Detailed Study: Pogroms Caused During Crises By Jewish Middlemen Suddenly Demanding Full Repayment From the Peasants

The Jewish Middleman. Pogroms Mainly From Crisis-Induced Jewish Usurer Demands for Repayment. DEFINITIVE WORK. Jewish Scapegoat Thesis Debunked. Grosfeld at al.

Middleman Minorities and Ethnic Violence: Anti-Jewish Pogroms in the Russian Empire, by Irena Grosfeld, Seyhun Orkan Sakalli, and Ekaterina Zhuravskaya. 2020

Specific, Local Jewish Acts Led to Most Pogroms, Not Generic Antisemitism

This scholarly article is published in the Review of Economic Studies 87(1):289-342. The authors have conducted an in-depth scientific analysis, dividing the Pale of Jewish Settlement into 0.5 X 0.5 degree grid cells, and examined in detail which local factors led to pogroms. They have examined various alternative causes for pogroms, and claim that their analysis is robust to confounding variables. (p. 295). For background information on the pogroms in tsarist Russia, see my reviews of:


Were Jews forced into commerce? Not quite. The authors comment, “The ‘enactment concerning the Jews’ of 9 December 1804, granted the Jews the right to buy and rent land in Novorossiya, the South-Western provinces of the Pale of Settlement, which led to the formation of the Jewish Agricultural Colonies. May Laws of 1882, however, barred Jews from settling anew in the rural areas and from owning and renting any real estate or land outside of towns and boroughs. The only exception to May Laws was the Jewish agricultural colonies of Kherson province.” (p. 299).

What are we to make of this? Even if Jews were not entirely free to avoid being usurers, the peasants were even less free to avoid becoming the victims of Jewish usurers!


Grosfeld candidly notes that, “Systematic data on the number of casualties do not exist: historians give widely varying estimates of the number of casualties and of the extent of property damage for many of the pogroms.” (p. 302). The room for Jews to exaggerate is obvious.


Pogroms did not just happen. The authors comment, “We show that the main driver of pogroms is the interaction of three factors: economic shocks, political turmoil, and the domination of Jews in the middleman sector related to agriculture.” (p. 294). They elaborate,  “We show that pogroms occurred primarily in localities where Jews dominated intermediary occupations related to agriculture (i.e. moneylending and grain trading) when economic shocks, caused by severe crop failures and increases in grain prices, coincided with political turmoil threatening the political and social order. Economic crises did not lead to pogroms if they were not concomitant with political turmoil.” (p. 290).


Grosfeld et al tabulate the many 19th and early-20th century episodes when economic shocks occurred, along with another tabulation–that of the many episodes of political turmoil. There were only three times when they both coincided, and these are precisely the same as the three waves of pogroms! That is, “…the vast majority of pogroms took place in three waves: 1881-1882, 1903-1906, and 1917-1921.” (p. 300).

The following were the main, “…episodes of political turmoil, i.e., the periods of extreme political uncertainty about the future, such as following the assassination of Alexander II, the Tsar-Liberator, when peasants thought serfdom would be reinstalled by the new tsar, or during wars that led to occupation of Russia’s territory, or the Russian revolutions.” (p. 291).


Grosfeld et al. write, “Jews were a minority constituting 11.3% of the total Pale population and dominated market intermediary professions. In particular, Jews constituted 84% of all traders of agricultural and non-agricultural goods, 92% of all grain traders, and 37% of all moneylenders.” (p. 299).

There is almost a lockstep relationship between the local abundance of economically-dominant Jews, in an agricultural setting, and the frequency of local pogroms. Grosfeld et al. write, “A one-standard-deviation increase in the shares of Jews among creditors and grain traders increased the probability of pogroms by 3.5 percentage points in times of local and marketwide economic shocks during political turmoil.” (p. 294).

They also conclude that “…the share of Jews among local grain traders is a strong predictor of pogroms when political turmoil coincided with periods of high grain prices.” (p 294).


Most of the time, a fragile codependency existed between the arguably-exploitive Jewish creditor and the arguably-exploited peasant. For details on this codependency, see:

The authors describe how this codependency broke down, leading to pogroms, “When economic shocks occurred in times of political stability, rolling over or forgiving debts was an equilibrium outcome because both sides valued their future relationship. In contrast, during political turmoil, debtors could not commit to paying in the future, and consequently, moneylenders and grain traders had to demand immediate (re)payment. This led to ethnic violence, in which the break in the relationship between the majority and Jewish middlemen was the igniting factor.” (p. 289).


For the longest time, the standard narrative taught that the tsarist authorities incited the pogroms in order to displace popular anger away from the Russian government and unto the defenseless Jews. It is a nice story, as it makes Jews into bigger victims. But it is not true, and historians have generally abandoned the blame-the-government narrative. (p. 301, 306).

Unlike the German-made Holocaust, there never was any across-the-board victimization of Jews. Instead, Jews were victimized, mainly at specific times, and in accordance with specific causal factors. Even when pogroms did occur, they did not indiscriminately hit at all Jews. Grosfeld et al. write, “Economic shocks together with political shocks did not result in pogroms in localities where Jewish community specialized in other occupations, including middleman occupations unrelated to agriculture.” (p. 290).

The authors drive the final nails in the coffin of the victim card scapegoat thesis as they conclude, “Religious persecution implies that Jews are targeted as a group irrespective of their occupations. This is inconsistent with the evidence as pogroms were associated with the domination of Jews over credit and grain trading, not any other occupation.” (p. 334).


The authors recount the middleman theory: “Ethnic minorities that dominate middleman occupations, such as traders and financiers, often become targets of persecution and ethnic violence. Examples abound across the globe and throughout history: Chinese in the Philippines and Indonesia, Igbos in Nigeria, Lebanese in Sierra Leone, Muslims in India, Greeks and Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, and Jews in Medieval Western and Modern Eastern Europe…the majority views minorities specializing in credit and trade as ‘unproductive’ and considers that these groups earn their living dishonestly through ‘parasitism’ and ‘exploitation’ of the majority.” (pp. 280-290).

For more on the various entrepreneurial middleman minorities, see:

Some Jews dislike the middleman theory because it equates Jewish suffering with that of other peoples (the same reason that many Jews promote Holocaust supremacism.) Furthermore, some Jews want to retain antisemitism as something mystical and irrational, so that Jews can be bigger victims. In addition, if antisemitism can be rational, this implies that Jewish conduct can be a factor in antisemitism, and some Jews want the entire blame to fall on the goyim. Finally, it is harder for Jews to retain the moral high ground, and to pin the blame on, say, Poles or Russians, if what some Poles or Russians did was part of a much bigger pattern of violence against middleman minorities all over the world.

Jan Peczkis
Nowember 15, 2020.

Published with the author’s permission.

Source: Jews & Poles DATEBASE.

Source of the image: Jews in the Russian Empire / selected by wg.pco.

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