First Published: World News, April 12, 1958.
Republished: Youth and Nation, Vol. XXV, No. 1, November 1972.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Palme Dutt’s polemical method is un-English, and stems from an out-dated period of political history. Today no decent person critices a book by vilifying the author. I am probably wrong on many issues, but I “conceal” nothing, nor am I “compelled to admit” the things I assert.
All this is gutter polemics and I now have abundant evidence to prove that I am by no means alone in my repugnance of it. How little he grasps of the problem on which he writes seven columns is evident not only from the stupidity, “Levy would never dream of writing his own books in Yiddish,” but from the Lenin quotation that follows, “Jewish national culture is the slogan of the rabbis and the bourgeoisie – the slogan of our enemies” which is intended to kill me stone dead.
If this is so let him frankly and honestly say the Soviet Union up to 1948, by their encouragement of “Jewish national culture”, were pressing forward the slogan of our enemies. Why does he not continue the quotation from Lenin: “He who does not acknowledge and defend the equality of nations and of languages, he Who does not fight against all forms of national oppression or inequality is not a Marxist or even a democrat”?
It was precisely this issue in relation to Jewry that my small book set out to examine, as its title signifies – Jews and the National Question. How hysterical it has made Dutt is evident from his assertion that the “Jewish Chronicle is the most outspoken enemy of socialism, communism, and the Soviet Union.” Personally, I always thought the enemy was the capitalist class.
But this inability on his part to shake off an outmoded garment reflects something deeper. Since Marx and Lenin made their great contributions to the theory and practice of history, the world situation has undergone dramatic change. Millions of Soviet citizens have been freed from the misery and degradation of tsarism. Nazis and fascists unleashed another world war with untold suffering. At least five million Jews were gassed and turned to ash in the Nazi incinerating chambers. The vast Indian continent has been freed from British domination, and British, French and Dutch colonial possessions are everywhere falling apart. A great Chinese Socialist Republic has sprung into being in the Far East, and national liberation movements among the brown and black peoples have come to life.
Alongside all this, American finance imperialism has jostled its way to the front, and the only power capable of challenging the might of this new capitalist giant is the Soviet Union. Between them, hanging by a thread, is the H-bomb. This is the same world as, but in many vital respects very different from what spread itself before Marx and Lenin in their time, and if they had been alive today and had set about reassessing the situation Dutt would have leapt to the columns of World News to denounce them as “revisionists,” no doubt.
Changelessness is the hall mark of religion. Dutt fights for the letter, knowing he is right; I fight for the spirit, knowing I may be wrong.
It was in this mood that I wrote this small book of ninety-three pages, which drew from Dutt seven columns of falsification replete with quotations extracted from their proper context. My intention was to try to reassess the Jewish problem, forty years after the Revolution, about fifteen years after the more than 5 million Jews had been burnt to death, and ten years after the State of Israel had been established in the Middle East. I and many other Jewish comrades had been shocked by the policy that appeared to have been pursued in the Soviet Union with regard to its Jewish population, a policy that led to the violent death of many leading Jewish cultural workers.
Palme Dutt makes great play with the fact that I did not expound the attitude of Marx, Lenin and Kautsky to the Jewish question. Perhaps he will be good enough to quote anything from their writings which suggest the likelihood of this happening in a socialist country. He knows perfectly well they would have been horrified, and even more disgusted by the glib evasions about “miscarriages of justice.”
The first part of my book is not an “apologia for the ideas of Jewish nationalism and Zionism.” I am a Jew who recognizes the fact that an Israeli nation has come into existence not primarily because of past intrigues between Zionist leaders and imperialist powers, as Dutt seems to imagine, but because of the attempted extermination of Jewry in Central Europe during the past generation.
I am interested in what is happening to Israeli and to Soviet Jewry and this interest I share with most Jews everywhere. If Dutt doesn’t like this fact that is his affair. It is a fact, nevertheless. This does not mean that I and other Jews feel we belong to the Israeli nation. We don’t. We are an internationally distributed people, and only in Israel has a nation in the real sense emerged.
Dutt seems quite incapable of grasping these facts, and the feelings associated with them, and so he has missed the very basis of my book.
For the Soviet Union this people in their midst – neither a nation or a national minority – constitutes a special problem, particularly because of the existence of Israel in the Middle East, the latter’s financial links with the USA and the extension of American financial power in the Middle East, the great oil center of the world. Anyone who reads my book will know that I have leaned over backwards in the effort to see this whole issue from the Soviet angle, and to grasp the policy they are adopting to solve it.
I have expressed grave doubts whether the solution they seek – assimilation – will be the outcome of their actual policy. The deliberate shutting down of cultural facilities is bound to arouse resistance, and to be regarded as discrimination.
The issue of the Soviet Encyclopedia, just produced, says that quite a proportion of Soviet Jewry speak Yiddish, but the Yiddish press and theatre have been shut down, and no literary matter is allowed to be printed in Yiddish. If Dutt wants a reference to Lenin let him remember that he said that forcible assimilation is chauvinism.
In my book I made a series of mild suggestions on how this problem might be approached. I will die in a few years time, but that is no reason why I should welcome suicide now. So with the Jews in the Soviet Union. Perhaps in a generation or two they will have vanished as a distinct entity, but if in the meanwhile they can produce Yiddish novels, plays and poetry, they are adding to our cultural heritage; and I, in spite of Dutt, consider this is worth doing and preserving.
