Antisemitism and the (modern) critique of capitalism

The paper argues that modern antisemitism is the ‘rumour about Jews’ as personification of hated forms of capitalism. I will first look at some contemporary expressions of antisemitism, and theses IV and V explore Adono’s and Horkeimer’s (1989) and Postone’s (1986) understanding of Nazi antisemitism.

Submitted by schalomlibertad on July 23, 2009


The Nazi ideologue Rosenberg (1938) formulated the modern essence of antisemitism succinctly when he portrayed it as an attack on Communism, Bolshevism, and Jewish capitalism, a capitalism not of productive labour and industry, but of parasites - money and finance, speculators and bankers.

There is of course a difference between the antisemitism that culminated in Auschwitz and the antisemitism of the post-1945 world. However, whether antisemitism persists because or despite of Auschwitz is, ultimately, an idle question. The notions ‘despite’ and ‘because’ give credence to Auschwitz as a factory of death that is assumed to have destroyed antisemitism. Furthermore, and connected, antisemitism is viewed as a phenomenon of the past, that merely casts its shadow on the present but has itself no real existence. In this way, overt expressions of antisemitism are deemed ugly merely as pathological aberrations of an otherwise civilized world. In this context the critique of antisemitism is either belittled as an expression of ‘European guilt’ or rejected as an expression of bad faith: a camouflage for insulating Israel from criticism (Keaney, 2007).

The paper argues that modern antisemitism is the ‘rumour about Jews’ as personification of hated forms of capitalism. I will first look at some contemporary expressions of antisemitism, and theses IV and V explore Adono’s and Horkeimer’s (1989) and Postone’s (1986) understanding of Nazi antisemitism.


The projection of the Jew as the external enemy within, as communist, financier, speculator, and banker remains potent to this day. For example, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, assessed the root causes of Malaysia’s financial collapse in 1997 by stating: ‘I say openly, these people are racists. They are not happy to see us prosper. They say we grow too fast, they plan to make us poor. We are not making enemies with other people but others are making enemies with us’.1 What is meant by ‘we’ and who are ‘they’? Mahathir Mohamad’s denunciation of capitalism as ‘Jewish capitalism’ does indeed appear, as the Financial Times (October 23 2003) suggested, to have taken its cue from The International Jew, a book commissioned by Henry Ford in the 1920s. In its structure, the conception of ‘speculators’ as the external enemy within bent on destroying relations of the national harmony of interest, belongs to modern anti-Semitism. It summons the idea of finance and speculators as merchants of greed and, counterposed to this, espouses the idea of an otherwise ‘healthy’, ‘industrious’ and peaceful national community that arises from the ‘soil’, furnishes the homeland with indestructible force and permanence, and is united by characteristics of race and the bond of blood.

Then there is Pat Buchanan’s (2002) defence of supposed American values and virtues that he sees to be in crisis because of the nefarious effects of ‘critical theory’ for which he holds ‘those trouble making Communist Jews’ responsible.2 Intelligence based on reason and critical judgment appears here as a powerfully destructive force that is ascribed to the intelligence of ‘Jews’. Lyotard (1993, p. 159) portrays this rumour about Jews well: for the antisemites ‘[t]he Jews … have no roots in a nature...They claim to have their roots in a book’. Antisemitism projects the Other as rootless. Instead of being rooted in the supposed values of the nation, its soil and tradition, the Jew is possessed of an intelligence cunning that is destructive of tradition and organic social matter. The Jew seems to come from no-where. ‘Anti-Semitism is the rumour about Jews’ (Adorno, 1951, p.141). They are seen to stand behind phenomena. The power ascribed to this rootless Other, is of an immensely powerful, intangible, international conspiracy (cf. Postone, 1986). It cannot be defined concretely; it is an abstract, invisible power, which hides in such contradictory phenomena as communism and capitalism.

