the old ‘jewish leftist’ con

I’ve decided this is too important to be left in a comment, unsearchable from the web.

I’m still particularly interested in the question of Stalinism among the immediately-pre-state Zionists. Trotskyites seem to differ from one another to this day about this. One Trotskyite group, Workers’ Liberty, headed by Sean Matgamna, maintains that Stalin was viciously hostile to Zionism from 1936 onwards. A book by Idith Zertal about the pre-state zionists takes great care to indicate that the ‘socialist’ zionist establishment of the period was all second internationalist in orientation, which means, emphatically, anti-USSR, and equally anti all forms of class war that might interfere with ‘the real war’, or in their case, the construction of the zionist state. The key to successful second international type ‘socialism’ is the presence of a discreet bourgeoisie which knows how to stay in the background and let the union bosses manage everything for the common good, which is what Ben Gurion’s labour zionism attempted to do, via the Histadrut. Ber Borochov‘s zionist-marxist synthesis, which was acceptable in the labour zionist movement, was based on the idea that the Jewish people had to develop a capitalist class society of their own, with a Jewish bourgeoisie and a Jewish proletariat, before they could develop a revolutionary marxism of their own. This meant in practice an indefinite postponement of revolutionary marxism. I continue to feel that there must have been quite an appreciable number of Jews in Europe, prior to, during, and even after WW2, who were simultaneously zionists and revolutionary marxists, not à la Borochov but thinking in terms of the immediate construction of a state in Palestine which was both zionist and communist. I maintain that this is not nonsensical, because communist colonialism actually occurred in central Asia, particularly Kazakhstan, during the same period. And there was the Birobidzhan idea, which was a proposed communist colonialism specifically for Jews. The people I am talking about would have wanted to create a Birobidzhan-type colony in Palestine. I want to know what happened to them, and this may not be possible using english language sources alone; it may only be possible using hebrew sources. And even there, it will have been deliberately buried from public view, because the survival of the zionist state was dependent on US toleration, at the very least, from the word go.

I suspect I am the first person to put things together in this particular way. It reflects the fact that my thinking is not dictated by any one ideological ‘bundling’ process, but assembled piecemeal from various ideological ‘bundles’ that are generally thought to be mutually exclusive. This ideological ‘bundling’ process affects everybody: the form it takes in relation to zionist history is that it counterposes labour zionism, which is social-democratic, and revisionist zionism, which is fascist, and implicitly denies the very possibility of a revolutionary marxist-zionism, which after all does sound inconceivable unless you consider the colonialist marxism that actually existed under Stalin. I think one of the effects of Trotskyism in the west has been to declare that the colonialism of the Stalin-era USSR simply wasn’t ‘marxist’, and thus exclude the concept of marxist colonialism from analysis a priori. There is a sector of Israeli official politics which should cover this area: it is the Meretz party, previously Mapam, led for many years by Yossi Sarid, who still writes opinion pieces for Haaretz occasionally. But I have never been able to locate any ideological writings from this sector at all. Either it simply has no ideology worthy of the term, or its ideological writings are deliberately kept untranslated. Generally it concentrates on domestic issues, and its policies seem to be left-social-democratic. Though it sounds cynical of me, I would say that left-social-democracy tends to “sentimental anti-colonialism” rather than to anything logically rigorous, either pro or anti. And a diluted Trotskyism can accord with this; we see it in our own press, too. Exploring the pre-1948 ‘Zionist left’, I have found something that seems to be about as marxist-zionist as feasible: Hashomer Hatzair Workers Party. As far as I know, there are no books in english about this party as such. There are biographies of personalities who were connected with it. The book to consult is this one by Joel Beinin. Hapoel Hatzair and Ahdut Ha-Avoda merged in 1930 to form Mapai, which led to the split-off in 1944 of Ahdut Ha-Avoda’s left wing, which re-assumed its original name and declared a pro-Soviet stance. Yitzhak Rabin was a member of this entity. Hashomer Hatzair Workers Party merged with Ahdut Ha-Avoda in 1948. The result of this merger was Mapam, which wikipedia describes as ‘pro-Soviet’. Yitzhak Sadeh, the commander of the Palmach who wrote “My Sister On The Beach”, was a member of Mapam. However, by 1955 it had ceased to be ‘pro-Soviet’. In 1992 Mapam merged with two liberal parties to produce the left-liberal Meretz, which is in fact a member of the Second International, just like the Israeli Labour Party, and hence no longer revolutionary marxist in orientation. This Ahdut ha-Avoda pamphlet in autotranslation generates some rather odd expressions, such as “kentian socialism” and “the sumerian concept of community”, but it’s more or less comprehensible. I think the crucial paragraph is this, referring to the essential 1948 positions of Hashomer Hatzair and Ahdut Ha-Avoda in the merged party, Mapam:

