Stalin, Israel, And The National Question
May 25, 2011
By A. Antonov
"The National Question"
as defined by VDARE.COM is:
can the U.S. survive as a nation-state, the
political expression of a particular people? (Answer:
partly because of unchecked mass immigration,
not looking good.)
But the Left at the turn of the last century was
obsessed with a different
Question"—how Communists should handle the
various national groups they would inherit when they
took over the Russian Empire.
"At this difficult time
Social-Democracy had a high mission—to
resist nationalism and to protect the masses from the
general `epidemic` … Social-Democracy, and
Social-Democracy alone, could do this",
Josef Stalin argued in
Marxism and the National Question (1913).
"As long as people believed in a `bright future`, they
fought side by side irrespective of nationality—common
questions first and foremost! But when doubt crept into
people`s hearts, they began to depart, each to his own
national tent—let every man depend only upon himself!
The `national question` first and foremost."
Stalin maintained that the
Zionism among the Jews…chauvinism in
Poland, Pan-Islamism among the
Tatars, nationalism among the
Ukrainians" were all symptoms of the illness of
Writing of proposals for national autonomy for the Jews,
the ultimate post-national monster explained:
is being proposed for a nation with no future whose
existence has yet to be proved".
As it turned out, it was
Stalin`s own bloody career that would drive people
"each to his own national tent".
policy", if it can be called that, was carried out
on two deliberately separated tracks—foreign and
domestic. In this article, I follow the meanderings and
inter-weavings of these two as they reacted to events of
history and produced their own history—both intended and
Stalin and the Zionists: Foreign Policy
de jure recognition of
Israel two days after its birth. Thus the
USSR was the first country to form diplomatic relations
with the state of Israel—constituted for a people that,
at least according to Stalin in 1913, did not exist in
(Though President Truman extended
recognition of Israel 11 minutes after its formal birth
on May 16, 1948, the U.S. did not establish full
diplomatic relations with Israel until 1949.)
One million European Jews were sheltering in the south
of the Soviet Union in 1943, having fled the Nazi
genocide to the west. The Soviet government offered them
citizenship and permission to work, but most considered
the Soviet Union a temporary refuge and many planned to
emigrate to the U.S. or to
Palestine, then under a British Mandate. American
Zionist organizations, such as the
American Jewish Joint
Distribution Committee, wanted to finance these
refugees` resettlement to Palestine. The U.S. and
Britain, however, opposed these plans, and Britain would
not raise the very modest quota for Jews immigrating to
Nevertheless, illegal immigration of Jews to Palestine
rose sharply during and after World War II as refugees
streamed in. Because of these refugees, the Jewish
population of Palestine in 1945-1946 reached 600,000,
almost triple the pre-war number. This was the
"critical mass" which made possible the beginning of the fight for
an independent Jewish state in Palestine.
Armed Jewish groups skirmished continually with the
British garrison in the territory in the period leading
up to independence. According
to Lieutenant General Pavel Sudoplatov, director of the
4th Division of the NKVD in charge of all
special operations throughout occupied European
territories, writing in his memoirs Special Tasks: The Memoirs of an Unwanted Witness – A Soviet Spymaster
Pavel Sudoplatov and Anatoli Sudoplatov, with
Jerrold L. and Leona P. Schecter),
the use of Soviet agents in military and diversionary
actions against the
British in Israel began in 1946. Britain soon
realized it could not maintain order in Palestine and
decided to abandon its Mandate.
With key support of the five-country Soviet bloc, the UN
General Assembly, which at that time had only 60
members, passed the resolution dividing Palestine
between 2 governments: Jewish and Arab. The Jewish state
would consist of those areas where the Jewish population
predominated, centered around
The Palestinian Arab state received the larger,
remaining part of the original mandate territory.
Jerusalem was to be an
under international control.
deciding vote the Soviet ambassador to the UN, Andrei
Gromyko, addressed the General Assembly in terms that
very much presumed the elemental nature of national
"The UN must help each nation
in its quest for the right to independence and
self-government…. Jews and Arabs cannot and will not
live together. … If both of these peoples living in
Palestine, each with deep historical roots in the land,
cannot live under a single government there is no choice
but to form two states—a Jewish state and an Arab
Nations Debate on Partition, November 26, 1947 ]
The armies of Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan
invaded Israel on May 17, 1948, the day after
independence. Undercutting the U.S. arms embargo imposed
on the entire Mideast, the Soviets supplied the Israelis
with captured German armaments including mortars,
machine guns, artillery and Messerschmitt fighter planes
via their satellites, Czechoslovakia and Romania. A
great number of fighters also arrived—Jews with
experience fighting the Germans and, along with them,
more Soviet military and intelligence officers.
years immediately after WW II, many in the USSR and
Israel believed the Soviet position on Israel to be a
genuine moral stand. For a while, Andrei Gromyko was the
most popular person in Israel.
