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Scholar explodes ‘canonic’ American Jewish belief: Russian Czar was behind 1903 massacre

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Zipperstein, at Stanford site

Zipperstein, at Stanford site

Last month Yivo Institute in New York staged a lecture on European history that may itself be a piece of Jewish history: for it showed how a legendary anti-Semitic episode was mythologized and exploited by Jews and anti-Semites in ways that shape Jewish ideas of safety to this day. Steven Zipperstein’s talk focused on the Kishinev pogrom in Russian in April 1903, when 49 Jews were killed over two days, and as many raped; and he sought to demolish a “canonic” American Jewish belief, that the czar was behind the massacre.

The Stanford professor of Jewish history was introduced by Jonathan Brent, director of Yivo, who established the theme of the evening when he said that the intellectual and cultural medium American Jews exist in today draws on ideas about anti-Semitism in Europe. Our understanding of our victimization was based on parents’ and grandparents’ remembrances, and echoed in synagogues, the movies and popular literature. But these ideas involve black and white ideas of good and evil.

“When I was a kid and my father was feeling expansive,” Brent said, “he would summarize Jewish history in approximately the following way. ‘The Germans were the worst, the Poles were worse than the Germans, the Lithuanians were worse than the Poles, and the Ukrainians were worse than anybody. Except the Romanians.’ And this was the Jewish history that I grew up with.” Brent then related that when the phone rang in his grandmother’s apartment she would continue dusting as she made her way to the phone, by which time the caller had hung up. She would lift the receiver and curse in Yiddish, Anti-Semite.

The purpose of the lecture, Brent said, was to lift a “veil” on “the complexity and the deep profound ambiguity of so many of the issues that have moved us over a 1000 years of history.” I.e., it’s not that simple.

Zipperstein, a noted author on Jewish history, spoke for more than an hour and said that the central myth of the Kishinev pogrom, based on half-truths projected by a global press responsive to the burgeoning immigrant Jewish community on New York’s Lower East Side, was that the Russian government—the czar– had fostered the pogrom and then failed to defend Jews in Russia’s fifth largest city. In fact, Zipperstein said, a radical rightwing circle of anti-Semites was responsible for the pogrom.

These same pogromchiks were likely also responsible for the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the legendary text about international Jewish control, which came out two years after the pogrom. The Protocols are generally attributed to the Russian government. But this theory is surely inaccurate, Zipperstein said. While Russian leaders had deeply conservative and old-fashioned anti-Semitic views and saw Jews as radicals who could foment revolution and threaten the rule of the Romanovs, these conceptions were mild next to the anti-Semitism of the likely authors of the Protocols, “apocalyptic” and latently fascist radicals who sought to generate instability out of fear that they were losing their Russia to an exploitative caste who had access to the world’s press.

Zipperstein almost apologized for reaching this conclusion. The political ramifications of his research ran contrary to what he believed. But he had come to understand that some of “my deepest political beliefs are predicated on historical half-truths.”

Zipperstein went further, exploring the factual basis for the anti-Semites’ belief that Kishinev was the heart of a worldwide conspiracy of Jewish Zionists and leftwingers.

“This is fantasy to be sure, but like much fantasy there was an internal logic…Most legends spring from facts, as [British historian] A.J.P. Taylor once observed,” Zipperstein said.

Kishinev was one of four bureaus of the Zionist movement led by Theodor Herzl. Here Dr. Jakob Bernstein-Kogan headed worldwide correspondence efforts for the Zionists and had contacts to the world press. The second night of the pogrom, Bernstein-Kogan raised tens of thousands of roubles from wealthy Jews in Kishinev to relieve the victims, and used runners and telegrams to get news and photographs of the atrocities out to the newspapers abroad via Russia’s western border with Romania.

Soon Kishinev became a cause celebre in London and New York, commanding the attention of the world press in a way that no Russian event had before. Millions were raised for the Kishinev victims, and William Randolph Hearst put a daily appeal for the victims on the front page of his New York Journal in an effort to gain Jewish support for his run to be NY governor and later the Democratic nomination for the presidency (both unsuccessful). Hearst also hired the Irish revolutionary Michael Davitt to write about Kishinev, and Davitt became a hero to American Jews—the subject of poems and plays. Jewish groups gave copies of Davitt’s book on the massacre to American leaders.

Similarly, the Forward, which was then a socialist Jewish newspaper, ran endless accounts of Kishinev in order to stoke opposition to the Russian monarchy and support for continued Russian Jewish immigration to the United States.  

These new “engines” of information drove a “cascade of Jewish public opinion” that was shocking to Russian anti-Semites, and that seemed to confirm their view of an international conspiracy, Zipperstein said. They saw “the claws of worldwide Jewry being stretched in a way that was terrifying.”

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is generally thought to be a forgery “produced in the recesses of the Russian government.” But citing many clues, including the fact that the Russian government’s dossier on Bernstein-Kogan was largely accurate and not overblown, Zipperstein said that the Protocols were most likely the work of the radical anti-Semitic circle. That group was led by a Kishinev editor, Pavel Krushevan, who published the Protocols in 1905 in his St Petersburg newspaper.

If the Protocols were a forgery representing anti-Semites’ views of Jewish motives, “the Plehve letter” was a forgery on the other side, caricaturing the Russian government’s thinking. Published in The Times of London a month after the pogrom, the letter was purportedly signed two weeks before the pogrom by the Russian minister of the interior, Vacheslav von Plehve. It ordered local authorities not to crack down too hard on anti-Jewish rioters lest they turn their rage on the regime.

The Plehve letter was a “smoking gun” that attained  “the most unassailable” and “canonic” status in Jewish consciousness, Zipperstein said: it showed that the Russian government was in on the pogrom. And it was “all but certainly a forgery,” he said. The Russian government denied it at the time, the police director said that Plehve had nothing to do with the pogrom, and researchers who later scoured the Romanov archives for it found nothing, even as they found embarrassing documents by Plehve.

Nonetheless, Jews widely blame the czar for Kishinev. Zipperstein said this was “the most resonant of all lessons to learn from the massacre, namely that the government at the highest levelwas directly responsible for it all,  that it was intent on wreaking havoc, perhaps little less than the annihilation of its Jews.” (I have asserted that the czar was behind the massacre. So does John Judis in his new book on Truman. So did Noam Chomsky recently on Democracy Now).

Zipperstein said the belief in the czar’s role in the massacre became the “resilient glue” of liberal Jewish identity in the U.S. “Vast and large and emblematic,” Kishinev’s mythology informed the Jewish understanding of right and left and our relationship to non-Jews and to government. It produced Jewish support for the NAACP and Barack Obama, and rendered the word pogrom “sketchily used before… into a phenomenon not less intrinsically Russian than vodka and the czar itself.”

During the q-and-a, Zipperstein said that only a fraction of the Jews emigrating from Russia were fleeing actual pogroms, but Kishinev represented for them the darkest example of a miserable life. (And I reflected, few of the Palestinians fleeing the Nakba actually had experienced a massacre, but they feared the worst.)

The message of Zipperstein’s lecture was that both Jews and Russians regarded one another through distorted lenses, exaggerating the other’s power. He considered this chiefly from the Jewish point of view, more frequently assailing the Russian than the Jewish exaggeration (and not saying that Jews forged the Plehve letter, even as he accused Krushevan’s circle of fabricating the Protocols).