Mapam flag ideologically closer to the Soviet Union, but the public is seeking objectives introduced foreign policy neutrality. Like-well supported Mapam offensive strategy against the Arab armies. This strategy was a common target for all the party vulnerable in the West, captured as guardian of the Arab League. The young guard creators hoped to set up outside the conquered territories division socialist Arab state, while their partners wanted to annex these territories the Jewish state.

I think what this means is that Hashomer Hatzair presented the war of independence as the setting for a joint struggle with Arab progressives against the feudal-reactionary Arab League, which would lead to a federation of Jewish and Arab socialist statelets. Their coalition partners Ahdut Ha-Avodah, on the other hand, simply wanted to colonise and absorb any conquered Arab lands. Hashomer Hatzair, as a ‘movement’ rather than a party, exists worldwide to this day. Clearly there is nothing revolutionarily marxist about it any more. But it is remarkable how many people we now take for granted were members of one strand or another of the semi-left, semi-boy-scout zionist youth movement in their teens, from Tony Judt to Tony Cliff (not forgetting Noam Chomsky). I’ve copped Amazon.co.uk’s last copy of the original 1991 I B Tauris paperback edition of Beinin’s book, but there are 1992 University of California reprints for about £1 more. The Univ of Cal edition appears to be ten pages shorter, but doubtless there is an innocent explanation for this. This book contains a detailed explanation of how the Czech arms deal of 1947/8 came about. Apparently it was brokered by Shmuel Mikunis, the head of the Jewish wing of the Palestinian Communist Party, which in 1943 had separated itself from the Arab wing. The two wings were reunited at the end of 1948 as the Communist Party of Israel (MAKI). On this rather central question of the Czech arms deal, the Beinin book refers me to a 1974 book by a certain Arnold Krammer called “The Forgotten Friendship: Israel and the Soviet Bloc, 1947-1953”. But the argument can be summed up by this criticism of Tom Segev, which appeared in Haaretz letters column:

Tom Segev, a journalist and historian, neglected one of his two occupations when he wrote about the Czech weapons that saved Israel in the 1948 war. Segev the historian forgot to tell his readers that the arms deal with Czechoslovakia could not have been implemented without the approval and blessing of the Soviet Union and the massive assistance of the Israel Communist Party (Maki). Segev the journalist wrote about two intermediaries, one of whom, Robert Maxwell, received an “almost-official” funeral after robbing the pension funds of his employees in Great Britain. The historian Segev concealed the role of the leaders of Maki: Eliahu Gozansky, Meir Vilner and Shmuel Mikonis (sic – RB), whose efforts to ensure the deliveries of the Czech weapons was the direct continuation of the Gromyko declaration in 1947 (that partition might be unavoidable – RB) and the Soviet Union’s recognition of Israel in May 1948, when the US recognized it only de facto and imposed an embargo on deliveries of arms and ammunition to Israel.

Beinin adds in a footnote:

In his lecture at the memorial ceremony on the fifth anniversary of Mikunis’ death (Lavon Inst, Tel Aviv, Jun 25 1987), military historian Me’ir Pa’il confirmed Krammer’s account of Mikunis’ role in securing Czech military aid and argued that without this aid the Israelis would probably have lost the war.

