Communism and the Jews

Uh-oh. I see another identity-politics double-bind coming. Eugene Volokh comments on the anti-semitic canard that Jews were disproportionally influential in the development of Communism. The sides in this kind of dispute are very predictable. One one hand, the anti-Semites, a disgusting crew of racist troglodytes with evil motives. On the other, the good-hearted and right-thinking people in the world exclaiming in horror at the very thought that anyone might say anything veering so close to the classic tropes of anti-Semitic propaganda. (And I am not being the least bit ironic in either description, not this time.)

Unfortunately, the awkward thing about this particular canard is that it happens to be true. And that illustrates a serious problem, an inability to cope that most historians have acquired when questions of history go too near certain forbidden topics and modes of inquiry.

As Eugene Volokh’s sources note, a disproportionately large number of the original Bolsheviks were Jewish. Karl Marx was ethnically Jewish, though his parents had converted to Christianity. It is impossible to study the history of Marxism, Socialism, and Communism without noticing how many Jewish names crop up among the leading intellectuals. It is equally impossible not to notice how many of the Old Left families in the U.S. were (and still are) Jewish — and, more specifically, Ashkenazim of German or Eastern European extraction. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg didn’t come out of nowhere.

It’s not even very hard to understand why this is. There is a pattern, going back to Spinoza in the 1600s, of Jewish intellectuals seeking out the leading edge of certain kinds of reform movements. Broadly speaking, if you look at any social movement of the last 300 years that was secular, rationalist, and communitarian, somewhere in it you would find nonobservant Jews providing a lot of the intellectual firepower and organizational skills. Often a disproportionate share, relative to other population groups.

Communism was one example; there are many others. One of my favorites is the Ethical Culture movement. Today, we have the Free Software movement, not coincidentally founded by Jewish atheist Richard Stallman. There is an undeniable similarity among all these movements, an elusive deep
structure having to do not so much with shared beliefs as a shared style of believing that one might call messianic social rationalism.

Anybody who thinks I’m arguing for a conspiracy theory should check their meds. No, there is something much simpler and subtler at work here. Inherited religious myths, even when they no longer have normative force, influence the language and conceptual frameworks that intellectuals use to approach other issues. The mythologist Joseph Campbell once noted that thinkers with a Catholic background like mine gravitate towards universalizing mysticisms and Protestants towards individualist redemptionism; he could have added that thinkers with a Jewish heritage tend to love messianic social doctrines. (One can cite exceptions to all three, of course, but the correlation will still be there after you’ve done so.)

Thus, assimilated Jews have a particular propensity for constructing secular messianisms — or for elaborating and intellectualizing secular messianisms invented by gentiles. But you can’t say this sort of thing in academia; you get called a racist if you do. And you especially aren’t allowed to notice the other reason movements like Communism sometime look not unlike Jewish conspiracies — which is that the IQ bell curve for Jews has a mean about a standard deviation north of the IQ bell curve for Caucasian gentiles.

In cold and sober truth, in any kind of organization where intelligence matters — even the Communist movement —, you are going to find a disproportionate number of Jews with their hands on the levers. It doesn’t take any conspiracy to arrange this, and it’s not the Jews’ fault the goyim around them are such narrs (Yiddish
for “imbeciles”). It just happens.

But only people like me who don’t give a shit about being castigated for political incorrectness are willing to even whisper these things. Because that’s true, anti-anti-Semites can’t counter anti-Semitic muck-spreading with the truth; instead, they have to pretend that none of the historical patterns around which anti-Semites have constructed
their paranoid delusions have any basis in fact at all.

This is denial, and leaves the good guys in a damn weak position against anti-Semitic racists, who by distorting the record only a little can not only feel they have the truth on their side, but in some nontrivial ways actually be justified in that belief.

Unlike the anti-Semites, I mostly like the cultural traits that led so many Jewish intellectuals to Communism — including one I haven’t mentioned yet, the urge to transcend ethnic tribalism
and order the world according to a Law. But if the road to a Christian hell is paved with good individual intentions, the road to totalitarian hell is paved with communitarian idealism. It’s a tragedy that in Communism Jewish idealism, messianism, and intellectualism nourished a monster that turned on the Jews and killed so many of them.