And I would add one stipulation to Zipperstein’s dismissal of the anti-Semites. He said the rightwing anti-Semites believed the Zionists’ outlandish claims; and so when Zionists announced plans to buy land in Palestine in 1901 and even set up a bank to that end in Europe, these Russians feared that Jews would take over the holy places in Jerusalem. As I have repeated several times here, Herzl sought to allay these fears by promising the czar (and the pope, and Kaiser and sultan too) that the holy places of Jerusalem would remain internationalized. Below is my photograph of Muslim worshipers at Ramadan in 2012, walking under Jewish flags in East Jerusalem, which is occupied by Israel. The Kishinev Russians were hateful and murderous, but some of their concerns about Zionism look reasonable.

Flags over the crowds going to pray at Al-Aqsa

Update: I told Zipperstein about this post and he offered two corrections:

I never proposed that I was the first to discover that tsarist authorities weren’t responsible for the Kishinev pogrom. This is well-known in scholarly circles, and [commenter] Stephen Shenfield is certainly correct that the best examination of the origins of the pogroms is the work of – my teacher – Hans Rogger. Second, by no means were Zionists the only ones to transmute the lessons of Kishinev’s pogrom into the heart of their politics. No less influential was the influence of the massacre – and its ostensible lessons – on the Jewish Socialist Labor Bund, and many others on the non-Zionist left. Your focus — singleminded, it seems to me — on the perfidy of Zionism obscured for you the broader ramifications of what I sought to argue in my talk.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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64 Responses

  1. Pamela Olson on February 17, 2014, 10:47 am

    When I got back from Palestine the first time, in early 2004, I spent six months just cramming my head with as much information as I could about the conflict and its history — I had a lot of catching up to do, as I had known virtually nothing before I visited Palestine.

    I audited Prof. Zipperstein’s class on the history of Zionism, and I was amazed that Palestinians were almost totally ignored in the class and the readings. As if they had never existed, had never been an issue. Once you leave the Palestinians out of the equation, Zionism sounds pretty nice in a lot of ways. It was easy to see how people could be seduced by a laughably incomplete narrative.

    I spoke with him in person, and his views were somewhat more nuanced than his class. But I remember him seeming to feel I was tiresome with my uncomfortable questions. I was still pretty ignorant about a lot of things, but one would hope a professor would welcome a young person coming in with burning questions. (In general, in fact, I did not find this to be the case at Stanford — the big-deal profs were largely disappointing in that respect, with some shining exceptions.)

    Anyway, it’s kind of a blast from the past to see his name popping up a few times lately. Glad he’s willing to follow at least some difficult truths to see where they lead. Hopefully pretty soon he’ll go all the way…

    • Krauss on February 17, 2014, 1:18 pm

      From my point of view, Jews in Russia represented a radical faction intent of totally transforming the country.

      What percentage of the early communist leadership were Jewish in Russia? 70%? More? And NKVD was almost entirely Jewish in the beginning, a fact that was not lost on a lot of Russians.

      Trying to see it from their view, I could understand how they viewed Jews as a threat to their existence. I’m also not entirely sure they were all pro-monarchy. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them were against the czar but didn’t want to see a bloody communist revolution and thus they probably felt like the young nationalists in Germany in the 1920s who saw who was leading the charge for a revolution which had devastated Russia in the previous decade, only that the Germans were, naturally, much more organized and not only that, but equally if not more radical.

      Zipperstein talks frankly about Jewish influence already in the early parts of last century, which of course goes against the narrative of the “powerless Jews”.

      I would, however, say that I disagree that the czar had no role. From what I’ve read, the czar and his aides had a stance of passive neglect. He didn’t exactly stand on the barricades but let a lot of it go on.
      Not intervening to stop bloodshed is also a form of support for said violence.

      Ultimately, early 1900s Russian history can be seen in two ways: either as ethnic competition between an ascendant minority with a hostile relationship with the host majority – the view typically shared by the right-wing radicals of Jews – or simply a society where Jews stood for a more just society but were unable (or perhaps unwilling) to reach out to the other side sufficiently well and just felt a revolution would be better, which in turn the other side saw as traitorous behaviour that had to be crushed; hence the pogroms.

      One thing I do not buy, however, is the standard narrative of “they just hate us.. because we are Jews”. Or “they hate us because we are successful”. This is the Jewish version of George W. Bush’s “they hate us because of our freedoms”.

      Passionate hatred rarely comes up without some fundamentally underlying reasons. If you go on through life thinking the world is always against you no matter what you do and you’re never at fault, what happens is what has happened with Israel and its Apartheid in the occupied territories.

      • Krauss on February 17, 2014, 1:46 pm

        Just to add to my last point, these underlying reasons may or may not be logical, but the point I was making is that I’m tired of the simplified “they just hate us” narrative.
        Just like I don’t buy that all terrorism against America is somehow justified for past grievences, we cannot at the same time just tell us these self-comforting myths which may feel good but ultimately leaves us no wiser.

      • RoHa on February 17, 2014, 9:07 pm

        “I’m tired of the simplified “they just hate us” narrative.”

        Brent hints that there is more to it than that with his story of his grandmother.

      • seafoid on February 17, 2014, 11:29 pm

        I was watching French TV news about the Central African Republic . Nightly Christian vs Muslim clashes. It just happens like that. No context. No mention of the economic background. They just hate each other and it just happened like that.

        Much easier to gloss over the catalysts .

      • Walid on February 18, 2014, 1:40 am

        OT, seafoid, have you been following the news this week about the Syria-fighting terrorists going home to roost that has Saudia, the Gulf states, Turkey, Russia and some European countries seriously concerned?

      • American on February 17, 2014, 3:07 pm

        “I would, however, say that I disagree that the czar had no role. From what I’ve read, the czar and his aides had a stance of passive neglect.”…Krauss

        That reminds me of some of the historical Jewish explusions I researched a bit.
        It appeared that in the instances where the masses had a grudge against Jews, what it came down to for the Rulers was a matter of ‘numbers’, expell the minority Jews to satisfy the masses or have to face a rebellion against the crown or put down the larger population.
        So they opted for the majority demand.

      • seafoid on February 18, 2014, 7:07 am

        Happens every so often with other well connected minorities- Lebanese in West Africa, Chinese in South East Asia, Indians in East Africa

        There was an article about el Nino in the guardian- the weather phenomenon doubles the likelihood of a civil war in the areas affected. That is typical pogrom time and it has nothing specific to do with Jews.

      • seafoid on February 18, 2014, 7:13 am

        @ Walid

        I didn’t see anything

      • ToivoS on February 17, 2014, 4:14 pm

        Kraus asks: What percentage of the early communist leadership were Jewish in Russia? 70%? More?

        Nope, much less. And then goes on to assert:
        And NKVD was almost entirely Jewish in the beginning

        I seriously question this assertion. I quickly scanned some of those who those who first organized the cheka and found a Pole of noble descent (Dzherzinsky himself) , a Russian peasant, a Georgian noble and a Latvian farmer. Perhaps you could provide some evidence for this claim. Be careful though, Nazi propaganda is not considered a credible source.

      • puppies on February 17, 2014, 5:29 pm

        @ToivoS – In fact, it is 0%. How can a Communist belong to any religious grouping? How can a Communist acknowledge a racial fiction, even if racist Tsarist regulations and grandfathered Soviet rules allowed for “Jewish” (=essentially meaning Yiddish-speaking) “nationality”, which is not a nationality as we understand it now but a “Millet”, or nominal-religious category? Would be nice not to fall for fake language and avoid confusing “Yiddishkeit” with the Zionist categorization of “Jewish”, which mainly corresponds to the Nazi one.

