Should The Culture of Critique (CofC) be revised to focus on Karl Marx, the founder of the world’s first Jewish intellectual and political movement? As the Jewish founder of “scientific” socialism, he began a radical critique of European society that has continued into the twenty-first century. Although CofC is concerned specifically with twentieth-century Jewish intellectual and political movements, it would certainly broaden perspective on the Jewish left if Marx could be placed firmly within its framework as the founder of the intellectual and political movement that would guide so much of the Jewish left in the twentieth century.
The first question that must be asked is whether Marx qualifies as a self-identified Jewish leader of a Jewish intellectual and political movement? MacDonald’s CofC lays down a number of guidelines for making this determination. Let’s go over these in some detail.
MacDonald’s methodology is a straightforward one. The first step is to “find influential movements dominated by Jews, with no implication that all or most Jews are involved in these movements and no restrictions on what the movements are.” The second step is to “determine whether the Jewish participants in those movements identified as Jews AND thought of their involvement in the movement as advancing specific Jewish interests.”[i] Finally, we discuss the influence and impact of these movements on European and Euro-American societies.
Given MacDonald’s criteria, we believe that Marx’s scientific socialism certainly qualifies on both counts:
First, Marx had a direct role in the founding of the main organizations of the Left in the nineteenth century. Most of the earliest socialist organizations were directly influenced by Marx, i.e. the Communist League, co-founded by Marx and Engels in 1847; the Social Democratic Party of Germany, founded in 1863; the Socialist Labor Party of America, founded in 1876; the French Workers’ Party, co-founded by Marx’s son-in-law Paul Lafargue in 1880; and the British Social Democratic Federation, founded in 1881. Most of these organizations would eventually shape the political life of twentieth-century Europe and North America.
Marx’s longtime Shabbos Goy, Engels, acknowledged the preponderance of Jews in nineteenth-century leftist movements:
“In addition, we owe a great deal to Jews. Not to mention Heine and Börne, Marx was of purely Jewish origin; Lassalle was a Jew. Many of our best people are Jews. My friend Victor Adler, who is now paying in a prison in Vienna for his devotion to the cause of the proletariat; Eduard Bernstein, the editor of the London Sozialdemokrat, Paul Singer, one of our best men in the Reichstag—people of whose friendship I am proud, and all of them Jews! I myself was made a Jew by the [conservative weekly] Gartenlaube. To be sure, if I had to choose, then rather a Jew than ‘Herr von’!”[ii]
In 1911, the sociologist Robert Michels drew attention to the “abundance of Jews among the leaders of the socialist and revolutionary parties”:
“In Germany, above all, the influence of Jews has been conspicuous in the labour movement. The two first great leaders, Ferdinand Lassalle and Karl Marx, were Jews, and so was their contemporary Moses Hess. The first distinguished politician of the old school to join the socialists, Johann Jacoby, was a Jew. Such also was Karl Höchberg, the idealist, son of a rich merchant in Frankfort-on-the-Main, founder of the first socialist review published in the German language. Paul Singer, who was almost invariably chairman of the German socialist congresses, was a Jew. Among the eighty-one socialist deputies sent to the Reichstag in the penultimate general election, there were nine Jews, and this figure is an extremely high one when compared with the percentage of Jews among the population of Germany, and also with the total number of Jewish workers and with the number of Jewish members of the socialist party.”[iii]
Second, far from being a self-hating Jewish anti-Semite, Karl Marx had a strong Jewish group identity and was heavily involved in the Jewish community:
“Toward Jews and Jewishness Marx always retained many positive ties. Among his closest friends were the Jews Heinrich Heine and Ludwig Kugelmann; for a time he was close to Moses Hess, and he helped the former Cologne communist Abraham Jacoby emigrate to America (where he became an influential physician).”[iv]
Indicating a strong Jewish identification, when Jacoby was promoting revolution in Europe, his agenda was Jewish “emancipation”—the naturalization and enfranchisement of Jews. Like Marx, his closest associates also had a strong sense of Jewish group identity, with shared goals, beliefs and commitments to Jewish emancipation. Read more