Blacks and Jews:

A Revolutionary View

Revolutionary Worker #971, August 30, 1998

Who are our enemies? Who are our friends? This is a question of the first importance for the revolution.

Mao Tsetung

Some people argue that Jewish people have played a special role throughout history--oppressing Black people and keeping them from achieving prosperity within the capitalist system.

It is argued that Jewish merchants and slaveowners played a special role in the brutal slave trade that brought kidnapped Africans to the New World.

It is said that Jewish merchants and landlords are a special cause of the poverty of Black communities.

It is said that "Jewish control" of the media and educational institutions has led to a conscious "Jewish conspiracy" to produce "negative images" and "self-hatred" among Black people.

These views are not true--they are based on myth, distortion and a promotion of mistaken prejudices. And all those who really want to end the oppression of Black people--and all oppressive systems--need to take a scientific approach on who is the enemy:

  • The main oppressor and main enemy of the masses of Black people is the capitalist-imperialist system and its ruling class. It is this system that has lived off the labor of generations of Black people and millions of other working people. It is this system that has created the urban ghettos, today's massive unemployment, the armed occupation by police, the systematic oppression Black people face as a people --and it is the ruling class of this system that profits from and defends those conditions.
  • Jewish people are by no means the main oppressors of Black people, nor have they been historically. In fact, Jews as Jews have never in history been major oppressors of any people or classes.
  • Today, the majority of Jewish people in the U.S. are middle class, playing many different social and political roles in society. Some merchants and slumlords in Black ghettos, especially in New York City, have been Jewish. But even then, those merchants and property owners were not the main oppressor of Black people or the main cause of poverty in those communities. Overall, the vast majority of Jewish people are not oppressors, and have a potential to be allies and supporters of the revolution.
  • Anti-Semitism, which claims that Jews as Jews are an enemy, plays into the hands of the real enemy. If a Jewish person did a thing, it does not mean that Jews as a group were behind it. Or that it benefited Jews as a group. There are some Jewish people within the ruling class and others who play an oppressive role in society. But this is a matter of their class position and their role in the overall structure of capitalist society and economy--not of their "Jewishness."
  • There is no "international Jewish conspiracy" and there never has been. Writings like "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" that claim to document such conspiracies are complete fabrications written by reactionaries and police agents--and circulated to poison the minds of the people.
  • Jews as Jews are not oppressors--but the state of Israel is an enemy of the international proletariat. Israel is the direct oppressor of the Palestinian people, in the service of imperialism, and is a major outpost of imperialism in the whole region of the Middle East. Zionism is a reactionary nationalist movement that supports Israel and its oppression of Arab people. But Zionism is not the same thing as the Jewish religion, Judaism. Zionists claim to speak for all Jews--but they do not, in fact, speak for all Jews or represent their interests.
  • PART 1

    For over three centuries, Africans were kidnapped from their homes and sold in the New World. Uncounted millions of human beings were brutalized, thrown overboard from slave ships, raped and worked to death. More than any other event, this trade in human beings and the exploitation of their slave labor created the foundations of modern capitalism and its world market. As a rich class of slaveowners arose in the New World, a closely connected class of capitalist merchants and financiers grew rich in Europe and the North American colonies.

    A recent book, Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews published by the Nation of Islam, argues that Jewish merchants played a special and "disproportionate" role in the African slave trade. This argument is being used to say that Jews have always been special oppressors of Black people.

    In fact, there is no way that the slave trade was overall a Jewish thing. Jewish merchants played a rather secondary role in the Atlantic slave trade. Some Portuguese Jews were a part of the Dutch slave trade. And a few Portuguese Jewish families were prominently involved in the trade from towns on the eastern coast of North America. Henry Louis Gates Jr., Professor of Afro-American Studies at Harvard, estimates that American Jewish merchants accounted for the importation of about 2 percent of African slaves to the New World.

    Furthermore, these merchants were not involved in the slave trade because of their "Jewishness." Some people promote a "racial" theory that Jewish people are naturally greedy--but there is no scientific basis for such a theory. It is just as bogus as the "race" theory which claims that Black people are "inferior."

