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New International, January–February 1953


Abe Stein

Basis of Russian Anti-Semitism

The History and Forces Behind Stalinist Bigotry


From New International, Vol. XIII No. 1, January–February 1953, pp. 27–42.
Marked up up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


What if tomorrow the Stalinist regime were to turn off the spate of anti-Semitic propaganda and call a halt to the shootings, arrests and deportations of Jews? Would this make the position of two million Jews in Russia – and the half million in the satellite countries – more tenable? The answer is – no. The regime may, for reasons of foreign policy, temporarily refrain from open Jew-baiting in the near future; but it cannot and does not wish to reverse those processes which it has set in motion and which are irresistibly driving the Jews out of Russian society. That is, not unless the regime decides on suicide. The poison being pumped into the lifestream of Soviet society can easily enough be traced back to its chief sources – the Stalinist bureaucracy and the totalitarian society it has created in its own image.

The anti-Semitism of the Stalinist hierarchy is a product of the exclusiveness and chauvinism of a suspicious exploiting class which seeks to squeeze out of its ranks what it considers an alien and unreliable force. It is not only that the Russian Jews had and still have their links with Western culture by reason of their past and historic circumstance (Zionism, world Jewry and now Israel). There is another fact. In its struggle for power the Stalinist faction identified the Jewish intelligentsia inside the party with the “internationalist opposition.” Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Radek are names that have not been expunged from the pages of post-revolutionary Russian history. Their role has merely been falsified. They were traitors ... spies ... and Jews. We shall see that this fact played no small part in creating the specific form of anti- Semitism which now exists in Stalinist Russia.

It would be surprising if the prejudices of the ruling group had not seeped down into the labor ranks of society. But there is another and more compelling reason for anti-Semitism among the masses. In the stifling atmosphere of totalitarian dictatorship, the conflict between oppressed and oppressors of necessity expresses itself in a variety of indirect, distorted and even “socially perverted” forms. The privileges and arrogance of elite evoke the hostility and hatred of the lower layers. And one of the indirect ways in which this hostility and hatred expresses itself is by – anti-Semitism. Correctly or not, and for certain historical reasons as we shall see, the Jews have been identified by the masses as an especially privileged social group in Stalinist society and, thereby, with the regime.

However, the existence of anti-Semitism on all levels of Russian society – ironically enough one of the few sentiments shared in any degree by the masses and the ruling clique – does not explain the open persecution of the Jews for which the State must take full responsibility. It only provides the background and explains the predispositions pushing the regime in this direction. To discover why at this given stage the regime has turned to such a policy, we must also examine the post-war developments inside the Soviet Union which can be divided into two stages: the phase in which the regime struggles to restore and reinforce the war-weakened dictatorship; and, imperceptibly flowing from this, the contemporary phase of the “war danger” growing out of the expansion and consolidation of the new empire. It is in this context that anti-Semitism has undergone the change – from a miasma poisoning the whole of society into a policy of state.

The Roots of Anti-Semitism

The October Revolution destroyed all the legal and social restrictions which had confined the Jews of Russia within the Pale. It thereby destroyed the social foundation of the Jewish ghetto and set in motion the process of assimilating the Jews into Russian society. The nationalization of industry and later its feverish expansion in the Stalinist epoch dissolved the economic basis on which the Jewish community had chiefly rested, i.e., the Jewish merchants, shop-keepers and artisans were doomed to disappear. In their place were to arise the Jewish state or party functionaries, the professionals and the Jewish workers. The results of this transformation were quite striking. According to the English economist, Hubbard, in 1941 Jews filled approximately the majority of rank and file executive positions in Moscow. Another writer estimates that on the eve of the Second World War over two-thirds of employed Jews fell into the categories of the “intelligentsia” – that category which encompasses all the non-manual layers of Soviet society. The remainder were to be found in industry as workers and to a much smaller degree in agriculture.

But the gains made by the Jews as a result of this liberating process were not all one-sided. Because of the whole history of Czarist persecution, the Jew suffered from what is known in sociological jargon as “high social visibility.” His entrance into the factory and above all into the economic-administrative and political machine made him conspicuous by virtue of his whole crippling past.

As a result of the social and economic strains which prevailed in the middle-twenties, anti-Semitic feelings were slowly manifested, compounded in part of the traditional hostility of the peasant and the backward worker closely linked with him (the Jew as town Nepman, tradesman); also, the resentment of various layers of the urban population who were subjected to “competition” from a new source – the recently liberated Jews – assumed anti-Semitic overtones.

In the period between 1925 and 1930 this wave of anti-Semitism began to take on violent proportions. Peculiar to it was the fact that anti- Semitic sentiments and physical outbreaks were not confined to the countryside and small towns. They were just as numerous, if not more so, in the large urban centers. Anti-Semitic incidents took place in the factories of Leningrad, Moscow, Kharkov, Kiev; in the offices and universities, as well as on the streets and in public places.

Ultimately, the regime had to take measures of a sort against these anti- Semitic manifestations. Propaganda and educational campaigns were launched by the party, the Komsomol (party youth organization) and the trade unions. One of the products of this campaign was a book written by a leading party member, Yuri Larin, and published in 1929. This book, Jews and anti-Semitism in the USSR, is of interest to us because it documents the nature and extent of anti- Jewish feeling among workers and in the ranks of the party and the youth. One section of the book dealing with a seminar Larin conducted under party auspices in one of Moscow’s industrial boroughs is extremely important and far more revealing that any detailed recital of anti-Semitic excesses would be. Larin’s audience consisted of party members, Komsomols, advanced workers and party sympathizers. Out of 66 questions that this audience asked Larin the following were chosen as the most typical and we quote them:

Why is it that the Jews don’t want to do heavy work?

