Leaving the Radical Left: Anti-Zionism, Anti-Semitism, and Jewish Response (Part 1)


[This is Part One in a series. A rather rough work in progress but what the heck. The New Left will be discussed in Part Two…]


This article is a response to growing anti-Semitism in the left after the attacks on the World Trade Center, September 11, 2001. In the wake of the attacks I was distressed by the prevalence of anti-Jewish diatribes on a variety of websites and periodicals that were ostensibly devoted to progressive causes. To my dismay, leftists were advocating the wildest conspiracy theories that linked the Mossad and “the Jews” as the culprits behind 9-11. Unfortunately, leftists were displaying key elements of the “paranoid style” of American politics once prevalent on the extreme right. Richard Hofstadter writes:

…the fact that movements employing the paranoid style are not constant but come in successive episodic waves suggests that the paranoid disposition is mobilized into action chiefly by social conflicts that involve ultimate schemes of values and that bring fundamental fears and hatreds, rather than negotiable interests, into political action. Catastrophe or the fear of catastrophe is most likely to elicit the syndrome of paranoid rhetoric. [1]

While the most extreme rhetoric may be dismissed as “paranoid” I seek to display a deeper level of anti-Semitism in elements of the New Left, directly related to their ideological interpretation of past events and current phenomena. As Paul Berman states,

Everyone knows what the Nazism of the 1930s and 1940s was. But what was the New Left of the 1960s and 1970s, in its motives, instincts, and goals, in its spirit? The decades come and go, and on that question no consensus has been achieved, none at all, not in Europe and not in America. [2]

Introduction: Why Have Jews Left the Radical Left?

Prior to World War II, Jews were prevalent in the revolutionary movements of every European nation and the United States. From anarchism and socialism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to communism through the 1920s, 30s, and 40s Jews were in the vanguard. Their names are familiar: Marx, Berkman, Goldman, Trotsky, Volin, and many others who names remain unknown to even the most serious scholars of revolutionary history. Even Lenin admitted in 1917:

The Jews furnished a particularly high percentage (compared with the total Jewish population) of leaders of the revolutionary movement. And now, too, it should be noted to the credit of the Jews, they furnish a relatively high percentage of internationalists, compared with other nationalities. [3]

Secular Jewish identity, both within and outside the Jewish community was closely linked with these revolutionary movements. Indeed, a common epithet was “anarchist (or communist) Jew.” More recently, Daniel Rubin, a Communist Party USA spokesman and editor stated, “Jewish-Americans had long been considered one of the most progressive ethnic-religious groups in helping to build the labor movement, the old Socialist Party, the International Workers Order, the American Labor Party, and the Communist Party, USA.” [4]

After WWII, Jews were increasingly integrated into mainstream American society. While already established in academia, law, printing, and publishing, Jews attained political offices and other increasingly public positions. Jews were seen less and less as an “other” and in effect gained “white” status just as the Italians and Irish before them. Concurrent with this development was a shift in mainstream secular Jewish homes away from radicalism and towards liberalism. The apex of this phenomenon was the large Jewish involvement in the Civil Rights struggles occurring in the Southern United States.

However, in the past 40 years there has been a distinct shift in Jewish opinion—if one may even say such a thing exists—away from radical and progressive left movements. What happened? Are there any causal factors that spring to mind?

The easiest materialist answer is that Jews were benefactors of assimilation. The historian of the anarchist movement, Paul Avrich, slyly notes that anarchism as a movement and ideology was a victim of the “American Dream.” What he meant is the children of anarchist immigrants went off to college, pursued professional jobs, and became middle class. They, in turn, adopted the ideology of that class and forsake their parents’ anarchism as an anachronism. After the Holocaust many Jews became disillusioned with the utopian aspirations of proletarian socialist universalism and focused their energy on the reality of building the state of Israel. Indeed, Israel became the focal point for the Jewish community in the United States.

