Saturday, 1 February 2014

Lenin on anti-Semitism.

Vladimir Illyich had his moments. It was in March of 1919 that the White Armies were waging a general offensive on the Siberian front. There Kolchak's forces engaged in mass-floggings, summary executions, anti-Jewish pogroms, the destruction of thousands of villages and farms. The reactionary forces led by Kolchak and Denikin had been incubated by the Tsarist regime and had been stirred to act by the fall of Bloody Nicholas. On the side of counter-revolution the powers of Europe, alongside the US, Japan, and China, intervened to strangle Bolshevism in its cradle. The possibility of defeat was a very real one at this time. Lenin took the time to stake out a political position on the anti-Jewish pogroms being carried out by the White movement and its allies:

Anti-Semitism means spreading enmity towards the Jews. When the accursed Tsarist monarchy was living its last days it tried to incite ignorant workers and peasants against the Jews. The Tsarist police, in alliance with the landowners and the capitalists, organised pogroms against the Jews. The landowners and capitalists tried to divert the hatred of the workers and peasants who were tortured by want against the Jews. In other countries, too, we often see the capitalists fomenting hatred against the Jews in order to blind the workers, to divert their attention from the real enemy of the working people, capital. Hatred towards the Jews persists only in those countries where slavery to the landowners and capitalists has created abysmal ignorance among the workers and peasants. Only the most ignorant and downtrodden people can believe the lies and slander that are spread about the Jews. This is a survival of ancient feudal times, when the priests burned heretics at the stake, when the peasants lived in slavery, and when the people were crushed and inarticulate. This ancient, feudal ignorance is passing away; the eyes of the people are being opened.
It is not the Jews who are the enemies of the working people. The enemies of the workers are the capitalists of all countries. Among the Jews there are working people, and they form the majority. They are our brothers, who, like us, are oppressed by capital; they are our comrades in the struggle for socialism. Among the Jews there are kulaks, exploiters and capitalists, just as there are among the Russians, and among people of all nations. The capitalists strive to sow and foment hatred between workers of different faiths, different nations and different races. Those who do not work are kept in power by the power and strength of capital. Rich Jews, like rich Russians, and the rich in all countries, are in alliance to oppress, crush, rob and disunite the workers.
Shame on accursed Tsarism which tortured and persecuted the Jews. Shame on those who foment hatred towards the Jews, who foment hatred towards other nations.
Long live the fraternal trust and fighting alliance of the workers of all nations in the struggle to overthrow capital.

This was one of eight speeches by Lenin recorded on gramophone. Significantly, it would later be the speech left out by the Communist Party when they came to re-record these speeches to re-circulate them in 1961. And this was Khrushchev's thaw. It's clear there had been a regression. It would get worse: Brezhnev would later reinstate the Jewish quota in Russian schools. The measure had originally been used by the Tsarist regime as part of a whole swathe of laws instituted to restrict and persecute Russian Jews. This was the same regime we can thank for the word 'pogrom' and the first drafts of The Elders of the Protocols of Zion, which was produced by the secret police and later distributed by the Black Hundreds. The anti-Jewish legislation of the Russian Empire would be obliterated in the revolutionary fervour of 1917. From then on the anti-Semites had a new canard, the Jews had stolen the motherland.

Right from the beginning there was a tension between the secular policies of the Bolsheviks and the official commitment to self-determination. The Jews were not problematic as an oppressed people with a unique culture, what the Bolsheviks found problematic was the Jewish faith and political Zionism offered the potential of an independent current. At first it was secular Yiddish culture which received the patronage of the state, while education remained secular, and Hebrew remained suppressed as it was under the Tsar. Even still the leap to equal rights was a dramatic one for a society that had been in the frenzy of pogroms not long before. Stalin would later set out to establish an autonomous Jewish region in the easternmost corner of Russia. It was meant to be a compromise with Jewish nationalism. Yet Stalin would later back the establishment of Israel in 1948 and arm the Israelis in the war of that same year.

It wasn't over yet. Stalin had hoped that Israel would be a Soviet ally in the Middle East. When Golda Meir and the Israeli delegation came to Moscow in 1948 there was a spontaneous gathering of thousands of Jews. At that point Stalin was frightened of where this could lead and initiated an anti-Semitic campaign of his own against "rootless cosmopolitans". It went as far as purges of doctors and assassinations of actors, not even famous Yiddish poets were safe. Through it all Stalin enjoyed popular support from Kibbutzniks within Israel. Even still the Soviet Union would move to a much more critical position on Israel in the coming decades and align itself with Arab dictatorships instead. The new restrictions on Jews extending to preventing them from emigrating to Israel. It was the birth of the refuseniks, a favourite cause of neoconservatives. And yet today's neo-fascists still see Jewish-Bolshevism under their beds at night.

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