One might reasonably ask, what is the value of reviewing a brief pamphlet, written over 50 years ago, that its publisher has now taken out of print? The answer is quite a lot, especially in light of the brutal October 7 Hamas attack that left 1,300 Jews and others dead, and the murderous Israeli response that has already killed more than 2,600 Palestinians and is targeting Gaza’s entire population.
The brutality of the Israeli regime does not allow us to forget centuries of Jew hatred throughout the world that culminated in the Nazi Holocaust. Such Jew hatred continues to find expression today. The recent, cold-blooded murder by Hamas of Israeli civilians, including children, is a stark example.
As Fidel Castro told Jeffrey Goldberg in a 2010 interview in The Atlantic, the Jews “were expelled from their land, persecuted and mistreated all over the world, as the ones who killed God…. Over 2,000 years they were subjected to terrible persecution and then to the pogroms. One might have assumed that they would have disappeared; I think their culture and religion kept them together as a nation… The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust.”
George Novack, author of the pamphlet under review, was himself from a Jewish family that immigrated to the United States. He became a Marxist scholar and long-time leader of the Socialist Workers Party. He died in 1992.
His essay, republished as a pamphlet in 1969 and promoted by its publisher for decades, began as a review of a collection of essays by another Marxist scholar, Isaac Deutscher. The Deutscher book, The Non-Jewish Jew and Other Essays, remains in print today.
Deutscher, Novack wrote, “defined the non-Jewish Jew as the heretic who went beyond the boundaries of Jewry and yet remained part of the Jewish tradition.” As examples, Novack cited “such titans of revolutionary thought and action as Spinoza, Heine, Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, Trotsky and Freud.”
Novack added that Deutscher “saw his own view, values and destiny mirrored in their lives.” He considered Deutscher a “non-Jewish Jew,” as Novack was himself.
Deutscher, Novack tells us, was “a Hasidic child-prodigy who became a rabbi at age 13,” but then became “an atheist, a revolutionary Marxist, a writer of world renown.” As a youth, “he had experienced pogrom terror in his native Poland” and lost his father and other family members in the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.
Nationalism vs internationalism
A central theme of Deutscher’s outlook was “the irreconcilable contest between nationalism and internationalism,” Novack wrote, “which counterposes Marxism to capitalism, Zionism and Stalinism.” Deutscher “staunchly adhered to the positions of scientific socialism on the Jewish question, which he ably expounds and defends in these pages,” Novack added.
“Deutscher agreed,” Novack wrote, “that the Jews had the same right to self-determination as any other people on this planet. Indeed, because of their massacre during the second world war, European Jews had a special claim upon the generosity of the civilized world.” This is the same point Fidel made some 40 years later.
But, Novack continued, Deutscher “was sure that Zionism held out no real hope of resolving the Jewish problem in the long run. He compared the Israelis to a man who managed to save his life by jumping from a burning building in which many members of his family had already perished. Unfortunately, he landed upon a neighbor and broke his limbs. Instead of behaving rationally and fairly toward the unintended victim of the unavoidable fall, the Zionists have treated the Palestinian Arabs abominably and made them into a bitter foe.
“Zionist chauvinism has had a deadly logic,” Novack observed. “By expelling the Arabs from their own land and conducting warfare against them for 20 years, the Zionist Jews have transformed themselves from a persecuted minority in other lands into an oppressor nation in their present habitat.”
It is 54 years since Novack wrote those words and they ring truer than ever today as Israel is again waging war on the Palestinians, imposing on them a deadly collective punishment for the crimes of Hamas, for which the population of Gaza is not responsible.
“Deutscher gave his final appraisal of the plight and the policies of Zionist Israel in an interview after the Six Day War of June 1967. He condemned the preemptive strike that brought quick victory to Israeli arms,” Novack wrote. He then cited Deutscher’s prescient words from that interview:
“Paradoxically and grotesquely, the Israelis appear now in the role of the Prussians of the Middle East. They have now won three wars against their Arab neighbors. Just so did the Prussians a century ago defeat all their neighbors within a few years, the Danes, the Austrians, and the French. The succession of victories bred in them an absolute confidence in their own efficiency, a blind reliance on the force of their arms, chauvinistic arrogance, and contempt for other peoples. I fear that a similar degeneration — for degeneration it is — may be taking place in the political character of Israel.”
Novack added, “The lightning victory was worse than a defeat, he [Deutscher] argued, because it paves the way for an eventual disastrous confrontation with the Arab states and the Arab masses.” He then cited Deutscher again:
“They [the Jews] now appear in the Middle East once again in the invidious role of agents not so much of their own, relatively feeble, capitalism, but of powerful western vested interests and as proteges of neocolonialism. This is how the Arab world sees them, not without reason. Once again they arouse bitter emotions and hatreds in their neighbors, in all those who have ever been or still are victims of imperialism.
“What a fate it is for the Jewish people to be made to appear in this role! As agents of early capitalism they were still pioneers of progress in feudal society; as agents of the late, over-ripe, imperialist capitalism of our days, their role is altogether lamentable; and they are placed once again in the position of potential scapegoats. Is Jewish history to come full circle in such a way? This may well be the outcome of Israel’s ‘victories’; and of this Israel’s real friends must warn it.”
What is the way out?
