Commentary Magazine

Jews Under Communism

Since 1967, an “anti-Zionist” campaign of almost unprecedented dimensions has been waged by the Communist propaganda apparatus in the Soviet Union and in several countries of Eastern Europe. Although no serious observer would go so far as to equate the present situation with that which obtained at the turn of the century in Czarist Russia, or in Eastern Europe between the two World Wars, it would be equally misguided to overlook the plain fact that in areas of both domestic and of foreign policy the Soviet Union has in the past few years displayed an increasingly hostile attitude to Jews as Jews. Nor is the Soviet Union alone in this. Government-inspired anti-Semitism has also become a major theme of political life in Poland (since 1967) and in Czechoslovakia (since 1968). Even Jews in Hungary and Rumania, who have so far remained immune from official persecution, are today living in fear of a new wave of official “anti-Zionism.”

In the vast array of Soviet and Polish, Czech and East German literature devoted to the theme, one age-old motif predominates: the motif of a global Jewish conspiracy. Again and again in recent years Soviet and Polish ideologists have come forward with new theoretical formulations designed to adapt this most essential component of “classical” anti-Semitic and Nazi propaganda to “Marxist-Leninist” ends. As Norman Cohn has written in Warrant for Genocide, the myth of the Jewish world-conspiracy posits the existence of “a secret Jewish government which, through a worldwide network of camouflaged agencies and organizations, controls political parties and governments, the press and public opinion, banks and economic development. The secret government is supposed to be doing this in pursuance of an age-old plan and with the single aim of achieving Jewish dominion over the entire world; and it is also supposed to be perilously near to achieving this aim.” The prime literary embodiment of this doctrine is of course that turn-of-the-century forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an updated version of which served as the “theoretical” basis for Stalin’s last great anti-Semitic witch-hunts: the 1952 trial of Rudolf Slansky, the Secretary General of the Czechoslovak Communist party and of his mainly Jewish colleagues (eleven of the fourteen defendants and eight of the eleven executed victims were “Zionists, cosmopolitans, Jewish bourgeois nationalists”); and the 1953 “Doctors’ Plot” in Moscow.

The death of Stalin ended the nightmare to which “Zionists” and “cosmopolitans” from Moscow to East Berlin, from Prague to Budapest, had been exposed in the “Black Years” of 1948-52. One of the first moves of the new regime was to denounce the “Doctors’ Plot” as a “fabrication” perpetrated by “despicable adventurers.” On the other hand, the official repudiation of the Slansky trial as an invention from start to finish did not come until 1963, and it was not until 1968 that the truth (or at least part of the truth) became known about the degree of direct Soviet responsibility for this, the most horrendous show trial ever staged in an East European country.

It is against this background that we must view the recent reemergence, on a broader scale, of the “Zionist” conspiracy myth. To begin with, some of the fantasies from Stalin’s time have been revived, blended with new absurdities, and integrated into a refurbished mythology. Back on the scene are the chief villains of Stalin’s last script, the Joint Distribution Committee in particular and international Zionism in general—both described as instruments of espionage in the service of American intelligence. Communist experts on Judaism and Zionism now repeat almost verbatim the source-material prepared for the Slansky trial and the “Doctors’ Plot”—a fact that became painfully evident in the vicious attacks leveled by the Soviet press against Professor Eduard Goldstuecker, the noted Czech literary historian who was president of the Czechoslovak Writers’ Union during the Prague Spring of 1968. Five weeks after the Soviet invasion, Literaturnaya Gazeta, the Moscow literary weekly, singled out Goldstuecker as a “particularly dangerous Zionist.” A pre-war Jewish Communist, Goldstuecker had been among those tortured and compelled to testify in the Slansky trial, and had been sentenced to life imprisonment. Now the Soviet paper charged instead that Goldstuecker had in fact turned witness for the prosecution in order to save his life. Rarely if ever before in Communist history has the victim of a frame-up been accused a second time of the same crime—and by a spokesman of the same power that nearly succeeded in murdering him fifteen years earlier.

