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.
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