Soviet Practice (1917–1939)
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The World Communist Movement
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IN THE UNITED STATES. In the United States, the Bolshevik Revolution led to factional disputes within the two main left-wing parties in existence in 1917, the Socialist Party and the Socialist Labor Party, which had significant Jewish memberships, and also within the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Some of the more moderate Jewish socialist and labor leaders, such as A. Lessin, A. *Cahan, J.B. *Salutzky, B.Z. *Hoffman-Zivion, and H. Rogoff, temporarily sided with the Bolsheviks after the October Revolution, in part because the alternative to Bolshevism was the violently antisemitic “white” counterrevolution, but soon adopted a firm anti-Communist stand. Other Jewish socialists threw their lot in permanently with the Communists. As a result of the first split in the Jewish Socialist Federation, a Jewish Federation of the Communist Party was founded under the leadership of A. Bittelman (October 1919). In 1921 the Jewish Socialist Federation seceded from the Socialist Party and a Jewish federation of the Communist-sponsored “Workers’ Party” came into being (1922). In the same year a Yiddish Communist newspaper, *Freiheit, made its appearance, edited by M. *Olgin and S. Epstein, two former members of the Bund. Certain socialist leaders who were steeped in Jewish culture, such as M. *Vinchevsky and K. *Marmor, also lent their support to Communism, largely because of their belief in the prospects of a national Yiddish culture developing in the Soviet Union. There was also considerable Communist influence in trade unions with large Jewish memberships.
Many of the Yiddish schools founded by the *Workmen’s Circle were transferred to Communist sponsorship, and in 1929 Jewish Communists founded the International Workers’ Order. It is estimated that in the 1920s as much as 15% of the American Communist Party’s membership was Jewish, and the percentage of Jews among the Party leadership was undoubtedly higher. Unemployed or economically marginal Jews, especially in such professions as teaching and social work, and in the fur industry and some sectors of the garment trade, were powerfully attracted by Communist ideals and the widely propagandized achievements of Soviet Russia. Jewish membership fell off slightly as a result of Communist support of the Palestinian Arabs against Jews in the riots of 1929. During the Depression, Communist influence was again on the rise and could claim many sympathizers and “fellow travelers” among the American Jewish academic youth and intelligentsia. A further rise came in the mid-1930s, when the Nazis came to power in Germany and the Soviet Union adopted the Popular Front policy. It was at this time that the Yiddisher Kultur Farband (YIKUF) was founded by Communists in the United States. In the late 1930s the Moscow trials and the acceptance by the American Communist Party of the Soviet-Nazi rapprochement (1939–41) resulted again in a sharp drop in Communist influence among American Jews, which was only partly reversed by the events of World War II. Postwar revelations of Stalinist atrocities and systematic Soviet antisemitism permanently put an end to Communism as a serious force in American Jewish life. Fears that the trial and execution of the Communists Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for espionage would tempt the anti-Communist right in the United States to adopt a platform of antisemitism proved unfounded. The list of Jews who played a prominent role in the leadership and factional infighting of the American Communist Party from its inception is a long one and includes such figures as Israel *Amter, Max *Bedacht, Benjamin *Gitlow, Jay *Lovestone, Jacob *Stachel, William Weinstone, and Alexander Trachtenberg. Many American Jewish authors and intellectuals, some of whom later publicly recanted, were active in editing Communist publications and spreading party propaganda in the 1920s, 1930s, and even later, among them Michael *Gold, Howard *Fast, and Bertram *Wolfe.
After World War II
Although the newly established Communist regimes of Eastern Europe after World War II followed the Soviet line on the Jewish question and the policy toward Israel, there existed some fundamental differences. Most of them permitted the Jews to establish countrywide frameworks for religious and cultural activities, primarily in Yiddish (see *Poland, *Romania, *Hungary, *Czechoslovakia, and *Bulgaria). But, as a rule, the recognition of the Jews as a national minority was not based upon their obligatory individual registration as members of the Jewish “nationality” on identity documents (as in the Soviet Union), and Jews were able to describe themselves either as Jews or as belonging to the respective majority people; in theory, at least, they had the option of national assimilation. Jewish cultural institutions, whose Soviet counterparts had been liquidated in Stalin’s time, continued to function, as, e.g., Yiddish theaters (in Poland and Romania), the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, and a similar institute in Budapest. At one period or other, most of these countries permitted large numbers of Jews to migrate to Israel, in spite of the different Soviet policy in this respect.
