On the Social Ontology of ‘Race’ — Was Karl Marx White? And Is He?

By S. D’Arcy

There are those who think of Karl Marx as a classic example of the kind of “dead white males” that universities in the West lavish with such rapt attention. But is this quite true? He was male, to be sure. And he’s fully dead. But was he white? Or — in what appears on the surface to be the same question — is Karl Marx white?

For some, the question is to be answered by fixing one’s gaze on the colour of Karl Marx’s skin. One is invited to pour over old sepia photographs, looking for clues. I think there’s good reason to doubt the soundness of this approach, as I will note below. But, for the sake of scrupulous comprehensiveness, let’s look briefly at the matter of Marx’s skin. In his first year as a student at the University of Bonn, according to Jonathan Sperber’s recent biography, Marx’s classmates dubbed him “the Moor,” because of “his swarthy complexion,” i.e., his dark skin. Another biographer, Franz Mehring, says that the nickname was “given to him on account of his jet-black hair and dark complexion.” The label stuck with him until his death almost five decades later. He was judged by his contemporaries, apparently, to have physical features associated (in their minds, at least) with the Maghreb region of North Africa. On the other hand, another biographer, Jerrold Seigel, makes a convincing case that the nickname was — at least in part — a reference to the hero of Friedrich Schiller’s famous Romantic novel, The Robbers [Die Räuber], whose name was Karl von Moor and who denounced the corruption of the rich and powerful. (Note that, as Seigel points out, Marx’s nickname was spelled Mohr, in German, not Moor, so the match is inexact.)karl-marx-ageing

In any case, Seigel makes another point which, as I see things, is more relevant to the matter at hand: the nickname served within his milieu to highlight Marx’s Jewish heritage, hinting that he wasn’t fully recognized as German. Seigel notes that, in spite of his father’s conversion at the age of 35 to Lutheran Christianity (and his corresponding name change from Heschel to Heinrich), which was necessary because a post-Napoleanic Prussian legal reform made it illegal for Jews to practice law, Marx was regarded by his peers as a Jew. Indeed his daughter Eleanor Marx Aveling, who was as secular as Marx albeit less estranged than him from their common Jewish roots, continually referred to herself proudly as “a Jewess.” (Eduard Bernstein, in an obituary for her, wrote that, “At every opportunity she declared her [Jewish] descent with a certain defiance.”)

I will put my cards on the table, at this point: If we come to judge that Marx wasn’t white, it should not be because we think his skin was too dark to count (or “pass”) as white. It should be because we decide that Jews in Germany (and Europe more broadly) in the 19th century were racialized as exterior to the “white race.” In other words, if Marx wasn’t white, it’s because other Jews of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as Rosa Luxemburg or Leon Trotsky, were also not white.

The question of whether or not Marx was white holds considerable interest, I think, for two reasons. First, it raises some interesting and important questions in social ontology; and second, it raises the possibility that although Marxism arose in Europe, obviously, it may never have been a political tradition dominated by white people, since it has been crucially shaped by and centrally associated with racialized (that is, racially subordinated) people from its inception. Anyone can observe that in our own time, and indeed since no later than the mid-20th century, marxism has been a political tradition whose adherents have been overwhelmingly confined to the Global South. That applies both to intellectuals and to workers’ movements and leftist political parties. There are far more marxists in India today than in Europe, the USA and Canada combined. But it isn’t as well known or well-understood that even many of marxism’s earliest and most influential adherents within Europe were also non-white, including its main founder.

To make the point fully clear, two things have to be established: that European Jews in the 19th century weren’t white; and that Marx and many other leading early marxists were also Jewish, in the relevant sense, even if they were secular and/or atheist, as most were. These two issues are in fact closely related, because in order to make the case that European Jews in the 19th century were not white, one has to establish that Jews were regarded, not simply as a religious group, which one could exit by means of conversion to another religion or adoption of atheism, but a racial one, from which no escape was possible.

