|Thread begun by Robert on Sat 11/12/05 - 7:28 AM CST
Dr. Kevin MacDonald wrote a penetrating review of Yuri Slezkine’s
book, The Jewish Century. The review is available online at
Portions of the review are reproduced here:
... in the decades immediately before the Russian Revolution Jews had
already made enormous advances in social and economic status, a major
contribution of Slezkine’s book is to document that Communism was,
indeed, “good for the Jews.” After the Revolution, there was active
elimination of any remnants of the older order and their descendants.
Anti-Semitism was outlawed. Jews benefited from “antibourgeois”
quotas in educational institutions and other forms of discrimination
against the middle class and aristocratic elements of the old regime,
which could have competed with the Jews. While all other
nationalities, including Jews, were allowed and encouraged to keep
their ethnic identities, the revolution maintained an
anti-majoritarian attitude. (Some might argue that the parallel with
post ’65 Civil Rights Act America ironic!)
Beyond the issue of demonstrating that the Jews benefited
Revolution lies the more important question of their role in
implementing it. Having achieved power and elite status, did their
traditional hostility to the leaders of the old regime, and to the
peasantry, contribute to the peculiarly ghastly character of the
early Soviet era?
On this question, Slezkine’s contribution is decisive.
Despite the important role of Jews among the Bolsheviks, most Jews
were not Bolsheviks before the Revolution. However, Jews were
prominent among the Bolsheviks, and once the Revolution was underway,
the vast majority of Russian Jews became sympathizers and active
Jews were particularly visible in the cities and as leaders
army and in the revolutionary councils and committees. For example,
there were 23 Jews among 62 Bolsheviks in the All-Russian Central
Executive Committee elected at the Second Congress of Soviets in
October, 1917. Jews were leaders of the movement and to a great extent
they were its public face.
Their presence was particularly notable at the top levels of
and OGPU (two successive acronyms for the secret police). Here
Slezkine provides statistics on Jewish overrepresentation in these
organizations, especially in supervisory roles, and quotes historian
Leonard Shapiro’s comment that “anyone who had the misfortune to fall
into the hands of the Cheka stood a very good chance of finding
himself confronted with and possibly shot by a Jewish investigator.”
During the 1930s, Slezkine reports, the secret police, now
the NKVD, “was one of the most Jewish of all Soviet institutions”,
with 42 of the 111 top officials being Jewish. At this time 12 of the
20 NKVD directorates were headed by ethnic Jews, including those in
charge of State Security, Police, Labor Camps, and Resettlement
The Gulag was headed by ethnic Jews from its beginning in 1930
the end of 1938, a period that encompasses the worst excesses of the
They were, in Slezkine’s remarkable phrase, “Stalin’s willing
Slezkine appears to take a certain pride in the drama of the
the Jews in Russia during these years. Thus he says they were
“among the most exuberant crusaders against ‘bourgeois’ habits
the Great Transformation; the most disciplined advocates of socialist
realism during the ‘Great Retreat’ (from revolutionary
internationalism); and the most passionate prophets of faith, hope,
and combat during the Great Patriotic War against the Nazis”.
Sometimes his juxtapositions between his descriptions of Jewish
involvement in the horror of the early Soviet period and the life
styles of the Jewish elite seem deliberately jarring. Lev Kopelev, a
Jewish writer who witnessed and rationalized the Ukrainian famine in
which millions died horrible deaths of starvation and disease as an
“historical necessity” is quoted saying “You mustn’t give in to
debilitating pity. We are the agents of historical necessity. We are
fulfilling our revolutionary duty.”
On the next page, Slezkine describes the life of the largely
elite in Moscow and Leningrad where they attended the theater, sent
their children to the best schools, had peasant women (whose families
were often the victims of mass murder) for nannies, spent weekends at
pleasant dachas and vacationed at the Black Sea.
