“Stalin`s Willing Executioners”?

by Kevin MacDonald:

Thinking about Neoconservatism
;  Was
the 1924 Immigration Cut-off “Racist”?
;  Immigration
And The Unmentionable Question Of Ethnic Interests

Yuri Slezkine`s book

The Jewish Century
which appeared last year to

rapturous reviews
, is an intellectual tour de
, 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.

Slezkine`s book provides a bracing corrective to this
current view.

Slezkine himself [email
] is a

Russian immigrant
of partially Jewish extraction.
Arriving in America in 1983, he moved quickly into elite
U.S. academic circles and is now a

professor at U.C. Berkeley
. This, his second book,
is his first on a major theme.

While the greater part of The Jewish Century is
an exposition of the Russian experience, Slezkine
provides what are in effect sidebars (comparatively
flimsy) recounting the Jewish experience in America and
the Middle East. Together, these phenomena can in fact
be seen as the three great Jewish migrations of the 20th
century, since within Russia millions of Jews left the
shtetl towns of the

Pale of Settlement
, migrating to Moscow and the
other cities to man elite positions in the Soviet state.

Slezkine attempts to understand Jewish history and the
rise of Jews to elite status in the 20th
century by developing the thesis that the peoples of the
world can be classified into two groups.

The successful peoples of the modern world, termed
Mercurians, are urban, mobile, literate, articulate, and
intellectually sophisticated.

The second group, termed Apollonians, is rooted to the
land with traditional agrarian cultures, valuing
physical strength and warrior virtues.

Since Slezkine sees Jews as the quintessential
Mercurians, modernization is essentially a process of
everyone becoming Jewish. Indeed, Slezkine regards both
European individualism and the European nation state as
imitations of pre-existing Jewish accomplishments—both
deeply problematic views,

in my opinion

There are problems with the Mercurian/Apollonian
distinction as well. The Gypsies whom he offers
as an example of another Mercurian people, are basically
the opposite of Jews: having a low-investment, low-IQ
reproductive style characterized by higher fertility,
earlier onset of reproduction, more unstable pair bonds,
and more single parenting.


Overseas Chinese
, another proposed parallel, are
indeed highly intelligent and entrepreneurial, like the
Jews. But I would

the aggressiveness of the Jews, compared to
the relative political passivity of the Overseas
Chinese, invalidates the comparison.

We do not read of Chinese cultural movements dominating
the major local universities and media outlets,
subjecting the traditional culture of Southeast Asians
and anti-Chinese sentiment to radical critique —or of
Chinese organizations campaigning for the removal of
native cultural and religious symbols from public

Moreover, the vast majority of Jews in Eastern Europe in
the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were
hardly the modern Mercurians that Slezkine portrays.

Well into the 20th century, as Slezkine
himself notes, most Eastern European Jews could not
speak the languages of the non-Jews living around them.
 Slezkine also ignores their medieval outlook on life,
their obsession with the

—the writings of Jewish mystics—their
superstition and anti-rationalism, and their belief in
magical remedies and exorcisms.

And these supposedly modern Mercurians had an attitude
of absolute faith in the person of the tsadik,
their rebbe, who was a charismatic figure seen by his
followers literally as the personification of God in the

Slezkine devotes one line to the fact that Jewish
populations in Eastern Europe had the highest rate of
natural increase of any European population in the
nineteenth century. The grinding poverty that this
produced caused an upsurge of fundamentalist extremism
that coalesced in the Hasidic movement and, later in the
nineteenth century, into political radicalism and
Zionism as solutions to Jewish problems.

By proposing the basically spurious Mercurian/Apollonian
contrast, Slezkine obscures the plain fact that Jewish
history in the period he discusses constitutes a
spectacularly, arguably uniquely, successful case of
what I have described as an

ethnocentric group competitive strategy
in action.

Slezkine conceptualizes Mercurianism as a worldview and
therefore a matter of psychological choice rather than a
set of psychological mechanisms, notably general
intelligence and ethnocentrism. He appears to be aware
of the biological reality of kinship and ethnicity, but
he steadfastly pursues a cultural determinism model. As
a result of this false premise, he understates the power
of ethnocentrism and group competitiveness as unifying
factors in Jewish history.

