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James Burnham

Anti-Semitic Pogroms Are By-Product of Capitalism

Stem From Same Roots as Lynchings of Negroes Here

(November 1938)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 51, 26 November 1938, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The wave of shame and horror that has swept the world at the spectacle of the latest Nazi anti-Semitic bestialities gives witness once again to a depth of noble feeling that promises well for the future of mankind, whatever the darkness of the present.

But shame and horror are not .enough, and reaction is always awake and ready to harness the noblest feelings to its own bitter shafts. We must also understand; and if we do not understand the meaning of what is now happening, our very indignation will be turned into a further instrument of our own destruction.

Why does this monstrosity in Germany take place? What makes the rulers of Germany scourge an entire people with such animal-like ferocity, hound them in public and in private, drive them from every refuge, seek to deprive them not only of every human comfort and decency but, apparently, of life itself? Who and what are responsible?

Masked Hypocrisy

The Roosevelts and Al Smiths and Hoovers and Dorothy Thompsons, quick to exploit the popular response for their own prestige and aims, tell us that this persecution is “unbelievable” and “unprecedented in history,” that it is the work of “madmen” cut off from all connection with the glories of “western civilization.”

When they tell us this, and use their words to justify the imperialist war that they are preparing, they lie. In reality, these Nazi persecutions are the natural and normal harvest of the social system which these pious hypocrites, the Roosevelts and Smiths and Hoovers and Thompsons, spend their days in defending. It is only a festering sore, present always and everywhere in capitalism, breaking open as disease and rottenness spread more widely throughout the whole social organism.


Are these persecutions truly “unbelievable” and “unprecedented”? Not in the least. All that is unprecedented is their openness and cold ruthlessness, and even these are by no means unexampled. From its beginnings capitalism has bred on the fanning of the most frightful and hideous racial and religious hatreds – the means whereby capitalism keeps its exploited slaves divided, by which it redoubles oppression of subject races, and provides scapegoats to turn away wrath from its own head.

Do we in the United States need to be reminded that in this country thirteen million Negroes live in precisely those conditions which Hitler today proposes for the Jews: in Ghettoes, in squalor and disease and poverty, deprived of adequate medical care, shut out from all the cultural institutions of the dominant race, prevented from exercising political rights, barred from all dignified or lucrative employment? Does an Englishman need to be reminded how Chamberlain today in Palestine pits Arab and Jew savagely against each other for the safety of British imperialist rule or how he sweats the natives in the gold mines of South Africa? Does a Frenchman have to be told what happens in the Sudan or in Indo-China?

Get at Roots!

The blood of the German Jews, dripping from the hands of Goebbels and Goering and their gangs of maddened sadists, drips also from the white hands of Chamberlain and Roosevelt and from the whole international association of cut-throats and murderers who sustain in life a system whose price for humanity is now measured only in a daily and continuous increase of torment and death.

Hitler launches his thugs against the Jews because, in his desperation, he has no other recourse. Perhaps the expropriation will patch up the cracks in his shattering economy. Even more, he must try to whip the German masses into insane and futile frenzy against the Jews so that they will forget their own chains and their own hunger. And on the other side of the medal the Roosevelts and Hoovers seek to turn the popular fury against the persecutions from its only genuine and effective outlet in a drive against capitalism itself, the source of the persecutions, to their own ends of a defense of the most mighty and sinister of all the sectors of capitalism – American imperialism and its schemes for world-wide conquest.

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Last updated: 12 September 2015