Thus, more than fifteen years after the revelation that the “Doctors’ Plot” was a “fabrication,” a strikingly similar campaign has focused attention on the alleged espionage activities and political and ideological subversion engineered by “Zionism” against “the socialist countries.” The erstwhile “murderers in white aprons” have been shown to be innocent doctors, Slansky and his co-defendants have been exonerated, but the rope with which they were hanged is once again being dangled before the Jews of Eastern Europe. In the wake of the Soviet-sponsored “normalization” in Czechoslovakia, Colonel B. Molnar, a leading secret-police official in Prague, took the occasion of an interview to trace the “Zionist excesses” in 1967-68 back to World War II when Goldstuecker and Eugen Loebl (former deputy Foreign Trade Minister, also sentenced to life imprisonment at the Slansky trial) set up “Zionist cells” in London. In all, the web of inventions concocted at the time of Stalin’s last plots has been taken over, in spirit and method, in the recent spate of Soviet allegations concerning the “omnipotent international Zionist corporation,” the “invisible but huge and mighty empire of financiers and industrialists” created by the blackest forces of world reaction and acting as a “driving force” of imperialist efforts at world domination.

None of this is to say that the millions of Soviet and East European Jews are faced today with wholesale persecution and imprisonment. There is still a world of difference between not being able to get a particular job or an exit visa on the one hand, and deportation to Siberia, or worse, on the other. Nevertheless, the massive and incessant “anti-Zionist” propaganda campaign in recent years has provided a theoretical groundwork that is in some ways potentially more dangerous—because more coherent—than even the pathological fabrications of the Stalin era. The most cursory glance at a few selected quotations from the veritable avalanche of anti-Israel, anti-Jewish, and anti-Zionist literature will suffice to indicate the ominous implications of this latest variant of the myth of the Jewish world conspiracy. What we have here is not, as was the case in the years after Stalin’s death, the occasional indictment of an Orthodox believer or a shady speculator with a Jewish-sounding name, or even the indictment of Judaism itself as a “reactionary political force” or Israel as “an aggressive outpost of imperialism.” Nor can the current propaganda offensive from Moscow to East Berlin, Warsaw to Prague, be seen as merely an attempt to justify an unpopular and costly foreign policy at home and placate Arab clients abroad. What we have here, rather, is an apparently definitive, officially approved, theoretical doctrine, one that provides “new” historical evidence for the old stereotype of the Jews as agents of a conspiracy for world control, and therefore “new” justification for a policy of active discrimination and harassment.

Of course, the ostensible targets of the new campaign are not “Jews” but “Zionists” and “world Zionism.” But as Vilem Hejl, a Czech novelist, aptly put it at the time of the “anti-Zionist” campaign after the invasion of Czechoslovakia: “Jews can be set apart and defined more easily than, for instance, the intellectuals, the opposition, or the deviationists. Neither a janitor nor a mailman can be 100 per cent certain that an attack on the intellectuals is not also in some way aimed at him. The terms ‘opposition’ or ‘extremist forces’ are even more oblique and flexible. But every Aryan knows quite definitely that he is not a Zionist.” The average Soviet, Polish, or Czech reader of the by now daily diet of “anti-Zionist” literature would have to make an almost superhuman effort to remember that the stereotypes apply only to the nebulous Zionists and the far-away Israelis, not to the Jew who may happen to live next door.



The potential impact of the campaign may be gauged by the citation of a few characteristic passages from two of the most authoritative works linking Judaism with Israel’s “Nazi-like bestiality and racism” and the international Zionist conspiracy. Trofim Kichko, the Ukrainian author already known for his Judaism Without Embellishment (1963), states as follows in his latest work, Judaism and Zionism (published in 1968 in Kiev with a first printing of 60,000 copies):

What was there that so attracted the Zionists in the Torah and the Talmud and in the ideology of Judaism? First and foremost the chauvinistic idea of the God-chosenness of the Jewish people, the propaganda of messianism and the idea of ruling over the peoples of the world. . . . Such ideas of Judaism were inculcated into the Jews first by their priests and later by the Rabbis for centuries and are inculcated today by the Zionists, educating the Jews in the spirit of contempt and hatred toward other people. . . . The ideologists of Judaism through the Holy Scriptures teach the observant Jews to hate people of another faith and even destroy them. . . . Having proclaimed as their task the creation of a Jewish State, the Zionists state that Israel should not only revive a Jewish State, but also establish an empire from sea to sea, which should rule the entire world. . . .

