A History of Judaism and the Political Left

Canary in the Mine: Judaism

The French journalist Jacques Mallet du Pan (1749-1800) is credited with coining the adage “la révolution dévore des enfants” or “the revolution devours its children.” This observation was initially made in commenting on the excesses of the French Revolution (1789-1799) and has been used repeatedly throughout history in times of upheaval.

Jews have been leading figures of social movements and social revolutions throughout history. Eli Barnavi, Professor of Jewish History at Tel Aviv University, recently noted in an article on Jewish Socialism in Europe that over the last 200 years, every generation of Jews has generated a small group of activists who fought for a type of social utopia: In Germany, Jews were the pioneers of the socialist workers’ movement after the industrial revolution, when Moses Hess introduced Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to Historical Materialism. Marx and Engels, of course, co-authored the Communist Manifesto in 1848, and Engels financially supported Marx while the latter wrote Das Kapital.

The large presence of Jews in socialistic revolutionary movements, according to Barnavi, unquestionably contributed to European ant-Semitism, and gave credence to the Nazi slogan of “Judeo-Bolshevism” during the Third Reich. Yet, paradoxically, Jews were murdered under the Bolshevik rule of Leninism-Stalinism as well as under Nazi rule.

Hess became an early socialist Zionist. Zionism in itself is a highly utopian movement, though it has a nationalistic, Jewish-centric leanings, while Socialism and Bolshevik Communism, at least in initial phases, presented themselves as international movements. In Russia, the socialistic movement actually emerged when Jewish workers founded the General Union of Jewish Workers in Lithuania, Poland, and Russia in October of 1897, which became known as Der Bund. So it is not surprising that socialistic movements played a powerful role in early Zionism and, ultimately, in the creation of the State of Israel. The idea of the “kibbutz,” an agrarian utopia of Eastern European Jews, indeed, became the quintessential social symbol of the newly declared state, which was ruled by the socialist Labor Party and socialistic ideology for decades, without interruption.

As founding member of the Socialist International, Israel’s Labor Party was considered “royalty” in the global socialist movement, and the state of Israel was widely supported by the worldwide left from its founding in 1948 through its remarkable victory against united Arab armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in the Six-Day War of 1967.

That should not surprise, because during post-World War II years, Israel was not only one of the most socialist countries in the Western world but, following the slaughter of over six million Jews by Nazi-Germany, Jews were still widely perceived as “victims.”

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