How is it that the Jews always manage to get good positions?

Why are there so many Jews in the universities? Isn’t it because they forge their papers?

Won’t the Jews be traitors in a war? Aren’t they dodging military service?

Why was the opposition within the party made up of Jews to the extent of 76 per cent?

Two layers of the urban population were especially virulent in their assault on the newly won positions of the Jews. The first consisted of former middle-class elements – the intelligentsia – who now had to find a place for themselves in the new social order. Their anxiety, uncertainty and fear crystallized into resentment against the “upstart” Jews. It is worth quoting the frank words of Mikhail Kalinin, chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets, in an address delivered in 1926 to an audience of Jewish agricultural settlers in the Crimea:

Why is the Russian intelligentsia perhaps more anti-Semitic today than it was under Czarism? It is a natural development. In the first days of the revolution the mass of urban intellectuals and semi-intellectuals threw itself into the revolution. Members of an oppressed nation, a nation that never had any share in the government ... they naturally flocked to the revolutionary work of construction, of which administration is a part ... At the very time when large sections of the Russian intelligentsia were breaking away, frightened by the revolution, at that very time the Jewish intelligentsia were pouring into the revolutionary stream, swelling it in a high proportion as compared with their numbers, and starting to work in the revolutionary administrative organs.

The second layer of the urban population which reacted violently against the Jews consisted of large sections of ambitious young workers and worker-students who saw unexpected paths of unlimited social advancement open before them. They, too, feared the competition of the Jews, and indeed the hostility of the students not only exposed itself in sickening acts of physical violence; it went so far that in certain universities the cry went up from the student bodies (with Komsomol members in the lead) to restore the hateful Czarist device – the numerus clausus – the quota restricting the number of Jews who could enter the universities.

What is of supreme importance here is that the Stalinist faction relied heavily on these social groups for support and that from them, ultimately, the Stalinist bureaucracy was to be shaped. The anti-Semitism present in the lower strata of society was fed and kept boiling by the open prejudices of a part of the elite – the party members and party youth belonging to or supporting the Stalinist faction. The inspiration for anti-Semitism, in fact, came from above. It was the Stalin faction which encouraged it in the ranks of the party, party youth and working-class sympathizers. What other source was there for the question asked so often of Larin; so “precise” in its statistical form: why is the opposition within the party made up of Jews to the extent of 76 per cent? As a distinct social force, Stalinism was born with anti-Semitism in its blood. In the course of its history it was to establish a cruel syllogism: in 1926-27 – the Jews are oppositionists; in 1936- 37-38 – all oppositionists are spies and traitors (the main defendants in the purge trials were mostly Jews); and in 1953 – all Jews are oppositionists – spies – traitors. The victory of Stalinism was to mean the permanent infection of Soviet society.

The War and Post-War Period

While the rise and growth of anti-Semitism in the mid-twenties and its temporary decline in the early thirties (the period of forced collectivization and feverish industrial expansion) can be traced in official articles, statements and books, the growth and intensification of anti-Semitism during the war and post-war period has been cloaked in an official veil of silence. But we know that it appeared not only in the Ukraine, its traditional seat, but in Bielorussia and the Great Russian republic as well. It is also noteworthy that as a result of the war, anti-Semitism spread to the interior areas of Russia where it had never existed before. It sprang up in such remote regions as Kasakhstan, Western Siberia and Central Asia.

Although the Stalinist regime has never lifted the veil on what happened after World War II in Europe ended, a picture can be drawn from the accounts of eye-witnesses, letters and depositions of former Soviet citizens, particularly army men. We know, for example, that immediately after liberation, Jews were received with open animosity by the Ukrainians. Those attempting to regain their homes and personal possessions were subject to physical attack. In general, as was the case in the satellite countries as well, Jews returning home never succeeded in regaining more than a small portion of their personal property. In Kharkov, during the post-liberation period, Jews did not dare venture out into the streets at night. In Kiev, during the same period, a pogrom took place in which 16 Jews were killed. The official answer to Jewish complaints was that the population had been infected by the Germans and that anti-Semitism could only be uprooted gradually. (Bulletin of the Joint Rescue Committee of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, 1945.)

The spread of anti-Semitism to the interior areas of the Soviet Union was in large part the product of the evacuation of central government institutions to these areas during the war. Dr. Jerzy Gliksman, the Polish Socialist, who observed conditions in Central Asia at this time has this to say:

“Another group of Russian Jews, belonging predominantly to the bureaucratic class and having financial means, aroused the hostility of the local population by sending prices up on the free market, which were very high to begin with.” (Jerzy Gliksman, Jewish Exiles in Soviet Russia, 1939–43)

The Hitlerite propaganda – which the regime did nothing to combat, either during the war or post-war period, against the “Bolshevik Jews” found its echo even here. Though the Jews represented but a minute section of the privileged group, the hostility of the provincial population against the bureaucratic intruders from the urban centers was directed against them as an obvious and easy target.

