Peasant Rebellions and antisemitism

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Sun Feb 5 09:25:12 MST 1995

My Hungarian Jewish grandmother used to scare me, as a small child, by
saying "Chmielniki will get you if don't behave!" I was surprised when I
learned as a teenager that Chmielnisky was a real person, a progromchik,
and so was my grandmother when I told her. It was just an expression she
had learned from her mother, as far as she was concerned. This was in the
early and mid-60s.

Apropos of nothing at all my grandmother also met Trotsky when SHE was a
young teenager and he stayed briefly in the Bronx, where she grew up.

--Justin Schwartz

On Sun, 5 Feb 1995, Louis N Proyect wrote:

> In his recently published "Jewish History, Jewish Religion", Israel
> Shahak draws a distinction between the Nazi genocide and earlier
> persecution of the Jews such as occurred in Eastern Europe before the
> twentieth century.
> He characterizes the Nazi policies as inspired, organized and carried out
> from above by state officials. But in the earlier periods, persecution of
> the Jews came from below, from popular movements. Jews were allied with
> the ruling elite in these earlier periods--with emperors, popes, kings,
> aristocrats and the upper clergy. Furthermore, the elites defended the
> Jews during these antisemitic outbursts, not out of considerations of
> humanity, but because the Jews were useful and profitable to them. The
> defense of the Jews was tied up with defense of "law and order", hatred
> of the lower classes and fear that anti-Jewish riots might develop into
> general popular rebellion. This was true even of Tsarist Russia. During
> the time of Tsarism's greatest strength, under Nicholas I or in the latter
> part of the reign of Alexander III, pogroms were not tolerated by the
> regime, even though legal discrimination was intensified.
> Shahak's comments on the 17th century Chmielnicki revolt in Ukraine
> illustrates these points:
> "Perhaps the most outstanding example is the great massacre of Jews
> during the Chmielnicki revolt in the Ukraine (1648), which started
> out as a mutiny of Cossack officers but soon turned into a widespread
> popular movement of the oppressed serfs: 'The underpriviliged, the
> subjects, the Ukrainians, the Orthodox [persecuted by the Polish
> Catholic church] were rising against their Catholic Polish masters,
> particularly against their masters' bailiffs, clergy and Jews.' (John
> Stoye, Europe Unfolding 1648-88) This typical peasant uprising against
> extreme oppression, an uprising accompanied not only by massacres
> committed by the rebels but also by even more horrible atrocities
> and 'counter-terror' of the Polish magnates' private armies, has
> remained emblazoned in the consciousness of east-European Jews to this
> very day--not, however, as a peasant uprising, a revolt of the oppressed,
> of the real wretched of the earth, nor even as vengeance visited upon
> all the servants of the Polish nobility, but as an act of gratuitous
> antisemitism directed against Jews as such. In fact, the voting of the
> Ukrainian delegation at the UN and, more generally, Soviet policies on the
> Middle East, are often 'explained' in the Israeli press as 'a heritage
> of Chmielnicki' or his 'descendants'."
> (Israel Shahak is a retired Professor of Organic Chemistry and
> human-rights activist who has lived in Israel for the last 40 years.
> He was born in Poland and was incarcerated in Belsen during WWII.)
> Louis Proyect


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