    In reality, the involvement of some Jewish merchants in the slave trade was a matter of their class position--as merchants and early capitalist bankers--and their role in the overall structure of capitalist society and its accumulation process. The involvement was not a matter of their "Jewishness."

    A False Method

    One method used to blame Jews as Jews for oppression is to insist that if a Jewish person is doing something oppressive this means "the Jews" as a group are behind the oppression--secretly controlling events from behind the scenes.

    But the few Jewish slave traders and slaveowners played a small part in a far larger process. During the centuries of slave trade, every European monarchy and all the merchant classes allied with them were involved in the stealing and exploiting of African slaves: the British, the French, the Dutch, the Danes, the Swedes, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Italians, the Germans. The overwhelming majority of these profiteers were Christians--both Catholic and Protestant.

    At the same time, Arab Muslims conducted their own slave trade across the Sahara and up along Africa's eastern coast. For centuries, kidnapped Africans from all over sub-Saharan Africa were force-marched to Zanzibar, on Africa's east coast, and then sold north to the Arab Muslim lands of the Middle East and North Africa.

    This Arab slave trade was smaller than the trans-Atlantic slave trade conducted by Europeans. However the fact remains that both Christians and Muslims played a much larger role in the slave trade than Jewish merchants. For centuries, the religions of Islam and Christianity were forced upon Africans.

    During the centuries of the Atlantic slave trade--1500s, 1600s, 1700s--the vast majority of the world's Jews played no role at all in the slave trade. They were themselves poor and brutally persecuted by Europe's ruling powers.

    The most important thing about the slave trade--if you want to know who is responsible for the oppression of African American people and how to stop it--is the central role played by the then-emerging U.S. capitalist class. In those days this capitalist class was centered in New England, among merchants who were primarily British and Protestant-Christian. These "founding fathers" of American capitalism and the mainly Anglo-American slaveowners of the Southern states used African slavery as a springboard. The slave trade financed the beginnings of the bloody process that brought the U.S. capitalist class to its present position--as the biggest exploiter and dominator in the world.

    Throughout the whole expansion of the United States, the ruling classes of the United States have been the main oppressors of the African American people.

    Jews During the Armed Struggle Against Slavery

    There was only a very small Jewish population in the U.S. during the early 1800s--when the struggles over slavery started to grow. Jewish people can be found on both sides of the struggle.

    Some Jewish merchants in the Southern states owned slaves, mainly household servants, like other European-Americans of those classes did in the region. There are records of a prominent Jewish rabbi justifying slavery based on Old Testament teachings, and there are records of a Jewish abolitionist, Rabbi David Einhorn, who denounced these pro-slavery teachings, saying that "the great Rabbi of New York" had "proclaimed the God of Israel as the God of slavery--to the delight of Jewish slaveowners and stockholders."

    The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews writes that "two Jewish militiamen" were among the many European-American settlers mobilized in 1831 to suppress the heroic Nat Turner slave rebellion. But this does not prove that Jews as Jews were defenders of slavery:

    In that same period, three Jewish immigrants were active supporters of John Brown's armed struggle against slavery in "Bloody Kansas" during the 1850s. And history records that a Jewish man, Michael Greenbaum, led a mass action in Chicago to free a slave captured under the Fugitive Slave Law.

    Some Jewish Southerners fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War--while Jewish Northerners in larger numbers fought for the Union side. The Jewish population during the U.S. Civil War were involved (and divided) as was the overall European-American settler nation.

    The System Forces Black People from Field to Factory

    Throughout the late 1800s and the early 1900s, Black people were exploited mainly as sharecroppers on Southern U.S. plantations--producing food, tobacco and cotton for capitalist industries and the capitalist market. During most of that period, the Northern capitalists had an alliance with the plantation owners of the South--who were overwhelmingly Anglo-American Protestants. And this was brutally enforced by Klansmen and a whole system of laws which kept Black people chained in new ways to the plantation system.

    At this time, millions of Jewish immigrants were arriving in the United States--fleeing from a wave of anti-Jewish persecution and murder in Eastern Europe--and they were being exploited as cheap proletarian labor in the sweatshop factories of New York and other East Coast cities. Clearly, Jews were not the main oppressors of Black people in this period either.