Certainly, anyone would agree that Jews in Europe in general, and in Marx’s Germany specifically, were subjected to systematic subordination, often being persecuted mercilessly. The mechanisms of this subordination ranged from the pogroms (violent anti-Semitic rioting) of the Russian empire, to longstanding denial to Jews of civil rights across Europe, to the spread of (sometimes biologically and sometimes culturally framed) ideologies of Jewish inferiority, typified by Immanuel Kant’s depiction of Jews as “a nation of cheaters,” who were “bound by an ancient superstition” which encouraged them to “seek no civil dignity and [to] try to make up for this loss by the advantage of duping the people among whom they find refuge, and even one another” (Kant, 1798, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View). As recently as the late 1920s, the most important logician since Aristotle, Gottlob Frege, could insist that the Jews should not “be considered as Germans,” expressing support for the project of expelling them from Germany outright, if possible, and in the meantime advocating the denial to them of equal civil rights.

So, yes, there was a system of wide-ranging persecution and subordination of Jewish people, certainly. But the question is, was this a matter of “religious persecution” or “racial subordination”? This matters here particularly, because Marx’s family converted to Christianity, with the result that he grew up in a secular family that was officially or formally affiliated to Lutheranism, not Judaism.

Interestingly, according to George M. Fredrickson, author of Racism: A Short History, “The word ‘racism’ first came into common usage in the 1930s when a new word was required to describe the theories on which the Nazis based their persecution of the Jews” (Racism: A Short History, p. 5). But was the anti-Semitism of the Nazis racist, specifically, and why? How, if at all, was it fundamentally different from the more longstanding anti-Jewish religious persecution of earlier times?

The racist version of anti-Semitism differed from the religious version in that it was linked to an essentialist interpretation of what was viewed as disreputable about Jewishness. In religious persecution, it is one’s religious affiliation that is discrediting, but that can be changed by means of conversion; in the racist version, the view is not that Jews are bad because their religion has disreputable features, but rather that their prior, more fundamental Jewishness explains the supposed defects of the religion that most of them practice, and no mere change of religious affiliation can make that go away. Thus, in religious persecution, one is a Jew because one adheres to the Jewish religion; in racist anti-semitism, if one adheres to the Jewish religion, it is just one of many possible expressions of one’s more basic Jewishness. To the Nazis, it didn’t matter if one practiced Judaism; either way, a Jew was a Jew.

But was this type of racial anti-Semitism a specifically Nazi invention? No, certainly not. Although the details are better left to historians, the overall picture is clear enough: the rise of modern nationalism, beginning at the end of the 18th century, in combination with the rise of modern imperialism, encouraged the development — nowhere more forcefully than in Germany — of the idea of a people bonded by ethnic commonality, distinguished from and superior to foreigners. “Previously, their Christian neighbours had thought of Jews as members of an alien and false religion, adherents to a broken covenant. Now secularized antisemites would hate them as members of an alien and inferior race, unassimilable by those among whom they lived, a dangerous source of pollution for the cultural and racial purity of their neighbors” (Nicholls, Christian Anti-Semitism, p. 313). “Jews were now to be regarded as a race….This was especially true in Germany, where the Romantic movement spoke of the Volk, the ancient Aryan race in its pure German form.” In this form of anti-Semitism, the Jews “were aliens, unassimilable even when they did their utmost to assimilate” (Ibid., p. 289).

It is for this reason that Marx’s nickname, the Moor, is significant: its hint that Marx, in spite of his atheism and his parents’ conversion to Christianity, was nevertheless regarded by his peers as a foreigner, a Jew, whose roots were to be found in the Middle East, not Germany.

Marx, in short, was regarded as a Jew, not a white person, not a German or even a proper European. Of course, it might seem like a leap to go from saying (1) Marx was regarded by anti-Semites as a Jew, not white, to saying (2) Marx wasn’t white. Shouldn’t the critical distance we rightly take from the racist view of Jews lead us to ignore ascriptions of racial categories by racist Europeans in the 19th century?

