The Rising Tide of Anti-Semitism
by ALVIN JOHNSON
We are taken behind the scenes of the 800 organizations in the United States which are carrying on definite propaganda against the Jews. Our guidethe director of the New School for Social Research and of the University in Exile. And his chargethat "we who love democracy . . . are dunces if we refuse to face the menace of anti-Semitism and weaklings if we fail to apply our resources to combating it."|
Anti-Semitism is on the increase in America. This is to be sure just an opinion, for there are no reliable quantitative estimates available to the public. Private polls may even been held; there are not uncertain rumors afloat of such polls, and they are alleged to exhibit a marked increase in antagonism to the Jews. But polls of public opinion record only the view of an instant, and offer a very inadequate basis for conclusions on lasting realities. The Gallup poll of early December indicated that 94 per cent disapproved of Hitler's treatment of the Jews. But we cannot draw too heavily upon this particular fact. One may be anti-Semitic without approving of the pillage and murder of Jews.
What no one doubts may commonly be taken for pragmatically true, and no one, Gentile or Jew, doubts that there is more active anti-Semitism in present day America than there was, say, in 1930. No one believes that anti-Semitism has passed its peak, although there is much fragmentary evidence that it suffered a setback after the recent German pogrom. A considerable number of conservative Americans, who had viewed with complacency the sting of Jews from public offices, universities and the practice of law, have been deeply shocked by the brutal stacks on Jewish property. Property is property, and if it not sacred, what security is there in the world? But not too much dependence may be placed upon property owners' solidarity. The strength of the feudal aristocracy lay in the fact that the whole class was disposed to stand any members who fell into hard luck. The same thing true, within limits, of the modern proletariat. But the strength of the propertied middle class lies in the promptness with which it turns a cold shoulder on the dispropertied. A prince of the blood remained a prince even if he could not command the price of a breakfast. A prince of industry or finance becomes nothing at all promptly upon his bankruptcy. The sympathy of the propertied classes of the democracies for the Jews who have been expropriated likely to prove more touching than lasting. To be sure, Julius Streicher's newly inaugurated campaign against the "white Jews," wicked Aryans who are making profits such as every American business man hopes to make, may do much to emphasize interracial propertied solidarity. The point is one that may be reserved, for the present.
Anti-Semitism is a social disease that, like syphilis, we have always had with us. Like syphilis it spares no section, no class. The gilded youth and the feebleminded are equally exposed to the infection. Not even the grandfathers are immune. Our racial body manages, however, to get on fairly well in spite of endemic syphilis, but it is always in danger of an epidemic that may prove fatal. Our social-political body is tolerant of a limited amount of anti-Semitism. But there is no one whose opinions are worth listening to, who does not know that a grave epidemic of anti-Semitism is capable of destroying the democratic liberal state. We have before us the example of Germany. Hitler could have talked himself black in the face on parliamentary shortcomings and the iniquity of the Treaty of Versailles. He had the genius to blow up into a flame the endemically smoldering embers of anti-Semitism. Every vulgar and designing scoundrel in America who schemes to substitute dictatorship for democracy casts a greedy eye upon the potentialities of an anti-Semitic campaign. We who love liberal democracy, who have faith in its unlimited possibilities for humanity and civilization, are dunces if we refuse to face the menace of anti-Semitism, and weaklings if we fail to apply our resources to combating it.
What Anti-Semitism Is Made Of
Let us try to break down the general phenomenon of anti-Semitism into its main constituent elements.
Who Promotes Anti-Semitism?
- There is instinctive anti-alienism, which has always set us against unassimilated and partly assimilated members of our society. Four fifths of the Jews have been with us only since Kishineff; too many of them are only partly assimilated to the commanding externals of American life, language, dress and manners.
- There is the age-old antipathy on the part of the farmer and manual worker to the "middleman," and the Jews still group themselves heavily in that class.
- There is the fundamentalist hatred of the Jews on the basis of the over simplified view that the Jews crucified the Christ, never amplified to a recognition that Jesus, the Christ, was a Jew.
- The business and professional hatred of the Jew as a redoubtable competitor.
- What one may call parlor anti-Semitism, boldly paraded by well groomed young men of social status, who need to appear strong men to their women folk and know the passionate virtue of blood curdling sentiments.
- The unhappy denizens of overtame environments, who were happy in spy hunting during the war and desire nothing so much as conspiracies to track down now, "Great Jewish conspiracies."
That, in brief, is the endemiology of American Anti-Semitism. These are the embers the present day propaganda is blowing upon, in the hope of consuming, not the Jew in particular, but democracy and liberalism also. It is an extensive propaganda. There are about 800 organizations in the United States carrying on a definite anti-Semitic propaganda. Some are nation-wide in their operations, some regional; but most of them are one man shows, with a few dues paying members and small sales of anti-Semitic literature, meagerly maintaining a bony, neurotic "president," mixed dunce and knave. The most important organizations are:
Also, there is the notorious "Bund," a monstrous and impudent intrusion into our American life, far more worthy of expulsion than the half-witted bevies of "spies," but which blunders so egregiously that it ought to be subsidized by the Jews.
|The Silver Shirts|
The Defenders of the Christian Faith
The Industrial Defense Association
The American Nationalist Confederation
The James True Associates
The Knights of the White Camellia
To this list we should add the most reckless one man show of the entire unsavory lot, Father Coughlin.
