The Jewish people have been among the greatest champions and the greatest opponents of socialism and Marxism. We have fought on both sides. The battle began with a pen, not a rifle, in the hand of a lapsed Ashkenazi Jew, Karl Marx.
Socialism is enjoying a resurgence in the United States. According to the most recent Gallup poll, 57% of Democrats now view socialism favorably.
Since 1918, socialism has been tried in 64 countries. With over a century of experience, evidence, and history it is time to ask: Has any one of these experiments been good for the Jewish people?
First, a trip back down memory lane. It is just after midnight, July 17, 1918. Russian Czar Nicholas II and his family, now prisoners of the Bolsheviks, are under guard in a secret location east of the Ural Mountains.
Yakov Yurovsky, a 40-year-old yeshiva drop-out, awakens Nicholas. Now regional commissar for justice, Yurovsky tells the czar to stir the rest of the royal family.
An hour later Yurovsky and 10 other revolutionaries are waiting for them. The captors position the Romanovs and their five servants against a wall. The thin, goateed, curly-haired, and mild-mannered Yurovsky announces that he has official orders. He reads them to the czar.
Yurovsky, a failed clockmaker who converted to Christianity 13 years earlier, received his commands from Filipp Goloshchyokin, 42, who is also a lapsed Jew. Goloshchyokin received the orders from 33-year-old Yakov Sverdlov, who is Jewish and a close colleague of Lenin (who is one-quarter Jewish). The orders are to execute the Romanovs.
Yurovsky reads the death sentence aloud. Nicholas accepts the verdict with composure. Yurovsky selects a Colt M1911 semiautomatic pistol from among 12 weapons present. Yurovsky fires three 45-caliber slugs into czar’s chest. His compatriots follow, unloading the other pistols. They kill the royal family, their family doctor, four servants, and even the czar’s French bulldog.
Today, we can debate about whether the chain-of-command behind the order to execute Nicholas was comprised of Jews, lapsed Jews, self-hating Jews, “non-Jewish Jews,” non-Jews, or whatever complex phrase fits. However, there is no arguing that socialism and Marxism are forever associated with our people.
Have we benefitted? Let’s take a data-driven approach. Consider our fate in nearly every socialist country inhabited by a meaningful number of Jews:
In the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the planet’s first large-scale experiment with socialism, our status as founding members of the revolution did not help us. Once established, rabbis were arrested, Jewish property was seized, and entire Jewish neighborhoods were dissolved. The teaching of Hebrew and the observance of Shabbat was unlawful. Practicing Jews were removed from their jobs and often imprisoned. Even nonpracticing Jews faced social pressure, scorn, public ridicule, and intense discrimination in higher education and in the workforce.
These methods worked. From 1918 until 1989, over 1 million Soviet Jews were forced to abandon Judaism. There is no way to describe this other than the forcible conversion of Jews and Jewish families from Judaism to Marxism. This is a loss far greater even than the forcible conversion of Jews to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition.
These Jews vanished not in gas chambers but when their ancient intellectual inheritance was outlawed, their books (including the Torah) were banned, their synagogues were closed, destroyed or repurposed, and their rabbis were sent for re-education.
Socialist states usually have a quasi-religion and not just atheism. It is worship of the state itself. It tolerates no competition.
The Soviet’s treatment of Jews internally was consistent with their treatment of the newly formed Jewish state. After one of the shortest diplomatic romances in history, the Soviets became deadly archenemies of Israel. Their weapons, policies, and support of Jew-hating Arab dictators led to the slaughter of thousands of us. We should forever remember the image of Soviet-made Sagger anti-tank missiles and their Soviet-trained Egyptian operators killing Israeli tank crews during the Yom Kippur War.
The fate of the Jews in every European socialist country followed a nearly identical path: ostracism, persecution, illegality, discrimination in the workplace, and forcible conversion to Marxism. Between 1959 and 1989, the Jewish population declined precipitously in Belarus (-25%), Estonia (-14%), Georgia (-52%), Latvia (-37%), Lithuania (-50%), Moldova (-31%), and Ukraine (-35%).