Then there is the anti-imperialist left. As one of its more critical and distinctive thinkers, Perry Anderson (2001, p. 15) argued: ‘entrenched in business, government and media, American Zionism has since the sixties acquired a firm grip on the levers of public opinion and official policy towards Israel, that has weakened only on the rarest of occasions’. The Jews, then, have not only conquered Palestine but they have also taken control of America, or as James Petras (2004, p. 210) sees it, the current effort of ‘US empire building’ is shaped by ‘Zionist empire builders’. For Anderson, Israel is a Jewish state, its nationalist triumphs are Jewish triumphs, and its economy is a Jewish economy – and its state a ‘rentier state’ that is kept by the US as its imperialist bridgehead in the Middle East.

What makes a state Jewish? For Marx the state was the political form of bourgeois society – the purpose of capital is to make profit, and the state is the political expression of this purpose. He thus saw the state as the executive committee of the bourgeoisie. Max Weber argued that the state cannot be defined by its functions, let alone imaged national characteristics, but solely by its means: the legitimate use of physical violence. He conceived of the modern state as a machine. The great theorist of the autonomy of the state, Thomas Hobbes, conceived of it as result of a social contract that allowed the warring social interests to flourish on the basis of mutual protection. His state appeared akin to a mortal God. Adam Smith defined the state as a market enabling power – it polices the law-abiding conduct between the private interests, each pursuing its ends in a context in which everybody is obliged to all, but nobody is absolutely dependent upon anybody particular. For the economy to be free, the stated needs to be strong, as market police. None of these approaches defines the state in terms of the supposed or imagined national characteristics of a homogenised people. Such forging of national identity is a political task. Indeed, the reverse of anti-imperialism is the demand for national liberation, national autonomy, and national self-determination - a mere abstraction of a classless, imagined community, that is rendered effective by political power, not posited by nature (cf. Anderson, 1991). The identification of a people in terms of assumed national characteristics tends to rebound politically. ‘If “differance” has become the hallmark of theoretical anti-reason, “the Other” has become the hallmark of practical anti-reason’ (Rose, 1993, p.5). The Other provides the excuse for a damaged life and as such a scapegoat, becomes the object of resentment. Perry Anderson (2001) is therefore absolutely right when he argues that the potential of violence against the Other is intrinsic to nationalism, whichever.

Then there is the mounting scale and sheer extent of the antisemitic tidal wave especially in the Middle East that has blurred any distinction between the critique of the state of Israel and concrete human beings in their social relations. The anti-imperialist left tends to dismiss rampant Islamist antisemitism as a mere epiphenomenon of justified anger at Israel and US imperialism. It condemns the denial of Palestinian nationhood and condemns the national existence of Israel as a bridgehead of US imperialist interests in the Middle East. Symptomatic here is the call for solidarity with the Muslim Brotherhood by International Socialism: “We say we have to work with the Muslim Brotherhood over specific issues [Palestine or Iraq]” (IS, 2005, p. 31). Against this Zizek has argued, there should be no attempt to ‘“understand” Arab a “natural” reaction to the sad plight of the Palestinians’. It has to be resisted ‘unconditionally’ (Zizek, 2002, p.129; cf. also Zizek, 2008). To ‘understand’ Islamic antisemitism as a ‘justified’ expression of anger against imperialism is to claim, by implication, that antisemitism articulates resistance to capitalism. Similarly, there should be no attempt to ‘understand’ the measures of the state of Israel ‘as a “natural” reaction against the background of the Holocaust’ (ibid.). Such ‘understanding’ accepts the barbarism of extermination as a legitimizing force of state action. Every state seeks to justify its policies by exploiting the past for its own legitimacy (cf. Tischler, 2005). Such legitimation does not redeem the dead. Following Benjamin, redemption entails the recovery of the past in contemporary struggle for human dignity, which is both singular and universal, indivisible and priceless. It is associated with refusniks, heretics, dissenters, and dissidents, not the good offices of the state.

