Jews and the Left: The Rise and Fall of a Political Alliance
Melbourne, Victoria: Palgrave MacMillian, 2014
In 2018 I reviewed Alain Brossat and Sylvie Klingberg’s Revolutionary Yiddishland: A History of Jewish Radicalism, a shameless apologia for (and indeed glorification of) Jewish involvement in radical political movements in the early- to mid-twentieth century. Jews and the Left: The Rise and Fall of a Political Alliance by the Jewish Australian academic Philip Mendes covers much of the same ground, rehashing many of the same apologetic tropes.
Mendes, an Associate Professor at Monash University in Melbourne, describes his book, published in 2014, as “the first publication to provide a systematic historical and political overview of the relationship between Jews and the left.” Largely ignoring scholarly literature on the subject emanating from non-Jewish and non-philo-Semitic sources, Mendes insists that “With the exception of Arthur Liebman’s outstanding 1979 text, Jews and the Left, there has been little systematic analysis of the Jewish—Left relationship.” Such an ideologically-selective survey of the literature leads him to conclude that “the phenomenon of Jewish radicalism seems to have been seriously under-researched by both general students of sociology and history, and Jewish studies specialists.”
Unlike some of the more egregious Jewish propagandists and apologists who have contributed to the topic, Mendes makes no attempt to deny disproportionate Jewish involvement in political radicalism, stating:
The disproportionate historical contribution of Jews to the political Left has been well documented. Both as individual theorists and activists of the stature of Marx, Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg, Léon Blum and Emma Goldman, and as organized mass labor movements in, for example, revolutionary Russia and early—mid 20th century Warsaw, Amsterdam, Paris, Toronto, Buenos Aires, New York and London, Jews have been conspicuous for their socialist and communist affiliations.
Indeed, Mendes points out that from around 1830 until 1970, an “informal political alliance existed between Jews and the political Left.”
Many Jewish historians and intellectuals are, however, reluctant to offer any discussion, let alone objective assessment, of the dynamics of the Jewish-Left alliance, its scale, causes, and the extent to which radical Jews were motivated by explicitly Jewish concerns. Discussion of these issues being inhibited, he contends, “by concerns regarding the use of the alleged Jewish—Bolshevik conspiracy by the Nazis and other anti-Semitic groups,” which is reflected in “the associated concern by many Jewish writers to minimize the role of Jews in radical movements.”
Another factor contributing to the Jewish reluctance to discuss the relationship between Jews and the Left is the determination to absolve Jews of any responsibility for the horrific crimes of communist regimes. In their book Revolutionary Yiddishland, Brossat and Klingberg assure us, for example, that the militancy of Jewish communists “was always messianic, optimistic, oriented to the Good — a fundamental and irreducible difference from that of the fascists with which some people have been tempted to compare it, on the pretext that one ‘militant ideal’ is equivalent to any other.” So while tens of millions may have died because of the actions of Jewish communist militants, at least they, unlike the fascists, meant well. Kevin MacDonald notes that Jewish involvement with Bolshevism “is perhaps the most egregious example of Jewish moral particularism in all of history. The horrific consequences of Bolshevism for millions of non-Jewish Soviet citizens do not seem to have been an issue for Jewish leftists — a pattern that continues into the present.”
Maintaining a narrative of universal, trans-historical, and unparalleled Jewish victimhood is, of course, supremely important for the cadres of Jewish “diversity” activists and propagandists throughout the West, given the status of “the Holocaust” as the moral foundation of today’s White displacement agenda. Free discussion of the Jewish role in communist crimes undermines Jewish pretentions to moral authority grounded in their self-designated status as history’s preeminent victims. In contemporary academia there are, in addition, strong personal and professional disincentives for highlighting the Jewish role in communist crimes, and it is therefore not surprising that non-Jewish historians and intellectuals are equally reluctant to recognize the Jewish backgrounds of many revolutionaries and to explore how their Jewish identity influenced their beliefs and actions. Ron Unz recently observed how successfully the Jewish-controlled media organs in the U.S. have “conditioned most Americans to suffer a sort of mental allergic reaction to topics sensitive to Jews.” The Jewish role in the Bolshevik Revolution and the governance and administration of the Soviet Union and its satellite states is one such topic.