Meir, Israel`s first ambassador to Moscow and later
Prime Minister, was convinced in 1947 and 1948 that
Stalin was helping the Jews out of some sort of high
moral feeling. She wrote in her memoirs:
knows if we could have survived the early dark days of
the war without the military equipment we bought in
Czechoslovakia and transported through
Yugoslavia and other Balkan countries…We cannot
erase the past just because it does not look like the
present. A fact remains a fact. No matter how sharply
the Soviet Union turned against us subsequently, Soviet
recognition of Israel on May 18 had enormous
significance. It meant the 2 leading world powers after
the war had agreed to support a Jewish nation….
"The recognition of Israel by
the USSR, followed by that of America, has different
sources. Today, I have no doubt that, for the Soviets,
recognition was part of a strategy to drive Britain from
the Middle East. But in 1947, during the debates in the
UN, it seemed to me the Soviet Bloc supported us because
Russians themselves had paid such a high price during
the war and, empathizing with Jews who suffered so much
under the Nazis, understood that they deserved their own
government". [My Life,
By Golda Meir, page 239]
fact, in Stalin`s mind, the creation of Israel answered
current and future foreign policy needs and interests of
the USSR. According to Sudoplatov`s memoirs, Stalin
foresaw that Arab countries, alienated from the West
because of its support of Israel, would eventually turn
to the USSR. He
Molotov`s assistant, M. Vetrov, relaying Stalin`s
"Let`s agree to the
establishment of Israel. It will be a `pain in the ass`
for the Arab countries and will force them to turn their
backs on Britain. In the end British influence will be
ruined in Egypt, Syria, Turkey and Iraq."
Stalin`s prognosis was basically correct. Besides
"strategy to drive Britain from the Middle East",
Stalin succeeded in creating a zone of constant conflict
between Jews and Arabs that would draw in the U.S. and
Europe, allowing him to secure the southern borders of
effect, Stalin`s support for Israel was his answer to
Doctrine", announced in March 1947, pledging U.S.
readiness to use its military and economic might to
contain Soviet expansion aimed at Greece, Turkey and
Iran. Although it is now forgotten, at that time the
West was more worried by the situation on the Soviet
Union`s border with Iran and Turkey and on the border
between Bulgaria and Greece than it was by Soviet
actions in central Europe.
Stalin and the Zionists: Domestic Policy
The existence of a lobby in the
U.S. Congress and
U.S. government which has acted in the interest of
Israel, first as an idea and then as an independent
government, is, of course, no secret. Such a lobby also
existed in the USSR, but in a different and hidden form.
The Soviet Jewish population itself could be very
broadly divided into two
groups—nationalists, which included Zionists;
Many Jews were
early supporters of the Bolshevik revolution. The social
standing and civil rights of Russian Jews improved
radically after the October revolution. Jews were
allowed to leave their backwards
many Jewish intellectuals were drawn to the socialist
ideals of the revolution.
From the end of the 1920s to the beginning of the 1930s,
Jews abandoned their traditional way of life on a mass
scale. The sacrifice of religion, tradition and national
particularism seemed an easy trade for status and
opportunity in Soviet society.
"not an economic measure taken against a
socio-economic class, but a measure taken against a
nationality. The strategic blow against the Russian
[Ukrainians also—AA], who were the main obstacle
to the victory of communism, was conceived of by Lenin,
but carried out after his death
In 200 Years
Solzhenitzyn describes collectivization:
"A massive war against the
peasantry lay ahead and Stalin could not afford to
alienate any of his reliable allies and probably thought
that in this campaign against a disproportionately
Slavic population it would be better to rely on Jews
than on Russians. …
"Yakov Yakovlev-Epstein led
the `Great Change`, the imposition of collectivism on
millions with its zealous administrators on the ground.
A contemporary writer reports: `For the first time ever
a significant number of young Jewish communists arrived
in rural communities as commanders and lords over life
The mass attraction of young urban Jews to Soviet
communist culture and programs was matched, however,
with resistance from religious Jewry and older Jews from
the former Pale.