This is the Tom Segev article that is being criticised. Certainly it presents a very unconvincing story, derived from Israeli military historian Uri Milstein and Israeli ex-intelligence officer Avraham Ziv-Tal. What Segev seems to be suggesting is that Richard Kauder (“a Jewish spy in the service of the Nazis, who also spied for the Soviet Union”) and Ludwig Hoch, aka Robert Maxwell, transmitted bribes, which is a leitmotif of Jewish apologetic political history, i.e. every act of good fortune experienced by ‘the Jews’ at the hands of other nations is explained by bribes. I think there is something peculiar about this, even though I accept that Stalin’s short-term goal was simply to get the British out of the Near East. Certainly “the Israel-Soviet friendship of 1947-1953” is not just “forgotten” but systematically written out of history, which suggests there may be important things, in retrospect discreditable for the actually existing capitalist state of Israel, to understand about it. The best first approximation I can give is that Ben Gurion’s Labour Party consciously deceived the revolutionary Marxist-Zionists into believing that they might succeed in establishing a workers state in the ancestral homeland, while the Marxist-Zionists deceived themselves into imagining that this was actually possible. With regard to the Czech weapons, I maintain that to look for conspiracies of individuals, whether Jewish or otherwise, is not proper political analysis. It is almost a form of superstition. To see someone relatively intelligent and insightful like Tom Segev engaging in it is a sign that something is being concealed, namely the real relationship between the pre-state marxist-zionists and Stalin. Beinin says several times in the course of his book that in the 1940s Stalin regarded zionism as the most progressive force in the Middle East, which is certainly not what most of us are taught to believe. As to what the weapons were, read Segev’s article: he says he was issued with some of them, and they were captured Nazi small arms (a likely tale!). Now we turn to “The Forgotten Friendship”, Arnold Krammer’s book on the Soviet-Zionist nexus of 1947/8. This exactly confirms my ‘first approximation’:

Following the Feb 1948 pro-Soviet coup in Czechoslovakia, military supplies to the Jews increased enormously as did the help they received in transporting the consignments from Czechoslovakia, through several Eastern European countries, to Palestine. The weight of evidence indicates that Moscow stood directly behind the new emphasis and that the Soviet leaders were influenced, perhaps by promises of an impending pro-Soviet socialist Israel government made by Shmuel Mikunis … One possibility that demands consideration is that exaggerated promises by Israel’s Communist party held out hope for a political coup.

The book also notes that ben Gurion’s official arms buying team made strenuous efforts to deny anything of this sort:

Since Israel’s independence, the roles of both groups, the official team [Rechesh] and the unrecognised left-wing negotiators, have been popularised in memoirs, press reports, and public opinion, and range, in degree, from each charging the other with “trying to steal the credit” to charges of “planning to subvert the nature of Israel’s government.” The facts indicate, however, that Mordechai Oren [Hashomer Hatzair], before the Feb 1948 Czech coup, and Shmuel Mikunis [Israel Communist Party], after the coup, did have an effect on the arms agreement, and that, regardless of how Stalin became influenced, his hand in the Czech decision is manifest.

The arms were originally made for sale to Germany. They included:

  • 57 million rounds of 7.92 mm ammunition
  • 1.5 million rounds of 9 mm Parabellum ammunition
  • 1 million rounds of anti-tank ammunition
  • 24,500 Mauser P-18 rifles
  • 10,000 bayonets for the P-18 Mauser rifle
  • 5,015 ZB-34 light machine guns
  • 880 ZB-37 heavy machine guns
  • 250 9 mm Zbrojovka pistols
  • 12 16-ton tanks with ammunition
  • 10 9.5-ton tanks with ammunition
  • 25 Avia-Messerschmitt 109 (S-199) fighter planes
  • 4,184 2 kg bombs
  • 2,988 10 kg bombs
  • 146 20 kg bombs, and
  • 2,614 70 kg bombs.

The Czechs also supplied 24 Spitfire IX fighter planes, which had originally been supplied by Britain to Czechoslovakia. Jews both in Israel and elsewhere have done a good job of obscuring the essential fact that the zionist military was generally and rightly perceived as aiming at a Soviet alliance up to and including that year. Given the power of ben Gurion’s party among civilian zionists, a pro-Soviet Israel could only have been achieved by means of a Palmach-led military coup against ben Gurion immediately following independence, and there is no evidence known to me of any preparations having ever been made for such a coup. Therefore Mikunis and Oren, who were intelligent and realistic men, must have been conning Stalin and his Czech proxies, consciously, into imagining that such preparations were being made while knowing they were not. If this is so, then the entire thing was a fraud. What writing there is on this subject (outside of hebrew memoirs which I do not know of) presents the Palmachniks and their left-zionist allies as having been naive, idealistic and confused. This disingenuous self-presentation is something that Jews of every ideological type seem to excel at.