As in Soviet Russia, the majority of these declines were due to subjugation, the outlawing of Judaism, forcible conversion, and no-choice assimilation, not emigration and Aliyah which flourished only after these socialist regimes fell.
Conditions were slightly better in the Socialist Republic of Romania and the Hungarian People’s Republic. In Romania, the fledgling Israeli government and Jewish philanthropists bribed the socialist leadership to free our people. They provided military hardware, oil drilling and pipeline equipment, technology transfers, loans, and hard cash. In exchange, Romania issued Jewish visas in large numbers. The price tag was $2,000 a head for average Jews and $25,000 for Jewish doctors, scientists, and those with advanced degrees. Approximately 94% of Romania’s postwar Jewish population of 356,000 fled the country.
The Hungarian People’s Republic lost 43% of its Jewish population during its period of socialist rule. While there was Jewish suffering in Hungary, most Jews successfully emigrated.
The Polish People’s Republic lost 80% of its Jewish community, nearly all of them Holocaust survivors, but not before the socialist government confiscated nearly all of their property.
Has our experience has been different in present-day “democratic” socialist countries where voters elect their Marxist leaders?
Consider the case of Venezuela, whose socialist regime was established in 1999. Venezuelans are not historically anti-Jewish. Yet suddenly their government was. Hugo Chávez adopted anti-Semitic rhetoric and policies including support for Iran, Syria, even Hamas. Between the government’s newly discovered Jew-hatred and a tanking economy in which toilet paper has become a luxury, Venezuela’s Jewish population has dropped from 22,000 at its peak to 6,000 now.
What about Cuba? Before socialism, there were 24,000 Jews in Cuba’s historic Jewish community. Many traced their roots back hundreds of years. Today, there are fewer than 1,500 Jews, a 94% decline. Cubans were not anti-Semites. Yet Fidel Castro was. Between 1967 and 1970, Cuba sent military assistance to Egypt during the War of Attrition against Israel. Cuba severed diplomatic relations with Israel in 1973 and subsequently sent troops and equipment to Syria. The Cuban government seized billions of dollars in Jewish land, property, and businesses. Jews who wanted to emigrate were refused visas until 1995.
Bolivia’s Jewish community, once 7,000 strong has declined over 90% to less than 700. In January 2009, the socialist government broke ties with Israel calling it a “terrorist and genocidal state.” Most Jews emigrated due to socialism’s impact on the economy, not anti-Semitism. Likewise, Uruguay lost over 60% of its 50,000 Jews as a result of socialist economic mismanagement.
Is there a single example, in any of the 64 experiments, of Jewish communities growing and flourishing under a socialist regime? No.
It has been over 100 years since the first socialist experiment began in Russia. Yet since then each of the 64 implementations of socialism has resulted in severe Jewish people. The evidence is indisputable.
For the Jewish people, a socialist or Marxist regime at best is a threat to Jewish religious practice, our property and jobs, and the stability of our families and the local economy. At worst, a socialist or Marxist takeover is a death warrant for some yet-to-be-determined percentage of Jews trapped behind the barbed wire and the end of Jewish religious practice in that country.
In its 100 year history, socialism and Marxism have caused the deaths of over 100 million human souls, including a large number of us. The even higher price paid by our people was due to forced conversions and no-choice assimilation. Had Marx, Yurovsky, Goloshchyokin, Sverdlov, Trotsky and thousands like them failed, Israel today might be a nation with several more millions who simply would have packed their bags after World War II and voted with their feet.
This battle will unfortunately continue. Yet 100 years after Yurovsky discharged his pistol in the czar, the historical record is not open to reasonable dispute. When will our brethren, whose lives have been enriched by free markets, free discourse, and free societies, finally learn these painful lessons?