If the discussion didn’t violate so many taboos, mainstream scholars could start asking even more interesting questions. Like: exactly how and why did thinkers raised in the relatively gentle communitarianism of the Jewish tradition become apologists for the vicious collectivism of Marxism and all its toxic children? And what can we do to keep the like from happening again, to Jews or anyone else?

But these questions probably won’t get seriously asked in my lifetime. Because political correctness has made us afraid to notice that, in some ways, the Jews really have had a special, shaping influence on the reform politics of the modern era, including Communism. About that much, the anti-Semites are right.

Categorized as Culture


  1. David and Milton Friedman are ethnically Jewish. So was Ayn Rand. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone who’s more familiar with the movement could add a few more names.

    The comment I’ve been seeing most often lately is that Jews were at the intellectual forefront of just about everything that was going on. (Except, I hope, for Nazism, but I have a vague memory that even that had a Jew among the early theoreticians.)

    Eric, you left out one more possible explanation — that mainstream society was rather a bad deal for Jews, and they were quite reasonably looking for a better way to organize things, and were civilized enough to look for a better deal for everyone rather a special deal for themselves.

  2. Hey Russ, let’s not forget Murray Rothbard, Robert Nozick, Ludwig von Mises, and Tonie Nathan. Have a look at the authors featured in the Laizze-Faire (sic?) catalog over the years. The preponderance of Jews will astound you.

  3. The Friedmans, Rothbard, von Mises, Nozick, Szasz, Julian Simon, Kirzner, Richard Epstein, need I go on? Goldwater was not a Jew, but his grandfather was. And of course Objectivism was also almost totally a Jewish `conspiracy’ – Rand, Branden, Greenspan, Holzer, Peikoff, all of them Jews.

    As for Jewish Communists, there was a separate Jewish section of the USSR Communist Party – the dreaded Yevsektzia, which was known for its particular viciousness in persection of all religious practises, but especially Jewish ones. My grandfather once told me that when the revolution came, he was the only young man in his (mostly Jewish) village that didn’t become a communist.

  4. Your article has two weak points: First, identifying what kind of intellectual creation has abnormally high numbers of jewish theorists. And second, why this is so.

    To the first point:

    As the others have said here, Jews were predominant creators of many other social theories, not only communism. Most not messianic or genocidal.

    But Jews (particularly Central European Jews in the XIXth and XXth century) were significant in many other intellectual fields: Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Franz Kafka…

    What strikes most of this group is IMHO that they were a) In what is called “Artes Liberales” and b) (to use a metaphor you have complained about ;-)) very often “paradigm breakers”. Not the perfectioners of theories that were already there but those who began new ways of thinking form scratch.

    To the second point:
    Look, the old theory of “a kind of religion fosters a kind of intellectual creation” is a myth. In my experience it is believed mainly by Protestants. Perhaps because it makes them look better. But for example you don’t have to be a Protestant or Calvinist to be pro-free markets. Once you study that part of history, you see i.e. that all XVIIth century Europeans thought very much in the same way and had the same “view of the world” about most things, with next to none national differences (but very different from ours). That some areas came to be from this or the other flavor of christianism or more or less capitalistic oriented was due to a large number of other factors. Burning people with new scientific discoveries was something all Christians of the time had in common.

    The logical process that leads to linking religion and intellectual creation is very much like thinking that the sun rises every morning because of the cock’s cock-a-doodle-doo that precedes it. A coincidence of two factors (jewishness-intellectual creativity) may mean that the first one is the cause of the second, that the second is the cause of the first, that both have one or more common causes, or that it is a freak of chance. To give a sound judgement, one has to follow the scientific process.

