A Discussion on Zionism and the Jewish Question


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.

Geoff S

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.

Geoff S

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.

Geoff S

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.

6 thoughts on “A Discussion on Zionism and the Jewish Question

  1. Ian says:

    In response to Geoff’s points in the above two comments (see main post), the hostility of the CPGB/WW and some of those around them come from different angles, but these are explicable.

    I don’t think I ever wrote of a ‘pan-national Jewish bourgeoisie’ without some qualification regarding their national aspirations. That is a paraphrase of my position. I did write of a ‘Pan-imperialist Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie’, in my ‘Draft Theses on the Jews and Modern Imperialism’ from Sept 2014, and in other places I have written of a ‘Jewish-Zionist bourgeois caste’ distinguished by a material interest as bourgeois in the Israeli bourgeois state, but I do not believe I have ever written of a Jewish bourgeoisie in a collective sense anywhere without the qualification ‘Jewish-Zionist’. This is because, while most Jewish bourgeois are Zionists, there are exceptions. It is not clear that Soros is a Zionist and he has been subjected to reactionary abuse from Israel,even though he is certainly reprehensible for other reasons, not for being a Zionist (he is still a class enemy).

    The document I was excluded from the Communist Platform for writing in 2014 is here. It does cite Abram Leon as a key source of inspiration. Which it was. The CPGB article does not mention this, and instead is accompanied by a holocaust graphic implying that I am some sort of Nazi. It makes little sense, except if you were to be aware that Jack Conrad does not like the work of Abram Leon, and prefers the work of the Stalinophobic Zionist Hal Draper instead. Though the CPGB are not monolithic on this. I do not have time tonight to elaborate — later.


  2. Ian says:

    Just to elaborate a bit more. Anti-Semitism in its classic sense was, and insofar as it still exists, is a form of racism that posits that all Jews, irrespective of class position and outlook, are secretly involved in a demonic conspiracy for world domination. Thus Jewish communists like Marx and Trotsky were supposed to be secretly in league with bankers like Rothschild for this end.

    Simply noting the empirical fact that bourgeois supporters of Israel act together across national lines and co-ordinate their attacks on supporters of Palestinian rights is not the same thing.

    There is a considerable guilt complex on the non-Jewish left in the West, an element of liberal ideology, that makes them very vulnerable to guilt-tripping and manipulation by Zionists. There is also a considerable residual belief that Zionism is a form of the nationalism of the oppressed. But this is very far from the truth, as I elaborate in the second part of my Leon educational.

    The other facet of this is that on the Jewish left Bundism is very influential. There are so many exclusive Jewish groups that speak against Zionism but from an exclusivist standpoint. Jews Against Zionism, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, Jewish Voices for Peace, and the latest Jewish Voice for Labour.

    We are not sectarians where this is concerned. We do defend them against the Zionists and we may even give their people critical support when appropriate. But a key element of our criticism is of their neo-Bundist exclusivism.

    This also upsets part of the Jewish left; and pandering to this form of Jewish identity politics is a key element of the opportunism of the CPGB/WW. Its in direct conflict with Lenin’s attitude to the Jewish Bund. They have never criticised this Bundist-type politics in any polemic that I know of.

    Greenstein is undoubtedly the most left-wing of these neo-Bundists and I do deduce from his behaviour that while dislikes aspects of what we say, he is not a million miles from us politically and likely suspects we might be right. He is actually to the left of Jack Conrad, who incidentally during my purge in 2014 admitted in private that he understood that my views were not anti-Semitic, but regretted that he could not allow the CPGB to be associated with me because they would be falsely accused of anti-Semitism. That did not save them!

    At bottom our main difference with the CPGB is over their left-Menshevism, as demonstrated by their support for Lars T Lih’s attempt to rehabiliate Stalin and Zinoviev against Trotsky in 1917. And their left Draperite third campism. That is a whole other massive subject – there is much about it on this website which Geoff might find of interest.


  3. Viriato says:

    You have written about the book (or article) from Hal Draper. Which one? Can you give the tittle and/or where can it be red in Internet?


  4. Ian says:

    Here is the link to the essay.


    My take on it is that Draper is stating that Marx in the Jewish Question was merely following a way of thinking and expressing ideas that are obsolete and stereotypical. He does actually mention Leon briefly and notes he based his theory on Marx’s essay. But still the overall sense of the essay is that Marx’s points about Jews and the spirit of money making were reflective of an archaic mode of expression that could not be countenanced today.

    Coming from this,Jack Conrad equates it with various archaic expressions and concepts involving women that today would be seen as derogatory. I dusagree with this equation and consider Marx to be making a serious point.


  5. Geoff S says:

    I can see Abram Leon’s writings on the Jewish question are key but I am struggling to understand the ideological fall-out on such a question among sections calling themselves Marxist and revolutionary.

    I believe Hal Draper went on to became a Shachtmanite but does that mean everything he ever said or wrote was wrong? After all, Lenin sometimes spoke approvingly of the politics of the early Kautsky before the old “Pope of Marxism” caved in to social chauvinism by, among other things, supporting the Reichstag vote for German war credits in the run-up to WW1 in August 1914.

    That said, the later Draper is admired among AWL supporters who are happy to identify themselves as “a bit Zionist” so who knows? However, I wonder if Draper’s Stalinophobia is particularly relevant here, not least when the virulently anti-Semitic history of Stalinism and Great Russian chauvinism is considered.

    One final point concerns the NEC of the Labour Party and its recent capitulation to, among other things, Zionist pressure groups. The NEC now claims a “left” majority so why was there not more opposition here to the acceptance of the FULL list of the guidelines of what the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance defines as anti-Semitism?

    What sort of “lefts” are we looking at here? I hate anti-Semitism and recognise the grisly terror of the Nazi Holocaust but is it not the case now that the Labour Party NEC has allowed itself to be bounced into accepting that outside agencies and not member and delegate conferences decide party policy – in this instance a policy which, whatever its intentions, threatens to censor, smother and even outlaw criticism of the violent Zionist persecution of many Palestinian people?


  6. Ian says:

    I think Hal Draper was one of the original Shactmanites, being almost Shachtman’s right-hand man in the early days but unlike Shachtman he did not collapse into supporting the Bay Of Pigs attack on Cuba and the US war in Vietnam. He sought to keep alive the ‘Neither Washington nor Moscow’ third camp and was still some sort of leftist in the 60s and 70s.

    But he is also known for writing the Shachtmanites justification for supporting the Zionists in 1948.

    A lot of the left is scared by this stuff and it is becoming a force capable of driving some to the right, others to the left. Thats why the falling out. The left of the trade union bureaucracy have capitulated to the right over it but others at the base in Labour have been angered and radicalised. Hence the huge vote over Palestine at LP Conf.

    The CPGB are left-wing third campists with an ex-Stalinist pedigree. They are very contradictory and swing leftwards and rightwards quite wildly at times. They also reflect the contradictions in the wider left quite sharply.

    We have a coherent explanation of what’s happening and the material forces behind this pro-Zionist witchhunt but it is not popular among the old left right now. It frightens them. And fear gives rise to heresy hunts. Our stuff has not come easily to us and will not come easily to them either.

    Anti-Semitism is indeed terrible but pretty rare today. Norman Finkestein’s recent essay lays out what is really going on pretty well I think, and corroborates my earlier material (i.e. my 2014 theses)


    But some on the left find this difficult to deal with. Its a learning curve for everyone, including Socialist Fight.


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