Well, that would hold if we believed there there were such a thing as mind-independent races. But surely we should not think that. Here, we touch on one of the ontological points that I want to make. Race is “socio-genic,” that is to say, it is the outcome of a social process of differential status-assignment that institutes hierarchically ordered social positions and consigns people to these positions, not because of what they already are (as if racial assignments reflected natural differences), nor because of how they look (as if racial difference were something we that social orders simply registered by noticing pre-existing diversity), but instead by actively establishing as authoritative and thereby instituting socio-political criteria for sorting people into groups using diversity, sometimes phenotypic (physical appearance) and sometimes non-phenotypic, as a pretext. In short, racial categories are a socio-political invention. Racial positions are instituted, socially. (A view that is, in broad outlines, consistent with this view is applied to the case of American Jews in the book, How Jews Became White Folks, and What That Says About Race in America, by Karen Brodkin.)

Of course, it is an invention that is taken very seriously, both by its inventors and by those who take their cue from them. Employers, landlords, judges, police officers, teachers, and many, many others routinely decide how to talk about someone, how to treat someone, and more generally how to relate to someone, based in some large part on the racial category into which they class that person. We all know that. But what’s less clear is why they do that. Or, more to the point, how is the practice of racialization functional for powerful institutions and systems? I won’t stop to try to answer that question, except to say that my own view is heavily informed by Martin Luther King’s view, according to which white supremacy was “engineered” by elites as a form of social control. (For more on that, see “Some Concise Research Notes on Two Concepts in Early Marxism: The ‘Volksmasse’ and ‘Antagonismus.’”)

But it is crucial to see that races exist in much the same way that 20 dollar bills exist: they exist in a way that depends crucially on the fact that people think that one thing (a piece of rectangular paper with certain markings on it) counts as another thing (a unit of currency). Once that social condition is met, however, 20 dollar bills produce very real effects. The idea that they are only imaginary (just because they are, among other things, imaginary) is gravely mistaken. No, they are not mere figments of imagination, but institutions, constituted in part by socially shared imaginings. The key to understanding races, including counterfeit cases of racial ‘passing,’ is to understand that, like universities and 20 dollar bills, races are institutions.

I want to close these comments by returning to my starting-point. Was Marx a “dead white male,” in the sense that people use that term to criticize the narrowness of “canonically” “important” intellectual work? Although Marx was not white, his inclusion in a so-called “Canon” of so-called “Great Philosophers” could still be seen, today, as a maneuver enabled by his acceptance, long after his death, as white (an acceptance made possible by virtue of the very “background” that once precluded him from being recognized as white: his German Jewish heritage).

He wasn’t white, but he is white. He switched races many years after his death. (Of course, this seems like a less remarkable feat when compared to Socrates, who took thousands of years to become, posthumously, a “homosexual.”)

As for Marxism, it should be accepted, I think, that Marxism did not emerge mainly from white society, or rather, from white people. Many of its most important early promoters and innovators were not white (until they were made so, well after their deaths): people like Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, Julius Martov, Otto Bauer, and György Lukacs, to name only a few. For the most part, marxism emerged from racialized, non-white intellectuals and activists in Europe, just as racialized non-white intellectuals and activists outside of Europe are today its leading exponents and innovators. Of course, it did emerge from European society and European culture, so the implications of its origins in Europe would have to be discussed separately. There are important works that address this issue, and I will mention four: Samir Amin’s Eurocentrism (which isn’t specifically about marxism, but deploys and addresses it); Kevin Anderson’s Marx at the Margins; Vivek Chibber’s Postcolonial Theory and the Spectre of Capital; and Robert Biel’s Eurocentrism and the Communist Movement.

29 thoughts on “On the Social Ontology of ‘Race’ — Was Karl Marx White? And Is He?”

    1. Michael, thanks for drawing my attention to the Monthly Review article and discussion. The article is, of course, very different from mine in two ways: First, Vilakazi claims that Marx was “black,” and had African ancestry, whereas I claim that he was Jewish, and non-white on that basis. Second, Vilakazi is interested in the matter of Marx’s skin colour, and believes that the whole issue hinges on his skin colour and his hair, and what this might say about his ancestry, whereas I regard all of that as irrelevant, in part because I claim that he was Jewish, not black, and in part because I claim that racial classifications are socio-genic, not determined by phenotypic traits, etc. Nevertheless, it’s a good example of the kind of thing that I mention at the beginning: people who think that we should “pour over old sepia photos, looking for clues,” and so on. I regard that as barking up the wrong tree, on multiple grounds.