Whereas Kichko’s writings are couched in what may be called a more “traditional” vein and are primarily distributed in the Ukraine, Yuri Ivanov’s Beware: Zionism! has become an all-Union bestseller and the main focus of the anti-Semitic campaign since 1969. Published in 1969 in a first edition of 75,000 copies—a second, enlarged edition of 200,000 copies came out a year later—the book was immediately and very favorably reviewed, obviously on orders from above, in all major newspapers and was extensively serialized in mass-circulation magazines. It officially introduced the new motif of an internationalist Zionist conspiracy linked to Jews everywhere and carrying on subversion against the Soviet bloc. In a key passage, by now frequently quoted as an official definition of Zionism, Ivanov states:

Modern Zionism is the ideology, the complex system of organizations, and the political practice of the big Jewish bourgeoisie which has merged with the monopolistic circles of the United States and other imperialist powers. The main substance of Zionism is militant chauvinism and anti-Communism. Coming out against the socialist camp, the international Communist and workers’ movement, Zionism also fights against the national-liberation movement of the people. . . . The ruling circles of Israel entered the international Zionist concern as junior partners (this was precisely one of the most important conditions of their existence as ruling circles). The Zionist concern itself . . . represents simultaneously one of the largest alliances between capital and a self-styled “Ministry” on a global scale concerned with the affairs of “Jews the world over” as well as a very large international intelligence center and a well-organized service for misinformation and propaganda on an international scale. The main aim of the concern’s “departments,” all acting under a single management, is profit and enrichment, safeguarding, within the framework of the capitalist system, its power and parasitic prosperity.



What are the distinguishing and, to my mind, most disturbing features of the new Communist “general line”? They are essentially four in number.

First, Israeli and Jewish leaders are no longer described simply as the collaborators of Nazis in the past and of the “ruling circles” of present-day Western Germany. They are now identified as Nazis, and Zionism is now equated with fascism.

Second, and as a kind of corollary of proposition one, it is regularly held that the victims of Nazi persecution in the past were themselves responsible for the persecution they suffered. According to this argument, it was the Jewish officeholders and “the agency of the international Zionist concern” who were the principal accomplices of the program of genocide, whereas all Poles, Russians, and Ukrainians did their best to save the Jews. As the central organ of the Polish Communist party put it at the height of the anti-Zionist campaign: “. . . a new conspiracy of Zionism and the sworn enemies of Poland unfolded in exchange for the financial support the Federal German Republic gave to Israel—a conspiracy that, irrespective of obvious facts, was designed to saddle the Polish nation in the most glorious chapter of its struggle for existence with responsibility for the crimes of Hitlerism committed in the Polish territories.” And in the Soviet Union, according to an authoritative two-part article in Pravda (February 18-19, 1971), Zionists had allegedly collaborated in the carrying out of pogroms as long ago as the 1918-21 Civil War, when they had worked closely with Petlyura and Denikin in order to further their plan of stimulating emigration to Palestine. Then came the “dirty alliance of the Hitlerites and the agents of the Zionist concern”; during the war the Soviet army saved the lives of millions of Jews, “yet, paradoxical as it may seem at first glance, it is this the Zionists cannot forgive.”

Perhaps even more repugnant than statements like these is the spectacle of Jews themselves publicly assenting to them. In a widely-publicized declaration issued by fifty-one prominent Ukrainian Jews, “Zionists” were made to share the blame for the massacre at Babi Yar: “The tragedy of Babi Yar will forever remain not only a symbol of the cannibalism of the Nazis but also an indelible disgrace to their accomplices and followers—the Zionists.” This charge, not the least fantastic aspect of which is the obvious cynicism with which it was advanced, has lately been cited as “authentic evidence” of Zionist criminality in a pamphlet now circulating in, of all places, East Germany.

International Zionism—and this is the third feature of the new doctrine, though perhaps the least novel—“represents one of the greatest concentrations of financial capital and one of the greatest international centers of espionage as well as of misinformation and slander.” The “cosmopolitan capital” which ranges from the French Lazard bank to the Rockefellers, from the Morgans to Kuhn, Loeb, from West German and Israeli bankers to the Rothschilds, is said to be involved in financing Zionist activities not only against the Arabs, but also against the Soviet Union and “other socialist countries.” Enormous quantities of propaganda material have been put out along these lines by the Soviet and Polish, and lately also by the Czech and East German mass media. Variations in style and tone aside, all such articles purport to show that the “Zionists,” by exercising control over press, radio, and publishing firms “in almost all capitalist countries,” are able to manipulate the policy of the great powers of the West. In their more virulent formulations these writings are almost indistinguishable from those put out in pre-war Germany by Nazi ideologists like Alfred Rosenberg.

