Abram Leon and Zionism: Socialist Fight pamphlet on the Jewish Question

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11/10/2018 by Ian


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The purpose of this collection is to bring the insights of Abram Leon, one of the most capable theoreticians and activists of the Trotskyist movement before and during Second World War, to a new generation of aspiring Marxists. Equally importantly, it is to update Leon’s work, which ceased in 1944 when he was brutally murdered as part of the Nazi genocide, along with millions of other Jews and countless Communists like him, as well as Gypsies, Slavs, gays and lesbians, and others considered untermenschen by the Hitler regime.

Leon’s work is important not merely as a matter of historical interest, but because his theory, properly understood and with due allowances for some unavoidable errors of perspective and prediction from his vantage point, provides an important key to understanding the Jewish Question and Zionism today.

What is primary and essential in Leon’s work is his characterisation of the Jews in the period since antiquity, and prior to the victory of capitalism over feudalism in Europe, as a mercantile people- class. The theoretical ambiguity in Leon’s characterisation of the Jews, whether their oppression prior to WWII was fundamentally rooted in capitalism or its predecessor systems, is addressed in full here.

This creates the basis for a full understanding of the proven capacity of Political Zionism as the movement of a sometimes-oppressed people, to transform itself into a full-blown oppressor-people movement, which neither brooks any quarter, nor deserves any from communists and socialists who aspire to catalyse the liberation all oppressed peoples from oppression.

Political Zionism was and is a successful strategy that enabled Jews to join the dominant peoples under the imperialist order. In that sense, the period of the Jewish diaspora as Leon analysed it is over, insofar as that is identified with the oppression of the Jews. It came to an end with the decisive consolidation of the Zionist state in the Six-Day War of June 1967.

Political Zionism’s strategy was to overcome oppression under capitalism by joining the oppressors. That was only possible for Jews because the real roots of their oppression were not systematically in capitalism, but rather conjunctural, in the unevenness of the triumph of capitalism over feudalism, and thus have their origin wholly in pre-capitalist societies.

No other oppressed people had, or have the privilege of overcoming oppression in such a decisive manner under imperialist capitalism. This theorisation explains why; it is rooted in a proper understanding of both Leon’s theory itself, and its historical context and therefore limitations. It thus appears to be the only fully-coherent materialist understanding of the nature of Zionism available today.

As appendices, we include my 2014 Draft Theses on the Jews and Modern Imperialism, and a 2018 essay by Norman Finkelstein, titled Corbyn Mania, which addresses some matters concerning the material base of Zionist influence in the politics of advanced countries like Britain and the US. These materials respectively theorise and empirically examine the roots of this influence, and therefore provide useful supplementary materials that show the ability of our work to find an echo among the most advanced elements on today’s left.

Ian Donovan, September 2018.

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