Alongside the Bolsheviks
This theme—the Jews alongside the Bolsheviks—is not new, far from it. How many pages already written on the subject! The one who wants to demonstrate that the revolution was “anything but Russian”, “foreign by nature”, invokes Jewish surnames and pseudonyms, thus claiming to exonerate the Russians from all responsibility in the revolution of seventeen. As for the Jewish authors, those who denied the Jews’ share in the revolution as well as those who have always recognised it, all agree that these Jews were not Jews by spirit, they were renegades.
We also agree on that. We must judge people for their spirit. Yes, they were renegades.
But the Russian leaders of the Bolshevik Party were also not Russians by the spirit; they were very anti‐Russian, and certainly anti‐Orthodox. With them, the great Russian culture, reduced to a doctrine and to political calculations, was distorted.
The question should be asked in another way, namely: how many scattered renegades should be brought together to form a homogeneous political current? What proportion of nationals? As far as the Russian renegades are concerned, the answer is known: alongside the Bolsheviks there were enormous numbers, an unforgivable number. But for the Jewish renegades, what was, by the enrolment and by the energy deployed, their share in the establishment of Bolshevik power?
Another question concerns the attitude of the nation towards its own renegades. However, the latter was contrasted, ranging from abomination to admiration, from mistrust to adherence. It has manifested itself in the very reactions of the popular masses, whether Russian, Jewish, or Lithuanian, in life itself much more than in the briefings of historians.
And finally: can nations deny their renegades? Is there any sense in this denial? Should a nation remember or not remember them? Can it forget the monster they have begotten? To this question the answer is no doubt: it is necessary to remember. Every people must remember its own renegades, remember them as their own—to that, there is no escape.
And then, deep down, is there an example of renegade more striking than Lenin himself? However, Lenin was Russian, there is no point in denying it. Yes, he loathed, he detested everything that had to do with ancient Russia, all Russian history and a fortiori Orthodoxy. From Russian literature he had retained only Chernyshevsky and Saltykov‐Shchedrin; Turgenev, with his liberal spirit, amused him, and Tolstoy the accuser, too. He never showed the least feeling of affection for anything, not even for the river, the Volga, on whose banks his childhood took place (and did he not instigate a lawsuit against his peasants for damage to his lands?). Moreover: it was he who pitilessly delivered the whole region to the appalling famine of 1921. Yes, all this is true. But it was we, the Russians, who created the climate in which Lenin grew up and filled him with hatred. It is in us that the Orthodox faith has lost its vigour, this faith in which he could have grown instead of declaring it a merciless war. How can one not see in him a renegade? And yet, he is Russian, and we Russians, we answer for him. His ethnic origins are sometimes invoked. Lenin was a mestizo issued from different races: his paternal grandfather, Nikolai Vasilyevich, was of Kalmyk and Chuvash blood, his grandmother, Anna Aleksievna Smirnova, was a Kalmyk, his other grandfather, Israel (Alexander of his name of baptism) Davidovitch Blank, was a Jew, his other grandmother, Anna Iohannovna (Ivanovna) Groschopf, was the daughter of a German and a Swede, Anna Beata Estedt. But that does not change the case. For nothing of this makes it possible to exclude him from the Russian people: we must recognise in him a Russian phenomenon on the one hand, for all the ethnic groups which gave him birth have been implicated in the history of the Russian Empire, and, on the other hand, a Russian phenomenon, the fruit of the country we have built, we Russians, and its social climate—even if he appears to us, because of his spirit always indifferent to Russia, or even completely anti‐Russian, as a phenomenon completely foreign to us. We cannot, in spite of everything, disown him.
What about the Jewish renegades? As we have seen, during the year 1917, there was no particular attraction for the Bolsheviks that manifested among the Jews. But their activism has played its part in the revolutionary upheavals. At the last Congress of the Russian Social‐Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) (London, 1907), which was, it is true, common with the Mensheviks, of 302‒305 delegates, 160 were Jews, more than half—it was promising. Then, after the April 1917 Conference, just after the announcement of the explosive April Theses of Lenin, among the nine members of the new Central Committee were G. Zinoviev, L. Kamenev, Ia. Sverdlov. At the VIth summer Congress of the RKP (b) (the Russian Communist Party of the Bolsheviks, the new name of the RSDLP), eleven members were elected to the Central Committee, including Zinoviev, Sverdlov, Trotsky, Uritsky.1 Then, at the “historic meeting” in Karpovka Street, in the apartment of Himmer and Flaksermann, on 10 October 1917, when the decision to launch the Bolshevik coup was taken, among the twelve participants were Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Sverdlov, Uritsky, Sokolnikov. It was there that was elected the first “Politburo” which was to have such a brilliant future, and among its seven members, always the same: Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Sokolnikov. Which is already a lot. D. S. Pasmanik clearly states: “There is no doubt that the Jewish renegades outnumbered the normal percentage…; they occupied too great a place among the Bolshevik commissioners.”2
Of course, all this was happening in the governing spheres of Bolshevism and in no way foreshadowed a mass movement of Jews. Moreover, the Jewish members of the Politburo did not act as a constituted group. Thus Kamenev and Zinoviev were against a hasty coup. The only master of the work, the genius of October’s coup de force, was in fact Trotsky: he did not exaggerate his role in his Lessons of October. This cowardly Lenin, who, he, had been hiding out, made no substantial contribution to the putsch.
Basically, because of his internationalism and following his dispute with the Bund in 1903, Lenin adhered to the opinion that there was not and never would be such a thing as a “Jewish nationality”; that this was a reactionary action which disunited the revolutionary forces. (In agreement with him, Stalin held the Jews for a “paper nation”, and considered their assimilation inevitable.) Lenin therefore saw anti‐Semitism as a manœuvre of capitalism, an easy weapon in the hands of counter‐revolution, something that was not natural. He understood very well, however, what mobilising force the Jewish question represented in the ideological struggle in general. And to exploit, for the good of the revolution, the feeling of bitterness particularly prevalent among the Jews, Lenin was always ready to do so.
From the first days of the revolution, however, this appeal proved to be oh so necessary! Lenin clung to it. He, who had not foreseen everything on the plane of the state, had not yet perceived how much the cultivated layer of the Jewish nation, and even more so its semi‐cultivated layer, which, as a result of the war, was found scattered throughout the whole of Russia, was going to save the day throughout decisive months and years. To begin with, it was going to take the place of the Russian officials massively determined to boycott the Bolshevik power. This population was composed of border residents who had been driven out of their villages and who had not returned there after the end of the war. (For example, Jews expelled from Lithuania during the war had not all returned after the revolution: only the small rural people had returned, while the “urban contingent” of the Jews of Lithuania and “the young had stayed to live in the big cities of Russia.”3)
And it was precisely “after the abolition of the Pale of Settlement in 1917 that the great exodus of Jews from its boundaries into the interior of the country ensued.”4 This exodus is no longer that of refugees or expellees, but indeed of new settlers. Information from a Soviet source for the year 1920 testifies: “In the city of Samara, in recent years, tens of thousands of Jewish refugees and expellees have established themselves”; in Irkutsk, “the Jewish population has increased, reaching fifteen thousand people; important Jewish settlements were formed in Central Russia as well as on the banks of the Volga and the Urals.” However, “the majority continue to live on subsidies from social welfare and other philanthropic organisations.” And here are the Izvestia calling for “the Party organisations, the Jewish sections and the departments of the National Commissariat to organise a vast campaign for the non‐return to the ‘tombs of the ancestors’ and for the participation in the work of production in Soviet Russia.”5
But put yourself in the place of the Bolsheviks: they were only a small handful that had seized power, a power that was so fragile: in whom, great gods, could one have confidence? Who could be called to the rescue? Simon (Shimon) Dimantstein, a Bolshevik from the very beginning and who, since January 1918, was at the head of a European Committee specially created within the Commissariat of Nationalities, gives us the thought of Lenin on this subject: “the fact that a large part of the middle Jewish intelligentsia settled in Russian cities has rendered a proud service to the revolution. They defeated the vast sabotage enterprise we faced after the October Revolution, which was a great danger to us. They were numerous—not all, of course, far from it—to sabotage this sabotage, and it was they who, at that fateful hour, saved the revolution.” Lenin considered it “inappropriate to emphasise this episode in the press…”, but he remarked that “if we succeeded in seizing and restructuring the State apparatus, it was exclusively thanks to this pool of new civil servants—lucid, educated, and reasonably competent.”6
The Bolsheviks thus appealed to the Jews from the very first hours of their takeover, offering to some executive positions, to others tasks of execution within the Soviet State apparatus. And many, many, answered the call, and immediately entered. The new power was in desperate need of executors who were faithful in every way—and there were many of them among the young secularised Jews, who thus mingled with their colleagues, Slavs and others. These were not necessarily “renegades”: there were among them some without political party affiliations, persons outside the revolution, who had hitherto remained indifferent to politics. For some, this approach was not ideological; it could be dictated only by personal interest. It was a mass phenomenon. And from that time the Jews no longer sought to settle in the forbidden countryside, they endeavoured to reach the capitals: “Thousands of Jews joined the Bolsheviks in crowds, seeing them as the most fierce defenders of the revolution and the most reliable internationalists… The Jews abounded in the lower levels of the Party apparatus.”7
“The Jew, who obviously could not have come from the nobility, the clergy, or the civil service, found himself among the ranks of the personalities of the future of the new clan.”8 In order to promote the Jews’ commitment to Bolshevism, “at the end of 1917, while the Bolsheviks were still sketching out their institutions, a Jewish department within the Commissariat of Nationalities began to function.”9 This department was, since 1918, transformed into a separate European Commissariat. And in March 1919, at the VIIIth Congress of the RKP (b), the Communist European Union of Soviet Russia was to be proclaimed as an integral but autonomous part of the RKP (b). (The intention was to integrate this Union into the Comintern and thereby permanently undermine the Bund). A special European section within the Russian Telegraph Agency was also created (ROSTA).