Fourth, and finally, by far the most dangerous new motif is the frequent assertion that the plots and subversive activities of the “international Zionist corporation” and Israel are directed not only against the Arab states but also, and increasingly, against the Soviet bloc itself. Thus it is now officially claimed that “the Zionist center” played a key role in seeking to overthrow socialism in Czechoslovakia in 1968. “Zionist elements” were also allegedly involved in the 1956 and 1968 upheavals in Poland. And in connection with the Jewish protest movement in the Soviet Union, Pravda repeatedly warned this year that “anyone espousing Zionist beliefs automatically becomes an agent of the international Zionist concern and hence an enemy of the Soviet people.” Three months later another authoritative article in the same paper, coinciding with the opening of the second Leningrad trial, was wholly devoted to the theme of how international Zionism seeks to gain ideological and political control over “citizens of Jewish origin in the socialist countries” and to induce them to commit crimes against their own countries. The implications are obvious: all Jews (and only they) are actually or potentially involved; the corporate Jew is a twin symbol of external danger and internal treason.



It would be a mistake to conclude that this tissue of ludicrous fantasies and half-truths is merely an exercise in propaganda, designed perhaps to intimidate but not really to coerce. On the contrary, it has furnished theoretical justification for wave upon wave of what Communist spokesmen like to call “administrative measures,” ranging from selective arrests, to group trials like the three that have so far opened in Leningrad and Riga, with more to come, to mass persecution. The simple fact is that the Communist-ruled countries have become the center, as Earl Raab has remarked in these pages,1 of “the greatest program of organized anti-Semitism since Hitler.” What the final consequences of this program will be it is hard to foretell, but it might be helpful, in attempting to assess its full significance, to trace some of its roots in the history of 20th-century Communism. For although anti-Semitism of the Communist variety, as we have seen, has much in common with traditional Jew-hatred of every stripe, it is also in some respects a unique phenomenon. In a very real sense it springs from what may be called an immanent and inevitable conflict between a unique minority group and the operative logic of a single-party system structured along strict ideological lines.

In saying this I do not mean to underestimate the enormous power of popular hostility to Jews, the centuries-old prejudice and hatred inculcated in the minds of Russians and Ukrainians, Lithuanians and Poles, Hungarians and Rumanians alike. The long history of this hostility, which culminated in the profound indifference displayed by the majority of Russians and East Europeans to Hitler’s “Final Solution,” not to speak of the active assistance given to that program by a minority, is not in need of elaboration here. Nor is it necessary to stress that the persistence of anti-Jewish prejudices in society as a whole has provided, and continues to provide, a basis for the successful perpetration of various forms of governmental anti-Semitism. The main point, however, is that under a totalitarian system there is not necessarily a direct relationship between folk (or emotional) anti-Semitism and the growth of political anti-Semitism. Under the conditions of a single-party system, with a single dogma preached by the party and state, official anti-Semitism or institutional racial discrimination does not arise from the grass-roots level and therefore needs no mass movement in order to succeed.

Thus, it seems to me of secondary importance to ask whether the incidence of political anti-Semitism in Moscow, Warsaw, or elsewhere in the Communist orbit at a particular time is tied to the personal anti-Semitism of individual Communist leaders. There is of course ample evidence that Stalin harbored crude racial prejudices and that Khrushchev himself was hardly free of “normal” anti-Jewish attitudes. Yet it would be a mistake to assume that the personal sentiments of the dictator or of members of the “collective leadership” govern policy toward the Jews, when in fact they merely color it. Even Stalin’s last anti-Jewish campaign, the “Doctors’ Plot,” sprang less from anti-Semitism in the strict traditional sense than from considerations of policy, as a means to an end: the last great purge, as Khrushchev revealed in his secret speech in 1956, of the old members of the Soviet Politburo. While personal or emotional impulses are of some significance (and under Stalin often spelled the difference between life and death for many individuals!), we should keep in mind the old truism that one need not be an anti-Semite in the conventional sense to engage in or to support anti-Semitic behavior. The question is not whether Stalin or Khrushchev, Brezhnev or Gomulka, disliked Jews, but whether they allowed or encouraged or instigated anti-Semitic policies. The troubled history of the Jews under Communism must be viewed in the wider context of general politics, for the fact is that any improvement or deterioration in the status of Jews as citizens has been, and remains, closely tied with the progress or decline of society as a whole, with the rising or ebbing tide of political reforms, even within the framework of the single-party system.



