Solzhenitsyn’s “During the Civil War” — Chapter 16 of 200 Years Together

Chapter 16 of 200 Years Together covers the pivotal period of the civil war (1918–1921)—pivotal because the Bolshevik victory was a disaster for the Russian people and for Europe generally. (The translation is available here; donations are of critical importance for finishing this important project.) Once again, Solzhenitsyn highlights the role of Jews as instruments of state terror, particularly their role in the Cheka and in the Red Army. The perception that this was a “Jewish terror” was widespread: “Why was the perception that Chekists and Jews were all but the same so widespread among both the Reds and the Whites alike and among the people in general?”

At least part of the reason is because of the Jews’ “ardent service on the highest posts in Cheka.” Jewish Chekists “at that time were supreme, by status and rank, representatives of Russian Jewry.” He quotes a Jewish observer (also quoted by Yuri Slezkine; see here, p. 85):  “we were astonished to find among the Jews what we never expected from them — cruelty, sadism, unbridled violence — everything that seemed so alien to a people so detached from physical activity; those who yesterday couldn’t handle a rifle, today were among the vicious cutthroats.” Slezkine quotes another Jewish observer: 

The formerly oppressed lover of liberty had turned into a tyrant of “unheard-of-despotic arbitrariness”…. The convinced and unconditional opponent of the death penalty not just for political crimes but for the most heinous offenses, who could not, as it were, watch a chicken being killed, has been transformed outwardly into a leather-clad person with a revolver and, in fact, lost all human likeness (pp. 183–184).

It is a cautionary tale on what kinds of behavior we can expect from current multi-cultural elites when Whites become a minority: Present-day platitudes about the future world of multicultural harmony and the moral imperative of Whites giving up power may be replaced very quickly by a quite different set of attitudes of revenge and hatred — the image of the kindly, tolerant Jewish professional quickly replaced by the image of a brutal perpetrator of torture and mass murder motivated by revenge against the old order. Images of hatred and estrangement from the White, Christian majority are commonplace among Jewish leaders — the Jews as a hostile elite theme of much of my writing (see, e.g., here andhere).

Indeed, Solzhenitsyn suggests that Jewish revenge against the Cossacks was a motive for “the genocide on the river Don, when hundreds of thousands of the flower of Don Cossacks were murdered …. What should we expect from the Cossack memories when we take into consideration all those unsettled accounts between a revolutionary Jew and a Don Cossack?”

Indeed, the Cossacks were strongly identified with state power during the 19thcentury, and for Jews they were hated because of their role in assaults on Jews (for example, during the Khmelnytsky Uprising in the 17th century) andpopularized in stories by Jewish writer Sholem Aleichem. As I noted elsewhere:

The Cossacks served the Czar as a military police force, and they used their power against Jewish communities during the conflicts between the government and the Jews. After the Revolution, the Cossacks were deported to Siberia for refusing to join the collective farms. During the 1930s, the person in charge of the deportations was an ethnic Jew, Lazar Kaganovich, nicknamed the “wolf of the Kremlin’ because of his penchant for violence. In his drive against the peasants, Kaganovich took “an almost perverse joy in being able to dictate to the Cossacks. He recalled too vividly what he and his family had experienced at the hands of these people…. Now they would all pay — men, women, children. It didn’t matter who. They became one and the same. That was the key to [Kaganovich’s] being. He would never forgive and he would never forget” (Stuart Kahan, The Wolf of the  Kremlin, 1987, 164). Similarly, Jews were placed in charge of security in the Ukraine, which had a long history of anti-Semitism (Albert Lindemann, Esau’s Tears, 1997, 443) and became a scene of mass murder in the 1930s. (See here, pp. xxiv–xxv.)

It was payback time for ethnic hostilities that long preceded the Bolshevik Revolution. While Jews were vastly overrepresented among the perpetrators of mass murder, Solzhenitsyn “can’t help noticing that almost all names [of the victims] were Slavic – it was the ‘chosen Russians’ who were shot. In Kiev, a key area because of its long history of tensions between Jews and Slavs, 75% of the staff of the Cheka were Jews, including 70% of the top officials.

