The Jewish Revolution in Belorussia: Economy, Race, and Bolshevik Power

The Jewish Revolution in Belorussia: Economy, Race, and Bolshevik Power

The Jewish Revolution in Belorussia: Economy, Race, and Bolshevik Power

The Jewish Revolution in Belorussia: Economy, Race, and Bolshevik Power

Synopsis

Jewish life was changed fundamentally as Jews joined the Bolshevik movement and populated the front lines of the revolutionary struggle. Andrew Sloin's story follows the arc of Bolshevik history but shows how the broader movement was enacted in factories and workshops, workers' clubs and union meetings, and on the Jewish streets of White Russia. The protagonists here are shoemakers, speculators, glassmakers, peddlers, leatherworkers, needleworkers, soldiers, students, and local party operatives who were swept up, willingly or otherwise, into the Bolshevik project. Sloin stresses the fundamental relationship between economy and identity formation as party officials grappled with the Jewish Question in the wake of the revolution.

Excerpt

The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 initiated the last great project for Jewish emancipation in modern European history. Made in the name of international socialism and proletarian rule, the Bolshevik Revolution offered the Jews of the Soviet lands a new form of emancipation that would transcend the type of “bourgeois” liberal emancipation that proliferated across Europe in the wake of the French Revolution of 1789. Having seized power in October 1917, the Bolsheviks rejected the system of Jewish emancipation granted by the February Revolution, which ended tsarist legal discrimination and opened paths for full Jewish integration into an envisioned liberal order. in place of formal legal equality, the Bolshevik regime promised a qualitatively new model of Jewish emancipation that would transcend the mere “negative” logic of liberal emancipation by engaging in an activist, positive program for the total economic, social, and cultural transformation and integration of Soviet Jewry within a postcapitalist order devoted to social and national equality.

In the eyes of the new Bolshevik leadership, the project of transforming Jews into integrated Soviet citizens was bound inextricably to labor. Having made revolution in the name of the working class and under the banner of Marxian socialism, the Bolsheviks asserted that human emancipation depended upon a doubled understanding of labor. Labor, as a noun, constituted the collective agent of revolutionary change that toppled the monarchy, overturned the “bourgeois” provisional government and its “Capitalist Ministers,” and would transform the Russian lands into an enlightened, radiant, socialist order. Labor, as a verb, referred to the practices of creative human production through which the totality of socialist society would be constructed. Viewed through this double-sided concept of labor, Jewish emancipation, as a subset of human emancipation, necessitated the full proletarianization of . . .

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