    I think there is a more accurate reasoning to explain this:

    Jews in Europe had for a long time no right to own land and other working restrictions. They were also often expelled from their countries, sometimes permanently like in Spain. Thus they were driven to be “money workers” (bankers, merchants…) and “knowledge workers” (doctors, attorneys…). This made them abnormally prone to literacy is a valid reason for an abnormally high relative number of geniuses.

    Jews in Europe from the XVIIIth to the XXth century had two ways of coping with discrimination and persecution. This made them perhaps (as it has been said) less comfortable with the status quo. An intellectually rebellious attitude and a tendency to question things may be the reason for the paradigm-breaking tendency.

  5. To be fair, there are three Freidmans who are economists. Rose counts, too.

    Tnx to all for identifying the Jewish Libertarians. Now we’ll know which ones to put against the wall after the Libertarian Revolution gloriously succeeds.

  6. As ESR points out, the distribution of intelligence among European and American Jews centers at the +1sigma point for generic whites. So Jews will be disproportionately influential in *anything* which doesn’t actively exclude Jews, like Naziism or Christian Churches. (Though one could argue that two Jews in particular were disproportionately influential in Chirsitan Churches…)

  7. This is a brave post, and largely correct.

    During the first paragraphs, I kept thinking “OK, but he’ll never break the taboo and point out that European Jews have higher than average IQs”. And then you did.

    As for the commenter who presented arguments for why this should be the case, he (I think) left out an important new argument, for which, alas, I have no link:

    During the period from ancient times to modern times, there was a constant phenomenon of Jews converting to Christianity (there were many social pressures to do so).

    In a nutshell, the idea is that the lower-IQ Jews were statistically more likely to convert, as it freed them from having to learn to read Torah.

    During the Middle Ages, it was not worth the effort for most people to become literate; the payback was not worth it. Books were rare and expensive, and learning to read was no guarantee of getting ahead in life.

    Of course, people like to do what they’re especially good at, and the higher-IQ’s among the Jews did not find learning to read to be such a burden. As such, they were statistically less likely to convert (and statistically more likely to become fathers of many children in a culture that valued intelligence.)

    It is worth noting that in ancient times, Jews were not stereotyped as especially intelligent; that stereotype arose in the Middle Ages.

    The taboo against even considering these things needs eventually to fall. Our generation was raised on things like Star Trek and Tolkein, and (I hope) can handle the truth.

    That is, in the Star Trek universe, no one would bat an eye if the Vulcans were disproportionately represented among the blue shirts, and complain of a Vulcan conspiracy.

  8. What is the point of this tribalism, anyway? I see the phrase “Jews were disproportionately influential in the development of Communism” and it seems to me that the author of that statement is positing a conspiracy which involves *all* Jewish people. Who decides who’s “Jewish”, anyway? One could say, “A disproportionate number of the individuals who were influential in the development were Jewish” and I say “So what?” Nobody is responsible for those people’s actions but them. C’mon people, reject hereditary guilt, willya?

    Ambiguously-defined ethnic/religious groups don’t do, think, or believe anything. Only individuals do, think, and believe things.

  9. “The comment I’ve been seeing most often lately is that Jews were at the intellectual forefront of just about everything that was going on. (Except, I hope, for Nazism, but I have a vague memory that even that had a Jew among the early theoreticians.)”

    I doubt if there were many Jewish Nazis, but Jews were well represented in early Italian Fascism.

    “I think there is a more accurate reasoning to explain this: Jews in Europe had for a long time no right to own land and other working restrictions. They were also often expelled from their countries,”

    The same is true of gypsies – a fact which doesn’t support your argument

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  11. Virginia,

    Based on Eric’s post, but also on everything I’ve read of Eric’s I’d have to say that he is definitely not promoting collective guilt. What he is saying is that Jews were represented in Communist circles in numbers which were disproportionately high. This was due to their individual choices. He than goes on to try to find out why they chose as they did.

    The point of the post is to first expose an inconvienant fact with which anti-Semites accuse the Jews and second to show why that inconvienant fact actually cannot be used to blame the Jews.


