Jews and the Left

The Value of Victimhood: Liverpool, Labour and Lucky Luciana Berger

The English port of Liverpool is famous for three things: soccer, music and violence. Historically it falls within the boundaries of Lancashire, but culturally it has never fitted there. It’s always been too self-assertive and idiosyncratic, so much its own place that its inhabitants go by two names. Formally, they’re Liverpudlians; informally, they’re Scousers.

Militant parasites

As the media clichés have it, Scousers are fiercely proud of their city and fiercely tribal in their politics. And their politics have always been left-wing — sometimes very left-wing. When George Orwell talked about “Irish dock-labourer[s] in the slums of Liverpool” in The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), he said that you can “see the crucifix on the wall and the Daily Worker on the table.” The Daily Worker was the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Great Britain (now the paper is called The Morning Star). In the 1980s, Liverpool was the home of a Trotskyist group called the Militant Tendency, or Militant for short, which tried to infiltrate the Labour party and use Labour’s far greater power and prestige for revolutionary ends.

In biological terms, as I suggested in “Verbal Venom,” Militant were a tiny parasite trying to subvert the nervous system of Labour and divert Labour’s resources to their own use. If Militant activists had stood openly as Trotskyists, they had no chance of winning elections and entering local councils or parliament. Wearing a Labour mask, they could win elections and enter power. And that’s exactly what they did in Liverpool, where they won control of the city council. But their parasitic infiltration of the wider party failed: Labour woke to the threat and fought off Militant’s entryism, as this Trotskyist tactic is called. Read more

Leonard Bernstein and the Jewish Cultural Ascendency — PART 1

Introduction

2018 marks the centenary of the birth of Jewish-American conductor, pianist, composer and teacher Leonard Bernstein. This milestone has seen a global bonanza of 2,500 concerts, programs, exhibitions and theatrical productions. Bernstein features prominently in the pantheon of “Jewish geniuses” as designated by the West’s Jewish-dominated cultural and intellectual establishment. Bernstein’s centenary year inevitably yielded hagiography: for his Jewish biographer Allen Shawn, he was not just a “genius” but “a powerful cultural and political voice and symbol, transcending all categories.”[1] Mark Horowitz, curator of an exhibition at Philadelphia’s Jewish museum celebrating Bernstein’s “pride of tribe,” fully endorses this view, while for the Jewish music writer for the New Yorker, Alex Ross, Bernstein remains “American music’s dominant figure.”

Bernstein lived during the heyday of the recording industry, at the dawn of the television era and of video recording. He left behind what is possibly the most extensive documentation in recordings, films, and on paper of any musician in history. His archive at the Library of Congress already lists some 400,000 items.[2] During the 1950s and 1960s Bernstein was not only the best known of all American classical musicians; his fame rivalled that of Elvis Presley or Marilyn Monroe. Attitudes to Bernstein varied dramatically during his lifetime, and many responded negatively to the fact he was so visible, so outspoken, so dramatic, and so politically active on the left.

Famous for his flamboyantly extroverted temperament, Bernstein was a “personality on such a big scale that he would naturally manage to offend many people along the way. … His self-regard and need for attention were also, to be sure, extreme.”[3] Bernstein’s brash self-confidence and monstrous ego incurred the enmity of many of those he encountered. He “loved to be the center of attention, even if it meant being obnoxious” observed a fellow student at the Curtis School of Music who noted that his “extroversion was extreme.”[4] John Rockwell, writing for the New York Times in 1986, observed that “It is quite a remarkable personality, for better and for worse, the defines every aspect of his near-manic existence. There are those who still find him inherently annoying — when he shoots off what he likes to call his ‘big Jewish mouth,’ when he prances and gyrates on the podium, when he seems to squander his compositional gifts in flashy trivia or overwrought excess.”[5] Bernstein’s own children pointed out his unsurpassed ability to become emotional on his own behalf, to “move himself.”[6]

Bernstein’s unusual, extremely emotional, visual presentation was his trademark as a conductor. He conducted with his entire body in a style that led to much criticism and derision over the years. German composer Gunther Schuller, for example, observed that Bernstein was “one of the world’s most histrionic and exhibitionistic conductors.” Schuller saw Bernstein as a musician with “very little discipline and no shame,” whose interpretation of Brahms’ First Symphony contained “too much of an ‘oy-vey’ Weltschmerz to be bearable.”[7] Read more

Joe McCarthy and the Jews: Comments on Jewish Organizations’ Response to Communism and Senator McCarthy, by Aviva Weingarten (2008).