Causes of the Jewish-Left alliance
Mendes attributes disproportionate Jewish involvement with the Left to four, frequently overlapping factors: class and ethnic oppression, Jewish cultural values, Leftist support for Jewish equality, and the urbanization and intellectualism of Jews. The Jewish population explosion in Eastern Europe during the nineteenth century contributed to the growth of an uncharacteristically large number of the poorer Jews who would inevitably be attracted to economic egalitarianism of Marxist political movements. This was particularly the case in the Pale of Settlement where, while some Jewish families became very wealthy through moneylending, railway building, sugar production and exporting, most Jews were petty traders or artisans who worked long hours for relatively low wages. Throughout the second half of the nineteenth century “close to one-third of the Russian Jewish population of ﬁve million relied on charity. Chronic unemployment, limited education, overcrowding, poor hygiene, disease and high mortality rates were prominent.”
By contrast, most Jews in Germany and Austria were middle class, and the poorer Jews were frequently Ostjuden, immigrant Jews from Eastern Europe who mostly worked in petty trade or as manual laborers. Anglo-Jewry was also a comparatively affluent community consisting of bankers, stockbrokers, craftsmen and shopkeepers with only a small working class. As with Germany, the mass immigration of poor Eastern European Jews, who mostly settled in the East End of London from the 1880s, substantially increased the number of poorer Jews. The French and Dutch Jewish communities were likewise characterized by a group of ultra-wealthy Jews, a comfortable middle class, and a poorer, newly arrived population of immigrant Jews from Eastern Europe who operated as street traders, or workers in the cigar, garment and diamond industries.
A high percentage of Jewish migrants from the Pale of Settlement to North America and South Africa were poorer Jews with radical political sympathies. Many Jewish immigrants in the U.S. worked for low wages in the clothing industry, with associated poor living conditions and ill-health. Poverty alone does not, however, explain the overwhelming draw of the Left for Jews, and Mendes acknowledges that many of the most prominent Jewish radicals came from middleclass and even wealthy backgrounds. The case of Hungary stands as a refutation of the thesis that Jews embraced communism most enthusiastically where their economic circumstances were poorest. Nowhere was the economic and social ascent of Jews as rapid as in Hungary in the half-century before World War I. The prominence of Jews in the Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919 is “all the more striking when one considers that the Jews of Hungary were richer than their coreligionists in eastern Europe and remarkably successfully in attaining positions of status.” Though only five percent of the population, on the eve of World War I, Jews made up almost half the doctors, lawyers, and journalists in Hungary. Despite this, of the forty-nine commissars who governed Bela Kun’s short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic, thirty-one were Jewish.
According to Mendes, another part of the allure of Marxism for Jews was its intellectualism and replication of Judaic traditions of book-learning, exegesis and prediction although one wonders if this intellectualism was more a product of Jewish involvement with Marxism than a previously existing phenomenon. Many radical Jews noted similarities between their Marxist education and traditional Jewish religious classes, and “the term ‘Talmudic’ was often used to describe the complex interpretation and analysis of Marxist texts.” One Jewish communist recalled that “we behaved like yeshiva bokhers and they like rabbis in relation to this training.” Mendes notes how the European Left of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries included “vast numbers of left-wing Jews who rejected the Jewish religious faith, but nevertheless identiﬁed as Jews in an ethnic and cultural sense.” It is only through classifying a Jew in this ethnic and cultural sense that one can “illuminate why so many Jews were drawn to left-wing movements, and equally why the association between Jews and the Left provoked such controversy during the late 19th and early to mid-20th century.” Such a definition encompasses key socialist and communist leaders like Karl Marx and Leon Trotsky, though Mendes excludes Lenin “whose part-Jewish background via his maternal grandfather, was only publicly revealed many years later.”
