03/10/2018 by Ian
I have taken the liberty of moving some comments from another thread into their own post. Unfortunately it is not possible in this wordpress configuration to actually move comments around. You have to copy them manually. So I have put the existing ones here.
What started this discussion is Geoff S saying the following as a post-script to his comment on the discussion on the projected relaunch of the Grassroots Left (replies are placed below in a hopefully comprehensible manner). This discusson so far involves myself, Geoff S, and comrade Viriato.
P.S. Why not review Ian Donovan’s recent writings on the Jewish question? I certainly don’t claim to be any sort of expert but some his views could easily be misinterpreted and appear to be influenced by people who have nothing in common with revolutionary socialism. Just a thought.
I would be interested to know which of my views Geoff considers to be ‘influenced by people who have nothing in common with revolutionary socialism’. You don’t have to be an ‘expert’ to comment on them – I don’t claim to be one either, but I do consider myself a student of social and economic reality, particularly on these questions and therefore a historical materialist.
I recently gave two presentations on the work and legacy of Abram Leon, and his work ‘The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation’, undoubtedly the most important Marxist thinker on the Jewish Question, in the light of the dramatic changes in the world post WWII including among others the formation and consolidation of the Israeli state.
I would be interested to know Geoff’s views on these presentations, which are probably the most detailed and systematic expressions of my views. Are they in any way at odds with Marxism, with historical materialism, with the method of Abram Leon and before him with Trotsky, Lenin and Karl Marx? If so, in what way? Do I treat Leon’s theory objectively and accurately, or do I distort his views? Are my criticisms of what I believe were his flawed predictions ahistorical or are they properly qualified as to things that Leon could not have known about when he wrote his famous work?
I really would like to hear someone coherently explain why my views are at odds with Marxism, with Abram Leon’s work and thus revolutionary socialism. Here you can compare my analysis with Leon’s in a pretty fine-grained way. I quote Leon extensively and I am confident I do not distort him. But I may be wrong. The two presentations are available here and here as texts and recordings on this website, so I would be very interested to hear in what way I am at odds with Marxism.
Obviously this is not the ideal thread for this but they can easily be split into different threads if necessary.
Here https://www.marxist.com/origins-jews-anti-semitism151203.htm is a critic on A. Leon’s work.
Interesting essay. I had read it before, and I found it confusing and confusionist, and I still do. In my view Yossi does distort Leon’s theory completely in this essay, in particular when he says that for Leon the Jews were a barrier to progress and anti-Semitism was therefore justified. But nowhere does he say anything of the sort. He says that the economic function of pre-capitalist usury became intolerable precisely because it was economically outmoded, but how does that equate to saying that anti-Semitic persecution was therefore justified?
It was Leon himself who noted that the oppression of the Jews under capitalism was occasioned by capitalist decay. Yossi got that from Leon, not from Kaustky who never lived to see the conclusion of this. My point was that this proved to be conjunctural, not systemic. But no one posed the ridiculous idea that Yossi projects onto Leon here that the Jews were in some way a reactionary obstacle to capitalist development under mainly capitalist conditions. Why should they be? They were never part of the aristocracy themselves. They were a vulnerable middleman class, however privileged in early feudal times, not the old ruling class.
Yossi’s point about Spain merely shows that there were important differences between early and mid European feudalism and the Muslim world, that during this period was actually more civilised and dynamic. There was more variation in the role of the Jews in these more advanced societies than in European feudalism.
But not complete discontinuity either. There is a major overlap between the Jewish luxury crafts mentioned by Yossi (and Kaustky) in Muslim Spain etc. and those that bolstered the people-class in early medieval Europe. The additional factor of significant agricultural Jewish involvement in that period requires explanation, but also so does the economic dynamism and often opulent civilisation of the Arabs and Moors that existed when European feudalism was backward by comparison. This advantage was reversed in later centuries as is well-known. Yossi does not really draw much attention to this. I don’t have the answer to this but he does not explain it either.
The problem with Kautsky’s statement that the Jews were an ‘urban caste’ is that is meaningless. What is a ‘caste’? We are not talking about Hindu dogma that attempted to freeze and preserve social divisions of millenia ago. For Marxists, a caste is a distinct part of a class. A class being a layer in society with a distinct, necessary role in the economy. What then is the role of this ‘caste’? Being urban? That is too vague and really does not enlighten us at all. That is the problem with Kautsky; a lack of theoretical and programmatic rigour, and class analysis. This ‘urban caste’ idea is an empirical and superficial observation. He did not delve into its class basis. As many have observed about Kautsky in general.