Going back, then, to the origins of forces that are still at least partially operative in the Communist world, we find one peculiar circumstance: no matter how ambiguous may have been the attitude of many socialists and radicals in Western Europe, and particularly in Russia, toward anti-Semitism in the hundred years following the French Revolution, by the turn of the 20th century both Russian and West European socialists had become implacably hostile, both in theory and in political practice, to what August Bebel once called “the socialism of fools.” Of course, the special “Jewish angle” was already important in the early days of Russian Social Democracy because of the very strength of the Jewish Bund, the first mass workers’ party in Russia on the eve of the first revolution. The claim of the Bund to exclusive representation of the Yiddish-speaking Jewish workers played an indirect but profound role in the great split at the crucial Second Congress in 1903: when their demands for an autonomous position within the party were rejected, the Bundist delegates walked out, thereby tipping the scales in favor of Lenin’s organizational blueprint as against the looser party rules proposed by Martov, and marking the birth of the Bolshevik and Menshevik factions. The issue in any case involved a question of principle and organization; the question of anti-Semitism scarcely entered here, since the motion to reject the Bund demands was tabled and supported only by Jewish delegates, who accounted for about half of the total members present. Lenin himself was certainly free of anti-Semitic attitudes. The point is that on the issue of Zionism, as well as on the issue of Jewish separateness in general, all the Jewish revolutionaries, from Martov to Trotsky, from Rosa Luxemburg to Béla Kun, were of one mind, and not only in 1903, but all along: they all opted for assimilation as against Jewish separateness, for universalism as against any kind of particularism. As anti-Semitism was held to be a mere by-product of capitalism, the coming socialist revolution would, in overthrowing the bourgeois system, also uproot anti-Semitism for good. For the Jewish revolutionary—and not only in Russia—the Jewish Question was not an independent issue; Jewish emancipation was inseparable from the universal emancipation of alienated man from the bourgeois order.

This brings us to the much debated issue of the disproportionate Jewish participation in revolutionary movements in general and to the potent myth of the “Judeo-Communist” conspiracy in particular. The fact is that wherever they had a choice, most Jews favored liberal or moderate Social Democratic parties over the Communists. I do not mean to deny the clear-cut susceptibility of “certain segments of the Jewish intelligentsia,” in Walter Laqueur’s words, “to the party of revolution.” But here two distinctions must be made. In reality, the Jews were much more heavily represented among the Mensheviks than among the Bolsheviks—a fact which was duly noted by the young Stalin at the Fifth Congress in 1907. In the underground paper he then edited at Baku, Stalin wrote, “Somebody among the Bolsheviks (I believe Comrade Alexinski) remarked jokingly that since the Mensheviks were a faction of the Jews, and the Bolsheviks of the native Russians, it would be a good thing to have a pogrom in the party.” (Even more instructively, this anti-Semitic joke was republished by Stalin in his collected works forty years later!) But on the other hand, as a look at the number of Georgians, P61es, and Latvians in key positions in the early history of Soviet Russia will reveal, Jews were only one of the “Communist-producing social and ethnic groups” in Eastern Europe.2

Yet the fact remains that at an early date Jews Were prominent in leadership positions in Soviet Russia and their prominence left an indelible mark on world opinion, and especially on the populations of Eastern Europe, where the spirit of nationalism has remained central to political life. Henceforth, the corporate Jew was identified with international Communism as such, which in turn was seen—and in Eastern Europe with good reason—as a tool of old-fashioned Russian imperialism.

In view of their role not only in Russia but in every East European Communist party except the Yugoslav, the Bulgarian, and the Albanian, the Jews came to be regarded throughout the entire area as the group that profited most from revolutionary upheavals. Coming from an urban group and boasting a higher level of education, Jewish revolutionaries were often able to get to the top faster than their non-Jewish comrades. If we add to this, without trying to define it too precisely, the Jewish spiritual legacy, the facts of history and social psychology, and the fearful environmental pressures that forced assimilated Jews to distinguish themselves in whichever avenues were open to them, the excessive proportion of Jewish activists at the command level at one time or another will come to seem even less surprising, especially when we take into account the generally hostile attitude of the Russian, and later the East European, intelligentsia to Communism.