A Yiddish newspaper cartoon depicting a noted intellectual as praying to Karl Marx
While poverty in the Pale of Settlement and cultural affinities between the Marxist and Jewish milieus undoubtedly added to the allure of communism for Jews, according to Mendes, its chief attraction lay in the fact it rejected “anti-Semitism.” For Mendes, the extensive Jewish involvement in communism was a defensive and morally-justified response to the European persecution of Jews, noting that “many if not most of these Jewish activists were almost certainly inﬂuenced towards their radicalism by their Jewish origins and upbringing, and particularly by their personal experiences of anti-Semitism.” Such prominent Jewish revolutionaries are said to include Rosa Luxemburg, Julius Martov, and Pavel Axelrod. While this influence was “downplayed later on in response to the assimilationist atmosphere of the movement,” a “surprising” number of radical Jews expressed
concern about speciﬁcally Jewish issues, and solidarity with Jewish victims of anti-Semitism at particular points of their career. They included Anna Kulichev, Rosalie Bograd, Charles Rappoport, Julius Martov, Pavel Axelrod and Henri Polak. Even committed internationalists such as Leon Trotsky and Emma Goldman still demonstrated considerable sensitivity to, and interest in, the question of anti-Semitism. Other radicals such as the German revolutionaries Kurt Eisner, Erich Musham, Gustav Landauer and Ernst Toller also demonstrated considerable Jewish consciousness.
While Trotsky claimed his Jewish origins did not influence his attraction to Bolshevism, his biographer Joshua Rubenstein notes that he “was a Jew in spite of himself”; heo “gravitated to Jews wherever he lived,” “never abided physical attacks on Jews, and often intervened to denounce such violence and organize a defense.” As leader of the Red Army during the Civil War, Trotsky “had to deal with the anti-Semitic attitudes among the population,” and “successfully recruited Jews for the Red Army because they were eager to avenge pogrom attacks” At the same time, he “voiced his concern over the high number of Jews in the Cheka, knowing that their presence could only provoke hatred towards Jews as a group.” Trotsky was feted by Jews worldwide as “an avenger of Jewish humiliations under Tsarism, bringing fire and slaughter to their worst enemies.”
Mendes falsely claims that the butcher of the Ukrainians, Lazar Kaganovich, “rejected any link with the Jewish people,” and was “actively hostile to Jewish concerns.” Kaganovich began his political career battling the “anti-Semitic Black Hundreds, especially strong in Kyiv, both before and after the 1911 Beilis affair, the Russian version of the Dreyfus affair.” In response to attempts of the Black Hundreds “to whip up a pogrom” the “Bolsheviks took measures to protect themselves and to rebuff this threat,” and “Kaganovich only joined the party after these momentous events.” He was strongly influenced by Lenin’s article “Stolypin and Revolution” which depicted the assassinated Russian Prime Minister Stolypin as “an organizer of Black Hundred gangs and anti-Semitic pogroms.”
Evading and excusing the causes of anti-Jewish sentiment in the Pale of Settlement
The actual causes of the hostility of the native population toward Jews in the Pale, such as the Jewish monopolization of entire industries, including the sale of liquor, and centuries of predatory moneylending are evaded or excused by Mendes. Tsarist authorities repeatedly expressed alarm over how “Jews were exploiting the unsophisticated and ignorant rural inhabitants, reducing them to a Jewish serfdom.” Initiatives to move Jews into less socially damaging economic niches, through extending educational opportunities and drafting Jews into the army, were ineffective in altering this exploitative pattern. Noting this, even the revolutionary anarchist Mikhail Bakunin concluded that Jews were “an exploiting sect, a blood-sucking people, a unique, devouring parasite tightly and intimately organized … cutting across all the differences in political opinion.”
