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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: April 2017

3 - Marxism's Other Jewish Questions

from PART TWO - ANTISEMITISM AND THE LEFT

Summary

That mainstream Marxism has a staggering track record of tolerating, excusing, and all too often itself propagating problematic attitudes toward Jews that gravitate toward, and in some cases themselves constitute, antisemitism is well known. My intention in this chapter is not to reiterate this basic fact but to take stock of some of the implications of this insight and indicate some of the directions in which I would suggest scholars might look next in order to develop a deeper and more systematic understanding of why this might be the case.

I should begin with two clarifications. Firstly, there are, broadly speaking, two obvious motivations for focusing on the problematic attitudes specifically of Marxists or the left more generally. One might do so in order to discredit not only the historical track record of large parts of the left but the entire project of emancipatory politics as such, or one might do so precisely in order to recover and help reconstruct this project. If I spend a depressingly large part of my time engaged in the rather uncharitable and often unpalatable business of documenting and analyzing the shortcomings of those on the left, I do so as somebody who still thinks of himself as a Marxist (though, as with most Marxists today, my own particular brand of Marxism is unlikely to be acknowledged as such by more than a handful of others). The need to know as precisely as possible what went wrong in the past is born not of a desire to disavow the left but to facilitate its meaningful reconstruction in a manner that might allow it not to repeat past mistakes and consequently to thrive on forms of (revolutionary) politics that truly are emancipatory.

Second, nothing in my research to date indicates that Marxists are prone to problematic attitudes toward Jews because they are Marxists. To be sure, Marxists have at various junctures developed variations of their own on well-established anti-Jewish tropes and their susceptibility to antisemitism can partly be explained in terms of ideological orientations and political conventions that are characteristic predominantly of a Marxist mind-set. Even so, there is no doubt in my mind that Marxists have subscribed to peculiar ideas about Jews not because they were Marxists, but because, to put it bluntly, they were bad Marxists, or not Marxist enough, not because of but despite their Marxism.