Islamic fundamentalism can be seen as a reaction against the ‘heavy artillery’ of global capital to create a world after its own image. Against this, it espouses the quest for authenticity, seeking to preserve through the purification of imagined ancestral conditions and traditions existing social structures, repeating with deadly and deafening force the ‘paradigmatic Fascist gesture, [the Arab fundamentalists] want ‘capitalism without capitalism’ (Zizek, 2002, p. 131). The fight against ‘westoxication’, as Khomeini called the ideas of liberalism, democracy and socialism, indicates that Islamist antisemitism is unlikely to be assuaged by an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. It is more likely to be inflamed. At base, it is the depiction of Israel as an imperialist bridgehead of ‘Jewish’ capitalist counterinsurgency that fuels the hatred of Israel as a ‘Jewish’ state. The attribute ‘Jewish’ does not refer to concrete human beings, be it Ariel Sharon or Karl Marx, Albert Einstein or Emma Goldman, Rosa Luxemburg or Leon Trotsky, Michael Neumann or Esther Rosenberg. It disregards social distinctions, be they of class, gender, ethnicity, etc., and instead assumes everybody to be of the same national issue, whether they are anarchists, communists, refusniks, capitalists or workers, conservatives, religious fanatics, war mongers, peace-lovers, beggars, or just plain and boring. Instead of recognising contradictions, distinctions, antagonisms, struggles and conflicts, it projects those abstract, reason-defying, imagined ‘qualities’ upon which antisemitism rests onto a nationalised people, displacing the critique of existing social relations to totalitarian conceptions of the national friend and national foe. Within this relationship, reason is suspended and thought is led to the equally irrational belief that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Socialism is the alternative to barbarism, not its derivate. That however also means that the only way to fight resurgent antisemitism ‘is not to preach liberal tolerance…but to express the underlying anti-capitalist motive in a direct, non-displaced way’ (Zizek, 2002, p.130). Liberal tolerance gives in to the intolerable and is absorbed by it.

In Marx’s Jewish Question (1964) and the writings of the Frankfurt School, the category ‘Jew’ is a social metaphor that focuses anti-capitalist resentment from the standpoint of capitalism – an anti-capitalist capitalism. In contrast, however, to Anderson’s affirmative categorization, Marx and the Frankfurt School approached the ‘Jewish Question’ through the lens of the critique of the fetishism of bourgeois relations of production. Expanding on Marx’s critical question, ‘why does this content [human social relations] assume that form [the form of capital]’ (cf. Marx, 1962, p. 95), it asks why does the bourgeois critique of capitalism assume the form of antisemitism? In contrast, the affirmative use of the category ‘Jew’ rationalizes antisemitism as a manifestation of the hatred of capitalism, and through its rationalization, is complicit in the ‘rumour about Jews’. Such complicity partakes in the paradigmatic fascist gesture of an anti-capitalism that seeks a capitalism without capitalism.

Ulrike Meinhof focused succinctly the rationalisation of antisemitism as hatred of capitalism when she argued that ‘Auschwitz meant that six million Jews were killed, and thrown on the waste-heap of Europe, for what they were: money Jews. Finance capital and the banks, the hard core of the system of imperialism and capitalism, had turned the hatred of men against money and exploitation, and against the Jews...Anti-Semitism is really a hatred of capitalism’ (quoted in Watson, 1976, p.23). The following theses explore this further.

Antisemitism does not ‘need’ Jews. The category ‘Jew’ has powers attributed to it that cannot be defined concretely. It is an abstraction that excludes nobody. Anyone can be considered a Jew. The concept ‘Jew’ knows no individuality, cannot be a man or a woman, and cannot be seen as a worker or beggar; the word ‘Jew’ relates to a non-person, an abstraction. ‘The Jew is one whom other men consider a Jew’ (Sartre, 1976, p.69). For antisemitism to rage, the existence of ‘Jews’ is neither incidental nor required. ‘Antisemitism tends to occur only as part of an interchangeable program’, the basis of which is the ‘universal reduction of all specific energy to the one, same abstract form of labor, from the battlefield to the studio’ (Horkheimer and Adorno, 1989, p.207). Thus, antisemitism belongs to a social world in which sense and significance are sacrificed in favour of compliance with the norms and rules of a political and economic reality that poses sameness, ritualized repetition, and object-less subjectivity as the forms of human existence. Time is money, said Benjamin Franklin. And we might add that therefore money is time. ‘The economy of time: to this all economy ultimately reduces itself’ (Marx, 1973, p. 173). If, therefore, everything is reduced to time, an abstract time, divisible into equal, homogeneous, and constant units that move on relentlessly from unit to unit, and that though dissociated from concrete human activities, measures these whatever their content, then man is nothing; he is, at the most, time’s carcase’ (Marx, 1976, p. 127). Time is of the essence. Everything else is a waste of time. Such time is interested only in two things: ‘how much?’ and ‘how long did it take?’. The time of human purposes is different from the time of abstract labour.4 The mere existence of difference, a difference that signals happiness beyond the life as a mere personification of labour-time fosters the blind resentment and anger that antisemitism focuses and exploits but does not itself produce. ‘The thought of happiness without power is unbearable because it would then be true happiness’ (ibid., p.172).

