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The Russian Revolution and the perception of the Jews

The Russian Revolution and the perception of the Jews
The Russian Revolution had additional implications on the way Jews were treated and perceived, both inside and outside of what would become the Soviet Union. Firstly, under the Bolsheviks, Jews were granted civil equality and antisemitism was outlawed. However, as we will soon see, the Bolshevik definition of Judaism and Jewishness, would also greatly limit their religious and national freedom, affecting their treatment and the way others perceived them. An additional outcome of the revolution and the events following it, was the growing fusion of Jews and revolutionary movements, especially Bolshevism. As discussed in last week’s lesson, this perception already began to appear in the late 19th century; following the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, it became even more widespread.
Let’s turn to examine these developments further. The Bolshevik Revolution seemed to open up glorious new opportunities for some Jews among many other peoples and classes. But it carried within it the the seed of destruction for Jewish culture in areas of the former Russian Empire that fell under long-term communist control because ultimately the Communists defined Jewish identity in narrowly ethnic terms, and were opposed to both traditional religious culture, as well as to Hebrew and Zionist culture, and so only certain forms of Yiddish culture were initially cultivated and tolerated under Soviet rule.
And eventually that too came to be extinguished in the 1950s, and even more catastrophic than the impact of communism on the sort of pluralistic diversity of Jewish culture in the former Russian Empire, was the linkage that developed between European anti-communism and antisemitism, because to the extent that Jews were somewhat disproportionately represented in the ranks of communist movements and initially in the Soviet Union and in other parts of Europe, to the extent that Jews, more broadly, were disproportionately represented among movements of the left, including social democratic movements, and insofar as Marx had been of Jewish heritage even if he was an antisemite himself. It was easy to put a Jewish face on communism.
it was completely distorting and manipulative to do so, but it was an easy propagandist link for anti-communist and antisemites to make and to find common ground on. The Nazis exploited this ruthlessly, the myth of the Żydokomuna of the Judeo communist conspiracy was a powerful political force in poland and in the 1930s into the 1940s.
So this perception, however misleading and distorted, of communism as being some kind of aspect of a Jewish conspiracy against Christianity, private property and European civilization, was to prove literally lethal for Jews in the context of rising antisemitism in interwar Europe, and then obviously in the context of the Holocaust, which I think cannot be reduced to that element. But the linkages are striking.

Prof. Aviel Roshwald

An important outcome of the Russian Revolution and the events following it was the growing fusion of Jews and revolutionary movements, especially Bolshevism.

How did this development affect antisemitic rhetoric and actions?


  • Ablovatski, Eliza, “The 1919 Central European Revolutions and the Judeo-Bolshevik Myth,” European Review of History: Revue européenne d’histoire, vol. 17, no. 3 (2010), pp. 473 – 489.

  • Crim, Brian E., “Our Most Serious Enemy: The Specter of Judeo-Bolshevism in the German Military Community, 1914-1923,” Central European History, vol. 44, no. 4 (2011), pp. 624 – 641.

  • Gerrits, Andre, The Myth of Jewish Communism: A Historical Interpretation (New York: Peter Lang: 2009).

  • Hanebrink, Paul , “Transnational Culture War: Christianity, Nation, and the Judeo‐Bolshevik Myth in Hungary, 1890-1920,” The Journal of Modern History, vol. 80, no. 1 (March 2008), pp. 55 – 80.

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Antisemitism: From Its Origins to the Present

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