Again, Slezkine discusses the heavily Jewish NKVD and the Jewish
leadership of the Great Terror of the 1930s. Then, he writes that in
1937 the prototypical Jewish State official “probably would have been
living in elite housing in downtown Moscow . . . with access to
special stores, a house in the country (dacha), and a live-in peasant
nanny or maid”. He writes long and lovingly detailed sketches of life
at the dachas of the elite—the “open verandas overlooking small
gardens enclosed by picket fences…”
The reader is left on his own to recall the horrors of the
famine, the liquidation of the Kulaks, and the Gulag.
Slezkine attempts to dodge the issue of the degree to which the
horrors perpetrated by the early Soviet state were rooted in the
traditional attitudes of the Jews who in fact played such an extensive
role in their orchestration. He argues that the Jewish Communists were
Communists, not Jews.
This does not survive factual analysis.
One might grant the possibility that the revolutionary
composed of Jews like Trotsky, apparently far more influenced by a
universalist utopian vision than by their upbringing in traditional
Judaism. But, even granting this, it does not necessarily follow for
the millions of Jews who left the shtetl towns, migrated to the
cities, and to such a large extent ran the USSR.
It strains credulity to suppose that these migrants
immediately threw off all remnants of the Eastern European shtetl
culture—which, as Slezkine acknowledges, had a deep sense of
estrangement from non-Jewish society, a fear and hatred of peasants,
hostility toward the Czarist upper class, and a very negative attitude
In other words, the war against what Slezkine terms “rural
backwardness and religion” — major targets of the Revolution — was
exactly the sort of war that traditional Jews would have supported
wholeheartedly, because it was a war against everything they hated and
thought of as oppressing Jews.
However, while Slezkine seems comfortable with the notion of
as a Jewish motive, he does not consider traditional Jewish culture
itself as a possible contributor to Jewish behavior in the new
After World War II, in a process which remains somewhat
Russian majority began taking back their country. One method was
“massive affirmative action” aimed at giving greater representation to
underrepresented ethnic groups. Jews became targets of suspicion
because of their ethnic status. They were barred from some elite
institutions, and had their opportunities for advancement limited.
Overt anti-Semitism was encouraged by the more covert official variety
apparent in the limits on Jewish advancement.
Under these circumstances, Slezkine says that Jews became “in many
ways, the core of the antiregime intelligentsia”. Applications to
leave the USSR increased dramatically after Israel’s Six-Day War of
1967 which, as in the United States and Eastern Europe, resulted in an
upsurge of Jewish identification and ethnic pride. The floodgates were
eventually opened by Gorbachev in the late 1980s. By 1994, 1.2 million
Soviet Jews had emigrated—43% of the total. By 2002, there were only
230,000 Jews remaining in the Russian Federation, 0.16% of the population.
Nevertheless these remaining Jews remain overrepresented among the
elite. Six of the seven oligarchs who emerged in control of the Soviet
economy and media in the period of de-nationalization of the 1990s
The fate of Russia in the first two decades following the
prompts reflection on what might have happened in the United States
had American communists and their sympathizers assumed power. Sectors
of American society might perhaps have been deemed unacceptably
backward and superstitious and even worthy of mass murder by the
American counterparts of the Jewish elite in the Soviet Union—the ones
who journeyed to Ellis Island instead of Moscow.
Those “red state” voters who have loomed so important in recent
national elections would have been the enemy. The cultural and
religious attitudes of “red state” America are precisely those
attitudes that have been deemed changeworthy by the left, particularly
by the Jewish community, which has been the driving force of the left
in America throughout the 20th century.
As Joel Kotkin points out, “for generations, [American] Jews have
viewed religious conservatives with a combination of fear and disdain.”
If there is any lesson to be learned, it is that Jews not
an elite in all these areas, they became a hostile elite—hostile to
the traditional people and cultures of all three areas they came to
So far, the greatest human tragedies have occurred in the Soviet
Union. But the presence of Israel in the Middle East is creating
obvious dangers there. And alienation remains a potent motive for the
disproportionate Jewish involvement in the transformation of the U.S.
into a non-European society through non-traditional immigration.
Given this record of Jews as a very successful but hostile
is possible that the continued demographic and cultural dominance of
Western European peoples will not be retained, either in Europe or the
United States, without a decline in Jewish influence.