After the First World War, most intellectuals were Socialists of one shade or another, the spectrum ranging from pale pink Fabianism (the equal-sharing classless society must gently evolve) to blood-red Marxism-Leninism (the inevitable victory of the proletariat must be achieved by violent revolution).
As a great many Jews were intellectuals, there were a great many Jewish Socialists. Quite a lot of them lived in the lower-rent parts of New York. They were the children and grandchildren of immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe. Because America was an open society where it was possible for free enterprise to be rewarded with prosperity, many did well enough to afford a college education for their sons. Yet they (not all of them, but the ones we’re concerned with here, who were probably the majority) did not approve of the open free-enterprise society which gave them the opportunities they had seized successfully. Not at all. They and their sons had an ideal, and they clung to it: an equal-sharing classless Socialist society – like, if not necessarily exactly like, the Russians had under Stalin.
Strange “cognitive dissonance”? Yes. But that’s how it was.
Bernie Sanders is one of those sons. To read about his family, his early life, his education, his political opinions is to read about thousands like him.
Now that he is a candidate for the presidency of the United States, he expresses opinions that belong to the pink end of the spectrum; but those he has expressed in the past would place him at the blood-red end – and he has never repudiated them.
Daniel Greenfield writes at Front Page that when Bernie Sanders was mayor of Burlington, Vermont, between 1981 and 1989, …
[He] enumerated detailed — and radical — foreign-policy positions and explained his brand of socialism.
[He believed that] “the basic truth of politics is primarily class struggle”; that “democracy means public ownership of the major means of production”. …
Politics is primarily class struggle is classic Marx. Government control of the means of production, think Communism. … Bernie Sanders is still touting the support of Marxist economists. …
Sanders was a big fan of the Sandinistas … [He] marveled that he was, “believe it or not, the highest ranking American official” to attend a parade celebrating the Sandinista seizure of power.
It’s quite easy to believe, actually, when one wonders what elected American official would knowingly join a group of largely unelected officials of various “fraternal” Soviet dictatorships while, just a few feet away, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega bellows into a microphone that the United States is governed by a criminal band of terrorists.
And Sanders vocally defended the Marxist murderers.
The lesson Sanders saw in Nicaragua could have been plagiarized from an editorial in Barricada, the oafish Sandinista propaganda organ.
“Is [the Sandinistas’] crime that they have built new health clinics, schools, and distributed land to the peasants? Is their crime that they have given equal rights to women? Or that they are moving forward to wipe out illiteracy? No, their crime in Mr. Reagan’s eyes and the eyes of the corporations and billionaires that determine American foreign policy is that they have refused to be a puppet and banana republic to American corporate interests.”
President Reagan had deplored an atrocity committed by the Sandinistas: forcing Indians into a church and setting fire to it. He had also objected to their driving the Jews out of the country. The Sandinistas’ henchmen attacked a synagogue with firebombs while shouting “Death to the Jews”, “Jewish Pigs” and “What Hitler started we will finish”. And …
The president of the synagogue that the Sandinistas had attacked was forced to sweep the streets, a scene reminiscent of Nazi behavior in occupied Europe, before being forced to leave the country with [nothing but] the clothes on his back.
The synagogue was seized and transformed into a Sandinista youth center decorated with Anti-Zionist posters.
The Jewish community of Nicaragua fled to Miami and Costa Rica.
But that is …
Nothing Bernie Sanders cares about. …
All of which re-raises a question often asked: Why do a majority of American Jews go on voting for the Democratic Party when it has become openly anti-Israel and is sliding ever nearer to the blood-red end of the Socialist spectrum?
Answer: Because their Leftism is their religion.
The great ex-Communist authority on Communism, Sidney Hook, writes interestingly on this question:*
The political fortunes of the Communist Party in the United States began to decline precipitously as the war continued. It took another nose dive after the Soviet Union invaded Finland … Meanwhile the the details of the close collaboration between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were beginning to percolate to the West. Even radical circles critical of the Kremlin’s duplicity were stunned by the news that Stalin handed over to the Gestapo scores of German-Jewish Communists. …
The comparatively large following the Communists had among the Jews gradually dried up, but a sizable segment remained [who were] professionals, especially teachers. One who found this phenomenon puzzling was John Dewey. I remember him once asking me to explain how after the Nazi-Stalin Pact so many Jews could still be numbered among the Communist faithful. I explained it in part as an expression of their idealism. Most of them did not identify themselves as Jews. They were citizens of the world – the ideal Communist world of the future. To them what was happening to the Jews as a consequence of policies adopted by the Kremlin for raison d’état was part of the cost of historical progress.
There were other reasons why so many Jewish Communists remained faithful to the Communist Party line despite Stalin’s willingness to placate and appease the author of Mein Kampf. The political life of the Communist faithful was their whole life. It defined not only their intellectual allegiance but a network of social, emotional, and personal relationships that constituted a vibrant community. To break with the Party was tantamount to a self-imposed exile from its sustaining warmth into a cold, hostile world, in which they could hardly be integrated.
For many of the older generation of Jewish Communists, there was perhaps a deeper reason. Most of them had been reared in the orthodox Jewish religious faith, in which the whole of life from rising to retiring at night is organized around its central dogmas. These determine a complex pattern of prayers and ritual pervaded by a spirit of piety and unquestioning acceptance of the Divine Presence. Emancipation from this mode of life meant at first a gradual and then ultimately a total rupture, culminating in a conversion to the atheism of Marxism and a total rejection of Judaism as a parochial and confining creed. Yet psychologically those who still remained faithful to some of the ideals of prophetic Judaism were drawn to a movement that, despite its militant secularism, provided a mode of life every whit as integrated and sustaining as the religion they had abandoned. They could feel themselves once more, even if persecuted, a chosen people not of God but of history, a vanguard, liberated from the exclusionist and chauvinist prejudices of their forefathers, preaching a salvation open to all mankind.These Jews were naturally reluctant to break their ties with the Communist movement, hoping against hope that the Kremlin would mend its imperial, totalitarian, and racist ways. When at last they were compelled to disavow the Soviet Union, they were for a long time bereft, psychologically akin to to those who after a crisis of belief surrender their religion. At the time of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, despite the shock, many of the faithful could not yet make the excruciating wrench with their past.
Sidney Hook may be right. Those may be the (emotional) “reasons” why Jews cling to the Left even as Jews are ever more abused by their fellow Leftists. Because it’s their religion. Because, as their religion, it’s their whole life. Because it would be painful to break with it.
But we are talking about intellectuals. People who are supposed to be devoted to Reason. How would it really hurt them to switch their votes to the side where every candidate has emphatically declared his and her support for Israel?
Those “reasons” look more like excuses. And at this point in history, they are unacceptable.
It is a simple matter for anyone who can think to see the way the wind blows, how the land lies … and change his mind.
Bernie Sanders is a relic of a bygone age. How nice it will be when everyone can see that so is the far-left Democratic Party, and the entire ideology of Socialism, in all its shades of red.
*Out of Step by Sidney Hook, Harper and Row, New York, 1987, pp.306-307.
(Hat-tip for the Hook quotation to Robert Kantor)
Afterword: We have written that Communism is Secular Christianity (see under Pages in our margin). Now we declare it to be the The other Jewish religion. We deny that there is any contradiction between the two statements. Communism is secular Christianity, and it is the other Jewish religion. Only neither Christians nor Jews (as far as we know) are generally aware that it is both those things.