    Starting with World War 1 the needs of the capitalist system changed, and Black people began mass migrations from the Southern countryside to become proletarians in the urban ghettos. The world war cut off immigration from Europe--and the war-expanded industry needed new workers. There weren't enough white workers to fill the need, so the capitalists allowed some Black people in--on the bottom floor. Virginia mining capitalists ordered up cattle cars filled with Black peasants--so they would have enough labor for the mines. Henry Ford Sr.--a famous Nazi-like Jew-hater--set up the segregated town of Inkster for newly hired Black auto workers and encouraged a Klan-like organization of tens of thousands to hold Black people in their place.

    Just as capitalist expansion encouraged Black migration--capitalist depression, in the 1930s, slowed it down.

    And again, when World War 2 produced a labor shortage, the masses of Black people began to move toward the cities again--away from the plantations, open segregation and the lynch terror of the South. All this accelerated when capitalist industry and investment made it possible to mechanize Southern agriculture. Machines replaced stoop-labor. Millions of Black sharecroppers were uprooted from the land--and pushed toward the cities.

    Anti-Jewish theories suggest that history can be understood by looking for the "hidden hand" of the "Jewish conspiracy." But this is not true. Looking at the history of Black people, you can see that it is the famous "invisible hand" of capitalism that has uprooted Black people, changed their way of life, organized them into ghettos and factory production, enforced white supremacy--and oppressed them as a people. And it is that same "invisible hand" of capitalism that in recent decades has shifted millions of working class jobs from the inner-city cores and left Black communities devastated.

    Different Experiences of Oppression

    Jewish and other immigrant European proletarians suffered for decades as exploited workers and even suffered certain forms of discrimination in the U.S.

    But the oppression of European immigrant workers and the oppression of Black people in this country was never the same thing. Like other European immigrants, Jewish people were basically able to "melt into" the European-American nation of the USA. Meanwhile Black people in the United States developed into an oppressed nation based on their historical experience in the U.S.--held down, denied equality, and denied their rights as a people, including the right of self-determination. The masses of Black people in this country suffer oppression two times--oppression as a nation and oppression as proletarians concentrated in the most exploited sections of the proletariat.

    This meant that while European immigrants were often able to "climb out" of the working class into the middle class--the masses of Black people have been kept penned into the poorest sections of the proletariat.

    For most Black people, city life has been a life of slums, lousy health care, poverty, and "just scraping by." After World War 2, it often looked to the Black poor of New York like many of their immediate oppressors were white Jewish European-Americans. Black people confronted landlords, ghetto merchants, social workers, or school principals who were often Jewish. In the '60s, for example, estimates say that 30 percent of Harlem's landlords were Jewish.

    Often, these middle class forces have been the most visible face of the system and often they are hated for the way they treat the people. But focusing on these antagonisms has been a problem--because it does not target the real enemy.

    PART 2:

    Some forces argue that Jewish ghetto merchants--not the system as a whole--are the specific reason for the poverty of the Black community. They say that "Jews are bloodsuckers on the Black community."

    They explain this by arguing that Black poverty is caused when the "consumer dollars" of the Black community are sucked out by "outside" merchants. They say rents and retail profits are "taken" by "outsiders" to enrich other communities, leaving "less money behind in the Black community to circulate and create jobs." The solution, according to this theory, is to force "outside merchants" out of the ghetto--not just Jewish merchants, but also Koreans, Arabs and others--and replace them with small Black businesses. Supposedly then the "Black dollars" would remain in the ghetto "creating prosperity and jobs."

    In fact this theory promotes a straight-up, capitalist, Reagan-Republican "trickle-down economics": It claims that if you help some capitalists of "your" nationality get richer, then some of that wealth will "trickle" down to the masses of people.

    Aspiring capitalist forces within the Black community have promoted this theory. They want to mobilize the anger many people have against ghetto merchants to create a political demand for more Black businesses.

    And this theory has gotten a hearing among the Black masses: There has been a verdict among some sections of Black people that Jews--and especially Jewish merchants and landlords--played a special role in dogging and exploiting Black people.

