A t a time when Jews and the Left are more often than not in conflict, it may come as a surprise to learn that during the last century reactionaries and antisemites automatically associated Jews with socialism.
From the French Revolution onwards, the Left opposed religious or racial discrimination, and Jews responded by entering left-wing politics in disproportionate numbers. During the era when millions of Russian Jews lived in poverty and Jewish workers toiled in the sweatshops of Paris, London and New York, Jews were enthusiastic recruits to the international labour movement. Between 1890 and the 1940s, Jews were prominent in every revolutionary and sociualist party from Moscow to Manhattan.
Jewish men and women played leading roles in the American civil rights movement and the anti-apartied struggle in South Africa.
Yet the doctrinaire assimilationism of the Left led to bitter conflicts with Jewish socialists and the Zionist movement. Some elements of the Left equated Jews with finance capitalism and were not adverse to indulging in ‘rich Jew’ antisemitism. Recent controversies over Israel have shown that such currents persist today.
But, as David Cesarani reveals in this stimulating and wide-ranging study, these spats give a misleading impression of the relationship between the Jews and the Left, which is far deeper and far richer than many people now realise.
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