D. Schub justifies these initiatives by saying that “large contingents of the Jewish youth joined the Communist Party” following the pogroms in the territories occupied by the Whites10 (i.e. from 1919 onwards). But this explanation does not hold the road. For the massive entry of the Jews into the Soviet apparatus occurred towards the end of the year 1917 and during 1918. There is no doubt that the events of 1919 (see infra, chapter 16) strengthened the link between the Jewish elites and the Bolsheviks, but they in no way provoked it. Another author, a communist, explains “the particularly important role of the Jewish revolutionary in our labour movement” by the fact that we can observe with the Jewish workers, “highly developed, the traits of character required of any leading role,” traits which are still in draft form among the Russian workers: an exceptional energy, a sense of solidarity, a systematic mind.11
Few authors deny the role of organisers that was that of the Jews in Bolshevism. D. S. Pasmanik points out: “The appearance of Bolshevism is linked to the peculiarities of Russian history… But its excellent organisation, Bolshevism, is due in part to the action of the Jewish commissioners.”12 The active role of the Jews in Bolshevism did not escape the notice of observers, notably in America: “The Russian revolution rapidly moved from the destructive phase to the constructive phase, and this is clearly attributable to the edifying genius inherent to Jewish dissatisfaction.”13 In the midst of the euphoria of October, how many were not, the Jews themselves admit it, with their heads held high, their action within Bolshevism!
Let us remember: just as, before the revolution, the revolutionaries and liberal radicals had been quick to exploit for political purposes—and not for charity—the restrictions imposed on Jews, likewise, in the months and years that followed October, the Bolsheviks, with the utmost complaisance, used the Jews within the State apparatus and the Party, too, not because of sympathy, but because they found their interest in the competence, intelligence and the particularism of the Jews towards the Russian population. On the spot they used Latvians, Hungarians, Chinese: these were not going to be sentimental…
The Jewish population in its mass showed a suspicious, even hostile attitude towards the Bolsheviks. But when, as a result of the revolution, it had acquired complete freedom which fostered a real expansion of Jewish activity in the political, social and cultural spheres—a well‐organised activity to boot—it did nothing to prevent the Bolshevik Jews from occupying the key positions, and these made an exceedingly cruel use of this new power fallen into their hands.
From the 40s of the twentieth century onwards, after Communist rule broke with international Judaism, Jews and communists became embarrassed and afraid, and they preferred to stay quiet and conceal the strong participation of Jews in the communist revolution, however the inclinations to remember and name the phenomenon were described by the Jews themselves as purely anti‐Semitic intentions.
In the 1970s and 1980s, under the pressure of new revelations, the vision of the revolutionary years was adjusted. A considerable number of voices were heard publicly. Thus the poet Nahum Korzhavin wrote: “If we make the participation of the Jews in the revolution a taboo subject, we can no longer talk about the revolution at all. There was a time when the pride of this participation was even prized… The Jews took part in the revolution, and in abnormally high proportions.”14 M. Agursky wrote on his part: “The participation of the Jews in the revolution and the civil war has not been limited to a very active engagement in the State apparatus; it has been infinitely wider.”15 Similarly, the Israeli Socialist S. Tsyroulnikov asserts: “At the beginning of the revolution, the Jews… served as the foundation of the new regime.”16
But there are also many Jewish writers who, up to this day, either deny the Jews’ contribution to Bolshevism, or even reject the idea rashly, or—this is the most frequent—consider it only reluctantly.
However the fact is proven: Jewish renegades have long been leaders in the Bolshevik Party, heading the Red Army (Trotsky), the VTsIK (Sverdlov), the two capitals (Zinoviev and Kamenev), the Comintern (Zinoviev), the Profintern (Dridzo‐Lozovski) and the Komsomol (Oscar Ryvkin, and later Lazar Shatskin, who also headed the International Communist Youth).
“It is true that in the first Sovnarkom there was only one Jew, but that one was Trotsky, the number two, behind Lenin, whose authority surpassed that of all the others.”17 And from November 1917 to the summer of 1918, the real organ of government was not the Sovnarkom, but what was called the “Little Sovnarkom”: Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Kareline, Prochian. After October, the VTsIK Presidium was of equal importance to that of the Sovnarkom, and among its six members were Sverdlov, Kamenev, Volodarski, Svetlov‐Nakhamkis.
M. Agursky rightly points out: for a country where it was not customary to see Jews in power, what a contrast! “A Jew in the presidency of the country… a Jew in the Ministry of War… There was there something to which the ethnic population of Russia could hardly accustom itself to.”18 Yes, what a contrast! Especially when one knows of what president, of what minister it was!
The first major action of the Bolsheviks was, by signing the peace separated from Brest‐Litovsk, to cede to Germany an enormous portion of the Russian territory, in order to assert their power over the remaining part. The head of the signatory delegation was Ioffe; the head of foreign policy, Trotsky. His secretary and attorney, I. Zalkin, had occupied the cabinet of comrade Neratov at the ministry and purged the old apparatus to create a new organisation, the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs.
During the auditions held in 1919 in the American Senate and quoted above, the doctor A. Simons, who from 1907 to 1918 had been the dean of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Petrograd, made an interesting remark: “While they did not mince their words to criticise the Allies, Lenin, Trotsky, and their followers never expressed—at least I have never heard—the slightest blame on Germany.” And at the same time, when I spoke with official representatives of the Soviet government, I discovered that they had a desire to preserve friendly relations with America as far as possible. This desire was interpreted by the allied chancelleries as an attempt to detach America from its partners. Moreover, if the Soviet regime collapsed, they expected our country [the United States] to serve as a refuge for the Bolshevik demons who could thus save their skin.”19
The calculation is plausible. Is it not even… certain? It may be supposed that Trotsky himself, strengthened by his recent experience in America, comforted his companions with this hope.
But where the calculation of the Bolshevik leaders was more ambitious and well‐founded, it was when it dealt with the use of the great American financiers.
Trotsky himself was an incontestable internationalist, and one can believe him when he declares emphatically that he rejects for himself all belonging to Jewishness. But judging by the choices he made in his appointments, we see that the renegade Jews were closer to him than the renegade Russians. (His two closest assistants were Glazman and Sermuks, the head of his personal guard, Dreitser.20) Thus, when it became necessary to find an authoritative and ruthless substitute to occupy this post at the War Commissariat—judge the lack!—, Trotsky named without flinching Ephraim Sklyansky, a doctor who had nothing of a soldier or a commissar. And this Sklyansky, as vice‐president of the Revolutionary Council of War, would add his signature above the one of the Supreme Commander, the General S. S. Kamenev!
Trotsky did not think for a moment of the impression that the appointment of a doctor or the extraordinary promotion of a Sklyansky would make on the non‐commissioned members: he could not care less. And yet, it was he who once declared: “Russia has not reached the maturity necessary to tolerate a Jew at its head”; this famous sentence shows that the question concerned him all the same when it was formulated about him…
There was also this well‐known scene: the inaugural session of the Constituent Assembly is opened on 5 January 1918 by the Dean of Deputies, S. P. Chevtsov, but Sverdlov, with utter imprudence, snatches the bell from him, chases him from the tribune, and resumes the meeting. This Constituent Assembly, so long awaited, so ardently desired, that sacred sun that was about to pour happiness onto Russia—it only takes a few hours for Sverdlov and the sailor Jelezniakov to wring its neck!
The pan‐Russian Commission for the election of the Constituent Assembly had previously been dissolved, and its organisation had been entrusted to a private person, the young Brodsky. As for the Assembly—so ardently desired—its management was handed to Uritsky, who was assisted by Drabkin, who was to set up a new chancellery. It was thus, by this kind of operation, that the new type of—Jewish—government was sketched. Other preliminary actions: eminent members of the Constituent Assembly, personalities known to the whole of Russia, such as the Countess Panina, an immense benefactress, were arrested by an obscure personage, a certain Gordon. (According to the newspaper Den [The Day], Gordon was the author of some wicked patriotic articles that appeared in Petrogradski Kourier [The Courier of Petrograd], then went on to trade in cabbage and chemical fertilisers—before finally becoming Bolshevik.21)
Another thing not to be forgotten: the new masters of the country did not neglect their personal interest. In other words: they plundered honest people. “Stolen money is usually converted into diamonds… In Moscow, Sklyansky is said to be ‘the first diamond buyer’”; he was caught in Lithuania, during the baggage verification of Zinoviev’s wife, Zlata Bernstein‐Lilina—“jewelery was found, worth several tens of millions of rubles.”22 (And to say that we believed in the legend that the first revolutionary leaders were disinterested idealists!) In the Cheka, a trustworthy witness tells us, himself having passed in its clutches in 1920, the chiefs of the prisons were usually Poles or Latvians, while “the section in charge of the fight against traffickers, the least dangerous and the most lucrative, was in the hands of Jews.”23
Other than the positions at the front of the stage, there existed in the structure of Lenin’s power, as in any other conspiracy, silent and invisible figures destined to never write their names in any chronicle: from Ganetski, that adventurer Lenin liked, up to all the disturbing figures gravitating in the orbit of Parvus. (This Evgeniya Sumenson, for example, who surfaced for a short time during the summer of 1917, who was even arrested for financial manipulation with Germany and who remained in liaison with the Bolshevik leaders, although she never appeared on the lists of leaders of the apparatus) After the “days of July”, Russkaya Volio published raw documents on the clandestine activity of Parvus and his closest collaborator, Zurabov, who “occupies today, in the social democratic circles of Petrograd, a well‐placed position”; “were also found in Petrograd Misters Binstock, Levin, Perazich and a few others.”24
Or also: Samuel Zaks, the brother‐in‐law of Zinoviev (his sister’s husband), the boss of the subsidiary of the Parvus pharmacy in Petrograd and the son of a wealthy maker of the city, who had given the Bolsheviks, in 1917, a whole printing house. Or, belonging to the Parvus team itself, Samuel Pikker (Alexander Martynov25, whom had formerly polemicised Lenin on theoretical questions—but now the time had come to serve the Party and Martynov had gone into hiding).