Communist parties outside the Soviet bloc, including their Jewish sections and Jewish press, reflected the policy of the Soviet Union toward the Jews. In the last years of Stalin’s rule, when every trace of Jewish culture and Jewish institutions had been obliterated in the Soviet Union, they tried to obscure the truth of the situation and even defended the Soviet Union against attacks by Jewish leaders and organizations against the anti-Jewish policy of 1952–53. A radical change occurred after the 20th congress of the Soviet Communist Party in February 1956, when Stalin’s crimes were for the first time revealed in the Soviet Union, although the anti-Jewish element in these crimes continued to be ignored and suppressed. The first shock came with the publication (in the New York Jewish Forward) of news of the judicial murder of 26 outstanding Soviet Jewish writers and poets on Aug. 12, 1952. A great stir was caused in the entire Jewish world by an editorial that appeared in the Warsaw Communist newspaper, Folkshtime, in April 1956 headlined “Our Sorrow and Our Comfort.” The article contained a detailed report of the process by which Jewish culture in the Soviet Union, its bearers, and institutions, had been liquidated, a process that had commenced in the 1930s and had reached its tragic culmination in the last years of Stalin’s life. The article expressed the hope that this process would be reversed and Jewish culture and cultural institutions would enter a period of revival.
A storm of indignation swept the Communist movement in the West, especially among Jewish Communists. In Canada, the veteran Communist leader J.B. Salsberg published a series of articles in the Communist press that contained a report on the meetings of a delegation of the Canadian Communist Party, headed by him, with Khrushchev in Moscow in 1957 at which the Soviet leader’s antisemitic inclinations had been clearly indicated. Salsberg seceded from the Communist Party, and many Jews and non-Jews followed his example. In Britain, another veteran Jewish Communist, Hyman *Levy, published a pamphlet entitled Jews and the National Question (1958), in which he denounced Soviet policy toward the Jews after an extensive visit to the Soviet Union and talks with Soviet leaders. He was promptly expelled from the party. In the United States, Howard Fast left the Communist Party under similar circumstances, stressing the Jewish aspect of his decision in The Naked God (1957); so did several members of the editorial staff of the Daily Worker (which thereupon turned into a weekly). In Latin America, sizable groups of Jews left the party and embarked upon the publication of their own organs (called, e.g., Mir Viln Lebn, “We Want to Live”) expressing their opposition to Soviet policy of forced assimilation of Jews and destruction of Jewish culture and institutions; eventually, most of them joined Zionist Socialist parties.
In non-Jewish Communist publications, such as L’Unità in Italy, and theoretical Communist journals in Britain, Australia, and other countries, the Soviet Union also received severe criticism of its discriminatory policy toward the Jews. In 1963, when Kichko’s antisemitic book was published in Kiev, almost the entire Communist press in the West joined in a sharp protest, and the central committee of the Soviet Communist Party found itself obliged to disassociate itself publicly from the book.
Far-reaching changes also took place after the Six-Day War (1967), when the Soviet Union launched a worldwide campaign against “international Zionism” marked by violently antisemitic overtones. The Communist Party in Israel (see below) split into a pro-Israel and pro-Arab faction (Maki and Rakaḥ , respectively); a similar split, which in most cases did not, however, extend to organizational separation but confined itself to differences of political attitude, also occurred in several Communist parties elsewhere. In New York, the Morning Freiheit adopted a stand akin to that of Maki (which considered that in the Six-Day War Israel defended its freedom and existence), while The Daily World followed the anti-Israel line. In France, L’Humanité took a sharp anti-Israel stand, and reasserted the old Communist call to the Jews to assimilate to their host nations (editorial published on March 26, 1970), while the Naye Prese, the Communist Yiddish daily in Paris, was much more moderate in its attitude toward Israel and continued to affirm the Jewish right to an independent national culture. The “Jewish crisis” in the international Communist camp was further exacerbated by the events that took place in Czechoslovakia in 1968, and even more by the stringent antisemitic policy in Poland from March 1968, which was accompanied by what amounted to the expulsion of veteran Jewish Communists from the country. Adherence to the Communist Party and the affirmation of a positive Judaism of any kind had become mutually exclusive. With the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, Jewish affiliation virtually ended, as only diehards remained associated with the small political groupings that clung to the old ideology under altered names. [Moshe Mishkinsky]
IN EREẓ ISRAEL. A Communist group first appeared in Palestine during 1919, within the extreme left Mifleget Po’alim Soẓialistim (MPS), “Socialist Workers’ Party,” but it soon disintegrated. Under the British Mandate the Communist Party was outlawed. In 1921 the Palestine Communist Party was organized illegally, by a combination of extreme left splinter groups, and affiliated with the Comintern in 1924. Its entire history was a series of internal splits and secessions, as well as conflicts with Zionism and the British authorities. Its course was always clouded by alternating Jewish-Arab cooperation and friction within the Party.
