The comment below was recently received in response to the Draft Theses on the Jews and Modern Imperialism that was published on this site in September. The issues raised are on a qualitatively higher political level than most previous responses received to these theses, and therefore require as full a political reply as possible. So I am turning the response to them into a separate item, in order to address the issues posed properly. Comrade Eric’s comment reads in full as follows:
The problem with this materialist analysis is that there isn’t a material connection between the American-Jewish bourgeoisie and the state of Israel. Or rather there is a connection but it is of no particular significance compared with the connections between the American bourgeoisie and other states in general. Israel is not the state of the Jewish bourgeoisie. It does not defend Jewish property throughout the world.
That many of today’s top capitalists in America are Jewish is surely of some significance in determining American orientation towards Israel and foreign policy in the Middle East in general. But if, for example, we look at Sheldon Adelson, the most notorious Zionist fundraiser and lobbyist, we find that he was not a Zionist until 1988. (See http://theweek.com/article/index/229275/sheldon-adelson-7-surprising-facts-about-2012s-biggest-donor). Such individuals play the role of philanthropists, party funders and lobbyists but their attachment to Israel is ideological rather than material and is thus plastic. Indeed until 1967 Jewish elites in America had very little interest in Israel at all. It was the ten day war that transformed Israel into a strategic asset and allowed Jews to express support for Israel without fear of being accused of dual loyalty. Norman Finkelstein locates 1967 as the year when the Holocaust Industry kicked off.
You do raise some interesting questions. Zionism certainly seems to provide an ideological focus as well as a strategic focus in the US. The outpost of Western civilisation in the hostile Arab world etc. And it’s worth looking at how loyalty to Israel is used to control discourse in America, disloyalty to Israel being equated with disloyalty to America. However this is an American bourgeois ideology, not a Jewish bourgeois ideology. Politically to reply that Jewish capitalist interests are fundamentally different (alien?) to those of the American state is to provide the far right with ammunition. Anti-Zionism is about Palestinian self-determination not the American liberal-left or world peace etc.
It is interesting that comrade Eric first of all denies that there is a material connection between the Jewish part of the US bourgeoisie and the Israeli ruling class, and then qualifies this by saying that that such connections exist, but are no more than the connections of the US bourgeoisie to any other ally. He admits that the large presence of Jewish capitalists in the US ruling class may be significant to some extent, but downplays this using the example of Sheldon Adelson to argue that “their attachment to Israel is ideological rather than material and is thus plastic.”
Law Of Return
But irrespective of the trajectory of individuals, there is one form of connection that Jewish bourgeois in the United States (and indeed Jewish bourgeois elsewhere) most certainly have with Israel that is not merely ideological, but is qualitatively different to the relations of the US ruling class in general with every other state worldwide. That material connection is a legal one involving what, in a sense, is a form of property right over the Israeli state itself. It is codified in the Law of Return, giving every person worldwide whom the Israeli state recognises as being Jewish, the automatic right to Israeli citizenship. In his recent work ‘How I Stopped Being a Jew”, Shlomo Sand explained what this means in practice:
“It is enough to make a short visit to Israel, readily obtain an identity card, and acquire a second residence there before returning immediately to their national culture and their mother tongue, while remaining in perpetuity a co-proprietor of the Jewish state – and all this for simply having been lucky enough to be born of a Jewish mother.” (p84)
This is not in itself ‘property relations’ in the strict Marxist sense of the term. But it is glaringly obvious who would benefit most from this de-facto joint citizenship arrangement that is confined to those of proven ‘Jewishness’ in any country of the world. It is, by definition, the bourgeoisie, particularly of the wealthiest countries outside Israel that are in a position socially to take maximum advantage of this unique citizenship arrangement, that does not generally exist elsewhere.
This legal relation, and the rights that derive from it, were in the first place the product of the power of the Jewish bourgeoisie in the other wealthy imperialist countries – without whose political and business influence and material support Israel would never have been created in the first place, and the mechanism by which these links can be continuously reinforced by the formation of new ones of the same type. Obviously, in theory at least, poorer Jews have the same rights as wealthy Jewish bourgeois under the Law of Return. Obviously also in practice, the benefits inevitably disproportionately will go the ruling class Jewish elements. Such connections between Israeli bourgeois and key components of the bourgeoisies of other advanced countries undoubtedly explain Israel’s prominence in a whole range of high-tech, strategic industries, important to the imperialist countries in general. This is boasted about by some Methodist Zionist supporters in this puff-piece extolling the virtues of Israel in business terms, as a political attack on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
You would have to be pretty naive to believe that all the high-tech whizz-bang stuff referred to is the work of Israel in isolation as these apologists imply. Rather it is obviously the result of a material overlap between Israeli business and that of other advanced countries. That is, an overlap between the ruling class of Israel and part of that of its imperialist partners, based on shared citizenship, and therefore an overlap in ‘ownership’ of these imperialist states with Israel (the state being ‘the executive committee of the bourgeoisie for the administration of its common affairs’ to paraphrase Engels). Obviously the most important expression of this is the relationship with the US, but similar links exist to a greater or lesser extent with other, European imperialist countries also.
In that sense, Eric’s remarks about the individual career of Sheldon Adelman, and his holding of him up as an archetype of the way these links supposedly work, leave out the most important factor in enabling his trajectory in the first place. Obviously, individuals may vary according to background as to when and in what circumstances they become conscious of these opportunities and decide to take them up. But what is more important is the existence of these possibilities in the first place, that makes such a political evolution even feasible.
