Zur These, die Juden wurden „immer“ und „überall“ verfolgt

Bei Facebook habe ich einen kurzen (für Facebook natürlich langen) Essay gefunden zur These, daß in Europa die Juden „immer“ und „überall“ verfolgt wurden:

Seth, I started to write this as a response to someone on one of your threads who was claiming that Jews have always and everywhere been oppressed and that this is the reason Israel had to be created. I elaborate on the point you made, that the oppression of Jews leading to the Holocaust was a result of capitalism, a specific set of relationships that evolved out of earlier class society. My reply turned out way too long to be a comment, so I am posting it here instead.

If the Jews had been oppressed at all times and places, they wouldn‘t have survived in Europe for 2,000 years before the Holocaust. This is the approach to Jewish history promoted by Zionism, however: it claims to honor the lives of the Jews who were killed, but in fact remembers nothing about them or their lives except the ghettos and the gas chambers and a few Zionist founding fathers… just about everything before that is blacked out going back to about the year 74 AD. The oppression of the Jews in modern Europe did not arise out of some ageless prejudice, but was intimately tied to the rise of capitalism, just like the oppression of Blacks in this hemisphere.

Far from being outsiders or marginalized, the Jews played a critical part in the shaping of Europe. After the collapse of the Roman system in the West, as a legacy of that cosmopolitan civilization, many diverse peoples and faiths continued to coexist within its former borders, of which the Jews were only one group, and not even the most important in the positions with which they would later come to be identified — for example, Syrians arguably occupied the dominant position in long-distance commerce in Western Europe during the early Middle Ages.

The position of the Jews began to take on a more institutionalized form – but *not* as an oppressed group – at the very same time that the feudal system was coming into being (around the 900s and 1000s AD) for a number of reasons. On the one hand, this was because communities of Jews continued to exist on both sides of the Mediterranean, and were able to preserve channels of commerce and communication better than other, larger groups because 1) Muslim and Latin Christian fleets were fighting each other over control of the sea trade; 2) although Eastern Christians, like the Jews, were given explicit protections by the new Muslim dynasties, the relationship between Eastern and Western Christians was breaking down over the question of church authority as the ecclesiastical institutions of the West increasingly looked to Rome for leadership after the fall of the Carolingian empire.

Set against these broader developments, the new feudal monarchies emerging in Western Europe consciously cultivated the Jews as group that was completely vital to their interests. Nascent feudalism during these centuries was marked by the complete elimination of collective representation of the peasantry and other commoners, and the consolidation of authority on the local level in the hands of local church bodies and a landed aristocracy that was much more autonomous of court politics than before. This accumulation of power and the economic surplus in the hands of the feudal landlords helped to stimulate commerce – but it also made the position of kings and their ability to command the nobility more precarious. The court needed to cultivate a base of support that wasn‘t under the control of the landlords; they did this by institutionalizing different orders, of which the Jews were one – in effect, the order in charge of long-distance commerce and owing direct allegiance to the king rather than to the landlords or church.

In the civilization of Medieval Europe, the Jews were the only group legally permitted by the monarchies to enter most commercial professions. This era saw a huge number of conversions by Christians to Judaism in order to enter these professions; and at the same time, the majority of Jews converted to Christianity as they became peasants or took up other positions in the economy that were dominated by the landlords. Being a Jew was not at all a racial category during this period, but almost entirely an occupational one, in which the religious hierarchy merely played a mediating role in representing its interests to the king, just as it did for the other orders of society that were Christian.

The persecution of Jews in the West really began in the Late Middle Ages, with the rise of the urban bourgeoisie. When the system of orders was institutionalized, the population of the old Roman towns had dwindled, and in many places survived only because they were the seat of the Bishops and other old church institutions. Part of the creation of feudal orders was assigning these rump-towns separate, parallel administrations and rights that were under the control of the church and not the landlords. But as commerce revived, and the towns once again became the sites of production and refuges for peasants fleeing the countryside, the church lost control – starting already in the 11th century the most developed regions of Italy and Flanders were racked by uprisings of the new urban populations. The monarchies were forced to negotiate with this new interest group to preserve its precarious balance in feudal society – but this was always a fluid, make-shift relationship, changing by the century and decade. Gradually the towns muscled their way to a bigger share of commercial interests, but in the process they ran up against the part of the population which was officially supposed to be the king’s commercial agents, the Jews. By the 14th century, when the bourgeoisie became powerful enough in a few kingdoms, it began to put enough pressure on the rulers to pass legislation against the Jews and recognizing the urban communes‘ total privileges over the Jews‘ former commercial prerogatives… a process which was greatly intensified after the conquest of the Americas.