What is a “caste”?
As frenchs say “une couche sociale” I imagine. Not know the exact word in english.
Perhaps “a strata” of some given class.
An urban strata of a class because they were expelled or they have not invested the land. (sorry for the ‘english’).
This is an interesting discussion and I have no definite opinion about Kautsky or Jossi Schwarz or Leon’s point of view.
But, this people-class hs not class diferencies inside it?
Lombards and Siks have had the some rol as Jews but Lombards desapeared.
Were they a people-class with no historical future?
Of course they had not if their fonction has desapeared, but Jews has remained in another way as Leon show us, even if their economic fonction desapeared.
It is only zionism that has revived them for a time?
In my opinion, religion make the diference. Lombards were just dealers and when deals cannot be done, their fonction and social position fades to none.
Jews, diferents by theirs mores and religion (and of course by the backwardness of some north european countries) were more able to maintain their specificity.
I hope I am not putting brakes on the critic of bureaucrates with this discussion “hors sujet” (out of the subject) which I know very little.
A caste is a substratum of a class, with its own partially separate material interest, but broadly within the framework of the given class and its movement. Thus both the trade union bureaucracy in capitalist countries and the Stalinist bureaucracies in the deformed workers states are privileged, petit-bourgeois castes within the working class movement in different situations, with or without state power.
I would also argue that those bourgeois of Jewish origin and Zionist politics within the bourgeoisies of the imperialist countries are a caste with a material interest in another imperialist state, Israel, by virtue of the Israeli bourgeois state’ racist ‘law of return’, which gives them citizenship rights not available to non-Jewish bourgeois that they can choose to take up. They as bourgeois thus have a tangible interest in another bourgeois state. Here we are also talking about part of a class.
But Kautsky, while he says that Jews are an ‘urban caste’ does not define what class Jews belong to. So in his case, it appears that these Jews consist of various classes but are an ‘urban caste’ nevertheless. In this case, the concept of caste is redundant. Why not just call them a nationality?
But this misses Leon’s main point that Jews played a distinct social and economic role in feudal society. Which explains a lot about their history.
I’m being honest here when I say I accidentally stumbled across a website run by a group calling itself Fourth International In Manchester (a frankly curious and parochial name for a tendency claiming to be internationalist). I found out this outfit was something to do with the USec and it quickly became apparent that, while their articles were slick and even witty, they were also too clever by half.
A link from their site put me onto a piece called “No Place for anti-Semitism – A Communist Platform member has been shown the door.” This concerned Ian and was apparently because some or all of his “Draft theses on the Jews and modern imperialism” were viewed by his expellers as anti-Semitic.
I know the Communist Platform to be part of the CPGB-PCC/’Weekly Worker’ and they were Ian’s expellers but the stuff I saw surrounding his expulsion did not mention the studies of the works of Abram Leon on the Jewish question. I am not entirely sure why I said the thing about Ian using influences by people who were not connected to revolutionary socialism. However, I did see that people in the Labour Party around Tony Greenstein who correctly became involved in Labour Against the Witchhunt to fight the Blairites and also the bourgeois media’s reactionary and manifestly bogus charges about how anti-Semitism is supposedly rife inside Labour objected to Socialist Fight being involved in LAW.
I don’t know why that was and I’m no theoritician. I was just trying to find out what was going on as I know Gerry D and Ian D of old and, while I have political differences with both of them, claims of anti-Semitism did not fit in with my understanding of either of them.
That is about as honest as I can be.
Or even theoretician…
That said, the claim that Jews have a “pan-national bourgeoisie” surely can’t help anybody on the left.
Ian said he wanted to know my views on his presentations on the work and legacy of Abram Leon but I have literally only just become aware of their existence.
For now I would just ask why is it that, if Ian D’s presentations and views on the Jewish question are in accordance with those of a serious Marxist such as Abram Leon, there is such hostility to those views from leftists such as those involved in leftist campaigns and groups such as Labour Against the Witchhunt and the Communist Party of Great Britain – Provisional Central Committee?
Surely a legitimate question, not least at a time when, between them the right-wing of the Labour Party and the capitalist media is in overdrive smearing anybody on the left as anti-Semitic.
Another legitimate question might be to ask just how reliable the so-called lefts on the LP NEC are when, along with backsliding trade union leaders, they allow outside agencies such as the IHRC to decide party policy.