Soviet Russia Presses Fight to Crush Anti-Semitic Spirit
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Soviet Russia Presses Fight to Crush Anti-Semitic Spirit

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(This is the sixth of a series of article on the situation of the Jews in Europe today by Eugene Lyons, noted foreign correspondent now studying conditions in Europe for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. In the following article, Mr. Lyons describes anti-Semitism in the Soviet Republic and the government measures to suppress it. The final article in this series will appear in the week-end edition of the Jewish Daily Bulletin.)

The official instructions for the nationwide "chistka" or purging of the Communist Party membership, recently completed, listed anti-Semitism among the major ideological lapses, punishable by instant expulsion from the ranks. Thousands of Communists, indeed, were throw out of the ruling Party for this reason.

There is no doubt that anti-Semitic sentiments persist among Communists. The very fact that measures to combat it in the ranks are found necessary is an open admission that the condition is neither negligible nor neglected. A party with millions of members drawn from the marrow of the population, inevitably reflects moods and prejudices of that population.


And anti-Semitism, despite earnest and in large measure effective official efforts to stamp it out, is still widespread in Russia. Planted and nurtured lovingly for centuries by State and church, schools and press, it is too deeply rooted to be eradicated in a single generation.

The inclination to blame the Jews for whatever evil befalls them was second nature to wide sectors of the Russian people, and it still persists. I have heard the grumblings on food lines and street cars too often in these years, I have been witness to too many anti-Semitic outbursts by drunken or desperate Russians, to doubt that the evil growth is still there.

The most significant fact, however, is that the whole power of the Soviet regime is being applied to the Herculean job of tearing up that foul weed of Tsarism. It is no reflection on the Kremlin that the job is far from done. It is merely another proof of the fearful hold prejudice can have on dark minds.


Where formerly hatred of Jews was open, insulting, often brutally violent, it is now reduced to a futile and usually hidden emotion. All the machinery of education and propaganda in the hands of the government–which means everything from wallpapers to radio, from schoolroom to theatre–is used to fight anti-Semitism. All the vast repressive apparatus of a thoroughgoing dictatorship is used to punish expressions of anti-Semitism in word or act.

Even aside from its internationalist principles, the Soviet regime is obliged by the very nature of its history to struggle against anti-Semtism. It is fully aware that it is the first weapon of White Guard invasions and conquests in the terrible years of civil warfare, Both in fact and in the minds of the Russian masses anti-Semitism and counter-revolution are two strands in one rope, inextricably intertwined.

The internal struggles in the communist Party have reduced seriously the number of Jews among the outstanding leaders of Bolshevik Russia. This I am convinced, was an accidental result of the struggle, with nothing anti-Jewish in it. The line-up, especially in the Trotsky-Stalin fight, was purely along ideological lines, but it happened that many of the leaders on Trotsky’s side because of their mental outlook and personal histories, were Jews.

If anything, the triumph of Stalin at that juncture represented the defeat and outlawry of the Party "intelligentsia." Since so many of the Party intellectuals were Jews, their expulsion and exile did have a false appearance of being anti-Jewish, Reactionary remnants of the old world, in their nooks and crannies, chuckled with satisfaction and shined up their rusty black-hundred emotions.


But they were wrong, Jews are still in positions of paramount importance and their numerical strength in the ruling Party is far greater than in the population as a whole. According to an authoritative estimate nearly ten percent of the delegates to Party conferences and congresses in the last few years have been Jews. Since only about one and one-half percent of the Soviet population is Jewish, it is clear that the influence of Jews in the control of the nation is larger than an arithmetical distribution of power by race would warrant. For that especially the Georgians, exercise power far out of proportion to their numbers. As persecuted minorities the Jews, the Georgians and other non-Russian groups naturally took leading roles in the revolutionary movements.

The spectacle of Jews in important places, the large number of Jews at the head or second in command of so many economic undertakings, inflame anti-Semitic feelings where these still persist. Even in the seventeenth year of the revolution one hears bitter references–never aloud or where it might be reported, of course–to "this Jewish government." Reason and prejudice were never on speaking terms and are never likely to be.

If ever there were a movement against the Soviet government–which at present is not only impossible but unthinkable–Jews would be the first victims of the reaction. Even the most bitterly anti-Soviet Jews know this to be a fact, and their political thinking is consequently badly muddled. However much they dislike the economic policies and dictatorial methods of the Communist State, they realize that it stands between them and old-fashioned Jew baiting.


I have asked Jews hostile to the Soviet idea what they would do if faced with a choice of sides in a counter-revolution. Almost without exception they declared that they would be obliged, in sheer self-defense, to fight with the Reds against the counter-revolutionaries. The exception was an aged rabbi, to whom the Bolsheviks are merely enemies of religion. He admitted that the overthrow of Bolshevism might bring pogroms, persecution and ghetto restrictions for the Jews.

"But we shall only be risking our bodies then," he said, "and now we are losing our Jewish souls." He chose unhesitatingly the ghetto and religion as against atheist equality.

A leading Jewish Communist with whom I discussed the problem of anti-Semitism recently, frankly admitted its seriousness.

"Is feel it in my personal life," he said. "Sometimes I analyze the personal bitterness towards me of some comrade. Ostensibly it may be disagreement on some matter of policy in the institution where I work. But running through it, whether this comrade knows it or not, is the ancient hatred for Jews. The Party fights it and is gradually succeeding. Among our young people it is not yet extinct. But certainly it is on the decline."


On the streets of Leningrad not long ago I met a man whom I knew from Moscow. He is now an official in a certain trust, carries a portfolio importantly and seems a typical Soviet bureaucrat. It happens that I was aware of his personal story. His family had lost a fortune in the revolution, which made him a "former." He had done too well under Nep, which made him a "Nepman."

In short, he was a fit target for official hatred, and experienced more than his share. He had "sat" many times, had been deprived of vote and bread card and had been held for months by the "valuta section" of the G.P.U. In the end he managed, despite his record, to obtain a respectable Soviet job. But certainly he could harbor no great affection for the Bolshevik regime.

"Have you ever been here before the revolution?" I asked, just to make conversation.

"Yes, I was in Petersburg twice," he said. "I came on business, with money in my pockets. But since I had no right to be there, being a Jew, and could not register anywhere, I slept in hallways…"

He paused a moment and took me by the arm, looked me in the eyes. He smiled, squared his shoulders and grappled his portfolio.

"But now," he added proudly, "I have one of the best numbers in the Astoria Hotel, as a guest of the government! I don’t like the Bolsheviks, but we Jews must pray to God for them…"

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