Let us mention some other striking figures. The most illustrious (for massacres in Crimea) Rosalia Zalkind‐Zemlyachka, a real fury of terror: she was in 1917‒1920, long before Kaganovich, secretary of the Committee of the Bolsheviks of Moscow along with V. Zagorsky, I. Zelensky, I. Piatnitsky.26 When one knows that the Jews constituted more than a third of the population of Odessa, it is not surprising to learn that “in the revolutionary institutions of Odessa there were a great number of Jews”. The President of the Revolutionary War Council, and later of the Sovnarkom of Odessa, was V. Yudovsky; the chairman of the Provincial Party Committee, the Gamarnik.27 The latter would soon rise in Kiev to be the chairman of the provincial committees—Revolutionary Committee, Party Executive Committee, then Chairman of the Regional Committees, and finally Secretary of the Central Committee of Belarus, member of the Military Region Revolutionary War Council of Belarus.28 And what about the rising star, Lazar Kaganovich, the president of the Provincial Committee Party of Nizhny Novgorod in 1918? In August‒September, the reports of mass terror operations in the province all begin with the words: “In the presence of Kaganovich”, “Kaganovitch being present”29—and with what vigilance!… There is a photo, which was inadvertently published and which bears this caption: “Photograph of the Presidium of one of the meetings of the Leningrad Committee, that is to say of the Petrograd Soviet after the October Revolution. The absolute majority at the presidium table is constituted of Jews.”30
Reviewing all the names of those who have held important positions, and often even key positions, is beyond the reach of anyone. We will cite for illustrative purposes a few names, trying to attach them with a few details.—Here is Arkady Rosengoltz among the actors of the October coup in Moscow; he was afterwards a member of the Revolutionary War Councils of several army corps, then of the Republic; he was Trotsky’s “closest assistant”; he then occupied a number of important posts: the Commissariat of Finance, the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspectorate (an organ of inquisition), and finally the Commissariat for Foreign Trade for seven years.—Semyon Nakhimson, who, on the eve of October, was commissioner of the notorious Latvian skirmishers, was the fierce commissioner of the military region of Yaroslav (he was killed during an insurrection in the city).—Samuel Zwilling, who, after his victory over the Orenburg ataman, Dutov, took the head of the Orenburg District Executive Committee (he was killed shortly thereafter).—Zorakh Grindberg, Commissioner for Instruction and Fine Arts of the Northern Commune, who took a stand against the teaching of Hebrew, the “right arm” of Lunacharsky.—Here is Yevgeniya Kogan, wife of Kuybyshev: she was already in 1917 secretary of the Party Committee of the region of Samara; in 1918‒19 she became a member of the Volga Military Revolutionary Tribunal; in 1920 she met at the Tashkent City Committee, then in 1921 in Moscow, where she became Secretary of the City Committee and then Secretary of the National Committee in the 1930s.—And here is the secretary of Kuybyshev, Semyon Zhukovsky: he goes from political sections to political sections of the armies; he is sometimes found in the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of Turkestan, sometimes the political leader of the Baltic Fleet (for the Bolsheviks, everything is at hand…), and, finally, at the Central Committee.— Or there are the Bielienki brothers: Abram, at the head of the personal guard of Lenin during the last five years of his life; Grigori, who moved from the Krasnaya Presnia District Committee to the position of head of the agitprop at the Comintern; finally, he is found at the Higher Council of the National Economy, the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspectorate (RKI), at the Commissariat of Finances.—Dimanstein, after passing through the European Commission and the European Section, is at the Central Committee of Lithuania–Belarus, at the Commissariat of Instruction of Turkestan, then Head of the Political Propaganda of Ukraine.—Or Samuel Filler, an apothecary apprentice from the province of Kherson, who hoisted himself up to the presidium of the Cheka of Moscow and then of the RKI.—Anatoly (Isaac) Koltun (“deserted and emigrated immediately after”, then returned in 1917): he is found both as a senior officer in the Central Control Commission of the VKP (b) and in charge of the Party of Kazakhstan, then in Yaroslavl, in Ivanovo, then back to the Control Commission, and then to the Moscow Court—and suddenly he is in Scientific Research!31 The role of the Jews is particularly visible in the RSFSR organs responsible for what constitutes the crucial problem of those years, the years of war communism: supplies. Let’s just look at the key positions.—Moisei Frumkin: from 1918 to 1922, member of the college of the Commissariat of Supply of the RSFSR, and from 1921—in full famine—Deputy Commissioner: he is also Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Food Fund (Glavprodukt) and has as his assistant I. Rafailov.—Iakov Brandenbourgski–Goldzinski, returning from Paris in 1917 and immediately becoming a member of the Petrograd Supply Committee and from 1918 onwards a member of the Commissariat; during the civil war, with extraordinary powers in the VTsIK for requisition operations in several provinces.—Isaak Zelensky: in 1918‒20 in the supply section of the Moscow Soviet, then member of the college of the RSFSR Supply Commissariat; Later in the Secretariat of the Central Committee and Secretary for Central Asia.—Semyon Voskov (arrived from America in 1917, actor of the October coup in Petrograd): in 1918, commissioner of supply for the immense region of the North.—Miron Vladimirov–Cheinfinkel: since October 1917 as head of the supply service for the city of Petrograd, then member of the college of the Supply Commission of the RSFSR; in 1921: commissioner for the Supply for Ukraine, then for Agriculture. —Grigori Zusmanovich, commissioner in 1918 at the Supply of the Army in Ukraine.—Moisei Kalmanovitch: late 1917, commissioner of the Supply of the Western Front; In 1919‒1920, commissioner of the supply of the Byelorussian SSR, then of the Lithuania–Belarus SSR, and chairman of a special commission for the supply of the Western Front (at the summit of his career: president of the Administration Council of the Central Bank of the USSR).32
Recently published documents inform us of the way in which the great peasant revolt of 1921 in Western Siberia broke out, the insurrection of Ichim. After the fierce requisitions of 1920, when the region had, on 1 January 1921, fulfilled the required requisition plan by 102%, the Supply Commissioner of the Tyumen Province, Indenbaum, instituted an additional week to “finalise” it, the 1st to 7th January, i.e. the week before Christmas*. The commissioner of requisitions at Ichim received, as did the others, the official direction: “Requisitions must be carried out without taking into account the consequences, confiscating, if necessary, all the grain in the villages (emphasised by me—A. S.) and leaving the producer only a ration of famine.” In a telegram signed by his hand, Indenbaum demanded “the most merciless repression and systematic confiscation of the wheat that might still be there.” In order to form the brigades of requisition, were recruited, not with the consent of Ingenbaum, thugs, and sub‐proletarians who had no scruples in bludgeoning the peasants. The Latvian Matvei Lauris, a member of the Provincial Commissariat of Supply, used his power for his personal enrichment and pleasure: having taken up his quarters in a village, he had thirty‐one women brought in for himself and his squad. At the Xth Congress of the RKP (b), the delegation of Tyumen reported that “the peasants who refused to give their wheat were placed in pits, watered, and died frozen.”33
The existence of some individuals was only learned a few years later thanks to obituaries published in the Izvestia. Thus: “comrade Isaac Samoylovich Kizelstein died of tuberculosis”; he had been an agent of the Cheka College, then a member of the Revolutionary War Council of the 5th and 14th Armies, “always devoted to the Party and to the working class”.34 And oh how many of these “obscure workers” of all nationalities were found among the stranglers of Russia!
Bolshevik Jews often had, in addition to their surname as underground revolutionaries, pseudonyms, or modified surnames. Example: in an obituary of 1928, the death of a Bolshevik of the first hour, Lev Mikhailovich Mikhailov, who was known to the Party as Politikus, in other words by a nickname; his real name, Elinson, he carried it to the grave.35 What prompted an Aron Rupelevich to take the Ukrainian surname of Taratut? Was Aronovitch Tarchis ashamed of his name or did he want to gain more weight by taking the name of Piatnitsky? And what about the Gontcharovs, Vassilenko, and others…? Were they considered in their own families as traitors or simply as cowards?
Observations made on the spot have remained. I. F. Najivin records the impressions he received at the very beginning of Soviet power: in the Kremlin, in the administration of the Sovnarkom, “reigns disorder and chaos. We see only Latvians and even more Latvians, Jews and even more Jews. I have never been an anti‐Semite, but there were so many it could not escape your attention, and each one was younger than the last.”36
Korolenko himself, as liberal and extremely tolerant as he was, he who was deeply sympathetic to the Jews who had been victims of the pogroms, noted in his Notebooks in the spring of 1919: “Among the Bolsheviks there are a great number of Jews, men and women. Their lack of tact, their assurance are striking and irritating,” “Bolshevism has already exhausted itself in Ukraine, the ‘Commune’ encounters only hatred on its way. One sees constantly emerge among the Bolsheviks—and especially the Cheka—Jewish physiognomies, and this exacerbates the traditional feelings, still very virulent, of Judæophobia.”37
From the early years of Soviet rule, the Jews were not only superior in number in the upper echelons of the Party, but also, more remarkably and more sensitively for the population, to local administrations, provinces and townships, to inferior spheres, where the anonymous mass of the Streitbrecher had come to the rescue of the new and still fragile power which had consolidated it, saved it. The author of the Book of the Jews of Russia writes: “One cannot fail to evoke the action of the many Jewish Bolsheviks who worked in the localities as subordinate agents of the dictatorship and who caused innumerable ills to the population of the country”—and he adds: “including the Jewish population.”38
The omnipresence of the Jews alongside the Bolsheviks had, during these terrible days and months, the most atrocious consequences. Among them is the assassination of the Imperial family, of which, today, everybody speaks, and where the Russians now exaggerate the share of the Jews, who find in this heart‐wrenching thought an evil enjoyment. As it should, the most dynamic Jews (and they are many) were at the height of events and often at the command posts. Thus, for the assassination of the Tsar’s family: the guards (the assassins) were Latvians, Russians, and Magyars, but two characters played a decisive role: Philip Goloshchekin and Yakov Yurovsky (who had received baptism).
The final decision belonged to Lenin. If he dared to decide in favour of the assassination (when his power was still fragile), it was because he had foreseen both the total indifference of the Allies (the King of England, cousin of the tsar, had he not already, in the spring of 1918, refused asylum to Nicholas II?) And the fatal weakness of the conservative strata of the Russian people.
