Solzhenitsyn on the Jews and Soviet Russia, Part 2 Vol. 2



By F. Roger Devlin

Editor’s Note: This review-essay on volume 2 of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Two Hundred Years Together: Jews and Russians during the Soviet Period will appear online in four parts. Read the first part here. The author’s review of volume 1, Jews and Russians before the Revolution, is available here in PDF format.

                                                 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 1918-2008

One of the best promoted legends about the Russian Revolution concerns “the pogroms carried out by the White Armies” during the Civil War. Solzhenitsyn devotes several pages to examining this widely received notion.

In the first place, it is important to understand that Reds and Whites were not the only forces fighting in Southern Russia at this time. There was a powerful Ukrainian separatist movement under the leadership of Symon Petliura. There were also a number of private armed bands responsible to no one but themselves. These were led by local bosses (Solzhenitsyn names ten), and operated mainly in rural areas. Some described themselves as “Blacks” or “Greens,” and opposed both the White and Red Armies. The entire scene was extremely chaotic, and it can be a difficult chore for the historian to figure out exactly who was where when.

The pogroms which occurred across the whole of Southern Russia during this period were “unprecedented in their cruelty and numbers of victims” (p. 134)—out of all proportion to anything which had been seen in 1881–82, 1903, or 1905–06. Early Soviet sources speak of 180,000–200,000 victims and more than 300,000 orphaned children. The more recent Jewish Encyclopedia records that “according to various estimates between 70,000 and 180,000–200,000 perished” (p. 172). Who was responsible for these atrocities?

Collating various Jewish sources, a contemporary historian estimates the number of mass pogroms at 900, among which 40 percent were carried out by the forces of Petliura and the [Ukrainian National] Directory, 25 percent by [irregular] detachments commanded by Ukrainian bosses, 17 percent by Denikin’s [White] Armies, and 8.5 percent by Budienny’s First Cavalry and other Red forces. (pp. 172–73)

In other words, the great majority of pogroms of this period were not connected with the White movement at all. Those carried out by Ukrainian separatist forces were not only the most numerous but also distinguished for their deliberate cruelty and the methodical extermination of women, children, and the elderly. Sometimes they were not even accompanied by pillaging (p. 160).

And, in spite of Lenin’s declared intentions, the Red forces did not remain innocent:

In the Spring of 1918 [before the other forces had gotten started!—FRD], pogroms accompanied by the slogan “down with the Jews and the bourgeois!” were fomented by Red Army detachments returning from Ukraine. Particularly cruel were the pogroms perpetrated by the First Cavalry at the end of August 1920 during their retreat from Poland. But these pogroms fomented by the Red Army have remained nearly hidden from history. (p. 173)

So what about that 17 percent of pogroms due to the White Army?

Solzhenitsyn devotes eleven pages to the story of the Jews and the White movement. This material is difficult to summarize. The author quotes divergent and even contradictory testimonies without always taking sides. At one moment the subject is the “Volunteer Army,” a little farther along it the “White Army.” The reader is never told that the former was a part of the latter, nor what the other parts were.

A recent scholarly study affirms that “in its first year of existence [1918], the White movement was practically free of any anti-Semitism. . . . But in 1919 [the decisive year of the war] things changed radically” (p. 163). The White Army was hypnotized by Trotsky and Nakhamkis [editor of Izvestia], which led it to identify Bolshevism as a whole with the Jews. The divisions fighting in Ukraine were probably also influenced by the local tradition of anti-Semitism (p. 164).

The Jewish doctor Daniel Pasmanik, who served the Whites for a time, recalled:

The Volunteer Army systematically refused to accept into its ranks Jewish ensigns and cadets, including those who had valiantly fought the Bolsheviks in October 1917. This was a severe moral blow to the Jews. I will never forget when eleven Jewish ensigns came to see me in Simferopol to complain that they had been excluded from the armed service and relegated to the rear as cooks. (p. 168)

  1. Linski reports that Jews were not allowed to occupy administrative functions, nor accepted in the propaganda department of the Volunteer Army. But he denies that the Army published anti-Semitic propaganda or let attacks against Jews go unpunished (p. 169).

The Volunteer Army was, both militarily and morally, the soundest part of the White forces in Southern Russia. But they were insufficient to stand up to the Red Army by themselves. A number of Cossack divisions were enrolled to fight in the Ukraine, to the West of the Volunteers. These men were motivated by the desire for plunder as much as by opposition to bolshevism. It was in their area that most (perhaps all) of the “White pogroms” occurred.[1]

General Denikin, overall leader of the White forces in Southern Russia, expressed shame over the pogroms committed by men nominally under his command, and no historian seems to suspect him of having ordered them (although some argue that he might have done more to stop them).

It is frequently asserted that the conduct of the White Army virtually forced the Jews of Southern Russia to side with the Bolsheviks. Solzhenitsyn remarks: “We cannot say that nothing drove them to make this choice; we also cannot say there was no other solution” (p. 149). In any case, it is difficult to see how the Whites could have forced anyone to take an active role in the Cheka.

