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.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Education Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    JNS.org – My wife Suzy and I will never forget our wedding day. It was not just the uplifting ceremony and beautiful party that left an indelible mark. Some life-altering advice that we received from one of our guests informed and shaped our lives from that day forward. My high school teacher, Rabbi Moshe Yagid, pulled us aside just before the chuppah and challenged us to choose one mitzvah that would be the foundation of our marriage and our lives. He explained [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    JNS.org – Influenced by his Jewish upbringing and a summer on a kibbutz, basketball coach David Blatt is embarking on his highest-profile challenge yet: coaching LeBron James, the four-time National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player who has made waves for returning to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. After guiding Israel’s storied Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball franchise to its 51st Israeli league championship and 6th Euroleague title this past season, Blatt landed the Cavaliers head-coaching job in June. Just weeks later, [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    JNS.org – At the turn of the century, a young Jewish immigrant arrived in New York. So begins the history of many American Jewish families. It is 27-year-old Albert Allaham’s story, too, with a few unusual twists. Albert’s “century” is the 21st—he arrived almost 100 years after the massive waves of European Jewish immigration. Rather than coming from a small town along the Danube river, his shtetl was Damascus. His first American business was not a pushcart on the Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    Did you know that in the entire Bible, only one birthday is mentioned and it is that of Pharaoh? And did you know that according to some scientists, by accepting Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, it is impossible to prove or disprove that the sun is the gravitational center of our solar system? In his new book, REBBE, best-selling author Joseph Telushkin reveals many surprising and sometimes shocking details as he chronicles the life and teachings of the charismatic Rabbi [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Mitzvos New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    JNS.org – Omelet sandwich: 5 shekels. Iced coffee: 5 shekels. Tuna sandwich: 5 shekels. Fresh-squeezed orange juice: 5 shekels. Cheese bureka: 5 shekels. There’s plenty more on the Cofizz menu, but you get the idea. Dani Mizrahi and Amir Amshalm, two Israeli men in their early 30s, asked themselves: Why not launch a take-out food joint in busy neighborhoods around Jerusalem where everything—and that means everything—goes for five shekels, or about $1.50. They’d seen the concept take off in Tel Aviv, where [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    The new FX Network drama Tyrant was shot entirely in Israel, just 10 miles north of Tel Aviv, Bloomberg News reported last Tuesday. Tyrant follows the life of an Arab dictator’s second son Barry, played by Adam Rayner, who reluctantly returns home to the Middle Eastern nation of his birth to join the family business away from his suburban life in America. The elaborate set production for the primetime drama included a crew of 300 and a reported cost of over $3 million [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Skokie, Il-born 25-year-old Erin Heatherton (Erin Heather Bubley) is rocking the modeling world. And in a new interview accompanying a cover spread for Miami’s Ocean Drive magazine, she says Jewish moms are “constantly trying to set her up with their sons.” Imagine that – who would have thought? “The moms, they’re doing what they do. It doesn’t matter what country they live in, what city – grandmothers, too,” she admitted. “But I’m probably going to do that too one day.” Heatherton was [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Israel First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    Some 15 Turkish university professors and lecturers will take part in a first of its kind seminar at Holocaust museum Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies starting next week. The trip is especially significant as Holocaust denial is rampant in the Arab world. A Palestinian professor was recently forced to resign after he led a trip to the Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz. Participants in the week-long program at Yad Vashem will experience in-depth tours of the museum’s archives and [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.