The establishment of the state of Israel was highly contentious. Within Israel, the most secular and left leaning truly believed Jews could exist in solidarity with the Arabs within Israel and neighboring Arab states. They advocated a “two people, one state” solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict i.e. integration. This was a distinct contrast to either South Africa or Rhodesia where racialist regimes were in power. At the other extreme, right wing religious Jews felt the land was theirs as mandated by God in the Torah. Right wing secularists claimed the land rightfully theirs as a result of political agreements and as reparations for the crimes committed against the Jewish people in the Holocaust.

Internationally, the establishment of Israel was variously viewed as the righting of a past wrong (European socialists), imperialism (the Soviet government) and a continuation of the crusades (Muslims). Americans by and large, supported Israel as a fledgling democracy with similar cultural values and in accordance with their own spiritual beliefs. [5]

It is my thesis that the widespread adoption of a synthesis of revolutionary New Left “third-worldist” ideology with elements of pan-Arab and black nationalism marginalized Jews and drove many of them away from the radical left. Another decisive factor was the rupturing of the Black-Jewish coalition that was a corner stone of the Civil Rights Movement. Arnold Foster and Benjamin Epstein note:

In the middle and late sixties, for some objective reasons (the agonizingly slow pace of economic improvement, the squalor of life in the ghetto, the apparent immutability of the welfare cycle) and for some subjective reasons (agitation by “black power” militants, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy), much of black America went through a turning inward of black interests and energy toward nationalism. The result was a break up of the civil rights coalition… [6]

The Soviet Position

During the heyday of the old left, nascent Zionism was seen as reactionary because it would worsen Jewish otherness by impeding their assimilation, distract Jews from the more worthy goal of revolution, and promote capitalism. The latter assumption came from Marx’s view that Jews were a crude people synonymous with the evils of profiteering. [7] Indeed the historical problem with Zionism for the left has not been the oppression of the Palestinians but Zionism’s perceived “reactionary role in diverting the Jewish masses from the class struggle in their respective countries.” [8]

Following in Marx’s rhetorical footsteps the Soviets defined Zionism as chauvinistic, bourgeois and reactionary (conservative) – but not racist, even though they claimed from time to time that Zionist leaders co-operated with the Nazis. In Rubin’s words, Zionism is “an extreme form of Jewish bourgeois nationalism.” [9]

The Soviet line was political Zionism—whose aim is the creation and perpetuation of a Jewish state—had its origins in the last decades of the 19th century, animated by the upsurge of anti-Semitism in Europe which accompanied the rise of modern imperialism. Zionism had, in fact, developed in close relation to modern imperialism as did all forms of nationalism. While the Zionist case is usually viewed as exclusive, there are other nationalist movements who sought the support of rival imperialist powers in their struggle for independence. The relationship between the Indian Ghaddar movement and Germany is one example.

By the mid-20th century, Soviet propaganda identified Zionists as “the agents of US imperialism…in the Middle East.” [10] Functioning “to police the area in order to protect US corporate interests” and “preventing Arab peoples from achieving national liberation, and on liquidating [emphasis mine] the just rights of the Palestinians.” [11] Interesting choice of words from the originators of that particular term.

Dr. Hyman Lumer, a prominent spokesperson for the Communist Party, USA and editor of the official party ideological journal, Political Affairs believed there would eventually be no synagogues left in the Soviet Union:

Will this mean that the Soviet Jewish people have suffered cultural genocide? Not at all. What it will mean is that they, like other Soviet citizens, have advanced beyond adherence to religious superstition, that they no longer have any use for religious institutions and practices, that religious distinctions between Jews and non-Jews have vanished. [12]

After the 1967 War, Foster and Epstein note:

The Kremlin became what might be called the central switchboard of ‘permissible,’ government approved anti-Semitism, exporting its views to the Arabs, to its East European satellites, to Western Europe and to the United States—in the latter two instances under both its own auspices, including the Soviet embassies, missions, and news agencies abroad and those of its radical Left adherents and Arab propagandists. [13]

