Peasant Rebellions and antisemitism

garth wolkoff sweetpea at
Sun Feb 5 13:07:26 MST 1995


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

The victims of violence should have the authority to name the violence.  I
could not imagine the targets of nationalist violence rationalizing their
own dead in the name of popular uprising. Why should they? It strikes me
something of the faux-nationalism of Prop. 187 in California: When times
is tight, blame the outsider. I have not done Shahak's research and can
only imagine that the Jews in the Ukrane prospered the way Jewish
cultures did all over Europe in the 19th century. But does persecuting
the conventiant symbol of wealth - which Jews have always been - amount
to any more than an enthnic catharsis? I'm curious about the plight of
the Ukranian oppressed *after* the pogroms. I'd bet nothing changed.

Garth Wolkoff <sweetpea at>


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