Anti-Semitism dispute in the Democratic Party: The contradictions of bourgeois identity politics

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Anti-Semitism dispute in the Democratic Party: The contradictions of bourgeois identity politics
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Anti-Semitism dispute in the Democratic Party: The contradictions of bourgeois identity politics

This article puts a lot of quotes around "identity politics", and "intersectionality" as a related perspective. As we may recall, the term "identity politics" itself was rejected for being unclear by the Libcom crew (see my debate last year on this thread). Likewise, the ISO's liquidation now is accompanied by a text (3 April on offering a critical defense of "identity politics", based on the same reasoning:

Socialists can start by rejecting over-simplified criticisms of what is called “identity politics.” In fact, we should probably stop using the term altogether because its meaning is unclear and imprecise — and gets in the way of connecting with people from marginalized and oppressed communities.

A by now common argument against identity politics is that it fosters a logic that allows for the rise of white identity politics (also mentioned in a footnote of the above article). This is, I would say, the main motive of critics of identity politics, whether they are Marxists or even rightwingers like Jonah Goldberg (taking an anti-tribal/collectivist position; or also reflected in the slogan: we have personalities, we are not identities). This argument is, naturally, dismissed by the idpol-defenders as an apology for fascism, enabling white supremacy (or being itself strasserist).

As to the anti-semitism dispute, the article mentions that Zionism was a kind of identity politics, traces of which indeed are reflected as far back as in the Bund (criticised by Lenin and young Stalin), which is incidentally noted by Jenny Bourne's 1987 article on Jewish feminist identity politics (as I linked on Libcom). By the way, we must not only criticise "bourgeois" identity politics, but also and especially its socialist/workers variation.

The article does not venture deep into the question of criticism of Israel/Zionism etc. It just notes that from the standpoint of idpol-defenders, the critics of Zionism could equally be seen as motivated by Jew-hatred or national chauvinism (the emphasized distinction between Jews and Jews-as-Zionists/Jewish-state has little weight; if the right to self-determination is recognised in principle for everyone else, but denied to the Jews, then this is also discrimination).

Or for instance, take criticism of Jewish religion, and practices like circumcision, which is not necessarily anti-semitic either; it is perfectly "legitimate" from an enlightened universalist standpoint to criticse it. But if someone's focus is mostly on attacking the Jewish religion, cultural traditions and even (alleged) cultural habits, then this criticism will be regarded as suspicious, as perhaps motivated by prejudice. It can be interpreted as an attack on Jewish "identity", although strictly speaking it is not racist, not an attack on Jews as a mere ethnic/"racial" group. Thus Lenin's criticism of the Bund was an attack on its "identity politics", and in fact Lenin (and the Marxists in general like Kautsky) would today be criticized for not paying sufficient attention to anti-semitism, and thus being complicit in it. Just like Lenin and the Bolsheviks are attacked for not being in favour of "sex-work".




Kautsky letter on anti-Semitism

The following is a translation of a short passage on anti-Semitism.

Kautsky letter to Leó Frankel, 3 April 1883.

... You will see from the journal [Der neue Zeit], that articles of the kind you want to deliver fit perfectly into its framework. The Jewish question is certainly a very interesting subject and, unfortunately, to my knowledge, our position on it has not yet been properly expressed anywhere. We must not treat the Jewish question as a confessional or racial question, but principally as a class question. And here we have to ask ourselves less at which class the [anti-Semitic] movement is directed at, than what classes it starts from. Only then do we come to a correct understanding of it. There are perishing peasants and artisans on the one hand, but on the other hand, students, lawyers, etc., in short the academic world, or rather, the academic proletariat. In a word, the decomposition-products of modern society, which are essentially perishing layers of the same. By far the greatest part of the academic youth belongs to it. They are people who have to study because their fathers no longer have the money to let them live on their bonds, or because their father's business is not profitable enough, and who are therefore looking for "employment". The Jew is the enemy of all these products of decomposition: as a usurer and as a competitor. The semite-incitement reminds me in many ways of the equally crude incitement against women, which is staged by [male] students and professors in many universities. Reason here as there: fear of competition. And that is the shameful thing about the whole movement, that it is directed not so much against the possessing as against the working Jews, not against the exploiting, but against the competing [Jews]. Against the Jewish teacher, the Jewish student, the house keeper, and only in part against the usurer. But where have the anti-Semites ever had the courage to seriously go [struggle] with Rothschild or Bleichröder? Because it comes from the dying layers of society, the movement is naturally reactionary. It is not based on a misunderstanding of socialism or on a degeneration of it, as some like to put it down, – it is its direct opposite pole. Here a rising class, there degenerating classes, here the striving for equality of all, there that for the return of privilege. The workers everywhere have thus turned with correct instinct against the anti-Semites. That is in brief my opinion.

I would be interested to learn yours on this score in more detail.

Source: p. 420 in Kautsky Karl 1986, Karl Kautsky und die Sozialdemokratie Südosteuropas. Korrespondenz 1883 – 1938, editors Haupt, Georges; Jemnitz, Janos; van Rossum, Leo; Internationales Institut für Sozialgeschichte Amsterdam, Frankfurt: Campus Verlag.