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   Vol. 67/No. 35           October 13, 2003  
Soviet bureaucracy spurred anti-Semitism
(Books of the Month column)
Printed below is an excerpt from the pamphlet On the Jewish Question by Leon Trotsky, one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for October. The selection is from “Thermidor and anti-Semitism,” an article dated Feb. 22, 1937. Trotsky was a central leader of the October 1917 Russian Revolution. Following the death in 1924 of V.I. Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik party, which led the revolution, Trotsky spearheaded the international struggle by the communist Opposition to defend the political course of Lenin and the Bolsheviks against a rising bureaucratic caste whose main spokesperson was Stalin, which consolidated its political domination at the close of the 1920s. Copyright © 1970 by Pathfinder Press, reprinted by permission.

At the time of the last Moscow trial I remarked in one of my statements that Stalin, in the struggle with the Opposition, exploited the anti-Semitic tendencies in the country. On this subject I received a series of letters and questions which were, by and large—there is no reason to hide the truth—very naive. “How can one accuse the Soviet Union of anti-Semitism?” “If the USSR is an anti-Semitic country, is there anything left at all?” That was the dominant note of these letters. These people raise objections and are perplexed because they are accustomed to counterpose fascist anti-Semitism with the emancipation of the Jews accomplished by the October Revolution….

It has not yet been forgotten, I trust, that anti-Semitism was quite widespread in Czarist Russia among the peasants, the petty bourgeoisie of the city, the intelligentsia and the more backward strata of the working class. “Mother” Russia was renowned not only for her periodic Jewish pogroms but also for the existence of a considerable number of anti-Semitic publications which, in that day, enjoyed a wide circulation. The October Revolution abolished the outlawed status against the Jews. That, however, does not at all mean that with one blow it swept out anti-Semitism. A long and persistent struggle against religion has failed to prevent suppliants even today from crowding thousands and thousands of churches, mosques and synagogues. The same situation prevails in the sphere of national prejudices. Legislation alone does not change people. Their thoughts, emotions, outlook depend upon tradition, material conditions of life, cultural level, etc. The Soviet regime is not yet twenty years old. The older half of the population was educated under Czarism. The younger half has inherited a great deal from the older. These general historical conditions in themselves should make any thinking person realize that, despite the model legislation of the October Revolution, it is impossible that national and chauvinist prejudices, particularly anti-Semitism, should not have persisted strongly among the backward layers of the population.

But this is by no means all. The Soviet regime, in actuality, initiated a series of new phenomena which, because of the poverty and low cultural level of the population, were capable of generating anew, and did in fact generate, anti-Semitic moods. The Jews are a typical city population. They comprise a considerable percentage of the city population in the Ukraine, in White Russia and even in Great Russia. The Soviet, more than any other regime in the world, needs a very great number of civil servants. Civil servants are recruited from the more cultured city population. Naturally the Jews occupied a disproportionately large place among the bureaucracy and particularly so in its lower and middle levels….

He who attentively observes Soviet life, even if only through official publications, will from time to time see bared in various parts of the country hideous bureaucratic abscesses: bribery, corruption, embezzlement, murder of persons whose existence is embarrassing to the bureaucracy, violation of women and the like. Were we to slash vertically through, we would see that every such abscess resulted from the bureaucratic stratum. Sometimes Moscow is constrained to resort to demonstration trials. In all such trials the Jews inevitably comprise a significant percentage, in part because, as was already stated, they make up a great part of the bureaucracy and are branded with its odium, partly because, impelled by the instinct for self-preservation, the leading cadre of the bureaucracy at the center and in the provinces strives to divert the indignation of the working masses from itself to the Jews. This fact was known to every critical observer in the USSR as far back as ten years ago, when the Stalin regime had hardly as yet revealed its basic features.

The struggle against the Opposition was for the ruling clique a question of life and death. The program, principles, ties with the masses, everything was rooted out and cast aside because of the anxiety of the new ruling clique for its self-preservation. These people stop at nothing in order to guard their privileges and power. Recently an announcement was released to the whole world, to the effect that my youngest son, Sergei Sedov, was under indictment for plotting a mass poisoning of the workers. Every normal person will conclude: people capable of preferring such a charge have reached the last degree of moral degradation. Is it possible in that case to doubt even for a moment that these same accusers are capable of fostering the anti-Semitic prejudices of the masses? Precisely in the case of my son, both these depravities are united. It is worthwhile to consider this case. From the day of their birth, my sons bore the name of their mother (Sedov). They never used any other name — neither at elementary school, nor at the university, nor in their later life. As for me, during the past thirty-four years I have borne the name of Trotsky. During the Soviet period no one ever called me by the name of my father (Bronstein), just as no one ever called Stalin Dzhugashvili. In order not to oblige my sons to change their name, I, for “citizenship” requirements, took on the name of my wife (which, according to the Soviet law, is fully permissible). However, after my son, Sergei Sedov, was charged with the utterly incredible accusation of plotting to poison workers, the GPU announced in the Soviet and foreign press that the “real” (!) name of my son is not Sedov but Bronstein. If these falsifiers wished to emphasize the connection of the accused with me, they would have called him Trotsky since politically the name Bronstein means nothing at all to anyone. But they were out for other game; that is, they wished to emphasize my Jewish origin and the semi-Jewish origin of my son. I paused at this episode because it has a vital and yet not at all exceptional character. The whole struggle against the Opposition is full of such episodes.  
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