Novack then posed the question, “What is the way out?” He offered this answer:
“If the Israelis are not to be caught in a bloody trap of Zionist devising, they will have to abandon the exclusive and aggressive Jewish state and opt for a Middle East federation of the Arab and Jewish peoples. It is true that the Jewish bourgeois-chauvinists and their Anglo-American patrons, as well as demagogues and reactionaries among the Arabs, are equally opposed to such a solution. That is why this desirable political goal cannot be realized except through the joint struggle against imperialism and capitalism in that area under revolutionary socialist leadership.
“By a circuitous route, lined by six million dead, which has led from Eastern Europe to Palestine, the Jewish masses today face the same alternative as their fathers and grandfathers: either alliance with the forces of socialist revolution or a bloody catastrophe. There is no third way.”
Novack was fully aware that a socialist revolution was not imminent in 1969 in the Middle East. Nor is one imminent today. Novack was speaking of the only ultimate way out. As he explained further:
“The salvation of the Jewish people cannot come from reliance upon Zionist chauvinism, American imperialism or Stalinist bureaucratism. Every expedient short of the struggle for socialism, any substitute for that, will end in calamity for the Jews. They cannot achieve security for themselves or anyone else so long as the root causes of discrimination, racism and reactionary nationalism continue to exist. Indeed, the Zionists have dealt fatal blows to themselves by succumbing to these practices.
“The Jews have to link themselves with those forces in their own country and on a world scale that are fighting to overthrow imperialism and striving to build the new society. The solution of the Jewish question is indissolubly bound up with the complete emancipation of humanity that can be brought about only along the road of international socialism.”
Novack knew well, as Lenin and other leaders of the Russian Revolution of 1917 taught through their writings and example, that the road to socialism must include unconditional support to the struggles of oppressed nations and nationalities for self-determination and democratic rights. For that reason, he was a fervent supporter of the Palestinian struggle.
In an October 15 New York Times opinion essay, Rashid Khalidi, a professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University and author of The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine, warned that Israeli military strategists “appear to be planning the depopulation and reoccupation of at least part of an area home to around 2.3 million people — nearly half of them children — and most of them descended from people driven from their homes before and during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. We must understand that these are human beings at grave risk, not just numbers.”
Khalidi concluded on a point we believe Novack and Deutscher would surely have shared:
“The only possible solution is one that ends the oppression of one people by another and guarantees absolutely equal rights and security for both peoples.”
Zionism endangers the Jews, it doesn’t protect them
Novack was also fully aware of the dangers posed by Jew hatred and understood its source. “Deutscher addressed a sober warning about the fate awaiting them if they clung to capitalism and chauvinism, not only to the Israelis, but to those Jews in the imperialist metropolises,” Novack wrote, “who complacently live under the mistaken impression that anti-Semitism is a spent force there. They are blind to the fact that such prejudice festers in many crevices of the Western countries and, in the event of acute insecurity, can burst forth with sudden ferocity, as it did in crisis-ridden Germany between the wars.”
Again, he cited Deutscher’s words:
“Let this society suffer any severe shock, such as it is bound to suffer; let there be again millions of unemployed, and we will see the same lower-middle-class alliance with the Lumpenproletariat, from whom Hitler recruited his following, running amok with anti-Semitism. As long as the nation-state imposes its supremacy and as long as we have not an international society in existence, as long as the wealth of every nation is in the hands of one national capitalist oligarchy, we shall have chauvinism, racialism, and, as its culmination, anti-Semitism.”
“Such a prediction may seem far-fetched and unduly alarmist,” Novack added, “to those privileged and short-sighted Anglo-American Jews who have been sunning in the prolonged prosperity and social stability of the post-war decades. Yet it is based upon a keen insight into the ultimate direction of the main motive forces of capitalist development in our time. The warning has direct relevance for American Jews, young and old, who regard the Jewish problem as something remote from them and confined to Israeli-Arab relations…
“But if, with Deutscher, we look beyond the present conjuncture, there is danger for the Jews lurking over the horizon. Should there be a grave social crisis and a strengthening of ultrareaction, anti-Semitism could experience a frightening growth here.”
The economic, social and political crises that confront working people the world over, as a consequence of the workings of capitalism, mean that the danger Deutscher and Novack warned of is no longer “over the horizon.” It is here.
The danger of the spread of antisemitism is exacerbated by the Israeli regime’s murderous course in Gaza and by its false claim that it speaks for all Jews and is acting to keep Jews safe. As Deutscher and Novack both explained, aggressive Zionism that dehumanizes Palestinians endangers the Jewish people, it does not protect them.
Throughout Novack’s essay there is additional food for thought for today. Though the publisher, Pathfinder Press, has removed the pamphlet from circulation (along with other titles, which were kept in print for years, documenting and expressing support for the Palestinian struggle for national self-determination and liberation) used editions can still be found online.
In addition, as World-Outlook noted in its recent editorial, Oppose Israel’s War on Palestinians – Hamas Atrocities Set Back Palestinian National Liberation Struggle, “This pamphlet, which is now out of print, was originally published as an article in the Militant newspaper on February 7, 1969, under the headline ‘Isaac Deutscher on the non-Jewish Jew’ (see page 8).” It can be read in full via that link.
— World-Outlook editors