His account of the murders is particularly chilling:

An executioner (and sometimes “amateur” Chekists) escorted a completely naked victim into a shed and ordered the victim to fall facedown on the ground. Then he finished the victim with a shot in the back of the head. Executions were performed using revolvers (typically Colts). Usually because of the short distance, the skull of the executed person exploded into fragments…. The next victim was similarly escorted inside and laid down nearby…. When number of victims was exceeding … the capacity of the shed, new victims were laid down right upon the dead or were shot at the entrance of the shed…. Usually the victims went to their execution without resistance.

It’s not surprising therefore that the opposition to the Bolshevik regime often had strong anti-Jewish overtones. Examples from 1921 are the Kronstadt Uprising, where photos of prominent Jewish Bolsheviks were destroyed, and labor strikes, whose slogan was “Down with Communists and Jews!”

Solzhenitsyn wrestles with the question of whether the Jewish community as a whole supported the Bolsheviks: “Thus it looked as though not only Bolshevik Jews, but all of Jewry had decided to take the Red side in the Civil War. Could we claim that their choice was completely reactive? No. Could we claim that they didn’t have any other choice? Again, no.”

As evidence on Jewish attitudes toward the Bolsheviks he cites a writer who noted that as Kiev was about to surrender to the Bolsheviks, the Jews remained, while “it was an entirely Russian exodus, people were leaving on foot with knapsacks, across the bridges over the Dnepr river. … And all of those rich and very rich Jews – they didn’t leave, they chose to stay and wait for arrival of Bolsheviks. ‘The Jews decided not to share their fate with us. And with that they carved a new and possibly the deepest divide between us.’” Throughout Russia and in Poland during the Soviet invasion of 1920, Jewish communities greeted the Bolsheviks with celebration, while the Slavic population was terrified of its future.

The special role of Jews in the Soviet government was common knowledge, to the point that some Jews pleaded for Jews to fight Bolshevism because Jewish behavior was leading to intense anti-Jewish attitudes; however, this was not the view of the organized Jewish community:

And yes, there were Jews then who appealed to their compatriots looking back on the tragedy that had befallen both Russia and Russian Jewry. In their proclamation To the Jews of all countries!, this group wrote in 1923 that “overly zealous participation of Jewish Bolsheviks in the oppression and destruction of Russia … is blamed upon all of us … the Soviet rule is identified with Jewish rule, and fierce hatred of Bolsheviks turns into the equally fierce hatred of Jews…. [We] firmly believe that Bolshevism is the worst of all evils possible for the Jews and all other peoples of Russia, and that to fight tooth and nail against the rule of that international rabble over Russia is our sacred duty before humankind, culture, before our Motherland and the Jewish people.” Yet the Jewish community “reacted to these declarations with great indignation.”

Solzhenitsyn spends a great deal of time on the anti-Jewish pogroms of the period and the role of the White army and Symon Petiliura’s Ukrainian nationalist forces. In general, he denies that Jews sided with the Bolsheviks because of the pogroms. For example, the Jewish dominance of the Cheka in the Ukraine happened in 1918, before the pogroms of 1919.

Interestingly, he foregrounds his discussion by noting that wars and revolutions are nasty affairs, and, quoting a Jewish writer, they are “especially gruesome and dangerous for a minority, which in many ways is alien to the bulk of population.” This is especially so when there is a long history of mistrust and hostility toward the minority because of traditional economic relationships and Jewish hostility toward the culture of the outgroup.

During this period, Jews suffered far more than they did under the Czar, with estimates of Jewish dead ranging to 200,000. The main force was the Ukrainian separatist movement. Rather than seeing the hostility of the separatists toward Jews as irrational anti-Semitism, Solzhenitsyn shows that Jews did not support Ukrainian nationalism—a familiar theme in modern anti-Jewish attitudes, present also in Germany, were Jews were often seen as insufficiently enthusiastic about German nationalism. For example, the prominent 19th-century intellectual Heinrich von Treitschke strongly opposed what he perceived as “alien” Jewish cultural influence on German life, because of Jewish tendencies to mock and belittle German nationalistic aspirations (see here, p. 140). Similarly, Solzhnenitsyn describes “Jewish philistines … making fun of the Ukrainian language and shop-signs.” They were “afraid of Ukrainian nationalism, and believed in the Russian state and Russian culture.”