    But it is not true that Jewish people have ever been the main oppressors of Black people:

    First, only a small portion of the Jewish population were involved in the ghetto economy. For every Jewish slumlord or sweatshop capitalist there have been other Jews involved in organizing against capitalist and racist practices--as communists, trade union organizers, civil rights activists, etc.

    Second, Jews involved in these exploitative activities are not involved as Jews or representing the attitudes of all Jews. Once again: Those Jewish people involved in oppression do so because of their class position and their role in the overall structure of capitalist society and its accumulation process. Their activities were not a matter of their "Jewishness."

    And third, the main cause of ghetto oppression was not small-time merchants, slumlords or social workers--it was the overall ruling class--the U.S. monopoly capitalist class.

    The Monopoly Capitalist Class
    Is the Main Oppressor of Black People

    You could run every "outside" merchant and landlord out of the ghetto--you could replace every Arab, Korean or Jewish shopkeeper with an African American--you could replace every Jewish record producer with an "independent Black label"--and it still would never end the poverty of the Black community or create jobs for the millions of unemployed.

    This is because, overall, the horrible conditions of the Black ghettos are not caused or controlled by ghetto merchants. Ghetto merchants and landlords are small-fry compared to the real ruling class--with its nukes and world empire and trillions of shifting investment dollars.

    The poverty and oppression of Black people is created by the working of the larger capitalist/imperialist system. And it is the overall capitalist ruling class that benefits most from that poverty and oppression.

    Unemployment and low wages are caused by the system--huge corporations invest where wages are lowest; they close plants and abandon whole cities when it suits their profits.

    Major chunks of U.S. ghettos are owned by large corporations--by universities, the Catholic Church, and especially by huge finance-capital banks of Wall Street. The neglect of Black ghettos is caused by capitalism's drive to maximize profit, to invest where the most money can be made and to attempt to make money from the housing of the poor. And these "normal workings" of capitalist money-making are combined with deliberate moves to apply and enforce discrimination and segregation victimizing Black people.

    The terrible services of ghetto life--the lousy health care, inadequate fire prevention, crumbling schools, irregular garbage collection, unmaintained parks, etc.--are caused by the priorities of the U.S. government which serves the capitalist ruling class.

    In major cities from coast to coast, police dog the people. And no one can seriously argue that killer cops are mainly Jewish, or that they are mainly "working for Jews." Cops are sent in by the capitalist state, and they serve the overall ruling class of this society by enforcing the economic system and white supremacy.

    The Example of
    New York's Crown Heights

    Over recent years there has been some sharp conflict in the Crown Heights communities of New York between the Black-Caribbean community and the Lubovitchers--an ultra-orthodox Jewish group. For years the New York police have been working with the leadership of the Lubovitchers. Armed patrols of Lubovitchers and reactionary vigilantes of the Jewish Defense Organization have been harassing Black people in the surrounding neighborhoods. This came to a head in 1991 when a Lubovitcher driver ran over a Black child, sparking days of intense fighting by Black and Caribbean people against the police. Since then the courts have "thrown the book" at Black people arrested over those disturbances--one man was even sentenced to many years in prison for merely "inciting" others. New York's notorious Mayor Giuliani has even formally apologized to the Lubovitchers, saying that the city's police were not forceful enough in suppressing the Black and Caribbean people during those conflicts. Clearly there is outrageous inequality and injustice here--that is enforced by the police and publicly upheld by high authorities.

    But the Lubovitcher-police collaboration in Crown Heights is not a case of police "working for the Jews." It is a case of the New York power structure using a conservative religious group to keep African Americans and Caribbean immigrants under the gun. Everything the police have done has enforced inequality and inflamed new hatreds.

    So it is important for revolutionary people to make distinctions: Most Jewish people are not Lubovitchers. And not all Lubovitchers or other Hasidic Jews are racists.

    There is a whole history of the government and the FBI stirring up "Jewish-Black hatreds" and infiltrating organizations like the Jewish Defense Organization. Where organized reactionaries collaborate with the enforcers and the government against the people--they should be struggled against. But this is not a struggle against "the Jews." It must be a struggle that targets the system or else the real enemy gets away.