Anti-Semitism existed also among the rank and file of the Russian army. Russian soldiers and officers of Jewish origin have given abundant evidence of the resentment at the front against civilians in general and Jews in particular. The latter were considered “draft dodgers” and “profiteers.” And many Jewish ex-officers have reported they changed their names during the war not because they feared capture by the Germans but because of the hostility of the rank and file of the army. (Rachel Erlich, Summary Report on 18 Intensive Interviews with Jewish DPs from Poland and the Soviet Union, October 1948.) The prejudice of the returning soldiers must have been a potent factor in strengthening the anti-Semitic feelings that already existed among some layers of the population in widely scattered sections of Stalinist Russia.

The same prejudices were displayed by Russian partisans fighting behind German lines. Much of this information comes to us from Jewish partisans who fought in separate groups alongside the Russian partisans. Most authentic is the testimony gathered by Moishe Kagonovich in his book The Jewish Share in Soviet Russia’s Partisan Forces, because Kagonovich was sympathetic to the cause of Stalinist Russia. Kagonovich explains that many of the Russian partisans had been war prisoners or slave laborers and had been infected by German propaganda. He declares that anti- Semitic outbursts were frequent and often violent. But the most telling part of his story is the fact that it was virtually impossible for a Jew to join the Soviet partisan groups. The Jew was not only an object of hate, he was also suspect. One example out of many will suffice. Kagonovich recounts a long talk Jewish partisans had with Russian army paratroopers who had been dropped by Soviet planes in the Lipichi forest in 1943. (The fact that these partisans came from inside Russian controlled territory contradicts Kagonovich’s assertion that the source of anti-Semitism among the Soviet partisans was German propaganda.) The Russian army men fired the following questions at the Jewish fighters:

How is it that Jews still keep alive in the Lida ghetto in 1943?

Why do Jews work in shops producing military supplies for Germans?

Doesn’t this prove the Jews have collaborated with the Germans?

Aren’t the Jews who have survived and taken to the woods grateful to the Germans, and acting as spies for them?

The distrust of the partisans was not confined to the ranks. In September 1943, a special order was issued by the Partisan Supreme Command warning partisan detachments against Jewish spies.

The difficulties of the Jewish partisans were complicated further by the hostility of the local peasantry, who was being crushed between the Germans and the partisans. In the case of the Jewish guerrilla detachments, the peasants felt double resentment because they exacted food and clothing not only for themselves but for the family camps of older people and children whom they were trying to save from utter destruction.

The reports we have cited above date from the war and immediate post-war period. But any possibility that their testimony is either biased or out-of-date is excluded by referring to a series of interviews conducted by Dr. Barghoorn of Yale University with a group of 200 former Soviet citizens, all of whom fled Russian-controlled soil after 1948. In practically every instance, the reports of these non-Jews, all of them members of the middle and upper strata of the Soviet intelligentsia confirm the earlier reports and indicate that anti-Semitism did not diminish after the war but had grown more intense. Time and again they echo the charges that the feeling exists that the Jews “got all the good jobs” and “did not participate in the frontline fighting.”

The response of the Stalinist regime to the post-war outbreak of anti-Semitism was ... silence and a cautious concession to popular feelings. The explanation for this policy lies in the difficult situation that confronted the Kremlin. The primary tasks were to reconstruct and set in motion the great bureaucratic machine that had been disrupted and weakened by the war, and to restore “discipline” in the factories and collective farms. Immediately before the regime lay the problems of “de-westernizing” the army and those civilians who had come into contact with the West; of squeezing the “unreliables” out of the war-inflated party. Stalin understood only too well the dangers inherent in encouraging anti-Semitism at a time when the state apparatus was shaky. The violence against the Jews could easily have widened into violence against the bureaucracy as a whole and might have had dangerous repercussions.

In the Ukraine there existed a specific reason for the regime’s silence. As late as December 30, 1947, Russian authorities admitted the existence of armed bands of Ukrainian nationalists. Some of these groups were reactionary and anti-Semitic. In a speech before the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet, the Politburo member Krushev frankly discussed the need to grant amnesty to the leaders and members of these avowedly anti-Semitic groups and even to accept them into the party. Not until 1948 was the Stalinist government in complete control in the Ukraine.

If the regime did not exploit popular anti-Semitism during the immediate post-war period, this does not mean that members of the elite did not express their hostility toward the Jews, or that in certain instances the Stalinist government did not show its distrust of the Jews. It is important to lay bare the anti-Semitic disposition of leading members of the Kremlin hierarchy and certain actions of the government in this period, for they foreshadow what was to come.

An outstanding example of the anti- Semitic bureaucrat at the highest level is to be found in the late Alexander Shcherbakov, brother-in-law of Zhdanov – both of them alleged victims of the Jewish doctors. A member of the Politburo and secretary of the Moscow provincial and city committee of the Communist Party, Shcherbakov was also head of political work in the army. The name of Shcherbakov crops up repeatedly in the reports of former army men of Jewish origin – particularly officers. According to these witnesses, it was Shcherbakov who blocked the promotion of many Jewish war heroes and denied them the decorations they had earned in battle.

Another leading figure reported to have expressed anti-Jewish feelings is General Vassily I. Chuikov, now Commander-in-Chief of Soviet armed forces in Eastern Germany. According to a report in the Christian Science Monitor of February 14, 1952, General Chuikov denounced the Jews as a “disruptive force.”

The former Hungarian Minister, Nicolas Nyaradi, gives an illuminating picture of the anti-Semitism rampant in the highest Kremlin circles. Both in his recently published book, My Ringside Seat in Moscow and in magazine articles, Nyaradi declares that he frequently heard Jews referred to by the contemptuous term “zhid” (English equivalent – “kike”), although a law against racial defamation exists. When Kaftanov, the Soviet Minister of Education, was about to introduce Nyaradi to Ilya Ehrenburg, he told him: “You know, he is a zhid, but in spite of that he is a prominent communist and a good Soviet patriot.”

