The Jewish Problem after Hitler
"What is obvious is not always known,
And what is known is not always present."
The reaction of the official Fourth Internationalist organizations to the Jewish question and the problem of Palestine in the new situation produced by Hitlerism and the war is a measure of their Incapacity to free themselves from outlived theories and political positions. This results in a dreary reaffirmation of old ideas and programs accompanied by the repetitious explanation that "there is no reason to change our position" since "there is nothing new in the situation." Thus it is the same with the Russian question, the national question and the Jewish question. For the most part, these organizations, most notably the Socialist Workers Party in the United States, have remained virtually silent on the Jewish question. The silence is not wholly accidental; it is a reflection of policy. Real and concrete new probIems of the day are approached with extreme caution and conservatism.
In relation to the current world Jewish question, the leading spokesmen of the official Fourth International rely upon theoretical and political reasoning which has its roots in the bygone eras of 1905 and 1917-23.
Aside from a short statement or two dealing with the concrete problem of Jewish immigration, and a rather long and abstract article on Palestine by T. Cliff, the Fourth International and The Militant in this country, as well as the press of other Trotskyist organizations, have refrained from comment on the Jewish question on the ground that there is really nothing different to say about this complicated international problem from what has already been said for dozens of years. That is, until the Fourth International reprinted an essay by Ernest Germain entitled "The Jewish Question Since World War ll." This essay first appeared as the concluding chapter of the late A. Leon's book, The Materialist Conception of the Jewish Question.
Germain is the new theoretical luminary of the official Fourth International; his writings read like a lawbook; he is regarded as the outstanding interpreter of the theories of Trotskyism, especially on the Russian question, wherein he "brilliantly reaffirmed" (according to James P. Cannon) the outlived theory of the "degenerated workers' state."
The First Attempt at an Answer
Germain's essay, which marks one of the first efforts of the official Fourth International to speak somewhat concretely on the Jewish question, is distinguished by its utterly detached and abstract approach to the problem, but which is characteristic for its unquestionably correct interpretations of parts of an old Marxist position which has little to do with life today. Where Germain is on his own, i.e., where he is compelled to concern himself with the concrete problems of the day, he is thrown into one quandary after another. But they are of no consequence, for thereafter he sweeps away the whole problem with lofty disdain born of the supi-a-historical approach.
We had occasion to direct attention to this type of theorizing in an earlier article in the NI in which we referred to. T. Cliff's competent analytical work on Palestine, and here, too, we observed a fine study of the economic growth and problems of the Middle East and the place of Palestine in that situation. Yet the whole work was outstanding for its studied evasion of the political questions of the class and national struggle taking place there. He even failed to mention the slogan of an all-Palestinian constituent assembly in the struggle for independence and against imperialism. Since that time, it is true, Cliff has dealt with the problems of Jewish immigration, bi-national state, constituent assembly, etc., but these have not been made public and we cannot therefore comment on them.
Germain's essay, however, is a public document. Not written as a reply to the position advocated by the Workers' Party, The New International and Labor Action, it nevertheless has been published by the SWP (Fourth International, April, 1947) as a polemical gesture, for in their minds the Germain essay is an answer to what they call our "right-wing" position on the Jewish question.
Some of our readers may be aware that one of the main differences between us and the official Fourth International and the SWP is on the question of the right of the Jews to free immigration to Palestine. In advocating the right of free immigration to all countries, and in the first place to the United States, we advocate, at the same time, that democratic right for Palestine. The Fourth International and its adherents, however, are in favor of free immigration of Jews to all countries, the United States, Great Britain, France, Australia, etc., but ... not to Palestine - the one country to which they want to go! Germain's article seeks to give the theoretical and historical justification for this obviously contradictory position.
This article can be summarized briefly: The Jews of Europe have undergone almost inhuman suffering; this is due to the nature of capitalism. But the Jews are not alone in this suffering. Other peoples, other national minorities are faced with the same or similar prospects of extermination or near-extermination. This is a symbol of the decay of capitalism. There is no hope for these people except in the victory of socialism. It is true, the Jews may be entirely exterminated between now and the future, but ... oops, sorry ... that can't be helped, you know. That's capitalism for you. The Jews, despite this grim prospect, must not allow themselves to be emotionally worked up by the fact that six, seven or eight millions of them have been wiped out in Europe!