It is a motley array that has been waiting for years for a Hitler to come and organize them into a unified power.
Collectively they claim six million followers, and allege that they reach one third of the population of the United States by literature of personal agitation. There is no possibility of checking their claims; we may prudently assume that they do not understate them. Cut the claims in two: we still have to do with a stupendous anti-democratic activity. It is an activity that could not be carried on without considerable financial resources. It is not credible that these resources could be made up from the modest and occasional dues of the members and from sales of horrendous slanders at 3 or 4 cents a copy. Perhaps some part of Goebbels' $20 million for foreign propaganda reaches us here. This is, however, not a necessary conclusion. We have our fair share of rich men who would be glad to help us to a safe and sane dictatorship, and who have never stopped to consider that their privileges rest on the Bill of Rights.
The Appeal to Native Bigotry
The methods of the propaganda may be simply Classified. For the average timid soul, identification of the Jews with the Reds. For the romantic moron, the grand conspiracy of the Elders of Zion. For the blasé society lady, the fake letter of Franklin. For the anti-New Dealer, a catalogue of government posts held by Jews under the New Deal and "proof" that obnoxious New Deal measures were devised by Felix Frankfurter, Mordecai Ezekiel or Jerome Frank. For the small business man, assertions that the great corporations destroying him are controlled by Jews. For the Fundamentalist, blood ritual whisperings. For the southern gentlemen, identification of the Jew with Negro domination. Nothing for the parlor anti-Semite, who hates the Jew on his own, to the admiration of his women folk.
One leaf the American anti-Semitic campaigners have taken out of Hitler's "Mein Kampf," a book otherwise too deep for them. That is the technology of the lie. A lie will nearly always travel faster than the pursuing truth. If the truth appears to be gaining on the lie, a covering bevy of lies can be launched. The truth has never really run down the Elders of Zion lie, nor the bogus statement of Franklin. It has never scotched the lie of the prevailing Jewish character of the Bolshevik party in Russia. It has not scotched the lie that Bernard Baruch ruled the United States for his own profit during the World War. In fact, the truth is ill adapted for the function of pursuit. The truth is a statue.
This is far from a reassuring picture. But wait: how large a proportion of the population of the United States is made up of the furious anti-New Dealers, the Fundamentalists, the oppressed small business men, the romantic morons and the parlor anti-Semites? Stretch your imagination as far as you please, it will not make a majority, or anywhere near it.
Organized labor is not anti-Semitic. Whether AF of L or CIO, it is perfectly aware that the Jew is only a stalking horse in the hunt aimed at organized labor. The farmers are not anti-Semitic. You may of course picture some of them in the long winter evenings, thrilling themselves with the Elders of Zion, just as they thrill themselves with "The Quadroon's Revenge" or "The True Story of Dillinger." But something tells the farmer that literature is always made up of lies. The women, save for the time-expired parlor heroines and the fluffy suburbanites who hear that a Jewish family might move into their environment and disturb their knitting raptures, are not anti-Semitic. They have an instinctive sense of bunk. Scarcely any of the unemployed has failed to receive a leaflet. "You haven't got a job. Who's got it? A Jew. How do you like it?" Momentarily at least this argument gets under the skin, although, strange as it may seem to the comfortable, the unemployed stand out for their common humanity. But the next leaflet may damn the "Jewish" New Deal policy of relief. That was intended for another group, but literature gets mixed in a society like ours.
Facing the Lies with American Facts
WE HAVE TOO MUCH anti-Semitism for the good of our democratic liberal state. We have not so much as to compel us to go about crying, "It can happen here, and it will." True, anti-Semitism enabled Hitler to overthrow the German democracy. But it was a weak democracy, forced upon a defeated people who had never had the opportunity to develop democrats, and without real democrats democracy is a mere book definition. It was a democracy sore with defeat, repeatedly humiliated and mistreated by the victors. German democracy was gradually struggling to its feet, and might have done so if it had not been afflicted with endemic anti-Semitism, which Hitler could fan into a flame. Given a similar situation of defeat and humiliation, of indemnities, inflation, the destruction of every hope of modest security, we could turn Nazi, too, and undoubtedly our designing Hitler would seize upon endemic anti-Semitism as a chief source of strength.
There is no need, however, to contemplate the ultimate extreme of a Nazi dictatorship. Our American democracy is far from a finished job. We are far from having attained satisfactory formulae covering the relations of employer and employee, of city and country, of state and individual. We have real issues before us, issues on which honest and intelligent men will differ. We know well that if we can fight out our political campaigns on these real issues, we can make whatever adjustments are necessary to the evolving requirements of the time. We can move toward a better state without revolutionary shock and disorder.
