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From Ambivalence to Betrayal

The Left, the Jews, and Israel

Robert S. Wistrich

Publication Year: 2012

From Ambivalence to Betrayal is the first study to explore the transformation in attitudes on the Left toward the Jews, Zionism, and Israel since the origins of European socialism in the 1840s until the present. This pathbreaking synthesis reveals a striking continuity in negative stereotypes of Jews, contempt for Judaism, and negation of Jewish national self-determination from the days of Karl Marx to the current left-wing intellectual assault on Israel. World-renowned expert on the history of antisemitism Robert S. Wistrich provides not only a powerful analysis of how and why the Left emerged as a spearhead of anti-Israel sentiment but also new insights into the wider involvement of Jews in radical movements.

There are fascinating portraits of Marx, Moses Hess, Bernard Lazare, Rosa Luxemburg, Leon Trotsky, and other Jewish intellectuals, alongside analyses of the darker face of socialist and Communist antisemitism. The closing section eloquently exposes the degeneration of leftist anti-Zionist critiques into a novel form of “anti-racist” racism.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xv

The main title of this book may raise a few eyebrows. To what “betrayal” is the author referring? Surely neither antisemitism nor hostility to Israel can be seen as prerogatives of leftism; and if they do exist in some quarters of the Left, is that not an example of “legitimate criticism” of Israel—a country regularly pilloried in international...

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pp. xvi

This book represents the closing of a circle after four decades of reflection about the complex interaction between Socialism and the Jews, the Jewish involvement in radical movements, and the phenomenon of antisemitism as well as anti-Zionism on the Left. It began exactly forty years ago, in 1971, when I started work on...

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Introduction: Jews, Zion, and Revolution

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pp. 1-34

For approximately thirty years after the end of the Second World War there was a widespread belief that antisemitism and the “Jewish Question” were things of the past. After Auschwitz, a repetition of the murderous Jew-hatred of the Nazis and their European collaborators seemed inconceivable. The “antifascist” consensus in Europe...

Part I The Antisemitic Question

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1. The Racist Temptation in the Labor Movement

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pp. 37-69

It is generally recognized that antisemitism as a modern ideology and as an organized political movement first emerged in Europe in the latter half of the 19th century. There is, however, far less agreement as to the nature and cause of this phenomenon, the significance of the term “antisemitism” itself and to what extent it can be seen as expressing a coherent world-view, let alone a consistent policy or platform...

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2. Karl Marx, Moses Hess, and Jewish Emancipation

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pp. 70-110

The challenge which antisemitism has posed to the European Left cannot be understood without taking into account the extent to which socialist thought was tainted from its very origins with the heavy baggage of anti-Jewish stereotypes. This was especially evident in the case of France and Germany, where a form of radical...

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3. German Social Democrats on the Völkisch Movement

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pp. 111-134

In the 1880s the German Social-Democratic Party (SPD) for the first time in its history had to confront a noisy, antisemitic agitation, led by the Protestant court preacher Adolf Stöcker in Berlin. The so-called Berlin movement transformed the “Jewish Question” into an issue of German electoral politics. It was instigated after Stöcker...

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4. The “Jewish Question” from Engels to Bernstein

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pp. 135-152

In May 1890 extracts from a private letter written by Friedrich Engels to an Austrian correspondent, Isidor Ehrenfreund, were published with his consent in the Viennese Arbeiterzeitung. The observations made by Engels in this letter contain one of the more unequivocal repudiations of antisemitism to be found in modern socialist journalism...

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5. Anti-Capitalism or Antisemitism? The Enigma of Franz Mehring

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pp. 153-175

The Marxist labor movement in Wilhelminian Germany viewed the “Jewish Question” as an inseparable aspect of the crisis of modern bourgeois society. It also recognized that Jewish emancipation had been brought about by capitalism but considered that the process could only be completed in a new, classless society...

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6. Socialists and Antisemites in Europe before 1914

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pp. 176-218

The relationship between Socialism and antisemitism is a rather obscure chapter in European history which only began to attract the attention of historians in the aftermath of the Second World War. Perhaps the first systematic attempt by a historian to investigate the attitudes of Social Democracy in Central Europe...

Part II Nationalism and Internationalism

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7. Bernard Lazare: Anarchist, Dreyfusard, and Revolutionary Jew

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pp. 221-249

There are few intellectual journeys in modern Jewish history more unusual and illuminating than the path traversed by Bernard Lazare, the prophet of the Dreyfus Affair. A revolutionary anarchist and a deeply sincere internationalist, he came to embrace a radical form of nationalist particularism which remains altogether distinct...

