Religion Wiki

Judaism and political radicalism

34,279pages on
this wiki
Add New Page
Add New Page Talk0

One element of antisemitism is the identification of Jews with political radicalism. On the one hand anti-Semites have often implicitly or explicitly assumed that Jewish involvement in radical political movements was part of an overarching Jewish strategy that also included wealthy Jewish capitalists, as well as Jewish involvement in the media, the academy, and other areas of public life. On the other hand, Jews attempting to defuse the anti-Semitism resulting from the fact that Jews have played a dominant role in many radical political movements have often pointed to the fact that only a minority of Jews are involved and that Gentiles are also involved in the movements.

The American Jewish Committee’s efforts to portray Jews as not overrepresented in radical movements involved deception and perhaps self-deception. The AJC engaged in intensive efforts to change opinion within the Jewish community to attempt to show that Jewish interests were more compatible with advocating American democracy than Soviet communism (e.g., emphasizing Soviet anti-Semitism and Soviet support of nations opposed to Israel in the period after World War II) [1]

The disproportionate historical contribution of Jews to the political Left has been well documented. Both as individual theorists and activists of the stature of Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg, Leon Blum and Emma Goldman, and as organised mass labour movements in, for example, revolutionary Russia and early-mid twentieth century Warsaw, Amsterdam, Paris, Toronto, New York and London, Jews have been conspicuous for their socialist and communist affiliations.

Historical analysis of the dynamics of this Jewish/Left alliance, however, has been far less conclusive. Considerable dissonance exists, for example, concerning the factors which attracted Jews to the Left, the extent to which leading Jewish Left activists were originally motivated by or subsequently influenced by explicitly Jewish concerns, and the degree to which one can reasonably speak of a specific or unique Jewish contribution to the international Left. In addition, discussion of these factors has often been inhibited by concerns regarding the use of the alleged Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy by the Nazis and other anti-Semitic groups.


According to Paul Johnson, Jewish society in the last 1500 years has been designed to produce and support intellectuals who largely focused their talents on rabbinical studies. Johnson asserts that "quite suddenly, around the year 1800, this ancient and highly efficient social machine for the production of intellectuals began to shift its output. Instead of pouring all its products into the closed circuit of rabbinical studies, . . . it unleashed a significant and ever-growing proportion of them into secular life. This was an event of shattering importance in world history."[2]

The French Revolution of 1789 promised equality, freedom, and an end to discrimination for all including the Jews. The subsequent political emancipation of the Jews in most of Western and Central Europe provoked an anti-modern and specifically anti-Jewish backlash from traditional conservative groupings. In response, Jews allied themselves with the modern liberalist forces, and played an important role in the 1848 European revolutions which sought to entrench the gains of liberalism. However, the ensuing failure of liberalism to protect Jewish rights led many Jews to seek new allies within the growing working-class movement. The international character of the socialist movement seemingly offered Jews protection from old religious and national hatreds. Thus in contrast to most other national groups, Jews had a double reason to join the proletarian revolution. They were discriminated against both on class grounds and on racial grounds.

Not surprisingly, many Jews made a rational decision to join a movement which promised to defend and extend the equal rights granted by the French Revolution. The prominence of Jews in the Left can, therefore, be attributed to reasons of self-interest as much as to any idealistic motivation. Equally, the subsequent decline of Jewish involvement in the Left can be attributed to relatively objective factors such as the creation of the State of Israel which transformed Jewish dependence from international to national forces.

20th century

Many young Jews rejected the Orthodoxy of their parents and turned to the great Jewish secular movements of Zionism, socialism, and Bundism [a Jewish labor movement founded in Eastern Europe in the 19th century]. They viewed their parents' faith in the eventual coming of the Messiah as a dangerous passivity in the face of imminent danger to the Jewish people. They took their fate into their own hands and created new forms of secular Jewish messianic activity. Their concern for changing the world by rejecting their religious background shows how deeply they were immersed in the Jewish search for redemption.

Jewish Bolshevism

A persistent theme among critics of Jews—particularly those on the pre-World War II right—has been that the Bolshevik revolution was a Jewish revolution and that the Soviet Union was dominated by Jews. This theme appears in a wide range of writings, from Henry Ford's International Jew, to published statements by a long list of British, French, and American political figures in the 1920s (Winston Churchill, Woodrow Wilson, and David Lloyd George), and, in its most extreme form, by Adolf Hitler, who wrote:

Now begins the last great revolution. By wresting political power for himself, the Jew casts off the few remaining shreds of disguise he still wears. The democratic plebeian Jew turns into the blood Jew and the tyrant of peoples. In a few years he will try to exterminate the national pillars of intelligence and, by robbing the peoples of their natural spiritual leadership, will make them ripe for the slavish lot of a permanent subjugation. The most terrible example of this is Russia. [1]

This long tradition stands in sharp contradiction to the consensus view, held by Jewish organizations and almost all contemporary historians, that Jews played no special role in Bolshevism and indeed were specifically victimized by it.


  1. Cohen 1972, 347ff
  2. Johnson, Paul (1988). A History of the Jews. pp. 340–341. 

See also

Also on Fandom

Random Wiki