To say dogmatically NO to this, to destroy those who so write, is sheer vandalism, to put it mildly. But this was happening in Soviet Russia just a few years ago. A society does not change in the twinkling of an eye. I must say this because, in spite of it all, the future lies with socialism and I must do my best to help it steer a clear course. This is what Dutt, with his feet embedded in the past, and with no understanding of, or sympathy with, what I am talking about, calls being anti-Soviet. Can you beat it?
Finally, until Dutt has the courage to speak up on behalf of those others who suffered from “miscarriages of justice” – and I will add my voice if he does – he has no moral standing whatsoever in his objection to my speaking up about the Jewish section. A crime is not blotted out or explained by stating incidentally that another also occurred.
 “An anti-Marxist book on the Jewish Question” by R.P. Dutt, “World News,” March 8, p. 156.
Professor Levy’s reply fails to answer the plain and concrete arguments and facts, and charges of mis-statement of fact, set out in the review to which readers are referred.
All the familiar allegations against Marxism as “out-moded”, “out-dated”, and “embedded in the past” etc. only repeat the ancient and threadbare vocabulary of all anti-Marxists against Marxism. The original revisionists of the school of Bernstein similarly accused Lenin and the Bolsheviks of “orthodoxy,” “dogmatism,” and. “failure to recognize new facts.” But it was they who failed to interpret correctly the new facts because they abandoned the basis and methods of Marxism.
On Israel, Levy does not deny that this book ignored the role of British imperialism and its alliance with Zionism. He now revises his position to state, after a description of the Nazi incinerating chambers, that Israel came into existence “not primarily because of past intrigues between Zionist leaders and imperialist powers, but because of the attempted extermination of Jewry in Central Europe during the past generation.” (my italics – R.P.D.).
The Balfour Declaration (embodying the alliance of British imperialism and Zionism, for the conquest and colonialization of Palestine) was drawn up in 1917. Hitler came to power in 1933. The British conquest and colonization of Palestine and maintenance of the Jewish Agency under British auspices had developed for a decade and a half before Hitler began the “attempted extermination of Jewry”. To play fast and loose with facts and dates in this way does not help Levy’s argument.
On Lenin’s attitude to the slogan of “Jewish national culture,” Levy incorrectly offers a “continuation” of the quotation given (it is not a continuation) by drawing from elsewhere a statement of Lenin against national oppression and announcing this as an important discovery. Lenin’s distinction between opposition to national oppression and rejection of the slogan of “national culture” in general, was made clear in his statement:
“A struggle against all forms of national oppression – unquestionably, Yes! A struggle for every kind of national development, for ’national culture’ in general – unquestionably, No!”
On the Soviet Union, Levy continues to ignore the fact that more non-Jews than Jews suffered under the Beria regime, and that the blows fell against non-Jewish as well as Jewish organizations. To describe this as “anti-Semitic” persecution is to distort the facts. Because the Polish Communist Party was wrongly dissolved during this period, this argument would infer that the policy of the Soviet Union was anti-Communist.
Levy reveals his peculiar position when he proposes that Jewish Communists should speak “on behalf of” Jewish Communists, and non-Jewish Communists “on behalf of” non-Jewish communists in respect of the victims of the Beria regime. He appears to regard this as some kind of challenge to me personally.
We of the Communist Party have made our position on this matter abundantly plain, in political committee, executive committee, and congress statements, in respect of all revolutionary Communists, Jewish or non-Jewish, who suffered unjustly during this period. We refuse to draw a line of distinction in this respect between Jewish and non-Jewish communists; for the habit of making such a division in separate compartments has always been the hallmark of anti-Semitism and is repugnant to all genuine Communists. To attempt to make such a division in this case can only serve reactionary purposes and lay a false foundation for anti-Soviet slanders.
It is a no less false argument to claim that refusal to maintain artificially “by subsidies” a Yiddish theatre when there is no longer sufficient demand for it to make it self-supporting is equivalent to “suppression”. By this argument the disappearance of Yiddish theatres in London or New York should be regarded as equivalent to “suppression”.
Levy’s extraordinary attitude to facts is illustrated by is assertion alleging the exclusion of Jews from the Central Committee of the CPSU. In his book he explicitly declares that “today there is not a single Jew on the central committee.” Examples were given to prove the falsity of this statement. Does Levy withdraw or admit his error? On the contrary, he passes unabashed to his next slander.
Levy is a scientist. A scientist is supposed to weigh evidence. When he asserts that “there is not a single Jew on the central committee” did he attempt to check his facts before making such an assertion? Or did he merely repeat unchecked assertions from the slanders of the Zionist sources which have freely spread this allegation?
When I read his statement, I naturally had never thought of members of the central committee in terms of Jews or non- Jews, any more than our own Party members think of members of our executive committee in terms of Jews and non-Jews. I had to endeavour to ascertain the facts by examining the names of members and candidates of the central committee. The list at once revealed the names of two well-known Jewish comrades who are personally known to me. But there was no lack of other names which certainly sounded Jewish, but to whom I made no reference as I did not know them personally.
But all this is, of course the “outdated”, “out-moded”, “un-English” method of benighted Marxists to endeavour humbly to ascertain facts and base conclusions on facts. Levy rises superior to facts in the higher atmosphere of his own imagination (“the spirit” as opposed to “the letter”, as MacDonald used to say), and no sooner is one slander corrected than he gaily passes on to another.
All this illustrates the familiar truth that when a scientist ceases to be scientific, he can become very foolish.