  1. I’ve been thinking about this and was going to try and throw you a curve-ball by asking you how the co-author of The Communist Manifesto fits into your theory, but I decided not to do that. Instead, I’m just going to say that the greatness of Marx and Marxism is it’s power in explaining why workers need to overthrow capitalism. Marx never tried to be too clever by half… instead, he took complex issues and explained them in a way that _anyone_ could understand. Granted, he didn’t limit himself to 140-characters, but his explanation of the labour theory of value (labour-value, exchange-value, use-value) is the reason Marxism has stood the test of time.

  2. Jews weren’t fully German in 19th century Prussia. They are fully White in the 21st century United States.

    I don’t know that anyone would argue that Jewish authors are underrepresented in your typical freshman reading list in the United States.

    1. Marko, I’m not sure what you’re trying to say, here. My claim in the original post is that Marx “was not white,” and yet, posthumously, he “became white,” and so yes, he is a “dead white male.” But my interest in the matter doesn’t have to do with curriculum, but only with an assumption that is deployed in some discussions of curriculum, namely, that Marx was white. In fact, he wasn’t, but now is. And I find this fact interesting in two ways: first, it is an interesting (not earth-shattering, but interesting) feature of the “ontology” of “races” that one can change races after one is dead; second, it suggests that marxism emerged in large part (although not wholly) from the intellectual and practical-political activity of people who were not white, and who were subjected to racialization (systematic subordination based on ‘race’). This latter fact suggests to me that there is more continuity than many people might think between marxism’s origins in Europe and the situation today, when most marxists are people of colour in the Global South. Marxism may never have been predominantly a white people’s political tradition (whatever we might mean by that). So, curriculum is mentioned at the beginning, in the context of discussing where to locate Karl Marx in “racial” terms, historically and today. But, as I say at the end, his standing today is that of a white intellectual, because he was retroactively recognized (with other European Jews) as white. I hope that clarifies what I’m saying a bit. I’m not sure if you’re disagreeing with me, or not.

  3. This article is very interesting, but it’s important to point out that in Marx’ time race wasn’t about “white” versus non-white. Using those terms is a retroprojection. In the 19thC, and even in Hitler’s time, each nationality was considered a different race. Jews (by faith or lineage) would be “racialized” in Germany (or in other european countries) in the same way that “Frenchmen” members of the “Latin races” would be. It’s true that he posthumously became white because of the way we categorize races today, particularly because of the influence of American concepts of race, but I don’t think that in his day anyone would have thought about whether he was white or not.

  4. Daniel, I think you’re underestimating the extent to which there was a line between white and non-white at that time. One of the pioneers of racial thinking was Immanuel Kant, and here’s a passage where he expresses his view on the matter. “humanity is at its greatest perfection in the race of the whites” (Kant, “Lectures on Physical Geography,” 1802). He adds, “the NEgro can be disciplined and cultivated, but is never genuinely civilized. He falls of his own accord into savagery.” And this: “[Native] Americans and Blacks cannot govern themselves. They thus serve only for slaves.” In another place, he says that because the Jews are “a nation of cheaters,” it would be pointless to argue with them about morality. Now, I agree with you that there was a lot of plurality in racial categories, in Europe from the late 18th to early 20th centuries. Some “racial” differences were intra-European, certainly, and there was some fluidity and so on. But I would insist that there was a sharper line between white and non-white than you are admitting. Consider Hume’s comments: “I am apt to suspect the negroes to be naturally inferior to the whites. There scarcely ever was any civilized nation of any that complexion, nor even any individual eminent in action or speculation….On the other hand, the most rude and barbarous of the whites,” namely, the Germans, “have still something eminent about them, in their valor, form of government, or some other particular. Such a uniform and constant difference could not happen, in so many countries and ages, if nature had not made an original distinction between these breeds of men” (Hume, Essays Moral, Political, and Literary, 1742, Part I, Essay XXI, “Of National Characters”). Now, what Hume is saying here is that Germans, and I will add French, Italians, and so on, may be “barbarous,” but at least they produce philosophers, scientists, artists, and at least they can govern themselves. This marks them as among “the whites,” as far as the “original distinction” between “breeds of men” goes. So, the question would be (for cases of persecuted and scorned groups within Europe, like Jews, the Irish, and others), were they seen as being, like the Germans, “rude and barbarous,” but still one of “the whites,” with “something eminent about them”? Or were they seen as fundamentally incompetent and incapable of excellence and so on, like Indigenous “Americans” and “the negroes,” so scorned by people like Hume and Kant? More fundamentally, the question you raise is: were there (many, and influential) white supremacists, like Kant and Hume, in Europe of that time, who attached importance to this idea of whiteness as an exclusive group of superior ethnicities? Or were they just a few individuals with eccentric race theories, lacking wide influence over social practice? I think that there’s lots of historical evidence to suggest that, in fact, exclusivist and supremacist “whiteness” in 19th century Europe was a real and growing notion, linked in part to “social Darwinism,” to modern Imperialism, and other influences. And within this notion of whiteness, French, Germans, English, Swedes, and others were included, but some groups in Europe, including Jews, were excluded, in a way that proved “fateful.”