This competitiveness
was of course notorious in Eastern Europe before the
1917 revolution. Slezkine ignores, or at least does not
spell out, the extent to which Jews were willing agents
of exploitative elites in traditional societies, not
only in Europe, but in the Muslim world as well. 
 Forming alliances with exploitative elites is arguably
the most reliably recurrent theme observable in Jewish
economic behavior over the ages.

Indeed, Slezkine shows that this pattern effectively
continued in Russia after the Revolution: Jews became
part of a new exploitative elite. But here boundaries
between Jews and non-Jews were unusually blurred—in
traditional societies, barriers between Jews and
non-Jews at all social levels were always high.

Slezkine supposes that Jews and other Mercurians
performed economic tasks deemed inappropriate for the
natives for religious reasons. But this is only part of
the story. Often these were situations where the natives
were simply comparatively less ruthless in exploiting
their fellows, which put them at a competitive
disadvantage. This was especially the case in Eastern
Europe, where conducive economic arrangements, such as
tax farming, estate management, and monopolies on retail
liquor distribution, lasted far longer than in the West.

Slezkine also ignores the extent to which Jewish
competition may have suppressed — arguably

sometimes reversed
— the formation of a native
middle class in Eastern Europe. He seems instead to
simply assume the locals lacked the abilities required.

But the fact is that in most of Western Europe Jews were
expelled in the Middle Ages. And, as a result, when
modernization occurred, it was accomplished with an
indigenous middle class. Perhaps the
Christian taxpayers
of England made a good investment in their own future
when they

agreed to pay
King Edward I a massive tax of
£116,346 in return for

expelling 2000 Jews in 1290
. If, as in
Eastern Europe, Jews had won the economic competition in
most of these professions, there might not have been a
non-Jewish middle class in England. 

Although in the decades immediately before the Russian
Revolution Jews had already made enormous advances in
social and economic status,
a major contribution of Slezkine`s book is to document
that Communism was, indeed, “good for the
After the Revolution, there was active
elimination of any remnants of the older order and their
descendants. Anti-Semitism was outlawed.  Jews benefited
from “antibourgeois” quotas in educational
institutions and other forms of discrimination against
the middle class and aristocratic elements of the old
regime, which could have competed with the Jews. While
all other nationalities, including Jews, were allowed
and encouraged to keep their ethnic identities, the
revolution maintained an anti-majoritarian attitude.
(Some might argue that the parallel with post `65 Civil
Rights Act


Beyond the issue of demonstrating that the Jews
benefited from the Revolution lies the more important
question of their role in implementing it. Having
achieved power and elite status, did their traditional
hostility to the leaders of the old regime, and to the
peasantry, contribute to the peculiarly

ghastly character
of the early Soviet era?

On this question, Slezkine`s contribution is decisive.

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

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

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).


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

“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
is quoted saying “You mustn`t give in
to debilitating pity. We are the agents of historical
necessity. We are fulfilling our revolutionary duty.”

On the next page,
Slezkine describes the life of the largely Jewish elite
in Moscow and Leningrad where they attended the theater,
sent their children to the best schools, had peasant
women (whose families were often the victims of mass
murder) for nannies, spent weekends at pleasant dachas
and vacationed at the Black Sea.

Again, Slezkine
discusses the heavily Jewish NKVD and the Jewish
leadership of the Great Terror of the 1930s. Then, he
writes that in 1937 the prototypical Jewish State
official  “probably would have been living in elite
housing in downtown Moscow . . . with access to special
stores, a house in the country (dacha), and a live-in
peasant nanny or maid”.
He writes long and lovingly
detailed sketches of life at the dachas of the elite—the
“open verandas overlooking small gardens enclosed by
picket fences…”

The reader is left on
his own to recall the horrors of the Ukrainian famine,

liquidation of the Kulaks
, and the Gulag.

Slezkine attempts to dodge the issue of the degree to
which the horrors perpetrated by the early Soviet state
were rooted in the traditional attitudes of the Jews who
in fact played such an extensive role in their
orchestration. He argues that the Jewish Communists were
Communists, not Jews.

This does not survive factual analysis.

