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Yiddish and the Left: Papers of the Third Mendel Friedman International Conference on Yiddish (Legenda Studies in Yiddish;The Yiddishist Movement and Its Deep and Long-Lasting Entanglement With Soviet Communism,

jan peczkis|Sunday, May 28, 2017

THE YIDDISHIST MOVEMENT: SELF-ATHEIZATION AND AN AGGRESSIVE, POLITICIZED SEPARATISM

The Yiddishist movement was a fairly recent development. Barry Trachtenberg comments, “For much of the modern period, Yiddish was not considered much more than a corrupt dialect of a so-called pure German, even by many of its own speakers, until the beginning of the twentieth century.” (p. 214). [And yet the Endeks, notably Roman Dmowski, are faulted for thinking along the same lines.]


 

In addition, Trachtenberg describes the modern Yiddishist effort not only to instill atheism onto modern Jews, but to rewrite Jewish history in a Godless framework, “Considering the often militant anti-religious posture of most Yiddishist scholars, it is not surprising to discover that in their quest to fashion the past in their own image they concerned themselves chiefly with what they considered to be the secular works of Old Yiddish, neglecting what later scholarship demonstrated to be the vast bulk of the literature.” (p. 218).

Thomas Soxberger wrote of the transformed understanding of what it meant to be Jewish, to speak Yiddish, and to self-identify as such, “Yiddishism was based on the assumption that Jews would—and should—evolve from a traditional ethno-religious community into a Yiddish-speaking modern nation…During the 1940s, there was still another group of Yiddishists, most notably of the pro-Soviet left, who refused to acknowledge that the Shoah and the founding of Israel had meant a defeat for the prospects of a secular Yiddish culture.” (pp. 196-197).

AMERICAN JEWISH COMMUNISTS MORE INFLUENTIAL THAN THE NUMBERS SUGGEST

Tony Michels points out that frank discussion about Jews in American Communism has generally been avoided in order to avoid giving credence to the likes of Henry Ford and his ideas of an international Jewish conspiracy. (p. 25).

Of course, one does not have to believe in conspiracy theories to study this subject, and one does not have to believe in conspiracy theories to appreciate the fact that the Jewish role in Communism was greater than that expected just by the number of Jews in Communism. In fact, Tony Michels [citing Blazer’s THE SOCIAL BASIS OF AMERICAN COMMUNISM] realizes as much as he quips, “Finnish immigrants joined the Communist movement in proportionately higher numbers than did Jews in the 1920s. Nonetheless, Jewish Communists operated in a much larger ethnic community and in more strategic locations such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles (whereas Finns were concentrated in rural regions of the upper Midwest.) Yiddish-speaking Communists also had strong bases of support in garment unions that were considered important assets to the party.” (p. 49).

JEWS SUPPORTED THE SOVIET UNION OUT OF A DESIRE FOR SPECIAL, SEPARATIST RIGHTS

One common exculpation for the ZYDOKOMUNA asserts that Jews in Poland turned to Communism because they had to suffer from antisemitism, a repressive hyper-Catholic atmosphere, and limited opportunities. The next paragraph blows this exculpation out of the water, as it could not possibly hold for the USA, with its near-absence of antisemitism, its religious pluralism, and its virtually-unlimited opportunities.

Thus, author Mikhail Krutikov writes, “Therefore, the category of Yiddish fellow-travelers included not only the non-Communist writers in the Soviet Union but also a great number of writers abroad. Ruth Wisse [A LITTLE LOVE IN BIG MANHATTAN] offers an explanation of the widespread sympathy for the Soviet Union among Yiddish writers of the whole world in the 1920s: ‘By appearing to do so much for their language, and for the welfare of all its national minorities, the Soviet government contrasted favorably not only with the anti-Semitic nationalist government of Poland but also with the democratic government of the United States, which promoted public schools and individual liberties but not the collective aspirations of any immigrant group.’” (pp. 228-229).

In other words, the real excuse has finally stood up. Much of the ZYDOKOMUNA owed to an arguably-selfish goal for special, national rights while living in other countries. To this was added the imagination that the USSR would grant these special privileges to the Jews to a degree not done either by Poland or the USA.

JEWISH-AMERICAN SUPPORT FOR THE SOVIET UNION WAS FAR BROADER THAN THAT OF JEWISH COMMUNISTS AND JEWISH SOCIALISTS. IT WAS LONG-TERM

Henry Srebrnik says it all, “Pro-Soviet politics was the ICOR’s [Organization for Jewish Colonization in Russia] SINE QUA NON, and certainly its members, whether or not Communist (or even socialist) in ideology, considered themselves friends and defenders of the USSR.” (p. 91).

The foregoing was no flash-in-the-pan fad. It can be generalized, in terms of base of support and in terms of time. Gennady Estraikh remarks, “In the 1950s, Yiddish still played the role of a language spoken and treasured by a substantial number of Western Communists and Communist sympathizers. In several Western counties such as the United States, Canada, France, Argentina and Israel, Yiddish Communist periodicals boasted a readership of many thousands.” (p. 144).
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