From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya: Religion, racism and capitalist crisis

October 4, 2018

From the September-October 2018 issue of News & Letters

by Raya Dunayevskaya

Editor’s note: With hate crimes, anti-Semitism, racism and anti-immigrant xenophobia on the rise, Israel’s “Jewish nation-state” law (see article, p. 12) and fascism brewing globally, we excerpt two pieces addressing roots of these phenomena in capitalism’s crises. “The Roots of Anti-Semitism” was Dunayevskaya’s Two Worlds column in the Feb. 1960 N&L. “Religion in General and Jerusalem in Particular in This State-Capitalist Age” was excerpted from Today and Tomorrow, the National Chairwoman’s Perspectives Report to the 1980 Convention of News and Letters Committees.

The Roots of Anti-Semitism

…Lest we forget that the Allies no sooner won the war than they began to staff their administrations with former Nazis, let me say that the Army would do better than investigate that single Detroit soldier if it looked at its own top brass. I refer not only to the American Army, but to the four occupying powers, including Russia.

Where, a decade after the Allied victory, “the loser” Nazi General, Hans Speidel, can become the head of NATO, on the other side of the Iron Curtain the Jews have gone through everything from the purges of Stalin’s era to the era of Khrushchev which permits publications that rival the forged “Protocols of Zion.”…

The fact that Nikita Khrushchev took quick advantage of the present reappearance of anti-Semitism in Konrad Adenauer’s Germany to point to a recurrence of Nazism and ask for “no confidence” in West Germany is pure and cheap politics. Not that Adenauer can be absolved of responsibility, but he is not alone. All the occupying powers in Germany, including Russia, are responsible for the re-establishment of the Krupp empire which nourished and sustained Nazism. And it is now doing its own type of flirtation with Russian orders for “peaceful” goods.


It matters not which of the capitalist powers won, and which lost, the minority problem remains the open sore. This is due not only to the fact that the ruling class needs a “scapegoat” for their crime of never being able to solve a single fundamental problem in war or in peace. Nor is it due only to the fact that the perpetuation of exploitation follows the old maxim of divide and rule. Basic as these two factors are, they are not the whole truth.

Under the open sore of the persecution of a minority is hidden the greater truth of exploitation—that the exploiters, not the exploited, are the minority. Within this greater truth will be found the answer as to why a specific scapegoat is chosen at a particular time at each separate stage of capitalism’s development.

There are reasons why the discrimination against a certain race suddenly bursts forth into the lynching of an individual Negro. There are reasons why discrimination against another race takes the form, in late 19th-century France, of a single wronged individual, as happened in the military conspiracy against Dreyfus, whereas in another country, like Tsarist Russia, it took the form of anti-Jewish pogroms. Whatever the match that started the conflagration, it seemed never to have reached the fantastic proportions of the extermination of a whole race. Yet the barbarous insanity of our times—the extermination of six million Jews in Nazi Germany—provoked no such unanimous outcry of horror as the single Dreyfus case. Why?

The Depression, which sounded the collapse of the economic system of capitalism, brought to the fore the flowering of the new element that came to life when the imperialist tentacles of monopoly capitalism reached for the spoliation of a whole continent with its belief in the “Superior Race.”

Those who wish to forget that at the root of present-day apartheid South Africa was the “civilizing mission” of the white race—which meant, in fact, such horrors as the extermination of the Hottentot tribes by the Boers, of Leopold II’s reduction of 20 to 40 million peaceful Congolese to eight million—are the ones who took the extermination of the Jews in Germany “in stride”—until the Nazi search for “lebensraum” meant a challenge to their own area of exploitation


What the recent anti-Semitic outbreaks show is that it is impossible to destroy Nazism, the most bestial expression of capitalism, where its root, capitalism itself, flourishes. When imperialism first revealed the truth of exploitation—that it is the majority, not the “minority,” that is persecuted; when it further took on the additive of color, the “white man’s burden” still seemed to be outside of the “civilized, advanced country.” But by the time monopoly capitalism was transformed into the totalitarian state form in Germany, it was clear enough that it meant enslavement at home. Simultaneously with the destruction of the Jews went the destruction of the labor movement, reaching its climax in the Nazi concentration camps with their crematoriums.

Lest an Adenauer be permitted to forget his silence at the extermination of a race at the time it happened; lest a Dwight Eisenhower forget his impunity which put Nazi officers at head of a rearmed Germany; lest a Khrushchev be permitted to parade as a staunch lover of freedom and peace and protector of Jews, let the historic record show:

(1) That all of them and their ilk helped Nazism, and in fact the [1939] Nazi-Soviet pact gave the green light to the unleashing of World War II; (2) all of them and their ilk helped capitalism reestablish itself when Germany lost; and (3) presently all of them march, though not in unison, but rather at opposite poles, toward the same goal—preparations for a nuclear World War III which might spell the end of civilization altogether.


Long before the maturing of the state capitalist world in which we now live, Lenin watched the appearance of bureaucracy in the workers’ state and warned of “returning backwards to capitalism.” His warning—unless production and the state were run by the population “to a man, woman and child” state capitalism would overtake Russia—fell on as deaf ears as his last fight against Stalin’s rudeness toward minority groups.

He wrote prophetically: “Scratch some Bolsheviks and you will find Great Russian chauvinists … I am declaring war on Great Russian chauvinism … the same Russian apparatus, which was borrowed from Tsarism and only barely anointed with the Soviet chrism.”

It remains the most telling commentary not only of present day Russia but of the whole state capitalist world in which we now live.

