Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Lenin’s Legacy: Why Jews Have Been Betrayed by the Radical Left

June 29, 2012 11:41 am 4 comments

Portrait of Vladimir Lenin. Photo: wiki commons.

There are a few biographical details about Professor Robert Wistrich that people tend to overlook when evaluating the work of someone who is arguably the world’s foremost authority on antisemitism.

They offer a key to explaining why — just two years after writing his 1,000-page magnum opus, A Lethal Obsession: Antisemitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad — Wistrich has now produced a 623-page tome with the auspicious title, From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews and Israel.

The first salient fact is that the 67-year-old historian was born in Kazakhstan at the height of Stalin’s power after his family fled Krakow during the Second World War. Add to that the cultural/political milieu in which he was raised — Wistrich’s father, despite having been a member of the illegal Polish Communist party, was rewarded for his fidelity with imprisonment by the NKVD (the secret police). His family, Wistrich has reflected, consequently had “no allusions about Soviet mendacity after the war and the cruelty of a totalitarian system that ruthlessly crushed all individuality”.

And yet, as a young intellectual, there was still the allure of leftist thought. Growing up in Britain in the 1950s Wistrich recalls becoming “radicalised at grammar school”, and later spending “two years of study and radical protest” at Stanford University in California as well as being present at the Paris student riots of 1968 opposing “capitalist alienation and the racism and militarism of the West”.

During that same period, however, after grappling with classic Marxist theory and its ambivalence towards the Jews as a student at Cambridge and researching his doctorate on “Socialism and the Jewish Question” at University College London, Wistrich found himself debating against pro-Palestinian leftists on British campuses, where he detected an inescapable “sharp edge to anti-Israel sentiment which went beyond theory”.

Why, he wanted to know, had “so many on the new Left turned against the Jewish State with such vehemence?”

Forty years later Wistrich has returned to this question — only this time, his pursuit of an answer is aided by four decades of research and exhaustive scholarship.

Reading his book is not an easy journey — unless the reader is already familiar with the original arguments of leftist luminaries the likes of Karl Marx, Fredrich Engels, Rosa Luxembourg, Bernard Lazare, Karl Kautsky and Leon Trotsky. Some of Wistrich’s conclusions are familiar, the product of eight years as director of research at the Wiener Library before ultimately becoming head in 2002 of the Vidal Sassoon International Centre for the Study of Antisemitism at Hebrew University, where he he holds the Neuberger chair of history.

But this is the first time his analysis has been synthesised into one volume. And then there is the title — From Ambiguity to Betrayal. Do his personal details explain why he chose such an emotive term? Is the “betrayal of the Left” in any way personal?

“No”, he says flatly. “I stopped regarding myself as a man of the Left over 40 years ago.”
Instead, as he sees it, the “betrayal” is a matter of first principles. “Much of the contemporary Left has abandoned its own Enlightenment legacy as well as its broad-based humanist social project,” he says.

“Instead, it has become disproportionally and irrationally obsessed with the ‘sins’ of Israel, which it holds responsible for virtually all the problems in the Middle East and even beyond.”

The second layer of betrayal comes from what he calls “the anti-Zionist Left”, who have “reneged on the universality of the principal of national self-determination” — a principle that seems to exist for everyone else except the Jews — and at the same time embraced radical Islam.

The final layer finds its home in the radical Left and parts of the liberal mainstream, for whom, Wistrich says, antisemitism does not exist unless it can be laid at the doorstep of the extreme Right.

Yet what baffles Wistrich more than anything about the contemporary Left and its antisemitic impulses is its incoherent nature. “Today’s ideology of the Left is a boutique of fragments — what I call the ‘debris of dead Marxist galaxies’.” But all the fragments are linked by a baseline animosity to Jews and Israel. It is what unites such disparate worldviews as those of Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

One of Wistrich’s most startling discoveries was what he thought was a Soviet antisemitic trope turns out to have originated from the British Labour movement at the turn of the last century.

“What struck me quite forcefully when researching this book was how much Great Britain is responsible for its own, indigenous – and contemporary – antisemitic traditions.” Among them are the widespread theories of Jewish world conspiracy manipulated by the British Left during the Boer War of 1899-1902.

Wistrich argues that that war — as contentious and polarising as any in the modern period — saw the emergence of a radical anti-war movement which coined conspiracy terminology such as “Imperialist Judaism” to describe how prominent Jewish financiers in South Africa allegedly plunged the British Empire into a disastrous conflict. These ideas would resurface with the emergence of Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists in the 1930s, who accused Jews of dragging Britain into a war with Germany, and again with the radical anti-Iraq War movement and its accusations of “Jewish cabals”, neo-conservative conspiracies and claims of “Zionist imperialism”.

Worse still, says Wistrich, was his discovery that the virulent notion that Zionism is a form of Nazism had emerged within the British Foreign Office as it sought to restrict survivors from Hitler’s Europe from entering the country. In the 1950s that notion would enter mainstream public opinion via the renowned historian Arnold J Toynbee whose Study in History indicts the Zionists as “disciples of the Nazis” – an allegation that became a mantra of the British Left, and was behind the notorious Zionism Equals Racism United Nations resolution of 1975.

If all of this paints a bleak picture, Wistrich nevertheless holds out a ray of hope in his view that the British Left “is ideologically impoverished and the level of its argumentation truly pitiful”.
He adds: “If my book helps to restore some sanity to the increasingly toxic discourse surrounding these issues today, I’ll know I’ve made a dent.”

This post first appeared in the Jewish Chronicle.