Goloshchekin, who had been exiled to Tobolsk in 1912 for four years, and who in 1917 was in the Urals, was in perfect agreement with Sverdlov: their telephone conversations between Yekaterinburg and Moscow revealed that 1918 they were on first‐name basis. As early as 1912 (following the example of Sverdlov), Goloshchekin was a member of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party. After the coup of October, he became secretary of the Provincial Committee of Perm and Yekaterinburg, and later of the Ural Region Committee, in other words he had become the absolute master of the region.39
The project of assassination of the imperial family was ripening in the brains of Lenin and his acolytes—while, on their side, the two patrons of the Urals, Goloshchekin and Bieloborodov (president of the Ural Soviet), simmered their own machinations. It is now known that at the beginning of July 1918 Goloshchekin went to Moscow in order to convince Lenin that letting the tsar and his family “flee” was a bad solution, that they had to be openly executed, and then announce the matter publicly. Convincing Lenin that the tsar and his family should be suppressed was not necessary, he himself did not doubt it for a moment. What he feared was the reaction of the Russian people and the West. There were, however, already indications that the thing would pass without making waves. (The decision would also depend, of course, on Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinoviev, Bukharin—but they were for the time absent from Moscow, and their mentality, with the possible exception, possibly, of that of Kamenev, allowed to suppose none of them would have anything to say about it. Trotsky, as we know, approved of this without feeling any emotion. In his diary of 1935, he says that on his arrival in Moscow he had a conversation with Sverdlov. “I asked incidentally: ‘By the way, where is the tsar?’—‘It’s done, he replied. Executed.’—‘and the family?’—‘the family as well, with him.’—‘all of them?’ I asked with a touch of astonishment. ‘All of them! replied Sverdlov… so what?’ He was waiting for a reaction from me. I did not answer anything. ‘And who decided it?’ I asked.—‘All of us, here’—I did not ask any more questions, I forgot about it… Basically, this decision was more than reasonable, it was necessary—not merely in order to frighten, to scare the enemy, to make him lose all hope, but in order to electrify our own ranks, to make us understand that there was no turning back, that we had before us only an undivided victory or certain death.”40
M. Heifets sought out who was able to attend this last council chaired by Lenin; without a doubt: Sverdlov, Dzerzhinsky; probably: Petrovsky and Vladimirski (of the Cheka), Stutchka (of the Commissariat for Justice); Perhaps: V. Schmidt. Such was the tribunal that condemned the tsar. As for Goloshchekin, he had returned to Yekaterinburg on 12 July, awaiting the last signal sent from Moscow. It was Sverdlov who transmitted Lenin’s last instruction. And Yakov Yurovsky, a watchmaker, the son of a criminal who had been deported to Siberia—where was born the offspring—had been placed in July 1918 at the head of the Ipatiev house. This Yurovsky was manœuvring the operation and reflecting on the concrete means of carrying it out (with the help of Magyars and Russians, including Pavel Medvedev, Piotr Ermakov), as well as the best way of making the bodies disappear.41 (Let us point out here the assistance provided by P. L. Voïkov, the regional supply commissioner, who supplied barrels of gasoline and sulphuric acid to destroy the corpses.) How the deadly salvos succeeded each other in the basement of the Ipatiev house, which of these shots were mortal, who were the shooters, nobody later could specify, not even the executants. Afterwards, “Yurovsky boasted of being the best: ‘It was the bullet from my colt that killed Nicholas’.” But this honour also fell to Ermakov and his “comrade Mauser”.42
Goloshchekin did not seek glory, and it is this idiot of Bieloborodov who beat him. In the 1920s, everyone knew it was him, the tsar’s number one killer. In 1936, during a tour in Rostov‐on‐Don, during a Party Conference, he still boasted of it from the rostrum—just a year before being himself executed. In 1941 it was Goloshchekin’s turn to be executed. As for Yurovsky, after the assassination of the tsar, he joined Moscow, “worked” there for a year alongside Dzerzhinsky (thus shedding blood) and died of natural death.43
In fact, the question of the ethnic origin of the actors has constantly cast a shadow over the revolution as a whole and on each of its events. All the participations and complicities, since the assassination of Stolypin, necessarily collided with the feelings of the Russians. Yes, but what about the assassination of the tsar’s brother, Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich? Who were his assassins? Andrei Markov, Gavril Myasnikov, Nikolai Zhukov, Ivan Kolpaschikov—clearly, all of them Russians.
Here, everyone must—oh how much!—ask themselves the question: have I enlightened my people with a little ray of good, or have I obscured it with all the darkness of evil?
So that is that when it comes to the executioners of the revolution. And what about the victims? Hostages and prisoners by entire batches— shot, drowned on crowded barges: the officers—Russians; the nobles—mostly Russians; the priests— Russians; members of the Zemstvos—Russians; and the peasants fleeing enlistment in the Red Army, taken up in the forests—all Russians. And this Russian intelligentsia of high moral, anti‐anti‐Semitic—for it also, it was bad deaths and bloody basements. If names and lists of all those who had been shot and drowned in the first years of Soviet power could be found today, from September 1918 onwards, if statistics were available, it would be surprising to find that the revolution in no way manifested its international character, but indeed its anti‐Slavic character (in accordance, moreover, with the dreams of Marx and Engels).
And it is this that has imprinted this deep and cruel mark on the face of the revolution, which defines it best: who has it exterminated, carrying away its dead forever, without return, far from this sordid revolution and this unfortunate country, the body of this poor, misguided people?
During all those months, Lenin was very much occupied with the climate of tension that had arisen around the Jewish question. As early as April 1918, the Council of the People’s Commissars of Moscow and the Moscow region published in the Izvestia44 (thus for a wider audience than the region of Moscow alone) a circular addressed to the Soviets “on the question of the anti‐Semitic propaganda of the pogroms”, which evoked “events having occurred in the region of Moscow that recalled anti‐Jewish pogroms” (no city was named); it stressed the need to organise “special sessions among the Soviets on the Jewish question and the fight against anti‐Semitism”, as well as “meetings and conferences”, in short, a whole propaganda campaign. But who, by the way, was the number one culprit, who had to have his bones broken? But the Orthodox priests, of course! The first point prescribed: “Pay the utmost attention to the anti‐Semitic propaganda carried out by the clergy; take the most radical measures to stop the counter‐revolution and the propaganda of the priests” (we do not ask ourselves at this moment what measures these were… but, in reality, who knows them better than we do?). Then point number two recommended “to recognise the necessity to not create a separate Jewish fighting organisation” (at the time a Jewish guard was being considered). The point number four entrusted the Office of Jewish Affairs and the War Commissariat with the task of taking “preventive measures to combat anti‐Jewish pogroms”.
At the height of the same year 1918, Lenin recorded on gramophone a “special discourse on anti‐Semitism and the Jews”. He there denounced “the cursed tsarist autocracy which had always launched uneducated workers and peasants against the Jews. The tsarist police, assisted by landowners and capitalists, perpetrated anti‐Jewish pogroms. Hostility towards the Jews is perennial only where the capitalist cabal has definitely obscured the minds of the workers and the peasants… There are among the Jews workmen, men of labour, they are the majority. They are our brothers, oppressed as we are by capitalism, they are our comrades who struggle with us for socialism… Shame on the cursed tsarism!… Shame on those who sow hostility towards the Jews!”—“Recordings of this speech were carried all the way to the front, transported through towns and villages aboard special propaganda trains which criss‐crossed the country. Gramophones spread this discourse in clubs, meetings, assemblies. Soldiers, workers and peasants listened to their leader’s harangue and began to understand what this was all about.”45 But this speech, at the time, was not published (… by intentional omission?); it only was so in 1926 (in the book of Agursky senior).
On 27 July 1918 (just after the execution of the imperial family), the Sovnarkom promulgated a special law on anti‐Semitism: “The Soviet of the People’s Commissars declares that any anti‐Semitic movement is a danger to the cause of the Revolution of the workers and peasants.” In conclusion (from Lenin’s own hand, Lunacharsky tells us): “The Sovnarkom directed all Soviet deputations to take radical measures to eradicate anti‐Semitism. The inciters of pogroms, those who propagate them, will be declared outlaws.” Signed: VI. Ulyanov (Lenin).46
If the meaning of the word “outlaw” may have escaped some at the time, in the months of the Red Terror it would appear clearly, ten years later, in a sentence of a communist militant—Larine—who was himself, for a while, the commissar of the people and even the promoter of “war communism”: “to ‘outlaw’ the active anti‐Semites was to shoot them.”47
And then there is Lenin’s famous reply to Dimanstein in 1919. Dimanstein “wished to obtain from Lenin that be retained the distribution of Gorky’s tract containing such praises to the address of the Jews that it could create ‘the impression that the revolution was based only on the Jews and especially on the individuals from the middle class’.” Lenin replied—as we have already said—that, immediately after October, it was the Jews who had saved the revolution by defeating the resistance of the civil servants, and consequently “Gorky’s opinion was perfectly correct.”48 The Jewish Encyclopædia does not doubt it either: “Lenin refused to sweep under the carpet the extremely pro‐Semite proclamation of M. Gorky, and it was disseminated in great circulation during the civil war, in spite of the fact that it risked becoming an asset in the hands of the anti‐Semites who were enemies of the revolution.”49
And it became so, of course, for the Whites who saw two images merge, that of Judaism and that of Bolshevism.
The surprising (short‐sighted!) indifference of the Bolshevik leaders to the popular sentiment and the growing irritation of the population is blatant when we see how much Jews were involved in repression directed against the Orthodox clergy: it was in summer 1918 that was initiated the assault on the Orthodox churches in central Russia and especially in the Moscow region (which included several provinces), an assault which only ceased thanks to the wave of rebellions in the parishes.
In January 1918, the workers who were building the fortress of Kronstadt rebelled and protested: the executive committee of the Party, composed “exclusively of non‐natives”, had designated for guard duty, instead of militia… Orthodox priests, while “not a Jewish rabbi, not a Moslem mullah, not a Catholic pastor, not a Protestant pastor, was put to use.”50 (Let us note in passing that even on this small, fortified island of the “prison of the peoples” there were places of worship for all the confessions…)
A text entitled “Charge on the Jews!” appeared even all the way to the Pravda, a call from the workers of Arkangelsk “to Russian workers and peasants conscious of their fate”, in which they read: “are profaned, defiled, plundered”—“exclusively Orthodox churches, never synagogues… Death by hunger and disease carries hundreds of thousands of innocent lives among the Russians,” while “the Jews do not die of hunger or disease.”51 (There was also, during the summer 1918, “a criminal case of anti‐Semitism in the church of Basil the Blissful, in Moscow…”).
What madness on the part of the Jewish militants to have mingled with the ferocious repression exerted by the Bolsheviks against Orthodoxy, even more fierce than against the other confessions, with this persecution of priests, with this outburst in the press of sarcasms aimed at the Christ! The Russian pens also zealously attacked Demian Bedny (Efim Pridvorov), for example, and he was not the only one. Yes, the Jews should have stayed out of it.
On 9 August 1919, Patriarch Tikhon wrote to the president of the VTsIK Kalinin (with a copy to the Sovnarkom president, Ulyanov–Lenin) to demand the dismissal of the investigating magistrate Chpitsberg, in charge of the “affairs” of the Church: “a man who publicly outrages the religious beliefs of people, who openly mocks ritual gestures, who, in the preface to the book The Religious Plague (1919), gave Jesus Christ abominable names and thus profoundly upset my religious feeling.”52 The text was transmitted to the Small Sovnarkom, from which came the reply on 3 September: “classify the complaint of citizen Belavine (Patriarch Tikhon) without follow‐up.”53 But Kalinin changed his mind and addressed a secret letter to the Justice Commissioner, Krasikov, saying that he believed that “for practical and political considerations… replace Chpitsberg with someone else”, given that “the audience in the court is probably in its majority Orthodox” and that it is therefore necessary “to deprive the religious circles… of their main reason for ethnic revenge.”54
And what about the profanation of relics? How could the masses understand such an obvious outrage, so provocative? “‘Could the Russians, the Orthodox have done such things?’ they asked each other across Russia. ‘All that, it is the Jews who have plotted it. It makes no difference, to those who crucified Christ’.”55—And who is responsible for this state of mind, if not the Bolshevik power, by offering to the people spectacles of such savagery?