The first part of the article summtrizes the bestial natui-e of a society which destroyed five out of six million European Jews. Why and how did this happen? "Reason refuses to admit," says Germain, "that material interests could have coldly dictated the extermination of these countless defenseless beings." What then did? Capitalism, he answers! As though capitalism did not embrace material interests and factors. The general answer is undoubtedly correct, but it is much too simple. One has to go further and examine the concrete conditions under which this extermination took place at the hands of a specific German fascism. Germain's failure to go beyond his generalization produces, in turn, a faulty approach to the problem of the "guilt" of German fascism, its hierarchy and its bourgeois sponsors.
If one approaches the question of "material interests" from the narrowest of premises, then it would be difficult to say: yes, this factor or this person alone was responsible. Material interests did play an important contributing role to the actual unfolding of events in Germany. But if one understands the general social conditions which produced the fascist movement, the class warfare and the capitulation of Stalinism and social democracy, which insured the victory of Hitler, and understands at the same time the fact that the fascist movenient embraces the "social scum" of society, it is not difficult then to grasp the multiplicity of factors which produced this situation, the great historical factors, as well as the mean ones, the big bourgeoisie which enriches itself on the basis of state policy and the fascist agent who enriches himself from the disfranchised and murdered Jews. For this one must understand the molecular process induced by the specific features of German decay after the First World War, and the plane to which violence is raised as a method of solving the social crisis in declining bourgeois society. Violence has universal traits in bourgeois society but it also has some specific national characteristics and forms which the Marxist cannot overlook.
Germain characterizes the experiences of the Jews Is a symbol of the fate of humanity in general and as the product of a sick society. And he adds: "The tragedy of the Jews is only the herald to other peoples of their coming fate." The correctness of this generalization has a strange ring: the expression of sympathy for the Jews seems constantly to be apologized for and qualified by the observations, that their gufferings are socially and historically conditioned, as if that in some way mitigates the condition of this people.
Thus after describing the unrelieved horrors of the Jews, Germain is under compulsion to write: "Alongside of five million murdered Jews are sixty million victims of imperialist war. The barbaric treatment of the Jews by Hitlerite imperialism is only an extreme expression of the barbarism of the general methods of imperialism in our period. As against the Jewish deportations we now find the deportation of millions of Germans from Poland and Czechoslovakia."
The Purpose of Comparison
What is the point of these comparisons? To show the Jews that there is nothing unique in their position in European society today? But that is silly, for the conditions which the Jewish people face are unique. While it is true that Germans have been deported from Poland and Czechoslovakia, undergoing severe suffering in the process, the comparison ends at that point. For these Germans return to their own nation, however divided it may be be under conditions of military occupation. Theyy may return to friends and relatives. They do not remain in concentration camps where their families and friends had been exterminated by the hundreds of thousands and millions. They do not return to a hostile country which hates them.
Chancing the charge that I do not have real feeling for the sixty million victims of the imperialist slaughter, I stil say that the comparison made by Germain is false. The Jews were not merely victims of an imperialist war; they were the victims of a social and political program of German fascism serving its big business masters, and would have faced the same extermination whether there was a war or not.
But is there not some special point to Germain's observation? Yes, there is. It is to affirm by commission and omission that there is really nothing unique in the position of European Jewry, no special problems created by their homelessness and landlessness. We shall soon see exactly how this penetrating method settles the problem of a displaced people who face, by his own admission, total extermination.
The "historical" fixation, the extreme impartiality of Germain in assessing the responsibility for the extermination of the Jews in Europe produces some curious reasoning. For, if the position of the Jews in Europe today is a product of a sick and dying capitalism - and this is undeniable - how can you blame Germany alone? No, it is quite obvious that all the imperialists are equally responsible. All? Yes, all ... except the "Soviet Union," the "degenerated workers' state," a Iand without soviets and where the workers do not rule, have no rights and are at the mercy of a ruthless bureaucratic ruling class. As Germain writes: "the very fate of the Jews in Europe was determined as much by the calculations of American. imperialists as by the direct massacres of Hitler.... If Hitler constructed the trap for the Jews, it was the Anglo-Ameiicans who sprang it. The blood of the innocent falls upon their heads as well as upon the Nazis."