But if from one point of view the October Revolution appeared in the early days to be the product of a “Judeo-Communist” conspiracy, from another point of view the Revolution seemed to embody the first real breakthrough in the struggle against ethnic discrimination. The presence of Jews (in the sense of persons of Jewish descent) in top positions could be seen, and could be represented, as evidence that the Revolution was in some way particularly favorable to the Jews as a group. (Did not Jews, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, at one point even constitute a majority in the ruling Politburo?) As a sign of full Jewish emancipation, great numbers entered the ranks of the state and party bureaucracy at all levels. As late as 1927, Jews occupied over 10 per cent of the civil-service posts in Moscow, a fifth of the offices in the Ukraine, and no fewer than 30 per cent of the posts in Byelorussia. These percentages, about four times greater than the respective Jewish proportions of the total population in these areas, clearly show the absence of any discriminatory quota regulations. Thus the Revolution not only freed Jews from the danger of pogroms (at any rate after the unspeakable sufferings during the Civil War) but also provided them with a ticket of entry to political power.3

It was, however, in this same period that anti-Semitism began to be used as a calculated political device, and by none other than Stalin himself, who in 1925-26 relied on it as a weapon for attacking the inner-party opposition. Cynically and deliberately he exploited the circumstance that the most prominent opponents of the ideal of “Socialism in One Country” were old Bolsheviks of Jewish descent (who incidentally had never felt or displayed the slightest sympathy toward religious or “particularistic” Jews). As Isaac Deutscher tells it, it was then that Trotsky, first in a letter to Bukharin and then a fortnight later at a Politburo meeting, asked the “astonished and indignant” question: “. . . is it true, is it possible that in our party, anti-Semitic agitation should be carried on with impunity?” Despite the continued presence of some prominent Jews, above all his loyal henchman Kaganovich, in Stalin’s entourage, the pattern of surreptitiously abetting anti-Semitic sentiments was set, and soon became a corollary of the “revolution from above” that came to be increasingly infused with the spirit of Great Russian nationalism.

The strains and tensions of an isolated, poor, and primitive society, staggering under Stalin’s brutal collectivization and industrialization campaigns and shaken by successive waves of bloody purges, hit the various segments of Jewry more sharply and more cruelly than any other ethnic or national group in the country. The departure from the traditions of internationalism and the reassertion of crude national arrogance, with a concomitant xenophobia that reached a climax during and after World War II, coincided with the “proletarianization” of the party and state apparatus and the emergence of a new generation of bureaucrats. (It is usually forgotten that the current generation of Soviet officials, who attained positions of power in the 1950’s and 1960’s, was trained at the height of the Stalin era, in an atmosphere of intense paranoia, suspicion, and chauvinism.) In one of his last interviews Trotsky referred to the technique of scapegoats developed to perfection during this period: “Since 1925, and particularly since 1936, an anti-Semitic demagogy, well camouflaged, unassailable, goes hand in hand with the token trials against inveterate pogromists. An important part of the Jewish petit-bourgeoisie has been absorbed by the powerful apparatus of the state, industry, commerce, cooperatives, etc., primarily in the lower and middle echelons. This fact engenders an anti-Semitic mood and the leadership cunningly attempts to canalize and to direct the discontent with bureaucracy particularly against Jews.”



Turning to Eastern Europe we find ourselves faced with a rather different situation. The equation Jew=Communism=Russia, while corresponding less and less to the situation in Soviet Russia, referred, as I have already noted, to something definitely real in prewar and postwar Eastern Europe. For even though active Communists were only a tiny fraction of the Jewish community of each country—in interwar Poland, for example, there were perhaps five thousand Jewish Communists in a total Jewish population of 3.3 million—they were greatly overrepresented in the party membership at large (accounting in Poland for 26 per cent); moreover, many positions of leadership in the party were conspicuously occupied by Jews, and often by “foreign” Jews at that. Was not the Comintern, the heart and soul of the “Judeo-Bolshevik world plot,” heavily staffed not only by Russian but also by Polish and Hungarian, Rumanian and German, Jews? Working as far-flung emissaries of the Comintern, in the Budapest underground, in the Prague parliament, or in a small Galician town, Jewish Communists were seen, in a time of frenzied nationalism, as doubly alien, doubly subversive.