Beginning in the 19th century, liberal/leftist politics has been a hallmark of the Jewish community in America and elsewhere. The attraction of Jews to the success of the Bolshevik Revolution was an entirely mainstream movement among large numbers of Jews in America and led to one of several anti-Jewish stereotypes during the 1920s and 1930s — stereotypes that were aided and abetted by people like Henry Ford and Father Charles Coughlin. Into the 1930s the American Communist Party (CPUSA) had a Yiddish-speaking Jewish section. and Jews around the world had positive attitudes toward the USSR, at least partly because Jews had achieved elite status there.

After World War II, however, anti-Semitism declined precipitously in the US, and Jewish organizations were poised to spearhead the transformations in civil rights and immigration legislation that would come to fruition in the 1960s. By 1950 the Jewish community was part of the establishment — well connected to the power centers in the media, politics, the academic world and the construction of culture generally.

But there was a major problem that the organized Jewish community was forced to confront—a problem stemming from the long involvement of the mainstream Jewish community in communism and the far left, at least until the end of World War II, and among a substantial number of Jews even after this period. In Jewish Organizations’ Response to Communism and Senator McCarthy, Aviva Weingarten points to a “hard core of Jews” (p. 6) who continued to support the Communist Party into the 1950s and continued to have a “decisive role” in shaping the policies of the American Communist Party (CPUSA) (p. 9).

Weingarten notes that unlike other communists, Jewish communists continued to have an ethnic  identity (p. 10) and often participated in the wider Jewish community. This is a refreshing change from a long history of Jewish apologetics over this issue. The standard line, not only among Jewish activist organizations but by academic authors such as Yuri Slezkine, has been that Jews ceased being Jews when they joined the Communist Party or participated in other far left causes. As a result, the focus of Chapter 3 of The Culture of Critique is to demonstrate that Jewish radicals retained a strong Jewish identity and a sense of pursuing specifically Jewish interests. Most egregiously, the American Jewish Congress — by far the largest Jewish organization in terms of membership — continued to be associated with the far left and was formally affiliated with organizations listed as subversive by the US Attorney General. The CPUSA viewed members of the American Jewish Congress as “democratic forces”  in their attempt to create “democratic and anti-fascist” policies in the World Jewish Congress (p. 25).

This history of Jewish involvement in communism and sympathy toward communism was now combined with the new situation of the Cold War in which the Soviet Union had become the mortal enemy of the United States. Read more

A Review of “Revolutionary Yiddishland: A History of Jewish Radicalism” — PART 3

Go to Part 1.
Go to Part 2.

The psychological impact of the Hitler Stalin pact

Radical Jewish militants were deeply traumatized by the pact between Hitler and Stalin just prior to the start of the World War II. The dilemma facing Jewish communists, the contradiction between their “visceral anti-fascism” and what was now presented to them as an imperative of realpolitik for the USSR, repeatedly cropped up in testimony of those interviewed for Revolutionary Yiddishland. One of these, Louis Gronowski, recalled:

I remember my disarray, the inner conflict. This pact was repugnant to me, it went against my sentiments, against everything I had maintained until then in my statements and writings. For all those years, we had presented Hitlerite Germany as the enemy of humanity and progress, and above all, the enemy of the Jewish people and the Soviet Union. And now the Soviet Union signed a pact with its sworn enemy, permitting the invasion of Poland and even taking part in its partition. It was the collapse of the whole argument forged over these long years. But I was a responsible Communist cadre, and my duty was to overcome my disgust.[i]        

For many radical Jews, Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 provided a sense of “relief that was paradoxical but none the less immense. They had finally found their political compass again, recovered their footing; in short, they would be able to launch all their forces into the struggle against the Nazis without fear of sinning against the ‘line.’”[ii]

In late 1941, with the outcome of the battle for Moscow uncertain, Stalin, contemplating the possibility of defeat, acted decisively to ensure the field was not left open for the former Trotskyist faction. He ordered the execution of two historical leaders of the Bund, Victor Adler and Henryk Ehrlich, just after Soviet officials had offered them the presidency of the World Jewish Congress. For Stalin, “all the militants of the Bund and other Polish Jewish socialist parties who were refugees in the USSR were considered a priori political adversaries — particularly when they refused to adopt Soviet nationality — and treated accordingly.”[iii]  Read more

A Review of “Revolutionary Yiddishland: A History of Jewish Radicalism” — PART 2

Cover of the original 1983 French edition of Revolutionary Yiddishland

Go to Part 1.

