The Soviet Union and the Jewish Question 1969


A Nation or Not?

The theoretical basis of the Marxist attitude to the Jewish Question lies in J.V. Stalin’s classical work, “Marxism and the National Question”, first ‘published in 1913. Stalin defined a nation as a “historically constituted stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common -language, territory, economic life and psychological male-up manifested in a common culture”. This thesis contains some fundamental errors which are only observed when examining the concept of the nation state on a higher dialectical plain. For example, it would be very difficult to explain away the existence of the Pakistani people whose historical formation was based on the unifying factor of religion. It is clear that other factors such as religion and racial traditions must be taken into consideration when defining a nation. The deficiency in Stalin’s work has been recognised by Marxists in many parts of the world. Even in the Soviet Union, political theoreticians such as D.M. Rogachev and M.A. Sverdlin have argued this point (Voprosi Istori, No. 1. 1966). Practically, the Soviet authorities however, have taken an extremely anomalous position towards a solution of the Jewish Question in the U.S.S.R. since the death of Stalin.

Jews under Socialism

Under Lenin and Stalin in the twenties and thirties, the Jews ‘of the U.S.S.R. possessed their own national institutions, their own schools, theatres, newspapers and publishing houses. There were even numerous Jewish Soviets. The Stalinist purges in the thirties damaged the national life of the Jews to quite a large extent, as many of these institutions were closed down, leaving the Jewish Community in a much weaker position. Many famous Jewish personalities were liquidated in this series of purges along with notables of other races and religions. Unlike the purges of the thirties, which hit out at everyone and everything, the purges which took place in the last five years of Stalin’s life (1948-53) were decidedly anti-Semitic. Every Jew was a suspect as a ‘rootless cosmopolitan’ and every single Jewish institution-was closed. The flower of Yiddish writers were coldly and cruelly done to death for being nothing more than Jews. Men like Bergelson, Der Nister, Hofshteyn, Kvitko, Markish, Pfefer and Mikhoels had-their names added to the centuries old list of Jewish martyrs.

The accused in the notorious Doctor’s Plot were only saved by the timely demise of Stalin. Indeed, it was rumoured at that time that Stalin was about to deport the entire Jewish population of the U.S.S.R. to the icy wastes of Siberia.

Since the death of Stalin, the general political situation has improved under his successors, and since Kruschev’s denunciation of Stalin at the Twentieth Congress in 1956, many of the evils of Stalin’s rule have been rectified. How, then, have the Jews in the Soviet Union been effected by the process of destalinisation? Indeed to what extent have they been rehabilitated as a people as have other peoples?

Soviet Jewry 1969

In the Soviet Union, there are approximately three million Jews in 1969. In the whole of the U.S.S.R. there is, however, not even one Jewish school not indeed any other sort of Jewish educational establishment. The Chechen-Ingush, a Soviet people numbering one million, have 469 secondary general schools, 83 schools for young workers and farmers and at least ten thousand teachers. The Chechen-Ingush collaborated with the Nazis in the Caucasus in 1943 and were deported to Western Siberia. In 1957 the Chechen-Ingush Republic was reconstituted and its people rehabilitated and restored to full national rights. It is of note that any set of ten parents can by Soviet Law request education for their children in their native tongue and this request must be legally granted.

There is no permanent Yiddish State Theatre in the U.S.S.R., yet nearly 20% of the Jewish population speak Yiddish. The Gypsies, of whom there are 132,000 in the Soviet Union, have their own national theatre,’Romen’ in Moscow and there are repertory groups in Briansk, Valday, Vladimir, Tula, Yaroslav and Leningrad (Sovietskaya Kultura, Oct. 22nd, 1964). In the past decade few Yiddish books have been printed and these only in small quantities.

Indeed, between 1948 and 1959, not one book in the Yiddish language was published.

Compare this situation again with the Volga Germans, who also collaborated with the Nazis and who were rehabilitated by Mr. Kosygin in 1964. “Every Second Day, a New Book” was the headline of an article in the Moscow German monthly Kultur und Leben (January 19th, 1966). The Volga Germans too have their own full cultural rights.

Judaism Today

In the religious sphere, Jews have been discriminated against within the guise of the concept of scientific atheism. In 1956 there were 450 synagogues in the U.S.S.R., in 1969 there are 55, about a drop of 800. As in most countries, there is a falling off of Jewish religious interest and activity, but it is extremely difficult to explain that particular statistic in terms of the decline of religion. The manufacture of tephilim and taleisim is forbidden though candles, icons and vestments are produced in order to meet the religious requirements of other communities. The last Hebrew edition of the Bible was printed in 1917, since then only two editions of the Siddur have been printed, 3000 in 1958 and 10,000 in 1968.