One particularly odious propagandist, Trofim Kichko published Zionism: Enemy of Youth (1972) in which he claimed “The killing of the young, not only goyim but also of the Jewish young, is preached in the Torah and was long practiced by the believers of Judaism, forerunners of the Zionists.” [14]

In another publication, Judaism and Zionism, he stated:

Judaism has always served the interests of the exploiting classes. In our times, it’s most reactionary expostulates have been taken up by the Zionists—the Jewish bourgeois nationalists. Judaism and Zionism have become the ideological foundations of the militaristic, semi-theocratic regime in Israel and it’s aggressive actions against the Arab people in the Near East. [15]

Kichiko’s virulent anti-Semitism is not surprising, he was Ukrainian Nazi sympathizer.

Lastly, at the same time, Kremlin policy sought to undermine the very survival of Israel by continuing to provide men, money and materiel—especially the latter—to the enemies of the Jewish state, including governments and terrorist groups. To be fair, the CPUSA and the USSR did not view Israel as a “settler state,” this perspective would develop among the organizations of the New Left. In fact, many Communists felt that hostilities would cease if Israel were kept within her pre-1967 borders. As Farsoun, Farsoun, and Ajay write:

[T]he conflict is seen not as that of a settler colonial state against the indigenous population it has uprooted; rather, it is considered to derive from the antagonism toward Israel of the neighboring Arab peoples (including the Palestinians of the West Bank) whose territories were occupied in 1966. [16]

[to be continued…]

[1] Richard Hofstadter. The Paranoid Style in American Politics.

[2] Paul Berman. “The Passion of Joschka Fischer.” The New Republic. August 27, 2001.

[3] V.I Lenin. Collected Works 23:250 in Daniel Rubin, Anti-Semitism and Zionism: Selected Marxist Writings. New York: International Publishers, 1987, 3.

[4] Daniel Rubin, Anti-Semitism and Zionism: Selected Marxist Writings, 4.

[5] This sentiment was not shared by all Americans. The extreme right John Birch Society viewed Israel as part of an international communist conspiracy. They also shared Secretary of State Robert Lansing’s opposition to Zionism, who expressed widespread “Christian resent[ment of] turning the Holy Land over to the absolute control of the race credited with the death of Christ.” See Stephen Witfield, “An anatomy of black anti-semitism,” Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought; Sept. 1994.

[6] Arnold Foster and Benjamin R. Epstein. The New Anti-Semitism. New York: McGraw Hill Book Company, 1974, 9.

[7] See “On the Jewish Question” in The Marx Engels Reader.

[8] Farsoun, Farsoun, and Ajay. “Mid-East Perspectives from the American Left.” Journal of Palestine Studies. October 1974, Vol. 4, No. 1, 96.

[9] Daniel Rubin, Anti-Semitism and Zionism: Selected Marxist Writings, 9.

[10] See Daily World, October 10, 11, 17, 18, 20 and 23, 1973 and November 2 and 17, 1973.

[11] Hyman Lumer. Zionism: Its Role in World Politics. New York: International Publishers, 1973, 82.

[12] Lumer. Lenin on the Jewish Question. New York: International Publishers, 1974.

[13] Arnold Foster and Benjamin R. Epstein. The New Anti-Semitism, 222.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid, 227.

[16] Farsoun, Farsoun, and Ajay, 100.

8 responses »

  1. Thanks to you both. It’s something I wrote a little while ago and have not had the time to develop further. I’ll put the rest up soon (in one or two more posts).

  2. Pingback: Leaving the Radical Left: Anti-Zionism, Anti-Semitism, and Jewish Response (Part 2) « The New Centrist

  3. Pingback: US-Israel relations hit low after Jewish state rejects White House demand - Page 5 - Politics & Current Affairs Forum

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