In contrast to genuine Marxists, liberals have never been able to face the fact of the class nature of oppression of minorities, whether that took the individual form of the Dreyfus affair or the outright fascism of our day. When fascism first came to Italy in the 1920s, they said it could never happen in an “advanced” country; the backwardness of Italy was supposed to have produced fascism. When it came to the most technologically advanced European land—Germany—it became a question of “Prussian militarism.” When the “non-military” countries by force of arms destroyed Nazi Germany, and neo-Nazism now reappears not only under “democratic” tutelage there, but is spreading to other countries, including America, then we are supposed to blame “juvenile delinquents.”

The truth is, however, that the one feature that is truly new is the mass youth demonstrations against fascism, especially in West Germany. The preponderance of youth in these demonstrations shows how deeply-rooted is anti-fascism among the youth, although they had not suffered the physical tortures and crimes and barbarism of the Nazis. It is the present capitalist world which is constantly re-creating the conditions for fascism that they are rebelling against.

Far from being rebels without a cause, the youth of today are rejecting this world they never made and searching for new beginnings of a truly human world.



Religion in General and Jerusalem in Particular in This State-Capitalist Age

A Palestinian man stands in the rubble of his East Jerusalem home, demolished by the Israeli government. (ISM-NC: click on photo for original)

Israel has been moving so steadily to the Right that no reactionary action should surprise anyone. Nevertheless, the world—and this includes President Jimmy Carter, who is still pretending that the so-called Peace Treaty he engineered between Egypt and Israel will bring real peace to the whole of the Middle East—was shocked by the timing, if nothing else, of the “sudden” fiat from the Knesset that Jerusalem, East and West, that is, Arab as well as Jewish, was “one,” was “indivisible,” indeed, was the “eternal” capital of Israel, as if really its order extended into the eons of time.

If, however, we take a second, objective look at that phrase, “if nothing else,” we will see that it is, precisely, the timing, the provocative timing, which is the logical conclusion to the extremist imperialist moves ever since Menachem Begin came to power, and that very week visited and approved a controversial new Jewish settlement in Arab land. It has gone on and expanded ever since. It is necessary, however, to limit ourselves to this year.

In March 1980 the government of Israel announced it would be taking 1,000 acres of mostly Arab-owned land. It was the first such major expropriation in a decade, and the second largest ever since the victorious 1967 war. Indeed, by the mid-1970s, Israel pried 30% of East Jerusalem from Arab ownership. Could anyone doubt when the biggest war hawk of them all, Geula Cohen, was chosen to bring in a draft for the new status of Jerusalem that it would be anything but what it was?…

What is new—and it is by no means limited to Zionism—is the new politicized form of religion. Nor is it a question of whether you listen to the money-wise electronic “evangelists,” or you follow the Old or New Testament—or the Koran, and quote Mohammed, who is supposed to have said: “Whoever goes on a pilgrimage to the Jerusalem sanctuary shall be forgiven all his sins.”

The point, rather, is why this rush to power. One need not go abroad to see it is so. All one has to do is look right here at the New Right, the Christian Religious Right….

The real point is this: the totality of the crises, especially since 1973-74—and by no means only the Arab-Israeli war, but the economic crisis that resulted from the oil embargo—has shown that the undercurrent of revolt may, and in some cases, did lead to revolution. It is this, especially as it is evolving in the last year, which has led the capitalist rulers to flirt with Nazism and occultism all over again.

Occultism has ever been the escape from reality, and since it doesn’t have quite as obnoxious an odor as Nazism, non-taxable dollars are spent on that electronic miracle to bring the message to the public.

In any case, the New Religious Right, as in Begin’s Israel or in Khomeini’s Iran, or the Christian Right here, even when they get masses to follow them, by no means signifies that what the masses want, and what the leaders are striving for—power—has the same motivation.

Which is why Karl Marx made so sharp a distinction between the religion of the oppressed and that of the oppressor. The whole theory of alienation started there. Follow the majestic, the historic sweep of Marx’s goal, “To unmask human self-alienation in its secular form now that it has been unmasked in its sacred form.” Marx goes on:

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of men, is a demand for their real happiness….

“Religion is only the illusory sun about which man revolves so long as he does not revolve about himself….

“Man makes religion; religion does not make man. Religion is indeed man’s self-consciousness and self-awareness so long as he has not found himself or has lost himself again. But man is not an abstract being, squatting outside the world. Man is the human world, state, society.”

Nor was it only religion that Marx called “the opium of the people.” The same was true for science. A full 130 years before ever the atom was split—out of which came, not the most constructive new energy force, but the most destructive atomic bomb—Marx wrote: “To have one basis for life and another for science is a priori a lie.”

We have been living this lie altogether too long. State-capitalism has reincarnated both Religion and Science as moves away from real human needs and new human relations. The turning of the clock backward must be stopped and will be stopped when we stop separating the philosophy of revolution from social revolution….



Crossroads of History:

Marxist-Humanist Writings on the Middle East


  • Foreword by Gerry Emmett
  • Anti-Semitism, Anti-Revolution, Anti-Philosophy: U.S. and Russia Enter Middle East Cockpit
  • The UN Resolution on Zionism – and the Ideological Obfuscation Also on the Left
  • Lebanon: The Test Not Only of the PLO but the Whole Left
  • What Is Philosophy? What Is Revolution?
  • Religion in General and Jerusalem in Particular in This State-Capitalist Age
  • Special Introduction for Iranian Edition of Marx’s Humanist Essays
  • Begin’s Israel Moves Further and Further Backward to His Reactionary, Terrorist Beginnings
  • Need for a Total Uprooting: Down with the Perpetrators of the Palestinian Slaughter
  • The Changed World
  • … and eight more chapters!

  Order here.

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