      • shachalnur on February 17, 2014, 6:49 pm

        Why is relevant quote by Russian President Putin reported in JTA(the global Jewish news source) being censored?

        He answers a question put by Krauss and ToivoS.

        What are you guys?

      • W.Jones on February 17, 2014, 4:17 pm


        In Chomsky’s book Fateful Triangle he mentions a Kahan commission that said that the Pogrom was intentionally organized. p. 405
        Chomsky mentions that leaflets were spread saying that a ukase (decree) by the Tsar had been published allowing a future pogrom. In fact, there is no such decree that was published that the leaflet could be referring to. That has to be considered in deciding whether the Tsar actually decided to make the pogrom.

        Chomsky says the police did not intervene. I assume that is true to a big extent. The thing is, that does not prove the Tsar himself actively did it- sometimes crowds trash the area in front of the Kremlin even today, and the police do not stop it, at least for some time. Look at the Maidan in Kiev. It doesn’t mean the prime minister wants it. They could be outnumbered or careless, without organizing it. Chomsky mentions that there were two fatalities among the pogromists. I would say it’s still a good and interesting question of how much the police were involved. It would not surprise me if it were rather the “police elements” Zipperstein mentions.

      • Stephen Shenfield on February 17, 2014, 6:08 pm

        In-depth research on the Black Hundreds shows that many of them, especially from the lower classes, expressed social grievances, but they looked to the tsar to redress them (as the “little father”). They shared the centuries-old belief that the tsar himself was good and cared for the people, but that he was surrounded by corrupt officials who isolated him from his loyal subjects.

        Of course, many Russians wanted social reform rather than revolution. They were represented by parties like the Octobrists and Kadets (constitutional democrats) and in practice also by the Mensheviks, who believed that conditions in Russia were not ripe for socialism.

        Jews were politically active in large numbers almost right across the political spectrum. While a disproportionately large number of Jews were Bolsheviks, the proportion was even higher for the Mensheviks. Jews were prominent in liberal reformist politics. Some Jews were even patriotic conservatives, despite the anti-semitism rife in such circles.

        The proportion of Jews who were politically active must have been considerably higher than the proportion of politically active Gentiles, but that does not mean that a majority of Jews were politically active. Many remained loyal to religious tradition, which dictated abstention from Gentile politics. Trotsky was excommunicated by the rabbi in his home town.

        For all these reasons the association of Jews in general with “bloody revolution” was a stereotype that badly distorted a complex reality. When in my research I was reading Novoe vremya, a tsarist-era magazine aimed at a conservative gentry readership, I was struck by the fact that Jews were always portrayed either as an exotic curiosity or as “Jew-terrorists” and “Jew-revolutionaries.” This must have instilled a deep fear of Jews in the minds of the magazine’s readers. I was also struck by the parallel with today’s stereotyping of Palestinians as “terrorists.”

      • ToivoS on February 17, 2014, 8:28 pm

        Stephen, your comment reminds me of a history about the Czar and the Jews I heard years ago. This might be an over simplified generalization but it makes sense.

        Going back 500 years the Russian state had a major problem on their hands and that was how to administer the vast territories they had under their control (hey, the military can conquer but who administers?). To make their empire work they needed administrators to collect taxes. This is not a trivial problem in a mostly illiterate country. The Czar hired the most literate and numerate people he could find. This very narrow filter included many Jews. In fact, he borrowed from the Polish nobility that had used Jewish scribes and accountants to manage their lands in the Ukraine and Southern Russia.

        What this did is to make Jews the tax collectors for the Czar. Over time those people paying the tax began to resent the Jews, and not the ‘little father’ czar as the enemy. I can see why the czar allowed that perception to persist. If only the US government could blame some minority for tax collection and not the government itself.

        This might be a major oversimplification of a few centuries of eastern European history but it makes some sense. One the czar needed the Jews to help manage his empire and two he needed them to provide an outlet for anger against the state.

      • W.Jones on February 17, 2014, 8:34 pm


        Russia had a long history of rebellions (eg. Stepan Razin), and there would have been instability in 1917 regardless of what national groups were involved.

        Both many Jews and nonJews were in the revolutionary movement, and no conspiracy theory is necessary to think about that. Russia’s Jews really were oppressed and its only natural they too would oppose the bourgeois autocracy.

      • American on February 18, 2014, 10:01 am

        Jones says….
        “Both many Jews and nonJews were in the revolutionary movement, and no conspiracy theory is necessary to think about that. Russia’s Jews really were oppressed and its only natural they too would oppose the bourgeois autocracy.”

        I dont think you have a whole historical picture of Jews in Russia. Jews swung back and forth like a pendulum between being oppressed and granted special benefits…..’benefits’ in the sense that Russia kept trying to ‘intergrate’ them and other ethnics into ‘the national Russian fabric’ for lack of a better expression, so would create programs for or lift restrictions on Jews such as with land ownership and educational opportunities. But it always boomaranged with the general rural masses mainly and the pendulum would swing back against them.
        The translation of Solzhenitsyn’s 200 Years Together is not complete but some chapters are available and you should read them to get a better idea of the Jewish pendulum in Russia. Contrary to what the Jewish and Zionist sector said about the book it is not anti semitic in the slightest, although as usual anti semites will use some of it to try to prove their case against the Jews.

        The wikispooks site saved the translations, what was available from the enthnopolitics site when it was disabled.

      • Sibiriak on February 17, 2014, 11:12 pm


        What percentage of the early communist leadership were Jewish in Russia? 70%? More? And NKVD was almost entirely Jewish in the beginning, a fact that was not lost on a lot of Russians.

        FWIW, some excerpts from Yuri Slezkine’s “The Jewish Century” :

        [Jew’s]overall share of Bolshevik party membership during the civil war was relatively modest (5.2 percent in 1922), but their visibility in city squares was striking. After the February Revolution, all army officers had become suspect as possible “counterrevolutionaries”; the new soldiers’ committees required literate delegates; many of the literate soldiers were Jews. Viktor Shklovsky, the literary scholar, estimated that Jews had made up about 40 percent of all top elected officials in the army. He had been one of them (a commissar); he also remembered having met a talented Jewish cellist who was representing the Don Cossacks.

        In April 1917, 10 out of 24 members (41.7 percent) of the governing bureau of the Petrograd Soviet were Jews. 105 At the First All-Russian Congress of Soviets in June 1917, at least 31 percent of Bolshevik delegates (and 37 percent of Unified Social Democrats) were Jews. At the Bolshevik Central Committee meeting of October 23, 1917, which voted to launch an armed insurrection, 5 out of the 12 members present were Jews. Three out of seven Politbureau members charged with leading the October uprising were Jews (Trotsky, Zinoviev, and Grigory Sokolnikov [Girsh Brilliant]).

        The All-Russian Central Executive Committee (VtsIK) elected at the Second Congress of Soviets (which ratified the Bolshevik takeover, passed the decrees on land and peace, and formed the Council of People’s Commissars with Lenin as chairman) included 62 Bolsheviks (out of 101 members). Among them were 23 Jews, 20 Russians, 5 Ukrainians, 5 Poles, 4 “Balts,” 3 Georgians, and 2 Armenians. According to Nahum Rafalkes-Nir, who represented Poalei-Zion, all 15 speakers who debated the takeover as their parties’ official representatives were Jews (in fact, probably 14). The first two VtsIK chairmen (heads of the Soviet state) were Kamenev and Sverdlov. Sverdlov was also the Party’s chief administrator (head of the Secretariat).

