The Jew in American Politics (part 7): Socialism, Communism and the Far Left

"The alien nature of American Communism was revealed by the complaint of its leader, Charles Ruthenberg, that in 1920 it didn't have five speakers able to present its case in the English language."

Socialism, Communism and the Far Left

The tide of Russian Jewish immigration into the United States began in l881 and soon thereafter Jewish participation in the American labor and Socialist movements became significant. The United Hebrew Trades was organized in 1888, for the most part by young Jewish intellectuals. They also joined the Socialist Labor Party which previously had been an almost totally German organization. When Morris Hillquit began his career as a Socialist leader, the Party had one English weekly and soon thereafter founded an "American section" in New York City. "In our zeal for the cause," Hillquit reminisced, "we did not even appreciate the exquisite humor of a political party of the United States establishing a solitary 'American section' in the metropolis of the country." [. . .]

The key influence for Socialism among American Jews was The Forward, which spoke to the East European Jewish workers and small tradesmen in their Yiddish tongue and at one time had a circulation of a quarter of a million. The Forward "bound together the Jewish community and made it socialist." [. . .]

Of the three major leaders of the Socialist Party during World War I, Morris Hillquit, who was a Jew, was the most intellectual, moderate and constructive in his approach. Eugene Victor Debs, the Party's standard-bearer, was a man of extraordinary eloquence and purity of heart, but naive, credulous, badly informed, deficient in judgment and muddled in mentality. The third leader, Victor Berger, was an extremely able organizer and more of a social reformer than a revolutionary. Roche, a pro-Socialist source makes the extraordinary statement that Berger was "one of the least lovable figures in the movement" and a man who had "built up a reputation as an anti-Semite by his unrestrained attacks on the New York Jewish wing of the party. . . ."8 Actually, although he concealed the fact for reasons of political expediency, Berger was a Jew. Marx Lewis, who was his secretary when Berger served as a Congressman, considers Roche's charge groundless and informs me that Berger was an early supporter of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine.

Jews and the American Communist Party

At its l9l9 convention, the Socialist Party was split asunder by its left wing, which boasted the sympathy or adherence of some 70,000 card-carrying Socialist members. These left-wingers were organized, for the most part in the Slavic language federations. When the showdown came, they either joined one of the two rival revolutionary organizations-the Communist Party and the Communist Labor Party-or else, disillusioned by factional bickering, dropped out of the left-wing movement. [. . .]

When the l9l9 convention was over, a maximum of 40,000 Socialists had signed up as members of the two Red parties. Of these, perhaps 27,000 were in the Communist Party, of whom only 1,900 were officially characterized as English-speaking. Over three-fourths of the membership was organized in Slavic, Baltic and Jewish language federations. [. . .] The alien nature of American Communism was revealed by the complaint of its leader, Charles Ruthenberg, that in 1920 it didn't have five speakers able to present its case in the English language. [. . .]

During the ensuing twenty years, the Communist Party of the United States remained a preponderantly foreign organization, but the extent to which it was a Jewish movement remained a matter of dispute. In his second volume on the history of the Party, Draper claimed that, during the 1920's, only about 15% of the Communist Party members were Jews.l1 It is difficult to take this statement seriously. For one thing, the Freiheit, a Yiddish language paper, boasted the largest circulation of any Communist daily: it had 22,000 readers as against the Daily Worker's 17,000 in 1925. For another, accounts by people who were Communists at the time agree in describing the movement as preponderantly Jewish.

The most thorough treatment of this matter is in Nathan Glazer's The Social Basis of American Communism. He evidently concludes, though he does not explicitly so state, that a majority of the Communist Party membership in the thirties and forties may have been Jewish. The evidence that he musters on this point is worth summarizing:

Although Communist leaders were normally taciturn about the extent to which Party membership was Jewish, Jack Stachel complained in The Communist for April 1929 that in Los Angeles "practically 90 per cent of the membership is Jewish." In 1945, John Williamson, another national leader of the American Communist Party, observed that while a seventh of the Party membership was concentrated in Brooklyn, it was not in the working-class districts, but in Brownsville, Williamsburg, Coney Island and Bensonhunt, which he characterized as "primarily Jewish American communities." In 1951, the same complaint about Brooklyn was reiterated. A 1938 breakdown of Communist educational directors on a district level reported that 17 out of 34 were Jewish and only nine "American." The extent to which American Communism remained an organization of the foreign-born was revealed by a boast in The Communist for July 1936 that 45% of Party section organizers were now native-born as against none native-born in 1934.12

These estimates can be compared to data made public by then Attorney General Tom C. Clark on the national origins of 4,984 of "the more militant members of the Communist Party" in 1947. This showed that 44.0% were Russian-born, had at least one Russian parent or had a spouse of Russian stock. Only 8.6% were American-born of American parentage and not wed to spouses of foreign stock. From this, I arrived at an estimate that about 40% of the Communist Party militants in 1947 were Jewish.