ACCORDING TO NYARADI, 400,000 Jews were deported from the western border territories of Russia to Siberia and the far north in the summer of 1947. When he asked General Merkulov, with whom Nyaradi was negotiating Hungarian reparations, about this, the General replied:

Why are you so worried about the future of those Jews, Mr. Minister? They are traveling in comfortable box cars, they will be settled in a beautiful scenic area, and all they have to do is cultivate the land if they don’t want to starve. It will not, of course, be too comfortable for those cosmopolitan speculators.

Anti-Semitism is not, of course, confined to the top layers of the Kremlin hierarchy. We have cited the existence of anti-Jewish feelings in the Ukraine – but it is a feeling that is found in Ukrainian officialdom as well. A deposition made by a Ukrainian Jew to the Rescue Committee of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, who left the Ukraine in 1944, states:

“The Ukrainian authorities are greatly anti-Semitic ... when the Commercial Academy moved from Kharkov to Kiev several Jewish professors applied for permission to go there; but their applications were rejected. They addressed themselves to the chairman of the Ukrainian Soviet but received no response.”

We have already cited the indifference of the Ukrainian local bureaucrats to the physical attacks on Jews in the immediate post-liberation period.

While the Stalinist government did not launch an open attack on the Jews until the fall of 1948, we have many specific examples of its distrust of the Jews and of concealed actions to eliminate the Jews from certain spheres of Russian official life – actions that go back to pre-World War II days.

In 1939, the Soviet armies marched into the “Western Ukraine” and “Western White Russia” and annexed these territories as Stalin’s reward for signing the pact with Hitler. Immediately the counterfeit revolution was set in motion by Stalin’s political machine. “Soviets” on a local and regional basis were set up, and though this was an area heavily populated by Jews they were not permitted to occupy responsible political positions. A dispatch by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency based on the reports of its agents on the scene describes the situation:

Jews in East Galicia are being accepted in small numbers into the militia, into the school system and as state engineers. Similarly, colleges which had been closed to Jews are now open to them. But no Jews – not even Jewish communists – have political influence and not a single responsible position is entrusted to a Jew. All such positions are held by Russians sent from the interior of the Soviet Union or by local Ukrainians.

Illustrative of the situation is the fact that among 1,700 delegates to the Soviet National Assembly (People’s Assembly of the Western Ukraine) held last October (1939) in Lvov to proclaim Galicia a part of the Soviet Union, hardly twenty delegates were Jews, despite the large ratio of Jews in the population. It is known that when Jewish Communists were nominated by Jewish workers, the Soviet authorities intervened and advised withdrawal of the Jewish candidates and their replacement by Ukrainians. In Lvov, whose population is 30 per cent Jewish, only two Jews were elected to the local Soviet of 160 members.

We have referred above to the anti- Semitic sentiments expressed by General Chuikov in 1946. But it was not only a question of Chuikov’s personal sentiments. For what followed was a purge of Jewish officers and rank and file soldiers. (The purge of Jewish soldiers in the Russian occupation forces in Eastern Germany was resumed and completed between 1949-51.) Again the same pattern emerges: In an area where Russian power is not firmly established and anti-Semitism is presumed to exist among the local population – the regime makes concessions to these prejudices and at the same time demonstrates its lack of faith in the political reliability of the Jews.

The gradual elimination of Jews from certain spheres of official life is a process that began before the war. In his book, The Iron Curtain, Igor Gouzenko, a former member of the Russian diplomatic corps in Canada, relates that in 1939 “we were privately and individually warned that Jews in general were in ‘disfavor.’ We were told of a ‘confidential’ decree of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.” This decree established a secret quota for the admission of Jews to educational institutions. In 1945, according to Gouzenko, Aleksashkin, chief of Soviet intelligence, arrived in Ottawa and told members of the diplomatic staff in Canada that the Central Committee of the party had sent “confidential” instructions to directors of all plants and factories to remove Jews from responsible positions and under any pretext whatsoever to place them in less responsible work.

While it is, naturally, impossible to verify Gouzenko’s statements directly from Russian sources, the whole trend of events confirms his claims. In a series of articles written for the Christian Science Monitor in January, 1950, Edmund Stevens, the former Moscow correspondent of that paper, reports on the plight of Jews with professional and administrative training. Stevens asserts that the head of a department in a large educational institution had told him that he had received a directive ordering him not to hire Jewish teachers and dismiss those already on his staff. In another article in this same series Stevens gives further examples of discrimination against Jews which are fairly well-known by now, but which we cite to fill out the picture of this slow, hidden process that was taking place. Stevens says, and his statements have been corroborated by other observers, that Jews are not admitted to the special school for the training of personnel for the foreign diplomatic service; the same restrictions apply to the Ministry of Foreign Trade. An indirect verification of Steven’s claim with respect to the latter ministry may be found by studying its monthly journal which lists the names of officials authorized to negotiate on its behalf. According to Solomon Schwartz who made a careful study of this magazine the number of such officials came to 87 in four different months. In this total only three Jewish names appeared. The decline is all the more glaring because before the war Jews played an important role in this ministry.