The same process did not unfold uniformly across Europe, however. In the East, the large-scale maritime commerce that was the hallmark of the Early Modern epoch did not become dominant until much later. While the fortunes of the Jews declined in the Western kingdoms, they reached new heights in Europe’s two biggest states – the Ottoman Empire and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In neither country was there anything even close to systematic persecution of the Jews; instead they formed one of the largest and most important parts of the urban population, especially in Poland-Lithuania, where there was literally only a handful of instances of anti-Jewish violence during the entire 1500s and 1600s, all of which were prosecuted. By the 1700s, over 90% of the world’s Jews lived in these two states, and their population grew much faster and reached a higher quality of life than any other part of the population.

The position of the Jews in Eastern Europe did begin to erode during the 1700s, but by no means in a systematic way. As large parts of the Polish economy during this period became oriented towards the large-scale export of grain to England and other maritime powers, new commercial interests arose which saw the Jews as an obstacle to their advance, as had occurred centuries earlier in the West. But other parts of the vast Commonwealth remained less connected to global trade, and in these regions, like in the Middle East, the Jews continued to prosper. An English traveler to Lithuania in the 1780s, for example, observed that the Jews „seem to have fixed their headquarters in this duchy. If you ask for an interpreter, they bring you a Jew; if you come to an inn, the landlord is a Jew; if you want post-horses, a Jew procures them, and a Jew drives them; if you wish to purchase, a Jew is your agent: and this is perhaps the only country in Europe where Jews cultivate the ground“.

The modern history of the Jews, which leads to the Holocaust, really began only at the very end of the 1700s and during the 1800s. Two important developments occurred at this time: 1) the overwhelming majority of the world’s Jews fell under the domination of the Russian Empire, which conquered and annexed Lithuania and most of Poland – this was a much more centralized, autocratic state, which was threatened by the extensive communal privileges and institutional autonomy under which the Jews of Eastern Europe had prospered during the Early Modern era; 2) the French Revolution proclaimed the liberty and legal equality of all individuals regardless of their group-identity, a message which was subsequently carried as far east as Lithuania by the bayonets of Napoleon’s Grande Armée.

The French Empire was defeated and Russian rule was restored over the Eastern European Jews, which continued to have no use for a people with strong local leaders and institutions, and continued to grind the Jews into poverty and oppression as it channeled trade and industry into hands more directly subordinate to the Tsar’s court. But the memory of the principles of the French Revolution was kept alive, and in Western Europe (in stark contrast to Russia) the small Jewish populations saw their legal equality reaffirmed during the 19th century, and were increasingly assimilated and accepted as part of the various „national communities“. As a result, the Jews in Eastern Europe, especially the youth, flocked to the rising revolutionary movements that sought to overthrow Tsarist autocracy and radically remake society.

Even old feudal elites in Eastern Europe felt the need to support industrialization during the 19th century, because this was their only hope of being able to survive in battle against the modern armies of bourgeois France and England. To afford the creation of the industry needed to modernize the army, the rulers had to abandon their old insular economic focus and instead enter the global market on a competitive basis. Initially eastern states like Russia were competitive by suppressing the wages of their new working class well below the level in Western Europe. But this approach quickly provoked backlash in the form of revolutionary uprisings and a powerful and militant labor movement.

