“Stalin’s Willing Executioners”?
By Kevin MacDonald
November 05, 2005
Yuri Slezkine’s book The Jewish Century, which appeared last year to rapturous reviews, is an intellectual tour de force, alternately muddled and brilliant, courageous and apologetic. Slezkine’s greatest accomplishment is to set the historical record straight on the importance of Jews in the Bolshevik Revolution and its aftermath. He summarizes previously available data and extends our understanding of the Jewish role in revolutionary movements before 1917 and of Soviet society thereafter. His book provides a fascinating chronicle of the Jewish rise to elite status in all areas of Soviet society—culture, the universities, professional occupations, the media, and government. Indeed, the book is also probably the best, most up-to-date account of Jewish economic and cultural pre-eminence in Europe (and America) that we have.
The once-common view that the Bolshevik Revolution was a Jewish revolution and that the Soviet Union was initially dominated by Jews has now been largely eliminated from modern academic historiography. The current view, accepted by almost all contemporary historians, is that Jews played no special role in Bolshevism and indeed, were uniquely victimized by it.
Despite the important role of Jews among the Bolsheviks, most Jews were not Bolsheviks before the Revolution. However, Jews were prominent among the Bolsheviks, and once the Revolution was underway, the vast majority of Russian Jews became sympathizers and active participants.
Jews were particularly visible in the cities and as leaders in the army and in the revolutionary councils and committees. For example, there were 23 Jews among 62 Bolsheviks in the All-Russian Central Executive Committee elected at the Second Congress of Soviets in October, 1917. Jews were leaders of the movement and to a great extent they were its public face.
Their presence was particularly notable at the top levels of the Cheka and OGPU (two successive acronyms for the secret police). Here Slezkine provides statistics on Jewish overrepresentation in these organizations, especially in supervisory roles, and quotes historian Leonard Shapiro’s comment 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.”
During the 1930s, Slezkine reports, the secret police, now known as the NKVD, “was one of the most Jewish of all Soviet institutions”, with 42 of the 111 top officials being Jewish. At this time 12 of the 20 NKVD directorates were headed by ethnic Jews, including those in charge of State Security, Police, Labor Camps, and Resettlement (deportation).
The Gulag was headed by ethnic Jews from its beginning in 1930 until the end of 1938, a period that encompasses the worst excesses of the Great Terror.
They were, in Slezkine’s remarkable phrase, “Stalin’s willing executioners”.
Slezkine appears to take a certain pride in the drama of the role of the Jews in Russia during these years. Thus he says they were
“among the most exuberant crusaders against ‘bourgeois’ habits during the Great Transformation; the most disciplined advocates of socialist realism during the ‘Great Retreat’ (from revolutionary internationalism); and the most passionate prophets of faith, hope, and combat during the Great Patriotic War against the Nazis”.
Sometimes his juxtapositions between his descriptions of Jewish involvement in the horror of the early Soviet period and the life styles of the Jewish elite seem deliberately jarring. Lev Kopelev, a Jewish writer who witnessed and rationalized the Ukrainian famine in which millions died horrible deaths of starvation and disease as an “historical necessity” is quoted saying “You mustn’t give in to debilitating pity. We are the agents of historical necessity. We are fulfilling our revolutionary duty.”
Review By Bill Guru
"The Jewish Century" by Yuri Slezkine is easily the most significant revisionist work ever to be produced by a Jewish scholar. Although the book purports to be a study of the Jewish impress upon the twentieth century, based on the three migrations (1) Jews to America, (2) Jews to Palestine, and (3) Jews from the Soviet countryside to the Soviet cities it is in reality a study of the Jewish success story in the Soviet Union of the 1920's and 1930's, when Jews were the ruling class of the pre-WW2 USSR.
Slezkine begins his study by comparing Jews to other groups in and Asia and Africa. Throughout he contrasts "Mercurians" and "Apollonians", the former creatures of the mind, the latter earth-bound, agrarian peoples. Jews, supposedly the ultimate Mercurians, are at odds with "the peoples of the earth" (a Talmudic phrase) among whom they live. This pattern, Slezkine finds, is essentially no different than the pattern of other groups similarly situated, such as the Chinese in Indo-China, for example. Of course, Slezkine does not discuss the peculiar ethics of the Babylonian Talmud as a possible aggravating factor unique to Jews, but otherwise his analysis is unobjectionable. Like Professor Kevin MacDonald, Slezkine finds that there is a rational basis for Jewish-non-Jewish tensions, tensions that are remarkably similar to those of other groups.
