Why Do American Jews Idealize Soviet Communism?

[In] this country there was a time when virtually all intellectual vitality was derived in one way or another from the Communist Party. If you were not somewhere within the party’s wide orbit, then you were likely to be in the opposition, which meant that much of your thought and energy had to be devoted to maintaining yourself in opposition. In either case, it was the Communist Party that ultimately determined what you were to think about and in what terms.

This was written not in the Soviet Union or one of its satellites, but in New York in 1947 by Robert Warshow in Commentary magazine about the American culture of the previous decade. While slightly hyperbolic (the Southern Agrarians, the American Scholar, etc.?) it faithfully describes American Jewish culture of the time, emphatically including its Yiddish branch. At the extreme of this movement were people like Julius Rosenberg, George Koval, and Mark Zborowski, who actively spied for the Soviet Union. At the same time, editors of Communist publications, Hollywood and union activists, party writers and institutional leaders were all directed by Moscow and were joined by rank-and-file members in promoting the virtues of Stalinism over the evils of American constitutional democracy.

A more current source, the Jewish Women’s Archive Encyclopedia, assures us that of about 83,000 Communist Party members in 1943, women formed about 46 percent:

CP historians estimate, moreover, that almost half of the party’s membership was Jewish in the 1930s and 1940s, and that approximately 100,000 Jews passed through the party in those decades of high member turnover. It seems safe to say, then, that Jewish women were one of the CP’s largest sectors during the Depression and war years; and for each who was a “card-carrying” Communist, there were several who took part in party-led mass organizations but did not belong to the party itself. (Entry on Communism in the United States)

The tone here is celebratory, taking pride in Jewish prominence in Communist activities. Like Barbra Streisand’s character in The Way We Were, who enchants the WASPy American Robert Redford, these Communist women are introduced as champions of a noble cause. Vivian Gornick recently gushed in the New York Times over the Communists who prodded the United States “into becoming the democracy it always said it was.”

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