[Marxism] Trotsky’s Jewish Question
adambrichmond at yahoo.com
Thu Aug 19 11:36:11 MDT 2010
>From the Jewish Daily Forward via Heeb
Trotsky’s Jewish Question
By Robert S. Wistrich
Published August 18, 2010, issue of August 27, 2010.
Seventy years ago, on August 20, 1940, Leon Trotsky — the
arch-heretic of international communism and symbol (for his admirers)
of Bolshevik revolutionary purity — was struck down in Mexico City by a
Stalinist assassin’s axe.
Trotsky, an architect of the 1917 October Revolution and,
subsequently, the creator of the Red Army, which he led to victory in
the Russian Civil War, had been expelled from the Soviet Union in 1929.
Throughout the 1930s, he would continually denounce the Stalinist “Tower
of Babel” — as he called the regime of his nemesis, Joseph Stalin — as a
betrayal of the revolution. All the while, in the Soviet Union and
elsewhere, his followers were ruthlessly persecuted and purged.
Falling Far From The Family Tree
Even today, 20 years after the collapse of Soviet-style
communism in Russia, Trotsky — though no longer subject to systematic
execration — remains a controversial and mostly unloved figure. In the
West, his legacy is kept alive by the amorphous Fourth International — a
motley crew of Trotskyist groups whose sectarianism, internal
dissensions, sterile scholastic disputes and personal rivalries are
Trotsky’s own dreams of an international proletarian
revolution and belief in the imminent demise of world capitalism did
not, of course, come to pass. Nor did his prophecies of the
disappearance of the nation-state.
Nevertheless, despite the rigidities and dogmatic
absurdities of Trotskyist ideology, in some countries, like Britain and
France, his self-identified heirs still exercise a certain radicalizing
influence — not least in their unconditional embrace of the Palestinian
cause. This is especially noteworthy in light of the shift in Trotsky’s
own views on Zionism, Jewish assimilation and the Palestine question
during the 1930s.
Lev Davidovich Bronstein (to use his original
Russian-Jewish name) had, since his early years, vigorously opposed not
only Zionists but even the anti-Zionist Jewish socialist Bundists for
their national particularism. As a Russified atheist Marxist, he had no
time for the Bible, Judaism, Jewish history or culture — which he
dismissed as relics of an outmoded ghetto psychology.
An observer at the Sixth Zionist Congress in Basel in
1903, the young Trotsky branded Herzl a “shameless adventurer” who had
the impudence and “devilish perfidy” to seek a fatherland for the Jews.
Later, at the height of his Bolshevik glory in 1921, he dismissed a plea
from Moscow’s chief rabbi to intercede on behalf of starving Russian
Jews. The rabbi is reported to have commented after the meeting: “The
Trotskys make the revolutions, and the Bronsteins pay the bills.”
The beginnings of a change in Trotsky’s attitudes came
during the struggle for power in the Soviet Union, in which Stalin,
using anti-Semitism in the Bolshevik ranks as a weapon, defeated
Trotsky. In the 1930s, the exiled Trotsky began to take an interest in
the Arab-Jewish conflict and Zionist colonization in Palestine. He was
distrustful of what he called the “reactionary Muslim” and “anti-Semitic
pogromist” elements in the Palestinian Arab national movement. In
contrast to the Stalinist Comintern, he did not sweep the anti-Jewish
riots in Palestine in 1929 under the carpet or reduce them to a minor
episode in the Arab liberation struggle.
By 1937, Trotsky — although never a Zionist — had come to
radically revise his earlier standpoint on the “Jewish question.” He
recognized, for example, that his earlier belief in inevitable
assimilation was unfounded; that there was a Jewish nation, which
required a territorial base; and that the Soviet regime was shamelessly
encouraging anti-Semitism to deflect attention from its own failures.
Most remarkable of all was Trotsky’s insight into the
Nazi danger about which he had constantly sounded the alarm since 1930. A
month after the 1938 Kristallnacht pogroms in Germany, he unequivocally
warned American Jewry of the forthcoming annihilation of the Jews.
Trotsky bluntly wrote that even without the outbreak of a new European
war, “the next development of world reaction signifies with certainty
the physical extermination of the Jews.” This chilling prophecy uttered
from Mexico City was ignored.
Shortly before his assassination, he also warned that the
British White Paper of 1939 “may well transform Palestine into a bloody
trap for several hundred thousand Jews.” Trotsky correctly surmised
that British imperialism had abandoned its commitment to a Jewish
national home and would unhesitatingly sacrifice Zionism on the altar of
its Middle East strategy.
Leon Trotsky spent most of his life trying to escape from
his Jewish background and the image of the soft and indecisive ghetto
Jew. Bolshevism did harden him, turning the Marxist intellectual into an
alien for the Jews and a demonic symbol of Judeo-Communism for
Even among his fellow revolutionaries, he proved unable
to transcend his Jewish background. In the 1930s the struggle against
the bogeyman of “world Trotskyism,” seen as synonymous with perfidy and
betrayal, would become a leitmotif of Stalin’s propaganda machine around
the world. In an age of totalitarian terror, the effort to hunt down
Trotsky came to uncannily prefigure the tragic fate of the Jewish people
whom he had once so arrogantly abandoned.
Robert S. Wistrich is director of the Vidal Sassoon
International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem. He is the author of “A Lethal Obsession:
Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad” (Random House).
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