I think that in 1948 Stalin was trying to create a world-wide system of Soviet allies. I think the Prague trials of 1952 relate directly to the Czech arms deal of 1947. Vladimír Clementis was really the centre of the Prague trials, not Rudolf Slansky, who is always presented as the main figure. Clementis had succeeded Jan Masaryk as Czech Foreign Minister. In 1948, in his new role, he played a decisive role in organising Czechoslovakia’s part of Operation Balak, i.e. the armaments shipments to Israel. In 1950, he was forced to resign, charged with being a deviationist and a bourgeois nationalist, attempting to leave the country illegally, and participating in the Trotskyite-Titoite-Zionist conspiracy. He was hanged on Dec 3 1952. The trials implicated MAPAM’s envoy in Prague, Mordechai Oren, as part of the Zionist conspiracy, and Oren (along with Shmuel Mikunis) is credited by specialist historians of the period with having laid the foundations for the Czech arms deal. Their line had been that the struggle for a Jewish state was part of the world-wide anti-imperialist struggle, and Stalin had evidently believed them. The Arab countries (except for Lebanon and Syria) were all ruled by British pawns, who were of course anti-Soviet as well as anti-zionist. So Stalin was led to believe that an independent Israel would be pro-Soviet too. But no sooner was Israeli independence gained than ben Gurion purged all the pro-Soviet elements, assumed a pro-US and anti-Soviet posture, and abolished the Palmach. Stalin blamed those who had executed his pro-zionist policy for his own naivete. This in my opinion is the real explanation for the Prague trials. The point of the payoff in 1952 was to convince the world that he was able to take his revenge on those whom he felt had betrayed him in this struggle. Oren himself spent five years in Czech prisons before being allowed to return to Israel. Mikunis, who was Sec-Gen of the Palestinian (Jewish) communists, escaped without any retribution from Stalin. What this suggests to me is that Oren did the detailed sales pitch to Stalin and his Czech proxies, since Oren was the official representative of MAPAM, a left-zionist party much more powerful in the Palmach than Mikunis’ MAKI, the communist party proper. So Oren would have claimed to Stalin that due to his position in MAPAM, he knew and could personally confirm the imaginary pro-Soviet Palmach coup plan, while Mikunis could have contented himself by saying he wasn’t privy to MAPAM’s plans but was prepared to back them if true. The sequence of events outlined above is so neat that I can’t help wondering whether Mikunis genuinely believed that a pro-soviet communist coup in Israel was actually possible, and convinced Stalin briefly of the possibility during the crucial period when his support for the arms shipments was vital, or whether he only pretended to believe it was possible. To have convinced Stalin of its possibility while all along privately knowing better would have been an extraordinary piece of deception, but in the absence of Mikunis’ own testimony, which is unavailable in english, I just can’t figure him out. He was not completely alone: he was general secretary of the party, but its most prominent member was a certain Meir Vilner, who seems to have been even more undeviatingly pro-soviet than Mikunis. Shmuel Mikunis has a noticeably thin Wikipedia entry; Vilner’s is more extensive.

I’ve abridged the following, typical, Jewish-leftist effusion from Counterpunch, to remove some of the unsyntactical and inconsequential subordinate clauses that proliferate throughout the original. But you get the idea, and I say it is bullshit. The supposed ‘radical tradition in Judaism’ is miniscule, and more of a PR stunt (what Tarpley would call ‘left cover’) than a reality. Consider again the ‘pro-Soviet’ Palmach which fought for the independence of Israel (above). It was this apparent ‘pro-Soviet’ tilt that got the arms from Stalin. It melted like snow in July, the moment Ben Gurion declared independence – RB

Military Judaism and the Celebration of May Day: The Albatross of Israel
Norman Pollack, Counterpunch, May 1 2013

I awoke from sleep with a phrase recurring in mind that easily rolls off the tongue, yet that the two words of which I had never quite combined before: “military Judaism.” I have never engaged in diatribe against the State of Israel, nor do I intend to do so now, but May Day is a time for reflection, and in this case my identity as a Jew and what has happened to my people (cant phrase – RB) in USAia over my lifetime. Growing up in the 1940s, I was intensely proud of being Jewish. Partly, this was a simple attachment to USAia fighting a War Against Fascism, a patriotism unshakeable given the clarity of ideological issues and the known persecution of Jews in Europe. In addition, there was a personal factor, somehow reaching out to militant unionism, the struggles against racial segregation, and somewhat diluted, simplistic Marxism. The important point, though, is that Jews were in the forefront of radical causes in that period and earlier. Even more prosperous businessmen and lawyers were not ashamed of expressing sympathies for labor, opposition to racism, and a vision of One World. That began to change rather quickly because of the intense climate of fear generated by McCarthyism and kindred social pathologies. Joe could never have gotten started were not conditions ripe for political and ideological persecution in this country. Jews, feeling vulnerable, were coming forward as superpatriots. The Cold War encased USAia in a patriotic bubble, so that one saw the turning rightward clearly taking form in intellectual circles in the mid-1950s, from Daniel Bell and Seymour Lipset to Richard Hofstadter, an ersatz liberalism designed to cover over the retreat from the past of solidarity with radical causes to a denial in the form of the Consensus Thesis of protest in the USAian past. Just as in the case of the neocons of today, a disproportionate number of right-wing intellectuals were members of the faith (he means that they were Jews – RB). I wrote the first major critique of this trend, in a scholarly article on Hofstadter’s Age of Reform, followed by other works. Yet my ties to Judaism, not necessarily as one who was observant (not necessarily but retaining the option – RB), remained virtually absolute, to the extent of being blind to what we now can see as a form of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian people with the formative stages in the establishment of Israel, in the late 1940s and into the next decade taking pride in Israeli militarism as necessary and desirable in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Only very gradually did my perception of Israel change, far later than was the case of fellow radicals.

