- The Non-Jewish Jew by Isaac Deutscher – Published April 1st 1982 (first published April 2nd 1978). Edition Language: English.
A Jewish Communist Author Explodes the Exculpatory Myth That Jewish Communists Were „Not Really Jews”. HOLODOMOR: Jewish Complicity. Zydokuma Not Marginal
This is a thought-provoking book. The author teaches us what it means to be a non-traditional Jew, and a Communist, but nevertheless certainly a Jew.
REJECTING GOD AND EMBRACING COMMUNISM
Deutscher eventually rejected God and religion, and conventional Jewish ways. He found the orthodox Jewish religion rigid and outdated (p. 42), and became militantly antagonistic to the existence of God. (pp. 22-23). He became an ardent Communist, and continued so through the rest of his life.
THE JEWISH SELF-IDENTITY OF JEWISH COMMUNISTS
The author wrote his essay, „The Non-Jewish Jew”, in 1958. (p. 25). Having decisively rejected Jewishness as it was then usually understood, Deutscher came to identify his Jewishness as follows, (quote) I am a Jew because I feel the Jewish tragedy as my own tragedy; because I feel the pulse of Jewish history; because I should like to do all I can do to assure the real, not spurious, security and self-respect of the Jews. (unquote). (p. 51). Deutscher’s testimony refutes the rather silly notion that Jewish Communists were not Jews. In fact, Isaac Babel, an active Bolshevik in Russia, had an „intense consciousness” of his Jewishness. (p. 54). [All this is rather academic. The State of Israel not only freely recognizes Jewish Communists as Jews, but also gives them sanctuary.].
LOCAL JEWS HAD IT BETTER THAN MOST POLES AND RUSSIANS
In general, the author exhibits a lachrymose view of Jewish history. However, he acknowledges the fact that the position of Jews in Russia and Poland was somewhat better than that of the Russian and Polish serfs. (p. 63). [Since most Poles and Russians were serfs, this meant that the Jews were in a better position than most Russians and Poles.]
Deutscher gives insights into various movements among Jews. For instance, the BUND had demanded Jewish „cultural autonomy.” (p. 37). The Yiddish culture was secular (p. 44) and secularist. (p. 52).
LEADING JEWISH COMPLICITY IN THE HOLODOMOR
The author unwittingly validates Ukrainian complaints about Soviet Jewish Communists and the Holodomor. He notes that, (quote) On the other hand there were many Jews among the Stalinist bureaucracy too. At the head of the forcible collectivization of the Ukraine, where it was carried out in the most cruel and bloody way, stood the Jew Kaganovich. (unquote)(p. 75).
THE ZYDOKOMUNA WAS NOT MARGINAL AMONG PRE-WWII POLISH JEWS
Deutscher tacitly rejects the notion that Communism had only a small influence among Polish Jews as a whole. He writes, (quote) In Poland, in 1939, the Jewish population was for the last time electing the leaders of its communities, the KEHILAHS. The Communists, who were then very influential, regarded the KEHILAHS as clerical institutions and boycotted the elections…Jews played a very prominent part in the revolutionary movement. (unquote)(p. 67).
POLONOPHOBIA, AND THEN FINDING FAULT WITH BOTH POLES AND JEWS
Throughout this work, Deutscher repeats standard Polonophobic tropes. In fact, the informed reader may be struck by how unoriginal the views are of post-Stalinists, such as Jan T. Gross, Jan Grabowski, and Barbara Engelking. Author Isaac Deutscher, (and of course other Communist propagandists before him) had long promoted the portrayal of Poles as a bunch of greedy, murderous, guilt-ridden profiteers of the Holocaust in general and of post-Jewish properties in particular. (p. 88).
On the other hand, Deutscher sometimes found both Poles and Jews at fault for the negative aspects of Polish-Jewish relations. For instance, he remarked that, (quote) In Poland Jews lived in virtual ghettoes even before 1940. Polish nationalism, anti-Semitism, and Catholic clericalism on the one hand, and Jewish separatism, orthodoxy, and Zionism on the other, worked against a lasting and fruitful symbiosis. (unquote)(p. 54). In another context, Deutscher condemned what he called the Jewish Chosen-People-racialism. (p. 92).
POLAND’S JEWS WERE INASSIMILABLE
Interestingly, Deutscher shared the Endek view that, owing largely to their large population and strong sense of separatism, Polish Jews would never assimilate. He commented, (quote) It was in the Eastern European ghettoes that the ancient current of Jewish life ran strongest and that Jews dreamt the dreams of Zion most intensely…The processes by which before the rise of Nazism French, British, Italian, and German Jews were being `assimilated’ never went far in Russia and Poland. The Jews there lived in large and compact masses; they had their own homogenous way of life; and the adsorptive powers of the Slavonic cultures were anyhow too weak to draw them in and assimilate them. Eastern Europe was therefore the land of Jewry PAR EXCELLENCE (not for nothing was Vilna [Wilno, Vilnius] called `the Jerusalem of Lithuania’). (unquote). (p. 96).
ASSIMILATION? OR OUTWARD POLONIZATION
What about those few Jews who did assimilate? The author, though a Polish speaker, exhibited ambivalent views of his „Polishness”. On one hand, he claimed to have grown up with a feeling of the oppressiveness of the Partitioning powers over Poles. (pp. 19-20). On the other hand, Deutscher endorsed the premise, held by Endeks and many others, that Jews–notably the assimilated, prominent ones–do not generally become strongly attached to the nations in which they live. This is described by Tamara Deutscher (quote) Like them [Heine, Marx, Luxemburg, Trotsky, and Freud] he [Isaac] lived on the borderlines of various national cultures and was in society–Polish, Jewish, German, English–and yet not of it. In this he was in the Jewish tradition, and he never denied it. (unquote).(pp. 22-23).
Published with the author’s permission.
Title image: Trotsky posed with American Trotskyites Harry De Boer and James H. Bartlett and their spouses; print autographed by Trotsky, April 5, 1940. Source: NARA / Wikimedia.org / selected by wg.pco