Antisemitism in the Soviet Union
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Part of Jewish history
The Russian Revolution overthrew a centuries-old regime of official antisemitism. The Soviet Union's success, during its existence, in struggling with this legacy, and the degree to which its government fought against, or was itself guilty of antisemitism, is a topic of some debate. Antisemitism was commonly used as an instrument for personal conflicts in the Soviet Union, starting from conflict between Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky and continuing through numerous conspiracy theories spread by official propaganda. Antisemitism in the USSR reached new heights after 1948 during the campaign against the "rootless cosmopolitan" in which numerous Yiddish-writing poets, writers, painters and sculptors were killed or arrested. This culminated in the so-called Doctors' Plot.
Before the revolution
Under the Czars, Jews had been confined to a Pale of Settlement, were subject to many discriminatory laws, and had often been the victims of pogroms, many of which were organized by the Tsarist authorities or with their tacit approval. As a result of being the victims of oppression, many Jews either emigrated from the Russian Empire or joined radical parties, such as the Jewish Bund, Socialist-Revolutionary Party, Mensheviks or Bolsheviks.
After the revolution
The February Revolution and the Provisional Government
The Provisional Government cancelled all restrictions imposed on the Jews by the Tsarist regime, in a move parallel to the emancipation of the Jews in Western Europe that had taken place during the 19th century. This stance was retained by the later Bolshevik governments.
While the Bolsheviks were opposed to religion, Christian as well as Jewish, they also opposed antisemitism and any form of discrimination against Jews or any minority. Several prominent members of Soviet government institutions and the Communist Party (such as Leon Trotsky, Yakov Sverdlov, Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev, among others) came from a Jewish background. In 1918, the Yevsektsiya was established to promote Marxism and the related ideas of secularism and assimilation among the Jewish population. The Council of People's Commissars adopted a 1918 decree condemning all antisemitism and calling on the workers and peasants to combat it. Information campaigns against antisemitism were conducted in the Red Army and in the workplaces, and a provision forbidding the incitement of propaganda against any ethnicity became part of Soviet law. State-sponsored institutions of secular Yiddish culture, such as the Moscow State Jewish Theater, were established in Soviet Russia and the Soviet Union during this time, as were institutions for other minorities.
At the same time, religious traditions among the Jewish population were suppressed. In August 1919 Jewish properties, including synagogues, were seized and many Jewish communities were dissolved. The anti-religious laws against all expressions of religion and religious education were being taken out on all religious groups, including the Jewish communities. Many Rabbis and other religious officials were forced to resign from their posts under the threat of violent persecution. This type of persecution continued on into the 1920s.
In March 1919, Vladimir Lenin delivered a speech "On Anti-Jewish Pogroms" in a gramophone recording. Lenin sought to explain the phenomenon of antisemitism in Marxist terms. According to Lenin, antisemitism was an "attempt to divert the hatred of the workers and peasants from the exploiters toward the Jews." Lenin and the Bolshevik Party strongly condemned the antisemitic pogroms which were perpetrated by the White Army during the Russian Civil War, while the White forces were openly identifying the Bolshevik regime with Jews.
At the same time, Lenin wrote in his project of a directive for the Communist Party "The policies on the Ukraine" in autumn of 1919:
|“||Jews and city dwellers on the Ukraine must be taken by hedgehog-skin gauntlets, sent to fight on front lines and should never be allowed on any administrative positions (except a negligible percentage, in exceptional cases, and under [our] class control)||”|
Joseph Stalin emerged as leader of the Soviet Union following a power struggle with Leon Trotsky following the death of Lenin. Stalin has been accused of resorting to antisemitism in some of his arguments against Trotsky who was Jewish. Those who knew Stalin, such as Khrushchev, suggest that Stalin had long harbored negative sentiments toward Jews that had manifested themselves before the 1917 Revolution As early as 1907, Stalin wrote a letter differentiating between a "Jewish faction" and a "true Russian faction" in Bolshevism. Stalin's secretary Boris Bazhanov stated that Stalin made crude antisemitic outbursts even before Lenin's death. It's also possible that Stalin's attitudes towards Trotsky, a Russian Jew, may have influenced his views of Jews in general. Stalin adopted antisemitic policies which were reinforced with his anti-Westernism.[note 1] Since antisemitism was associated with Nazi Germany and was officially condemned by the Soviet system, the Soviet Union and other communist states used the cover-term "anti-Zionism" for their antisemitic policies. Antisemitism, as historian, Orientalist and anthropologist Raphael Patai and geneticist Jennifer Patai Wing put it in their book The Myth of the Jewish Race, was "couched in the language of opposition to Zionism".