Russia is obviously finding it difficult to come to
terms completely with its Stalinist history. And America
is also finding it difficult to confront certain aspects
of its former WWII ally.
has yet to be translated into English—Yale
University Press cancelled the project for reasons that
remain obscure. Leave it to American academe
to suppress Solzhenitzyn`s history of the Stalin
But the book burners at Yale might be surprised to learn
that in 200 Years
Together Solzhenitzyn devotes considerable effort to
understanding an early resistance, essentially Jewish,
to communist ideology.
writes in his
History of the Jews in Russia: `In the past 20 years
Russian Jewry has gone further and further away from its
historical past… killing the Jewish spirit and Jewish
tradition…. with the ascension in Russia of the
Bolshevik dictatorship, the fight between fathers and
children in the Jewish street has taken a particularly
Also, though Solzhenitsyn points out that "Jewish communists participated efficiently and diligently in
collectivization", he does not say they participated
as Jews per se.
And he adds:
the percentage of Jews in the party and Soviet
apparatus, it would be a mistake to explain the
ferocious anti-peasant plan of communism as due to
Jewish participation. A Russian could have been found in
the place of
Yakovlev-Epstein—that`s sufficiently clear from our
Stalin`s policy for Soviet Jews was assimilation. He
supported the creation of Israel as part of a
geopolitical strategy, not as a lodestar to guide Jewish
identity—and certainly not as a destination
for Jews from the Soviet Union.
There was to be no separate national existence for the
new "Soviet man".
Zionism above all was antithetical to
Open advocacy of a Jewish homeland was extremely risky
for Jews. And
"criminal intent to emigrate to Israel" could bring
15 years in 1948—the very year Stalin helped give birth
Lenin and Stalin did pay lip service to ethnic identity
when it became evident that these
tendencies had outrun the life span that socialist
theory had allotted them.
Solzhenitsyn quotes Felix Dzerzhinsky, the part-Jewish
founder of the Cheka, who even wrote in 1923 that "the program of the Zionists is not dangerous to us, on the contrary I
consider it useful" and again in 1924 "principally, we can be friends with Zionists".
The reality however, was that Zionist groups were
persecuted, exiled, imprisoned and could exist only
underground throughout Soviet history. Occasionally,
they were dredged up to provide credibility to proposals
Jewish homeland in
the USSR, such as in Crimea or Birobidjanya. But
this was mostly for the purpose of gaining Western
sympathy and money.
of the new Israeli embassy in Moscow, with Golda Meir as
the first Israeli ambassador, hastened the end of any
illusions that Stalin supported a homeland for Jews out
of concern for Jews.
4, 1948, less than 5 months after the founding of
Israel, Golda Meir and a group of Israeli diplomats
visited the synagogue in Moscow on the occasion of the
Jewish New Year. Medvedev says that Moscow was then the
cultural capital of European Jewry.
large group of Jews—by some accounts 10,000, by Golda
Meir`s own claim, 50,000—gathered around the
synagogue to meet her. She appeared again a week
later on Oct 13 to celebrate Yom Kippur, when the large
demonstrations were repeated. The Western media reported
his biography, Stalin,
Edvard Radzinsky describes them:
"An unprecedented crowd of
50,000 gathered at the synagogue where Golda Meir was
coming to celebrate Jewish New Year. There were
soldiers, officers, old people, young people and babies
held aloft by their parents who shouted `Our Golda,
Shalom, Goldela! Long life and health! Happy New Year!`
Radzinsky describes the demonstrations
as "a spirit of jubilant freedom which had not yet evaporated following
victory in war".
Radzinsky quotes the view of G.V. Kosterenko, a
researcher on anti-Semitism in the USSR, that the
remarkable event was a demonstration of Jewish national
unity and a spontaneous religious expression:
"On that day
Chief Rabbi S.M. Schleifer movingly prayed `Next
year—Jerusalem`, those praying responded warmly and
enthusiastically. That sacred phrase, having become a
watchword, was taken up by the enormous crowd which
followed Golda Meir and the Israeli diplomats who had
decided to walk from the synagogue to the Metropol
Israel, and in Zionist circles in the U.S. and other
countries, this unexpected solidarity of Moscow Jews
with the new state of Israel was exultantly interpreted
as the wish of the Jewish people to leave their
temporary homes and immigrate
en masse to
this was indeed a genuinely spontaneous demonstration on
the part of most participants. But never during Soviet
rule, either before October 1948 or after, had there
ever been any large scale spontaneous demonstrations for
any reason whatsoever in Moscow.
there was no mention of the demonstrations in the Soviet
most accounts, there was no
jubilant freedom" after the war, especially for
Jews. 1945-1948 was a period of mass ethnic and
religious repression. Stalin`s
blockade of West Berlin in July, 1948 had brought
the Soviets and the West to the brink of war.
Stalin`s dictatorship was even more concentrated and
complete than that of Hitler, Mussolini or Franco.