  5. I’m completely on board with structural and sociogenic accounts of race, but in those terms, it’s too much of a shorthand to conflate Jewishness, or even non-Europeanness, with being “not white.” Only in your reply to Daniel does it fully come forward that you mean that even European Jews were considered not to be of-Europe in Marx’s time. But it takes more argument to show that not being seen as entirely-of-Europe, and being persecuted as such (Irish colonialism is an interesting example to think with) is the same as being “not white.” This eliminates the possibility of white on white racism: why should we do that? More pressingly it’s not clear why you want to create this category, “not white.” Every time you create a category you’re going to de-emphasize its internal differences. The motives for the creation of such categories don’t have a very good track record: please see Jared Sexton, “People of Color Blindness” and *Amalgamation Schemes*. In this case, the differences between black, Asian and Jewish seem very worth preserving as crisp sociogenic categories, and I’m not sure what you gain by the looser “not white.” In fact, what do you think you gain?

  6. There’s only one race, the human race. There are plenty of ideologists buying into racist game of dividing the wealth producing classes into socio-genic identities though. The workers divided will always be defeated.

  7. This has some relevance, I think, to the discussion here:

    In a letter addressed to both Laura and Paul [Lafargue, who was part black, part Native American] father-in-law Marx remarked that “his sending books to me, at such a critical juncture, speaks volumes for the innate kindness of the ‘young man.’ This simple fact would go far to prove that he must belong to a better than the European race.” About a year later in 1869 in a comment meant for Lafargue, Marx wrote: “And compliments to the African. It will give him great pleasure to hear … that the first “black” ambassador of the United States has been appointed by [President] Grant.” “African” was one of a number of terms of affection used within the family and amongst friends to refer to Lafargue, others being “creole,” “negrillo,” “gorilla,” and even “nigger.” (Marx, as already noted, was known in the same circles as “Moor” owing to his dark features.)

    Marx, Tocqueville, and Race in America: The “Absolute democracy” or “defiled Republic” (Lexington Books, 2003), p. 159.

  8. Very interesting essay, and a stimulating discussion. There are earlier examples of a perhaps parallel incorporation of non-‘whites’ into ‘whiteness’–St Augustine being a salient example. High-Medieval and early modern Christianity made space for racial others (e.g. the magus Balthazar, and St. Maurice, both represented with sub-Saharan features), but Augustine gets represented as very white: presumably it wouldn’t do to acknowledge that a founding Father of Latin Christrianity was a Berber.

  9. 19th century understandings of race were not ours, and while I grant that Europe and the United States have always had different takes on prejudice, it should be noted that Judah P. Benjamin served Jefferson Davis in three cabinet positions, including Secretary of State. Which is to say, if the Confederate States of America thought Jews were white, they were white.

    1. I don’t understand your reasoning. Even if I were to grant — although I do not in fact grant — that we can conclude from the fact that Jefferson Davis appointed a Jewish man to a cabinet post that Davis regarded his appointee as white (and, by extension, that more generally white racists who form political or business partnerships with people regard those persons as also white), it wouldn’t follow at all that Jewish people were white. At most, it would follow that Davis regarded Benjamin as white.

