Chapter 14 of Solzhenitsyn’s 200 Years Together (available here) recounts the events of 1917, a pivotal year in Russia. The main impression conveyed throughout the chapter is the sheer energy of the Jews—what I have elsewhere (pp. 24–26) labeled the psychological intensity of Jewish activism.
1917 in Russia was a year of rapid change, uncertainty and chaos—exactly the situation where even a relatively small but well-organized, energetic and highly motivated force may have a very large impact. As an analogy, consider how relatively easy it would have been to influence the structure of the U.S. government in the unsettled period after the Revolutionary War than it is today.
Jews developed a huge range of organizations of all types. Politically, they ranged from the center to the far left.
From the very first days after the February Revolution, central newspapers published enormous number of announcements about private meetings, assemblies and sessions of various Jewish parties, initially mostly the Bund [a socialist-labor party with a strong Jewish identity], and later of Poale Zion, Zionists, Socialist Zionists, Territorialist Zionists, and the Socialist Jewish Workers’ Party (SJWP). Already by March 7 we read about an oncoming assembly of the All-Russian Jewish Congress.
The various Zionist groups were the most popular among Jews; these groups tended to support socialist candidates in the Russian milieu. As an aside, one can’t help but notice the irony in the fact that Jacob Schiff, who had bankrolled Jewish revolutionary groups in Russia (see here, p. 36), announced that he had decided to join the Zionists “because of fear of Jewish assimilation as a result of Jewish civil equality in Russia. He believes that Palestine could become the center to spread ideals of Jewish culture all over the world.”
Would that he had directed all his financial support to Zionist causes rather than at attempts to topple the Czar. Wasn’t it obvious that Jewish civil equality would make assimilation and intermarriage more likely?
There was a blossoming of Jewish culture, particularly in Petrograd which already by 1917 had a “substantial and energetic” Jewish population. (Noteworthy because Petrograd, the seat of Russian politics and culture during this period, was not in the Pale of Settlement reserved for Jews during the Czarist period.) Yiddish newspapers were started. Schools at all levels were established. Artistic and cultural organizations were founded. Jewish culture had been unleashed.
This frenetic energy of Jews in Petrograd reminded me of Henry James’ comment, written in 1907, on the newly arrived Jews in New York:
There is no swarming like that of Israel when once Israel has got a start, and the scene here bristled at every step, with the sights and sounds, immitigable, unmistakable, of a Jewry that had burst all bounds. … The talk of the hour gave me, across the board, facts and figures, chapter and verse, for the extent of the Hebrew conquest of New York…. Who can ever tell . . . what the genius of Israel may, or may not, really be “up to”? (Henry James (1907). The American Scene. London: Chapman and Hall; see here, p. 37)
Substitute Petrograd for New York, and you have the situation as described by Solzhenitsyn. And, as he notes, “These Jewish activities are all the more amazing given the state of general governmental, administrative and cultural confusion in Russia 1917.”
Jews also eagerly entered into Russian institutions, including the military. However, exhibiting a pattern that Solzhenitsyn also noted during WWII, Jews were much more likely to be found in the officer corps rather than among common soldiers. He recounts a very striking incident of ethnocentrism among Jewish officers who had the soldiers under their command sing “ancient Jewish songs.” Solzhenitsyn asks incredulously, “Did they not understand that Russian soldiers would hardly follow such officers?” Whereas separate battalions were organized for a variety of ethnic groups, only Jews were integrated into the army. Jews were “the only nationality not demanding national self-determination in military. And every time it was suggested that separate Jewish regiments be formed in response to complaints about the poor acceptance of Jewish army officers, such proposals were met with a storm of indignation on the part of Jews and the Left and with accusations of a spiteful provocation.”
This is interesting because Jews often insist on separation from non-Jews, so this opposition to separate units for Jews is certainly not based on principle. Solzhenitsyn may well be hinting that this is a bit of strategizing on the part of Jews, realizing that the army is a very important institution to influence, especially during a period of unrest and confusion, and that Jews would have more influence if they were not segregated into their own units.
Solzhenitsyn has a section on the “highly energetic” Jews who returned to Russia after the February Revolution, including Trotsky who “travelled not with flimsy Russian papers, but with a solid American passport, inexplicably granted to him despite his short stay in the USA, and with a substantial sum of money, the source of which has remained a mystery.” Particular mention is made of “two famous trains that crossed hostile Germany without hindrance and brought to Russia nearly 200 prominent individuals, 30 in Lenin’s and 160 in the train of Natanson and Martov [both Jews], with Jews comprising an absolute majority. …They represented almost all Jewish parties, and virtually all of them would play a substantial role in the future events in Russia.”.