Strengthening the public perception of Bolshevism as a Jewish movement were the brief Communist takeovers of Bavaria and Hungary in 1919. The proportion of Jews in the Bolshevik movement in Hungary was said to be about 95 percent; in the German Communist Party it was also greatly out of proportion. “That the directors of the communist revolts were Jews—this was one of the main reasons for the revival of political anti-Semitism in post-revolutionary Germany” (p. 153). In the 1920s, “the assimilation of Bolshevism to Judaism became a fashion followed by everyone,” i.e., it was not peculiar to traditionally anti-Semitic milieus (p. 188).

About two million persons fled Bolshevik Russia during the years 1918–22, with most settling in Western Europe. As Russia fell eerily silent—apart from the monotonous drone of the regime itself—all aspects of the revolution continued to be enthusiastically debated among the exiles, both Jewish and Gentile. Jews numbered some 200,000 among the refugees (i.e., 10 percent), and about half of them went to Germany. They were particularly active in the field of publishing: “In 1922, these publishers brought out more Russian books and publications [in Berlin] than German language editors did in all of Germany” (pp. 182–83). A surprising number of the Jewish exiles continued to cherish an idealized image of Soviet Russia as a promised land of equality and social justice. Among the Jewish refugees who settled in the United States, notes the Jewish Encyclopedia, “pro-Bolshevik ideas had no difficulty proliferating” (p. 196). “One cannot say that the Jewish emigration [as a whole] was pro-Bolshevik,” concludes Solzhenitsyn, “but for it the Bolshevik regime was not the principal enemy, and many were those who maintained a benevolent attitude towards it” (p. 196).

  1. M. Biekerman relates a characteristic anecdote:

When a well-known Jewish public figure proposed to a Jewish religious dignitary, in one of the European capitals, to organize a meeting to protest the execution of Orthodox priests in Russia, the latter, upon reflection, answered that this amounted to combating the Bolsheviks, which he considered it impossible to do since the fall of Bolshevism would lead to the return of pogroms. (p. 198)

This Biekerman, along with Pasmanik and Linski, helped to found an extraordinary group called “The Patriotic Alliance of Russian Jews.” In 1923 they issued a manifesto stating that “for the Jews as for all the nations which inhabit Russia, Bolshevism is the worst of all possible evils” (p. 200).

Jews must fight those who are perverting Russia, shoulder-to-shoulder with all anti-Bolsheviks. A fraternal combat against a common enemy will clear the air and considerably weaken the wave of anti-Semitism which has been unleashed. (p. 203)

Later that year this group had published in Berlin a six-author volume entitled Russia and the Jews. Says Solzhenitsyn:

In the entire history of relations between Jews and Russians, I know of nothing comparable to this collection. For the Jews in the emigration, it had the effect of a bomb. Just imagine how painful it was to hear these words from Jewish mouths, from within the Jewish world.

As for us Russians, we should not take this collection lightly. On the contrary, it should serve as an example for us: of how, even while loving one’s own people, one may speak of one’s own errors and, where necessary, do so without indulgence. And without placing oneself apart, without dissociating oneself from one’s people. (p. 204)

Solzhenitsyn makes extensive use of this group of writers as sources throughout the first half of his second volume. Admirable as they may have been, they were isolated voices within the Jewish emigration. The author fills a page and a half with the dismissive or vituperative comments they elicited from other Jews (pp. 209–10).

The decade of the 1920s also witnessed a mass migration of Jews from the former Pale toward the cities of Central Russia: ordinary Russians spoke (or perhaps whispered) of a Jewish “conquest” of the cities. For example, in 1920 there were 28,000 Jews in Moscow; in 1923 there were 86,000; in 1926, 131,000; in 1933, 226,500. City residence allowed them better access to consumer goods and to professional advancement (pp. 218, 224).

Jewish representation in the Communist Party was about proportional to their share of the urban population. But with 83 percent of Jews living in towns, they were one of the most urbanized nationalities in the Soviet Union. So overall they were overrepresented in Party ranks by a factor of about 6.5 (p. 219).

The four largest nationalities represented in the Party in 1922 were Russians (72 percent), Ukrainians (5.9 percent), Jews (5.2 percent), and Latvians (2.5 percent). This means that for one thousand Russians there were 3.8 Communists, while for one thousand Jews there were 8.1. The disproportion was greater at higher levels in the Party. Jews made up 18.3 percent of the voting delegates at the XIth Party Congress that year, and 26 percent of the new Central Committee elected by this Congress (pp. 225–26).

During these years, the role of national minorities in the secret police declined overall: from 50 percent at the time of the Red Terror to 30–35 percent by the mid-1920s. Even so, the number of Jews continued to increase (pp. 227–28).