Therefore, like all capitalist ruling classes, those in Eastern and Central Europe faced a life-and-death need to impose new divisions on the working class to undermine their ability to combine. It could not afford to grant enough to satisfy the demands of the working class for higher wages and shorter hours; maybe a few small concessions could be granted, but this risked raising even more demands, threatening the vital position of super-low-wage labor in these economies. Granting more political liberties, the demand of the broader middle and lower classes, also carried too much risk of emboldening the working class further. This was all reinforced by the accomplishments of the dominant global capitalist classes in Western Europe and America, who were beginning to develop an insulated caste of workers stuck in the worst jobs using their global colonial empires in the former case and racism in the U.S.

The Russian state and capitalists sought to introduce the same divisions in the face of pressure by their own working class by hardening the dividing lines between Russians and the myriad of minority peoples in the empire. But to fit this requirement, ethnicity and group identity had to be transformed from what it had been in the Early Modern, pre-industrial era. A category wasn‘t effective to divide the working class if you could escape it by changing your religion or learning to speak Russian — because the proletariat was already formed from the part of the population that had lost or was quickly losing its support from the traditional communal bodies and, being without property as well, was compelled to assimilate into industrial society to survive. Therefore the earlier categories – which had been filled with various different content over the long centuries of European history – were *racialized* during the capitalist era, becoming a permanent divide supposedly rooted in genetics, taking on the very same imagined characteristics first used to divide labor in the colonial world.

Jewish identity was most effectively racialized in Eastern Europe (even though Poles, Ukrainians, etc etc etc were also oppressed under the Tsars) for a number of reasons, but mainly because as a consequence of the preceding centuries they were already the most educated part of the population and most active in the revolutionary movements, and therefore the biggest targets of the police and the bosses and pogroms used to disorient the masses.

1917 was a turning point in European Jewish history just as much as the French Revolution had been, arguably even more so. In Russia, after tumultuous months of mass uprisings and protests against the government and the World War, the revolutionary socialists gained the majority of the labor movement and led a revolution that overthrew the state institutions and transferred all power to the organizations of the workers and peasants. The revolutionary socialist Party, the Bolsheviks, included a composition of Jews well disproportionate to their numbers in the empire as a whole, including in the highest leadership positions. Won over to Lenin’s position, the Bolshevik Party declared that formal equality of individuals as proclaimed by the French Revolution was not enough, and that the institutionalized oppression of national minorities, women, Jews, etc. in the economy, politics and culture had to be tackled head-on, and that the most oppressed had a leading role to play in the struggle against capitalist exploitation by the working class around the world.

The Russian Revolution was an inspiration to the Jews across Europe, even though most wound up outside the borders of the workers‘ state. Large numbers joined the new Communist Parties, and millions of the younger generations of Jews believed that the key to their liberation in Europe lay in socialist revolution, and poured their energies into the labor movement. Shortly before the Holocaust, the Jews were even more entwined with the history of Europe than they had ever been, and Zionism enjoyed the sympathies of only a small minority.

This is why the tragedy of mid-20th century Europe crashed down on the heads of the Jews more than any other group. The First World War ended prematurely under the impact of revolutions in Europe. The underlying crisis of capitalist profits that had provoked the conflict was not resolved, and returned multiplied ten-fold during the Great Depression. This hit hardest in Germany and the other states of Central Europe, which had been left without colonial empires after the war. They suddenly faced greater pressure than ever before to drive down wages to stay afloat in the global economy, and to revive and reimpose the racial categories that had been developing in the East before 1917. The position of the Jews at the bottom of the proletariat had to be reinforced to divide and conquer the broader working class and implement austerity. That is why anti-Semitism was a necessary component of fascism across the region.

The Depression also provoked the return of mass protests and revolutions across Europe – but these were crushed, often with the collusion of their own leaders loyal to the new, Stalinist regime in Moscow, which at the same time was shooting dead hundreds of thousands of Bolsheviks in Russia, including the Bolsheviks from Jewish backgrounds. With these obstacles removed, the crisis pushed Europe back into the war, of which the Jews would be the principle victims.

Although anti-Semitism had always been an important component of Nazism and the drive to expand super-exploitation in Europe, it was only under the conditions of the Second World War that it needed to exterminate the most oppressed. Hitler began the war in 1939 because his earlier efforts at economic recovery were failing, and Germany was sliding back into Depression. Even after the rapid conquest of France the next year, the economic crisis was only deepening under the impact of the British embargo of the Atlantic. German/European capitalism needed three things to survive… 1) the establish a large internal market to make it possible to compete with the British/American economies of scale; 2) to secure access to vital raw materials being kept out by the British (namely grain and oil) but abundant in Russia and the Middle East; 3) to create a large low-wage labor force.