The process of pushing the Jews out of the state apparatus has not been confined to those branches of the government dealing with the outside world. In his thoroughly documented work, Jews in the Soviet Union, Solomon Schwartz notes that Jews were conspicuously absent from the lower echelons of the party and state apparatus in the post-war period not only in the Ukraine but also in the Great Russian republic where anti-Semitism had never been as widespread. The determination to push the Jews out of Soviet life finds its political reflection in the marked decline of Jewish representation in the Supreme Soviet. In 1937 a total of 47 Jews were elected to the two chambers of the Supreme Soviet. But in 1946 there were not more than five Jews among the 601 members of the Soviet of the Union as against 32 Jews among 569 representatives in 1937. By 1950 there were not more than two Jews (one of them Lazar Kaganovitch, Stalin’s brother-in-law) among the 678 members of the Soviet of the Union. In Stalin's Russia, where elections are not left to chance or the will of the voters, this decline in the role of the Jews could have only one meaning.

The Line Changes

THE ATTITUDE OF THE STALINIST REGIME toward the Jews did not involve any direct or open attacks until the the fall of 1948. Instead, a slow, hidden process unfolded designed to get rid of Jews in the state and party apparatus at critical points – in such “border” zones as the newly acquired territories in the West, the purge of Jewish army officers in the Soviet Occupation Army in 1946, and the exclusion of Jews from all organs dealing with foreign affairs – a process that began in prewar days.

However, in the fall of 1948, the Stalinist regime sharply altered its official attitude and began a merciless and public pillorying of the Jews. It is important to examine the events which precipitated this sharp turn toward official anti-Semitism. The arrest of the Jewish doctors in January 1953 was not the beginning of this campaign but merely the climax and conclusion of the first stage in a pogrom that had begun more than four years ago, and the preparation for an even sharper and more direct attack on the Jews as a whole.

In the autumn of 1948, Moscow was the stage for two of the most extraordinary mass demonstrations that have ever taken place during Stalin’s reign. Thousands of Jews gathered in and around the main Moscow synagogue on Rosh Hashonah, the Jewish New Year, to greet Mrs. Goldie Myerson, who had arrived in the Soviet Union to open the Israel legation. Joseph Newman, the Herald Tribune correspondent in Moscow at the time, has described the scenes in eloquent and moving terms. According to Newman, the demonstrations were repeated a week later on Yom Kippur, the solemn Jewish holy day of atonement. The sentiments expressed by these thousands of Jews were unmistakable in their content. They identified themselves, not with Stalin’s Russia, but with the new state of Israel. A continuous flow of Jews began to pass through the temporary headquarters of the Israeli legation requesting information about emigration.

Stalin was quick to take action. A group of leading Jewish writers and political figures (who had always served Stalin faithfully) were rounded up as the organizers of the demonstrations. The security police thereafter raided and liquidated the only two remaining Yiddish language printing plants in the Soviet Union, both located in Moscow – the newspaper Einheit and the publishing house “Emess.” Simultaneously, Stalin liquidated the offices of the Jewish Anti- Fascist Committee, an organization Stalin had set up during the war to enlist the support of Jews in the West for the Kremlin. The Israeli legation was declared off bounds for Soviet citizens and the desire to emigrate to Israel declared an act of disloyalty to the state. [1]

It is from this period that the policy of cultural genocide begins. Not only were the Yiddish newspaper and book publishing plants closed down, but all Jewish theatres and schools that had remained in existence were shut down; the virulent campaign against Zionism and “rootless cosmopolitanism” was initiated, and the campaign to discredit and drive the Jews out of Soviet life begun. Needless to say, the onslaught was inaugurated by Stalin’s Jewish hireling, Ilya Ehrenburg, with an article that appeared in Pravda on October 21, 1948. The assault on Zionism quickly spilled over into anti- Semitism and some of the newspaper attacks were so vicious that the censor refused to permit correspondents to cable them abroad. The most violent was a review of a book Years of Life written several years earlier by Isaac Bakhrakh. The reviewer, S. Ivanov, ridiculed not only Zionism but the Jewish religion as well. He concluded his review by denouncing the editor Fyodor Levin, who had just been expelled from the party, as a “cosmopolitan bastard.”

The general ideological campaign to “de-westernize” Russian intellectuals was redirected in part and concentrated on Jewish writers. These attacks have received widespread publicity and need no detailed documentation here. But two examples deserve to be quoted because they give the pure incredible flavor of Stalinist ideology on the offensive. Attacking a well-known Jewish-Ukrainian poet, Leonid Pervomaiskii, the secretary of the Board of the League of Soviet Writers in the Ukraine, L. Dmiterko, wrote:

“Here Pervomaiskii has produced a perfected theory of cosmopolitanism. It appears that Shevchenko [a famous Ukrainian poet and leading figure in the Ukrainian literary and political renascence in the 19th century – A.S.] with his intransigence toward the enemies and his love for his people was narrow minded; whereas Ivan Franko, whose favorite supposedly was Heine – that forbear of all ‘cosmopolitans without ancestry’ broadened the understanding of the world and Lesya Ukrainka lifted Ukrainian literature up to ‘the humanity of the whole of mankind.’ This is accomplished cosmopolitanism ... having sunk into the morass of bourgeois humanism, Pervomaiskii expounded corrupt cosmopolitan theories.”

On February 14, 1949, Pravda attacked a well-known Jewish dramatic critic, A. Gurvich:

“What can be A. Gurvich’s notion of the national character of the Soviet Russian man when he writes that in the ‘kind-hearted humor and naively trusting optimism’ of Pogodin’s plays ... the spectator saw himself as a mirror, for ‘kind-heartedness’ is supposedly not alien to the Russian. This slanders the Soviet Russian man. This is abject slander. And precisely because kind-heartedness is utterly alien to us, we must expose this attempt to heap insult upon the Soviet national character.”

