Editor’s note: I am reposting this extensive review by Brenton Sanderson of Alain Brossat and Sylvie Klingberg’s Revolutionary Yiddishland, originally posted in January of 2018. This is an important contribution to understanding the importance of Jews and the left. The book, written by Jews mainly for a Jewish audience, reveals the importance of Jews for the success of communism in the USSR and Eastern Europe, and it does so in an refreshingly unapologetic manner—quite a change from the many apologetic accounts of Jews and communism that are standard academic wisdom these days.
Alain Brossat and Sylvie Klingberg’s Revolutionary Yiddishland: A History of Jewish Radicalism was first published in France in 1983. A revised edition appeared in 2009 and an English translation in 2016. Intended for a mainly Jewish readership, the book is essentially an apologia for Jewish communist militants in Eastern Europe in the early to mid-twentieth century. Brossat, a Jewish lecturer in philosophy at the University of Paris, and Klingberg, an Israeli sociologist, interviewed dozens of former revolutionaries living in Israel in the early 1980s. In their testimony they recalled “the great scenes” of their lives such as “the Russian Civil War, the building of the USSR, resistance in the camps, the war in Spain, the armed struggle against Nazism, and the formation of socialist states in Eastern Europe.”[i] While each followed different paths, “the constancy of these militants’ commitment was remarkable, as was the firmness of the ideas and aspirations that underlay it.” Between the two world wars, communist militancy was “the center of gravity of their lives.”[ii]
While communism in Europe in the early- to mid-twentieth century was characterized by economic dysfunction, systematic oppression, summary executions, and the elimination of entire ethnic groups, Brossat and Klingberg wistfully recall it as a time when European Jewry “failed to achieve its hopes, its utopias, its political programs and strategies.” Instead, the messianic dreams of radical Jews were “broken on the rocks of twentieth-century European history.” A product of their ethnocentric infatuation with the “romance” of Jewish involvement in radical political movements, Revolutionary Yiddishland is Brossat and Klingberg’s hagiographic attempt to resurrect a history that is today “more than lost, being actually denied, even unpronounceable.”
The unstated reason for this omission lies in the determination of Jews to absolve their co-ethnics of any responsibility for the crimes of communism, and to ensure the advent of German National Socialism is always framed in a way that conduces to a simplified narrative of saintly Jewish victimhood and German (and by extension White European) malevolence. Maintaining this narrative is supremely important for the legions of Jewish “diversity” activists and propagandists throughout the West, given the status of “the Holocaust” as the moral and rhetorical foundation of today’s White displacement agenda. Invocation of this narrative is reflexively used to stifle opposition to the Jewish diaspora strategies of mass non-White immigration and multiculturalism. By contrast, 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. This polarity accounts for the fact that, since 1945, over 150 feature films have been made about “the Holocaust” while the number of films that have been made about the genocide of millions of Eastern Europeans can be counted on one hand — and none have been produced by Hollywood.
The critical importance of suppressing discussion of this unsavory aspect of Jewish history was underscored by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen in his 2013 screed The Devil That Never Dies: The Rise of Global Antisemitism (reviewed here). For Goldhagen, any claim Jews were responsible for the Bolshevik Revolution and its predations is a “calumny,” and morally reprehensible because “If you associate Jews with communism, or worse, hold communism to be a Jewish invention and weapon, every time the theme, let alone the threat, of communism, Marxism, revolution, or the Soviet Union comes up, it also conjures, reinforces, even deepens thinking prejudicially about Jews and the animus against Jews in one’s country.”[iii] It is therefore imperative the topic remain taboo and discussion of it suppressed — regardless of how many historians (Jewish and non-Jewish) confirm the decisive role Jews played in providing the ideological basis for, and the establishment, governance and administration of, the former communist dictatorships of Central and Eastern Europe.