        The first Bolshevik bosses of Moscow and Petrograd were Kamenev and Zinoviev. Zinoviev was also the chairman of the Communist International. The first Bolshevik commandants of the Winter Palace and the Moscow Kremlin were Grigorii Isakovich Chudnovsky and Emelian Yaroslavsky (Minei Izraelevich Gubelman). Yaroslavsky was also the chairman of the League of the Militant Godless. The heads of the Soviet delegation at the Brest-Litovsk negotiations were Adolf Ioffe and Trotsky. Trotsky was the face of the Red Army. 106 When, in March 1919, the Petrograd Soviet, headed by Zinoviev, launched a competition for the best portrait of “a hero of our age,” the suggested list of heroes included Lenin, Lunacharsky, Karl Liebknecht, and four Bolsheviks raised in Jewish families: Trotsky, Uritsky (the head of Petrograd’s secret police, assassinated in August 1918), V. Volodarsky (Moisei Goldstein, Petrograd’s chief censor as the commissar of print, propaganda, and agitation, assassinated in June 1918), and Zinoviev himself. 107 The Jewish share of the Party’s Central Committee in 1919– 21 remained steady at about one-fourth.

        In 1918, about 54 percent of all Petrograd Party officials described as “leading” were Jews, as were 45 percent of city and provincial Party officials and 36 percent of the Northern District commissars. Three out of five members of the presidium of the Petrograd trade union council in 1919, and 13 out of 36 members of the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet in 1920 were Jews. In 1923 in Moscow, Jews made up 29 percent of the Party’s “leading cadres” and 45 percent of the provincial social security administration. Their share in the city Party organization (13.5 percent) was three times their share in the general population. Almost half of them were under twenty-five years old (43.8 percent of men and 51.1 percent of women); 25.4 percent of all female Bolsheviks in Moscow were of Jewish background.

        According to the historian of Leningrad Jewry Mikhail Beizer (and not accounting for pseudonyms):

        “It may have seemed to the general population that the Jewish participation in Party and Soviet organs was even more substantial because Jewish names were constantly popping up in newspapers. Jews spoke relatively more often than others at rallies, conferences, and meetings of all kinds. Here, for example, is the agenda of the Tenth City Conference of the Young Communist League (Komsomol), held in Petrograd on January 5th, 1920: Zinoviev made a speech on the current situation, Slosman read the report of the city Komsomol committee, Kagan spoke on political and organizational matters, Itkina greeted the delegates on behalf of female workers, and Zaks represented the Central Committee of the Komsomol.” 108

        The secret police did less quarreling in public squares, but it was one of the most public symbols of Bolshevik power. The proportion of Jews in the Cheka as a whole was not very high (compared to what White propaganda often alleged): 3.7 percent of the Moscow apparatus, 4.3 percent of Cheka commissars, and 8.6 percent of senior (“ responsible”) officials in 1918, and 9.1 percent of all members of provincial Cheka offices (Gubcheka) in 1920.

        As in the Party, the majority of Cheka members were Russians, and by far the most overrepresented group were the Latvians, consistently and successfully cultivated by Lenin as the Praetorian Guards of the Revolution (35.6 percent of the Moscow Cheka apparatus, 52.7 percent of all Cheka senior officials, and 54.3 percent of all Cheka commissars, as compared to about 0.09 percent in the country as a whole and about 0.5 percent in Moscow).

        But even in the Cheka, Bolsheviks of Jewish origin combined ideological commitment with literacy in ways that set them apart and propelled them upward.

        In 1918, 65.5 percent of all Jewish Cheka employees were “responsible officials.” Jews made up 19.1 percent of all central apparatus investigators and 50 percent (6 out of 12) of the investigators employed in the department for combating counterrevolution.

        In 1923, at the time of the creation of the OGPU (the Cheka’s successor), Jews made up 15.5 percent of all “leading” officials and 50 percent of the top brass (4 out of 8 members of the Collegium’s Secretariat). “Socially alien” Jews were well represented among the Cheka-OGPU prisoners, too, but Leonard Schapiro is probably justified in generalizing (especially about the territory of the former Pale) that “anyone who had the misfortune to fall into the hands of the Cheka stood a very good chance of finding himself confronted with and possibly shot by a Jewish investigator.” 109

        Specifically, and very publicly, Jewish names (and some transparent Jewish pseudonyms) were associated with two of the most dramatic and symbolically significant acts of the Red Terror. Early in the civil war, in June 1918, Lenin ordered the killing of Nicholas II and his family. Among the men entrusted with carrying out the order were Sverdlov (head of the the All-Russian Central Executive Committee in Moscow, formerly an assistant pharmacist), Shaia Goloshchekin (the commissar of the Urals Military District, formerly a dentist), and Yakov Yurovsky (the Chekist who directed the execution and later claimed to have personally shot the tsar, formerly a watchmaker and photographer). It was meant to be a secret operation, but after the Whites reoccupied Ekaterinburg, they ordered an official investigation, the results of which, including the Jewish identities of the main perpetrators, were published in Berlin in 1925 (and eventually confirmed).

        At the end of the civil war, in late 1920– early 1921, Béla Kun (the chairman of the Crimean Revolutionary Committee) and R. S. Zemliachka (Rozaliia Zal-kind, the head of the Crimean Party Committee and the daughter of a well-off Kiev merchant) presided over the massacre of thousands of refugees and prisoners of war who had stayed behind after the evacuation of the White Army. For her part in the operation, Zemliachka received the highest Soviet decoration: the Order of the Red Banner. She was the first woman to be thus honored. 110

        […]Between 1924 and 1936, the rate of mixed marriages for Jewish males increased from 1.9 to 12.6 percent (6.6 times) in Belorussia, from 3.7 to 15.3 percent (4.1 times) in Ukraine, and from 17.4 to 42.3 percent (2.4 times) in the Russian Republic. The proportions grew higher for both men and women as one moved up the Bolshevik hierarchy. Trotsky, Zinoviev, and Sverdlov were married to Russian women (Kamenev was married to Trotsky’s sister). The non-Jews Andreev, Bukharin, Dzerzhinsky, Kirov, Kosarev, Lunacharsky, Molotov, Rykov, and Voroshilov, among others, were married to Jewish women.

        As Lunacharsky (the commissar of enlightenment) put it, echoing Lenin’s and Gorky’s views but also speaking from personal experience:

        ” It is with great joy that we view the immense increase in the number of Russo-Jewish marriages. This is the right path. Our Slavic blood still has a lot of peasant malt; it is thick and plentiful, but it flows a little slowly, and our whole biological rhythm is a little too rustic. On the other hand, the blood of our Jewish comrades is very fast flowing. So let us mix our blood and, in this fruitful mixture, find the human type that will include the blood of the Jewish people like delicious, thousand-year-old human wine.” 113


        The revolutions of 1917 did not have much to do with either Pushkin or the Jews. But the civil war that followed did. Most of the fighting took place in and around the old Pale of Settlement, where ethnic Russians were a minority and Jews made up a large proportion of the urban population.

        For Polish and Ukrainian nationalists and assorted peasant (“ Green”) armies, the Jews represented the old Mercurian foe, the new capitalist city, the expansion of Russian high culture, and, of course, Bolshevism (which represented all of the above insofar as it was the religion of the modern city, ethnically Social Democratic but for the time being Russian-speaking).

