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The Return of “Judeo-Bolshevism”

Ellen Engelstad
Mímir Kristjánsson
Åshild Lappegård Lahn

From Winston Churchill to the Nazis, anticommunists have long blamed the spread of socialism on Jews. With the Left again on the rise, the antisemitic trope of "Judeo-Bolshevism" is back.

Karl Marx pasted onto wall at Fletchers Walk in Birmingham, June 14, 2014. Elliott Brown / Flickr

In the Nazi propaganda of the interwar period, Marxism and Judaism were seen as two sides of the same coin. In a speech at the 1935 Nazi congress, entitled “Communism with the Mask Off,” Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, listed evil Jewish Marxists from Karl Marx to Ferdinand Lassalle, Leon Trotsky, Karl Radek, and Rosa Luxemburg.

Just as some right-wingers consistently refer to Obama as Barack Hussein Obama, Goebbels insisted on calling Marx by the name Karl Mordechai Marx. He insisted, “It was the Jew who discovered Marxism. It is the Jew who for decades past has endeavored to stir up world revolutions through the medium of Marxism. It is the Jew who is today at the head of Marxism in all the countries of the world. Only in the brain of a nomad who is without nation, race and country could this Satanism have been hatched.”

Such a connection is a well-established part of Nazi ideology. But perhaps the more surprising thing is that such views were not held by Hitler’s men alone. On the contrary, they were widespread across the European right at the time. And not least in the writings of the vehement anticommunist Winston Churchill.

Mainspring of Subversion

A first example comes in a 1920 article which the then-Liberal MP wrote for the Illustrated Sunday Herald, about the dangers represented by the “international Jews.” According to Churchill, it was impossible to “exaggerate the part played in the creation of Bolshevism and in the actual bringing about of the Russian Revolution by these international and for the most part atheistical Jews.”

Like Goebbels in his speech fifteen years later, Churchill listed a succession of dangerous Jewish Marxists, drawing a line from Marx via Rosa Luxemburg to the American anarchist Emma Goldman and the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. Churchill outlines a “sinister confederacy” of disgruntled Jews, a “world-wide conspiracy” in which these “international Jews” work for the “overthrow of civilization.”

“This movement among the Jews is not new,” Churchill states. On the contrary, he sees them playing a “definitely recognizable part in the tragedy of the French Revolution.” Indeed, they are the “mainspring of every subversive movement during the Nineteenth Century; and now at last this band of extraordinary personalities from the underworld of the great cities of Europe and America have gripped the Russian people by the hair of their heads.”

Make no mistake, according to Churchill these “international Jews” are not ordinary political adversaries. Rather, they are “evil,” “diabolical,” and “sinister.”

And yet Jews, Churchill was willing to admit, could be both good and evil. In accordance with age-old prejudices, he states that it was almost as if this “mystic and mysterious race had been chosen for the supreme manifestations, both of the divine and the diabolical.” The counterpart of the “diabolical” international Jew was the national Jew. The national Jews could either dream of a Jewish state of their own or loyally support the nations in which they lived, but at least they didn’t let Judaism lead them into cosmopolitan or Marxist temptations.

Outsiders

Where did this widespread interwar idea of “Jewish Bolshevism” come from? In fact, it wasn’t simply plucked out of thin air. Jews played a central role in the European labor movement in the early twentieth century. It is a telling example that in October 1917, the majority of the Bolshevik Politburo were Jews; and even beyond them, Lenin’s maternal grandfather was Jewish.

As “outsiders” living mainly in Europe’s larger cities, Jews were susceptible to radical ideas about a new world. In an essay about Rosa Luxemburg, the German-Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt emphasizes how Marxist, internationalist ideas found appeal for East and Central European Jews. Because they had no true homeland, it was easier for them to accept the notion that “the fatherland of the working class is the Socialist movement.”

So, like many other conspiracy theories, the idea of a “Jewish Bolshevism” started from a grain of truth. Except that on this basis, Nazis and other anticommunist right-wing movements spun a story about an international conspiracy. Jewish Bolsheviks were portrayed as traitors, ready to stab their own country in the back.

In the Nazis’ version of things, this led to the so-called stab-in-the-back myth. This claimed that Germany was not defeated on the battlefield in World War I, but rather stabbed in the back by Jews, socialists, and other menaces to society. In reality, the war had been lost long before the fall of 1918 when German soldiers raised a mutiny and initiated the short-lived German Revolution. Its defeat in January 1919 would be followed by a wave of killings of socialists, including Rosa Luxemburg.

Back With a Vengeance

The scaremongering of a “Jewish Bolshevism” is sadly still present today. Economic recession has fed a new wave of conspiratorial xenophobia across the US and Europe. Muslims, Roma people, and Jews are once again made to play the role of threats to society, often in alliance with leftist forces.

During the 2016 Democratic primaries, rumors circulated online that socialist candidate Bernie Sanders, who has a Jewish background, held Israeli citizenship. The rumors went so far that Sanders was confronted with the question on national radio. For years, part of the American right has also claimed that Hungarian-Jewish billionaire George Soros was behind the Occupy Wall Street movement.

New stab-in-the-back myths are also emerging, like the beliefs held by terrorist Anders Behring Breivik when he murdered seventy-seven people at Utøya and Oslo on July 22, 2011. Breivik’s manifesto claims that “Multiculturalism (cultural Marxism / political correctness), as you might know, is the root cause of the ongoing Islamisation of Europe which has resulted in the ongoing Islamic colonisation of Europe.”

Breivik’s words are almost an echo of Goebbels’s speech more than eighty years ago, except with new antagonists.

One hundred years after the “Jewish Bolshevik” Rosa Luxemburg was executed without trial and dumped in Berlin’s Landwehr canal, we once again need to confront the right-wing conspiracy that Marxism and “the foreigners” are about to stab our nations in the back. To quote Luxemburg’s own tombstone: The dead admonish us.