In a recent article for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, journalist Cnaan Liphshiz, while noting that the Goldhagen approach of absolute denial constitutes “a logical strategy” for Jews, admits the facts do “reaffirm in essence” the assessment of those like “promoter of Holocaust denial” Mark Weber who observed that: “Although officially Jews have never made up more than five percent of the country’s total population, they played a highly disproportionate and probably decisive role in the infant Bolshevik regime.” Liphshiz notes how Russia’s main Jewish museum has, since 2012, “tackled head on the subject of revolutionary Jews” in an exhibition that “underlines unapologetically how and why Jews became central to the revolution.” Knowing that outright denial of the pivotal Jewish role in the Bolshevik revolution and the murderous regimes it spawned is intellectually untenable, a growing number of Jewish historians concede the point, but insist this leading role was morally justified because it was essentially “defensive” in nature.
Thus, while freely admitting Jews had “an outsized role in the revolution,” Boruch Gorin, chairman of Moscow’s Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, insists that “there were very good reasons for this,” with “anti-Semitism” being foremost among them. For Gorin, the revolution, while offering “Russia’s Jews many opportunities, equal rights and education and a chance to fill the vacuum left by the elite that was forced into exile,” most importantly offered a haven from a “wave of pogroms” in the Ukraine and elsewhere that “some historians call a dress rehearsal for the Holocaust.” According to this conception, a Jew in 1917 “had two choices: revolution or exile.”
Andrew Joyce has explored how Jewish historians and activists have distorted and weaponized the history of “pogroms” in the former Russian Empire. The mythos forged around these events, crystallized in the Russo-Jewish Committee’s propaganda pamphlet The Persecution of the Jews in Russia (1881) and reporting in Jewish-controlled newspapers throughout the West, was pivotal in accelerating the development of modern, international Jewish politics. This narrative revolves around certain claims: that Jews were oppressed for centuries in Russia; that the Pale of Settlement was a virtual prison; that tsarist authorities actively organized and directed pogroms; that pogroms were genocidal and extremely violent in nature; and that Russians were uncivilized and barbaric savages. Contemporary Jewish historians like Simon Sebag Montefiore continue to credit lurid tales of pogroms where Jews were “massacred in such gleefully ingenious atrocities — disemboweled, dismembered, decapitated; children were cutleted, roasted and eaten in front of raped mothers.”[iv] Joyce notes how the dissemination of such pornographic accounts were key to ensuring “that mass Jewish chain migration to the West went on untroubled and unhindered by nativists. After all, wasn’t the bigoted nativist just a step removed from the rampaging Cossack?”
Uncritically drawing on this bogus narrative, establishment historians typically ascribe the pogroms to irrational manifestations of hate against Jews, tsarist malevolence, the pathological jealousy and primitive barbarity of the Russian mob, and the “blood libel.” The real underlying causes of peasant uprisings against Jews, such as the Jewish monopolization of entire industries (including the sale of liquor to peasants on credit), predatory moneylending, and radical political agitation, are completely ignored, despite tsarist authorities having repeatedly expressed alarm over how “Jews were exploiting the unsophisticated and ignorant rural inhabitants, reducing them to a Jewish serfdom.”[v] 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 basic pattern. With this in mind, 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.”[vi]
In Revolutionary Yiddishland, Brossat and Klingberg posit the “Jewish Bolshevism as morally justified ethnic self-defense” thesis, insisting that “anti-Semitism” was “an insidious poison hovering in the air of the time” that comprised “the sinister background music to the action of the Yiddishland revolutionaries.”[vii] The real causes of anti-Jewish sentiment among the native peasantry are, once again, comprehensively ignored. Rather than seeing Jewish communist militants as willing agents of ethnically-motivated oppression and mass murder, the authors depict them as noble victims who tragically “linked their fate to the grand narrative of working-class emancipation, fraternity between peoples, socialist egalitarianism” rather than to “a Jewish state solidly established on its ethnic foundations, territorial conquests and realpolitik alliances.”[viii] In other words, they mistakenly held communism rather than Zionism to be best for the Jews.