Antisemitism differentiates between ‘society’ and ‘national community’. ‘Society’ is identified as ‘Jewish’; whereas community is modelled as a counter-world to society. Community is seen as constituted by nature and ‘nature’ is seen to be at risk because of ‘evil’ abstract social forces. The attributes given by the antisemite to Jews include mobility, intangibility, rootlessness and conspiracy against the – mythical and mythologized – values of the imagined community of an honest and hardworking people. The presumed ‘well-being’ of this community is seen to be at the mercy of evil powers: intellectual thought, abstract rules and laws, and the disintegrating forces of communism and finance capital. Both, communism and finance capital are seen as uprooting powers and as entities of reason. Reason stands rejected because of its infectious desire to go to the root of things. But the root of things can only be Man in her social relations. Reason is the weapon of critique. It challenges conditions where Man is degraded to a mere economic resource. For the anti-Semite independence of thought and the ability to think freely without fear, is abhorrent. It detests the idea that ‘Man is the highest being for Man’ [Mensch] (Marx, 1975, p.182). Instead, it seeks deliverance through the furious affirmation of its own madness. The antisemites’ portrayal of the Jew as evil personified is in fact their own self-portrait. ‘Madness is the substitute for the dream that humanity could organize its world humanely, a dream that a man-made world is stubbornly rejecting’ (Adorno, 1986, p.124).

Antisemitism manifests a perverted urge for equality. It seeks an equality that derives from membership in a national community, a community of Volksgenossen. This equality is defined by the mythical ‘property’ of land and soil based on the bond of blood. The fetish of blood and soil is itself rooted in the capital fetish where the concrete in the form of use value obtains only in and through the abstract in the form of exchange value. Anti-Semitism construes blood, soil, and also machinery as concrete counter-principles of the abstract. The abstract is personified in the category Jew (see Postone, 1986). For the apologists of market liberalism, the reference to the invisible hand operates like an explanatory refuge. It explains everything with reference to the Invisible. ‘Starvation is God’s way of punishing those who have too little faith in capitalism’ (Rockefeller Sr., quoted in Marable, 1991, p.149). For the antisemites, however, the power of the invisible can be explained – the Jew is its personification and biologized existence. It transforms discontent with conditions into a conformist rebellion against the projected personification of capitalism.

The nationalist conception of equality defines ‘society’ as the Other – a parasite whose objective is deemed to oppress, undermine and pervert the ‘natural community’ through the ‘disintegrating’ force of the abstract and intangible values of – bourgeois – civilization. The category ‘Jew’ is seen to personify abstract thought and abstract equality, including its incarnation, money. The Volksgenosse, then, is seen as somebody who resists ‘Jewish’ abstract values and instead upholds some sort of natural equality. Their ‘equality’ as Jews obtains as a construct, to which all those belong who deviate from the conception of the Volksgenosse, that is, mythical concrete matter. The myth of the Jew is confronted with the myth of the original possession of soil, elevating nationalism’s ‘regressive egality’ (Adorno, 1951, p.56) to a liberating action. The Volkgenosse sees himself as a son of nature and thus as a natural being. He sees his natural destiny in the liberation of the national community from allegedly rootless, abstract values, demanding their naturalization so that everything is returned to ‘nature’. In short, the Volksgenosse portrays himself as rooted in blood and ancestral tradition to defend his own faith in the immorality of madness through the collective approval of anger. This anger is directed towards civilization’s supposed victory over nature, a victory that is seen as condemning the Volksgenosse to sweat, toil and physical effort, whereas the Other is seen to live a life as banker and speculator. This the Volksgenosse aspires for himself. The Volksgenosse speculates in death and banks the extracted gold teeth.