There is also no national organisation which represents religious Jews in the U.S.S.R., a right which is certainly granted to other religious minorities, such as the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches. This prevents contact and communication with Jewish communities outside the Soviet Union, a restriction not placed on other religious minorities. In the place of these appalling deficiencies, the Soviet authorities allow notorious anti-Semites such as Trofim Kichko to publish their works. In Kichko’s Judaism and Zionism, there are statements such as “Judaism had always sanctified in the name of God both slavery and exploitation on one hand and the idleness of the exploiters on the other hand” or “Judaism openly proclaims social inequality in society in the name of God sanctifies the division of people into “Haverim” (comrades, those near ones), to which the rabbis belong and to the “Am Ha’aretz”, limited in all their rights – that is into masters and slaves” or “According to the teachings of Judaism, a father has the right to sell his daughter into slavery or to give her in wedlock without asking her agreement”. In a country with such an anti-Semitic heritage as Russia, the effect of such irresponsible publications by Kichko and others can only encourage anti-Semitism and exacerbate existing tensions. In a previous Kichko excursion into the realm of antisemitism, entitled Judaism without Embellishment, the worldwide outcry from the Left against the virulent antisemitism contained within the book, forced the Soviet authorities to withdraw the book.

In Britain, the Communist Party published a statement which suggested that the ‘ideological struggle against the remnants of antisemitism be improved, and that greater care should be exercised in the conducting of ideological work on religion and nationalism so as to avoid impermissible crudities which have nothing to do with a principled Marxist position’. ‘It is pointed out that this work could be exploited by anti-Semites to further antisemitism!’ (Morning Star, May 25th, 1966).

Perhaps the most tragic discrimination against Jews in a theoretically socialist country, is that practised in the field of education. There is absolutely no doubt that a numerus clausus operates against young Jews who wish to gain admission to higher educational institutions such as universities and training colleges. The fall in the percentage of Jewish students in recent years has been absolutely phenomenal. Jews are also barred from certain occupations such as professional politics, indeed the number of Jews at every level in the Soviet political structure is extremely low. It is certainly ironic to compare the situation now to that of fifty years ago, when the worldwide capitalist press labelled the October Revolution, merely a machiavellian consequence of ‘Russian-Jewish’ machinations, due to the high proportion of Jews in the Bolshevik cause.

The ‘Anti-Zionist’ Campaign

Since the Six-Day war, the situation of Soviet Jewry has deteriorated greatly. The anti-Israel campaign has outgrown any political objectives by the Soviet Leaders and plainly become a campaign of hysterical malice against Jews cloaked with the extremely thin veil of anti-Zionism. The use of the ‘international Zionist conspiracy’ theory has served the Soviet authorities well as a suitable political weapon to hang any attack on an opponent-on, rather like the ‘international Communist Conspiracy’ which was used by the McCarthyites in.the U.S.A. in the early 1950’s.

The use of the ‘Zionists under the Bed’ line was attempted by the Russians to justify the invasion of Czechoslovakia. In Izvestia, September 4th, 1963, V. Korzhov wrote an article under the title of ‘Jiri Hajek scurries around the wor1d’, in which he stated, “Another secret desire of Hajek’s was the restoration of diplomatic relations with Israel, contrary to the policy of the countries of the socialist camp. It is no wonder that the Israeli press

began to shower praise of every sort on Hajek. They say that during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, J. Hajek, in order to save his skin, wrote obsequious letters to the Gestapo. And it was the Gestapo that saved the life of J. Hajek, who had to ‘work’ hard for the Nazis. Perhaps this is the reason he had changed his name some time ago from Karpeles to Hajek.

The political equation of Zionism and Nazism did not balance this time and the allegation was dismissed in an interview with Hajek by the Prague magazine Reporter on October 19th, of which extracts were printed in the Morning Star of October 21st. Hajek states:

Some of these attacks had a specifically racialist character and were without any basis whatsoever. It is not true that I am of Jewish origin. But I must add that it would be nothing to be ashamed of if I were, because I think a man should be judged on the basis of what he does and how he behaves and because I think that in this country we abandoned racialism a long time ago.