4 Comments

  • God he is the vine, and him Satan is divine. Why are did Jesus call the synagogue (Revelation 2:9) Satan, and the temple (Jeremiah 7:4) liars? Jesus never taught in any earthly church, the apostles did. What happened to Jesus, is similar to Paul, but Paul was stoned to death and Jesus was hung from a tree, like black people were. Esau is art thou in the Bible, who hid himself like Jesus, Moses, David. The Lord hid himself from Cain the murderer, his blood is Enoch. (Hebrews 11:5)

  • Fredric M. London

    I cannot wait to read his book.

  • Wallace Edward Brand

    According to Major General Ion Pacepa, the highest ranking defector from the Soviet bloc during the cold war, the Soviet Union spent a lot of effort demonizing the West after WWII, and particularly Israel commencing in the 60s. See, P acepa, Russian Footprints, “In 1972, the Kremlin decided to turn the whole Islamic world against Israel and the U.S. As KGB chairman Yury Andropov told me, a billion adversaries could inflict far greater damage on America than could a few millions. We needed to instill a Nazi-style hatred for the Jews throughout the Islamic world, and to turn this weapon of the emotions into a terrorist bloodbath against Israel and its main supporter, the United States. No one within the American/Zionist sphere of influence should any longer feel safe.” National Review Online, August 26, 2006

  • Peter Caroline

    As soon as Jews departed from the comfortable image of “oppressed and victimized minority” and were able to achieve successful nation status, they lost any sympathy they might have had from the leftists. With “friends” like these, who needs enemies?

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Features World Graves of Jewish Pirates in Jamaica Give Caribbean Tourists Taste of Little-Known History

    Graves of Jewish Pirates in Jamaica Give Caribbean Tourists Taste of Little-Known History

    Tour operators are calling attention to Jamaica’s little-known Jewish heritage by arranging visits to historic Jewish sites on the Caribbean island, including a cemetery where Jewish pirates are buried. A report in Travel and Leisure magazine describes the Hunts Bay Cemetery in Kingston, where there are seven tombstones engraved with Hebrew benedictions and skull and crossbones insignia. According to the report, centuries ago, Jewish pirates sailed the waters of Jamaica and settled in Port Royal. The town, once known as “the wickedest city in the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Filmmaker Eyal Resh Embraces the Challenge of Telling Israel’s Story (VIDEO)

    Filmmaker Eyal Resh Embraces the Challenge of Telling Israel’s Story (VIDEO)

    JNS.org – Telling Israel’s story. It’s the specific title of a short film that Eyal Resh created last year. It’s also the theme behind the 27-year-old Israeli filmmaker’s broader body of work. The widely viewed “Telling Israel’s Story” film—directed by Resh for a gala event hosted by the Times of Israel online news outlet—seemingly begins as a promotional tourism video, but quickly evolves to offer a multilayered perspective. “I want to tell you a story about a special place for me,” a young woman whispers […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Israel Geeks Out: Science, Art and Tech Event Embodies Jewish State’s ‘DNA’

    Israel Geeks Out: Science, Art and Tech Event Embodies Jewish State’s ‘DNA’

    JNS.org – The entrance to Jerusalem’s Sacher Park was transformed from April 25-27 by a fire-breathing robotic dragon, which flailed its arms and attempted to take flight. The robot, a signature feature at Jerusalem’s first-ever “Geek Picnic,” was one of more than 150 scientific amusements available for the public to experience. This particular dragon was designed by students from Moscow’s Art Industrial Institute in conjunction with the Flacon design factory, said Anatasia Shaminer, a student who helped facilitate the display. Children […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion The Syrian Virgin (REVIEW)

    The Syrian Virgin (REVIEW)

    The Syrian Virgin, by Zack Love. CreateSpace, 2015. The Syrian Virgin, by Zack Love, is a very interesting novel. Equally a political and romantic thriller, at times a real page-turner, it gets you intimately involved in the dire situation in today’s Syria, as well as in the romantic entanglements of its mostly New York-based characters — whose entanglements just might determine the fate of that dire situation in Syria. Along the way it introduces a really important idea that somehow […]

    Read more →
  • Features Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    JNS.org – Aside from Israel itself, those with a vested interest in the Jewish state are accustomed to tracking developments related to Middle East players such as Iran, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. But much global attention has recently focused on the Caucasus region at the Europe-Asia border, specifically on the suddenly intensified violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh area of western Azerbaijan. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, while not taking place in Israel’s immediate neighborhood, does have what one scholar called […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    JNS.org – On Friday, April 22, 196 nations across the world mark Earth Day, the annual day dedicated to environmental protection that was enacted in 1970. Not to be forgotten on this day is Israel, which is known as the “start-up nation” for its disproportionate amount of technological innovation, including in the area of protecting the environment. For Earth Day 2016, JNS.org presents a sampling of the Jewish state’s internal achievements and global contributions in the environmental realm. Water conservation Israeli […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture World New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    Holocaust humor and the role that laughter played in the lives of Jews during World War II are the focus of a documentary that made its world premiere on Monday at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. In The Last Laugh, first- and second-generation survivors, as well as famous Jewish and non-Jewish comedians, discuss their thoughts on when joking about the death camps is appropriate or taboo. “Nazi humor, that’s OK. Holocaust humor, no,” Jewish comedic giant, actor and filmmaker Mel Brooks says in the film. “Anything I […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    JNS.org – Sherri Mandell’s life was devastated on May 8, 2001, when her 13-year-old son Koby was murdered by terrorists on the outskirts of the Israeli Jewish community of Tekoa. Yet Mandell not only shares the story of her loss, but also celebrates the lessons she has learned from tragedy. Indeed, “celebrate” is this Israeli-American author’s word choice. Her second book, The Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration (Toby Press), came out earlier this year. The lesson: in every celebration, there is […]

    Read more →