According to Mendes, to the extent Jews engaged in exploitative practices against non-Jews, the latter only had themselves to blame, with Jewish “cultural characteristics such as the practice of usury” having been only “developed as a result of oppression.” Thus we are encouraged to believe that Jews were compelled by “ethnic oppression” to lend money at extremely high rates of interest when they would rather have earned a living through agriculture. Moreover, Mendes (a putative Marxist) is not even sure that usury is necessarily exploitative, with the anti-Jewish hostility of the native peasantry merely reflecting their primitive susceptibility to “stereotypes concerning allegedly exploitative Jewish trade and ﬁnancial practices.” [my emphasis]
In seeking to ignore or excuse the reasons Jews were hated in the Pale of Settlement and beyond, Mendes leads us inexorably into that last redoubt of Jewish apologetic historiography: the psychological inadequacies and moral failings of the European mind. According to this conception, Jewish behavior is irrelevant for understanding the hostility to Jews that has existed across nations and cultures for over two millennia. The ultimate source of anti-Jewish sentiment is said to reside in the fundamental incapacity of non-Jews to exercise reason and moral discernment. Andrew Joyce has noted the tendency of Jewish historians to ascribe “to Christian/Western society a deep-seated psychological malfunction shot through with fantasy, repression, and sadism.” Reflecting on this longstanding tendency of Jewish scholarship, sociologist John Murray Cuddihy called our attention to “the deeply apologetic structure of Diaspora intellectuality,” whereby the Jewish “intelligentsia ‘explains,’ ‘excuses,’ and ‘accounts’ for the otherwise offensive behavior of its people.”
Mendes’ critique of “the myth of Judeo-Communism”
Mendes devotes a chapter of Jews and the Left to debunking of what he calls “the myth of Judeo-Communism.” Having chronicled the incredible scale of Jewish involvement in radical political movements, including Soviet communism (while assiduously avoiding reference to specific examples of oppression and mass-murder committed by individual Jewish communist leaders and functionaries), he cannot, and indeed does not, attempt to deny the enormity of the Jewish contribution to socialism and communism. Nevertheless, he contends that “the statistical reality of Jewish prominence in left-wing movements is distorted and exaggerated to falsely equate all Jews everywhere and at any time with communism.”  According to Mendes:
These theories are based on an anti-Jewish construct that assumes the collective guilt of all Jews for the actions of some Jews who were or are communists. They stereotype all Jews as holding the same opinions even though Jewish political attitudes are highly diverse. Equally, they represent an attempt to delegitimize Jewish involvement in politics by suggesting that any political movements that include Jews are automatically contaminated by that connection. Most contentiously, they suggest that anti-Semitism can be justified as a form of self-defense against Jewish subversion.
Such analyses are facile unless accompanied by a serious attempt to gauge the actual prevalence of pro-communist and far left attitudes within the Jewish community at any given time. Were most Jews sympathetic? Were such beliefs mainstream or fringe elements? While it’s obviously true that there is diversity of opinion within the Jewish community, such a perspective fails to adequately deal with the fact that support for communism and the far left was entirely mainstream within diaspora Jewish communities in the West. For example, during the McCarthy era in the United States,
Communists were … hounded out of mainstream Jewish organizations where they had previously been welcome. Particularly salient was the 50,000-member Jewish Peoples Fraternal Order, an affiliate of the AJCongress listed as a subversive organization by the U. S. Attorney General. The JPFO was the financial and organizational “bulwark” of the CPUSA after World War II and also funded the Daily Worker and the Morning Freiheit (Svonkin 1997, 166). Although the AJCongress severed its ties with the JPFO and stated that communism was a threat, it was “at best a reluctant and unenthusiastic participant” (Svonkin 1997, 132) in the Jewish effort to develop a public image of anti-communism—a position reflecting the sympathies of many among its predominantly second- and third-generation Eastern European immigrant membership.[29a]
Further, it may be true that most Jews were not sympathetic to communism but also true that communism could not have succeeded to the extent that it did in various countries (including the USSR) without Jewish involvement — that Jewish involvement was a necessary condition for its success. Similarly, during the early twentieth century, most Jews were not Zionists. However, it would be silly to say that Zionism was not a Jewish movement or that the ultimate success of Zionism in establishing the state of Israel was not fundamentally due to Jewish activism.
