Caution, Zionism!: Essays on the Ideology, Organization and Practice of Zionism
Mikhail Agursky is a cybernetics engineer who lives in Moscow. Aged about forty, he is the son of a Belorussian Jewish communist who originally named him Melik—short in Russian for Marx-Engels-Lenin-International Communism. Agursky has published works on cybernetics and also, more recently, in The Times Literary Supplement (June 30), a long article reviewing the Soviet Belorussian Encyclopedia.
As for Yuri Ivanov, the author of the book Agursky reviews below, there was doubt for some time about his real identity. But then the Moscow Chronicle of Current Events reported that he “is a real person of about forty” who “knows English well, but no other foreign languages,” and “works in the Central Committee of the Party. He was formerly employed in the African department, but then he received an official reprimand for drunkenness and…was transferred to the foreign travel department, where the staff consists exclusively of KGB officials. At present Yuri Ivanov is the only expert on Israel working in the Central Committee.”
The English-language edition of Ivanov’s Caution, Zionism! (Progress Publishers, Moscow), which, incidentally, tones down some of the most offensively anti-Semitic passages in the original, describes him as a “Soviet Marxist historian.” More recently he has revealed many of the pseudonyms which he did in fact use earlier by publishing a collection of his articles in Russian called Whom Do They Serve? And more recently still, reports have circulated in Moscow of closed party meetings being told that he has been thrown from a train and killed.
Agursky’s essay on this book is the first of its kind to be published. It should be noted, however, that a much longer work by Vitold Kapshitser, The Trojan Horse of Fascism, which analyzes in detail the similarity between anti-Semitic writers of the late tsarist period and of today, has reached the West and, one hopes, will soon be published. Mr. Kapshitser recently emigrated from the USSR and has been living in Rome.
This book, whose author aspires to the role of the chief Soviet expert on Zionism, has recently been translated, inside the USSR, into several European languages, including English. The Russian edition of Caution, Zionism! was a best seller of its kind, and vanished from the bookshops almost as soon as it appeared.
The book is a remarkable social document, being the first attempt of the entire Soviet period to justify publicly the need for an all-out struggle against the Jews, whom the author views as the country’s chief internal threat. The book abounds in ideological argumentation and references to classical Marxism-Leninism; but this is mere decoration which the author uses as a means of influencing those who would not otherwise accept his argument.
Caution, Zionism! is couched in an intricate, Aesopian language of allusion and semi-allusion, of which the greater part can be understood only by specialists. Furthermore, this language makes frequent use of a symbolism fully intelligible only to those who share Ivanov’s attitudes. For example, when he says “Zionist,” the author means “Jew”; when he speaks of “communism,” this should be understood as meaning “Russia.” But Ivanov’s code does not by any means confine itself to these two cipher words. It goes considerably further.
In essence, Caution, Zionism! oversteps the bounds of an ordinary book. It is a public version of the political program of a large social trend in the USSR. The ideology of this trend is Russian nationalism, and the program, by virtue of its structure, argumentation, sources, and aims, derives from the nationalist currents of the extreme right in prerevolutionary Russia, that is, from the chauvinist anti-Semitic groups called the “Black Hundreds,” which emerged after the 1905 revolution.*
For the most part the author gives Israel the role of a bogy, in the hope of convincing his readers of how powerful and insidious the Jews can be in a country if no special measures are used against them. Ivanov’s target is by no means the general Soviet reading public; he is above all attempting to persuade the Soviet leadership that he is right. It is extremely important to bear this in mind when reading the book.
Ivanov is trying to use the Arab-Israeli conflict for his own ends, as the Polish “partisans” under Moczar, for instance, tried to do when they accused Gomulka of encouraging Polish Zionism.
Written in the vocabulary of communist ideology, Caution, Zionism! is a long paraphrase of much of the literature of the Black Hundreds, with which the author is extremely familiar although he never alludes to it, and in particular of the so-called Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Ivanov’s objective with this use of the Protocols is to frighten the Soviet leadership by claiming that a secret and well-organized drive of the Jews for world supremacy—the chief obstacle to which is Russia—constitutes an extremely grave danger to the USSR. It would be a mistake to identify Ivanov’s ideology with orthodox Soviet ideology. Ivanov simply understands that his ideas have a chance of acceptance if presented in communist phraseology. Otherwise they could not even be legally published.
Experience has shown that liberal opposition in communist countries is very weak and has little prospect of political success. On the other hand, nationalistic ideology presented in communist language is becoming a singularly effective political force. In order to comprehend fully the sources and significance of the right-wing Russian nationalism exhibited by Ivanov one must realize that it represents an extreme reaction to the very real national conflict between the Russian and Jewish populations of Russia. This conflict was engendered in the eighteenth century by the colonial seizure of Poland with its large Jewish population (prior to that time there had been no Jews at all in Russia) and by the severe legal discrimination which the Jews suffered thereafter. It was subsequently aggravated by an active Jewish movement toward assimilation, which, because of the rapidly increasing penetration of Jews into the public life of a country in which they had never previously lived, provoked a prompt and widespread anti-Semitic reaction.
