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Why Did Jews Support the Bolsheviks?

Oct. 26 2017

Before the 1917 Russian Revolution, writes Michael Stanislawski, the Bolshevik party was actually one of the least popular among Jews—garnering significantly less support than even other socialist parties. Although many of the leading Bolsheviks at the time were themselves Jewish, these were “Jews who viewed their Jewishness as an incidental artifact of their birth, with no meaning for them either religiously” or ethnically. But after the revolution, things changed rapidly:

In the simplest terms, as a civil war broke out [in 1919 between the new Communist regime and its enemies], the anti-Bolshevik forces soon became more and more dominated by the right wing and its blatantly and violently anti-Semitic supporters. Although early on there were some pogroms waged by Red Army troops, these were quickly and firmly condemned by the Bolshevik leaders (especially Leon Trotsky, who was, after all, the head of the Red Army). In sharpest contrast, the White Army [as the anti-Bolsheviks were known] conducted massive pogroms against the Jews. And the clash was not only between the Reds and the Whites but soon also between the Red Army and the various Ukrainian and Polish forces, who also carried out an enormous number of pogroms against the Jewish population. . . .

And the vast Jewish masses, whether previously supporters of the Zionists or the [Jewish socialist] Bund, the [ultra-Orthodox] Agudat Israel or the [liberal and ecumenical] Constitutional Democrats, had no hesitation in making a simple, life-defining decision: the White Army and its allies attacked, murdered, and destroyed Jewish lives and homes; the Red Army attacked the pogromshchiki, made anti-Semitism a crime against the state, outlawed pogroms, and even prosecuted anti-Semitism in its own ranks. . . .

Certainly, there were many Jews who, in their heart of hearts, still maintained their fealty to their old political parties, their old way of life, their Zionism, their Bundism, their liberalism, their religious Orthodoxy. Many would fight as best they could for these causes in the next two decades, largely underground. But as the new Soviet Union rose from the ashes of the Revolution, . . . the Jews made their peace, or more, with the new Communist state that committed itself against the forces of reaction and anti-Semitism. Their subsequent fate under Soviet socialism—and its ultimate descent into the lunacy of the Stalinist terror—was not foreseen.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Anti-Semitism, Bolshevism, Communism, History & Ideas, Russian Jewry, Soviet Jewry

 

Hannah Arendt, Adolf Eichmann, and the Jews

Feb. 23 2018

In 1963—a year after Adolf Eichmann’s sentencing by an Israeli court—reports on the trial by the German-born Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt appeared in the New Yorker and were soon published as a book. This “report on the banality of evil,” as the book was subtitled, outraged many Jews, including many of her erstwhile friends and admirers, on account of her manifest contempt for the entire preceding, her disgust for the state of Israel, her accusation that a wide array of European Jewish leaders (if not the majority of the victims) were complicit in their own murder, and her bizarre insistence that Eichmann was “not a monster,” or even an anti-Semite, but a mindless, faceless bureaucrat. While extensive evidence has been brought to light that Arendt was wrong both in her claims of Jewish passivity and her evaluation of Eichmann as the head of the SS’s Jewish section, her book remains widely read and admired. Ruth Wisse comments on its enduring legacy:

When Arendt volunteered to report on the Eichmann trial, it was presumed that she was doing so in her role as a Jew. . . . But Arendt actually traveled to Jerusalem for a deeper purpose—to reclaim Eichmann for German philosophy. She did not exonerate Nazism and in fact excoriated the postwar Adenauer government for not doing enough to punish known Nazi killers, but she rehabilitated the German mind and demonstrated how that could be done by going—not beyond, but around, good and evil. She came to erase Judaism philosophically, to complicate its search for moral clarity, and to unseat a conviction [that, in Saul Bellow’s words], “everybody . . . knows what murder is.”

Arendt was to remain the heroine of postmodernists, deconstructionists, feminists, relativists, and internationalist ideologues who deny the stability of Truth. Not coincidentally, many of them have also disputed the rights of the sovereign Jewish people to its national homeland. Indeed, as anti-Zionism cemented the coalition of leftists, Arabs, and dissident minorities, Arendt herself was conscripted, sometimes unfairly and in ways she might have protested, as an ally in their destabilizing cause. They were enchanted by her “perversity” and were undeterred in their enthusiasm by subsequent revelations, like those of the historian Bernard Wasserstein, who documented Arendt’s scholarly reliance on anti-Semitic sources in her study of totalitarianism, or of revelations about her resumed friendship with Martin Heidegger despite his Nazi associations.

At the same time, however, the Arendt report on the Eichmann trial became one of the catalysts for something no one could have predicted—an intellectual movement that came to be known as neoconservatism. A cohort of writers and thinkers, many of them Jews from immigrant families who had turned to leftism as naturally as calves to their mother’s teats, but who had slowly moved away from the Marxism of their youth during the Stalin years and World War II, now spotted corruption and dishonesty and something antithetical to them in some of their very models of the intellectual life.

They and their Gentile colleagues had constituted the only European-style intelligentsia to flourish in America. Most of them were only one generation removed from Europe, after all, so what could be more natural than for them to serve as the conduit of European intelligence to America? Arendt’s ingenious twist of the Eichmann trial showed them how Jewish and American they actually were—and how morally clear they aspired to be.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Neoconservatism, New York Intellectuals