Karl Marx was born to two Jewish parents, but these parents had converted to the Evangelical Church of Prussia. Marx was baptized, raised Protestant, and knew nothing of Judaism his entire life. His father had gone to great pains to escape his Jewishness and provide a better life for himself and his son, even changing his name. As a result, Marx was inevitably brought up with a considerable amount of internalized antisemitism.
The fact that Marx was nevertheless targeted, then and later, by antisemitism, speaks to the nature of antisemitism. That Marx is referred to as a Jew by just about everyone, despite being baptized as a child and raised Protestant, is a strong argument for Judaism being more than a religion and not even really something that can be escaped no matter what you do. Particularly in Marx’s day, but also today. This, along with many other things, should blow apart the current mainstream leftist narrative which says that Judaism is just a religion and not a people, nation, or race. But today’s left, even the non-Leninist part, increasingly avoids analysis in favor of adherence to dogma. They want to have it both ways: Marx was Jewish and Judaism is merely a religion. These are not reconcilable.
Even worse, it seems a lot of the left uses Marx’s Jewishness to dismiss the very idea that communists could have a problematic history with antisemitism. But since Marx was raised to reject his own Jewish roots entirely, his works are littered with anti-Jewish tropes like referring to a “Talmudic” detachment from “rustic simplicity” when a British judge needed to rule on the difference between night and day. Such invective was common at the time, and would form part of the Nazi rationale for exterminating Jews and “Talmudic abstractions” like trans people.
Marx, Bakunin, Proudhon, and others all had antisemitic beliefs to varying degrees. All of them also articulated philosophies that resonated with proud Jewish people. These proud Jewish people went on to found political movements that were openly Jewish and socialist. Their movements deserve more attention, if only because they make a strong argument against the idea that leftism has always been antisemitic. But because they were often in conflict with the figures worshiped by the left, their beliefs and theories are rarely engaged with in a serious manner. At most they serve as tokens, if they aren’t described as counterrevolutionaries. Their experience is important especially when it runs contrary to the official dogma of leftists who were less marginalized in their time.
More research needs to be done, also, on leftist movements in places like Salonica, where AJS Perspectives observed that “Jewish socialists promoted Judeo-Spanish as the language of the Jewish proletariat and designated it as the official language of social and economic discourse for the Socialist Workers’ Federation.” Their views and history should be searched for, translated, taken seriously, and incorporated into the left’s collective memory and experience, which should form an important aspect of our modern-day politics.
To deny the left’s history of antisemitism means not being taken seriously by people with respect for the verifiable truth, and worse still, it means to give up on truth entirely, dooming our movements. To find counterexamples and incorporate them into our theory and practice means to grow from that history, to become better and more able to truly and permanently overthrow capitalism.