This note is a response to a pervasive myth held by those who want to demonise Jews as a whole by pointing to the apparent role Jews played in the Communist movement. But what they point to is complete nonsense. It might be good to look at the way that Communists themselves understood Judaism, beginning with Marx. As we know Marx wrote at a time when the special privileges and restrictions put upon Jews for centuries were still within living memory across many parts of Europe. Under said restrictions Jews were routinely confined to living in close communities or “Ghettos” and forced to engage in particular economic activities such as additional charging for loans as Christianity forbade usury amongst its own communities and other economic activities that Marx himself described as “hucksterism” and the essence of contemporary Judaism.
In 1844 Marx published an essay titled “On the Jewish Question” where he argued that “The social emancipation of the Jew is the emancipation of society from Judaism.” Here Marx wrote using some very crude language that, in his worldview, simple emancipation would not in and of itself free the Jews because they will still be seen as a separate entity within Christian society.
One of the most common antisemitic tropes is that Jews, money and rulers are inextricably linked. And Marx fully bought into it, which is why he branded Polish Jews for example, the “filthiest of all the Races” after reading a number of publications which accused Polish Jews of decisively supporting the German side and resisting Polish national goals with regards to the revolutionary period of 1846-8. For more details on the realities on the ground, see this.
For your information, there is more on Marx’s Antisemitism here.
And there is an additional crux of Communist thought that should be highlighted. Marx along with his followers impugned all religion as not just merely destructive but the preserve of Capitalism itself (as “the opium of the people”) and the above was routinely analysed through the prism of the Marxist concepts of the “base and superstructure.” As long as there is a base of separation, in this case though religion, it will be reflected somehow in the superstructure and hence no true “emancipation” can result.
Under the Soviet Union, the act of “denying the Jews their historical Judaism” was put into practice by the destruction of Synagogues, the murder of Rabbis, the outlawing of the Torah and so on, much as the Soviet Union was committed to removing Christianity. For an example, see the official communist propaganda video dedicated to the forceful closure and conversion of a synagogue into a “house of culture.”
Beginning in the 1930s, Stalin used the excuse of Anti-Bolshevik “Jewish nationalists” to further increase antisemitic repressions. One of his “solutions” to the “Jewish Question” was to use Birobidzhan and the climatically harsh surrounding territory close to the Chinese border to first concentrate and then pick off the Jewish population in the USSR.
During the Holodomor scores of Ukrainian Jews fled to the so-called “Jewish Autonomous Oblast” of which Birobidzhan was the capital thinking that it offered safety, what they found instead was their own deaths. All the meanwhile in the Ukrainian SSR itself Jews were routinely picked off by Stalin’s NKVD on the charge of being Kulaks.
In 1926 the Jewish population was estimated to number 4,169, by 1939 there were only an estimated 1,866 left – the result of the Holodomor, continued Soviet oppression and emigration. The remainder of Talne’s Jewish population suffered an extra blow in Hitler’s Holocaust. This wooden synagogue was destroyed by Soviet authorities in the mid 1920s.
Kaganovich had Jewish heritage but didn’t associate with it just as Marx never associated with his.
It is sometimes said that Jews flocked to the socialist cause in the 1800s. This was only true to the extent that the socialist promise of egalitarianism was seen as an antidote to centuries of stigmatisation. Even so, in the Russian empire, the Bolshevik faction amounted to no more than a tiny minority of the socialist movement, even in 1917 as Orlando Figues has pointed out!
I have a tendency to call those Neo-Nazis who deny the Holocaust and instead focus on an incoherent “Jewish conspiracy” with regards to Soviet rule as “double genocide deniers.”
They deny the USSR’s murderous antisemitism which means they also deny the murderous consequences of Soviet antisemitism and its Jewish victims.
Russian Neo-Nazis perversely seem to delight in both Nazi and Soviet antisemitism alike. Despite reality, there will remain those who exaggerate the role of “Jewish” communists to demonise all Jews as a whole, and those people are not worth any more time.