A Warped Analysis
As a historical generalization describing the imperialist world, this is true, but as Germain applies it to the concrete situation involving the Jews, it is only half true, for the logic of the point he pursues is to blur the differences between the imperialists and to make it impossible to distinguish the clemerits of conflict in state policy of the various powers. Having made this generalization, how does it alter what happened in Germany and Europe during the years 1933 to 1945? One can say, correctly, that Great Britain and the United States did not do anything because they did not help the Jews to emigrate from Germany. But that is not the same thing as saying they are responsible for Hitler's internal policies. Hitler was prepared to carry out his extermination program no matter how many protests were made. The extermination of the Jews was part of his national program. Not even the threat of war would have deterred him, if it is conceivable that Great Britain or the United States would have gone to war on behalf of the Jews.
In attacking British and American policy as equally responsible for the plight of the Jews in Germany, Germain very gingerly by-passes critical comment about Stalinist Russia and its role in the slaughter of Europe's Jews. The only reference made to Russia is the quoted charge of the Polish resistance movement that it was betrayed by the British, Polish and Russian governments. But again Germain even twists this with his own comments directing attention only toward the capitalist imperialists, because, as everyone knows by now, he not only does not believe that there is such a thing as Russian imperialism, but continues to find something magically progressive in that slave society. Beyond that reference there is not another word about Stalinist policy!
This conception of the responsibility of German fascist barbarism for the Jewish slaughter produced some bizarre reactions in the SWP. Workeing from the same analytical premises adopted by Germain, the Militant denounced the first reports and pictures of the massacres in Buchenwald, Belsen as fakes, "war horror" and "atrocity stories" that could not possibly be true. Certainly the Militant understood that the publication of these reports and pictures had the purpose of inciting greater support of the masses for the war, but it was not necessary to deny their authenticity in order to recognise the purposes of the Allied governments in publishing them. The Militant's reaction, however, revealed a "touchiness" on the Jewish question that is reflected again in the Germain opus.
All sense of proportion is lost in the methodology of Germain. He still has to explain: why did this happen in Germany, and not in the United States? Why was not this vicious anti-Semitism an integral part of Italian fascist policy as it was of the Germans? 'vVhat is responsible for the terrible legacy of virulent anti-Semitism on the whole continent today; and in Russia, too, where it has never really been stamped out by the Kremlin but on the contrary is slyly fostered by it?
Germain passes these questions by. Given his Russian position, he is congenitally unable to introduce into this discussion of responsibility or guilt for the extermination of the Jews the role of Stalinist Russia. If Great Britain and the United States sprang Hitler's trap, what did the Stalin-Hitler pact of 1939 contribute to the well-being of the Jews? Did the pact relieve the sufferings of the Jews or intensify them? Did the closed borders of Stalinist Russia assist the Jews or help seal their doom in Europe?
No, Germain has no time for such trifles. He has a theory and he is on his way. Do you want proof that Great Britain and the United States are co-responsible with Hitler for the extermination of the Jews? Well, here it is: Allied war prisoners in Germany and German war prisoners in Allied countries are treated "tolerably" well, but not so the Russian prisoiiers. This is supposed to prove by some method or other that the Russians could in no way be held co-responsible for the fate of the Jews. Nay, if the Germans treated Russian soldiers worst of all, then it is proof that Russia must have been trying to do something to relieve the sufferings of these people. Absurd, you think? Then how else follow Germain's logic?
But, as a matter of fact, the whole point Germain tries to make is absurd. The treatment of U. S. and British prisoners in Germany and vice versa was a product of the war, of military policy and not of good will. If the Germans treated the Russian prisoners worst of all, you can be sure that Stalin did not turn the other cheek. The methods of the Third Reich and the "degenerated workers' state" were strangely similar. How does the fact fit into Germain's schema that tens and hundreds of thousands of German prisoners in Russia were also treated "tolerably" well? The reasons for this were entirely political and the fruits of the policy can be observed now in Stalinist policy in Germany. And again, if one is to measure the Jewish question by the yardstick employed by Germain, what is one to say about the extermination of the Poles, civilian and military, by both Germany and Russia?
