Defined by a universal and humanist outlook that is rooted in Jewish thought, his is a construct that draws inspiration from Jewish thinkers such as Baruch Spinoza, Heinrich Heine, Karl Marx,2 Rosa Luxemburg, Sigmund Freud, and Leon Trotsky whom he sees as revolutionaries of modern thought who went beyond the boundaries of their Jewish background.
In what perhaps is the most lucid passage of his provocative essay, Deutscher attributes their exceptional breadth to the fact that, as Jews, they lived in the boundaries of various civilizations, religions, and national cultures and were born and grew up on the boundaries of various epochs.
Their minds matured where the most diverse cultural influences crossed and fertilized each other, and they lived in the nooks and crannies of their respective nations, living in society but not being part of it. This was, Deutscher avers, what enabled them to lift their gaze above their own community and nation, beyond their times and generations, and to strike mentally into wide new horizons and far into the future For the secular, universalistic Jew, that may be understandable in the context of the world in which Spinoza, Heine, Marx, and Luxemburg lived, but much less so inthe year when Deutscher wrote this essay, only thirteen years after the end of the Holocaust and World War II.
This disassociation became all the more conspicuous against the background of a Freud3 and a Trotsky, who having witnessed the rise and consolidation of the German anti-Semitic regime they died in and respectively expressed their unequivocal solidarity with the persecuted Jews.
However, it is that sense of disassociation that pervades his broader interpretation of Jewish history and of the Jewish condition of his times throughout the corpus of his work on Jewish issues assembled by his widow Tamara Deutscher in The Non-Jewish Jew and Other Essays.
This comes through, for example, in his views in favor of the assimilation of the Jews. Although clearly opposed to the use of force, he supports the active dissolution of the Jews into the larger society.
Deutscher saw both Napoleon and Stalin as pursuing worthy goals even though he might, in a subordinate note, regret their methods. It was this apologetic approach that led the Russian socialist historian Roy Medvedev to object to the way in which Deutscher, in telling the story of industrialization and collectivization, argued that Stalin could be considered one of the greatest reformers of all times because he had put the ideas of the October Revolution and socialism into practice.
That the price was very high—the Gulag, the purges, and the deliberate creation of famines resulting in the death of millions of people—only proved to Deutscher the difficulty of the task.
For Jewish communities throughout the centuries, assimilation has on one hand been associated with forced conversion, a historic source of tremendous suffering and even martyrdom.
Thus, growing up under the very dark shadows cast by the Holocaust, I repeatedly heard from many members of the small approximately 10, people Ashkenazi community of Polish and other Eastern European Jews in Cuba7 that anti-Semitic genocidal Hitlerism had developed in Germany because of the high degree of assimilation among German Jews.
A closer look at the traditional Jewish obsession with peaceful voluntary assimilation will show its close kinship with the attitudes common among practically all nationalisms not only to protect themselves against outside coercion but going well beyond that legitimate goal, to seek if not demand a guarantee not only for the perpetual existence of their particular nation, but even for its current cultural configuration against any conceivable change.
Such a guarantee could of course only be obtained through the erection of strongly xenophobic barriers against any kind of foreign cultural influences, including the immigration or even close contact with people of different races, religions, and cultures.
As extensively documented by the Marxist scholar Enzo Traverso in his excellent study The Marxists and the Jewish Question,8 classical Marxism as a whole had a highly schematic—as opposed to historically specific—view of Jews and the Jewish question.
Put in its simplest terms, it held that Jews had played a certain role in pre-capitalist trade as moneylenders and usurers, particularly in the European Middle Ages. When trade would disappear, the Jews would have no other special role to play in society and therefore they would end up assimilating.
As Traverso explains, the fundamental limitation of this approach lies in its incapacity to consider the Jews as a community with a specific cultural and ethnic physiognomy, capable of transforming itself, but also of conserving itself, beyond and through changes of social and economic structure one could say by, with, and in history.
