A “Marxian” Approach to the jewish question – Paul Mattick & Walter Auerbach


The advocates of Zionism, or Jewish nationalism, like the advocates of all other nationalistic ideologies, approach the workers in many ways. Recently the Poale Zion of America republished some of the writings of Ber Borochov[1], who, some 30 years ago, tried to suplly the socialistic approach to Zionism.

Borochov sprang from the Jewish intelligentsia of Russia. At the time of his activities Jewish workers in Russia had built an organization (Bund), which was a Social Democratic trade unionist organization and was anti-Zionistic. It consisted of industrial workers who formed their organization after the pattern of western European trade unionism. They had ceased to concern themselves very Much with national problems, and were of the opinion, that the socialist revolution also would solve the Jewish question. Borochov, however, thought that “one who has no national dignity can have no class dignity.” He tried to prove that Zionism is not only the only solution for the Jewish people, but also the Marxist solution. He observed “the slow transition of the Jewish masses from unproductive to productive occupations”, and was convinced that only in Palestine this tendency could come to its fullest realization. He was of the opinion that the Jews could neither wait for the “progress of humanity”, nor depend on assimilation, but that their freedom from persecution and discrimination depended primarly upon the national self-help of the Jewish masses. “The national instinct of self-preservation latent in the Socialist working class”, he wrote, “is a healthy nationalism”. Though, at the outset he conceived that the class interests of the Jewish workers remained the same as those of other workers, and socialism was the ultimate goal, the immediate need was Zionism, and the class struggle was to realize both.

In the process of production various relations of production arise. But production itself, Borochov argued, is dependent on certain conditions which are different in different places. These “conditions of production”, which vary for geographical, anthropological, and historic reasons, form the basis for his idea that for the Jewish workers ZIonism and Socialism are identical. The nationalism of oppressed nationalities, he said, is peculiar, and the system of production of oppressed nationalities is always subject to abnormal conditions. “The conditions of production are abnormal when a nation is deprived of its territory and its organs of national preservation. Such abnormal conditions tend to harmonize the interests of all members of a nation. This external pressure not only weakens and dissipates the influence of the conditions of production but also hinders the development of the relations of production and the class struggle, because the normal development of the mode of production is hampered. In the course of the struggle for national emancipation, however, the class structure and class psychology manifest themselves”. And so he maintained that a “genuine nationalism in no way obscures class consciousness”, that the building up of Palestine would rather provide a real basis for the development of the class struggle of the Jews aimed at a socialist society.

In Palestine, which was not at all an empty country or an international hotel as Borochov and his contemporaries tried to believe, the Jews found an Arab feudalistic agricultural society with merchant capital in the towns and ports. The immigrating Jews were artisans of the east European type, merchants of western Europe, and representatives of financiers of London, Wall Street, and South America. And in addition to these there were a newly formed proletariat of students, professionals, and intellectuals who, with great national enthusiasm set out to work under most primitive conditions for the Jewish state.

Into Palestine immigrated labor and capital, but on a small scale. However, the increasingly more “normal” conditions of production did not lead to a development in accordance with the dreams of the left-Zionists. Nationalism did not foster the class struggle, on the contrary, the latter was sacrified to the needs of the nation. Class consciousness did not increase but tended to disappear, and the “common” interest against the Arabs created an almost ideal harmony. Zionism in practice was only able to tie the Jewish workers to the interests of their exploiters and, furthermore, to the imperialistic schemes of England, which fostered the Jewish aspirations for its own imperialist – strategic needs.

It is true that with the growth of Palestine captialism the working class also increased. Scarcity of labor brought about in the building and similar trades relatively high wages for some workers[2]. Other workers established co-operatives which functioned as building contractors and transportation companies. These conditions, however, did not foster the class struggle for socialism, but inbued large numbers of workers with capitalist ideology and led to the development of a labor bureaucracy participating in the exploitation of the workers. The Jewish workers not only found their old exploiters in the holy land, but they added some new ones in exchange for the empty promises of reformism.