    The treatment given to the Lubovitcher community by New York City authorities is not proof that the city is "controlled by the Jews." New York City is a major center for the whole U.S. capitalist system. Many of the top monopoly capitalists of the U.S. have important interests in this city. New York is a center of global banking, finance and trade. Its famous high-rise landscape is among the most valuable property owned by major banks and other major corporate institutions. Millions of people come to this city from around the world and are exploited in all kinds of capitalist factories and workplaces. And those are the interests that the city authorities and police ultimately serve.

    The Ruling Class
    Is Not "Jewish-Controlled"

    Some people believe that the ruling class of the U.S. is Jewish (or at least "Jewish-controlled"). This is not true.

    There are some Jewish people in the U.S. ruling class--but Jews make up a miniscule portion of the top monopoly capitalists that own the heart of industry and society. Some large financial institutions are owned by Jewish bankers. And individual Jews serve in the top ruling circles of the government.

    But, in fact, the boardrooms and country club preserves of the ruling class were generally the last places in this society to stop discriminating against Jews. Many Jewish businesspeople were channeled into the garment industry, retail and Hollywood because they were excluded from most other sectors of capitalist business--especially the large corporations. For example, one contemporary study of graduates from Harvard Business School showed that the non-Jewish graduate had a 30 times greater chance than Jewish graduates of ending up in an executive position of a "leading American corporation."

    There are different classes among Jewish people--and they have different class interests. Members of the ruling class who are Jewish do not represent "Jewish interests." Their actions do not benefit Jews as a whole. And they do not operate as a "Jewish network" or "Israeli lobby" within the ruling class.

    Henry Kissinger, for example, did not "represent Jews" in the White House discussions--any more than General Colin Powell represented Black people while he served as head of the military. Kissinger was chosen to formulate international policies in the 1970s White House--because he single-mindedly served the interests of the U.S. monopoly capitalist ruling class. Meanwhile, it has been revealed that the top capitalist himself, Richard Nixon, was a world-class anti-Semite--sitting in the Oval Office ranting and raving about "the Jews."

    Similarly there is no "Jewish control" of the media or Hollywood. Some prominent figures and capitalists in the media, music industry and Hollywood are Jewish, but the culture and media of the United States serves the capitalist class as a class--by promoting images and ideas designed to reinforce and preserve the system.

    PART 3:

    Anti-Semitism, which targets all Jewish people as enemies, lets the real enemy off the hook. It diverts the anger and activity of the people, and it isolates the oppressed from potential allies.

    In addition, anti-Jewish rhetoric sends a message to the ruling class that some forces do not really intend to take on this dog-eat-dog system. It is not militant. It is not aimed at raising the consciousness of youth--it spreads false consciousness, false doctrines and confusion.

    For example, some well-known theories about "international Jewish conspiracies" have been circulating these days. These same anti-Jewish theories have been promoted by big-time capitalists and professional racists throughout this century. The Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s used to joke that KKK stood for their enemies: "Koons, Kikes and Katholics."

    A book, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, was written by a police agent of the Russian Tsar in the early 1900s--it claims to be the notes taken by Jewish leaders directing an international conspiracy. In fact it is a forgery intended to create divisions among people--and to portray any progressive movement as an evil plot to destroy civilization. It was widely promoted by Hitler's Nazis to justify conquering neighboring nations and the brutal extermination of millions.

    Why would anyone who hates oppression want to borrow ideologies from these forces? Why would anyone think that such hateful racist theories can help or illuminate the heroic struggle for the liberation of Black people?

    Some people also have accused Jewish people in the U.S. of being "false Jews" or "the so-called Jews." This rather bizarre charge refers to a belief that the Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jewish people (who lived mainly in and around the Jewish Pale region of Poland, Lithuania, Russia and Ukraine before World War 2) were not descendents of the original Hebrew people discussed in the Old Testament. Jewish people in the U.S. (who are overwhelmingly descended from Ashkenazim) are accused of falsely claiming that they are the "chosen people." Those who make this charge often assert that the Hebrew people of ancient Palestine were black or even African people, and that (by extension) it is African-descended people who are, today, the real "chosen people of god."