Determined to absolve their co-ethnics of any culpability for communist crimes, Brossat and Klingberg assure us that the militancy of their informants “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.”[ix] In other words, tens of millions may have died because of the actions of Jewish communist militants, but their hearts were pure. Regarding such arguments, Kevin MacDonald observed how 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.”[x]
Jewish participation in Bolshevism as ethnic revenge
That their motivations were far from pure, and that ethnic animosity and desire for revenge were key factors driving the large-scale Jewish support of, and participation in, communist movements was obvious to the Jewish historian Norman Cantor who made the following observation:
The Bolshevik Revolution and some of its aftermath represented, from one perspective, Jewish revenge. During the heyday of the Cold War, American Jewish publicists spent a lot of time denying that — as 1930s anti-Semites claimed — Jews played a disproportionately important role in Soviet and world Communism. The truth is until the early 1950s Jews did play such a role, and there is nothing to be ashamed of. In time Jews will learn to take pride in the record of the Jewish Communists in the Soviet Union and elsewhere. It was a species of striking back.[xi]
This corresponds with Kevin MacDonald’s assessment in Culture of Critique that the disproportionate participation of Jews in Bolshevik crimes was, in large part, “motivated by revenge against peoples that had historically been anti-Jewish.” One of the (non-Jewish) pioneers of the Dada movement, Hugo Ball, immediately recognized the obvious agenda behind the lopsided Jewish role in the Bolshevik Revolution and resulting Soviet administration. Observing the make-up of the first Bolshevik Executive Committee (four out of six of whom were Jewish), he noted that “it would be strange if these men, who make decisions about expropriation and terror, did not feel old racial resentments against the Orthodox and pogrommatic Russia.”[xii]
Leading Jewish communists, like founder of the Mensheviks Yuli Martov, who became a close associate of Lenin and Trotsky, made a point of recalling his childhood experiences of Russian and Ukrainian anti-Semitism. The 1881 Odessa pogrom was his “first taste of primitive Russian anti-Semitism,” and Martov was “shaken to the depths of his being by the pogromist barbarity of Tsarist Russia.” The event left a “permanent mark on his impressionable mind,” and he later underlined the connection between this experience and his subsequent revolutionary career, posing the question: “Would I have become what I became if the Russian reality had not imprinted her coarse fingers on my plastic, youthful soul in that memorable night and carefully planted under the cover of that burning pity which she aroused in my childlike heart, the seeds of a redeeming hatred?”[xiii]
While Trotsky, the architect of the Bolshevik insurrection and creator of the Red Army, claimed his Jewish origins and Jewish interests did not guide his attraction to Bolshevism, his biographer Joshua Rubenstein disagrees, noting that he “was a Jew in spite of himself,” who “gravitated to Jews wherever he lived,” and “never abided physical attacks on Jews, and often intervened to denounce such violence and organize a defense.”[xiv] 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.”[xv] 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.”[xvi]
Ethnic revenge was also a motivation for Lazar Kaganovich, the Jewish member of the Politburo who presided over the forced famine that took the lives of millions of Ukrainian peasants and the mass deportation of “anti-Semitic” Cossacks to Siberia in the 1930s. Kaganovich had “battled the chauvinistic and anti-Semitic Black Hundreds, especially strong in Kyiv, both before and after the 1911 Beilis affair, the Russian version of the Dreyfus affair.”[xvii] The assassination of the Russian Prime Minister Stolypin in the same year resulted in the Black Hundreds attempting “to whip up a pogrom.” In response, the “Bolsheviks took measures to protect themselves and to rebuff this threat,” and “Kaganovich only joined the party after these momentous events.” He studied Lenin’s works at this time, and the Bolshevik leader’s article “Stolypin and Revolution” which depicted Stolypin as “an organizer of Black Hundred gangs and anti-Semitic pogroms” made a “big impression” on him.[xviii]