        For the Whites, whose movement was hijacked early on by Russian ethnic nationalists and imperial restorationists, the Jews represented all those things that used to be called “German” (a combination of old Mercurianism and new urbanism as a form of “foreign dominance”) and, of course, Bolshevism, which appeared to be a particularly contagious combination of old Mercurianism and new urbanism as a form of foreign dominance.

        For all these groups, the Jews became an enemy that was easy to define and identify. The Ukrainian nationalists, in particular, could succeed only if they conquered the city, but Ukrainian cities were dominated by Russians, Poles, and Jews. The Russians and Poles had their own armies and were rather thin on the ground; the Jews were either Bolsheviks or defenseless shtetl dwellers. To the extent that they ceased to be defenseless, they tended to become Bolsheviks.

      • Daniel Rich on February 18, 2014, 3:01 am

        @ Sibiriak,

        Thank you for your contribution and the time you have taken to put it together.

      • LeaNder on February 20, 2014, 9:50 am

        For the Whites, whose movement was hijacked early on by Russian ethnic nationalists and imperial restorationists, the Jews represented all those things that used to be called “German”

        Marcel Stoetzler studied the late nineteen century antisemitism dispute and its main protagonists. Interestingly the Jewish German discussion partners of the famous “national liberal” historian von Treitschke made him drop the economic part of his argument by successfully pointing out to him that the Russians with German roots were attacked with a pretty similar argument in Russia.

        Of course the above mentioned Tzarists, the white Russians spread the Jewish threat lore in the West, and probably the Protocols too. Just as they influenced the highly exaggerated numbers the Nazis used in this context, which in turn renders the whole topic highly suspicious.

        Not too important in this context but interesting nevertheless, Marx clearly never had a political system like Russia in mind, that’s why I was pretty hesitant about my leftist Marxist Lenist or Maoist co-students. Although at the time I wasn’t aware of the extend the Nazis had support among the young and especially students in their own counterrevolution. As some kind of afterthought since Slezkine mentions age, a feature that surfaced pretty much in Mao’s own revolutionary troops too.

  2. Les on February 17, 2014, 11:08 am

    It would be nice to hear how this will be received in Russia. This is a reminder that the anti-semitism of Stalin, et. al., was endemic to Russia as Jewish bolsheviks were well aware.

    • RudyM on February 17, 2014, 12:10 pm

      This sounds like more oversimplification. I have only looked at this very casually (not for lack of interest, but for lack of energy and time), so maybe I’m wrong, but didn’t Stalin initially keep many Jews in leadership positions?

      • Stephen Shenfield on February 18, 2014, 8:22 am

        Stalin kept a few Jews in leadership positions right to the end. The most prominent example was Kaganovich.

        I think that all the figures about the ethnic breakdown of various categories of officials in this or that year obscure a basic point. Even though Stalin and others had their personal ethnic prejudices (Stalin hated Jews, but perhaps not quite as much as he hated Poles), the regime as such always pursued goals that had absolutely nothing to do with ethnicity. Whatever their own ethnic background, it was never fully legitimate for officials openly to express ethnic interests. The way that different ethnic groups were treated changed with circumstances but always reflected the interests of the regime.

        Thus, Jews were initially favored because they included a very high proportion of the literate people available for service to the regime. Most educated Russians were unwilling to help the Bolsheviks. If there had not been a large number of Jews willing and able to serve as an alternative educated class, the regime would have been doomed (Lenin himself said so). At the same time, the Bolsheviks (including Jewish Bolsheviks such as Trotsky) realized that relying so heavily on Jews had the great disadvantage of causing ordinary people to view the regime as “Jewish” — that is, it made popular anti-semitism a factor that worked against the regime.

        With the enormous expansion of education under the Soviet regime, increasing numbers of loyal and educated Gentile personnel became available and the need to rely on Jews gradually declined. The policy of reducing the proportion of Jewish officials, managers etc had general support among leading Bolsheviks, including the Jews among them, because it reduced the danger that anti-semitism posed to the regime. This was already the policy before Stalin and it never depended on Stalin, although in the last few years of his life (from 1944 on) it developed into an anti-semitic campaign that Stalin’s colleagues opposed and halted after his death.

        In 1941-44 having Jews in prominent positions again served the interests of the regime — by facilitating efforts to mobilize solidarity with and aid for the Soviet war effort in the West, especially the US. Stalin took care not to turn against the Jews until it was clear that Germany was going to lose the war.

        In the post-Stalin period there were still many Jewish scientists, engineers, musicians, even managers, but very few Jews in the upper reaches of the state and party hierarchy and none at all in the KGB. Anti-semitism was therefore now a factor that worked for and not against the regime.

      • LeaNder on February 20, 2014, 10:22 am

        (Stalin hated Jews, but perhaps not quite as much as he hated Poles)

        One way or another both groups, the Poles and the Jews, if one wants to differentiate it at all that way, wound up in Russia via one of the many Polish partitions.

        Can you ever trust the inhabitants whose land you annexed to start with?

    • MRW on February 17, 2014, 12:36 pm

      Another myth, Les. Read Sever Plocker’s article about it.,7340,L-3342999,00.html

    • W.Jones on February 17, 2014, 12:42 pm

      Kishinev’s population is and was mostly Romanian.

  3. CitizenC on February 17, 2014, 11:11 am

    Pamela’s comments are interesting. His scholarly views are more nuanced, not to say critical.

    Zipperstein’s bio of Ahad Ha’am is also required reading. AH is of course the great liberal Zionist hope for an 1891 essay about Zionism and the Arabs. Zip says that he approached AH’s life expecting to find something relevant to contemporary critique of Zionism, but found only that AH was simply a 19th c conservative Zionist ideologue. Inter alia the distinction betw “cultural” and “political” Zionism vanished. AH was supremely political when it was effectual to be so; he was a confidante of Weizmann in London and was a key figure in the Zionist negotiations with Britain over the Balfour Decl. The bio is out of print, UC Press says, but surely available used

    Note also Alan Dowty’s translation, the first complete one, of the article on which AH’s reputation rests, published in 2000; Zipperstein echoed Dowty’s view of AH’s instrumental Zionist attitude toward the Arabs.

    Much Ado about Little: Ahad Ha’am’s “Truth from Eretz Yisrael,”
    Zionism, and the Arabs
    Alan Dowty

    Alan Dowty
    Israel Studies, Volume 5, Number 2, Fall 2000, pp. 154-181 (Article)

    • Pamela Olson on February 17, 2014, 11:50 am

      It was just a general impression — which could have been colored by the fact that I was still in the turbulent rage stage about what I had witnessed in Palestine and how I had been lied to about it all my life. He might have found me tiresome because I was still a rank newbie.

      In any case, he was kind to meet with me and address some of my questions — and to allow me to audit his class even though I was no longer a student. I did learn a lot. But I was disappointed by how Palestinians were barely an afterthought.

      • MHughes976 on February 17, 2014, 12:22 pm

        The western academic world at that time encouraged discussion with a kind of deadly blandness about it and with a kind of tolerance of the Zionist view that Palestinians ‘don’t exist’. I remember, circa 1990, the response ‘Who are they?’ when I mentioned Palestinians. I’m afraid I reacted blandly, with amusement, now to my shame. The arrival of Muslim students, almost unknown for some time at least in the humanities departments of Western universities but now trickling in, must be making a difference.

  4. PeaceThroughJustice on February 17, 2014, 11:21 am

    So the reports from Kishinev reaching the west, the reports that helped establish the “canonic” Jewish belief in eternal victimhood, were all issued by one of the four central bureaus of the world Zionist movement?