S. Bulgakov, who followed closely what happened to Orthodoxy under the Bolsheviks, wrote in 1941: “In the USSR, the persecution of Christians “surpassed in violence and amplitude all previous persecutions known throughout History. Of course, we should not blame everything on the Jews, but we should not downplay their influence.”56—“Were manifested in Bolshevism, above all, the force of will and the energy of Judaism.”—“The part played by the Jews in Bolshevism is, alas, disproportionately great. And it is above all the sin of Judaism against Ben–Israel… And it is not the ‘sacred Israel’, but the strong will of Judaism that, in power, manifested itself in Bolshevism and the crushing of the Russian people.”—“Although it derived from the ideological and practical programme of Bolshevism, without distinction of nationality, the persecution of Christians found its most zealous actors among Jewish ‘commissioners’ of militant atheism,” and to have put a Goubelman– Iaroslavski at the head of the Union of the Godless was to commit “in the face of all the Russian Orthodox people an act… of religious effrontery.”57
Another very ostensible effrontery: this way of rechristening cities and places. Custom, in fact, less Jewish than typically Soviet. But can we affirm that for the inhabitants of Gatchina, the new name of their city—Trotsk—did not have a foreign resonance? Likewise for Pavlosk, now Slutsk… Uritsky gives its name to the square of the Palace, Vorovski to the Saint‐Isaac Plaza, Volodarski to the Prospect of the Founders, Nakhimson to the Saint Vladimir Prospect, Rochal to the barge of the Admiralty, and the second‐class painter Isaak Brodsky gives his name to the so beautiful Saint Michael street…
They could no longer stand each other, their heads were turning. Through the immensity of Russia, it flashes by: Elisabethgrad becomes Zinovievsk… and let’s go boldly! The city where the tsar was assassinated takes the name of the assassin: Sverdlovsk.
It is obvious that was present in the Russian national consciousness, as early as 1920, the idea of a national revenge on the part of Bolshevik Jews, since it even appeared in the papers of the Soviet government (it served as an argument to Kalinin).
Of course, Pasmanik’s refutation was right: “For the wicked and narrow‐minded, everything could not be explained more simply—the Jewish Kahal* has decided to seize Russia; or: it is the revengeful Judaism that settles its accounts with Russia for the humiliations undergone in the past.”58 Of course, we cannot explain the victory and the maintenance of the Bolsheviks.—But: if the pogrom of 1905 burns in the memory of your family, and if, in 1915, were driven out of the western territories, with the strikes of a whip, your brothers by blood, you can very well, three or four years later, want to avenge yourself in your turn with a whip or a revolver bullet. We are not going to ask whether Communist Jews consciously wanted to take revenge on Russia by destroying, by breaking the Russian heritage, but totally denying this spirit of vengeance would be denying any relationship between the inequality in rights under the tsar and the participation of Jews in Bolshevism, a relationship that is constantly evoked.
And this is how I. M. Biekerman, confronted with “the fact of the disproportionate participation of the Jews in the work of barbaric destruction”, to those who recognise the right of the Jews to avenge past persecutions, refutes this right: “the destructive zeal of our co‐religionists is blamed on the State, who, by its vexations and persecutions, would have pushed the Jews into the revolution”; well no, he says, for “it is to the manner in which an individual reacts to the evil suffered that he is distinguished from another, and the same is true of a community of men.”59
Later, in 1939, taking in the destiny of Judaism under the black cloud of the coming new era, the same Biekerman wrote: “The great difference between the Jews and the world around them was that they could only be the anvil, and never the hammer.”60
I do not intend to dig here, in this limited work, the great historical destinies, but I am expressing a categorical reservation on this point: perhaps this was so since the beginning of time, but, as of 1918, in Russia, and for another fifteen years, the Jews who joined the revolution also served as hammer—at least a large part of them.
Here, in our review, comes the voice of Boris Pasternak. In his Doctor Zhivago, he writes, it is true, after the Second World War, thus after the Cataclysm which came down, crushing and sinister, over the Jews of Europe and which overturned our entire vision of the world—but, in the novel itself, is discussed the years of the revolution—, he speaks of “this modest, sacrificial way of remaining aloof, which only engenders misfortune,” of “their [i.e. the Jews’] fragility and their inability to strike back.”
Yet, did we not both have before us the same country—at different ages, certainly, but where we lived the same 20s and 30s? The contemporary of those years remains mute with astonishment: Pasternak would thus not have seen (I believe) what was happening?—His parents, his painter father, his pianist mother, belonged to a highly cultivated Jewish milieu, living in perfect harmony with the Russian intelligentsia; he himself grew up in a tradition already quite rich, a tradition that led the Rubinstein brothers, the moving Levitan, the subtle Guerchenson, the philosophers Frank and Chestov, to give themselves to Russia and Russian culture… It is probable that this unambiguous choice, that perfect equilibrium between life and service, which was theirs, appeared to Pasternak as the norm, while the monstrous gaps, frightening relative to this norm, did not reach the retina of his eye.
On the other hand, these differences penetrated the field of view of thousands of others. Thus, witness of these years, Biekerman writes: “The too visible participation of the Jews in the Bolshevik saturnalia attracts the eyes of the Russians and those of the whole world.”61
No, the Jews were not the great driving force of the October coup. The latter, moreover, brought them nothing, since the February revolution had already granted them full and complete freedom. But, after the coup de force took place, it was then that the younger laic generation quickly changed horses and launched themselves with no less assurance into the infernal gallop of Bolshevism.
Obviously, it was not the melamedes* that produced this. But the reasonable part of the Jewish people let itself be overwhelmed by hotheads. And thus an almost entire generation became renegade. And the race was launched.
G. Landau looked for the motives that led the younger generation to join the camp of the new victors. He writes: “Here was the rancour with regard to the old world, and the exclusion of political life and Russian life in general, as well as a certain rationalism peculiar to the Jewish people,” and “willpower which, in mediocre beings, can take the form of insolence and ruthless ambition.”62
Some people seek an apology by way of explanations: “The material conditions of life after the October coup created a climate such that the Jews were forced to join the Bolsheviks.”63 This explanation is widespread: “42% of the Jewish population of Russia were engaged in commercial activity”; they lost it; they found themselves in a dead‐end situation—where to go? “In order not to die of hunger, they were forced to take service with the government, without paying too much attention to the kind of work they were asked to do.” It was necessary to enter the Soviet apparatus where “the number of Jewish officials, from the beginning of the October Revolution, was very high.”64
They had no way out? Did the tens of thousands of Russian officials who refused to serve Bolshevism have somewhere to go?—To starve? But how were living the others? Especially since they were receiving food aid from organisations such as the Joint, the ORT*, financed by wealthy Jews from the West. Enlisting in the Cheka was never the only way out. There was at least another: not to do it, to resist.
The result, Pasmanik concludes, is that “Bolshevism became, for the hungry Jews of cities, a trade equal to the previous trades—tailor, broker, or apothecary.”65
But if this is so, it may be said, seventy years later, in good conscience: for those “who did not want to immigrate to the United States and become American, who did not want to immigrate to Palestine to remain Jews, for those, the only issue was communism”?66 Again—the only way out!?
It is precisely this that is called renouncing one’s historical responsibility!
Other arguments have more substance and weight: “A people that has suffered such persecution”—and this, throughout its history—“could not, in its great majority, not become bearers of the revolutionary doctrine and internationalism of socialism,” for it “gave its Jewish followers the hope of never again being pariahs” on this very earth, and not “in the chimerical Palestine of the great ancestors.” Further on: “During the civil war already, and immediately afterwards, they were stronger in competition with the newcomers from the ethnic population, and they filled many of the voids that the revolution had created in society… In doing so, they had for the most part broken with their national and spiritual tradition,” after which “all those who wanted to assimilate, especially the first generation and at the time of their massive apparition, took root in the relatively superficial layers of a culture that was new to them.”67
One wonders, however, how it is possible that “the centuries‐old traditions of this ancient culture have proved powerless to counteract the infatuation with the barbaric slogans of the Bolshevik revolutionaries.”68 When “socialism, the companion of the revolution, melted onto Russia, not only were these Jews, numerous and dynamic, brought to life on the crest of the devastating wave, but the rest of the Jewish people found itself deprived of any idea of resistance and was invited to look at what was happening with a perplexed sympathy, wondering, impotent, what was going to result from it.”69 How is it that “in every circle of Jewish society the revolution was welcomed with enthusiasm, an inexplicable enthusiasm when one knows of what disillusionments composed the history of this people”? How could “the Jewish people, rationalist and lucid, allow itself to indulge in the intoxication of revolutionary phraseology”70?
D. S. Pasmanik evokes in 1924 “those Jews who proclaimed loudly and clearly the genetic link between Bolshevism and Judaism, who openly boasted about the sentiments of sympathy which the mass of the Jewish people nourished towards the power of the commissioners.”71 At the same time, Pasmanik himself pointed out “the points which may at first be the foundation of a rapprochement between Bolshevism and Judaism… These are: the concern for happiness on earth and that of social justice… Judaism was the first to put forward these two great principles.”72
We read in an issue of the London newspaper Jewish Chronicle of 1919 (when the revolution had not yet cooled down) an interesting debate on the issue. The permanent correspondent of this paper, a certain Mentor, writes that it is not fitting for the Jews to pretend that they have no connection with the Bolsheviks. Thus, in America, the Rabbi and Doctor Judah Magnes supported the Bolsheviks, which means that he did not regard Bolshevism as incompatible with Judaism.73 He writes again the following week: Bolshevism is in itself a great evil, but, paradoxically, it also represents the hope of humanity. Was the French Revolution not bloody, it as well, and yet it was justified by History. The Jew is idealistic by nature and it is not surprising, it is even logical that he believed the promises of Bolshevism. “There is much room for reflection in the very fact of Bolshevism, in the adherence of many Jews to Bolshevism, in the fact that the ideals of Bolshevism in many respects join those of Judaism—a great number of which have been taken up by the founder of Christianity. The Jews who think must examine all this carefully. One must be foolish to see in Bolshevism only its off‐putting aspects…”74
All the same, is not Judaism above all the recognition of the one God? But, this in itself is enough to make it incompatible with Bolshevism, the denier of God!