For the Volksgenossen, the Jews ‘are the scapegoats not only for individual manoeuvres and machinations but in a broader sense, inasmuch as the economic injustice of the whole class is attributed to them’ (Horkheimer and Adorno, 1989, p.174). Antisemitism calls for a ‘just’ revenge on the part of the ‘victimized’ national community against the powers of ‘rootless’ society. ‘Community’ is seen to be both victimized and ‘strong’. Strength is derived from the biological conception of the national community: blood constituted possession, tradition, and ancestral community. This biologization of community finds legitimation for murder in the biologization of the ‘action’: biology is conceived as a destiny.

The efficient organization and the cold, dispassionate execution of the deed is mirrored by its disregard for individuality: corpses all look the same when counting the results and nothing distinguishes a number from a number except the difference in quantity – the measure of success. The mere existence of distinction is a provocation. Judgement is suspended. Everybody is numbered and assessed for use. ‘The morbid aspect of anti-Semitism is not projective behaviour as such, but the absence from it of reflection’ (ibid., p.189). Auschwitz, then, stands for the ‘stubbornness’ not only of the principle of ‘abstraction’, but also ‘abstractification’. The biologization of the abstract as ‘Jew’ is also made abstract: all that can be used is used like teeth, hair, skin; labour-power; and, finally, the abstract is made abstract and thus invisible. The invisible hand of the market, identified as the abstract-biological power of the ‘Jew’, is transformed into smoked-filled air.

National Socialism projected itself as an anti-capitalist movement. Yet, it also embraced industrial capital and new technology. Indeed, according to Götz Aly and Susanne Heym (1988), the preparation of the Final Solution in occupied Poland was based less on antisemitism as an ideology but on Neo-Malthusian resource calculations. Their argument is that, for the Nazis, the economic viability of occupied Poland depended on the reduction of the population per capita in order to secure that capital exported to Poland could be applied efficiently.

What is the relationship between Nazism’s anti-capitalist ideological projection and the rational calculation of economic resources that proposes mass murder as a ‘solution’ to capitalist profitability? Nazi anti-Semitism is different from the anti-Semitism of the old Christian world. This does not mean that it did not exploit Christian anti-Semitism. Christian anti-Semitism constructed the ‘Jew’ as an abstract social power: The ‘Jew’ stands accused as the assassin of Jesus and is thus persecuted as the son of a murderer. In modern anti-Semitism, the Jew was chosen because of the ‘religious horror the latter has always inspired’ (Sartre, 1976, p.68). In the Christian world, the projected category of the ‘Jew’ was also a social-economic construct by virtue of being forced to fill the vital economic function of trafficking in money. Thus, the economic curse that this social role entailed, reinforced the religious curse.

Modern anti-Semitism uses and exploits these historical constructions and transforms them: The Jew stands accused and is persecuted for following unproductive activities. His image is that of an intellectual and banker. ‘Bankers and intellectuals, money and mind, the exponents of circulation, form the impossible ideal of those who have been maimed by domination, an image used by domination to perpetuate itself’ (Horkheimer and Adorno, 1989, p.172). The biologically defined possession of land and tradition is counterposed to the possession of universal, abstract phenomena. The terms ‘abstract, rationalist, intellectual...take a pejorative sense; it could not be otherwise, since the anti-Semite lays claim to a concrete and irrational possession of the values of the nation’ (Sartre, 1976, p.109). The abstract values themselves are biologized, the abstract is identified as ‘Jew’. Both, thus, the ‘concrete’ and the ‘abstract’ are biologized: one through the possession of land (the concrete as rooted in nature, blood and tradition) and the other through the possession of ‘poison’ (the abstract as the rootless power of intelligence and money). The myth of national unity is counterposed to the myth of the Jew. Jewry is seen to stand behind the urban world of crime, prostitution, and vulgar, materialist culture. Tradition is counterposed to reasoning, intelligence, and self-reflection; and the nationalist conception of community, economy and labour is counterposed to the abstract forces of international finance and communism (cf. Postone, 1986). The Volksgenossen are thus equal in blindness. ‘Anti-Semitic behaviour is generated in situations where blinded men robbed of their subjectivity are set loose as subjects’ (Horkheimer and Adorno, 1989, p.171). While reason subsists in and through the critique of social relations, the Volksgenosse has only faith in the efficiently unleashed terror that robs the alleged personifications of capitalism of everything they have, cloth, shoes, teeth, hair, skin, life. The collection of gold-teeth from those murdered, the collection of hair from those to be killed, and the overseeing of the slave labour of those allowed to walk on their knees for no more than another day, only requires effective organization.