    Quite a coincidence.

  5. American on February 17, 2014, 11:40 am

    Kishinev has come up here before and I cited the book below by Edward Judge that while written from the Jewish pov was still very through on what led up to the Kishinev conflict.
    In his book is a copy of a message from the Russian minister of the Interior to the Governor of the region and officals in Kishinev warning they had heard of unrest against the Jews and instructing them to bring a halt to it but avoid the use of firearms or violence if possible
    In short Kishinev was not a huge outbreak of Russian anti semitism but inspired by local complaints against the Jews–mainly caused by a sudden large immigration of Jews that upset the locals because it brought changes to the town–and by politics. This general town discontent was egged on by a small group of anti semites who had their screeds published by sympathic editors at various newspapers in the region.
    So Zipperstein has gotten closer to the truth of it—it wasnt a Russian government supported or approved action aimed at Jews or part of some larger conspiracy aimed at Jews.,+by+means+of+admonitions,%22&source=gbs_quotes_r&cad=5#v=onepage&q=%22your%20Excellency%20will%20not%20fail%20to%20contribute%20to%20the%20immediate%20stopping%20of%20disorders%20which%20may%20arise%2C%20by%20means%20of%20admonitions%2C%22&f=false

    • Stephen Shenfield on February 17, 2014, 2:28 pm

      This gels with what I have read on the subject (except that the local anti-semites were mainly Romanians, not Russians). One factor was apparently commercial rivalry between Jewish and Greek merchants.

      Zipperstein has it right but he has not discovered anything new. Serious scholars have always known that the interpretation of pogroms as a government conspiracy is at best a gross oversimplification. It does contain a grain of truth inasmuch as the anti-semites did have some influence within the government and the church. Both these institutions were deeply divided on the “Jewish question.” The best account of which I am aware is Hans Rogger’s book “Jewish Policies and Right-Wing Politics in Imperial Russia” (University of California Press, 1986).

      Regarding pogroms specifically, there were two schools of thought in official circles. Some believed that if the masses were encouraged to attack the Jews that would provide a safety valve and they would be less likely to attack the Gentile upper classes. Others believed, on the contrary, that once constraints on violence were relaxed the masses would not stop at attacking Jews but go on to attack Gentile landowners and capitalists. Curiously, there were corresponding schools of thought among the revolutionaries. Some saw pogroms as hopeful signs of mass rebellion and thought they might develop into uprisings against the upper classes, while others viewed them as diversions of mass anger against scapegoats and therefore reactionary phenomena.

      • irishmoses on February 17, 2014, 5:37 pm

        One factor was apparently commercial rivalry between Jewish and Greek merchants

        The rivalry between Greek and Jewish commercial interests was also a critical component in the earlier and later Odessa pogroms.

      • LeaNder on February 20, 2014, 10:37 am

        Thanks for the book hint, Stephen.

        Curiously, there were corresponding schools of thought among the revolutionaries.

        Is that really so surprising?

  6. W.Jones on February 17, 2014, 11:56 am

    Thank you for an insightful article, Phil.

    I heard that the Russian Tsar Nicholas II attended a synagogue service at least once. It would be notable for several reasons if true, but I didn’t come across confirmation of this in a brief internet search. Under his government there were restrictions on the Jewish population, like education quotas.

    You write: “I have asserted that the czar was behind the massacre. So does John Judis in his new book on Truman. So did Noam Chomsky recently on Democracy Now.”

    I am curious what is the basis for the assertion that he actually was responsible for the massacre? That he or the government would be anti-Semitic, forging the Protocols, making discriminatory segregation, getting political support from the pogromists, or failing to do enough to stop it like the forged Plehve letter said, is not enough to say that he actually was responsible or created the pogrom. They go along with the idea that he did, but is there something more specific that he actually was behind this?

    Thanks to anyone who answers.

    • LeaNder on February 20, 2014, 11:01 am

      W.Jones, if I may recommend you an article by one of my favorite scholars in Russian history and refreshingly interesting concerning the history of the protocols in this context. The Bern Trials are really important in this context. Already at that really early point in time it was obvious that the Russian government couldn’t have been behind the protocols, the Jewish lawyers challenging the spread of the Protocols in Switzerland had in fact a scholar who told them so. But after all one had to fight the Nazis in the Swiss court which threatened to turn the trial into a propaganda show with an alternative myth.

      If I remember correctly Hagemeister writes in this article that Norman Cohn at the time he published his book was well aware that much of the colorful stories around the protocols like it’s origin in France and the manuscript secretly smuggled to Russia wasn’t true. But his wife loved the Bern witnesses colorful tales more than the scholars statements. It is in fact very, very unlikely the original source or the ever existed. Thus Norman Cohn may in fact have cemented the Russian secret service narrative. And after that it was repeated ad nauseam in later books on the protocols.

      Phil: even as they found embarrassing documents by Plehve.

      Plehve, of course wasn’t such a bad suspect after all, considering his antagonism towards Sergei Witte. And strictly at the time of the pogrom he was still in charge and alive too.

  7. Stephen Shenfield on February 17, 2014, 12:09 pm

    The term “Kishinev Russians” is inaccurate. Kishinev — now Chisinau, capital of Moldova — was a multiethnic city. The pogromists in this case were mainly Romanian (at that time there was not yet a distinct Moldovan identity). Krushevan is a Romanian name. Some were Greek. Most pogroms took place in Ukraine, with Ukrainians as perpetrators. One of the points in the standard narrative about pogroms that Solzhenitsyn objects to in his book on Russian-Jewish relations is the practice of blaming Russians for actions mostly committed by members of non-Russian ethnic groups. Russians have a right to take offense at this.

  8. W.Jones on February 17, 2014, 12:34 pm

    A scholarly article in the journal Russian History, 2009, says: “Nicholas II constantly ordered the black hundred leaders and local administrations not to allow pogroms”. He says the black hundred group was parting ways with the Tsar when the latter was expanding Jewish rights or privileges in the early 1900′s.

    A Moldovan newspaper claims that before the massacre happened, manifestos appeared that the Tsar allowed a pogrom there.

    Personally I am doubtful that the Manifestos were mentioning an actual order by the Tsar, based on the writer’s claim above. The Tsar was at times severe, but I think he would use cossacks for this. If for some reason he used the Okhrana, I really doubt he would make or need a public announcement for a mob. I am not ruling it out, I am just skeptical. Openly allowing “lawlessness” with an announcement just does not seem like his autocratic, regime style.

    Calling the Okhrana at that time “odd” would be an understatement. They actually were connected with all kinds of groups, including ones making anti-government violent provocations that the rest of the government, including I assume Nicholas II was apparently unaware of.

    • LeaNder on February 20, 2014, 11:27 am

      Here is another article by Michael Hagemeister sorting out facts from fiction in the history of the protocols. You simply have to open it in the Acrobat reader and turn it to be able to read it.

      That group was led by a Kishinev editor, Pavel Krushevan, who published the Protocols in 1905 in his St Petersburg newspaper.

      Not that it is too important. But as far as I know, this abbreviated version was printed in Krushevan’s Znamia (the banner) in 1903. 1905 is the year Sergei Nilus added it as appendix to his Velikoe v Malom (the Great in the Small, or the Advent of the Antichrist and the Approachment of the Devil on Earth), in a reprint. The book was first printed in 1901. Apparently the book is published in rather high numbers again post soviet Russia. Another Hagemeister article starting on page 4 again a document you have to open in your Reader and turn it around.