Still on the search for the motives for such a broad participation of the Jews in the Bolshevik adventure, I. Biekerman writes: “We might, before of the facts, despair of the future of our people—if we did not know that, of all the contagions, the worst is that of words. Why was the Jewish consciousness so receptive to this infection, the question would be too long to develop here.” The causes reside “not only in the circumstances of yesterday,” but also “in the ideas inherited from ancient times, which predispose Jews to be contaminated by ideology, even if it is null and subversive.”75
S. Bulgakov also writes: “The face that Judaism shows in Russian Bolshevism is by no means the true face of Israel… It reflects, even within Israel, a state of terrible spiritual crisis, which can lead to bestiality.”76
As for the argument that the Jews of Russia have thrown themselves into the arms of the Bolsheviks because of the vexations they have suffered in the past, it must be confronted with the two other communist shows of strength that occurred at the same time as that of Lenin, in Bavaria and in Hungary. We read in I. Levin: “The number of Jews serving the Bolshevik regime is, in these two countries, very high. In Bavaria, we find among the commissaries the Jews E. Levine, M. Levin, Axelrod, the anarchist ideologist Landauer, Ernst Toller.” “The proportion of Jews who took the lead of the Bolshevik movement in Hungary is of 95%…. However, the situation of the Jews in terms of civic rights was excellent in Hungary, where there had not been any limitation for a long time already; in the cultural and economic sphere, the Jews occupied such a position that the anti‐Semites could even speak of a hold of the Jews.”77 We may add here the remark of an eminent Jewish publisher of America; he writes that the Jews of Germany “have prospered and gained a high position in society.”78 Let us not forget in this connection that the ferment of rebellion that was at the origin of the coups de force—of which we shall speak again in chapter 16—had been introduced by the Bolsheviks through the intermediary of “repatriated prisoners” stuffed with propaganda.
What brought all these rebels together—and, later, beyond the seas—, was a flurry of unbridled revolutionary internationalism, an impulse towards revolution, a revolution that was global and “permanent”. The rapid success of the Jews in the Bolshevik administration could not be ignored in Europe and the United States. Even worse: they were admired there! At the time of the passage from February to October, Jewish public opinion in America did not mute its sympathies for the Russian revolution.
Meanwhile, the Bolsheviks were conducting their financial operations diligently abroad, mainly via Stockholm. Since Lenin’s return to Russia, secret supplies had come to them, of German provenance, through the Nia Banken of Olof Aschberg. This did not exclude the financial support of certain Russian bankers, those who, fleeing the revolution, had sought refuge abroad but had transformed there into volunteer support of the Bolsheviks. An American researcher, Anthony Sutton, has found (with half a century of delay) archival documents; he tells us that, if we are to believe a report sent in 1918 to the State Department by the U.S. Ambassador in Stockholm, “among these ‘Bolshevik bankers’ is the infamous Dmitri Rubinstein that the revolution of February had gotten out of prison, who had reached Stockholm and made himself the financial agent of the Bolsheviks”; “we also find Abram Jivotovski, a relative of Trostky and Lev Kamenev.” Among the syndicates were “Denisov of the ex‐Bank of Siberia, Kamenka of the Bank Azov‐Don, and Davidov of the Bank for Foreign Trade. Other ‘Bolshevik bankers’: Grigori Lessine, Shtifter, Iakov Berline, and their agent Isidore Kohn.”79
These had left Russia. Others, in the opposite direction, left America to return. They were the revenants, all of them “revolutionaries” (some from long ago, others of recent date) who dreamed of finally building and consolidating the New World of Universal Happiness. We talked about it in Chapter 14. They were flocking across the oceans from the port of New York to the East or from the port of San Francisco in direction of the West, some former subjects of the Russian Empire, others purely and simply American citizens, enthusiasts who even did not know the Russian language.
In 1919, A. V. Tyrkova–Williams wrote in a book published then in England: “There are few Russians among the Bolshevik leaders, few men imbued with Russian culture and concerned with the interests of the Russian people… In addition to foreign citizens, Bolshevism recruited immigrants who had spent many years outside the borders. Some had never been to Russia before. There were many Jews among them. They spoke Russian badly. The nation of which they had become masters was foreign to them and, moreover, they behaved like invaders in a conquered country.” And if, in tsarist Russia, “Jews were excluded from all official posts, if schools and State service were closed to them, on the other hand, in the Soviet Republic all committees and commissariats were filled with Jews. Often, they exchanged their Jewish name for a Russian name… but this masquerade did not deceive anyone.”80
That same year, 1919, at the Senate Hearings of the Overmen Commission, an Illinois university professor, P. B. Dennis, who arrived in Russia in 1917, declared that in his opinion—“an opinion that matched that of other Americans, Englishmen, Frenchmen…—, these people deployed in Russia an extreme cruelty and ferocity in their repression against the bourgeoisie” (the word is used here without any pejorative nuance in its primary sense: the inhabitants of the boroughs). Or: “Among those who carried out ‘murderous propaganda’ in the trenches and in the rear, there were those who, one or two years before [i.e. in 1917‒1918], still lived New York.”81
In February 1920, Winston Churchill spoke in the pages of the Sunday Herald. In an article entitled “Zionism Against Bolshevism: Struggle for the Soul of the Jewish People”, he wrote: “Today we see this company of outstanding personalities, emerging from clandestinity, from the basements of the great cities of Europe and America, who grabbed by the hair and seized by the throat the Russian people, and established itself as the undisputed mistress of the immense Russian Empire.”82
There are many known names among these people who have returned from beyond the ocean. Here is M. M. Gruzenberg: he had previously lived in England (where he had met Sun Yat–sen), then lived for a long time in the United States, in Chicago where he had “organised a school for the immigrants”, and we find him in 1919 general consul of the RSFSR in Mexico (a country on which the revolutionaries founded great hopes: Trotsky would turn up there…), then, in the same year, he sat in the central organs of the Comintern. He took service in Scandinavia, Sweden; he was arrested in Scotland. He resurfaced in China in 1923 under the name of Borodin* with a whole squad of spies: he was the “principal political adviser to the Executive Committee of the Kuomintang”, a role which enabled him to promote the career of Mao Tse–tung and of Zhou Enlai. However, having suspected Borodin–Gruzenberg of engaging in subversive work, Chiang Kai–shek expelled him from China in 1927. Returning to the USSR, he passed unharmed the year 1937; during the war with Germany, we find him editor‐in‐chief of the Soviet Information Office alongside Dridzo–Lozovsky. He will be executed in 1951.83 (About the Bolshevik Jews executed in the 1930s, see infra, chapter 19.)
Among them also, Samuel Agursky, who became one of the leaders of Belarus; arrested in 1938, he served a sentence of deportation. (He is the father of the late M. Agursky, who prematurely disappeared, and who did not follow the same path as his progenitor, far from it!**84—Let us also mention Solomon Slepak, an influential member of the Comintern, he returned to Russia by Vladivostok where he took part in assassinations; he then went to China to try to attract Sun Yat–sen in an alliance with communism; his son Vladimir would have to tear himself, not without a clash, from the trap into which his father had fallen in his quest for the radiant future of communism.85 Stories like this, and some even more paradoxical, there are hundreds of them.
Demolishers of the “bourgeois” Jewish culture also turned up. Among them, the collaborators of S. Dimanstein in the European Commissariat: the S.–R. Dobkovski, Agursky (already mentioned), and also “Kantor, Shapiro, Kaplan, former emigrant anarchists who had returned from London and New York”. The objective of the Commissariat was to create a “Centre for the Jewish Communist Movement”. In August 1918, the new Communist newspaper in Yiddish Emes (the Truth) announced: “The proletarian revolution began in the street of the Jews”; a campaign was immediately launched against the Heders and the “Talmud‐Torah”… In June 1919, countersigned by S. Agursky and Stalin, the dissolution of the Central Bureau of the Jewish Communities was proclaimed,86 which represented the conservative fraction of Judaism, the one that had not sided with the Bolsheviks.
It is nonetheless true that the socialist Jews were not attracted primarily to the Bolsheviks. Now however: where were the other parties, what had become of them? What allowed the Bolshevik Party to occupy an exclusive position was the disintegration of the old Jewish political parties. The Bund, the Zionist Socialists and the Zionists of the Poalei had split up and their leaders had joined the victors’ camp by denying the ideals of democratic socialism—such as M. Raies, M. Froumkina‐Ester, A. Weinstein, M. Litvanov.87
Is it possible? Even the Bund, this extremely belligerent organisation to which even Lenin’s positions were not suitable, which showed itself so intransigent on the principle of the cultural and national autonomy of the Jews? Well yes, even the Bund! “After the establishment of Soviet power, the leadership of the Bund in Russia split into two groups (1920): the right, which in its majority, emigrated, and the left which liquidated the Bund (1921) and adhered in large part to the Bolshevik Party.”88 Among the former members of the Bund, we can cite the irremovable David Zaslavski, the one who for decades would put his pen at the service of Stalin (he would be responsible for stigmatising Mandelstam and Pasternak). Also: the Leplevski brothers, Israel and Grigori (one, from the outset, would become an agent of the Cheka and stay there for the rest of his life, the other would occupy a high position in the NKVD in 1920, then would be Deputy Commissar of the People, President of the Small Sovnarkom of the RSFSR, then Deputy Attorney General of the USSR (1934‒39); he would be a victim of repression in 1939. Solomon Kotliar, immediately promoted First Secretary of Orthbourg, of Vologda, of Tver, of the regional Committee of Orel. Or also Abram Heifets: he returned to Russia after February 1917, joined the Presidium of the Bund’s Main Committee in Ukraine, was a member of the Central Committee of the Bund; in October 1917, he was already for the Bolsheviks and, in 1919, he figured in the leading group of the Comintern.89
To the leftists of the Bund joined the left of the Zionist Socialists and the SERP*; those entered the Communist Party as early as 1919. The left wing of the Poalei–Tsion did the same in 1921.90 In 1926, according to an internal census, there were up to 2,500 former members of the Bund in the Party. It goes without saying that many, later on, fell under the blade: “Under Stalin, the majority of them were victims of ferocious persecutions.”91
Biekerman exclaims: “The Bund, which had assumed the role of representative of the Jewish working masses, joined the Bolsheviks in its most important and active part.”92
In his memoirs, David Azbel tries to explain the reasons for this accession by reflecting on the example of his uncle, Aron Isaakievich Weinstein, an influential member of the Bund that we mentioned above: “He had understood before all others that his Party, as well as the other socialist parties, were condemned… He had understood also another thing: to survive and continue to defend the interests of the Jews would be possible only by joining the Bolsheviks.”93
For how many of them the reasons 1) survive, 2) continue to defend the interests of the Jews, were decisive? Tentatively, both objectives were achieved.
