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