Solzhenitsyn shows an understated anger at the attitudes of some of the Jews who came to power and influence during this period. For example, he mentions an article by a Jewish writer who stated that
Jews must secure the gains of revolution by any means … without any qualms. Any necessary sacrifice must be made. Everything is on the stake here and all will be lost if we hesitate…. Even the most backward parts of Jewish masses understand this.” “No one questions what would happen to Jews if the counter-revolution prevails.” He was absolutely confident that if that happens there would be mass executions of Jews. Therefore, “the filthy scum must be crushed even before it had any chance to develop, in embryo. Their very seed must be destroyed…. Jews will be able to defend their freedom.”
Solzhenitsyn’s comment is well worth pondering:
Crushed in embryo…. And even their very seed…. It was already pretty much the Bolshevik program, though expressed in the words of Old Testament. Yet whose seed must be destroyed? Monarchists? But they were already breathless; all their activists could be counted on fingers. So it could only be those who had taken a stand against unbridled, running wild soviets, against all kinds of committees and mad crowds; those, who wished to halt the breakdown of life in the country — prudent ordinary people, former government officials, and first of all officers and very soon the soldier-general Kornilov. There were Jews among those counter-revolutionaries, but overall that movement was the Russian national one.
In other words, Solzhenitsyn sees the writer as seeking the annihilation of the Russian national movement that was attempting to tame the excesses of the period, and he is analogizing it to the genocidal accounts of the Old Testament: “So Joshua smote all the land, the hill-country, and the South, and the Lowland, and the slopes, and all their kings; he left none remaining; but he utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded” (Josh. 10:40). The Jewish writer is advocating a genocidal war (crushing their very seed) on the Russians on the basis of Jewish religious thinking— a war actually carried out by the Bolsheviks with Jews as willing executioners.
The success of Jews in not being segregated in the army (noted above) indicates that Jews had considerable influence. Similarly, Jews often avoided being drafted into the military by having a sick person show up at the recruitment instead of the person who had been drafted, so that the person was rejected for military service. A proposed policy of insisting on photo identification for Jewish recruits was scrubbed as a result of an outcry by Jews.
However, the most important indication of Jewish influence is that Jews were a critical ingredient in the success of the movement by the left to “expand the revolution”:
The favorite slogan of 1917 was “Expand the Revolution!” All socialist parties worked to implement it. I. O. Levin writes: “There is no doubt that Jewish representation in the Bolshevik and other parties which facilitated “expanding of revolution” — Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries etc. — with respect to both general Jewish membership and Jewish presence among the leaders, greatly exceeds the Jewish share in the population of Russia. This is an indisputable fact; while its reasons should be debated, its factual veracity is unchallengeable and its denial is pointless.”
Although as this quote indicates, Jews were important among the Bolsheviks, they were even more important in the other parties of the left, including the Mensheviks, right and left Socialist Revolutionaries and the Anarchists. An energetic group indeed!
Solzhenitsyn pays particular attention to the composition of the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet and its successor, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee (CEC): “It was they who had in fact ruled over Russia.” In the nine-member Presidium of the CEC, there were five Jews and only one ethnic Russian. While emphasizing the ethnic composition of the CEC, Solzhenitsyn hesitates to attribute ethnic motivation to the Jews involved:
Of course, the actions of the executive committees could not be solely explained by their ethnic composition – not at all! (Many of those personalities irreversibly distanced themselves from their native communities and had even forgotten the way into their shtetls.) All of them sincerely believed that because of their talents and revolutionary spirit, they would have no problem arranging workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ matters in the best way possible. They would manage it better simply because of being more educated and smarter than all this clumsy hoi polloi.
By using the word ‘solely’, Solzhenitsyn leaves room for at least some ethnic motivation. And his other comments certainly do not preclude ethnic motivation. As he is well aware, Jews, and prototypically Jews on the left, have often had a strong sense of ethnic identity even though they have abandoned the traditional Jewish community. And their own self-perceptions as acting solely on behalf of the interests of soldiers and peasants need not be based in reality. Indeed, the story of Jewish involvement in the left is filled with ambivalences and complexities about Jewish identity, and egregious examples of self-deception, as noted in Chapter 3 of The Culture of Critique.