Nazism’s denunciation of capitalism as ‘Jewish capitalism’ allowed thus the relentless development capitalist enterprise while seemingly rejecting capitalism as a system of finance, money-grabbing speculation, accumulation of parasitic wealth, as a rootless, mobile, intangible annihilator of space through time, undermining concrete enterprise on the altar of money, etc. The critique of capitalism as ‘Jewish capitalism’ argues that capitalism is in fact nothing more than an unproductive money-making system – a rentier economy that lives off and in doing so, undermines the presumed national community of creative, industrious individuals, subordinating them to the rootless and therefore ruthless forces of global money, or as Mahathir Mohamad had it, ‘they are not happy to see us prosper’.

For the antisemites, then, the world appears to be divided between money capital and concrete nature. The concrete is conceived as immediate, direct, matter for use, and rooted in industry and productive activity. Money, on the other hand, is not only conceived as the root of all evil, it is also judged as rootless and of existing not only independently from industrial capital but, also, over and against the industrial endeavour of the nation: all enterprise is seen to be perverted in the name of money’s continued destructive quest for self-expansion. In this way, money and financial capital are identified with capitalism while industry is perceived as constituting the concrete and creative enterprise of a national community. Between capitalism as monetary accumulation and national community as industrial enterprise, it is money that calls the shots. In this view, industry and enterprise are ‘made’ capitalist by money: money penetrates all expressions of industry and thus perverts and disintegrates community in the name of finance capital’s abstract values. This destructive force puts claim on and so perverts: the individual as entrepreneur; the creative in terms of a paternalist direction of use-value production; the rooted in terms of Volk; the community in terms of a natural community. Instead of community’s natural order of hierarchy and position, money’s allegedly artificial and rootless force is judged to make the world go round by uprooting the natural order of the Volksgenossen. In this way, then, it is possible for the Volksgenossen not only to embrace capitalism but, also, to declare that the forced labour creates freedom: Arbeit macht frei. ‘They declared that work was not degrading, so as to control the others more rationally. They claimed to be creative workers, but in reality they were still the grasping overlords of former times’ (Horkheimer and Adorno, 1989, p.173). By separating what fundamentally belongs together, that is production and money, the differentiation between money on the one hand, and industry and enterprise, on the other, amounts to a fetish critique of capital that, by attacking the projected personification of capital, seeks its unfettered expansion through means of terror.

With the biologization of creative activity, the unfettered operation of the exploitation of labour in the name of mythologized concrete values is rendered attainable by the elimination of the cajoling and perverting forces of the abstract – the ‘Jew’ who stands condemned as the incarnation of capitalism. In this way, the ideology of blood and soil, on the one hand, and machinery and unfettered industrial expansion, on the other, are projected as images of a healthy nation that stands ready to purge itself from the perceived perversion of industry by the abstract, universal, rootless, mobile, intangible, international ‘vampire’ of ‘Jewish capitalism’. The celebration of the Volksgenosse as the personification of the concrete, of blood, soil, tradition and industry, allows the killing of Jews without fear. Yet, it manifests ‘the stubbornness of the life to which one has to conform, and to resign oneself’ (ibid., p.171): the idle occupation of killing is efficiently discharged. As Volksgenossen they have all committed the same deed and have thus become truly equal to each other: their occupation only confirmed what they already knew, namely that they had lost their individuality as subjects.