While it is true that, after the eleventh century, most European Jews began to assume a particular economic role accompanied by exclusion and discrimination, the schematic Marxist interpretation could not explain the existence and survival of Jews in the pagan Hellenic world, in the Roman empire before and after Christianity, or in the Islamic world where the Jews were a minority distinguished, on the whole, neither by language nor by economic role, but solely by religion.
There are of course lots of powerful and convincing arguments against Zionism but this one, rooted perhaps in a schematic philosophy of history that does not meet the test of empirical reality, is a remarkably weak one.
At the very moment that Deutscher was writing those lines the Colonial Revolution was in full swing and in the process of creating dozens of new states in Africa and Asia.
At the same time, the United States and other Western imperialist powers were in the middle of the greatest economic boom they had ever experienced while arming themselves to the teeth with nuclear weapons to confront the USSR, the rival nuclear imperialist power, which was also reaching the peak of its own state power that would very soon allow it to launch the first satellite—Sputnik—into orbit in It is true that Deutscher expressed a certain skepticism towards schematic Marxism, although without attempting to provide an alternative.
In this instance, he also oversimplifies the position of East European Marxism towards the Jewish labor movement. The issue was not whether that movement had its own identity, which was never in question, but whether and the degree to which it should be autonomous and independent from the larger socialist movement before and after the fall of the Czarist empire.
It is important to clarify that the long-term Marxist assimilationist view of Judaism could coexist with the most vigorous and militant stance against anti-Semitism, as was the case with V.
The Bund may have made unjustifiable demands, such as insisting on being declared the exclusive representation of all Jewish workers no matter where they lived inside or outside the Pale of Settlement. But Social Democracy was insensitive and historically obtuse when, influenced by its expectations of Jewish assimilation, it refused to treat the Jews like any other national group within the Czarist empire, as the Jews were, at least within the Yiddish-speaking Pale of Settlement.
East European Jews were exterminated by the Nazis before any major assimilationist trends similar to those in Western Europe and the U. It is interesting to note that the coming to power of the Nazis in Germany led Leon Trotsky to abandon his earlier assimilationist assumptions.
It is when going into that Jewish world, what and who Jews are, that Deutscher is at his weakest. In contrast with the painstaking historical scholarship he is known for in his work on Trotsky, his treatment of the Jewish component of his intellectual Jew is unsupported by history.
It is not clear whether Deutscher thought of the Jews as a people, or as a religious, cultural, or ethnic group.In these essays Deutscher speaks of the emotional heritage of the European Jew with a calm clear-sightedness.
As a historian he writes without religious belief, but with a generous breadth of understanding; as a philosopher he writes of some of the great Jews of Europe: Spinoza, Heine, Marx, Trotsky, Luxemburg, and Freud. THE NON-JEWISH JEW REVISITED. by Michael Mirer. Discussed in this essay: The Non-Jewish Jew, and Other Essays, by Isaac leslutinsduphoenix.comhed in a 50th anniversary edition by Verso, , pages..
WHAT MAKES a Jew a Jew?Are we an ethnic group? Isaac Deutscher, “The Non-Jewish Jew” in The Non-Jewish Jew and Other Essays, Tamara Deutscher, ed. (New York: Hill and Wang and Oxford University Press, ), (New York: Hill and Wang and Oxford University Press, ), Isaac Deutscher was a Polish-born Jewish Marxist writer, journalist and political activist who moved to the United Kingdom at the outbreak of World War II.
He is best known as a biographer of Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin and as a commentator on Soviet affairs/5. Message of the Non-Jewish Jew by Isaac Deutscher The following article by the biographer of Stalin and Trotsky, whose writings on Russia and Eastern Europe appear regularly in periodicals throughout the world, is based on a lecture delivered in London last February during Jewish Book Week to the World Jewish Congress.
Isaac Deutscher made the distinction between classical Marxism and vulgar Marxism. In relation to Judaism and Zionism. Despite being an atheist, Deutscher emphasised the importance of his Jewish heritage.
He coined the expression "non-Jewish Jew" to apply to himself and other Jewish humanists.