The anti-Zionist campaign has created great tensions between the Jews and the numerous Soviet nationalities. The vicious and spiteful propaganda churned out by the communications media has only stoked the fires of racialism in a country where there has always been a heritage of popular anti-Semitism. The superficial and false interconnection of Israel, Zionism, fond Jewry, Imperialism, World Domination and Nazism, when used as the basis of a sloganising campaign in a country which has lost twenty million people in World War II and surely knows the hand of the Nazi aggressor, cannot help in any way whatsoever to suppress the remnants of antisemitism. The fervent nationalism of the Soviet people, a remnant of the extreme Stalinist chauvinism, can only be increased by this irresponsible campaign and it will be Soviet Jewry who will be the first to suffer because they will be considered a security risk and potentially anti-Soviet by the masses of Soviet citizens. The psychological effect on Soviet Jews can only be a gradual self-withdrawal from Soviet Society and the general realisation of the true meaning of the Soviet anti-Zionist campaign. On August 25th, 1968, when Members of the Soviet Civil Rights movement protested against the invasion of Czechoslovakia in Red Square, they were set upon by Moscow citizens and were beaten up by members of the police amidst the slogans of ‘anti-Soviet slanderers’ and ‘Dirty Jews’. The fact that these two slogans were used and coupled together by ordinary Soviet citizens instantaneously, is surely indicative of the malaise within the Soviet attitude towards the Jewish problem of in the U.S.S.R.

Soviet Jewry and the Civil Rights Movement

The Soviet Civil Rights Movement has been increasingly vocal in asking for the right of emigration to Israel for Soviet Jews. This right of emigration to Israel is granted in many socialist countries in Eastern Europe, regardless of their attitude towards Israel’s foreign policy. In the USSR, however, the right of emigration to Israel, which does not contradict Soviet laws, is denied in nearly every case to those who wish to leave.

The engineer, Boris Kochubiyevsky is now languishingly in a prison cell for the offence of ‘anti-Soviet slander’ because his ‘crime’ was to request an exit permit in order to go to Israel. On September 28 1968, he sent a letter to Mr. Brezhnev, protesting against anti-Semitism and asking to emigrate to Israel, of which the following, is an extract:

I am a Jew. I want to live in the Jewish State. This is my right, just as it is the right of a Russian to live in Russia, the right of a Georgian to live in Georgia, I want to live in Israel. I want my children to study in a school in the Hebrew language. I want to read Jewish papers. I want to go to a Jewish theatre. What is bad in this? What is my crime? Most of my relatives have been shot by the fascists. My father has been killed and his parents had been killed. Had they been alive, they would have stood at my side. Let me go! The Soviet Civil Rights Movement consider the right of Soviet Jews to protest against officially inspired anti-Semitism and to emigrate to Israel as fundamental issues along with the suppression of writers and the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Recently, an ‘Action Group for the Defence of Civil Rights in the U.S.S.R.’ sent an appeal to the United Nations Committee for Human Rights which protested strongly against the refusal of the Soviet authorities to allow Jews to go to Israel and commented on the illegal nature of the trial of Kochubiyevsky. (Observer, June 15th, 1969).

Socialism and Soviet Jewry

The right of Jews to self-determination is realised in the existence of the State of Israel. The right of all Jews to live in their national homeland in order to build Socialism cannot be questioned on a Marxist basis.

Indeed, Lenin states in ‘The Right of Nations to Self-Determination’ (Volume 20, Collected ‘,-Works of V.I. Lenin) that ‘to accuse those who support freedom of self-determination, i.e. freedom to secede, of encouraging separation, is as foolish and hypercritical as accusing those who advocate freedom of divorce, of encouraging the destruction of family ties!’ A Jew who wishes to leave Cuba and wishes to go the U.S.A., has his passport stamped ‘Emigration’, if that same Jew wishes to go to Israel, his passport is stamped ‘Repatriation’. It is clear therefore, that the Soviet authorities do not treat the Jewish problem from any sort of socialist standpoint, but merely use the Jews as a political scapegoat when answers cannot be found to fit socialist questions. It is sad to think that if Karl Marx was alive and well and living in the Soviet Union in 1969, he would be a second class citizen. Surely the Jew is the living symbol of man’s inhumanity to man, the symbol of oppression and despair, and yet the country which gave birth to the great Socialist Revolution of October 1917, now ruthlessly tries to eradicate him in the name of Marx and Lenin. When such a situation such as this arises in a country which first saw the dawn of humanity in 1917, then this, surely is catastrophically symbolic of the greater sufferings in the world today, of Vietnam, of Biafra, of Southern Africa, of the Middle East and of Czechoslovakia. The problem of Soviet Jewry is a very real one; and one that must not be ignored. Their silence is deafening, we must not forget them.

Universities’ Committee for Soviet Jewry publication 1969

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