      But consider a remark that appears in one of the most virulently anti-Semitic, specifically “Aryan” supremacist texts ever written, the late diaries of the logician Gottlob Frege. There, Frege writes: “One can acknowledge that there are Jews of the highest respectability, and yet regard it as a misfortune that there are so many Jews in Germany, and that they have complete equality of political rights with citizens of Aryan descent.” Thus, even a convinced racist anti-Semite like Frege, a keen supporter of Ludendorf, Hitler’s collaborator in the Beer Hall Putsch, will insist that “there are [individual] Jews of the highest respectability.” In this regard, one would have to show that, not only was Davis impressed by the slave owner and propagandist for slavery, Benjamin, but also that he held all Jews generally to be members of the same race as himself. Were you to show that, you would have demonstrated that at least one person regarded Jews as white. If you could go further, and show Davis to have been typical in this regard, it would entail that in the Confederacy, the views of people like Kant and Hume in Europe were alien to the ideology of race that prevailed then and there.

      1. The problem is people today have trouble distinguishing between racism and tribalism—you can change your tribe, but not your race. To Protestants of the 19th century, Jews and Catholics and Muslims were part of the wrong tribe. Are there any contemporary references to any white person objecting to Benjamin or Marx for any reason other than their religious heritage? I’m a very amateur historian, so I might’ve missed something. But I respectfully submit that given the existing evidence—Jews as a class were never barred from entering the US and white Jews were always recorded as white in the census, for example—the burden of proof is on the person who insists Jews were not white. Now, if by “white” you simply mean upper class, as sites like “Things White People Like” use the word today, sure, many Jews and Catholics weren’t white, but by that logic, neither was the white working class.

      2. You write: “Jews as a class were never barred from entering the US and white Jews were always recorded as white in the census, for example—the burden of proof is on the person who insists Jews were not white.”

        Some comments in response: First, there was no policy of barring non-white people from the US in the 19th century, as you must know — as someone who takes an interest in US history. Quite the reverse, in fact. Irish people, Chinese people, and many others, plus slaves in particular, were all not only allowed, but sought out as a source of cheap labour (of which slave labour was a special case). None of them were considered to be members of the white race. (You may disagree about the Irish case, but I take my view to be the view of most historians of race in the US in the 19th century; in any case, even if we cross the Irish off the list, the point stands.)

        Second, re: recording Jews as white in the US census, I want to first recall that my topic is not the US, but Europe, so it’s a tangential point, in relation to my comments on Marx and European Jews (notably secular Jews, like Marx in Germany/Britain and Luxemburg in Poland/Germany, etc.). Still, I would resist the inference from the absence of “Jews” on the 19th century US census to the acceptance of (“ethnically”) Jewish people in the 19th century US as “white.” It seems quite likely that Irish were also recorded as white, for that matter. But what does this mean? Some of the alternatives on 19th century US censuses were “mulatto,” “quadroon,” “octaroon,” etc., i.e., categories related to how much if any African ancestry one had. That is, first of all, irrelevant to the social organization of racial classification schemes in Europe, and secondly only relevant to one axis of racial classification: the “color line,” as it came to be known. But just as, in our own time, Muslims are racialized as exterior to the white race, regardless of how their colour may or may not differ from others, so too Jewish people (religious or secular or Christian converts) were racialized as exterior to the white race. People like Kant, for instance, regarded them as “a nation of cheaters,” scheming, greedy, and so on.

        Now, I fully grant (and I say in the post) that the racial version of anti-Semitism, which seemed so obvious to someone like Frege or Hitler in the inter-war years, grew out of an earlier phenomenon that was importantly different: the religious persecution of religious Jews. But over time, the option of converting became irrelevant. This, of course, culminated in the Nazi genocide: no one escaped the camps by claiming to be Christians or atheists. It was quite irrelevant, if they lacked (in Frege’s phrase) “Aryan descent.”

        On your distinction between what you call tribalism and what you call racism, I am doubtful that the contrast can be defended. In particular, it is important to recall in this discussion that racial classification schemas are themselves the product of racism, not pre-existing differences that racism seizes upon and deploys to some political end. No, it is the political ends that motivate and explain the practice of instituting racial classification schemes and “identities.” It is the practice of instituting “second-class status” for populations that generates the concepts and categories of race-assignment (albeit usually mobilizing some hitherto irrelevant markers as a pretext, like religion, skin colour, culture, and so on). So, the contrast between “religious heritage” and racial classification is a contingent one. When Jews were targets of religious persecution, they could escape by conversion. When the targeting became racial, conversion became irrelevant.