The opposition to Ukrainian nationalism had a Jewish face. When the Soviet government moved against the Ukrainian nationalists,

There was no shortage of Jewish names among the top Bolsheviks … in such centers as Odessa and Ekaterinoslav. That was sufficient to fuel talks about “Bolshevik Jews” and “Jewish Bolsheviks” among the troops loyal to the [Ukrainian parliament]. Verbal cursing about “traitorous Jews” became almost commonplace.

When a nationalist government led by Petliura came to power, his newspaper wrote, “The birth of the Ukrainian State was not expected by the Jews. The Jews did not anticipate it despite having an extraordinary ability of getting the wind of any news. They … emphasize their knowledge of Russian language and ignore the fact of Ukrainian statehood … Jewry again has joined the side of our enemy.”

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Solzhenitsyn juxtaposes Jews being blamed for Bolshevik military successes in the Ukraine with accounts of pillaging and pogroms directed against Jews — the implication being that Jews were being repaid in kind.  Nevertheless, the pogroms were not official policy. Even commanders who were sympathetic to the Jews, such as Nestor Mahkno, were unable to control the anti-Jewish actions of their troops. A result was that Jewish parties quickly began to radicalize toward the Left, thus inevitably turning their sympathies to Bolshevism.

Pogroms occurred despite the best intentions of the leaders of the White army, such as General Anton I. Denikin. The misbehavior of the troops cannot be completely explained by resentment about the Jewish role in Bolshevism or traditional anti-Jewish attitudes. There was also the raping and pillaging that has always been part of the culture of undisciplined armies. Solzhenitsyn provides several sources corroborating this perspective. For example:

A top White general, A. von Lampe, claims that rumors about Jewishpogroms by the Whites are “tendentiously exaggerated”, that these pillaging “requisitions” were unavoidable actions of an army without quartermaster services or regular supplies from the rear areas. He says that Jews were not targeted deliberately but that all citizens suffered and that Jews “suffered more” because they were “numerous and rich.” “I am absolutely confident that in the operational theaters of the White armies there were no Jewishpogroms, i.e., no organized extermination and pillaging of Jews. There were robberies and even murders … which were purposefully overblown and misrepresented as anti-Jewish pogroms by the special press…. Because of these accidents, the Second Kuban Infantry Brigade and the Ossetian Cavalry Regiment were disbanded…. All peoples, be they Christian or Jewish, suffered in disorderly areas.” [The exception was that] there were executions (on tip offs by locals) of those unfortunate commissars andChekists who did not manage to escape and there were quite a few Jews among them.

One way that Jews aided the Bolsheviks was financially. Jews contributed little to the White cause, “yet whenever the Bolsheviks showed up and demanded money and valuables, the population obediently handed over millions of rubles and whole stores of goods.” The Whites even rejected some Jewish support because of “the prominent involvement of other Jews on the Red side.” While the White army was originally free of anti-Jewish attitudes, “the situation dramatically changed by 1919” when Jews were seen as the main base of support for Bolshevism, exaggerated by the intense local anti-Jewish attitudes in areas like the Ukraine with a long history of hostility between Jews and Slavs, now exacerbated by the prominence of Jewish support for the Bolsheviks. “The Whites perceived Russia as occupied by Jewish commissars — and they marched to liberate her.”

The fate of the White cause also was sealed because of failure to obtain Jewish support in the West. Solzhenitsyn states unequivocally that “the White Movement was in desperate need of the support by the Western public opinion, which in turn largely depended on the fate of Russian Jewry.” Churchill appealed to Denikin to stop the pogroms, but he also quotes a historian who notes that Churchill feared the reactions of “powerful Jewish circles within the elite.” Jewish elites throughout the West threw their support to the Bolsheviks, aided by idealistic perceptions of “grandiose plans” for a New World under communism.

Solzhenitsyn is scathing in his condemnation of the Western powers: “And yet, the behavior of the former Entente of Western nations during the entire Civil War is striking by its greed and blind indifference toward the White Movement — the successor of their wartime ally, Imperial Russia.” This inaction and indifference led to an incalculable tragedy for Russia.

