Jewry under Bolshevism

Louis R Godena louisgodena at
Thu Jun 27 16:01:02 MDT 1996

Came across Lionel Kochan's The Jews in Soviet Russia since 1917 (Oxford UP
1970) in my (still largely unread) marxist library at my dad's.

Is anyone here familiar with it?    I am finding it quite useful.    The
Jews in Soviet Russia is a collection of wide-ranging essays, both
historical and analytical, by Jewish writers on various aspects of
anti-semitism in Russia and the Soviet Union.    It has an exhaustive
demographic study on the Jewish population by Alec Nove and J.A. Newth.
The book avoids almost completely the facile anti-Sovietism of later western
Jewish scholars and actiivists.    Its main thesis, that since about 1930
the Jews as a group had never been able to feel themselves secure in the
Soviet environment,  begs provisionally the larger question:  were the Jews
less secure, at any rate during certain periods, than many other sections of
the population?

The answer, of course, is yes, and for a wide variety of reasons,  though an
unexpected concession,  striking in its simplicity,  emerges discursively
>from  Leonard Schapiro's remarks (which, as in any good introduction, sets
the tone for the rest of the book):  " serious scholar....would go so
far as to equate the position of the Jew in the Soviet Union today with the
oppression of the Jew in the Russia of 1883 or 1903."    Probably not, but
the fact remains that, despite, say,  the toleration, even encouragement,
afforded  the use of the Yiddish language in the 1920s,  and the periodic
denunciations by Soviet leaders, especially Stalin, of the growth of
anti-semitism in Soviet society,  feelings against the Jews suffused
important segments of Russian political life, and especially, the Communist

During the intra-party struggles of the 1920s, for example,  hints appear to
have become widespread that Trotsky, Zinoviev, and Kamenev, were Jews, and
that their opponents (and upholders of the official line), Stalin, Molotov,
and Bukharin, were not.     This followed, of course, the unlamented demise
of NEP, as the world of trade and finance was squeezed out of existence, or
driven underground, with a concomitant refurbishing of the old image of the
huckstering, exploited Jew, and the fanning of new prejudices.    Such
prejudices were to burst into flame again and again throughout the Soviet
era, and were to grow especially virulent in the period immediately
following the demise of the USSR.

While Marx saw the Jewish way of life as essentially a product of capitalism
("the Jewish problem is non-existent except as a problem of capitalism"), in
eastern Europe this picture did not hold.   The Jews remained a caste apart,
so that it was not difficult to stir up enmity against them.    In the West,
the nineteenth century brought liberation and assimiliation to the Jews: in
eastern Europe it was a century of oppression and isolation.    To locate
the roots of Soviet anti-semitism, therefore, is to re-live the whole
history of eastern Europe's antipathy to the Jews.

The Bolsheviks, it must be remembered, did not originally regard the Jews as
constituting a nation.   In the first place, they accepted the Western
European rather than the German concept of the nation, which defined a
nation by the possession of, among other things, of a national territory.
Lacking this qualification distinguished the Jews from all other national
minorities in the Soviet Union.    Secondly, the Bolsheviks regarded the
differences in racial and religious background between Jew and Gentile as
basically irrelevant, and believed that the destiny of the Jew was to be
assimiliated with the population among which he lived.    This belief was
shared not only by the Mensheviks (who had an even larger proportion of Jews
among their members than the Bolsheviks), but by virtually all liberals, and
by very many influential Jews, throughout Western Europe.    The Jewish
Marxists themselves believed that the ultimate goal and destiny of Jewry was
unqualified unity with non-Jews in the socialist society of the future.

This belief did not easily survive the Holocaust,  the apotheosis of
European anti-semitism, or, in its turn, the establishment of the Jewish
State in Palestine in 1948.    In fact, the later history of Soviet
anti-semitism seems to be an odd mixture of historic eastern European
prejudice against Jews, together with an intensification of hostility toward
the anti-socialist milieu of modern Zionism (subject in the early 1920s to
sparodic persecution, and, later, banned outright).    True, Stalin did
briefly, in 1947-48, give active support to the creation of Israel, but one
could argue, as is done here, that this emerged from a desire to see the
weakening of British Power in the Middle East and, perhaps, the birth of a
new state which might be sympathetic to the Soviet Union.   If so, it was a
colossal miscalculation.    The rapid assimilation of the new state into the
orbit of American and British imperialism could not be precipitate, in time,
a new round of anti-Semitism within the Soviet camp.

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