Translator’s Introduction

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.

Peter Reddaway

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.”

A few years later the director of the entire antireligious campaign was a close associate of Stalin’s, Emelyan Yaroslavsky (Gubelman), who became chairman of the Union of Militant Atheists. And although practicing Jews were subjected to the same degree of antireligious persecution as were Christians and Moslems, the Russian Orthodox population regarded the campaign as primarily Jewish and anti-Christian.

The section of Soviet Jewry which had become fully integrated into the Soviet system, i.e., all the party activists, strove constantly toward assimilation, seeking nothing for their fellow Jews, in the naïve belief that anti-Semitism was a thing of the past. In fact, however, the powerful wave of assimilation within Soviet Jewry was bound inevitably to lead, as it had before the revolution, to a further deepening of the national conflict between the Russian and Jewish populations of Russia. The storm was not long in breaking. The vast and bloody purges of 1936-1938 did not apparently at first have any particularly anti-Jewish bias; but this emerged after the annihilation, along with persons of other nationalities, of large numbers of Jewish communists who had been members of the ruling elite.

One can assume that by the time the purges were drawing to their close Stalin had a clearly defined anti-Semitic policy, while his most intimate circle of retainers must have included several unabashed ideologists of the Black Hundred persuasion who regarded communism merely as a tool for attaining their own ends. The aims of the Black Hundred ideology in its new form were to eliminate non-Russians from key party and public positions and to seek a rapprochement with Hitler’s Germany, the latter aim being reflected in the 1939 pact with Hitler. But this ideology was by no means the prevailing one at that time and was evidently confined to a very narrow circle of persons, including, it would seem Shcherbakov and Zhdanov.

It is significant that after the purges of the 1930s not one Jew remained in a high-ranking political post in such republics as the Ukraine or Belorussia, which had Jewish populations of several millions. The percentage of Jews elected to the Central Committee in 1939 was negligible, and in 1941, a month before the outbreak of war, the number was reduced still further; after that, only a nominal five or six remained, including L. Kaganovich, E. Yaroslavsky, L. Mekhlis, and A. Lozovsky. So there had taken place something which has happened on more than one occasion in Jewish history when assimilatory tendencies began to dominate. Anti-Semitism, instead of vanishing, sharply increased.

It is difficult to describe in a few words the subsequent development of the nationality conflict in Russia during and after the war. Prior to 1948 Stalin evidently tried to use the Jewish question for his own purposes, even formulating certain plans for Palestine and supporting the creation of a Jewish state to counterbalance the Arabs. However, from the end of 1948 onward, he became convinced that his plans for the establishment of a new “people’s democracy” in Palestine were unsound, and chose instead a policy of militant official anti-Semitism, annihilating the last remnants of Jewish-Yiddish culture, arresting nearly all the prominent personalities in Jewish society, and, finally, preparing the ground for the monstrous provocation of the doctors’ plot, almost as though he were about to administer his “final solution” to the Jewish problem.

When the Soviet press, at the beginning of 1953, embarked upon a campaign of unbridled anti-Semitism, it was the slogans of Black Hundredism that flickered between the lines. Accusations began to be leveled at world Zionism, then embodied in the philanthropic Jewish organization “Joint,” to the effect that it was conspiring to undermine the world socialist system.

The situation following Stalin’s death was not favorable to the advancement of Black Hundred ideology, and the fight against Zionism came to a temporary halt. However, the historical process proved irreversible. The Jews were still feared as a national group which, given the chance, would speedily regain its position of dominance in the country. The postwar anti-Semitism in its turn had also had a profound effect upon the Jews, driving many to disillusionment with the idea of assimilation, even though this idea retains to this day a strong following among Soviet Jewry. But it was the Soviet government’s decision in 1955 to intervene in the Arab-Israeli conflict on geopolitical grounds, and to support the Arabs because of their numerical superiority, that had the most serious consequences. It was a step based on an underestimation of Israel and an overestimation of the Arabs.

However, it was precisely this Arab-Israeli conflict that the Russian nationalists tried to use for their own purposes. At first they could not find convincing enough arguments to satisfy their opponents, but after the 1967 war, they could present the humiliating defeat of the Arabs, who had received enormous quantities of aid from the USSR, as the result of the secret activities of a world Zionism that aspired to world domination and already had the leading Western countries under its thumb. Since then these people have tried to depict all the political failures of the USSR as the consequence of a calculated Zionist scenario. Moreover, their ideology, from being mere backstage arguing, has burst out into the open and finally found its expression in the publication of Ivanov’s book.