New class origin criteria for admission to universities were established. The sons of even “petty bourgeois” Russians—shopkeepers and such—were barred from advancement. On the other hand

. . . these discriminatory measures were not extended to Jews because they belonged to a “nation persecuted by the tsarist regime.” The Jewish youth, even of bourgeois origin, were greeted with open arms in the universities. Jews were forgiven for not being proletarian. (p. 221)

Thus, 15.4 percent of students enrolled in institutions of higher learning in 1926–27 were Jewish, while Jews constituted just 1.82 percent of the population. The situation was even more lopsided than these numbers reveal, because the Russians who did get admitted were “proletarians,” i.e., not the cognitive elite of the Russian nation.

Such circumstances were both noticed and resented by the rest of the population. The “new anti-Semitism” was not a continuation of the pre-Revolutionary variety, but affected demographic groups that had been entirely free of anti-Semitism in earlier days. The matter went undiscussed in the official Soviet press for several years.

Exposés first appeared in Paris by 1922. The revelations of socialists Yekaterina Kuskova and Sergei Maslov profoundly shocked the exiled intelligentsia, for whom it had always been an article of faith that anti-Semitism was caused by “autocracy.”

Even among the children of radical families, wrote Kuskova, all the talk is of the Jewish invasion: “they have shown their true face, they have made us suffer!” She maintained that an actual majority of the population had become anti-Semitic, and the younger generation more than their elders.

Maslov stated that “the power of the Yids” was a common expression. “Among the reasons for this universal Judeophobia,” he explained, “is the Jews’ strong national solidarity” which “appears especially in the recruitment of administrative agents.” In a Jewish functionary: “Soviet power reveals its bad side most ostentatiously. The intoxication of power acts more strongly on Jews” (pp. 241–44).

The New Economic Policy (NEP), launched by Lenin in the spring of 1921, was a tactical retreat on the economic front which allowed limited private enterprise while the Communists strengthened their political grip on the country. This reversal of policy created, as an unintended effect, new occasions for Judeophobia. Solzhenitsyn remarks:

One often saw Jews among those who first enriched themselves under NEP. The hatred directed against them was also due to their operating within the field of Soviet institutions, not only those of the market: many of their undertakings were made easier by the relations they enjoyed with those in the Soviet apparatus. (p. 255)

Beginning around 1926, the regime openly admitted the existence of the “new anti-Semitism” and sought to combat it. A leader in this counter-attack was Yuri Larin, previously best known as the man behind “War Communism,” the policies which wrecked the Russian economy between 1918 and 1921. In 1929, he published a book on The Jews and Anti-Semitism in the USSR. He reports hearing questions such as these in communist meetings: “Why don’t you see Jews in waiting lines? Why are the Jews rich? Why do they have their own bakeries? Why do the Jews seek out easy work? Why do they avoid physical work? Why do the Jews help each other out, while Russians do not?” (p. 246). A current saying in Moscow ran: “Siberia for the Russians, Crimea for the Jews” (p. 245).

With typical Bolshevik paranoia, Larin thought he could glimpse behind these suggestions “the hand of a clandestine counter-revolutionary organization . . . systematic propaganda orchestrated by secret organizations emanating from the White Army” (which, of course, had been driven out of Russia nine years before [pp. 246, 251]). Larin recommended applying “Lenin’s Law,” meaning a decree of 1918 authorizing the shooting of anti-Semites without trial.

In fact, the Soviet Penal Code of 1926 contained provisions against “incitement to national hatred and divisiveness” [have the EU bureaucrats been studying Soviet law?], expanded in 1927 to include “diffusion, authorship or possession of written documents” (p. 252, italics added). Solzhenitsyn remarks: “The most rabid anti-Semite could not have discovered a better means of getting the people to identify Soviet power with that of the Jews” (p. 253).

There were also, of course, plenty of ordinary Jews who had been left behind and forgotten by the revolution: older people attached to the old places and ways, or families with numerous children. They sank into utter destitution, completely dependent on charity from abroad (which was still operating in the 1920s). G. Simon, an older émigré who returned as an American businessman in the late 1920s, published a book about these forgotten Jews under the sarcastic title The Jews Reign in Russia: “The only refuge for Jews,” he wrote, “is the graveyard” (pp. 253–54, 257).

The idea of making farmers out of the Jews was once again in fashion during the 1920s. It did not originate with the Jews themselves but was based upon ideological considerations. Ignoring the decades-long efforts of the previous century, the Party claimed that Jews had been prevented from taking up agriculture, and so forced to become “exploiters.” Extensive lands were set aside for them in the Crimea, and money poured in from abroad. The regime sought by this means to steal the Zionists’ thunder and tie the fate of the Jews even more firmly to that of Soviet rule. These Crimean lands were taken back just a few years later at the time of collectivization (pp. 262–68).

A more serious effort concerned the establishment of the Jewish Autonomous Region of Birobidjan on the Chinese border in Eastern Siberia. This territory was once described by Khrushchev as a fertile land with a southern climate, well-watered and sunny, with immense forests and rivers brimming with fish. A more objective source calls it a “partly marshy stretch of taiga.” Great efforts were made in the 20s and 30s to encourage Jews to settle there, but the majority either returned home or moved on to larger cities such as Vladivostok (pp. 268–70). This Jewish Autonomous Region still nominally exists, with a Jewish population of just over 1 percent.



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