Moreover, the assertion that non-Jews unfairly stereotype Jews by generalizing about their political allegiances prompts an obvious response: Jewish activists and community leaders are notorious for generalizing about groups they regard as potentially threatening. Europeans exhibiting any racial feeling (no matter how tepid) are always “white supremacists” and “Nazis.” Likewise, political movements involving White people who explicitly identify as White, and who seek to advance White interests are always “automatically contaminated by that connection.” For Mendes, this ubiquitous Jewish stereotyping of non-Jews is uncontroversial, while any generalization made about Jews, regardless of how empirically grounded, is deemed illegitimate due to its epistemological inexactitude.
Mendes proposes that “anti-Semitic allegations of Jewish political power and repression constructed a reversal of cause and effect, in that Jewish leftism was almost always a response to, and consequence of, rather than objective cause of right-wing anti-Semitism.” Mendes here engages in what Andrew Joyce has dubbed the “cropped timeline version of Jewish history” where the historical chain of cause and effect invariably begins with non-Jewish malevolence; this despite the fact that Jews have elicited a strongly negative reaction from their hosts virtually everywhere they have dwelt over the two thousand years of the Diaspora.
For Mendes, it is natural and laudable that Jews would mobilize politically in defense of their common interests, claiming that “Jews have as much right to lobby and seek power as any other ethnic or religious groups.” However, in responding to Jewish economic predation and political subversion, rather than following this example by mobilizing politically in their collective interests, Europeans should instead have introduced “social and political reforms which ended discrimination against Jews.” Mendes takes it for granted that all policies limiting Jewish economic and political activity were totally unnecessary and motivated by irrational hatred, and claims that “the anti-Semitic persecution of Jews included government-organized pogroms in late 19th and early 20th century Tsarist Russia.” As the late John Klier established, the history of “pogroms” in the former Russian empire has been systematically distorted for propaganda purposes.
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion
Mendes traces the origins of “Judeo-Communist theory” to far-right individuals and groups in Tsarist Russia who “regularly accused Jews of provoking revolution, and consequently of being responsible for provoking anti-Jewish outbreaks including pogroms.” The most powerful manifestation of this theory emanated from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, first published in Russia in 1903, which announced a Jewish plan to establish a world government. Copies of the Protocols were distributed worldwide, and Mendes ascribes their huge impact to the fact that contemporary events lent support to the basic narrative of the Protocols, especially “the prominence of Jewish participation in the wave of revolutions (Russia, Hungary and Bavaria) that followed World War One.”
Title page of the original Russian edition of the Protocols
After the Bolshevik revolution, Jews quickly moved into important and especially sensitive positions in the bureaucracy and administration of the new regime, and, as a result, the first encounter with the new regime for many Russians was likely to be with a commissar, tax officer, or secret police official of Jewish origin. Following the dramatic reversal of fortune for Russian Jewry under the Bolsheviks, some Jews who had fled Tsarist Russia returned to witness the unbelievable. It was “a topsy-turvy world,” said one Jewish onlooker, “The despised had come to sit on the throne and those who had been the least were now the mightiest.” That individual, A.S. Sachs, noted with exultation:
The Jewish Bolsheviks demonstrate before the entire world that the Jewish people are not yet degenerate, and that this ancient people is still alive and full of vigor. If a people can produce men who can undermine the foundations of the world and strike terror into the hearts of countries and governments, then it is a good omen for itself, a clear sign of its youthfulness, its vitality and stamina.