Borochov’s “contribution to Marxism”, i. e., the recognition of the importance of the “conditions of production” for the development of the class struggle, so far has served only capitalistic and imperialistic interests. By pointing to Palestine, the Zionists kept the Jewish workers from participating in the class struggle; in Palestine they now point across the border. The Zionist solution of the Jewish question lies only in combat with the Arabs. Under the conditions of Palestine, Zionism can emerge only in capitalistic garb. The Jews are obliged to be capitalistic in order to be nationalistic, and they have to be nationalistic in order to be Zionists. They are obliged to be not only capitalistic, but capitalistic in an extremely reactionary form. As a minority they can not be democratic without damage to their own interests; and being land-hungry, they have to fight against agrarian reform, binding themselves with the Arab feudalists against the fellahs. They are not only reactionary themselves, but they lend force to the Arab reaction.

The last twenty years of Zionist practice have sufficiently shown that Jewish nationalism no less than any other nationalism has hampered the development of the class struggle. To keep the Jewish workers’ standard of living on a semi-civilized level was possible only at the expense of the Arabian workers. The discrimination against Arab labor practiced by the Jewish trade unions and the Jewish bosses did not create solidarity but nationalistic hatred among the workers. All the well-sounding phrases about solidarity with the Arab workers vanished when they were put to test in the strikes of 1936; instead, the Zionist labor bureaucracy successfully made the Jewish workers defend their bosses’ property. The labor bureaucracy and the national peculiarities prevented the unemployed from fighting for relief, because otherwise the British might stop immigration. The scarcity of in Palestine agriculture, led to the creation of co-operatives of starving pioneers, the so called “communes” (Kvutsot), it was the merit of Borochovists to name these co-operatives the “socialist sector” of Palestine’s economy, and to hail them as “outposts of socialism”. But here also the Zionists only hide behind attractive slogans the capitalistic nature and the exploiting character of these institutions.

Zionism can serve only capitalism. Borochov himself, at first only interested in the ZIonist movement to foster the class struggle later forgot his original intentions and spoke in favor of class collaboration. No longer did he adderss the proletariat, but “the entire Jewish population”, which should “not yield to the notion that the Jews disappear among nations and alien cultures”. Notwithstanding that even an “internationalist” like Leon Trotsky states today “that the Jewish problem must be solved through territorial concentration”, nationalism today can be only chauvinistic, can only lead to Jewish fascism which openly advocates struggle against the Arabs. And the nonfascists accept this struggle by maintaining silence or uttering hypocritical phrases. And only the recognition of their weak position hinders them from finding a place among the “aggressor nations”, and forces them to play servant to English imperialism. Today there exists a report of a royal commission that recommends the partitioning of Palestine and the creation of an autonomous Jewish state. Whether this proposal will ever be realized, the fact remains that the Jews themselves cannot fulfill the Zionist desires, but are compelled to stay allies to English imperialism.

It is true that the furthering of capitalism in Palestine brought about by Zionism and the sharpening of capitalistic antagonisms are “revolutionizing”, but only as the whole of capitalism is revolutionizing; it is of no concern to the working class. The sharpening of capitalist contradictions certainly serves the revolutionary interests of the working class, however, as the proletariat has to make an international revolution, it cannot support nationalistic issues, it can foster neither the Arabs nor the Jews. It has to remain immune to all nationalistic infection and must concentrate on the conflict between capital and labor as determined by the relations of production. There is no national solution for the Jewish workers, as there is no possibility ever to find peace within the other countries. The Jewish question is unsolvable within capitalistic barbarism of today. There is no sense in closing our eyes to reality, difficult as it is, yes, impossible as it is in many instances to prevent the special atrocities against the Jewish population, Palestine is no solution. Capitalism means the prolongation of this barbaric situation. The task of the jewish workers if the task of all workers, to end the international system of capitalistic exploitation.

[1] Nationalism and the Class Struggle. A Marxian Approach to the Jewish Problem. By Ber Borochov. Poale Zion-Zeire of America. New York, 205 pp., $1.50.

[2] The weekly wage rates of nine classes of urban workers in October, 1937, adjusted to the cost of living index, leads to the conclusion that the real wages of the Jewish workers in Tel-Aviv were 68 per cent of the wages of workers in London, and that the wages of the Arabs were about 10 per cent less than the wages for Jewish workers. However, these nine classes of urban workers, responsible for the above wage index, belong all to the building trade and are not as is often assumed, representative of the wage rates of the working class as a whole. The index, so often proudly demonstrated, is also not true in so far as it excludes in the cost of living the factor of rent, which, owing to the serious housing shortage, is very high in Palestina.