The Pale of Settlement

The Revolutionary Yiddishland of the book’s title refers to the former Pale of Settlement which was comprised of twenty-six governorships in Eastern Europe where Jews were allowed to live, but only in cities and towns. Out of the eleven million Jews in the world in the early twentieth century, Russia held more than five million, and of these, four and a half million resided in the cities and towns of the Pale. For the authors, this “Yiddishland” was not just a geographical territory, but a “social and cultural space, a linguistic and religious world.”[i] According to historian John Klier, the much-maligned Pale of Settlement was the only response the tsarist authorities could come up with when faced with how to deal with the “fanaticism of ultra-Orthodox Jewry” which was “unassimilable to official purposes.”

The social hierarchy of Jews in the Pale was, according to Brossat and Klingberg, made up of a wealthy financial bourgeoisie, a middling bourgeoisie which was “intellectual and commercial,” and “an immense Jewish proletariat.”[ii] The use of the term “proletariat” to describe poorer Jews in the Pale is questionable given that they typically operated as petty traders rather than industrial employees. Jewish peddlers were notorious throughout the Pale as smugglers of contraband (as referenced in Gogol’s Dead Souls). This large number of poorer Jews was the direct result of the Jewish population explosion in Eastern Europe in the nineteenth century when their numbers grew from about 1.5 million at the beginning of the century to almost eight million by 1913.

This Jewish “proletariat,” a hotbed of radicalism characterized by “powerful organization,” played a “decisive part” in the “strikes and insurrections that broke out right across the Pale in the course of the 1905 Revolution.” Regarding revolutionary agitators at this time, Tsar Nicholas II claimed that “nine-tenths of the troublemakers are Jews” who also dominated the newspapers where “some Jew or another sits … making it his business to stir up passions of people against each other.”[iii]

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw millions of these poorer Jews migrate to destinations as diverse as North and South America, France, South Africa, Australia and Palestine. The ideological zealotry of these Jewish migrants directly influenced American immigration policy around this time, with Muller noting:

The image of the Jew as Communist played an often overlooked role in the history not only of Jews in America, but of the millions of Jews in Eastern Europe who would have liked to emigrate to the United States after World War I, but who were prevented from doing so by the immigration restrictions enacted in the early 1920s, culminating in the Reed-Johnson Act of 1924. For those restrictions were motivated in part by the identification of Jews with political radicalism.’[iv]

The prominent Jewish intellectual and writer Chaim Bermant observed that “To many minds, at the beginning of this [twentieth] century, the very words ‘radical’ and ‘Jew’ were almost one, and many a left-wing thinker or politician was taken to be Jewish through the very fact of his radicalism.”[v] Read more

A Review of “Revolutionary Yiddishland: A History of Jewish Radicalism,” Part 1 of 3

Introduction

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.” Read more

Lenin’s Willing Industrialist: The Saga of Armand Hammer, Part 5: Coda to a Life of Lies

Part 1
Part 2
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Part 4

Doctor Armand Hammer made it clear that he would be remembered and that, not only would his memory be secure in immortality, but he would also exert influence over what didn’t get remembered about him. The memory of the bad things that he had done would die with him, while the good he wanted people to believe he’d done would be his legacy, even if it was largely a lie. Armand Hammer claimed that he “pursued two of the greatest goals I can imagine — world peace and a cure for cancer” (Hammer 468). These may have been his stated goals, but it’s doubtful that they were ever his real intentions.

***

The idea that Hammer wanted world peace is directly at odds with how he earned his money. War, upheaval, and revolution had provided his point of entry in the two major ventures that created his empire and helped make him one of the largest players on the geopolitical scene in the twentieth century. His friend and fellow titan-of-industry John Paul Getty reminded  Hammer of this fact in his autobiography As I See It. According to Mr. Getty, when someone cornered him at a party and made the requisite “‘tell-me-the-secret-of-making-millions’ question I furrowed my brow and said, ‘Actually, there’s nothing to it. You merely wait for a revolution in Russia’” (Hammer 150).

War had been good to Armand Hammer. Although Armand Hammer talks proudly in his autobiography of supporting the campaign to bomb Germany into submission in World War II, the good Doctor also had a blast in the aftermath of the Great War. Read more