Both the general sympathy of Russian Jews toward the Bolsheviks and the developed attitude of the White forces toward Jews eclipsed and erased the most important benefit of a possible White victory — the sane evolution of the Russian state.

And because of its long term reverberations in the history of the 20th century, the result was a disaster for all European peoples. The prominent role of Jews in the Soviet government dovetailed not only with the warm welcome by Jews for the Soviet invasion of Poland of 1921, but also with Jewish involvement in revolutionary movements in Hungary and Germany. The result was a deepening of anti-Jewish attitudes, especially in Eastern and Central Europe. A historian comments, “the intensity and tenacity of anti-Semitic prejudice in both the east and the center of Europe was significantly influenced by Jewish participation in the revolutionary movement.” “The fact that the leaders of the suppressed Communist revolts were Jews was one of the most important reasons for the resurrection of political anti-Semitism in contemporary Germany.”

And in Hungary, “While Jews played a ‘quite conspicuous’ role in the Russian and German communist revolutions, their role in Hungary became central…. Out of 49 People’s Commissars there, 31 were Jews.” “Granted, the prime-minister was a gentile, Sandor Garbai, but [Mátyás] Rákosi later joked that Garbai was elected because someone had to sign execution orders on Sabbath days.” As was typical wherever communists gained power, the traditional culture was eradicated: “Statues of Hungarian kings and heroes were knocked off their pedestals, the national anthem outlawed, and wearing the national colors criminalized.”

The Jewish role in Bolshevism and in the abortive revolutions in Hungary and Germany cast a long shadow on later events:

For long after the Revolution, conservatives throughout Europe and the United States believed that Jews were responsible for Communism and for the Bolshevik Revolution. The Jewish role in leftist political movements was a common source of anti-Jewish attitudes among a great many intellectuals and political figures. In Germany, the identification of Jews and Bolshevism was widespread in the middle classes and was a critical part of the National Socialist view of the world. As historian Ernst Nolte has noted, for middle-class Germans, “the experience of the Bolshevik revolution in Germany was so immediate, so close to home, and so disquieting, and statistics seemed to prove the overwhelming participation of Jewish ringleaders so irrefutably,” that even many liberals believed in Jewish responsibility (Ernst Nolte, Three Faces of Fascism [1965, 331]). Jewish involvement in the horrors of Communism was also an important sentiment in Hitler’s desire to destroy the USSR and in the anti-Jewish actions of the German National Socialist government. Jews and Jewish organizations were also important forces in inducing the Western democracies to side with Stalin rather than Hitler in World War II.

The victory over National Socialism set the stage for the tremendous increase in Jewish power in the post-World War II Western world, in the end more than compensating for the decline of Jews in the Soviet Union. As [Yuri] Slezkine shows, the children of Jewish immigrants assumed an elite position in the United States, just as they had in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe and Germany prior to World War II. This new-found power facilitated the establishment of Israel, the transformation of the United States and other Western nations in the direction of multiracial, multicultural societies via large-scale non-white immigration, and the consequent decline in European demographic and cultural preeminence. The critical Jewish role in Communism has been sanitized, while Jewish victimization by the Nazis has achieved the status of a moral touchstone and is a prime weapon in the push for massive non-European immigration, multiculturalism, and advancing other Jewish causes.

The Jewish involvement in Bolshevism has therefore had an enormous effect on recent European and American history. It is certainly true that Jews would have attained elite status in the United States with or without their prominence in the Soviet Union. However, without the Soviet Union as a shining beacon of a land freed of official anti-Semitism where Jews had attained elite status in a stunningly short period, the history of the United States would have been very different. The persistence of Jewish radicalism influenced the general political sensibility of the Jewish community and had a destabilizing effect on American society, ranging from the paranoia of the McCarthy era, to the triumph of the 1960s countercultural revolution, to the conflicts over immigration and multiculturalism that are so much a part of the contemporary political landscape. (See here, pp. 95–96 and references therein; see also here, pp. xxx–xxxii)

Solzhenitsyn’s treatment once again hits all the right notes. While staying squarely within mainstream scholarship, he succeeds in laying bare the ethnic conflict that is at the heart of the fraught relationship of Jews and Europeans.

Kevin MacDonald is editor of The Occidental Observer and a professor of psychology at California State University–Long Beach. Email him.

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