      Hagemeister works on Sergei Nilus for quite some time now. I hope one day he will publish a book on him. A figure equally shrouded in myth it seems. He has a very good article on Nilus, but I think there is no English translation on that one.

  9. tokyobk on February 17, 2014, 12:40 pm

    Jewish legal and de facto segregation and violent victimization was a universal symbol.

    For example, in a letter written by black American business and political leaders to the Japanese delegation at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, part of the appeal they made for universal minority rights (which the Japanese intended to address in a Racial Equality Clause) was cast in terms of the detestable situation of Russian Jews.

    The job of historian is to disrupt and its always good to have more and better information as defined by sources and less transparent agendas (hindsight though is always political). I have no doubt there were varied experiences for Jews in Russia and attitudes about Jews among Russians from the Tsar to the serf. Even Cossacks have been stereotyped into a monolith.

    But that often degenerates into parsing, especially by those whose interest is not really history but stacking up points for their side. Parsing is a hobby among Japanese nationalists, and the revisionist impulse. Recently the Asahi Shinbun published an article which showed summer-camp like pictures of German POW’s captured by Japan in WWI which were offered as proof that the Japanese were not really such bad captors, even by extension in WWII.

    Would such parsing occur on MW about, say, Ariel Sharon and Sabra and Shatila? Or contextualizing the flow chart from leadership on down of Israeli racism towards Arabs or African immigrants? It wouldn’t.

    The perception is because Zionism went too far there needs to be a revision. But revision is not necessarily good history either, certainly not agenda free.

    • W.Jones on February 17, 2014, 1:09 pm


      MHughes says that he expressed bland amusement about Palestinians’ existence decades ago, and Pamela said that they were barely mentioned in a class on the subject and that going there changed her views. For them, aren’t they undergoing a kind of revision of their beliefs about the past?

      Does the proposition-revision process goes like this: the community has always been severely persecuted in Europe, this must be due to Christian traditional theology, therefore there must be a state for one group in the Holy Land to avoid the inexorable persecution, even if Palestinians are occupied. The result of this is that people who care about both Jews and Palestinians will begin to question some of these premises, even if they are correct, to see how to address the conflict.

      • tokyobk on February 17, 2014, 7:25 pm

        W. Absolutely. The political Zionist narrative on Palestine is the essence of revision and using history to score points for one’s side.

        I think there were cultural Zionist narratives that had a moment of life and will be revived. I think the recent NYT article by Mark Oppenheim is part of creating a new (or re-primed) conceptual well for liberal American Jews to draw from.

      • W.Jones on February 17, 2014, 8:23 pm


        I think it’s neat that Hebrew was revived, and like the idea of people living in a homeland they feel close to. But what do you see the importance of in a movement where America’s Jews would be leaving America to go elsewhere? Maybe I am wrong, but shouldn’t they be considered part of America’s treasured culture?

      • LeaNder on February 20, 2014, 11:57 am

        tokyobk, I think the main struggle lies in the fact that the Zionists brought the European imperialist superiority along with them. In other words they picked up the “anti-Semitism” or anti-Arabism they were considered to be part of by the antisemites of earlier times.

        I could imagine that even the cultural Zionists weren’t completely free of it. I found it interesting that one branch of “Arabist experts” were trained in German universities.

        Many years ago by now, I struggled with someone on MW, who described himself anti-Ashkenazim instead of anti-Zionist. His attacks on Martin Buber felt way over the top for my taste. By now I have accepted the basic idea that even Martin Buber, I intend to reread his early writings on Zionism, may well feel odd to me now. And yes, maybe Israel is stuck to a certain extend in this late 19th century early 20th century context. Without ever having fulfilled its promise to make antisemitism go away, quite the opposite indeed.

        None of this means simplifications but an attempt to understand to the extend we can.

    • American on February 17, 2014, 1:15 pm

      tokyobk says:
      The perception is because Zionism went too far there needs to be a revision>>>>

      Nope, the attitude is that we (and the Jews even more so) need more accurate tellings of history re Jewish travails. Because it never was as simple as just a constant and irrational hatred of Jews or official persecutions by governments, it was more varied than that. Ethnic clashes and religious/ethnic politics abounded among populations just as they still do now.
      The point is not to white wash, the point is to understand the dynamics at work in it.

      • tokyobk on February 17, 2014, 6:58 pm

        uh huh. just as I said. So you either did not read or did not understand.

      • American on February 20, 2014, 11:25 am

        tokyobk says:
        February 17, 2014 at 6:58 pm
        uh huh. just as I said. So you either did not read or did not understand

        lol…..I understood you perfectly, despite you’re trying to ‘parse your objection’ to ‘parsing’ any attacks on Jews for any reason with the hokey comparsion to parsing Sharon.

    • puppies on February 17, 2014, 1:30 pm

      @Tokyo – If you have any documentation to “contextualize” (=bleach) Sharon and that particular massacre in Lebanon, or the more general wholesale butchery in which he was giving all direct orders, bring it. Why are you dealing in sneaky hypotheticals?

      • tokyobk on February 17, 2014, 6:57 pm

        I chose a particularly heinous example where people try to excuse someone because he may not have known all the details of an event. Same is true of, for example, Emperor Hirohito.

        So, its not a sneaky reference as you say, in fact the opposite chosen specifically because the example would be glaring to people here who might yet be willing to contextualize the Tzar or Russian government.

        I don’t have any interest in vindicating Sharon but people who do find parsing to be useful which was my point.

      • puppies on February 18, 2014, 2:03 am

        Tokyo – I reread that post repeatedly. While you are generally good at formulating clearly what you want to say, you’ll have to admit that this post was as obscure as if I had written it: it’s very hard to interpret in the way you later explained.

      • LeaNder on February 20, 2014, 12:27 pm

        tokyobk, you have to admit that there is a context to your chain of associations leading you to emperor Hirohito, isn’t there? Japan is the first best alternative to picking the Nazis, and yes there is this.

    • hophmi on February 20, 2014, 10:32 am

      “Would such parsing occur on MW about, say, Ariel Sharon and Sabra and Shatila? Or contextualizing the flow chart from leadership on down of Israeli racism towards Arabs or African immigrants? It wouldn’t.”

      Exactly. What is Phil’s point here, exactly? Zipperstein himself chastises Phil for an obsession with the Zionist angle of the story.

      So what’s your point, Phil? Jews were victims of the pogroms. There is no question at all that Jews in Russia faced a hard life and that the government was antisemitic. That’s not a debatable point.

      “The point is not to white wash, the point is to understand the dynamics at work in it.”

      Oh, really? I think the point is to take another (completely irrelevant) potshot at Zionism, and I don’t think Phil gives a rat’s patootie about the “dynamics at work”. I think Phil is engaged in a softcore form of Holocaust revisionism, the sort that is common here. Either it comes in the form of blaming Jews for not pushing for the memorialization of other groups who were massacred or died in large numbers during World War II (as if we had a special responsibility to promote everybody’s memory, and other groups did not), or it comes in claiming that Jews didn’t have it so bad in Europe and Russia, and that thus, the Zionists were somehow lying when they said that Jews in Russia and Europe were fundamentally unsafe. These all play into classical antisemitic tropes about Jews caring only for themselves and about Jews using their supernatural power to oppress the rest of the world.