  12. Bertram Wolfe, in his book, Three who made the Revolution ( a history of turn of the century Russia and Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky) notes that Jews, converted or not, were heavily represented in all Russian political parties except for the extreme right. In fact they were more prevalent among the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries than among Lenin’s Bolsheviks.
    During the 60’s the Jews were extremely prominent in the New Left. And of course, some of those New Leftists later became the Neo-Conservatives.

  13. Jews are a DESTRUCTIVE force, always have been — every movement they have been involved in while living among a HOST population has been to TEAR DOWN … but Jewish hypocrisy shows itself in Israel, where racism runs the Zionist state, but while those same Jews rally for “multi-culturalism” and “multi-racialism” in host nations … as they know it’s destructive. Professor Kevin MacDonald has done an excellent job at exposing the nature of Jews:

    As for “anti-Semites” — you talked a lot about them, but never DID say what they have distorted or where they have been wrong in regards to the Jews???

  14. I give the Jewish tradition a balanced, 50% grade for egalitarianism. On one hand they invented the year of Jubilee. Every fifty years all the land and most of the wealth would be evenly divided up among the twelve tribes. This was a starting-over that kept some families from developing into despotic dynasties. Also, it was once considered a sin to lend money and charge interest (clearly not a capitalist system). On the other hand they abandoned the year of Jubilee; it is unthinkable today. Also, they have become very prevalent in the banking industry.
    Of course,these socialist values were always an in-group phenomenon. If you weren’t a Jew you could count on being a target for genocide. Oh yea, is it still taboo to mention the 26 plus separate acts of “God said so” genocide which the Jews so lovingly perpetrated against their non-Jewish neighbors? These acts are meticulosly recorded in a gloating, triumphant tone, in the old testament (this is Jewish propoganda folks–not anti-semite propoganda).
    My point is that all human tribes are potentially murderous fiends. Jews included. Anything the Jews do can be legitimized, just like the Nazis legitimized their own blood lust. Glad I’m not a palestinian, or a Jew. Maby we Gentiles are not so stupid after all? I take that back, we let “W” run the country. My point is made.

  15. Jews are a DESTRUCTIVE force, always have been — every movement they have been involved in while living among a HOST population has been to TEAR DOWN …

    In a word: progress?

  16. I was tempted to add to this (interesting and stimulating) thread of discussion… but with “David the non-Jew” in the room, it’s hard to believe anything constructive will follow. (Allen Anderson, you’re not much better. If you want to talk about Jewish wars from Old Testament times, by all means, let’s also bring up the Crusades and the bloody Catholic-Protestant wars of middle-ages Europe. None of the above has any relevance to the contributions of Jews or Christians to modern society.)

    Eric, I applaud your willingness to raise an interesting (and politically controversial) topic, and follow it rationally. I dearly hope you’ll continue to do so, on this and other topics.

    Daniel in Medford
    (A Jew and a discharged 1st-sergeant of the Israeli Army, in the unlikely event that anyone cares)

  17. An interesting data point on Jews and IQ: when IQ tests were being run on the stream of Eastern European immigrants in the early 1920s, the psychologists doing the work found to their surprise that, contrary to the stereotype, Eastern European Jewish immigrants had average IQs of about 70. This was part of the justification for the immigration restriction laws that strongly favored people from Northern and Western Europe and specifically helped keep out the Jews.

  18. this foolish debate can be settled with simple research.look at all the jews in official positions,in control of the media,in control of the banks,and the criminal federal reserve system.why is it that every country not controlled by jews is quick to state the obvious fact that we are controlled by jews?

  19. It is not true that jews are smart .
    The jews have made significant scientific work only when infecting german education sistem . the romanian jews and polish jews , who were more numerous than german jews have not made anything in science , not only anything comparable , but nothing .
    They become majority in the education systems of many anvanced countries by influnce , bribe and so on .

  20. Karl Popper, Milton Friedman, Isaiah Berlin and Friedrich Von Hayek are the theoretical demolishers of communism. So long for the “Jewish” nature of communism.

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