After the War, to make matters worse, the officials in charge of the Soviet takeover in Eastern Europe were themselves often Jews, serving as party leaders and ministers, police chiefs and army generals, in the same countries where their fellow Jews, if not their own families, had only a few years earlier been deported and murdered amid general popular indifference. To the population at large, the Jews appeared to be growing more powerful and conspicuous precisely as their overall numbers diminished radically (from a pre-war community of over five million to a postwar remnant of about 700,000). That within a few years almost half of the survivors had emigrated to Israel did not change this fateful identification of Jews with state power. In Eastern Europe Jewish officeholders were hated with special virulence because they were aliens imposing an alien system on behalf of an alien oppressor.

Years later, when the Jews became expendable thanks to the development of “native” cadres in the various Communist countries, this entire circumstance provided a convenient basis for allegations of a deliberate Jewish plot to usurp power. During the 1968 “anti-Zionist” campaign in Poland, for example, the numerus clausus was defended by Andrzes Werblan, the head of the party’s Education and Science Department, in these words: “Internal cosmopolitanism has provided a basis for the false accusation of anti-Semitism against those comrades who understood that no society can tolerate the excessive participation of a national minority in the elite of power, particularly in defense, security, propaganda, and diplomacy. . . . Only absolute thoughtlessness and clique solidarity of a nationalistic origin can explain the rapid advance of persons from the Jewish petit-bourgeoisie, traditionally unconnected with Communism and frequently subject to Zionist influence.” In this racist manifesto, prepared by a ranking party ideologist, both the failures of the pre-war Communist party and the postwar purges were practically ascribed to Jewish “group solidarity” and “cosmopolitanism,” since “particularly responsible positions” in key sectors were occupied by Jews who were ethnically incapable of being good Communists and good Poles.

The motif of a “Zionist-imperialist” conspiracy first appeared at the Rajk trial in Budapest in September 1949—that is, more than three years before the Slansky trial and the “Doctors’ Plot.” The arrest of Rudolf Slansky in Prague in the autumn of 1951, the fall from grace of Anna Pauker in Bucharest in May 1952, and the subsequent trial of Slansky served notice of Stalin’s readiness to dispense with his Jewish tools in the satellite countries. Stalin’s “court Jews” were caught in the crossfire between pre-existing popular hatred and the ominous policy change in Moscow. Some, like Rakosi in Hungary, tried to ward off the danger by themselves initiating a vicious purge of their Jewish subordinates. But, as always, it was the ordinary Jews—the artisans and doctors, the bookkeepers and engineers—who paid the price for the glamorous careers of the “court Jews.” Only the death of Stalin saved the Jews from the worst.

Since Stalin’s death, the transition throughout Eastern Europe from total Soviet domination to growing internal autonomy and national affirmation has been accompanied by a process of differentiation with regard to the Jews as well. It is no longer Soviet policy but internal factors that influence the status of the Jews in a given country. Thus a combination of special circumstances in Hungary (the absence of factional in-fighting and a generally relaxed atmosphere) and in Rumania (a self-assertive foreign policy and the maintenance of diplomatic relations with Israel) created a relative degree of security for the respective Jewish communities at the very time that Jews became targets of official persecution in Poland and Czechoslovakia.

But if we examine the fundamentals of Soviet policy toward the Jews since Stalin’s death, we see only differences of degree, not of substance. True, his last great purge was stopped before it could envelop the entire Jewish community, but no explicit condemnation of Stalin’s “errors” with specific regard to the Jews has ever appeared. Apart from minor concessions to public opinion abroad, and in contrast to all other countries of the Soviet bloc (even including Poland), the Soviet Union has consistently suppressed Jewish cultural and educational institutions. Even during the more liberal Khrushchev era there was no real let-up in the imposition of restrictive quotas in higher education and the virtually total exclusion of Jews from the party apparatus, diplomatic service, and other “sensitive” posts. The very prominence of Jews in the artistic, literary, and scientific worlds, so often cited by Soviet spokesmen, dramatically points up their almost total absence from leadership positions. In 1939 Jews constituted almost 11 per cent of the party’s Central Committee; in 1952 this figure had dropped to 3 per cent and in 1961 to a mere 0.3 per cent. Among the 241 full and 155 candidate members of the current Central Committee, only one person is a Jew, V. E. Dymshitz; Dymshitz is also one of the nine Deputy Premiers and is therefore often displayed at press conferences as evidence for the absence of anti-Jewish discrimination. In fact, however, the top political leadership is now judenrein.