The lofty historical point of view taken by Germain has led him into devious roads. At one point he shows the condition of the European Jewry by calling attention once more to the fact that there are less than a million of them left on the whole Continent. "The war," he writes, "has brutally cut all the roots that nourished them in their social environment. If they cannot develop new roots elsewhere, these people are condemned to perish." Yes, yes, yes. How true! And that is not all. "More that 100,000 Jewish fugitives in Germany... one year after their 'liberation' continue to live under the ignominous conditions of concentration camps, and are subject to a thousand and one frauds on the part of the military authorities."
Yes, Germain proves beyond peradventure of doubt that the Jews cannot remain in Europe unless they accept their total extermination. Therefore, since the capitalists themselves will not succor the Jews, it is up to the workers' movement, especially in the more advanced and better situated countries, to "advance the demand of elementary humanity: Open the doors of the United States, of Canada, of Australia, of the five continents to the victims of Nazi persecution!"
Germain argues that the countries named could easily absorb these few hundred thousand Jews. No doubt. But, the nub of the problem is the ugly fact that none of these countries will take them in and that a great deal of opposition exists to their immigration among wide layers of people. Let us leave this for the moment and go on.
Germain adds: "The development of anti-Semitism, the result of definite social and historic causes [this obviously places it on another plane entirely!] is producing the spread of Zionist nationalism among the despairing and declassed petty bourgeois Jewish masses. The brutal equalization of Jews of all strata in the extermination camps sharpened nationalism even among Jewish workers, in the degree that international solidarity remained too weak on the part of the workers of other nations." So what is to be done? The workers in "a favored position as compared with the Jewish workers take the leadership now and bring about freedom of immigration into their countries for the survivors." To save them from extinction? Undoubtedly! But, in addition, because those in "a favored position" may "win the Jewish workers from the Zionist utopia."
This, you see, is the gravest of all problems. The fact is however, that the Jews have not turned to Palestine because they have become Zionists. That they have become nationalist, have developed an increased consciousness of their existence as Jews, goes without saying. To expect anything else, after their experiences of the past decade or more, their absence of any place to live and in a situation where the world revolutionary socialist movement is for all practical purposes almost non-existent, is to expect a miracle.
Th World Is Closed to Them
Germain contradicts himself in the very next paragraph of his essay when he adds: "If thousands of Jews in Europe are now demanding the right to migrate to Palestine, the primary reason for this is that the doors of the rest of the world are closed to them. It is also the product of the incredible persecutions of the past years and the relative passivity of the world proletariat." I could not put it better myself. Unwittingly, Germain stumbled on what is crucial. The Jewish question is a part of the broader national question today, in its altered forms resulting from the successive defeats of the revolution, the Hitler experience and the rise of Stalinism. For the rise of the national question in its varied forms is dependent in large measure on the size, influence and integrity of the revolutionary socialist movement. Given the absence of such a viable movement, the problems of today necessarily assume new forms and seek different solutions.
Where does this bring us? To Germain's blind alley: the Jews cannot live in Europe. They must leave. However, there is no place for them to go. The brutality of the conditions they experience daily and their homelessness has resulted in their universal desire to go to Palestine. Therefore we are for opening the doors of the whole world-five continents, no less, Africa included - but ... not Palestine! Why not Palestine? According to Germain:
1. From an economic point of view, Palestine and the whole Middle East will suffer terrible devastation in the coming world economic crisis. That means no future for the Jews there.
2. From the "socio-economic" point of view, "the forces opposing this immigration have ' a crushing superiority over the Palestinian Jews and over world Zionism."
But from an economic point of view, the whole world will suffer just as severely from the coming world economic crisis, and from the "socio-economic" point of view, the populations of other countries are just as opposed to the migration of the Jews as the Arab nationalists. No matter. This does not deter Germain and his co-thinkers from demanding, the right of the Jews to enter those countries. And so we find that the slogans for the right of free immigration for Jews to all countries and to the five continents did not, in Germain's mind, mean complete free immigration, and not to all countries.
Are the Arabs right in opposing Jewish immigration? If the demand for free immigration is a correct democratic, socialist slogan, shouldn't revolutionary socialists issue it despite the opposition of the Arabs and try to convince, not to oppose it? Is there any special merit in criticising only the reactionary positions of the official Jewish organizations and to say not a word about the reactionary feudalistic concepts of the Arab chieftains? On our part, we have made our severest criticisms of official Jewish policy, but we have not lost sight of the false attitude of the Arab rulers whose opposition to immigration has a strong reactionary base and coincides in part with British imperialist policy. For the truth is that the British use both Jews and Arabs with varying success.