The Jewish recruits to American Communism were, for the most part, solidly middle class and professional. They were concentrated in such professional organizations as the Teachers' Union which, according to the former Communist leader, Bella Dodd, had 4,000 members, of whom 1,000 were Communist Party members. Based on scrutiny of surnames, Glazer concluded that all of the "Rank and File" (Communist) teachers placed on trial by the Teachers' Union in 1972 were Jewish. Jewish social workers provided another fertile field for Party recruitment. To a quantitatively less significant extent, government employees, lawyers, dentists and doctors were attracted to the movement, particularly during the years of the Popular Front (1935-39) and the World War II alliance with the Soviet Union. [. . .]

For many reasons, Jews have tended to cling to the belief that Socialist or Communist movements would create a world in which all men would live in peace and anti-Semitism would vanish. As historic evidence controverting this expectation accumulated, American Jews reluctantly began to abandon the secular collectivist faith, but the illusion that equality and fraternity are the promise of the left dies slowly and dies hard. [. . .]

Footnote on Senator McCarthy

Neither the late Senator Joseph R. McCarthy nor that amorphous political movement known as "McCarthyism" belongs in a chapter on anti-Semitism. This statement, however, will be increasingly less obvious as the years pass. Particularly since McCarthy's death, the written of the Liberal Establishment have vilified his activities against Communism in government and elsewhere and invested them with the odor of fire and brimstone. Posthumously, as depicted by his increasingly vociferous enemies, the man emerges as a would-be leader of the forces of fascism and anti-Semitism. [. . .]

The battle against McCarthy was a favorite cause of the American liberal movement. It was not a specifically Jewish cause, but the Jews joined in it and were highly conspicuous in it. In 1954, the Conference of American Rabbis, with 600 reform rabbis present, condemned Senator McCarthy unanimously, requested that he be stripped of his committee chairmanship and also expressed disapproval of the term "Fifth Amendment Communist."

The ADL's Forster and Epstein wrote about the wrongs allegedly done innocent men and the ADL in the fall of 1952 listened to then Senator Herbert Lehman give his hackneyed speech about how the "McCarthyites" "turn neighbor against neighbor, religion against religion, and whole bodies of our citizens against their government and the institutions of government. . . ." [. . .]

The Anti-Defamation League and the Right

Since 1963, the Anti-Defamation League of the B'nai B'rith has been engaged in a lavishly financed campaign against what its spokesmen call "the radical right." ADL financed books and pamphlets seek to alert the nation to this supposed danger to its existence. Libraries, schools and service organizations are flooded with tendentious literature denouncing "the radical right" as un-American. [. . .]

John Birch Society and Christian Front The real bete noire of the ADL is, not the Christian Anti-Communism Crusade or any of the dozens of loosely organized right-wing groups, but the John Birch Society. In contrast to other anti-Communist groups, the Birch organization has a comprehensive, all-embracing ideology, is highly disciplined and has a dedicated and politically active membership. [. . .]

The Coughlin movement arose during a profound depression, demanded radical monetary measures and excoriated the bankers and the financial system. Thus, it was fairly characteristic of social revolutionary movements, whether Fascist, Populist, Socialist or Communist.

The characteristics of the John Birch Society are very different. The movement was born and grew during a period of unparalleled prosperity. It staunchly supports free enterprise and is politically conservative. It advocates hard money and deplores deficit spending. Far from favoring a stronger government to impose radical social and economic measures, it desperately fears the modern state as an engine of serfdom and Socialism.

Its class appeal was carefully analyzed in a Gallup Poll of Birch supporters taken in California in January 1962. This revealed what any open-minded observer would have expected--support of the Society was heavily concentrated in the upper-income and more highly educated goups. Pro-Birch-people were 35% more heavily represented in the upper-income group than the population as a whole. People with three years of college or more were 80% more likely to favor the Society than the California average, whereas those with only grade school education were 60% less likely to favor it.

The Birch supporters were preponderantly Republican. They were more likely to be men than women. Birch strength was slightly greater among Protestants than among Catholics. It was least among Jews [. . .]


Steve Sailer said...

Finns, like perennial Presidential candidate Gus Hall, made up a lot of U.S. Communists. They were refugees from their defeat in the Finnish red-white civil war after WWI.

n/a said...

Yes. In addition to Jews and Finns, Balts and Slavs were also heavily overrepresented among CPUSA members. Who was not overrepresented: Americans of New England Puritan stock or other native-born Americans.

But in the fictionalized universe of the Unqualified Reservations alternate reality game "Communism is as American as apple pie" and it only takes one Yankee to foment the Mexican revolution and serve as the vector through which America "infected Russia" with communism (ignore the fact that in our timeline Marxists began organizing in Russia before John Reed was born).

Hail said...

"From this, I arrived at an estimate that about 40% of the Communist Party militants in 1947 were Jewish. "

This is at a time when only around 4% of politically-active adults were Jews.

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