Expression of decline

The marking of Holocaust Day is highly contradictory, argues Hillel Ticktin

Eddie Ford is right to argue that 'holocaust' is the wrong name for the liquidation of the Jewish populations of Europe (Weekly Worker January 27). He is also right to argue that there is a holocaust industry. His implication that both the name and the industry act as a means of supporting Zionism, as against the Palestinians, is also true. I think, however, that he has missed the point. It is not enough to change the name to 'Nazi holocaust' in order to point out that there have been many ethnocides in the history of capitalism. The term 'holocaust' is a simply a misnomer, because it disconnects the Nazi mass killings from both German and world history. It is true that capitalism came into existence dripping with blood from head to toe. The exterminations and mass killings of the peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America far exceed the six million Jews plus gays, Roma and politicals killed by the Nazis. Indeed the numbers who died in the various famines, enclosures and national wars in Europe are also considerable. The day will surely come when the ruling class will be excoriated for its murderous past. All these killings occurred as part of the process of accumulation, usually primitive accumulation, and most of the deaths were incidental to this process. By contrast, the industrialised mass killing of the Jews and others was unique in human history. It was not unique in total numbers, nor even in the rapidity of the killing, although a case can be made for the latter. The killings were consummated and systematically 'planned' by a bureaucratic apparatus, using the market where necessary, with the complicity of all those involved in the various institutions of industry and the state apparatus. This form of mass killing could not have occurred in earlier periods of human history, since neither technical nor social forms had yet evolved for the purpose. The Nazis saw the Jews as the enemy of humanity, being the source of both exploitation and, bizarrely, also the source of agitation against that exploitation. It was, therefore, a grossly distorted form of the class struggle under capitalism. Their total liquidation was, therefore, the solution to the ills of mankind, from their viewpoint. That in itself makes it unique. Furthermore, there are comparisons in Jewish history in this respect, since it has been their historical role during the period of the decline of both the ancient mode of production and feudalism to serve the role of scapegoat for the ills afflicting the different classes during a period of transition. The very existence of Jewry is to a large extent dependent on their scapegoat role, ensuring that the majority of Jews are confined to particular layers in the population, and preventing their absorption into the general population. In other words, the decline of capitalism has given rise to various forms of barbarism, each of which is unique in its essence and appearance, precisely because the barbaric forms reflect this unique moment in human history. The only comparison that can be made is with the Stalinist purges, which numbered many millions more than those who died in the Nazi camps. The direct mass killings, the exact numbers of which are still unknown, usually took place outside the towns, in an anarchic manner, and were performed by the secret police, while the majority of those who died were killed by the appalling nature of the camps themselves. The mass killing of the population reflected the high level of instability of the system itself, which decimated its own elite time and again. There was no conscious and deliberate choice of an ethnic section of the population for industrial liquidation, although there were a number of ethnic deportations. It is true that Stalin may have intended to emulate Hitler at the time of his death, by deporting all the Soviet Jews to Siberia, but he died before he could do so. When we remember the account of the killing of the Trotskyists (they were taken out of the camp to a clearing, where they undressed and lined up in twos, in order to save bullets; they were then shot and their clothes were taken back to the camp for re-use), there is a clear comparison with the Nazi camps, some years before the war. Nonetheless, the whole process is very different, not least in its intention. Clearly we need to remember those killed by the Stalinist system and the many martyrs of the left killed by Stalin, but this process too is unique in its essence and appearance, reflecting a failed transition, which was unviable and then fed on itself. The fact that capitalism and Stalinism have killed so many is very important, but it also remains important to deplore Hitler's final solution to the Jewish question and its results, by reminding the world of its existence. We cannot bundle together all the killings as if they are one indistinguishable blur. There is a very big difference between racism, racist extermination, racial discrimination, on the one hand, and anti-semitism, which Marxists, of all people, ought to understand. After 1870, racial discrimination involved the exploitation of a group of people in order to extract extra surplus value, usually in order to pacify a second group of wage-workers with higher wages. Anti-semitism, on the contrary, seeks to wipe the Jewish population out of existence in order that a group