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8. Social Democracy and Judeophobia in Imperial Vienna

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pp. 250-271

In the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy around 1910 there were more than twoand- a-quarter-million Jews—a concentration exceeded in Europe only by that of the Tsarist Russian Empire. However, in contrast to absolutist Russia where Jews suffered from fierce discrimination, persecution, and pogroms, Austro-Hungarian Jewry...

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9. The Austro-Marxist Critique of Jewish Nationalism

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pp. 272-302

Left-wing opposition to Zionism and other variations of Jewish nationalism is not a novel phenomenon. Indeed, there have been some remarkably constant features in the Marxist critique of Jewish nationalism, and in particular its rejection of any special pleading or moral obligation to further a distinctively Jewish existence as a collectivity.1 Marxists have frequently argued that the survival of the Jewish people...

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10. Karl Kautsky and the Controversy over Zion

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pp. 303-343

During the twenty years between the emergence of political Zionism and the Balfour Declaration in November 1917, the European socialist movement for the first time had to confront the existence of a Jewish national problem. The position of German Social Democracy (SPD), the largest and best organized labor movement existing in the world at that time, was of considerable importance in influencing...

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11. The Internationalism of Rosa Luxemburg

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pp. 344-378

It is doubtful if any revolutionary Marxist before the First World War more perfectly embodied the spirit of socialist internationalism than Rosa Luxemburg, yet few displayed a greater level of disaffection from their Jewish background.1 One of the ironies of Luxemburg’s manifest alienation from her roots was...

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12. Leon Trotsky—A Bolshevik Tragedy

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pp. 379-416

In his memoirs, the international revolutionary and poet, Victor Serge, left behind a striking portrait of Leon Trotsky, describing the Bolshevik leader as he appeared at the apex of his power, popularity, and fame in 1920. No one ever wore a great destiny with more style. . . . He was forty-one. . .leader of the Petrograd masses in two revolutions...

Part III Anti-Zionist Mythologies

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13. From Lenin to the Soviet Black Hundreds

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pp. 419-447

The month of November 1917, which witnessed both the Balfour Declaration of the British Government and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, was a watershed in European, Jewish, and world history. For the next 72 years until the fall of the Berlin wall there would be no abatement in the historic antagonism between the ideologies...

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14. The Holocaust Inversion of the Left

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pp. 448-478

The Soviet specter of “Zionist Nazism” was an almost perfect mirror-image of the Nazi propaganda myth of “Jewish Bolshevism.” In the Nazi worldview, Bolshevism was a central part of the international Jewish conspiracy, linking Moscow with Wall Street and the City of London. For the neo- Stalinists, “Zionist Nazism...

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15. Bruno Kreisky, Israel, and the Palestinian Question

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pp. 479-508

It was during the Holocaust years which he spent in the Swedish capital of Stockholm that Bruno Kreisky—the young exile from Vienna who would radically transform postwar Austrian Social Democracy—first honed many of the diplomatic skills which marked his later ascendancy as a political leader.1 At the same time, it...

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16. Anti-Zionist Myths on the Contemporary Left

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pp. 509-534

The ideological war against Zionism which began long before 1948 has never really subsided for a single day of Israel’s existence as a nation-state. This intense opposition to Zionism has had many sources and expressed itself in multiple ways. It has never been uniform or monolithic. It has been one of the pillars of the Palestinian Arab national...

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17. Great Britain: A Suitable Case for Treatment?

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pp. 535-562

The self-congratulatory and somewhat sanitized history of Anglo-Jewry since the mid-17th century “return” of the Jews to Britain traditionally depicted as a triumphal passage from servitude to freedom or from darkness to light. In the spirit of the Passover festival, Great Britain—mother of parliaments, land of religious and civic toleration, cradle of the Industrial Revolution, and possessor of a great overseas...

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18. The Marxist-Islamist Alliance

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pp. 563-592

At first sight the ideologies of radical Islam and modern Marxism may seem far removed from one another. A closer examination reveals certain similarities. For example, both the Islamic and Marxist-Leninist traditions polarize the world into two opposing camps and assume that war is the natural condition of man...

Archival Sources and Selected Bibliography

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pp. 593-614


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pp. 614-625

E-ISBN-13: 9780803240834
E-ISBN-10: 080324083X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803240766

Page Count: 648
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Communism and Judaism.
  • Communism and Zionism.
  • Socialism and Judaism.
  • Socialism and antisemitism.
  • Antisemitism -- History.
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