The thrust of discriminatory practices directed against Jews in the Soviet Union is basically twofold. The regime attempts to suppress Jews as a group (by refusing to sanction the establishment or maintenance of cultural facilities allowed to all other nationalities, including even such non-territorial groups as the Germans) while at the same time it discriminates against them as individuals (official insistence on Jewish identity through the device of the internal passport, restrictive quotas, etc.). There is a fundamental contradiction in Soviet policy toward the Jews as a nationality, part of the unresolved dualism of Soviet nationality policy in general, which claims to be promoting individual national cultures but also to be forging an “all-Soviet” nationality, itself of course merely a euphemism for the fusion of national cultures with the Great Russian. But the contradictory tendencies of integration and rejection, assimilation and discrimination, that operate in Soviet society at large have hit the Jews more cruelly than any other religious or national group, preventing them from living either as Jews or as non-Jews.

The treatment of Jews as a special case has all along had the dual effect of at once suppressing and stimulating a sense of Jewish identity. There is no doubt, however, that the years since 1967 have witnessed a profound resurgence of ethnic solidarity (though not necessarily of religious sentiment) and an unprecedented defiance of the authorities among a large number of Soviet Jewish youth. Unfortunately, it is difficult to share in the expectation that the current Jewish awakening within the Soviet Union will combine with pressures from abroad to bring about a substantial improvement in the position of the Soviet Jew—possibly even opening the way for large-scale emigration to Israel. Even in the unlikely event of a solution to the Middle East problem in the foreseeable future, it is unrealistic to suppose that Soviet leaders will agree to open the gates to any massive Jewish exodus. To do so would mean first of all to dispense with the services of large numbers of Jewish experts in the technological and scientific fields whom the USSR can ill afford to lose. More important, it would mean granting a privilege to the Jews that is denied to all other Soviet citizens, thereby creating an extremely dangerous precedent. Nor can we realistically expect that Jews will be permitted to live out their new sense of ethnic or communal solidarity in the Soviet Union. They will go on being treated as a special case and they will go on suffering discrimination and harassment.

Clearly it is the intention of the Soviet regime to wield the political instrument of anti-Semitism with calculated moderation rather than, as did Stalin, with uncontrolled fury. But the danger is that the fantasies produced by systematic lying may under certain circumstances become a political force that can sweep up a divided leadership worn out by constant crisis. The 1968 witch-hunt in Poland proved beyond a doubt the political effectiveness of anti-Semitism in manipulating factional battles for power. And in Czechoslovakia we are still witnessing the effects of a Moscow-sponsored operation to channel hatred for Soviet domination into hatred for Jews. Faced with colonial or internal political-social crises that demand symbolic scapegoats, the besieged and embattled men in the Kremlin invariably fasten upon the traditional suspect: the Jews. The conjunction of old and “new” anti-Semitism in moments of acute crisis transforms the officially nonexistent Jewish problem into the single most important catalyst for all the strains and tensions within the system. This is the recurrent pattern and the “lesson” of Communist history for the Jews, no matter what they themselves may or may not have done throughout that history and no matter where they may now happen to live within the Soviet sphere of influence.




1 “The Deadly Innocences of American Jews,” December 1970.

2 See R. V. Burks, The Dynamics of Communism in Eastern Europe (Princeton, 1961).

3 It is nevertheless important to remember that even in the 1920's the majority of Soviet Jews found themselves trapped in what Isaac Deutscher called a “tragic impasse.” “Simple-minded Communists often looked upon the Jews as the last surviving element of urban capitalism, while the anti-Communists saw them as influential members of the ruling hierarchy.” Social and economic upheavals wiped out the “unproductive” elements among the Jews: middlemen, shopkeepers, peddlers. In the campaign aimed at the destruction of religious and communal life, Jewish functionaries were second to none in their zeal. This story was repeated in Eastern Europe after 1945.

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