And yet the fate of the Jews is sealed. The continued existence of bourgeois society will mean not merely the extermination of the Jews in Europe, but over the whole world, and especially in the United States. Can anything be done about it? No, not really, for "the only way out which still remains open to humanity is at the same time the solution of the Jewish question." Worse than that, "the peculiarities of Jewish history have only determined a special subordination of the future of this people to the outcome of the unfolding social struggles." Only the Jews? And other peoples? Apparently not. In this case, the Jews are unique, says Germain. For them there really is no hope unless socialism comes and quickly, too. Even if we are to agree that the prospects of Jewish survival are slim indeed, must revolutionary socialist policy rest upon this prospect of extermination? Is it not likely that the extermination of the Jews of the world will be accompanied by a descent of all society into barbarism? Even so, revolutionary socialists do not therefore treat the daily problems of the class struggle (of which the national and Jewish questions are a part) with historical aloofness and a fatalism which springs from the conviction of inevitable doom. They try to do everything in their power to prevent the doom of society. This would seem to dictate the formulation of a policy, a realistic one too, that would offer some prospect of reversing the dominant social tendency and to reverse it in the direction of socialism.
Germain holds out a Hope
Does not Germain, who on so many other questions holds ultra-leftist positions, offer up some hope to the Jews? Yes, he does in the following paragraph:
"As the most sorely wounded, the Jews have especially allowed themselves to be carried away by the psychosis of despair and demoralization [!], which has been further sharpened by the specific social structure of this people [?]. But in a few years, the immediate effects of the nightmare will disappear.... Since we have no reason to doubt the fate of humanity, let us also not doubt that the Jewish working masses, after passing through a series of disappointing experiences, will recognize their future is indissolubly linked with that of the proletariat and the revolutionary movement, and that they will again, as in the past, take an important place in this movement, and will owe their final emancipation to a devoted struggle for the cause of socialism." Fine words, these. But in the meantime? Suppose the previous forecast of Germain is realized and the Jews are exterminated? What then? Well, that's just too bad. The fault will be capitalism's, not ours.
Only dogmatic and schematic thinking could produce such abstractions on the current Jewish question. The fundamental error of Germain's approach is that its thinking is rooted in the "assimilationist" era of the movement at a time when the Jewish question seemed close to solution. At the same time he suffers myopia produced by his inability to understand the Jewish question today as part of the national question, i.e., national question of 1939-47 and not of 1917-23. As will be clear to any reader of Germain's essay, he rejects the thought that the Jewish question in Europe today is a part of the national question; moreover, he does not grasp the full meaning of the consequences of the new position of the Jews on the continent. To appraise this new position, one need only recall the position of the Jews in the pre-Hitler period.
For decades the conditions of the Jews in Europe had steadily improved. Centuries of oppression, persecution, discrimination and ghetto life seemed to disappear in the advance of capitalism and the expansion of its modern industrial system. While the position of the Jews had improved everywhere, it reached its height in the advanced capitalist countries. In those nations, assimilation of Jews went on uninterruptedly. So deep-going was this process that many Jews came to believe that the days of great trial for their people had ended. Only in the most backward nation, Czarist Russia, did the Jews still face the problems of another age. There the putrescent nobility and its camarilla still employed the "pogrom" as an instrument of state policy for the purpose of preserving their rule. But even the capitalist world was aghast at the treatment of the Jews in Russia.
For the most part, the Marxist movement regarded the occurrences in Czarist Russia as an "aberration" not characteristic of world capitalism. And on the scale of world history, the persecution of 10,000,000 scattered people, residing in small numbers in dozens of countries, would have been a truly grotesque and senseless practice. Persecution of the Jews had, in any case, ceased to be an international practice, or, if it had not ceased entirely, at least the tendency was unmistakably toward an end of such persecution and for assimilation of large and ever-increasing numbers of the Jews in the general national patterns of the countries in which they lived.