From 1924 onward, on Comintern orders, efforts were made to “Arabize” the Party, the argument being that the country would always remain Arab, since Zionism was at best utopian, and at worst a servant to British imperialism. Jewish leaders were ousted, but attempts made to recruit Arabs proved largely unsuccessful; the richer Arabs were averse to Communism, while others, if at all politically minded, favored Arab nationalism. Although sympathy with the Russian October Revolution was widespread in the Palestine labor movement, during the 1920s only a splinter group of the *Gedud ha-Avodah broke with Zionism and eventually migrated to the Soviet Union. From 1936 to 1939 the Party openly supported the Arab revolt, including the anti-Jewish terrorism. Still, in 1939 the Party was quite isolated from the Arabs, while its support of the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement jolted the remaining Jewish members. From 1939 it operated in separate Jewish and Arab groups.
Further splits occurred over the Soviet Union’s support of a Jewish state in 1948, when some of the Arab members of the party were against the Soviet Union’s vote for partition. After the establishment of the State of Israel, the Party reunited under the name of “Maki” (Miflagah Komunistit Yisre’elit- “Israel Communist Party”). It operated legally, but, as an anti-Zionist party in a Zionist state, its influence was negligible. Its following among Jews rose in the 1950s, when mass immigration caused economic hardship and when a leftist splinter group of *Mapam, led by Moshe *Sneh, joined Maki; but it dwindled again with the prosperity of the 1960s. Although the party always looked for support among Israel’s Arabs, it intensified its appeals to the Arabs in this period. In each election to the Knesset, Maki received greater support, proportionally, from Arabs than from Jews, e.g., in 1961 about half of Maki’s 42,111 votes came from Israel Arabs, who then constituted only a ninth of the population. Some of the Arabs voted Communist in response to Soviet support of Arab nationalism, while, for precisely the same reason, many Jews refrained from supporting the Party. Tensions on this point were the main cause of the rift in Maki, generally on Jewish-Arab lines, which occurred in the summer of 1965. The Arab-led faction formed the New Communist List (Reshimah Komunistit Ḥadashah, or Rakaḥ), with a more extreme anti-government attitude and complete obedience to Moscow.
At first the Soviet Union tended to endorse Maki and Rakaḥ , but after the 1967 Six-Day War it recognized Rakaḥ only. After the split Maki took a line increasingly independent of Moscow in all matters pertaining to Israel-Arab relations, reflecting the fundamental Jewish nationalism of its membership. This became more pronounced after the Six-Day War, when Maki openly criticized Moscow’s anti-Israel attitude and largely endorsed Israel government acts and policy. At its conference in 1968 Maki adopted a program which included not only pro-Israel plans but also, for the first time, a recognition that every Jew, even in a Socialist country, should be allowed to choose among assimilation, Jewish cultural life, or migration to Israel. Some Communist parties abroad, mainly in the West, but also that of Romania, continued to maintain “fraternal” relations with Maki, in spite of Moscow’s denunciations of Maki’s “chauvinism.”
Although membership statistics were not publicized, the party would appear to have had close to 5,000 members in the 1950s and about 3,000 in the early 1960s. In 1961, according to the report of Maki’s congress, 74.3% were Jews and 25.7% Arabs; 83.8% had joined after 1948 and 27% after 1957, an indication of the rapid turnover among the rank and file. The leadership, which had changed often in pre-state days, remained fairly constant from 1948 until the 1965 rift. In the late 1960s the Jewish leaders of Maki were Shemuel Mikunis and Moshe *Sneh, while Meir Wilner and the Arabs Tawfiq Toubi and Emil Habibi headed Rakaḥ . All five were Knesset members at one time or another.
The party always stressed continuous, often strident, propaganda. Many joined the V (Victory) League after June 1941, and later, the various friendship societies with the Soviet Union, several of which were front organizations. The Party’s written propaganda increased before elections, and it maintained a continuous flow of newspapers and periodicals in Hebrew (Kol ha-Am (“Voice of the People”)), Arabic, French, Polish, Romanian, Hungarian, Bulgarian, and Yiddish. After the 1965 split, both Communist parties continued publishing in Hebrew and Arabic, with Maki publishing in other languages, to reach new Jewish immigrants. After winning just one seat in the 1969 Knesset elections, Maki was transformed into Moked under Meir *Pa’il in the early 1970s and effectively vanished from the political map. Rakaḥ changed its name to Ḥadash (Ḥazit Demokratitle-Shalomu-le-Shivyon,“Democratic Front for Peace and Equality”) before the 1977 Knesset elections, joined now by Jewish leftists, and was able to maintain a Knesset faction of 3–5 members into the 21st century as a nationalist Arab party, despite the disintegration of the Communist Bloc.