Everything is thus changed into pure nature. The abstract was not only personalized and biologized, it was also ‘abstractified’. Auschwitz was a factory ‘to destroy the personification of the abstract. Its organization was that of a fiendish industrial process, the aim of which was to ‘liberate’ the concrete from the abstract. The first step was to dehumanize, that is, to strip away the “mask” of humanity, of qualitative specificity, and reveal the Jews for what “they really are” – shadows, ciphers, numbered abstraction’. Then followed the process to ‘eradicate that abstractness, to transform it into smoke, trying in the process to wrest away the last remnants of the concrete material “use-values”: clothes, gold, hair, soap’ (Postone, 1986, pp.313-14).

Adam Smith was certain in his own mind that capitalism creates the wealth of nations and noted that ‘the proprietor of stock is properly a citizen of the world, and is not necessarily attached to any particular country. He would be apt to abandon the country in which he was exposed to a vexatious inquisition, in order to be assessed to a burdensome tax, and would remove his stock to some other country where he could either carry on his business, or enjoy his fortune more at his ease’ (Smith, 1981, pp. 848-49). David Ricardo concurred, adding that ‘if a capital is not allowed to get the greatest net revenue that the use of machinery will afford here, it will be carried abroad’ leading to ‘serious discouragement to the demand for labour’ (Ricardo, 1995, p. 39). He thus also formulated the necessity of capitalist social relations to produce ‘redundant population’. According to Hegel, the accumulation of wealth renders those who depend on the sale of their labour power for their social reproduction, insecure in deteriorating conditions. He concluded that despite the accumulation of wealth, bourgeois society will find it most difficult to keep the dependent masses pacified, and he saw the form of the state as the means of reconciling the social antagonism, containing the dependent masses.

Karl Marx developed these insights and showed that the idea of ‘equal righs’ is in principle a bourgeois right. ‘The power which each individual exercises over the activity of others or over social wealth exists in him as the owner of exchange value, of money. The individual carries his social power, as well as his bond with society, in his pocket’ (Marx, 1973, pp.156-57). Against the bourgeois form of formal equality, he argued that communism rests on the equality of individual human needs. Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer (1989, p. 199) argued that antisemitism articulates a senseless, barbaric rejection of capitalism that makes anti-capitalism useful for capitalism. ‘The rulers are only safe as long as the people they rule turn their longed-for goals into hated forms of evil’. Antisemitism channels discontent with conditions into blind resentment against the projected external enemy within. This rejection of capitalism, then, ‘is also totalitarian in that it seeks to make the rebellion of suppressed nature against domination directly useful to domination. This machinery needs the Jews’ (ibid., p. 185). That is, ‘no matter what the Jews as such may be like, their image, as that of the defeated people, has the features to which totalitarian domination must be completely hostile: happiness without power, wages without work, a home without frontiers, religion without myth. These characteristics are hated by the rulers because the ruled secretly long to possess them’ (ibid., p. 199). Antisemitism urges the mob on to de-humanize, maim and kill the projected Other, suppressing the very possibility and idea of happiness and distinction through participation in the slaughter.

The anti-imperialist critique of Israel as the bridgehead of US-imperialism in the Middle East and of modern Zionism as the ideology and the far-reaching organizational system and political practice of US-American capitalism, focuses underlying anti-capitalist motives on a false conflict and encourages friendship with false friends. In the struggle of one nationalism against another, class struggle is suppressed and the liberation from class society forgotten. Originally the critique of ideology sought to reveal the necessary perversion of human social practice in its appearance – as relations between things and as objectification of the human subject as a bearer of mythologized things, be they capital, value, price, money or nation. Enlightenment was its critical intent, and revolution is practical desire. It now appears as a mere Weltanschauung that having no principle to call upon, is subject to political calculation and opportunism. Alex Callinicos’s robust defence of Al Qaeda against its description as fascist expresses this well. He rejects this description as ‘an extraordinary assertion’, and then goes on the say that the ‘Muslim concept of the ummah – the community of the faithful – is precisely a transnational one, something that the Al Qaeda network has strictly observed (whatever respects in which its interpretations of Muslim doctrine may differ from those of others), incorporating as it does activists from ay different national backgrounds’ (Callincos, 2003, p. 140). This paper has argued that displaced modes of anti-capitalism do not question the appearance of things – they merely interpret them differently and seek to configure negative human conditions differently. Whether it is this world of things or that world of things, in either case, when the deed is done, the cruelty of silence in the house of the hangman is deafening.

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