Russian Intellectual Anti-Semitism in the Post-Communist Era

By Vujacic, Veljko | Canadian Slavonic Papers, March-June 2004 | Go to article overview

Russian Intellectual Anti-Semitism in the Post-Communist Era


Vujacic, Veljko, Canadian Slavonic Papers


Vadim Rossman. Russian Intellectual Anti-Semitism in the Post-Communist Era. Lincoln, NE and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2002. 309 pp. $55.00, cloth.

Intellectual anti-Semitism has enjoyed a long tradition in imperial Russia and the Soviet Union. Its birth as an ideology was closely related to the rise of radical pan-Slavism in the second half of the nineteenth century. In the early twentieth century, elements of tsarist officialdom found in popular anti-Semitism a convenient tool for stemming the tide of revolution and buttressing the claims of throne and altar with "spontaneous" mass action from below. The Kishinev pogroms, the publication of the notorious fabrication, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," by the Okhrana, the rise of the Union of the Russian People and other extreme right-wing organizations enjoying the support of tsarist officialdom, and the "ritual murder" Beilis case (resolved, however, in favour of the defendant), were all elements of these political tactics. In reality, however, the "tactics" merged with ideological conviction, as testified by the anti-Semitism of members of the tsarist family, the activities of select Orthodox bishops, as well as other intellectual supporters of "counter-revolution." The new wave of pogroms in the Russian civil war was a logical consequence of a new extreme ethnic nationalism that saw Jews as a religiously alien and/or intrinsically subversive secular minority (indeed, often both at the same time).

The Russian revolution promised to put an end to this state of affairs, both on account of the Bolsheviks' internationalist ideology and the prominent role of Jews in the communist leadership. As is well known, however, anti-Semitism made a dramatic comeback under Stalin when the fabricated Doctors' Plot almost led to a new wave of statesponsored pogroms. Subsequently, anti-Semitism became an integral (although subsidiary) part of Brezhnev's "Soviet patriotism" under the thin guise of anti-Zionism. It was not until perestroika considerably loosened the grip of the state on society, however, that openly anti-Semitic grassroots organizations like Pamyat made their appearance. Perhaps more disturbing still was the rise of a "more respectable" intellectual anti-Semitism, as manifested in the public statements of some of Russia's best-known village prose writers (Rasputin, Belov), and subsequently codified in the ideological manifesto of contemporary ethnic Russian nationalism, Igor Shafarevich's Russophobia (1989). Henceforth, antiSemitic thoughts proliferated on the pages of literary periodicals (Nash sovremennik, Molodaia gvardiia), while the numerous right-wing newspapers and manifestos (however small in circulation) reproduced some of the most grotesque stereotypical images of "Jewish plutocrats" and "communists" to be found anywhere in the contemporary world. Nor were the newly reconstituted Russian communists immune to anti-Semitism: the writings of Genadii Ziuganov and his associates (e.g., Yurii Belov, the last head of the Leningrad obkom and one of the leaders of the CPRF) constantly evoked the "cosmopolitan threat," while the main communist daily, Sovetskaia Rossiia, opened its pages to the notoriously anti-Semitic Metropolitan of St. Petersburg, Ioann, and other "Russian patriots" of similarly dubious distinction.

All this makes Vadim Rossman's study of the roots and varieties of intellectual anti-Semitism a welcome contribution to the analysis of a significant phenomenon on the Russian ideological and political scene. Rossman's focus is primarily on intellectual (not political or grassroots) anti-Semitism, i.e., on "the views and arguments advanced to back up anti-Semitic positions" (pp. 1-2), as well as on "the development of "anti-Semitic discourse" and its social functions in post-communist Russia. This explicit emphasis on the post-communist era, however, is somewhat deceiving, as Rossman traces the roots of modern anti-Semitism to the pre-revolutionary era, the 1920's, as well as to the Stalin and Brezhnev periods. …

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