Soviet society during Stalin`s time has been aptly
described as a
In his fascinating 2003 book
Stalin and the Jews: a New Analysis, (from which much of the
material of this article is taken, but which is not
available in English), Zhores
Medvedev, the geneticist and Soviet dissident who
Chelyabinsk nuclear disaster—one of a number
suppressed in the Soviet Union—concludes the
demonstrations which greeted the Israeli ambassador were
argues that the idea for the demonstration was either
planted by the Communist authorities themselves or
quickly taken up by the authorities and allowed to
develop to see who would join in. In Stalin`s Soviet
Union, bait and kill was a common means of controlling
enemies, real and imagined.
So far, no
one has offered a better explanation of these two very
unusual demonstrations. In fact, they can be seen as
part of a train of events that was already underway.
Jan 12, 1948,
Solomon Mikhoels, director of the war era Jewish
Anti-fascist Committee and celebrated director of the
Moscow Yiddish Theater, had been killed by being thrown
under a truck by Soviet intelligence agents.
According to Medvedev, Lena Tumerman recounts in her
memoirs a meeting she had with Mikhoels on December 27,
1947: "He was very agitated and upset that a press account of his recent
speech had deleted all his references to the upcoming
creation of Israel". Mikhoels took this as a
"He told me `It`s the beginning of the end.`"
herself was arrested that night and later sentenced to
15 years, apparently just because of her accidental
conversation with the artist.
November, 1948 the State Jewish Theater, named after
Mikhoels, was shut down.
Mikhoels, as the former director of the committee, was
"bourgeoisie nationalist" and the leader of a
conspiracy" against the Soviet government.
Mikhoel`s murder came the turn of the Jewish
the Soviet government to propagandize and raise money in
the West, at the end of the war, the committee lost its
original purpose and started, naively it turns out, to
defend the interests of Jews striving for cultural
autonomy rather than assimilation. Conflict with the
Communist authorities was inevitable. On August 12,
1952, 13 of the 15 committee members were shot,
including Communist Party Central Committee member
January 13, 1953, a TASS announcement appearing in
Izvestia informed the public of the discovery in the USSR of a
of doctors who were intent on harming the leading
political figures in the Soviet Union through medical
According to the official narrative, the alleged
plotters, mostly Jewish physicians, were led by Miron
Simyonovitch Vovsi, the surgeon general of the Red Army
and director of the public medical service.
Vovsi received instructions from the American Jewish
Joint Distribution Committee, allegedly created by the
American intelligence service using
bourgeois nationalist"—the Moscow Yiddish Theater`s
"Mikhoels" was a stage name: his real surname was
Vovsi—and M.S. Vovsi was his cousin.
Stalin was also becoming increasingly suspicious of Jews
in his entourage and among his in-laws and former
in-laws. According to his daughter Svetlana Stalin`s
memoirs, Twenty Letters to a Friend,
he told her "the
Zionists gave you your first husband"—requiring her
to divorce him and marry the son of Andrei Zhadanov.
Similarly, Stalin told Molotov, Soviet President Kalinin
and Minister of Defense Voroshilov to divorce their
Jewish wives. Molotov`s wife and Kalinin`s wife would
eventually be arrested, to be released only after
Stalin`s death in 1953.
Stalin`s last days, he began to move against
Molotov—earlier, his closest associate and presumed
heir. In his last official speech Stalin used a favorite
tactic: bringing up
Molotov`s support for a plan to settle Jews in the
There are no official minutes from Stalin`s speech in
October, 1952 to Central Committee members during the
19th Party Congress. Medvedev notes Leonid Yefremov`s
reports, in his memoirs, of Stalin`s words:
dedicated to our cause… ask him, and I have no doubt he
would give his life for the party. But one must not
overlook his unworthy actions… what was the cost of his
suggestion to give the Crimea to the Jews? That was a
crude political blunder …… what was behind comrade
Molotov`s suggestion? We already have a Jewish
autonomous republic. Isn`t that enough? Let this
republic grow and develop. Comrade Molotov should not be
promoting unlawful Jewish designs on our Soviet Crimea."
anti-Semitic fantasies, surfacing for the most part in
the post-War era, were multiplying.
because Stalin realized he had miscalculated the effect
the birth of Israel would have on feelings of Jewish
nationhood within the USSR?
any rate, during and after World War II, when Soviet
Jewish nationalism began to rise—first in response to
Hitler`s genocide against the Jews in all territories
occupied by the Wehrmacht, and then under the influence
of the birth of Israel—Stalin`s domestic
took a fateful turn.
And his death, coming around Purim, was seen by some as
a divine deliverance.
him) is a long-time student
of the Soviet Union.