        You ask if there are any “references to any white person objecting to…Marx for any reason other than…religious heritage”? The answer is yes, of course. Here’s Marx’s rival socialist in the 19th century workers’ movement, Mikhail Bakunin, ranting about Marx’s involvement in a “Jewish conspiracy”: “Well now, this whole Jewish world which constitutes a single exploiting sect, a sort of bloodsucker people, a collective parasite, voracious, organized in itself, not only across the frontiers of states but even across all the differences of political opinion — this world is presently, at least in great part, at the disposal of Marx on the one hand and of the Rothschilds on the other. I know that the Rothschilds, reactionaries as they are…, highly appreciate the merits of the communist Marx; and that in his turn Marx feels irresistably drawn, by instinctive attraction and respectful admiration, to the financial genius of Rothschild. Jewish solidarity, that powerful solidarity that has maintained itself through all history, united them” (quoted in p. 296). Elsewhere, Bakunin added that there was “a dire conspiracy of German and Russian Jews against me,” including Marx. Bakunin went further still, saying that even a convert to Christianity “remains no less a Jew.” And: “Above all, they are Jews, and that establishes among all the individuals of this singular race, across all religions, political and social differences that separate them, a union and solidarity that is mutually indissoluble. It is a powerful chain, broadly cosmopolitan and narrowly national at the same time, in the racial sense, interconnecting teh kings of finance, the Rothschilds, or the most scientifically exalted intelligences….Every Jew,” he adds, is an authoritarian. “It is the heritage of the race.” (All these lines from Bakunin are quoted by Hal Draper, in the book, ‘Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution,’ Volume IV, pp. 295-98)

        Finally, no, I don’t mean by “white” simply “upper class.” It should be obvious that elite figures can be non-white, but still no less members of the ruling elite. Right now, the US President is racialized as non-white. So, race-assignment is something that proceeds independently (in part, but obviously not entirely independently) of the conferral of access to the upper echelons of society (in terms of class and political office).

      3. The US did exclude people by race, most notably perhaps, the Chinese. And they moved some people between racial categories—I remember a North African group going to court in the early 20th century to establish their whiteness. A hasty google didn’t find that, but Wikipedia has this:

        “The Naturalization Act of 1790 restricted naturalized American citizenship to whites.[49] However, United States v. Wong Kim Ark in 1898 confirmed citizenship by birth in the US regardless of race. As a result, in the early 20th century many new arrivals with origins in the Far East petitioned the courts to be legally classified as white, resulting in the existence of many United States Supreme Court rulings on their “whiteness”. In 1922, the court case Takao Ozawa v. United States deemed that Japanese are part of the Mongoloid race, and thus non-white.
        In Jim Crow era Mississippi, however, Chinese American children were allowed to attend white-only schools and universities, rather than attend black-only schools, and some of their parents became members of the infamous Mississippi “White Citizens’ Council” who enforced policies of racial segregation.[78] [79] [80]”

        When people called Marx a Jew insultingly, the question is whether they meant it in a pseudo-scientific sense or in the sense of a traitor to Christians. Hitler obviously loved pseudo-science, but racism became much worse in the early 20th century; in the Old South in most states, a person who was 3/4 white was white, but during Jim Crow, the one-drop rule applied. Bakunin clearly seems to believe there was a Jewish race, not in the sense of the race or writers or the race of the Irish, but as a distinct race of untrustworthy humans.

        And, yes, prejudice varies from place to place. In the US, prejudice against Jews was strong in the north, but less strong in the south, and even less strong in the west.

        Still, the fact remains that Jews in the US have always been white, and I’ve yet to see any evidence that they were considered “not white” in Europe. But if you’re using “race” to refer to all sorts of prejudice, sure, Christian bigots hate Jews, along with atheists and unitarians and every sort of person who does not validate their belief.