Aspects of the new situation
Given this general objective situation, one could understand the validity of the old Marxist position, most forcefully expressed in the old Russian and Polish revolutionary parties, the Bolsheviks as well as the Mensheviks, in favor of "assimilation" and against the revival or survival of Jewish nationalism, which sought to reverse the process of history. In the eastern European movement, the Jewish Bund remained the strongest force which fought for the maintenance of "Jewish integrity", a Jewish national life, and a Jewish national culture. Lenin, for example, opposed this part of the programme of the Bund as reactionary, as an attempt to move backwards on the Jewish question, at a time when everything pointed toward a progressive solutionof the problem, particularly in view of the rise of the revolutionary socialist movement, the imminence of the revolution in Russia and the prospect of a not-too-distant world socialist victory.
The Jewish problem today is so different qualitatively from the past, that it is almost entirely a new one demanding new solutions. This much was already indicated by Trotsky shortly before his death when he forecast the extermination of the Jews during the war. Trotsky's position was nearly realized in the tragic extermination of from five to six million Jews in Europe.
As a measure of the difference of the modern Jewish problem, consider the tremendous revulsion of the whole world to the Czarist pogroms in the 1905 period and the relative indifference of a world accustomed to mass destruction of wealth and peoples to the scientific mass murder of the Jews in the Hitler era. Then the world was horror-stricken; yes, even the bourgeois world was aghast at the cruel slaughter and persecution of the Russian Jews. Cruel slaughter and persecution! Lenin recorded the depth of these pogroms when he wrote: "It is calculated that in 100 cities at that time 4,000 were killed and 10,000 were mutilated."
But the Jews could flee Russia to havens of safety. There was the United States with free immigration and its vast areas of land. There was western Europe - the center of modern capitalist civilization. As a result, there was no mass movement to Palestine in those days and no amount of Zionist agitation could create one. The Jews as a whole did not seek "national survival," a "Jewish state," a "homeland." They were content to be permitted to reside in the countries of their choice and to become full citizens of those lands on a free and equal basis with other inhabitants.
Is that era comparable to the present? All one has to do is to examine the real world of today to see how clearly different it is, how completely insecure is the position of the Jews now. Is it an exaggeration to say, after more than ten years of Hitlerism in a decaying world characteristic for its social degeneration, that the existence of the Jews is as perilous in 1917 as it was in 1940? The virus of anti-Semitism has spread to all borders and has infected nations and peoples whose relative tolerance was conspicuous in former years. The truth is that the Jews have no place in Europe to live. They cannot return to their old homes and resume their former occupations. They are for the most part, the few hundred thousand European Jews who are left, inhabitants of former concentration camps in an atmosphere polluted with the stink of crematories, dungeons and fresh-dug graves. A person would have to be thick-skinned indeed not to feel the depths of despair which have seized hold of the Jewish population of the world, especially those who remain in Europe today.
Some of the New Problems
Out of the cemetary in which the remnants of European Jews now temporarily reside has come a mass desire for emigration to Palestine, a desire which took almost spontaneous form. Why Palestine? Why not the United States, Australia, South America, England or France? The principle reason, as Germain himself admits, it that none of these countries will permit the entry of Jews or other displaced persons. In these circumstances the Jews have, in fact, only one place to turn to that offers them some realistic prospect of salvation, namely, Palestine. Without going into a discussion now as to all the reasons why emigration to Palestine is justifiable, let me cite an important reason for it. More that one third of the population of Palestine, who are Jews, want their fellow nationals to come there. The weight of persecution has created a deep bond of solidarity between the European and Palestinian Jews. Palestine can absorb these several hundred thousand European Jews and offer them a haven in a world whose doors are closed to them. In a way it is an answer to the disgusting, hypocritical sympathies expressed for the Jews by the United States, Great Britain, Russia and the leading powers of the UN who are using the Jewish question as a political football in the new imperialist struggle for world domination.
To recognize the validity of these national aspirations for survival among Europe's Jews is not a violation of Marxist principles. On the contrary, to deny them would reveal not only all obstinate misunderstanding of everything that Lenin wrote on the national question, but a failure to understand what has happened in Europe in the past twenty-five years.
There are many other aspects of this problem, Arab-Jewish relations, policies of the official Jewish organizations, binational state, parlition and some broader aspects of the national question which we must leave for another article.
But we cannot leave off at this point without reminding Germain and his co-thinkers that, no matter how successful they may be in evading concrete answers to new problems by the dogmatic assertions of old theory, they must still answer the living questions of the day - and answer them correctly. For, whatever Germain may think, events in the Middle East rush on swiftly.