Each of these needs brought the ruling class into collision with the Jewish proletariat. A war for land, markets, and resources in the East would require the mobilization of a massive industrialized army in a backwards regions, with poor infrastructure and distribution networks. The German military planners knew from the beginning that if the war against Russia continued for more than a few months millions of civilians in Eastern Europe would starve to death because it would be impossible to support both the population and the military needs simultaneously. The Jews were singled out as the first group to be deprived, not only because Nazi racial ideology classified them the lowest but because they were predicted to be the most rebellious — as indeed they were, playing a prominent role in the anti-German partisan movements and leading uprisings against the occupation in dozens of ghettos.

The Jews were also exterminated because of the calculation that, due to their revolutionary politics, they were not a reliable candidate for the super-exploited labor force German capitalism needed. During the war, carried out by a government preaching German racial superiority, many millions of Eastern Europeans from the Soviet Union were brought to factories in Germany to work as ultra-low-wage migrant labor. This migrant work force, which had already been demoralized with socialism because of its experience of Stalinist rule, had to be completely insulated from the low-wage workers already in place in Central Europe, the Jews, who still actively believed in revolutionary socialism.

Understanding these causes of the Holocaust under the impact of capitalist Depression and Imperialist world war — and not in ancient prejudices or unchanging forms of oppression — is important if we take seriously the vow „never again“. 80%+ of the Jewish population of Eastern Europe was wiped out because they had already been cultivated by capitalism to serve as the most oppressed section of the proletariat. The Second World War extended capitalism’s lease on life globally by destroying competitors, dragging down the living standards of the masses in the most vicious way, *and* exterminating the most oppressed part of the working class, which was actively rebelling against the system. Zionism has to suppress Jewish history, just like it suppressed most other aspects of the culture of the remnants of that population, because this history makes it clear that capitalism will be driven in the same way to commit mass atrocities in future crises, and that Israel in particular will and already has begun to do this to the Palestinians.

[Der Autor unterstützt die staatskapitalistisch/trotzkistische US-Organisation LRP (League for the Revolutionary Party – Communist Organization for the Fourth International]

2 Antworten auf „Zur These, die Juden wurden „immer“ und „überall“ verfolgt“

  1. 1 Apple 03. Februar 2015 um 16:02 Uhr

    Therefore, like all capitalist ruling classes, those in Eastern and Central Europe faced a life-and-death need to impose new divisions on the working class to undermine their ability to combine.

    Antisemitismus und Rassismus von der Bourgeoisie erfunden, um das Proletariat von der Revolution abzuhalten – ein alter Klassiker, würde ich sagen.

    Juden wurden natürlich auch im Mittelalter-Europa schon massiv verfolgt, wie mir scheint, immer dann, wenn die Zugehörigkeit zum Christentum als ethnisches Kriterium wahrgenommen und politisch eine Rolle gespielt hat. Zum Beispiel:


  2. 2 max beer 04. Februar 2015 um 10:08 Uhr

    Stimmt, Juden wurden im Mittelalter-Europa massiv verfolgt, außer sie lebten in muslimisch regierten Gegenden, etwa in Spanien bis 1492, bis die Moslems vertrieben wurden. Wobei es ein Unterschied ist, ob man unter Androhung der Todesstrafe sich zwangstaufen lassen musste oder ob man von Nazis ermordet wurde, egal ob man ein rechter oder linker Jude war. * Es gibt eine GSP- oder MG-Diskussion zu Israel oder zum Antisemitismus, wo ein jüdischer Diskutant auftritt und sinngemäß meint: „Gut, dass es Israel gibt. Israel ist ein Staat, wo ich nur als Kommunist verfolgt werde. In anderen Staaten gibt es die Gefahr, dass ich doppelt verfolgt werde, als Jude UND Kommunist.“

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