The struggle the Jews had initiated to escape from their socially deprived position and their active participation in the revolutionary movement led to more anti-Semitism and finally, after the 1905 revolution, to the creation of the Black Hundreds, who saw that revolution as a Jewish one. Under the influence of French and German anti-Semitism, they armed themselves with the extreme racist ideology of Chamberlain and Count Gobineau, according to which the Jews were a parasitic nation biologically distinct from Homo sapiens. The official motto of the Black Hundreds was “Orthodoxy, autocracy, nation,” but they looked upon religion as essentially a political tool to suit their own purposes, and this brought them into serious conflict with the ecclesiastical hierarchy in the early years of their existence.
The Black Hundreds did not by any means dominate Russian political life, though they were intensely active in it. After the February revolution of 1917, the Black Hundreds movement naturally enough disintegrated. But it managed on its deathbed to put down roots, first in Germany through the emigration of its disciples (one can trace a direct link between the Russian Black Hundreds and German Nazism) and secondly in Russia itself, where it has simply been waiting for the most favorable moment for its legitimation.
One might find it hard to conceive of a revival of the Black Hundred ideology in postrevolutionary Russia, where the continuity of communist ideology has remained unbroken despite all the tremendous changes that have taken place over more than fifty years. But such a development ought not to come as any surprise to the careful observer. Apart from its social aspect, there was an unusually profound national character to the Bolshevik revolution, and it was precisely this that proved a dominant factor in the country’s subsequent development. The triumph of the revolution signified above all the triumph of the border territories and their nationalities over Great Russia, which had long been engaging in colonial seizures.
On the ruins of a Russian empire that had striven officially toward Great Russian domination and had stifled any aspiration to separatism, there arose an enormous multinational state in which all national discrimination was strictly prohibited. The ruling elite in this state, in sharp contrast to those of previous times, came to include a large number of “non-Russians,” i.e., Jews, Latvians, Poles, Georgians, Armenians, Finns, etc., whom the indigenous Russian population regarded with hostility as an alien element and whose appearance in the ruling class they began to associate with any discontent with the new order, viewing the new regime at times as a foreign yoke.
At the same time the revolution had several very favorable consequences for the country’s sizable Jewish population. Having attained fully equal rights with the remainder of the population, hundreds of thousands of Jews from the former “pale of settlement” poured into the deserted cities of Moscow and Leningrad, soon becoming the second most numerous national group there. True, the mass migration of Jews out of the pale of settlement affected mainly the young; adherents to religious tradition remained where they were, eying the new regime with mistrust because of its policy of militant atheism.
The influx of many young Jews into central Russia, the overt encouragement of them by the authorities, and their innate energy enabled them, lack of education notwithstanding, to rise to many key posts in party, state, military, and other spheres. This is not to mention those Jewish communists who played an active part in the revolution and civil war. At that time the ranks of the Jews produced many eminent figures. But this in its turn caused an abrupt heightening of anti-Semitism, which, though deeply hidden as yet, was nevertheless always ready to break through the surface. Suffice it to say that in April, 1922, in Moscow itself, a frenzied crowd, only a few hundred yards from the Kremlin, would have lynched a Jew whom it suspected of the ritual murder of a child had Lenin not intervened personally. In spite of the fact that expressions of anti-Semitism were very severely punished, hostile anti-Jewish outbursts did occur during the confiscation of church treasures (1922), during the collectivization of agriculture, during the closure of the churches, and on other occasions.
The active participation of Jewish communists and Komsomol members in the unprecedented antireligious campaign provoked much discontent among many sections of the population. The campaign to de-Christianize Russia had been officially opened as early as 1922 by Trotsky with his anthology “For a New Way of Life,” in which he launched, among other things, the slogan “Enough Vanichkas and Manichkas.” This was a proposal by Trotsky for the complete abandonment of traditional names of Christian (and in fact Jewish) origin, and it led to the tragi-comic campaign of adult “re-baptism” which has left its mark to this day on Russian first names. Trotsky also proposed the total abandonment of traditionally Russian national religious ceremonies and their replacement by new ones of a secular kind. At the beginning of 1923 Trotsky attended the first public “trial of God.”
The Black Hundreds, as super-patriotic Russians, used methods somewhat similar to those of the John Birch Society in their efforts to influence the tsarist government. They also helped to organize pogroms and hunt down revolutionaries. They usually enjoyed immunity from prosecution and a measure of official support. But although they operated in many parts of the country, they never developed into an organized mass movement.—Translator's Note↩
The Black Hundreds, as super-patriotic Russians, used methods somewhat similar to those of the John Birch Society in their efforts to influence the tsarist government. They also helped to organize pogroms and hunt down revolutionaries. They usually enjoyed immunity from prosecution and a measure of official support. But although they operated in many parts of the country, they never developed into an organized mass movement.—Translator’s Note↩