    This dispute raises questions that have not yet been settled by historical investigations. It has not been proven where the Jewish people of the Russian Pale came from. It is not clear whether they were descended from Hebrew people dispersed from Palestine or whether significant numbers came from Khazar people (who underwent conversion to Judaism in southern Russia). And it is not clear exactly what the ancient Hebrew people looked like.

    However, a number of things are clear. Whatever the history of the movement of peoples from ancient Palestine, the Zionists did not (and do not) have any right to steal Palestine from the Palestinian Arabs.

    Second, being Jewish is a socially-determined thing--a religious and cultural identity. And there is no basis to claim that Jewish people in the U.S. are "false Jews." Most American Jews were descended from the people in and around the Pale--who practiced the Jewish religion for centuries and were persecuted for it. Many practice the Jewish religion today and they are Jewish.

    Even more important: it is wrong to fight over "who is really the chosen people":

    First of all, there is no reason for oppressed people today to obsess over the ancient prophesies and parables of the Jewish and Christian religions. Such mystical fascinations do not help clarify issues for our liberation struggles of today. Revolution requires clear analysis of real-life and the scientific methodology of materialist dialectics. There is, in fact, no god. And therefore, there can be no nations or peoples who are especially favored by god. But even people who believe in god should reject the idea that their god would favor one nationality over another.

    The mythology of the "chosen people" justifies national divisions and oppression. The U.S. imperialists claim that their armies "have God on our side." Israeli expansionists point to ancient texts about "chosen people" to justify stealing Palestine from Arab people for their settler-state. The racist Christian identity movements today preach that white Americans are the "chosen people."

    So why would anyone serious about Black liberation want to get into this "chosen people" rhetoric?

    The State of Israel
    Is an Enemy

    The revolutionary movement and the masses need to struggle for a clear understanding of Israel: Israel is an enemy of the international proletariat and the direct oppressor of the Palestinian people. It serves U.S. imperialism as a major outpost in the whole region of the Middle East.

    At the same time the revolutionary movement and the masses must be clear that Israel is not the same thing as Jewish people generally. Zionism (the reactionary pro-Israel movement of Jewish nationalism) is not the same thing as the Jewish religion, Judaism. Zionists and Israel claim to speak for all Jews--but they do not. And they certainly do not represent the interests of all Jews.

    The unity of Jewish people with Black people cannot be built, on a lasting and positive basis, without repudiating and opposing Israel--which will require many Jewish people to make a radical and wrenching rupture.

    Uniting All Who
    Can Be United

    For a revolutionary movement to grow and win victory in the United States, it is necessary to apply the Maoist approach of "uniting all who can be united against the real enemy."

    A revolution has to be rooted among the oppressed, especially proletarian, sections of the people. But at the same time, the revolutionary movement needs to win over potential allies and neutralize potential adversaries. The revolution needs a favorable polarization that brings as many people as possible into struggle against the system.

    This is why Maoist revolutionaries work to create a united front under proletarian leadership as the revolutionary strategy that can actually overthrow the system.

    In their great majority, and excluding the small number who are actually members of the ruling class, Jewish people in the U.S. are among the people who must be won to the united front under proletarian leadership.

    Class-conscious forces have a special role in helping to win as many forces as possible to the side of the revolution. Part of this involves struggling with middle class Jewish forces to actively support the revolutionary struggle of the oppressed. And part of this involves training the masses of oppressed people to make important distinctions in how they view and approach various Jewish communities and forces.

    Clearly there is a great deal of confusion among Jewish, Black and other people on these issues. Often wrong views are strongly held. But that is all the more reason for the revolutionary movement and class-conscious proletarians to take a clear, firm position.

    Liberating the people requires a clear-sighted analysis and a struggle to keep the "eye on the prize." It requires a movement that unites all who can be united--and that clearly understands that nothing less that overthrowing today's capitalist-imperialist system will solve the problems of the oppressed. And that is the kind of movement that revolutionary communists are fighting to create out of the struggles of today.

    This article is a updated version of an article that appeared in RW #771.

    This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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