  10. Exactly what relevance is his race? He founded the revolutionary science of Marxism. His race isn’t relevant, his ideas were. Whether or not Marxist theory is correct, has nothing to do with his race. Science is not correct or incorrect based on the race of the individual. This seems pointless debate over a non-issue that comes up because First Worldism is so hyper focused around “you’re a cis White male” that they’ve lost sight of revolutionary science.

    1. I’m not sure if you have had a chance to read it, but the question you raise in your comment does not seem to engage with the matters addressed in the piece. The issue of how race might or might not affect the validity of Marx’s social-scientific research isn’t at stake here. It isn’t relevant, as far as I can tell. What is addressed here is itself a scientific claim: that Jewish people were racialized as non-white and subjected to racial oppression in Europe during Marx’s lifetime, and for several decades thereafter. Whether marxism’s development was affected by the central role in its formation played by people subjected to racial oppression, like Marx, Luxemburg, etc, would something worth exploring, although I don’t attempt it here.

      1. “The issue of how race might or might not affect the validity of Marx’s social-scientific research isn’t at stake here.”

        I realize that, I know that’s not what the post is about. I’m questioning the value of even asking it. Marxism has much larger tasks ahead of itself.

    2. I think it is very simplistic and petty to disregard race as a non entity. In any case, it largely depends on the perspective from which you are viewing the issues. Obviously White and Black people are not the same. We don’t look the same, our hair, our eyes, are noses and even our skin does not look the same. Even our blood is not the same, it coagulates differently. It is therefore easy to differentiate between White and Black people despite assertions that I have read on this post. In any case the word human comes from 2 words: Hue = Colour and man. This means a man of colour. That in itself, also shows us the distinction between Black and White people. In other words, the distinction between melanated people and the non-melanated people. This is exactly how whites differentiated themselves from the Black man in order to subjugate him. If this is a non-issue to you, it is a big issue for me as a Black man.

      It also depends on who wrote the history that is being taught to white people and also, why they decided to write the history that way. It always presents a huge challenge to any individual to only rely on one side of the story. Remember the history that you are taught is from the perspective of the oppressor himself. To find the truth, one always has to investigate the 2 sides of the story and thereafter, make your own independent deductions and conclusions.

      There are 2 opposite views that people use to look at this issue depending on who you are (Black or White). From the Black man’s perspective, race is everything. It is of course the criteria, a weapon and a vehicle that was used to murder, rape, enslave, dispossess and dehumanize Black people. Black people were subjected to all this, not for any other reason, but only because we are Black. I guess from your perspective that is not the issue as you have alluded on your post. But facts on the ground fully negate the mindset that race is not important.

      One thing that surprises me about whites is that race is only important when it benefits them. When they colonized Africa, it was solely based on race and race alone and on the premise of the inferiority of a Black man to justify their murder, rape, dispossession, enslavement and dehumanization of Blacks. But loo and behold, when scientific evidence is brought forth that supports the greatness of a Black man, as evidenced by the Greatest Civilizations that the Blacks built (Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Timbuktu and all the Black civilizations, suddenly colour is not important anymore.

      1. I’ll let one of my favorite thinkers answer you:

        “I believe in recognizing every human being as a human being, neither white, black, brown nor red. When you are dealing with humanity as one family, there’s no question of integration or intermarriage. It’s just one human being marrying another human being, or one human being living around and with another human being.” -Malcolm X

  11. Someone interesting to read about in the area of Jewish persecution in Europe and a different assessment/reaction to it is a Karl Marx contemporary – Moses Hess: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moses_Hess

    It specifically mentions on the Wikipedia page: “From 1861 to 1863 he lived in Germany, where he became acquainted with the rising tide of German antisemitism. It was then that he reverted to his Jewish name Moses (after apparently going by Moritz Hess) in protest against assimilationism.”

    I’ve also seen him credited from his earlier years with contributing the religion “opiate of the masses” quote to Marx/Engels works.

  12. I remember reading in several places that the name Moor, which marx also used to sign off letters to at least some of his children some of the time, was also related to the fact that his family apparently were at least in part Sephardic who were originally from North Africa and moved up over time to Germany as traders are merchants. Has this been confirmed one way or another to be true or false?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s