His point about the 1967 war and its importance as the seminal moment the alliance of the United States with Israel became solidified and strategic is true, but it does not contradict the thesis of an overlap between the Israeli ruling class and others. All such phenomena have a point of origin, and go through various stages of development, and possibly even decline. Because it has only a semi-national, and not a fully national, character, and a territorial asset (Israel) whose ownership is fundamentally in dispute, the pan-imperialist Jewish-Zionist bloc is fragile and can disintegrate, particularly if that unifying territorial focus were lost.
For rather a long time, there has been Jewish over-representation in the imperialist bourgeoisies relative to the weight of Jews in bourgeois society generally, but that does not mean that for the whole of that period those bourgeois were equally coherent in terms of consciousness and organisation. For much of the earlier capitalist era, that Jewish bourgeois layer was insecure, and feared becoming a scapegoat for the crimes of the bourgeoisie in general, as happened in Nazi Germany most dramatically. Zionism as a quasi-national movement was always aimed at overcoming that insecurity, and gaining the Jewish bourgeoisie the leverage to achieve that.
So while it is obviously true that 1967 was an important point in the rise of the strategic alliance of Israel with the US (and the deepening of its parallel influence in Europe also, I would argue), that does not contradict at all the thesis that the tie between Israel and other imperialist powers, centrally the US, is of a different nature to the US alliance with, say, the UK, Germany and Japan. In the former case, there is an overlapping component of the ruling class(es) that have a common commitment to an ethnocentric, semi-national project. There will of course be individual bourgeois of Jewish origin who do not support that project, but that does not at all contradict the theory, which only depends on the Jewish component having sufficient weight to exercise an influence out of the proportion to Jewish weight on the ground.
That is the material basis for the power of AIPAC, and its analogues in other imperialist countries. Actually, it would be incorrect and schematic to say that American capitalist interests and Jewish capitalist interests are fundamentally opposed or ‘alien’, nor that the ideology that drives this alliance is either a a ‘Jewish’ bourgeois ideology or an ‘American’ one. They are imperialist formations that overlap, are not fundamentally separate, but not identical either. It is also untrue to say that even antagonistic imperialist bourgeois powers, for instance, have fundamentally opposed interests, though at times the relations between them may make things appear that way. When they are confronted with a threat to them that really is fundamental in class terms, these antagonistic forces tend to unite – including across national lines.
Parallelogram of Forces
What is true is that the policy of any imperialist state formation, including the US, is the product of a parallelogram of forces within it, and obviously interacts with other forces externally. The Zionist-ethnocentric project has a strong element of political influence within the US ruling class (and others, from the UK to France to Germany), and far from being something ‘alien’ to the other ‘national’ elements of the imperialist ruling classes, they look on this influence pretty favourably and with deference.
Israel and its openly reactionary nature has banished the fear and distrust the ‘mainstream’ bourgeoisie once had of the Jewish bourgeoisie, which was based on a somewhat irrational fear that the Jewish bourgeoisie could be a cipher for revolutionary movements against itself. Now the opposite belief is mainstream; it is widely seen in bourgeois circles that the Jewish bourgeois are bearers of a proto-bourgeois tradition (based on commercial capital) that is centuries older and thus more cultured than the gentile bourgeoisies of the West. Such figures as Milton Friedman, Kissinger, Keith Joseph (Thatcher’s inspirer and mentor in Britain) are not potential scapegoats, but are seen as elements of a class-conscious vanguard of the bourgeoisie, and revered by the Western ruling classes.
This is why Eric’s point that highlighting the role of the Jewish bourgeoisie in some way gives ammunition to the far right, is mistaken. There are of course far right elements who are virulently anti-Jewish and racist, but they are living fossils, incapable of generating support from the bourgeoisie today, for the reasons spelt out above, and doomed to political extinction. To accept the idea that Jews in current circumstances are inevitably targets of a potent and operative far right is to accept an element of the Zionist worldview, that Jews are in all times and places victims of gentile society. But there are no concrete, historically grounded reasons for the mainstream gentile bourgeoisies to target the Jewish bourgeoisie today, and therefore no chance of a real far right movement emerging to target the Jews in general.
Not inevitable victims
Abram Leon’s work ‘The Jewish Question: A Marxist Analysis‘ was spot on in analysing the indispensable role of the Jews as repositories of capital in non-capitalist, feudal societies. He dismissed the notion that Jews were some kind of inevitably-persecuted ‘victim’ people and noted that “the Jew was as characteristic in feudal society as the lord and the serf” (p249). He however erred in projecting, based on terrible developments in European capitalist society in the early period of imperialism, that capitalism would fail to integrate the Jews within it, and that even if a Zionist state were formed, it would prove ephemeral. He did not live to see important historical events that would falsify that prognosis, along with quite a few other prognoses of pre-war Trotskyism.
In fact, Zionism has cemented the place of the Jews within the capitalist order, and it has done so in such a way that the Jewish bourgeoisie have become a characteristic caste within capitalism, and responsible for one of the most egregious injustices within it, in terms of the dispossession of the Palestinians and the egregious consequences that flow from that (including the poisoning of the politics of the Islamic world by sometimes destructive forms of Islamic radicalism that are themselves a kind of deformed political antibody generated by those societies to Zionist aggression).
All these are reasons why we should sharpen up our critique of the activities of the Israeli ruling class’s ‘foreign legions’ in the Western ruling classes, not blunt such criticism for fear of encouraging an obsolete type of ‘far right’ that in today’s political reality is like a fish out of water, gasping for air. There are plenty of opportunities for a racist, anti-Muslim, anti-black ‘modern’ far right to make progress, but the only very slim chance the old anti-Jewish far right have of reviving themselves is if we pull our punches in criticising the ethnocentric agenda of Israel’s Western supporters.