The response of the regime was indeed extreme, and it may be asked why two such harmless demonstrations should have provoked so violent and immediate a response. To seek an answer to this guestion, we must refer to certain wartime actions of the Stalinist regime.

On August 28, 1941, a government decree dissolved the Volga German Autonomous Republic for alleged diversionist activities. A large part of this population was banished to the Altai region of western Siberia and other areas as a punishment for “disloyalty.” This was the first direct example of genocide by the Stalinist regime. (The deportation of millions of Ukrainians during the early thirties was carried out under the guise of a struggle with the Kulaks.) The second step was not too long in following. After the Germans had retreated from the Caucasus and Crimea, the regime condemned the Chechens and Ingush of the Caucasus and the Tartars of the Crimean Autonomous Republic for collaborating with the enemy. These Autonomous areas were also dissolved in 1944 and their territory incorporated in the Russian Federal Republic. The final measure of genocide taken by the Stalinist regime as a result of the war was the liquidation of the Kalmyk Autonomous Republic and the Karachayev Autonomous Region. The scope of the punishment meted out to these peoples can be measured by the total population affected. According to the 1939 census, the population of the five regions came to 2,798,000.

In the case of the Chechen-Ingush, reports have filtered out concerning what happened. On February 23, 1944, during the festivities celebrating Red Army Day, MVD troops appeared in the villages and began the arrest of all adult males. Those who attempted to flee were shot. The remainder, together with their women and children were exiled to Central Asia. At least half of those exiled died in transit from sickness and hunger. Today the Chechen-Ingush no longer have a national existence. Not only were they deported, but they are denied the right to schools and newspapers in their native tongue.

The liquidation of the above minorities was only one aspect of the total picture. The war not only destroyed the fiction of monolithic unity, it also breached the hitherto impenetrable myth of the superiority of life in the “Land of Socialism.” The millions of Russian soldiers who had marched into the West had to be convinced that what they had seen with their own eyes was not true – the incredible difference between their low “socialist” living standards and the relatively comfortable circumstances of poor workers and peasants in the “decadent, capitalist” West. The opening shot in this campaign came on September 3, 1944, when Pravda featured an article by Leonid Sobolev advising Soviet soldiers not to be deceived by the tinsel of the West. Two years later, in 1946, Zhdanov opened fire on the intellectual front with a demand that the Russian intellectuals stop “kow-towing to the West.” That ideological war has continued till this day and not one stratum of Soviet society has escaped the increasingly savage assault: everything Russian must be exalted, everything Western damned.

But Stalin has not relied on propaganda measures alone. In the immediate post-war period, a vast operation supervised by the NKVD was undertaken to sift out those “ideologically infected” Russians, and their number was considerable, who had fallen into the hands of the Germans as prisoners or slave labor. In some cases they were shot as traitors; in most, they were denounced as “socially dangerous” and sent off to the slave labor camps.

The liquidation of the national minorities, the especially cruel treatment of prisoners of war and civilian captives, the ideological offensive against “kow-towing” to the West in all spheres of science and the arts, and the reaction of the Kremlin to the Jewish demonstrations in Moscow all fit into the same pattern: The need to reinforce the monolithic facade and eliminate or terrorize all real or potentially “disloyal” elements. Given the increasing tensions on the international scene, the very real “war danger” and the anti-Semitic predispositions of the Kremlin hierarchy, the anti-Jewish policies of the Kremlin become comprehensible.

But yet another question is raised by the open anti-Semitic course of the Stalinist regime. Why did it launch an open, public campaign of such vicious proportions? Why didn’t it merely accelerate the hidden process that was already in effect of purging the Jews, and carry it out silently and without fanfare as had been done in the case of the five liquidated national minorities and the “cleansing” of military and civilian prisoners of war?

Much has been written about the attack on the Jews being designed as an appeal to the Arabs and the Germans. Undeniably such considerations must enter into the calculations of the Kremlin. But a close study of the pattern of events and propaganda will show that the primary audience was and remains domestic. The anti-Semitic campaign was designed chiefly for home consumption and not for export.

On February 3, 1951, the Christian Science Monitor carried a report that anti-Semitic outbreaks had assumed the proportions of minor riots in a number of small Ukrainian towns, and that assaults on individual Jews had even taken place in Moscow. The report also declared that government officials took no effective steps to curb these incidents. Similar reports leaked through with the acceleration of the anti-Semitic drive in December 1952. Clearly, the Stalinist regime is inflaming and provoking popular anti-Semitism. In a police state such incidents cannot take place on a wide scale without the tacit approval of the police. The use of the Jew as the scapegoat appears here in its classic form. Just as in Czarist times, anti-Semitism becomes a “patriotic” manifestation.

The announcement on January 12, 1953 of the arrest of six Jewish doctors together with their three non-Jewish colleagues established the new and more deadly amalgam: The Jews were not merely “rootless, passportless, cosmopolitans,” they were also “Trotskyite-Zionist-American agents and spies.” Around this new characterization of the Jews as overt “enemies of the state” a new series of legal murders, arrests and denunciations has taken place which must be examined in detail.