I will not, in this May Day moment, elaborate further on the progression of my thinking during the intervening period, but rather turn to the present, and pose the question: Can one be Jewish, and by that I mean, proud of its radical heritage (he evidently means, leftist heritage – RB) , conversant with and respectful of Torah (he means, religious if not actually observant – RB), and therefore comfortable with and not defensive over an identity as a Jew (how does this follow? – RB), and at the same time be unalterably opposed to the policies and actions of the State of Israel? I think, Yes. Obviously, the political-cultural-ideological scene argues the diametric opposite: one must be a staunch supporter of Israel or one is a self-hating Jew, simple as that, and further, one must not only ignore Israeli atrocities, but also champion retrograde forces on the world scene, from US interventions on a global basis to assassination as an acceptable practice, whether Mossad or CIA. I remain defiant when I say, not only can and should Judaism be disentangled from Israel in all things pertaining to its militarism and the persecution of others, but also that Judaism as a noble religion (sic – RB) cannot survive with the albatross of Israel around its neck, and the corresponding rightward turning of Jews in USAia. The best thing US Jews can do, and I say this for the sake of Israel, but a truly democratized Israel and one that would be a blessing to Judaism (sic – RB), is to cut through the patriotic verbiage, the cant, the playing upon Holocaust memories, and unceremoniously condemn Israel where condemnation is warranted, starting with the victimization of the Palestinian people, but not stopping there, because at present Israel is the flashpoint of an explosive region, isolated largely from its own doing, for which its nuclear arsenal will not protect it and just maybe provoke a world conflagration. Earnestly, I wish to all a Happy May Day.

6 Comments

  1. demize!
    Posted May 5, 2013 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Can one be mercantile and militarist while still hewing to the non existent mirage of altruistic Judaism? News at Eleven…

  2. Timothy Y. Fong
    Posted July 26, 2013 at 5:12 am | Permalink

    This may explain the UZI submachinegun (SMG) which was based on a Czech SMG produced just after WWII. I always wondered how the Israelis ended up with a bunch of Czech weapons, but I assumed it was just because there were a lot of E. European Jews in Israel. It says the designer of the Uzi, Uziel Gal, was a member of the Palmach, here:
    http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=KXwGPezNkygC&lpg=PA11&pg=PA10

  3. Fernando Martinez
    Posted July 27, 2013 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    Yes please, stop playing with holocaust memories for the advancement of Zionist agendas. I agree with Señor Pollack.
    Elderly and always infirm señor Ben Gurion would always, exaggerate, manipulate and emotionally blackmail people with reminding them of the 6 million that were murdered. Enough of this.
    Now this revealing of immense Soviet collaboration, now this is muy muy Muy interesante.

  4. maoilriain
    Posted July 27, 2013 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    “Hashomer Hatzair presented the war of independence as the setting for a joint struggle with Arab progressives against the feudal-reactionary Arab League, which would lead to a federation of Jewish and Arab socialist statelets.”

    Amos Perlmutter recalled fighting side by side with Nasser against the Brits in Palestine in what the latter considered a shared anti-imperialist struggle

  5. lafayettesennacherib
    Posted July 28, 2013 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    @Timothy F. Young. I’ve heard that the Czech communist party ‘commissars’ were almost entirely jewish c. ’48. Might have had some bearing. Rowan’s got a good post on this somewhere. I think the answer is in the book, ‘ Was the Red Flag Flying There?’, about the Marxist movements in early Israel.

  6. lafayettesennacherib
    Posted July 28, 2013 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    WOOPS! Silly me, THIS is the good post Rowan did on the subject.

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