Karl Marx, the Jews and capitalism

As Paul Johnson pointed out in The History of the Jews, many prominent nineteenth-century socialist Jews hailed from wealthy families. When they went radical, they turned their backs to their lineage and, more often than not, to the religion of their ancestors. The father of Ferdinand Lasalle, founder of German socialism, was a silk merchant; the father of Otto Bauer, leader of Austrian socialism, was a textile tycoon; the father of Adolf Braun, a leader of German socialism, was an industrialist; the father of Paul Singer, another important German socialist, was a clothing manufacturer; the father of Victor Adler, a pioneer of social democracy in Austria, was a real estate speculator; Karl Hochberg, a socialist-reformist writer, was the son of a banker in Frankfurt.

Karl Marx’s father was a Jewish lawyer converted into a Lutheran who baptized his son as a child. Descended from a long line of rabbis on both his mother´s and father´s side, Karl Marx was born in an environment of self-denial. By the time he reached adulthood he was a consummate self-hating Jew.

In an essay published in The Philosophers magazine, Michael Ezra offers several examples of Marx’s anti-Semitism. He borrowed money from the Bambergers but showed contempt for them. In a derogatory fashion he referred to the father and son as “Jew Bamberger” or “little Jew Bamberger.” Spielmann, whose name appears frequently in the correspondence between Marx and Engels was mentioned as “Jew Spielmann.” When on holiday in Ramsgate in 1879, Marx wrote to Engels that the resort contained “many Jews and fleas.”

Similarly, Paul Johnson presents more cases. Marx called Lasalle “Baron Itzig” or “Jewish nigger.” He reprimanded the baptized Jew Josef Moses Levi, owner of the Daily Telegraph in London, for his wish to be integrated into the Anglo-Saxon society given that “Mother Nature wrote her lineage with absurd capital letters exactly in the center of his face.” When Baron Hirsch gained a seat in the British Parliament, Marx reacted thus: “It is doubtful that the British people will be pleased to give electoral rights to a Jewish usurer.” Moses Hess, Marx’s partner in the Left Hegelian group, called him -caringly we may assume- “my communist rabbi” given his orthodox family environment. (According to Shlomo Avineri, Hess’s text, On Capital, which contains furious attacks on Jews and Judaism, influenced Marx).

In his essay On the Jewish Question, Marx openly exhibits his contempt for Jews: “What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the mundane cult of the Jew? Haggling. What is his mundane god? Money”. And he adds: “Money is the jealous god of Israel, beside which no other god may stand… The god of the Jews has been secularized and has become the god of this world.” The Money-Jew was “the contemporary universal antisocial element” that was to be abolished. Marx postulated that the Jew should emancipate himself from “haggling and money,” only then “our era will be emancipated.” And he affirms: “In the final analysis, emancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of humanity from Judaism.”

Even in Das Kapital, he lets his anti-Semitism flourish: “The capitalist knows that all merchandise, no matter how ruinous it may seem or how bad it might smell, is by faith and in truth money, internally circumcised Jews”. Recalling an old libel, Marx assures that the exodus of the Jews from Egypt actually meant the expulsion of a leper people and “at the helm of these lepers was an Egyptian priest, Moses.” He never showed interest in, much less sympathy for, the suffering of the Jews, neither when the blood libel emerged in Damascus in 1840 nor during the Russian pogroms in 1881. He denigrated the Polish Jewish refugees in Germany as “the filthiest of all races” and in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, edited by himself, he accused the Jews of Poland of setting churches ablaze, burning villages and beating down defenseless Poles, when these were in fact the very things Polish Jews suffered at the hands of Christians.

In an article published in The Daily Tribune of New York in 1856, Marx calls his brothers “children of Judas,” and states:

“Thus we find every tyrant backed by a Jew, as is every pope by a Jesuit. In truth, the cravings of oppressors would be hopeless, and the practicability of war out of the question, if there were not an army of Jesuits to smother thought and a handful of Jews to ransack pockets… The fact that 1855 years ago Christ drove the Jewish moneychangers out of the temple, and that the moneychangers of our age enlisted on the side of tyranny happen again chiefly to be Jews, is perhaps no more than a historical coincidence. The loan-mongering Jews of Europe do only on a larger and more obnoxious scale what many others do on one smaller and less significant. But it is only because the Jews are so strong that it is timely and expedient to expose and stigmatize their organization.”

Two hundred years after the birth of this influential anti-Jewish Jewish thinker, it is worth remembering what Heinrich Heine warned about Marx and his ideological comrades. Heine was a German Jewish poet converted to Christianity who became friends with Marx but whom he criticized as a “self-appointed atheist god”. In premonitory fashion, he said to contemplate “with fear and horror the moment when those somber iconoclasts may assume power.” This was the same man who also warned that “wherever books are burned people end up burned too”.

In the following century, Ulrike Meinhof –co-founder of the German radical terrorist group Red Army Faction, with a clear Marxist trait and brother-in-arms of the PLO– posed this question: “How was Auschwitz possible, what was anti-Semitism?” She replied that “Auschwitz means that six million Jews were murdered and carted on to the rubbish dumps of Europe for being that which was maintained of them –Money-Jews.” For her, hatred of the Jews was an expression of hatred of Capitalism and, therefore, the murder of Israeli civilians was justified. As Michael Ezra pointed out, this sinister logic -the association of Capitalism with Judaism and hatred of both at the same level -is one of the most powerful teachings that Karl Marx bequeathed to his followers in his doctrine.

About the Author
Julian Schvindlerman is an Argentine writer and journalist specializing in Middle East affairs. He lectures on World Politics at the University of Palermo and is a regular contributor to Infobae and Perfil. He is the author of The Hidden Letter: A History of an Arab-Jewish Family, Triangle of Infamy: Richard Wagner, the Nazis and Israel; Rome and Jerusalem: Vatican policy toward the Jewish state; and Land for Peace, Land for War.
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