Even Winston Churchill and the American President Woodrow Wilson “accepted the argument that Jews were responsible for the Bolshevik revolution,” and such perceptions were common on the right throughout Europe. The strong Jewish presence within the new Soviet regime, Mendes contends, only “reinforced popular belief in the Judeo-Communist theory, and seems to have contributed to an intensiﬁcation of pogroms.” The result of this was that “many non-socialist Jews were forced to turn to the lesser evil of the Bolsheviks and Red Army as their only chance for self-protection, and signiﬁcant numbers of Jews joined the Soviet secret police (the Cheka). Some joined to revenge themselves upon the pogromists, but others were committed communists who regarded their Jewishness as irrelevant.”
Mendes catalogues the figures who, he maintains, “promoted the Judeo-Communist myth” in the United States, including the Southern Methodist University English Professor John Beaty, industrialist Henry Ford, and Father Charles Coughlin. Significantly, Mendes makes no attempt to refute a single assertion by any of these figures. Instead he declares that “we have noted in earlier chapters that the equation of Jews with socialism contains some element of truth. But as with other racist frameworks, the Judeo-Communist myth is based on an anti-Semitic construction that exists independently of any objective reality.” Based on this a priori assumption, Mendes sees no need to engage in actual argumentation. He also conveniently makes no mention in his book of the very prominent and documented role of Jews in financing the Bolshevik Revolution.
Another important source of the “Judeo-Communist myth” identified by Mendes is the Catholic Church, which from the 1871 Paris Commune onward closely associated Jews with revolution. The Polish Primate, Cardinal August Hlond and other leading Church officials defended the political exclusion of Jews, which they associated with atheism and Bolshevism. Hlond stated plainly that “Jewish Communists are running this country. Why does World Jewry allow them to take over the government and oppress the Christian people? … As long as the Jews continue to rule, there will be trouble, and the people will retaliate.” Pope Pius XII himself was present in Bavaria during the 1919 Soviet Republic, and publicly declared that all the leading communists were Jews.
 Philip Mendes, Jews and the Left: The Rise and Fall of a Political Alliance (Melbourne, Victoria; Palgrave MacMillian, 2014), viii;1.
 Ibid., 2.
 Ibid., viii.
 Alain Brossat & Sylvie Klingberg, Revolutionary Yiddishland: A History of Jewish Radicalism (London; Verso, 2016), 56.
 Kevin MacDonald, The Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth‑Century Intellectual and Political Movements, (Westport, CT: Praeger, Revised Paperback edition, 2001), xl.
 Mendes, Jews and the Left, 6-7.
 Jerry Z. Muller, J.Z. (2010) Capitalism and the Jews (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010), 154.
 Ibid., 153.
 Mendes, Jews and the Left, 15.
 Ibid., 3.
 Ibid., 4.
 Ibid., 4.
 Ibid., 16.
 Ibid., 15.
 Joshua Rubenstein, Leon Trotsky: A Revolutionary’s Life (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 2013), 67; 78; 52.
 Ibid., 113.
 Robert Wistrich, Revolutionary Jews from Marx to Trotsky (London: George G. Harrap & Co Ltd, 1976), 199.
 Hiroaki Kuromiya, Russia’s People of Empire: Life Stories from Eurasia, 1500 to the Present (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012), 276.
 E. A. Rees, Iron Lazar: A Political Biography of Lazar Kaganovich (Anthem Press, 2013), 6.
 John Klier, Russians, Jews, and the Pogroms of 1881–2 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 5.
 Robert Wistrich, From Ambivalence to Betrayal: the Left, the Jews and Israel (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012), 186.
 Mendes, Jews and the Left, 26.
[29a] Kevin MacDonald, Separation and Its Discontents (Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2002; first published: Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998), 200.
 Ibid., 288.
 Ibid., 225.
 Ibid., 9.
 Ibid., 220.
 Chaim Bermant, Jews (London; Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1977), 171-72.
 Ibid., 221.
 Ibid., 226.
 Ibid., 225.
 Ibid., 224.