Let us look now at Ivanov’s main theses:

  1. Prior to the 1890s Zionism did not exist. It was the product of imperialist aspirations to control the area around the Suez Canal (this is how Ivanov frequently refers in his book to the territory of Israel). This area is a strategic part of the globe, and the imperialists decided to colonize it with Jews since these were the only people, Ivanov suggests, on whom they could rely. But, according to Ivanov, protection of the Suez Canal has not been the only task of the Jewish patrol service in the area. It has also been given the mission of keeping watch over the oil-bearing regions.

If one examines this amusing claim, one finds it difficult to comprehend why a territory several hundred kilometers away from the Suez Canal should have been chosen as the “sentry-box,” and at a time when the canal was anyway under the absolute control of European countries. Evidently the whole enterprise was a demonstration of the amazing, supernatural intuition of the imperialists, who foresaw, accurately and down to the last detail, the course of world affairs. Clearly they must have foreseen, way back in the 1880s, the rise of the progressive Arab regimes, and, almost a hundred years in advance, have begun to prepare for the Six-Day War. That was when they chose the Jews to be the suppressors of the progressive regimes of General Asad, General Numeiry, President Sadat, and…King Hussein.

  1. According to Ivanov, the Jews have not suffered any more than other peoples. To assert otherwise, he claims, is racism. He has borrowed this argument wholesale from the Black Hundreds. In their view the Jews in Russia were a dominant, not an oppressed, people, and that made it impossible that they be conceded any new rights. Ivanov consistently denies the fact of Jewish persecution in the past and accuses the Jews of having settled all over the world in search of profit, not as a result of persecution, and of having created their ghettos on their own initiative.
  2. The Jews do not have the right to claim as their own any outstanding men and women since these people were able to develop only by feeding off the “national juices” of other peoples (the Jews having no juices of their own). Ivanov sharply attacks the legend of the “exceptional,” “outstanding capabilities” “verging on genius” of all Jews by comparison with other peoples of the world. “With the tremendous means at their disposal,” writes Ivanov, “they strive by means of bribery and publicity to inflate the authority of individuals who appear most suitable from their standpoint.” This is doubtless a particular allusion to Einstein, who is cited by an unabashed Black Hundreder, Ivan Shevtsov, as well as by a more cultured anti-Semite, the physicist Tyapkin, in attempts to prove that Jewish physicists of indifferent talent needed the Einstein cult in order to raise their prestige in science.

Ivanov objects to the use, for sinister Jewish purposes, of “the authority of lofty intellects and the names of truly talented persons who were nurtured on the national juices of the cultures of the Arab East, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, England, Poland, Rumania, Russia, and America, and who never detached themselves from their native soil.” Ivanov tries to persuade the reader that the Zionists hate Marx; but his sole aim here is to conceal from the reader ignorant of history the fact that Marx, as a Jew, was hated by Ivanov’s ideological precursors, the Black Hundreds.

  1. Ivanov lifts the idea of the Jewish aspiration to world domination straight out of the Protocols. It is a difficult task, for throughout the book he accuses the Jews of being in the service of many different imperialist countries. But he finds a way out by asserting that while in the service of those countries they have long cherished the dream of their own supremacy and have merely been building up their strength in order later to attain it.
  2. Ivanov attaches especial importance to proving that Jews who participated in the revolutionary movement in Russia, as well as Jewish communists of the Soviet period, were secret agents of Zionism. Perhaps his proof of this constitutes the real center of the book.

First, Ivanov accomplishes the easiest part of his task—demonstrating the close connection between the Jewish social-democratic party of the Bund and Zionism. This is easy because the Bund was long an opponent of the Bolsheviks and criticism of it in communist circles was quite normal. So one can attribute to it anything one wishes. But in fact, the Bund was anything but Zionist; on the contrary, it was extremely inimical to Zionism, as historians of the revolutionary movement in Russia well know.

Here is what Ivanov himself has to say on the question:

Concealing their favorite range of sinister shades under their skirts, the Zionists, on the very threshold of the revolutionary events in Russia, zealously painted the facade of the Jewish Colonial Trust red.

Red is the symbol of revolution. Thus, according to Ivanov, the Jews joined in the revolution for exclusively sinister purposes. Ivanov goes on to say that once they had so successfully dyed themselves red, the Jews wormed their way into the highest positions in the USSR, for the same sinister reasons, and there carried on their task of corruption. This idea is not very articulately expressed, but it can be clearly discerned.