Antisemitism in the Soviet Union commenced openly as a campaign against the "rootless cosmopolitan" (a euphemism for "Jew"). In his speech titled "On Several Reasons for the Lag in Soviet Dramaturgy" at a plenary session of the board of the Soviet Writers' Union in December 1948, Alexander Fadeyev equated the cosmopolitans with the Jews.[note 2] In this campaign against the "rootless cosmopolitan", many leading Jewish writers and artists were killed. Terms like "rootless cosmopolitans", "bourgeois cosmopolitans", and "individuals devoid of nation or tribe" (all of which were codewords for Jews) appeared in newspapers.[note 3] The Soviet press accused the Jews of "groveling before the West," helping "American imperialism," "slavish imitation of bourgeois culture" and "bourgeois aestheticism."[note 4] Victimization of Jews in the USSR at the hands of the Nazis was denied, Jewish scholars were removed from the sciences and emigration rights were denied to Jews. The Stalinist antisemitic campaign ultimately culminated in the Doctors' plot in 1953. According to Patai and Patai, the Doctors' plot was "clearly aimed at the total liquidation of Jewish cultural life." Communist antisemitism under Stalin shared a common characteristic with Nazi and fascist antisemitism in its belief in "Jewish world conspiracy".
After Stalin's death, the antisemitic Stalinist terror relented, but the fundamentals of Stalin's polices towards the Jews remained unchanged in the post-Stalinist USSR; only the methods changed — indirect anti-Jewish policies over direct physical assault. Erich Goldhagen suggests that despite being famously critical of Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev did not view Stalin's anti-Jewish policies as "monstrous acts" or "rude violations of the basic Leninist principles of the nationality policy of the Soviet state."
- Anti-Zionist Committee of the Soviet Public
- History of the Jews in the Soviet Union
- Soviet Anti-Zionism
- Antisemitism in Russia
- Antisemitism in the Russian Empire
- Racism in Russia
- Emil Draitser (2008), Shush! Growing up Jewish under Stalin: A Memoir
- Konstantin Azadovskii, an editorial board member of the cultural journal Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, and Boris Egorov, a research fellow at Saint Petersburg State University, in an article titled From Anti-Westernism to Anti-Semitism published in the Journal of Cold War Studies writes "Stalin's policies of anti- Westernism and anti-Semitism reinforced one another and joined together in the notion of cosmopolitanism." 
- Konstantin Azadovskii and Boris Egorov in an article titled From Anti-Westernism to Anti-Semitism published in the Journal of Cold War Studies writes "In 1949, however, the attacks on cosmopolitans (kosmopolity) acquired a markedly anti-Semitic character. The very term cosmopolitan, which began to appear ever more frequently in newspaper headlines, was increasingly paired in the lexicon of the time with the word rootless (bezrodnye). The practice of equating cosmopolitans with Jews was heralded by a speech delivered in late December 1948 by Anatolii Fadeev at a plenary session of the board of the Soviet Writers' Union. His speech, titled "On Several Reasons for the Lag in Soviet Dramaturgy," was followed a month later by a prominent editorial in Pravda, "On an Anti-Patriotic Group of Theater Critics." The "anti- patriotic group of theater critics" consisted of Aleksandr Borshchagovskii, Abram Gurvich, Efim Kholodov, Yulii Yuzovskii, and a few others also of Jewish origin. In all subsequent articles and speeches the anti-patriotism of theater and literary critics (and later of literary scholars) was unequivocally connected with their Jewish nationality."
- Konstantin Azadovskii and Boris Egorov in an article titled From Anti-Westernism to Anti-Semitism published in the Journal of Cold War Studies writes "Terms such as rootless cosmopolitans, bourgeois cosmopolitans, and individuals devoid of nation or tribe continually appeared in newspaper articles. All of these were codewords for Jews and were understood as such by people at that time." 
- Konstantin Azadovskii and Boris Egorov in an article titled From Anti-Westernism to Anti-Semitism published in the Journal of Cold War Studies writes "Of the many crimes attributed to Jews/cosmopolitans in the Soviet press, the most malevolent were "groveling before the West," aiding "American imperialism," "slavish imitation of bourgeois culture," and the catch-all misdeed of "bourgeois aestheticism." 
