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Anti-Capitalism and Anti-Semitism Are Twin Brothers

Anti-Capitalism and Anti-Semitism Are Twin Brothers

April 16, 2024

Anti-Semitism has long been considered “right-wing,” in large part because the National Socialists under Adolf Hitler, who committed the greatest crimes in humanity against Jewish people, are considered “right-wing.” There’s a simplification there, but that was fine with those on the left of the political spectrum, because it meant that hatred of the Jews could be dismissed as a right-wing issue that they had nothing to do with.

Today, many people rub their eyes in disbelief when they realize that the strongest vehement support for Islamist-inspired anti-Semitism comes from “postcolonial,” left-wing anti-capitalists at European and American universities. What many people don’t know is that anti-capitalism—whether left- or right-wing—and hostility toward Jews have always been closely linked. Of course, there are anti-Semites whose hatred of the Jewish community is not anti-capitalist in nature (but rather religious, for example), and many anti-capitalists are not anti-Semitic. But it is equally clear that anti-Semitism and anti-capitalism often go together.

Karl Marx—although he was himself Jewish—wrote to a friend that the Jewish religion was “repugnant” to him. The reason was that Marx accused the Jews of having made money their true god, as he wrote in an essay “On the Jewish Question:” “What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money.”

These statements from Marx are by no means isolated lapses; there are plenty of other similar examples: when he wanted to insult someone, such as the founder of German social democracy Ferdinand Lassalle, whose popularity he envied, he called him a “Jewish nigger,” and from one of his holidays, Marx complained to his friend Friedrich Engels that the resort contained “many Jews and fleas.”

Anti-Semitism has existed for a very long time, but the emphasis shifted in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Religiously motivated anti-Semitism faded into the background, while the image of the “rich Jew,” the “money-loving Jew,” became more and more prevalent.

Descriptions of Jewish wealth were already playing on these tropes in the mid-nineteenth century: “They parade around, adorned with golden and silver pieces, with exquisite pearls and precious stones; at their weddings they dine from silver vessels and cover the table with so many bowls and confit, and finally they arrive in such splendid carriages with a postilion and large entourage.”

The founder of the French Anti-Semitic League (Ligue antisémitique), Édouard Drumont, wrote in 1890: “The Semite is mercantile, covetous, scheming, subtle, and cunning … The Semite is earthbound, with scarcely any concern for the life hereafter … The Semite is a businessman man by instinct; he’s a born trader, dealing in everything imaginable, seizing every opportunity to get the better of the next man.” Drumont was one of the founding fathers of modern anti-Semitism, as was the socialist Eugen Dühring, who fought for a “socialism of the Aryan people.”

Adolf Hitler’s anti-Semitism also had a strong anti-capitalist component. This aspect is particularly evident in his early speeches, such as one given on August 13, 1920, on the question “Why are we anti-Semites?” Here, he attacked “(international) stock market and loan capital,” which was financed by the Jews: “Therefore this capital grew and today rules practically the whole world, immeasurable as to the amounts, inconceivable in its gigantic relationships, uncannily growing and—the worst part—completely corrupting all honest work, because that is the horrible part, that the normal human being who today has to bear the burden of the interest on this capital has to stand by and see how despite diligence, industry, thrift, despite real work, hardly anything is left to him with which only to feed himself, and even less to clothe himself, at the same time as this international capital devours billions in interest alone which he has to help pay, at the same time in which a racial class is spreading itself out in the state which does not do any other work than to collect interest for itself and to cut coupons.”

More recent analyses by Jürgen W. Falter on the motives for joining the National Socialist Party (NSDAP) show that anti-Semitism and anti-capitalism often go hand in hand. National Socialists and other anti-Semites did not see Jews as a weak group. On the contrary, they were regarded as a particularly powerful group, as shown by the (forged) document The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which is cited by anti-Semites as evidence that the Jews strive for world domination.

According to the Protocols, “All the wheels of government mechanism move by the action of the motor which is in our hands, and that motor is – gold. The science of political economy, invented by our wise men, has long ago demonstrated the royal prestige of capital.” Anti-Jewish movies such as The Rothschilds, which was filmed during the Third Reich, interwove hatred of the rich, capitalism, and Jews.

Stalin also became more and more a radical anti-Semite (which, incidentally, earned him Hitler’s admiration). Shortly before Stalin’s death in 1953, a major campaign against an alleged “Plot of the Jewish Doctor-Wreckers” began. Stalin claimed that a cabal of Jewish doctors were receiving orders directly from Jewish organizations in the United States and demanded that they be “thrown into chains, beaten to a pulp, and ground into powder.” All over the Soviet Union, Jews were harassed, beaten, and removed from public office and universities.

Anti-Semitic stereotypes are based on conspiracy theories. It is the rich and super-rich—people like the Rothschilds or the investor George Soros—who, according to conspiracy theorists, are behind all the mischief in the world. Anti-capitalism and conspiracy theories are closely linked, as a survey I commissioned Ipsos MORI to conduct in 35 countries shows.

First, the survey determined whether respondents had a positive or negative attitude toward capitalism. In a second step, all respondents were presented with two statements that are characteristic of people who believe in conspiracy theories. The first of these was: “In reality, politicians don’t decide anything. They are puppets controlled by powerful forces in the background.” The second was: “A lot of things in politics can only be properly understood if you know that there is a larger plan behind them, something that most people, however, do not know.”

It turned out that dedicated anti-capitalists agree significantly more strongly with the two conspiracy thinking statements above than dedicated pro-capitalists. In only one of the 35 surveyed countries did we find that pro-capitalists are more likely to be conspiracy theorists than anti-capitalists. This clearly proves the connection between anti-capitalism and conspiracy thinking. The super-rich and lobbyists secretly guide and control the whole world. Anyone who believes this is only one step away from anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

The roots of anti-capitalism and anti-Semitism are frequently found in envy of the rich and successful. Historically, hatred of the Jewish community has come from a variety of sources. But the most powerful of these sources today, alongside Islamism, is anti-capitalism. It is therefore not surprising that anti-capitalism and anti-Semitism are gaining ground in Europe and the United States. They are twin brothers.

Rainer Zitelmann is the author of the books How Nations Escape Poverty, The Power of Capitalism, and Hitler’s National Socialism.

Rainer Zitelmann
About the author:
Rainer Zitelmann
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