On page 157 we find the expression “apologists of Zionism in the socialist countries” who “resort on the sly to juggling with the facts.” The cliché “socialist countries” is usually employed by the Soviet press to refer to East European and other communist countries—but not to the Soviet Union. Ivanov, though, is speaking precisely about the USSR, and, furthermore, the USSR of the period before Stalin’s purges. He finds himself in a very difficult position here, as he searches for a single fact to support his thesis. For lack of anything more appropriate he resorts to direct and blatant forgery, misquoting a passage by M.B. Volfson in the semi-official publication, The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1932, Vol. 24, p. 154). Volfson, an orthodox Marxist, criticizes Kautsky for seeing a solution to the Jewish problem, in the conditions of capitalist society, in assimilation, whereas according to Marxism-Leninism all the contradictions of capitalist society are to be resolved only in conditions of socialism after the victory of the revolution. Volfson goes to great lengths to blacken any form of Jewish nationalism, Zionism included. Ivanov, however, presents this in the following manner:

A few lines further on, as one might expect, he [Volfson] [attacked] the advocates of “the colonization of Palestine”—the Zionists, but the main deed had already been done.

According to Ivanov, then, Volfson’s article is an example of the sinister work of the clandestine Jewish secret service in the USSR, which consists of seizing key positions in the country and quietly uttering a few words every now and then that will determine the whole course of social development in the country, as they constitute camouflaged messages for organizing the Jews.

This passage is extremely important. In it Ivanov is accusing, in the person of Volfson, the entire Jewish communist elite of the day of engaging in sinister, subversive activity carried on by extremely ingenious methods. One could even (for appearance’s sake) abuse Zionism while at the same time promoting the Jewish conspiracy by all the means at one’s disposal. But Ivanov carries his half-hints much further. He makes an obvious effort to incriminate, as an agent of the Zionist secret service, Kaganovich, one of Stalin’s most trusty henchmen throughout his entire period of rule, a chief organizer of the Stalin cult, and a man who, together with the other leaders, bears a heavy responsibility for the bloody purges.

This he does as follows. He cites the text of a document containing a list of the revenues of the World Zionist Organization, a document which, he indicates, was in 1914 sent to one L. Kaganovich in the town of Gomel. He does not offer any comment on the fact that the document was sent. To appreciate Ivanov’s insinuation one has to bear in mind that very few members of the general public today will know that Lazar Kaganovich was a native of Gomel, and it is thus unlikely that anyone will realize that Ivanov is referring to none other than the Stalinist chief himself. Ivanov’s hint is addressed exclusively to his top-level readers, who will undoubtedly understand it. Thus Ivanov is insinuating that since Kaganovich received some document or other from the Zionists he must have been an agent of theirs. To lend weight to his insinuation Ivanov alludes to a document from an unpublished archive.

The careful reader of Ivanov’s book cannot fail to observe that its author attributes to the Jews functions which are purely divine: omnipresence, omniscience, absolute knowledge of the future, and extraordinary guile and perfidy. He does so unconsciously, of course, but the impression he creates is undeniable. The Jews expand in Ivanov’s eyes into a sort of cosmic power of evil, poised in opposition to Russia and bent on its destruction. Thus he magnifies the national conflict between Russians and Jews in Russia until it becomes a problem involving the struggle of two principles, of which the Jewish principle, in Ivanov’s view, far surpasses its adversaries in riches, guile, insidiousness, and evil.

It is in this peculiar form that there has come into the world, on the ruins of Christian civilization in Russia, a new variant of ancient gnosticism. The Black Hundreds of prerevolutionary times were an early form of this gnosticism; now we have Caution, Zionism! with its seasoning of pseudocommunism. German Nazism, too, was in essence a form of gnosticism. Such is the natural consequence of mass atheism in these countries. It develops into a deification of the people, a racism with gnostic overtones, which aspires to fill the religious vacuum that has formed.

The only real way to end the Russian-Jewish conflict in Russia would be to allow mass emigration by Jews to Israel. Nothing else can resolve it. Assimilation, of which Ivanov demagogically speaks, and which is the very last thing he desires—for it was always the assimilated Jews of whom the members of the Black Hundred were far more afraid—can only exacerbate the conflict still more.

This Issue

November 16, 1972