- Konstantin Azadovskii and Boris Egorov (2002). "From Anti-Westernism to Anti-Semitism". Journal of Cold War Studies 4:1 (Winter): 66–80.
- Raphael; Jennifer Patai (1989). The Myth of the Jewish Race. Wayne State University Press. p. 178. ISBN 978-0-8143-1948-2.
- "Russia". Encyclopaedia Judaica 17. Keter Publishing House Ltd. pp. 531–553.
- Lenin's March 1919 speech "On Anti-Jewish Pogroms" («О погромной травле евреев»: text, audio (help·info))
- Benjamin Pinkus. The Jews of the Soviet Union: The History of a National Minority. Cambridge University Press, 1988.
- Naomi Blank. Redefining the Jewish Question from Lenin to Gorbachev: Terminology or Ideology. In: Yaacov Ro'i, editor. Jews and Jewish Life in Russia and the Soviet Union.Routledge, 1995.
- William Korey. Russian Anti-semitism, Pamyat, and the Demonology of Zionism. Routledge, 1995.
- Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev, Time of darkness, Moscow, 2003, ISBN 5-85646-097-9, page 207 (Russian: Яковлев А. Сумерки. Москва: Материк 2003 г.; The letter includes a footnote by Lenin who instructed to "use a politically correct wording, like "Jewish petty bourgeoisie"
- Russian expression: "Ezhovye rukavitsy", this can be also translated as "ruled by iron fist"
- Ro'i, Yaacov , Jews and Jewish Life in Russia and the Soviet Union, Routledge, 1995, ISBN 0-7146-4619-9, pp. 103-6.
- Montefiore, Simon Sebag, Young Stalin, Random House, Inc., 2008, ISBN 1-4000-9613-8, p. 165.
- Kun, Miklós, Stalin: An Unknown Portrait, Central European University Press, 2003, ISBN 963-9241-19-9, p. 287.
- Konstantin Azadovskii and Boris Egorov (2002), "From Anti-Westernism to Anti-Semitism", Journal of Cold War Studies 4:1 (Winter 2002): 66–80
- Louis Horowitz, Irving (December 3, 2007), "Cuba, Castro and Anti-Semitism" (PDF), Current Psychology 26 (3-4): 183–190, doi:10.1007/s12144-007-9016-4, ISSN 0737-8262, OCLC 9460062
- Laqueur 2006, p. 177
- Goldhagen 1987, p. 389
- Goldhagen 1987, p. 390
- McLellan, David (1980), Marx before Marxism, Macmillan, ISBN 978-0-333-27882-6.
- Laqueur, Walter (2006), The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism: From Ancient Times to the Present Day, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-530429-9.
- Griffin, Roger; Feldman, Matthew (2004), Fascism: Critical Concepts in Political Science V, Taylor & Francis, ISBN 978-0-415-29020-3.
- Mach, Zdzisław (2007), "Constructing Identities in a post-Communist Society: Ethnic, national, and European", Identity and Networks: Fashioning Gender and Ethnicity Across Cultures, Berghahn Books, ISBN 978-1-84545-162-2.
- Patai, Raphael; Patai, Jennifer (1989), "The Latest Libel: The Jew as Racist", The Myth of the Jewish Race, Wayne State University Press, ISBN 978-0-8143-1948-2.
- Goldhagen, Erich (1987), "Communism and Anti-Semitism", The Persisting Question: Sociological Perspectives and Social Contexts of Modern Antisemitism, Walter de Gruyter, ISBN 978-3-11-010170-6.
- Possony, Stefan T. (1976), "Anti-Semitism in the Russian Orbit", Case Studies on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms: A World Survey 2, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, ISBN 978-90-247-1781-1.
- Busky, Donald F. (2002), Communism in History and Theory: From Utopian Socialism to the Fall of the Soviet Union, Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN 978-0-275-97748-1.
- Hampsher-Monk, Iain (1992), A History of Modern Political Thought: Major Political Thinkers from Hobbes to Marx, Wiley-Blackwell, ISBN 978-1-55786-147-4.
- March, Luke (2002), "Evaluating the CPRF's ideology: backwards to socialism?", The Communist Party in Post-Soviet Russia, Manchester University Press, ISBN 978-0-7190-6044-1.