Was Marx an anti-Semite?

"World Without Jews" is not a call for the extermination of Jews, as the title might imply, but rather Marx's analysis of why most Jews were not interested in the working class movement of his day. He wanted Jews to cease identifying themselves as Jews first and foremost and instead adopt a more universalist outlook, which would aid their participation in the workers' movement. Marx saw Judaism, the religion, as a barrier to developing class consciousness, so he saw a "world without Jews" as the only way the European working classes would be able to unite. It is important to keep in mind that the translators of this work into English have largely been of the "Jews Against Communism" variety, and so the anti-Judaic tone of the work is not necessarily due to Marx alone. The fact that Jews are taught to identify themselves as a race, instead of merely as co-religionists, was what Marx was decrying in this pamphlet, not the fact that there are Jews at all. Marx's contempt for religion in general is well known, and as a Jew by birth (although his family converted to Christianity) he had an insider's perspective on the problems that identifying oneself as a Jew presented to the working class movement at the time that he wanted to share with non-Jews.

The language might seem excessively harsh to us today, but the book was a polemic, and must be viewed within its historical context.

(posted to the Marxism list by Maya O'Connor)


Marx's "On the Jewish Question" was written within the context of a debate between Marx and fellow Young Hegelian Bruno Bauer over the politics of Jewish emancipation. This essay is among Marx's "pre-Marxist" writings since he wrote it before becoming a communist. Bauer took the position that the achievement of Jewish emancipation in Prussia could not occur until Jews had renounced their identity as a separate people. And Bauer also argued that it was not possible to grant emancipation to the Jews when Christians themselves were not free. (The emancipation of the Jews in France during the French Revolution indeed did involve the formal renunciation by the Jewish community there of being any sort of a separate people from the French nation). Marx criticized Bauer's stance, citing among other things the experience of the United States whose Bill of Rights and many of its state constitutions (Marx as I recall cited the New Hampshire state constitution) had established separation between church and state of state neutrality between religious faiths. In other words Marx argued that the political emancipation of the Jews in Prussia would not require that the Jews give up their identity as a separate group or people. However, Marx then drew a distinction between political emancipation and human emancipation. Political emancipation for Marx meant the achieving of political rights under the bourgeois state.

Marx by no means disparaged this but this sort of emancipation was insufficient since these sort of rights were linked to egoism and private property. The sort of liberty that was possible under the bourgeois st