But it is certainly not surprising that Russians would notice Jewish preeminence: “For many Russians, from commoners to generals, this sudden, eye-striking transformation in the appearance of those among the directors and orators at rallies and meetings, in command and in government, was overwhelming.”
Thus it is equally unsurprising that there was an upsurge in anti-Jewish attitudes. Solzhenitsyn emphasizes the lack of anti-Jewish attitudes in most of pre-Revolutionary Russia, due to the fact that Jews were banned from living in most areas. However, “after just a few months following the February Revolution, resentment against Jews had suddenly blazed up in the masses of people and spread over Russia, growing stronger with every passing month.” There was hostility at the sudden success of the Jews, not only because they were prominently involved in the government, but because they appeared to have easy access to scarce consumer goods while everyone else stood in line: “They accuse Jews of political stranglehold, of seizing parties and soviets, and even of ruining the army … of looting and hoarding goods.”
Given that Solzhenitsyn is attesting to a firm foundation in reality of these perceptions, he is perhaps too hard on his own people when he writes, “Any revolution releases a flood of filth, envy and anger from the people. The same was happening with the Russian people, with its weakened Christian spirituality.” As the events during the Soviet period clearly showed, being ruled by non-Russians had dire consequences for the Russian people. Developing hostile attitudes toward being ruled by ethnic aliens is an entirely healthy response.
Anti-Jewish attitudes were exacerbated by prominent revolutionary Jews concealing their Jewish names:
Name concealment was incomprehensible for the ordinary man of that time: only thieves hide and change their names. Why Boris Katz is ashamed of his name, instead calling himself “Kamkov”? … Many had aliases originating in their past underground life because of necessity, but what had compelled the likes of Shotman, the Socialist Revolutionary from Tomsk (and not him alone) to become “Danilov” already in 1917?
The result was that most people were unable to figure out who their new leaders were. The reason for what Solzhenitsyn labels this “odd secrecy” is obvious: Jews as a tiny ethnic minority were a highly visibly alien elite in a situation where ordinary Russians were suffering horribly, so efforts were made to lower their visibility. Indeed, Solzhenitsyn notes that several prominent Jews urged Jews to not accept positions in the new regime for this very reason. The same strategy of name concealment happened in Poland after WWII as Jews were actively recruited into the security forces and other branches of the Polish government, and it was common in the Communist Party USA as well (see Chapter 3 of The Culture of Critique). Name concealment may be seen as a form of crypto-Judaism that has been a Jewish strategy in many times and places throughout history.
Solzhenitsyn has an interesting quote from G. Landau indicating that despite the reasonable expectation that their behavior would result in hostility toward Jews, they did it anyway:
Jewish participation in the Russian turmoil had astonishingly suicidal overtones in it; I am referring not only to their role in Bolshevism, but to their involvement in the whole thing. And it is not just about the huge number of politically active people, socialists and revolutionaries who have joined the revolution; I am talking mainly about the broad sympathy of the [Jewish] masses it was met with…. Although many harbored pessimistic expectations, in particular, an anticipation of pogroms, they were still able to reconcile such a foreboding with an acceptance of turmoil which unleashed countless miseries and pogroms. It resembled the fatal attraction of butterflies to fire, to the annihilating fire…. It is certain there were some strong motives pushing the Jews into that direction, and yet those were clearly suicidal.
This aspect of Jewish behavior bears pondering. Many people have noted that Jewish involvement in promoting massive non-White immigration may be bad for the Jews in the long run. Most famously, Stephen Steinlight has called attention to the danger to Jews of Muslim immigration, and Abe Foxman has agonized about the fact that Latinos are unlikely to be deeply attached to Jewish issues, such as the Holocaust and Israel. Moreover, if the Western media was more attuned to White interests, knowledge of Jewish promotion of non-White immigration would doubtless lead to anti-Jewish attitudes.
By any measure, Jewish behavior during the revolutionary period in Russia and in pursuing their ethnic aims in the U.S. and throughout the West has been aggressive—far different, for example from the behavior of the Overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia. Indeed, aggression is one of the four critical features of Jewish activism in general (see here, pp. 26–30, which also deals with the relative lack of aggression of the Overseas Chinese).
