson, not only became official Soviet doctrine but in time helped to shape the views of the ruling intelligentsia in large parts of the so-called Third World. In this irrational stew, the notion of the Zionist state as an aggressive local projection of “American imperialism” was a natural ingredient. In this area, Soviet and Third World conspiracy theory coincide perfectly.
Needless to say, the historical facts of Israel’s creation reveal the theory as nonsense. The only explanation they do support might be termed “accident theory.” Israel climbed into existence through a fortuitous window which briefly opened in history. In terms of Realpolitik it did not then seem in America’s interests to promote a Zionist state, as Roosevelt in his last months was beginning to see. David Niles, FDR’s pro-Zionist assistant in the White House, was probably right when he later testified: “There are serious doubts in my mind that Israel would have come into being if Roosevelt had lived.” It was Harry S. Truman, with his need for Jewish swing-state votes in the forthcoming 1948 election, his distrust of those he termed “the striped-pants boys in the State Department,” and above all his strong and simple sense of justice, who pushed the partition scheme through the United Nations and gave immediate de-facto recognition to the new state. The constituent elements of “American imperialism” were all hotly opposed. The State Department prophesied disaster for American interests. Max Thornburg of Cal-Tex, speaking on behalf of the U.S. oil industry, claimed that Truman had “extinguished” the “moral prestige of America.” Echoing the views of the armed forces, Defense Secretary James V. Forrestal denounced the Jewish lobby which had been “permitted to influence our policy to the point where it could endanger our national security.”
Even more destructive of the “imperialist” conspiracy theory of Zionism was the actual behavior of the Soviet Union. For tactical reasons, Stalin abandoned anti-Zionism, in practice though not in theory, between 1944 and the autumn of 1948. He seems to have thought that a socialist Israel would operate decisively against British and U.S. interests in the Middle East. At all events, Russia played a part in the creation of Israel second only to America’s, as Andrei Gromyko survives to testify (if he would!), for it was he, as Deputy Foreign Minister, who cast the first major Soviet vote at the UN in favor of Israel’s creation. Semyon Tsarapkin, head of the USSR’s UN delegation, offered members of the Jewish Agency the toast, “To the future Jewish state,” before voting for partition on October 13, 1947, and in the General Assembly the entire Soviet bloc followed suit on November 29. During the spring of 1948 Soviet policy was more pro-Israel than America’s, and Soviet recognition of the new state, following America’s by four hours, was not just de facto but de jure. Above all, it was the Czech government, on instructions from Moscow, which made Israel’s physical survival possible by defying the UN arms embargo and turning over an entire military airfield to fly arms to Tel Aviv. Five months later Stalin reversed his policy, but by then Israel was established.
These facts demolish the myth of Israel as an imperialist creation. But when have facts been allowed to interfere with conspiracy theory, above all one which reflects an underlying anti-Semitic pattern? By the 1970’s, the historical record of Israel’s birth had long been buried by the Soviet Union and its satellites and conveniently forgotten by the Arab world. Leaders of many Third World countries, who systematically voted against Israel because its caricature fitted into their own paranoid theories of how the world works, were ignorant or uninterested. In the West, many intellectuals had come, without much inquiry, to accept Israel’s conspiratorial role as an imperialist bridgehead. For, as noted, intellectuals have a weakness for such theories.
But those Western intellectuals who embrace anti-Zionism, whether on its merits or as a substitute for an anti-Semitism which is now unavowable in their own societies, find themselves in strange company. I will end by giving just one suggestive example. The history of hostility to the Jews over more than two millennia is rich in episodes of human cruelty and folly, but it contains few such disgraceful scenes as that enacted at the United Nations on the occasion of the state visit by President Idi Amin of Uganda, on October 1, 1975. By that date he was already notorious as a mass murderer of conspicuous savagery; he had not only dispatched some of his victims personally, but dismembered them and preserved parts of their anatomy for future consumption—the first refrigerator-cannibal. He had nevertheless been elected President of the Organization of African Unity, and in that capacity he was invited to address the UN General Assembly. His speech was a denunciation of what he called “the Zionist-American conspiracy” against the world, and he demanded not only the expulsion of Israel from the UN, but its “extinction.” This blatant call for genocide was well-received by Marxist, Arab, and many other Third World delegations. The Assembly awarded him a standing ovation when he arrived, applauded him periodically throughout his speech, and again rose to its feet when he left. The next day the UN Secretary General and the President of the General Assembly gave a public dinner in his honor.
That is where the ineluctable logic of radical anti-Zionism leads. As such it is firmly rooted in irrational Marxist conspiracy theory.