Sociology aside, the heart and guts of Slezkine's material appears in chapters three and four: "The Jews and the Russian Revolution" (and) The Jews and Three Promised Lands." These chapters contain material so shocking that it is a wonder that Slezkine dares reveal it all, particularly in a context of Jewish "success" (the "success" of total power and ruthless mass murder?). Essentially, Slezkine demonstrates that the first twenty years following the Bolshevik Revolution of November 1917 allowed Jews, the former betes noirs of the hated Tsarist regime, to become the new ruling class of Russia in every respect, including the secret police, the Gulag camp administration, the foreign service and spy department, the press and various news agencies, the cultural and professional elites, intellectual leadership as the party's chief spokesmen, and a disproportionate share of the upper level positions in every commissariat.
It was only with the great purge of 1938-1939 that Jews began to lose some of their influence in the upper levels. But even then, as Slezkine demonstrates, Jews were not, contrary to popular misconception, singled out for persecution. Their share of the victims was lower, on a percentage basis, than that of the other groups targeted, such as Poles or Latvians. Unlike these groups, who were tainted by foreign loyalties, Jews were not perceived as being inherently disloyal to the Soviet regime. Only in the post-war purges of Zionists and cosmopolitans were Jews targeted as such. Of course, the creation of the state of Israel created a potential and actual dual loyalty problem. Stalin, who had personally witnessed the old pre-revolutionary struggle of the 1880's onward, was well aware of how many Jewish comrades in the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party had preferred their communist state in Palestine rather than in Russia. With Israel's creation in 1948 many Jewish communists who had spent their lives loyally serving the Bolshevik state were filled with enthusiasm for communism ("Next year in Jerusalem"!). Slezkine notes that the anti-Jewish purges moderated, then ceased, following Stalin's death, but the amazing Jewish preponderance in the hierarchy of "scientific socialism" was never totally regained. Jews did, however, remain prominent in cultural and professional circles until the very end of the Soviet regime.
"The Jewish Century" does an excellent job of putting all this in proper historical context. As Slezkine notes, Russia's Jews did not originate the revolutionary movements within the empire of the tsars, but once they joined the revolution they became its most enthusiastic and brutal champions. Jews provided an extremely disproportionate number of the assassins and terrorists of the pre-1917 period. Whenever a tsarist minister or official was blown up, shot, knifed, or splashed with acid, the chances were one in four to one in two that the miscreant was a Jew. It was the Jewess, Hessia Helfman, who plotted the assassination of Tsar Alexander 2. Mordecai Bogrov, Gershuni and Vera Finger were other well-known Jewish assassins of the 1880-1917 period. Their murderous activities would be continued with a vengeance by the OGPU/NKVD under such worthies as Moishe Uritsky, Henrik Yagoda, and Lavrenti Beria.
As Yuri Slezkine notes, Jews did not just practice communism in Russia; they practiced it in the United States as well. Whenever the Kremlin looked for agents in the United States it first sought out children of Russian Jews. When Senator McCarthy's hearings were at their height the vast majority of the accused were very obviously Jewish a fact which led to a quick attack of "synthetic patriotism" made to order for the occasion by the Jewish defense agencies, the American Jewish Committee in particular. However, political expediency, then and now, prevented any direct attack on the real problem. Jewish communism in Russia was waning about the same time that Jewish radicalism in the United States was about to accelerate. The 1960's saw an explosion of leftist radicalism in which the Jewish component was, as Slezkine admits, of almost the same ratio as the Jewish involvement in communism of the 1920's and the 1930's. Without the Jews, no 1960's. Several social scientists of the "decade which changed everything" determined that being Jewish was the single most important factor in predicting radical behavior.
One cannot read "The Jewish Century" without thinking of the image of Red Auerbach lighting up his cigar as coach of the Boston Celtics. Were the year 1950, 1960, or even arguably 1970, Yuri Slezkine could never have written "The Jewish Century" and Princeton University Press would never have considered publishing it. In scholarly, matter of fact, ever so slightly boastful language, "The Jewish Century" is everything an erudite, closet anti-Semite could ask for. It documents the Jewish disproportion in and arguably collective responsibility for history's greatest crime in a fashion which none can dispute. It does not directly raise certain untidy questions, but it certainly implies them. One can only wonder if some day another Yuri Slezkine will write a book arguing in favor of the infamous Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, or even propose an alternative history of World War 2 and related incidents.