In Kiev, in the early part of December, just after the Slansky trial in Prague had ended, an extraordinary event took place. Three Jewish state employees were tried before a military tribunal (in peacetime) as “speculators,” immediately condemned to death and shot by a firing squad. On December 18, 1952, five Jewish Communist Party members were arrested in Odessa on charges of sabotage. The five were denounced as “Trotskyite agents” and “confessed” to having carried out various anti-Soviet activities. This, by the way, was the first time that the Soviet press or radio had openly mentioned the word “Jew,” having previously referred to Jews as “rootless cosmopolitans.” Again, in the middle of January, 1953, the Ukrainian Pravda reported the dismissal of a number of Kiev party and state officials and the exposure of a series of “crimes” in Kiev, Kharkov, Odessa and Voroshilovgrad. The names of these “criminals” according to the Ukrainian Pravda were “Green- stein in Odessa, Pers in Kiev and Kaplan and Polyakov in Kharkov.” On January 25th, the same paper carried a story denouncing one, “Jacob Davidovich Mehlman” who had made a family business out of a glass factory.

The fact that such a high number of arrests and shootings have taken place in the Ukraine can hardly be considered an accident. The appeal to popular anti-Semitism is here being carried one step further. But the drive on Jewish state and party functionaries has not been restricted to the Ukraine. In the January issue of the party magazine Communist, the secretary of the Leningrad regional organization declares that a number of “alien and foreign” elements have been exposed and purged from the Leningrad organization. Who are these “alien and foreign” elements? They are “bourgeois-nationalist, counter-revolutionary elements, former Nepmen having connections with the Jewish Bund and the Trotskyites. Similar reports have been made by the heads of the Moscow party organization and other large cities.”

But the arrests, shootings and expulsion of the Jews from the party and state apparatus, which started in early December are only one side of the coin. The other side, it is important to note, is the threat of a general purge in the party and state apparatus. A little more than a week after the arrest of the Jewish doctors, the new secretary of the Stalinist state party, Mikhailov, “demanded that the party mercilessly drive from its ranks all ‘degenerates or doubledealers,’ root out hidden enemies no matter what mask they wear and incessantly strengthen the Soviet armed forces and intelligence organs.” On January 18, 1953, the Moscow correspondent of the New York Times reported that the Ukrainian Communist Party’s Central Committee had issued an edict ordering the end of “all political carelessness and slackness” and the complete rooting out of all criminal elements. He also reported that the Kiev newspaper, Ukrainian Pravda, has “linked the drive against commercial fraud with the general campaign for state and party discipline, and the strictest vigilance that is now under way throughout the country as a result of the announcement of the discovery of a plot involving nine Moscow doctors ... the Central Committee directed the attention of the trade minister, the food minister, the meat and milk minister, the light industry minister, the local industry minister and the chiefs of the Ukrainian Cooperative Union and the Ukrainian Industrial Council to unsatisfactory conditions in their respective spheres.”

An ingenious theory has been offered to explain the linking of the purge of Jewish officials and the threat of a general purge. According to this theory, a struggle for power is taking place between Beria, the head of the secret police and other members of the Kremlin hierarchy. The evidence consists in part of the attacks on the secret police for their failure to detect the “treasonable activities” of the doctors and other enemies of the state. The other part of the evidence, which has been offered by Alexander Werth, a correspondent who spent a good many years in Stalinist Russia, is that Beria is popularly believed to be half- Jewish. From the combination of these two factors, it is deduced that Beria and his supporters are the real target and the attacks on the Jews only a camouflage. That some sort of struggle must be taking place at the top is quite believable, and perhaps Beria is the target of the present campaign, but there are other and far more serious factors which have driven the regime to link the attack on the Jews with a threat of a general purge. And it is important to note that for the present, only a shadow purge is taking place. The regime is satisfied to thunder, to threaten and to purge ... only Jews.

Beneath the monolithic facade of the totalitarian state there rage a number of subterranean conflicts – not only between the masses and the regime – but between the topmost stratum of the party and state and the lower ranks of the apparatus and the intelligentsia. In the name of the approaching “war danger” the Kremlin hierarchy is demanding complete submission to its will and ever greater efforts. And it is obviously meeting with resistance from the apparatus on the provincial and local levels as well as from the intelligentsia. This great mass of the bureaucracy, which immediately reflects the dissatisfactions of the lower strata of society as well as expressing it own moods, wants to enjoy life here and now.

It has passed through the storms of collectivization, the “heroic” epoch of industrialization, the horror of the purges, the war and the tremendous strain of post-war reconstruction. And now again it faces the prospect of war and all the sacrifices war entails! To this, it responds with silent resistance. Nothing else explains the never-ending cycle of purges, denunciations and threats which began right after the war and have not diminished but increased like an ever-expanding spiral.

A close look at the relationship between the central power and the provincial and local apparatus provides us with a devastating picture. Since the end of the war a continuous series of purges has been decapitating the leadership in the different national republics. In the Ukraine alone, two years after liberation, thirty-eight per cent of the regional secretaries of the Communist Party, sixty-four per cent of all regional party chairmen and two-thirds of the directors of the machine-tractor stations, were purged. In 1951, the purges reached a post-war high with a major cleansing of the party and state apparatus in at least seven of the federal and autonomous republics; the Ukraine, of course, leading the rest. The other republics that suffered changes in leadership were Bielorussia, Azerbaijan, Moldavia, Kirghizia, Uzbekistan and Kasakhstan.