However, ‘suicidal’ is far too strong a word here. Jews certainly survived and prospered in the USSR and in the contemporary West despite their aggressive tactics (One might also mention their aggressive behavior in the U.S., not only regarding immigration, but also in opposition to Christianity in the public square and in their support of Israel, often at the expense of national interests.) There is certainly no widespread, politically effective anti-Jewish force in the U.S. or elsewhere in the West. Aggression can and does pay off. Nevertheless, the jury is still out on the long term effects for Jews of their behavior as a hostile, aggressive elite in the West.
Solzhenitsyn, as always, is particularly angry about the lack of feeling for Russian culture and the Russian people among Jews. Here he calls particular attention to an “artless” patriotic plea expressed in religious language by General Lavr Kornilov, who became a leader on the side of the White forces in the civil war. Commenting on a prominent Jewish critic who ridiculed Kornilov, N. Gimmer (Sukhanov), Solzhenitsyn calls attention to the hostility and disdain that the new rulers of Russia had toward “the entire Russian historical heritage”:
And what about Sukhanov’s heart – did he feel any pain at all? He did not have any sense of a living land and culture, nor he had any urge to preserve them — he served his ideology only, international socialism…. Note that he … derogatorily referred … to Russian history, ancient art and sanctity. And with such disdain to the entire Russian historical heritage, all that internationalist scum – Sukhanov and his henchmen from the malicious Executive Committee that steered the February Revolution.
And yet, despite these attitudes of alienation from Russian culture typical of now-powerful Jews, Solzhenitsyn does not blame them entirely:
We saw similar attitudes on the part of the Provisional Government too … with its quite Russian ethnic composition. Yet did it display a Russian worldview or represent Russian interests if only a little? Not at all! The Government’s most consistent and “patriotic” activity was to guide the already unraveling country … to victory in war! To victory at any cost! With loyalty to the allies! … They had no concern about the consequences for Russia of the ongoing war. And this failure, this lack of a sense of national self-preservation could be observed almost at every meeting of the Provisional Government cabinet, in almost every discussion.
Here Solzhenitsyn gives some blame to America which threatened the provisional government with loss of financing if Russia made a separate peace with Germany. But clearly, his point stands: The Russians themselves made horrible decisions during this very critical period of their history.
Indeed, Solzhenitsyn’s portrayal of the Provisional Government is reminiscent of the numerous non-Jewish politicians in the contemporary West who eagerly promote the interests of ethnic minorities with no concern for their own people. The Provisional Government “demonstrated constant anxious bias against any conservative circles, and especially – against Russian conservatives.” It threw money away on the “cultural needs of ethnic minorities” while ignoring Russian institutions like the Great Russian Orchestra which could have been preserved for a pittance.
These traitors to their people doubtless came to regret their high-mindedness after the Bolshevik victory resulted in the destruction of the former Russian elites, presumably including them. It is a wonderful object lesson in the deadly folly of not acting in one’s own ethnic interests.
Finally, Solzhenitsyn does not blame the Jews for the October Revolution that brought in the Bolsheviks. Notice, however, that he implies that Jews, given their energy, organization, and influence that he details throughout the chapter, could have done more to stop it except that doing so would have violated their socialist sensibilities; and he does make an important qualification regarding Trotsky and Grigory Chudnovsky:
The closer it was getting to October coup and the more apparent the Bolshevik threat was becoming, the wider this realization spread among Jews, making them opposed to Bolshevism. It was taking root even among socialist parties and many Jewish socialists during October coup were actively against it, yet they were debilitated by their socialist views and their opposition was limited by negotiations and newspaper articles — until Bolsheviks shut down those newspapers.
It is necessary to state explicitly that the October coup was not made by Jews (though under general command of Trotsky and with energetic actions of young Grigory Chudnovsky during the arrest of Provisional Government and the massacre of the defenders of the Winter Palace). Broadly speaking, the common rebuke, that the 170-million-people could not be pushed into Bolshevism by a small Jewish minority, was justified. Indeed, we had ourselves sealed our fate in 1917, through our foolishness from February to October-December.
Solzhenitsyn’s comments on Trotsky and Chudnovsky suggest that individual Jews may have been a necessary condition for the Bolshevik coup. In any case, the foolishness of the ethnic Russians who dominated the Provisional Government had catastrophic consequences for the Russian people.
The events of 1917 presaged the most important chapter of the story of Jews and Bolshevism. In the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution Jews flocked to join the new government and became a pillar of the new regime, the most murderous regime in European history.