      The gambit here is that if one can take episodes in history like the pogroms, and find some issue with them, one can amplify that issue beyond all reason, and somehow undermine the fact that antisemitism was endemic in Europe and elsewhere, and then claim that Jews had no right to any kind of self-determination, and have no such right today. So, when Phil deals with the Holocaust, in which more than half of Europe’s Jewish population was murdered, he doesn’t care about the victims nearly as much as he cares about historical curios like the Kastner story or the correspondence between the Stern Gang and European fascists. When he deals with the Kishniev pogroms, he doesn’t care that scores of Jews were killed by their neighbors in a country where they faced pervasive discrimination and where many Jews lived in grinding poverty. He focuses on how directly the government was involved. This is called missing the forest for the branches on the tree.

  10. W.Jones on February 17, 2014, 12:53 pm

    Trotsky says in his 1905 book:

    Let me ask: what does the prosecution mean by “form of government”? Do we really have a form ofgovernment? For a long time past the government has not been supported by the nation but only by itsmilitary-police-Black Hundreds apparatus. What we have is not a national government but an automatonfor mass murder. I can find no other name for the government machine which is tearing into parts theliving body of our country. If you tell me that the pogroms, the murders, the burnings, the rapes . if youtell me that everything that happened in Tver, Rostov, Kursk, Siedlee . . . if you tell that Kishinev,Odessa, Bialystok are the form of government of the Russian Empire — then I will agree with theprosecution that in October and November last we were arming ourselves, directly and immediately,against the form of government of the Russian Empire.

    In other words, this was like the situation in Latin American countries, where they have paramilitaries allied with the government. Trotsky does not say the Tsar in particular ordered the pogrom, but that the two groups were networked together and the pogromist allies carried it out.

  11. Nevada Ned on February 17, 2014, 1:24 pm

    Chomsky’s 1983 book, The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians, focuses on Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. culminating in Israel’s massacres of thousands Palestinians and Lebanese in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. Chomsky draws a parallel with the 1903 program of Jews at Kishinev (capital of Bessarabia), to which he devotes four full pages of the book, “A chapter in Jewish history”. The next section of the book, “A glorious victory”, is devoted to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon.
    A later section, devoted to the Sabra-Shatila massacre, is entitled “A chapter of Palestinian history”.

    Regular readers of Mondoweiss may say, who doesn’t know this? Judging by the recent obituary of Ariel Sharon, the New York Times doesn’t know it.

  12. Donald on February 17, 2014, 9:59 pm

    I just dragged out my copy of Orlando Figes’s book “A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924”, which was published in 1996.. He’s got a couple of pages on the Kishinev pogrom. On page 81, he says “Contrary to the old and well-established myth, none of these pogroms–and there were to be many more (eg in Kishinev in 1903 and throughout the Empire in 1905-1906) were ever instigated by the government. True, the authorities were slow to restore order and few pogromists were ever brought to trial. But this was not part of a conspiracy, just a reflection of the authorities ineffectiveness and their general hostility to Jews.”

    A few sentences later he says “Nicholas II in particular was increasingly inclined to see the anti-Jewish pogroms of his reign as an act of patriotism and loyalty by the ‘good and simple Russian folk’. ”

    He goes on to say Nicholas was willing to use the widespread anti-semitism as a banner to rally the masses to support his regime.

    The next sentence is this–

    “Hardly surprising, then, that such a large and prominent part in the revolutionary movement should have been played by the Jews”. There is then a footnote which says

    “Although, of course, it must never be forgotten that while many revolutionaries were Jews, relatively few Jews were revolutionaries. It was a myth of the anti-Semites that all the Jews were Bolsheviks. In fact, as far as one can tell from the elections to the Constituent Assembly in 1917, most of the Jewish population favored the Zionist and democratic socialist parties.”

    • philweiss on February 18, 2014, 9:19 am

      Thanks Donald. Interesting. I’ve always likened Jewish Bolsheviks to neocons in my mind. In terms of the numbers, inside the Jewish community. But with a broad appeal.

  13. Obsidian on February 18, 2014, 12:27 am


    ” Your focus — singleminded, it seems to me — on the perfidy of Zionism obscured for you the broader ramifications of what I sought to argue in my talk.”

    Zipperstein has your number.

    • puppies on February 18, 2014, 8:40 am

      @obstreperous – Wrong again. Phil had clearly mentioned the Forward.

      • philweiss on February 18, 2014, 9:25 am

        I have listened to Zipperstein’s excellent lecture many times on my little MP3 player as I have skiied around my house in the woods in recent weeks and he does not emphasize the role of Jewish socialists in getting the news out through Russia’s “porous” western border. He speaks of the significance of Bernstein-Kogan’s presence, and says that had this pogrom happened 200 miles to the east, we wouldn’t be talking about it now, by which he could mean Odessa. No, the crucial element he refers to was the Zionist bureau.
        Though he emphasized that the pogrom was seized on by every ideology in Jewish life, from territorialists to socialists to… (forgive me, I forget some of the ideologies). And maybe I should have pointed that out more. I do hope the lecture is published or put up on youtube.

  14. flyod on February 18, 2014, 10:19 am

    you are getting closer phil…
    who murdered anna demidova…
    nothing has changed; tear down and destroy..
    the state within the state

    • hophmi on February 20, 2014, 10:34 am

      “you are getting closer phil…
      who murdered anna demidova…
      nothing has changed; tear down and destroy..
      the state within the state”

      What the hell does this mean?

      • Mooser on January 9, 2016, 12:23 pm

        “What the hell does this mean?”

        Wouldn’t you like to know!

  15. Keith on February 18, 2014, 6:53 pm

    Although this article ostensibly seeks to “explode” a legendary anti-Semitic episode, the net effect is to focus on a more-or-less irrelevant piece of dated European history. A 1903 pogrom where 43 Jews were killed. Terrible. How many Jews have been lynched in the US? One, according to Jeffrey Blankfort. How many Blacks have been lynched in the US? I don’t know, but I suspect more than 43. How many Jews versus Blacks have been killed in race riots (pogroms?) in the land of the free?

    Okay, so the guy is a Professor of Jewish history. No doubt he focuses on Jewish achievement and Jewish persecution. That is his job as part of the Jewish/Zionist doctrinal system. I suspect that there was a huge increase in the number of Professors of Jewish history following the 1967 Middle East war which marked the ascent of the Jewish elite into the citadels of power. There are probably Jewish chairs of this or that too. Somewhere Norman Finkelstein said that these were mostly funded by Jewish fat-cats and the scholarship was/is usually non-existent.

    So we hear about a 1903 pogrom and discuss the Czar’s role, always emphasizing Jewish victim-hood, the debate reinforcing the myth. I wonder, do any of these Professors of Jewish history who emphasize Russia ever talk about Genrikh Yagoda? So what exactly is the point of this article other than a continuation of the never-ending emphasis on Jewish victim-hood? How does this relate to contemporary Zionism, Israel, the Middle East, or anything remotely relevant?,7340,L-3342999,00.html

    • hophmi on February 20, 2014, 10:39 am

      “How many Jews have been lynched in the US? One, according to Jeffrey Blankfort. How many Blacks have been lynched in the US? I don’t know, but I suspect more than 43. How many Jews versus Blacks have been killed in race riots (pogroms?) in the land of the free?”

      What on earth does this have to do with anything? Do you think the 43 Jews killed in the 1903 pogrom were the only Jews killed in Russian history? There were another 19 killed in Kishniev in 1905.

      ” No doubt he focuses on Jewish achievement and Jewish persecution. That is his job as part of the Jewish/Zionist doctrinal system.”

      Oh please. Another antisemite on Mondowhackjobs.

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