Inside the party the Kremlin has concentrated on liquidating the “unreliables.” To the degree that the regime has gained control of the situation it has slowed down and reversed the policy of recruitment it followed during the war and immediate postwar period. In March, 1939, the total membership of the party stood at two and a half million. By October, 1945, the party had mushroomed to five million, seven hundred thousand members. Between September 1947, when the membership of the party stood at six million, three-hundred thousand, and January 1948 three hundred thousand members were dropped from the party rolls. At that time the number of party members had declined to six million.

The severity of the process is striking. In the five years between February 1941 and October 1945, the party enrolled almost two million members. In the seven years between 1946 and the end of 1952 the party grew by approximately one million members. Yet, despite all these prophylactic measures, the regime is again compelled to threaten the bureaucracy with a purge of serious proportions ... perhaps on the scale of the midthirties.

The link between the ruthless purge of Jewish officials, which has taken the form of shootings, jail sentences and expulsion from the party, and the threat of a general purge lies in this, that the Kremlin is holding the fate of the Jews up as a warning of how drastic the purge will be if and when it comes. The “crimes” of the Jews now encompass every form of resistance to the will of the Kremlin, and those who behave like the Jews will be treated just as ruthlessly.


A GREAT DEAL OF ATTENTION HAS BEEN DEVOTED by the world press to the speculation that a struggle for power is taking place within the Kremlin hierarchy. But such speculations should not divert our eyes from the central significance of the anti-Semitic policies of the Kremlin. They are a sign of a loss of dynamic, of exhaustion. They signify that the regime has lost whatever attractive powers it had and must now rest altogether on ideological and physical terror. And this marks a further stage in the inner decay of the Stalinist ruling class.

For it should be understood that the Stalinist regime never rested on terror alone. The threat was always supplemented by the promise. The propaganda slogan of “building Socialism in one country” was full of meaning for millions of young people, who had visions of a world of unlimited material and social advancement for themselves. The regime drew them up by the tens of thousands into the upper levels of the state and party apparatus, and not only won their enthusiastic support but established a necessary link with the lower strata of Stalinist society. No matter how distorted, the propaganda was positive and seemed to correspond in some degree to reality. In the “heroic thirties” the younger generation, as we know from many sources, was literally ready for any sacrifice because it believed it was creating socialism and thereby, its own future.

The “heroic” age of Stalinism has vanished never to return. Kremlin society has lost its social mobility and the movement from below upward has slowed tremendously. The class structure has begun to freeze and take on hereditary, caste features. The uniforms assigned to the various occupations and professions is the outward symbol of this fact.

Anti-Semitism is the supreme expression of the political and social exhaustion of the regime. Today, the bureaucratic machine, it appears, can only be kept in motion by threats, purges, the elimination of “potentially” disloyal elements and more threats. And in this sense, with all due proportions guarded, a parallel can be drawn between the last decades of Czarism and the Stalinist regime in the present period.

On the eve of the first World War, Czar Nicholas II indulged in cruel, anti-Semitic excesses. In 1913, the notorious ritual murder trial of Mendel Beilis was staged. And the language of reaction at that time is astonishing in its similarity to the language of Pravda and Izvestia today. Here, for example, is a typical editorial which appeared in the official paper, The Russian Banner of the pogromist League of the Russian People:

“The government’s duty is to consider the Jews as a nation just as dangerous for the. life of humanity as wolves, scorpions, snakes, poisonous spiders and other creatures which are doomed to destruction because of their rapaciousness toward human beings and whose annihilation is commended by law.”

How little change is necessary in order to insert this statement as a lead editorial in Pravda or Izvestia!

During the first world war the government attacks on the Jews assumed savage proportions. Someone had to be blamed for the disasters which were shattering the Russian armies on the Galician front. Like Stalin, the Czar discovered Jewish spies and poisoners everywhere. Like Stalin, he deported Jews from the “danger” zones in the Ukraine. It was forbidden to speak Jewish in public places or over telephones because it resembled German. Is the parallel sheer historical coincidence or is Stalin cynically drawing on those deep memories of the past which are embedded in the minds of the older generations and which have been learned from history books by the younger?

It has been suggested by Supreme Court Justice William Douglas that the open persecution of the Jews by the Staliinst regime is a sign of confidence and strength. If he means that the regime is firmly in the saddle today, he is right, of course. But if he means the regime is acting from strength in the sense that it has the confidence and support of the whole country behind it, he is as wrong as anyone can be. Anti-Semitism always has been and always will be the sign and symbol of a ruling class completely at odds with the rest of the nation, a class that is unable to draw upon the deep reservoir of idealism and enthusiasm with which a people always responds in times of crisis, a class that can only rule by deception and terror and by appealing to the basest instincts known to mankind.

* * *


1. A red thread runs directly from these events to the arrest of the Jewish doctors in January 1953. For one of the six Jewish doctors arrested was the brother-in-law of the late Solomon Mikhoels, whose real name was Vovsi, the noted Yiddish actor, who served as the chairman of the JAC. According to the newspaper reports, Dr. Vovsi, the physician in question, has “confessed” that he “received a directive on the destruction of leading cadres of the USSR ... from the ‘Joint’ through a doctor in Moscow, Shimeliovich, and the well-known Jewish bourgeois-nationalist Mikhoels.”

Stalin has another reason for slandering the late Mikhoels. Mikhoels was slain under mysterious circumstances on a visit to Minsk in 1947. The crime was attributed to an anti-Semitic Ukrainian underground group. By denouncing Mikhoels now as an American spy, Stalin is obviously justifying this murder and pandering directly to these anti-Semitic forces.

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Last updated on 21 February 2019