The interjection of a purely fantastic and corrupt issue like anti-Semitism menaces this orderly evolution of our national life. A wise political observer has predicted that the outcome of the next presidential election will be determined by the Jewish question. Is that not a shocking idea? That we should turn aside from the great questions of national defense, of reconstructing our agriculture, of employment, of collective bargaining and minimum wages, of the distribution of taxation, of public health, of education, to split on the question whether certain persons may adhere to a religion that antedates Christianity and after all, contributed the ethics without which Christianity would have been a dreary superstition.
If there are forces making for the increase in anti-Semitism, so also are there forces making for its abatement. Nazi Germany, identified with anti-Semitism, is not gaining in popularity in this country. I have mentioned the Gallup poll, with its evidence of almost universal condemnation of the treatment of the Jews in Germany. Nazi Germany will be still less popular with us when she really goes out to get the "white Jews," the business men who are making money, the Henry Fords and such. She has to go after them sooner or later, if only to meet her fiscal requirements. The identification of Nazism with American conservative capitalism will retire into the limbo whence it came, and therewith the sinews of propagandist anti-Semitism will be much slackened.
And on another side the conditions that give color to anti-Semitism are abating. The vast immigrant groups from Eastern Europe are now passing on into the third generation on American soil; Yiddish speech and Yiddish clannishness are giving way. The concentration of Jews in merchandising and the white-collar trades is gradually but surely breaking up. We have a fair beginning of a movement of Jews to the soil. The number of Jewish farmers is still undetermined, but there are certainly 16,000, on the whole succeeding well, and there are many stirrings to indicate an increasing movement to the land. A quarter of the union carpenters of New York City are Jews; a fifth of the electrical workers; nearly half the painters and paper hangers; half the plasterers; nearly half the plumbers and steam fitters; more than half the sheet metal workers. These are the union figures. The proportion of Jews among the non-union workers is greateranother story, however, that is not relevant here. The point is that the unhealthy concentration in commercial pursuits forced upon the Jew by the Old World anti-Semitism, itself operating to intensify anti-Semitism, is gradually breaking up here. People still say, to be sure, "You never see a Jewish artisan or farmer." Parrots will go on saying it.
The stars in their courses were fighting against Sisera, but that would not have helped much if the forces of the Lord had not fought too, and manfully. The stars in their courses are fighting against anti-Semitism in America, and that is the very reason why we who love our land, and who believe in our people, and have faith in our future as the richest, the most humane, the most orderly civilization ever created by man should fight the evil intelligently and manfully.
We cannot confront the anti-Semitic propagandist face to face, because he only flees, scattering lies behind him. We waste our time trying to confute the parlor anti Semite, because his anti-Semitism is a personal necessity. Besides, he is fickle in the objects of his manful hatred Not many years ago it was the Catholics; not many years hence it will be the Nazis, as it was the "Prussians" during the World War. We cannot do anything directly about Fundamentalist anti-Semitism, but with the advance in the standard of living and the extension of education this type of anti-Semitism loses in importance. We cannot do much about the romantic hunger for tales of conspiracy like the Protocols. A good ship can make headway though moderately barnacled, and if our ship of state is well handled, these anti-Semitic barnacles will slow us very little.
It Behooves Us to Do More Than Wring Our Hands
FAR MORE IMPORTANT IS THE GENERAL DISPOSITION TO VIEW alienism and a permanent minority position with distrust. Toleration in the form in which it has been taught for the last two hundred years is essentially a liberal doctrine. It derived its force from antagonism to the absolute monarchy. Our present conflict is between democracy and dictatorship, and while democracy generates its own type of tolerance in contrast to dictatorial intolerance, the type is not necessarily the same as that of liberalism. The democracy has always exhibited certain reservations about persistent minority groupings. One may recall the universal response, at the time of the World War, to Theodore Roosevelt's attacks on the "hyphenated-Americans."
Is there any reason why democracy should not accept the Jew as unqualifiedly sound material for a democratic polity? Fundamentally, none. Most Jews of old American stock are so accepted. Differences in religion have never counted importantly with the democracy. Nevertheless, there is at present a disposition to impute permanent minority characteristics to the mass of the Jews. And this is a danger for the future. We shall see the current anti-Semitic wave subsiding, no doubt. But who shall say that in a future decade we may not be overwhelmed by a greater economic depression than the last, with a government less energetic in combating the general distress? In such event any weakness in our system may be disastrous, and latent anti-Semitism is one of the most dangerous.
It behooves us, as good American citizens, to set about building a bridge of understanding between the two groups, Jewish and Christian. By good modern practice, a bridge is always begun from both sides of the river simultaneously. Most of the building must be done from the side of the Christians, who have the most to lose from anti-Semitism, being the more numerous group. But the Jews have to do some building, too. There was never a persecuted race that did not develop some characteristics that seemed to give color of justification to persecution. Abolish persecution and such characteristics disappear. In time, but in how much time? And does fate give us sufficient time?
It is wise not to presume on fate, at least so long as there is something we can do ourselves. It is still open to us to form an engineering organization representing both groups, to discuss frankly, without reservations or taboos, ways and means for softening the edges of inter-group conflict, of clearing away inter-group misunderstanding. At least we owe it to our democratic civilization to do something more than denounce and wring our hands. We can try.