Kaganovich later became known as the “butcher of the Ukrainians.” As Soviet leader in the Ukraine he received reports documenting “widespread dissatisfaction among workers fuelled by high unemployment, with widespread anti-Semitism, with workers and peasants denouncing the ‘dominance of red nobility of Yids.’” Kaganovich played a “highly visible” role in suppressing this “nationalist deviation” in 1925–28, and later oversaw the forced collectivization of 1932–33, conceived as part of an “assault on the Ukrainian nationalist intelligentsia.” The country was sealed off and all food supplies and livestock were confiscated with Kaganovich leading “expeditions into the countryside with brigades of OGPU troopers” who used “the gun, the lynch mob and the Gulag system to break the villages.”[xix] The secret police, led by Genrikh Yagoda (also Jewish) exterminated all “anti-party elements.” Furious that insufficient Ukrainians were being shot, Kaganovich set a quota of 10,000 executions a week. Eighty percent of Ukrainian intellectuals were shot. During the winter of 1932–33, 25,000 Ukrainians per day were being shot or left to die of starvation.[xx]
The Bolsheviks mounted murderous campaigns against entire ethnic groups. The Soviet government killed at least 30 million people, most in the first 25 years of the regime’s existence during the height of Jewish power. The Jewish intellectual, G.A. Landau, writing in 1923, was stunned by the “cruelty, sadism, and violence” of Jewish functionaries in the Red Army and secret police “who yesterday did not know how to use a gun” but who “are now found among the executioners and cutthroats.”[xxi] I.M. Bikerman was similarly shocked at the “disproportionate and immeasurably fervent Jewish participation in the torment of half-dead Russia by the Bolsheviks.”[xxii] In response to attempts by Jews to disassociate their ethnicity from such figures, the Jewish intellectual I.A. Bromberg noted the cognitive dissonance in the Jewish “passion for seeking out and extolling the Jews famous in various fields of cultural life,” and especially “the shameless circus around the name of Einstein,” while simultaneously distancing themselves from Jewish communist criminals. D.S. Pasmanik agreed, noting how “Ethnic Jews not only do not denounce an Einstein or an Ehrlich; they do not even reject the baptized Heine and Boerne. And this means they have no right to disavow Trotsky and Zinoviev.”[xxiii]
[i] Alain Brossat & Sylvie Klingberg, Revolutionary Yiddishland: A History of Jewish Radicalism (London; Verso, 2016), xii.
[ii] Ibid., 59.
[iii] Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, The Devil That Never Dies (New York NY; Little, Brown & Co., 2013), 291; 126.
[iv] Simon Sebag Montefiore, The Romanovs 1630-1918 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2016), 50.
[v] John Klier, Russians, Jews, and the Pogroms of 1881-2 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 5.
[vi] Robert Wistrich, From Ambivalence to Betrayal: the Left, the Jews and Israel (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012), 186.
[vii] Brossat & Klingberg, Revolutionary Yiddishland, 85.
[viii] Ibid., ix.
[ix] Ibid., 56.
[x] 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.
[xi] Norman Cantor, The Jewish Experience: An Illustrated History of Jewish Culture & Society (New York; Castle Press, 1996), 364.
[xii] Albert Boime, “Dada’s Dark Secret,” In: Washton-Long, Baigel & Heyd (Eds.) Jewish Dimensions in Modern Visual Culture: Anti-Semitism, Assimilation, Affirmation, (Waltham MA: Brandeis University Press, 2010), 96.
[xiii] Robert Wistrich, Revolutionary Jews from Marx to Trotsky (London: George G. Harrap & Co Ltd, 1976), 178.
[xiv] Joshua Rubenstein, Leon Trotsky: A Revolutionary’s Life (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 2013), 67; 78; 52.
[xv] Ibid., 113.
[xvi] Wistrich, Revolutionary Jews, 199.
[xvii] Hiroaki Kuromiya, Russia’s People of Empire: Life Stories from Eurasia, 1500 to the Present (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012), 276.
[xviii] E. A. Rees, Iron Lazar: A Political Biography of Lazar Kaganovich (Anthem Press, 2013), 6.
[xix] Myroslav Shkandriij, Jews in Ukrainian Literature: Representation and Identity (Yale University Press, 2009), 137.
[xx] Lesa Melnyczuk, Silent Memories, Traumatic Lives (RHYW, 2013), 25.
[xxi] Yuri Slezkine, The Jewish Century (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006), 183.
[xxii] Ibid., 183.
[xxiii] Ibid., 184.