It will note also that after October the other socialist parties, the S.–R. and the Mensheviks, who, as we know, had a large number of Jews in their ranks and at their heads, did not stand up against Bolshevism either. Scarcely aware of the fact that the Bolsheviks had dismissed this Constituent Assembly which they had called for, they withdrew, hesitated, divided themselves in their turn, sometimes proclaiming their neutrality in the civil war, other times their intention to temporise. As for the S.–R., they downright opened to the Bolsheviks a portion of the Eastern front and tried to demoralise the rear of the Whites.
But we also find Jews among the leaders of the resistance to the Bolsheviks in 1918: out of the twenty‐six signatures of the “Open Letter of Prisoners on the Affair of the Workers’ Congress” written at Taganka Prison, no less of a quarter are Jewish.94 The Bolsheviks were pitiless towards the Mensheviks of this kind. In the summer of 1918, R. Abramovich, an important Menshevik leader, avoided execution only by means of a letter addressed to Lenin from an Austrian prison by Friedrich Adler, the one who had shot down the Austrian Prime Minister in 1916 and who had been reprieved. Others, too, were stoic: Grigori Binshtok, Semyon Weinstein; arrested several times, they were eventually expelled from the country.95
In February 1921, in Petrograd, the Mensheviks certainly supported the deceived and hungry workers, they pushed them to protest and strike—but without any real conviction. And they lacked audacity to take the lead of the Kronstadt insurrection. However, this did not in any way protect them from repression.
We also know a lot of Mensheviks who joined the Bolsheviks, who exchanged one party label for another. They were: Boris Maguidov (he became head of the political section in the 10th Army, then Donbass, secretary of the provincial committees of Poltava, Samara, instructor on the Central Committee): Abram Deborine, a true defector (he rapidly climbed the echelons of a career of “red professor”, stuffing our heads with Dialectical Materialism and Historical Materialism…); Alexander Goikhbarg (member of the Soviet Revolutionary Committee, public prosecutor at the trial of the ministers of Kolchak, member of the college of the Commissariat for Justice, then president of the Little Sovnarkom). Some of them held out for some time until their arrest, such as I. Liakhovetski–Maïski96; the others, in great numbers, were reduced very early to silence, from the trial of the imaginary “Unified Menshevik Bureau” of 1931 (where we find Guimmer–Sukhanov who was the designer of the tactics of the Executive Committee in March 1917.) A huge raid was organised throughout the Union to apprehend them.
There were defectors in the S.–R.: Lakov Lifchitz, for example, vice‐president of the Chernigov Cheka in 1919, then Kharkov, then president of the Kiev Cheka and, at the height of a rapid career, vice‐president of the Ukrainian GPU. There was anarchist communists, the most famous being Lazar Kogan (Special Section of the Armies, Assistant to the Chief of the Army of the Vecheka in 1930—senior official of the Gulag and, in 1931, chief of the White Sea shipyard of the NKVD). There are extremely sinuous biographies: Ilya Kit–Viitenko, a lieutenant in the Austrian army, taken prisoner by the Russians, and from the moment the Bolsheviks are in power, takes his ranks at the Cheka–Guepeou and then in the army and, in the 1930s, was one of the reformers of the Red Army. And then in the hole for twenty years!97
And what about the Zionists? Let us remember: in 1906 they had posited and proclaimed that they could not stay away from the Russians’ fight against the yoke of the Autocracy, and they had actively engaged in the said battle. This did not prevent them, in May 1918 (when the yoke still weighed so heavily), to declare that, in matters of Russian domestic policy, they would henceforth be neutral, “very obviously in the hope of avoiding the risk” that the Bolsheviks “would accuse them of being counter‐revolutionaries.”98 And at first—it worked. Throughout the year 1918 and during the first six months of 1919, the Bolsheviks left them alone: in the summer of 1918 they were able to hold the All‐Russian Congress of Jewish Communities in Moscow, and hundreds of these Communities had their “Palestinian Week”; their newspapers appeared freely and a youth club, the “Heraluts”99, was created.—But in the spring of 1919 local authorities undertook to ban the Zionist press here and there, and in the autumn of 1919 a few prominent figures were accused of “espionage for the benefit of England”. In the spring of 1920, the Zionists organised a Pan‐Russian Conference in Moscow. Result: all the participants (90 people) were interned in the Butyrka prison; some were condemned, but the penalty was not applied, following the intervention of a delegation of Jewish syndicates from America. “The Vecheka presidium declared that the Zionist organisation was counter‐revolutionary, and its activity was now forbidden in Soviet Russia… From this moment began the era of clandestinity for the Zionists.”100
M. Heifets, who is a thoughtful man, reminds us very well of this: did the October coup not coincide exactly with the Balfour declaration which laid the foundations of an independent Jewish state? Well, what happened?: “A part of the new Jewish generation followed the path of Herzl and Jabotinsky, while the other [let us precise: the biggest] yielded to temptation and swelled the ranks of the Lenin–Trotsky–Stalin band.” (Exactly what Churchill feared.) “Herzl’s way then appeared distant, unreal, while that of Trotsky and Bagritsky enabled the Jews to gain immediate stature and immediately become a nation in Russia, equal in right and even privileged.”101
Also defector, of course, and not least, Lev Mekhlis, of the Poalei–Tsion. His career is well known: in Stalin’s secretariat, in the editorial board of the Pravda, at the head of the Red Army’s political sector, in the State Defence Commissariat and Commissioner of State Control. It was he who made our landing in Crimea in 1942 fail. At the height of his career: in the Orgburo of the Central Committee. His ashes are sealed in the wall of the Kremlin.102
Of course, there was an important part of the Jews of Russia who did not adhere to Bolshevism: neither the rabbis, the lecturers, nor the great doctors, nor a whole mass of good people, fell into the arms of the Bolsheviks. Tyrkova writes in the same passage in her book, a few lines later: “This predominance of the Jews among the Soviet leaders put to despair those of the Russian Jews who, despite the cruel iniquities suffered under the tsarist regime, regarded Russia as the Motherland and led the common life of all Russian intelligentsia, refusing, in communion with her, any collaboration with the Bolsheviks.”103—But at the time they had no opportunity of making themselves heard publicly, and these pages are naturally filled not with their names, but with those of the conquerors, those who have bridled the course of events.
Two illustrious terrorist acts perpetrated by Jewish arms against the Bolsheviks in 1918 occupy a special place: the assassination of Uritsky by Leonid Kannegisser, and the attack on Lenin by Fanny Kaplan. Here too, though the other way around, was expressed the vocation of the Jewish people to be always among the first. Perhaps the blows fired at Lenin were rather the result of S.–R. intentions*. But, as for Kannegisser (born of hereditary nobility by his grandfather, he entered the School of Officer Cadets in 1917; by the way, he was in friendly relations with Sergei Yesenin), I admit full well Mark Aldanov’s explanation: in the face of the Russian people and History, he was moved by the desire to oppose the names of Uritsky and Zinoviev with another Jewish name. This is the feeling he expresses in a note transmitted to his sister on the eve of the attack, in which he says he wants to avenge the peace of Brest‐Litovsk, that he is ashamed to see the Jews contribute to install the Bolsheviks in power, and also avenge the execution of his companion of the School of artillery at the Cheka of Petrograd.
It should be noted, however, that recent studies have revealed that these two attacks were perpetrated under suspicious circumstances.104 There is strong presumption that Fanny Kaplan did not shoot Lenin at all, but was apprehended “to close the case”: a convenient culprit, by chance. There is also a hypothesis that the Bolshevik authorities themselves would have created the necessary conditions for Kannegisser to fire his shot. This I strongly doubt: for what provocation would the Bolsheviks have sacrificed their beloved child, president of the Cheka? One thing, however, is troubling: how is it that later, in full Red Terror, when was attained by force of arms, through the entire country, thousands of innocent hostages, totally unconnected with the affair, the whole Kannegisser family was freed from prison and allowed to emigrate… We do not recognise here the Bolshevik claw! Or would it be the intervention of a very long arm to the highest ranking Soviet instances?—A recent publication tells us that the relatives and friends of L. Kannegisser had even drawn up an armed attack plan against the Cheka of Petrograd to free their prisoner, and that all, as soon as they were arrested, were released and remained in Petrograd without being disturbed. Such clemency on the part of the Bolshevik authorities may be explained by their concern to avoid ill feelings with the influential Jewish circles in Petrograd. The Kannegisser family had kept its Judaic faith and Leonid’s mother, Rosalia Edouardovna, declared during an interrogation that her son had fired on Uritsky because he “had turned away from Judaism.”105
But here is a Jewish name that has not yet obtained the deserved celebrity: Alexander Abramovich Vilenkin, hero of the clandestine struggle against the Bolsheviks. He was a volunteer in the hussars at the age of seventeen, in 1914, he was decorated four times with the Cross of Saint George, promoted to officer, then, on the eve of the revolution, he became captain of cavalry; in 1918, he joined the clandestine organisation Union for the Defence of the Homeland and of Liberty; he was apprehended by the Cheka at the time when, as the organisation had been discovered, he was delaying the destruction of compromising documents. Focused, intelligent, energetic, uncompromising towards the Bolsheviks, he infused in others the spirit of resistance. Executed by the Bolsheviks—it goes without saying. (The information about him came to us from his comrade‐in‐arms in the underground in 1918, and also from his cellmate in 1919, Vasily Fyodorovich Klementiev, captain in the Russian army.106)
These fighters against Bolshevism, whatever their motivations, we venerate their memory as Jews. We regret that they were so few, as were too few the White forces during the civil war.
A very prosaic and entirely new phenomenon reinforced the victory of the Bolsheviks. These occupied important positions, from which many advantages resulted, notably the enjoyment in both capitals of “vacant” apartments freed by their owners, “former aristocrats”, now on the run. In these apartments could live a whole tributary flock of the former Pale of Settlement. This was a real “exodus”! G. A. Landau writes: “The Jews have climbed the stairs of power and occupied a few ‘summits’… From there, it is normal that they brought (as they do everywhere, in any environment) their relatives, friends, companions from their youth… A perfectly natural process: the granting of functions to people who are known, trusted, protected, or simply begging for your favours. This process multiplied the number of Jews in the Soviet state apparatus.”107 We will not say how many Zinoviev’s wife, Lilina, thus brought parents and relatives, nor how Zinoviev distributed positions to his ‘own’. They are the focus, but the influx, not to have been noticed at the moment, was enormous and concerns tens of thousands of people. The people transmigrated en masse from Odessa to Moscow. (Is it known that Trotsky himself gratified his father, whom he moderately loved, of a Sovkhoz in the suburbs of Moscow?)