One might grant the possibility that the revolutionary
vanguard was composed of Jews like Trotsky, apparently
far more influenced by a universalist utopian vision
than by their upbringing in traditional Judaism.  But,
even granting this, it does not necessarily follow for
the millions of Jews who left the shtetl towns, migrated
to the cities, and to such a large extent ran the USSR.

It strains credulity to suppose that these migrants
completely and immediately threw off all remnants of the
Eastern European shtetl culture—which, as
Slezkine acknowledges, had a deep sense of estrangement
from non-Jewish society, a fear and hatred of peasants,
hostility toward the Czarist upper class, and a very
negative attitude toward Christianity.

In other words, the war against what Slezkine terms
“rural backwardness and religion”
— major targets of
the Revolution — was exactly the sort of war that
traditional Jews would have supported wholeheartedly,
because it was a war against everything they hated and
thought of as oppressing Jews.  

However, while Slezkine seems comfortable with the
notion of revenge as a Jewish motive, he does not
consider traditional Jewish culture itself as a possible
contributor to Jewish behavior in the new Communist

Moreover, while it was generally true that Jewish
servants of the Soviet regime had ceased being religious
Jews, this did not mean they ceased having a Jewish
identity. (Albert
made this point when reviewing Slezkine in

The American Conservative
[article not on

Slezkine quotes the philosopher Vitaly Rubin speaking of
his career at a top Moscow school in the 1930s where
over half the students were Jewish:

“Understandably, the
Jewish question did not arise there…All the Jews knew
themselves to be Jews but considered everything to do
with Jewishness a thing of the past…There was no
active desire to renounce one`s Jewishness. The problem
simply did not exist.”

other words, in the early decades of the Soviet Union,
the ruling class was so heavily a  Jewish milieu, that
there was no need to renounce a Jewish identity and no
need to aggressively push for Jewish interests. Jews 
had achieved elite status.

But ethnic
networking continued nonetheless.
Indeed, Slezkine
reports that when a leading Soviet spokesmen on
anti-Semitism, Yuri Larin (Lurie), tried to explain the
embarrassing fact that Jews were, as he said,
“preeminent, overabundant, dominant, and so on”

among the elite in the Soviet Union, he mentioned the
“unusually strong sense of solidarity and a
predisposition toward mutual help and support”
networking by any other name.

Obviously, “mutual
help and support”
required that Jews recognize each
other as Jews. Jewish identity may not have been much
discussed. But it operated nonetheless, even if
subconsciously, in the rarified circles at the top of
Soviet society.

changed.  Slezkine shows that the apparent de-emphasis
of Jewish identity by many members of the Soviet elite
during the 1920s and 1930s turned out to be a poor
indicator of whether or not these people identified as
Jews—or would do so when Jewish and Soviet identities
began to diverge in later years: when National Socialism
reemphasized Jewish identity, and when Israel emerged as
a magnet for Jewish sentiment and loyalty.

the end, despite the rationalizations of many Soviet
Jews on Jewish identity in the early Soviet period, it
was blood that mattered.

After World War II,
in a process which remains somewhat obscure, the
Russian majority began taking back their country. One
method was “massive affirmative action” aimed at
giving greater representation to underrepresented ethnic
groups. Jews became targets of suspicion because of
their ethnic status. They were barred from some elite
institutions, and had their opportunities for
advancement limited. Overt anti-Semitism was encouraged
by the more covert official variety apparent in the
limits on Jewish advancement.

Under these
circumstances, Slezkine says that Jews became “in
many ways, the core of the antiregime intelligentsia”
Applications to leave the USSR increased dramatically
after Israel`s Six-Day War of 1967 which, as in the
United States and Eastern Europe, resulted in an upsurge
of Jewish identification and ethnic pride. The
floodgates were eventually opened by Gorbachev in the
late 1980s. By 1994, 1.2 million Soviet Jews had
emigrated—43% of the total. By 2002, there were only
230,000 Jews remaining in the Russian Federation, 0.16%
of the population.

Nevertheless these
remaining Jews remain overrepresented among the elite.
Six of the seven oligarchs who emerged in control of the
Soviet economy and media in the period of
de-nationalization of the 1990s were Jews.