of supposed oppressors and exploiters be removed from the body politic. Bebel called anti-semitism "socialism of the fools". His remark is itself foolish, because it downplays the importance of anti-semitism, but it contains a grain of truth. Anti-semitism has played the role of an alternative to socialism from the time of the Paris Commune onwards. That is the nature of the Nazi party programme. The killing of the Jews during the last war was not the first such mass killing of Jews since 1870. Seventy thousand Jews were killed by the whites in pogroms during the civil war in Russia, and the anti-Jewish propaganda used by the tsarist forces was almost identical to that which Hitler used. Today one has only to go to Russia, eastern Europe or the Arab countries to hear the same anti-semitic diatribes. There is still a widespread undercurrent of anti-semitism in the so-called west. The point is not just that Jews are discriminated against, but that large sections of the peasantry and working class have a distorted understanding of their oppressors and so the class struggle. Eddie Ford is wrong in dating the criticism of anti-semitism in the 'western' media to the 1967 war. Until that date, more or less, there was a university numerus clausus for Jews not just in the Soviet Union, but also for certain faculties and certain universities in the United States. Marxists wrote articles pointing out how the US ruling class was exclusively white, Anglo-Saxon and protestant. When Saul Steinberg tried to take over Chemical Bank, he was rebuffed, because he was Jewish, as was widely believed. In this country when Weinstock was taking over English Electric in the 60s, there was a considerable use of anti-semitism in the City of London. Two things changed in the 60s. One was the civil rights movement, which helped to reduce discrimination against a wide range of oppressed groups. A moment's thought will show that it was also in the 60s that we had the rise of the feminist movement, and the coming out of gays. It became unacceptable to discriminate against anyone. As a result, it gradually became easier to discuss the history of discrimination. The second thing that changed was the ruling class itself. It became less monotonically Wasp. The Bank of America was Italian in ethnic origin. Today the biggest bank in the world, Citibank, is run by someone called Sandy Weill. The Nazi leanings of the major capitalist potentates, such as Henry Ford and Randolph Hearst in the 30s, could be openly repudiated. In other words, a section of the ruling class itself now favoured the exposure of anti-semitism. Nonetheless, it has taken a long time and it remains conflictual. Here again Eddie Ford is wrong. Nazism and fascism were not favoured by the ruling class, although sections did support it, as cited above. In Germany Thyssen, Krupps and Flick supported Hitler, but then again Robert Bosch, the founder of Bosch, the large German firm, helped Jews as late as 1938. The Stalinists defined fascism as the rule of monopoly capital by force, implying, therefore, that it is a natural stage of capitalism. That is simply untrue. Orthodox historians have brought out capitalist opposition to Hitler. Indeed, how could the capitalist class support a social form in which they were subordinated to a gauleiter in their own firms, in which there was full employment and where a section of the class itself was being exterminated or under threat of extermination. Not least, it was obvious to any thinking capitalist that they could not win a war against the British empire, most particularly because it was clear that the United States would intervene, if it was necessary. Capitalism does not successfully run on slave camps. Indeed Nazi Germany was not the model of efficiency some would have. Instead it shared much of the quality problems of the Soviet Union. In other words, the rise of fascism and the liquidation of the Jews was not a natural consequence of capitalism but, on the contrary, an expression of the decline of capitalism itself. Capitalism in its decline is no longer the master its own house and barbaric aspects have begun to take over. The capitalist class acquiesced in Hitler's taking power because they could see no alternative, but that does not mean to say that they liked it. The killing of the Jews, and other groups, is, therefore, different from the previous killings and has to be understood as such. It reflects a system which can no longer control itself and has therefore degenerated to the point where a reality governed which was distorted beyond the usual commodity fetishism. That itself was only possible because of the massive defeat suffered by the working class in the Soviet Union, when Stalinism took over, so preventing the working class revolution - which alone could have saved the world from the barbarism into which it was plunged. So the marking of Holocaust Day must be understood as a contradictory event, in which the capitalist system appropriates the event for its own purposes and cleanses it of its true significance, but, at the same time, it is forced to reject one of the system's defences and somewhat destabilise the system itself. The question then poses itself for the many who have this distorted understanding: if it is not the Jews who are the cause of so much misery in the world, then whose fault is it? Marxists who do not understand that this is the essence of the 'Jewish question' are not Marxists.