The Bolsheviks and Antisemitism

McGeever, Brendan

Publisher:  Jacobin Magazine
Date Written:  22/06/2017
Year Published:  2017  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX21003

Antisemitism was found across the political divide in Russia's year of revolution.



In this startling recollection, the distinction between revolutionary Bolshevism and counterrevolutionary antisemitism is blurred. In fact, Ehrenburg's account prefigures the haunting question that would be posed in Isaac Babel's civil war stories Red Cavalry: "which is the Revolution and which the counterrevolution?"

Despite Bolshevik insistence on framing it as a purely "counterrevolutionary" phenomenon, antisemitism eluded such neat categorization, and could be found across the political divide, in highly complex and unexpected forms. This would be most sharply revealed six months later, in the spring of 1918, when the first pogroms since the October Revolution broke out in the former Pale of Settlement. In towns and cities of northeast Ukraine such as Glukhov, Bolshevik power was consolidated through anti-Jewish violence on the part of the local cadres of the party and Red Guards. The Bolshevik confrontation with antisemitism in 1918, then, was often a confrontation with the antisemitism of its own social base.

As we mark the centenary of the October Revolution, we rightly celebrate it as a moment of radical social transformation, when a new world seemed possible. The revolution, however, should also be remembered in all its complications.

Antiracism needs to be cultivated and renewed, continually. A century on, as we grapple with the damage done by racism to class politics, 1917 can tell us much about how reactionary ideas can take hold, but also how they can be taken on and confronted.
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