These migrations can be followed throughout biographies. So that of David (not to be confused with Mark) Azbel. In 1919, still a kid, he left Chemigov where he was born to come to Moscow where his two aunts already lived. He first lived in the house of one of them, Ida, “a wealthy merchant of the First Guild”, whose husband had returned from America, and then with the other, Liolia, who was housed in the First House of the Soviets (The National) with all the best of the Soviet Union. Their neighbour Ulrich, who would later become famous, said jokingly: “Why don’t we open a synagogue in the National where only Jews live?” A whole Soviet elite then left Saint Petersburg to settle in the Second House of the Soviets (the Metropolis), in the Third (the Seminary, Bojedomski Street), in the Fourth (Mokhovaya / Vozdvijenka street) and in the Fifth (Cheremetievski street). These tenants received from a special distribution centre abundant parcels: “Caviar, cheese, butter, smoked sturgeon were never lacking on their table” (we are in 1920). “Everything was special, designed especially for the new elite: kindergartens, schools, clubs, libraries.” (In 1921‒22, the year of the murderous famine on the Volga and the help of TARA*, in their “model school, the canteen was fed by the ARA foundation and served American breakfasts: rice pudding, hot chocolate, white bread, and fried eggs.”) And “no one remembered that, the day before, it was vociferated in the classrooms that the bourgeois should be hung high on the lantern.” “The children of the neighbouring houses hated those of the ‘Soviet Houses’ and, at the first opportunity, went after them.”
The NEP came. The tenants of the National then moved into cosy apartments or pavilions that had previously belonged to aristocrats or bourgeois. In 1921: “spend the summer in Moscow, where you suffocate?”, no, you are invited to an old mansion, now confiscated, in the outskirts of Moscow. There, “everything is in the state, as in the days of the former owners”… except that high fences are erected around these houses, that guards are posted at the entrance… Wives of the commissioners began to frequent the best spas of the West. We see the development, owed to the scarcity of food, of misery and the concealment of foodstuffs, a second‐hand trade and a whole traffic of goods. “Having bought for peanuts an entire lot of commodities from emigrating merchants, Aunt Ida and Uncle Micha sold them under the table” and thus became “probably the richest people in all of Moscow.”—However, in 1926 they were sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for “economic counter‐revolution”, to which were added, at the end of the NEP, ten years of camp.108
Let us also quote: “When the Bolsheviks became ‘the government’, all sorts of individuals from the Jewish sub‐proletariat joined them, wishing to get their share.”109—And as free trade and private enterprise were forbidden, many Jewish families saw their daily lives greatly modified: “The middle‐aged people were mostly deprived, while the younger ones, rid of all spiritual ‘ballast’, by having social careers, were able to maintain their elders… Hence the excessive number of Jews in the Soviet state apparatus.” Note: the author does not justify this process by calling it a “unique issue”, but he notes with grief the aspect that counts: “This destructive process did not meet the resistance it would have required in the Jewish milieu,” on the contrary, it found there “voluntary executants and a climate of sympathy.”110
It is thus that many Jews entered the Soviet ruling class.
But could this process, however occult as it was, go unnoticed by the disadvantaged Russian social strata?
And how could the man in the street react? Either by jeers: “Rosa of the Sovnarkhoz”, “the husband of Khaïka of the Cheka”. Or by funny stories, from those that flooded Russia as early as 1918: “Vyssotski tea, Brodsky sugar, Trotsky Russia.” And, in Ukraine, it gave: “Hop! Harvest Workers / All Jews are bosses!”
And they began to whisper a new slogan: “The Soviets without the Jews!”
The co‐authors of the book of Russia and the Jews became alarmed in 1924: it is clear that “not all Jews are Bolsheviks and all Bolsheviks are not Jews, but there is no need today to prove the zealous participation of the Jews in the martyrdom imposed on an exsanguinate Russia by the Bolsheviks. What we must, on the contrary, is try to elucidate in a calm manner how this work of destruction was refracted in the consciousness of the Russian people. The Russians had never seen any Jews in command before.”111
They now saw them today at every step. Invested with a ferocious and unlimited power.
“To answer the question of Judaism’s responsibility in the emergence of Bolshevik Jews, we must first consider the psychology of non‐Jews, that of all these Russians who suffer directly from the atrocities committed… The Jewish actors of public life who wish to prevent any new bloody tragedy, to save the Jews of Russia from new pogroms, must take account of this fact.”112 We must “understand the psychology of the Russians who suddenly found themselves under the authority of an evil, arrogant, rude, self‐confident and impudent brood.”113
It is not for the purpose of settling accounts that we must remember History. Nor to reassume mutual accusations. But to understand how, for example, it was possible for important layers of a perfectly correct Jewish society to have tolerated an enormous participation of Jews in the rise (1918) of a State that was not only insensitive to the Russian people, foreign to Russian history, but which, moreover, inflicted on the population all the outbursts of terror.
The presence of Jews alongside the Bolsheviks raises questions not because it would induce a foreign origin to this power. When we speak of the abundance of Jewish names in revolutionary Russia, we paint a picture of nothing new: how many Germanic and Baltic names have figured, for a century and a half to two centuries, in The tsarist administration? The real question is: in what direction did this power work?
D. S. Pasmanik, however, gives us this reflection: “Let all the Russians who are capable of reflecting ask themselves whether Bolshevism, even with Lenin at its head, would have triumphed if there had been in Soviet Russia a satisfied and educated peasantry owning land? Could all the ‘Sages of Zion’ gathered together, even with a Trotsky at their head, be able to bring about the great chaos in Russia?”114 He is right: they could never have done so.
But the first to ask the question should be the Jews more than the Russians. This episode of History should call out to them today. The question of the mass participation of the Jews in the Bolshevik administration and the atrocities committed by the Jews should be elucidated in a spirit of far‐sighted analysis of History. It is not admissible to evade the question by saying: it was the scum, the renegades of Judaism, we do not have to answer for them.
D. S. Chturmann is right to remind me of my own remarks about the communist leaders of any nation: “they have all turned away from their people and poured into the inhuman.”115 I believe it. But Pasmanik, was right to write in the 20s: “We cannot confine ourselves to saying that the Jewish people do not answer for the acts committed by one or the other of its members. We answer for Trotsky as long as we have not dissociated ourselves from him.”116 Now, to dissociate oneself does not mean to turn away, on the contrary, it means rejecting actions, to the end, and learning from them.
I have studied Trotsky’s biography extensively, and I agree that he did not have any specifically Jewish attachments, but was rather a fanatical internationalist. Does this mean that a compatriot like him is easier to incriminate than the others? But as soon as his star rose, in the autumn of 1917, Trotsky became, for far too many people, a subject of pride, and for the radical left of the Jews of America, a true idol.
What can I say of America? But of everywhere else as well! There was a young man in the camp where I was interned in the 50s, Vladimir Gershuni, a fervent socialist, an internationalist, who had kept a full conscience of his Jewishness; I saw him again in the 60s after our release, and he gave me his notes. I read there that Trotsky was the Prometheus of October for the sole reason that he was Jewish: “He was a Prometheus not because he was born such, but because he was a child of the Prometheus‐people, this people, who, if it was not attached to the rock of obtuse wickedness by the chains of a patent and latent hostility, would have done much more than he did for the good of humanity.”
“All historians who deny the participation of Jews in the revolution tend not to recognise in these Jews their national character. Those, on the contrary, and especially Israeli historians, who see Jewish hegemony as a victory of the Judaic spirit, those ones exalt their belonging to Jewishness.”117
It was as early as the 20s, when the civil war ended, that arguments were made to exonerate the Jews. I. O. Levin reviews them in the collection Russia and the Jews (the Bolshevik Jews were not so numerous as that… there is no reason why a whole people should respond to the acts of a few…, The Jews were persecuted in tsarist Russia…, during the civil war the Jews had to flee the pogroms by seeking refuge with the Bolsheviks, etc.), and he rejected them by arguing that it was not a matter of criminal responsibility, which is always individual, but a moral responsibility.118
Pasmanik thought it impossible to be relieved of a moral responsibility, but he consoled himself by saying: “Why should the mass of the Jewish people answer for the turpitudes of certain commissioners? It is profoundly unjust. However, to admit that there is a collective responsibility for the Jews is to recognise the existence of a Jewish nation of its own. From the moment when the Jews cease to be a nation, from the day when they are Russians, Germans, Englishmen of Judaic confession, it is then that they will shake off the shackles of collective responsibility.”119
Now, the twentieth century has rightly taught us to recognise the Hebrew nation as such, with its anchorage in Israel. And the collective responsibility of a people (of the Russian people too, of course) is inseparable from its capacity to build a morally worthy life.
Yes, they are abounding, the arguments that explain why the Jews stood by the Bolsheviks (and we will discuss others, very solid, when we talk about the civil war). Nevertheless, if the Jews of Russia remember this period only to justify themselves, it will mean that the level of their national consciousness has fallen, that this consciousness will have lost itself.
The Germans could also challenge their responsibility for the Nazi period by saying: they were not real Germans, they were the dregs of society, they did not ask for our opinion… But this people answers for its past even in its ignominious periods. How to respond? By endeavouring to conscientise it, to understand it: how did such a thing happen? Where lies our fault? Is there a danger that this will happen again?
It is in this spirit that the Jewish people must respond to their revolutionary assassins as well as the columns of well‐disposed individuals who put themselves at their service. It is not a question here of answering before other peoples, but before oneself, before one’s conscience and before God. As we Russians must answer, both for the pogroms, and our incendiary peasants, insensible to all pity, and for our red soldiers who have fallen into madness, and our sailors transformed into wild beasts. (I have spoken of them with enough depth, I believe, in The Red Wheel, and I will add an example here: the Red Guard A. R. Bassov, in charge of escorting Shingaryov*—this man passionate of justice, a popular intercessor—, began by collecting money from the sister of the prisoner—as a tip and to finance his transfer from the Peter and Paul fortress to the Mariinski hospital—and a few hours later, in the same night, he leads to the hospital some sailors who coldly shoot down Shingaryov and Kokochkine.**120 In this individual—so many homegrown traits!!)
Answer, yes, as one answers for a member of one’s family.
For if we are absolved of all responsibility for the actions of our compatriots, it is the very notion of nation which then loses all true meaning.