As mentioned above,
Slezkine`s discussions of the Jewish experience in the
Middle East and America are quite perfunctory in

Slezkine views the
Jewish migration to Israel as heroic and believes the
moral debt owed to Jews by Western societies justifies
the most extreme expressions of Jewish racialism:

“The rhetoric of
ethnic homogeneity and ethnic deportations, tabooed
elsewhere in the West is a routine element of Israeli
political life… no other European state can have as
strong a claim on the West`s moral imagination.”

He sees the moral
taboo on European ethnocentrism, the designation of
Nazism as the epitome of absolute evil, and the
identification  of Jews as what he calls “the Chosen
people of the postwar Western world”
as simply the
inevitable results of the events of World War II.  In
fact, of course, the creation and maintenance of the
culture of the Holocaust and the special moral claims of
Jews and Israel might be more fairly viewed the intended
result of Jewish

ethnic activism

Slezkine`s caricature of American history is close to
preposterous. He sees the United States as a Jewish
promised land precisely because it is not defined
tribally and “has no state-bearing natives”. In
fact, of course, the Founding Fathers
very explicitly
saw themselves as Englishmen defending a specific
political tradition. But (somewhat like the Soviet
Union`s Jews in the early decades) they
felt no
need to assert the cultural and ethnic parameters of
their creation; they asssumed the racial and cultural
homogeneity of the Republic and perceived no threat to
its control by themselves and their descendants.

And when
the Founding Fathers` descendents did percieve such a
threat, they reacted powerfully and decisively, with the

movement in the 1850s and the

Immigration Restriction
(and associated
requirements) in the
early 20th Century Slezkine`s
acceptance of the

reflects the triumph of intellectuals and
 propagandists, many of them Jewish, led by
the 1920s. These succesfully replaced the previously
standard view by
which many Americans
thought of themselves as members of a very successful
ethnic group derived from

Great Britain
and with strong cultural and ethnic
connections to Europe, particularly Northern Europe.


fate of Russia
in the first two decades following
the Revolution prompts reflection on what might have
happened in the United States had American communists
and their sympathizers assumed power. Sectors of
American society might perhaps have been deemed
unacceptably backward and superstitious and even worthy
of mass murder by the American counterparts of the
Jewish elite in the Soviet Union—the ones who journeyed
to Ellis Island instead of Moscow.  

Those “red state”
voters who have loomed so important in recent national
elections would have been the enemy. The cultural and
religious attitudes of  “red state” America are
precisely those attitudes that have been deemed
changeworthy by the left, particularly by the Jewish
community, which has been the

driving force of the left
in America throughout the
20th century.

As Joel Kotkin

points out
, “for generations, [American]
Jews have viewed religious conservatives with a
combination of fear and disdain.”

And, as Elliott Abrams

, the American Jewish community “clings to
what is at bottom a dark vision of America, as a land
permeated with anti-Semitism…”

The dark view of
traditional Slavs and their culture that caused so many
Eastern European shtetl Jews to become “willing
in the name of international socialism
is unmistakably related, however remotely, to the views
of some contemporary American Jews about a majority of
their fellow countrymen.

Slezkine`s main point
is that the most important factor for understanding the
history of the 20th century is the rise of
the Jews in the West and the Middle East, and their rise
and decline in Russia.  I think he is absolutely right
about this.

If there is any lesson
to be learned, it is that Jews not only became an elite
in all these areas, they became a hostile elite—hostile
to the traditional people and cultures of all three
areas they came to dominate.

So far, the greatest
human tragedies have occurred in the Soviet Union. But
the presence of Israel in the Middle East is creating

obvious dangers
there. And alienation remains a
potent motive for the disproportionate Jewish
involvement in the transformation of the U.S. into a
non-European society through non-traditional


Given this record of
Jews as a very successful but hostile elite, it is
possible that the continued demographic and cultural
dominance of Western European peoples will not be
retained, either in Europe or the United States, without
a decline in

Jewish influence

But the lesson of the
Soviet Union (as also

from the 15th–17th
centuries) is that Jewish influence does wane as well as
wax. Unlike the attitudes of the utopian ideologies of
the 20th century, there is no end to history.

Kevin MacDonald [email

him] is Professor of Psychology at California State
University-Long Beach. This article
adapted from a longer


published in the Fall 2005 issue of

The Occidental Quarterly