The History of Anti-Semitism Volume 4, Suicidal Europe 1870-1933
by Leon Poliakov, pub. 0P/Littman Library of Jewish Civilisation, 1985
Price £20.00, 422p
The recent refusal of the French Minister of Defence to permit the erection of a statue of Captain Alfred Dreyfus at the site of his disgrace and humiliation gave rise to the rumours – attributed to the military – that national prejudice still takes precedence over racist wrongs. The passions aroused by the Dreyfus case at the end of the last century catalysed both the forging of the anti-Semitic classic, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in Tsarist Russia and the conversion of the assimilationist Theodore Herzl to a Zionist position. The case became a cause célèbre and undoubtedly a benchmark in the sixty years covered in this, the fourth volume of Leon Poliakov’s well-known series.
The refined anti-Semitism of the British upper classes was often manifested by the Times. Following the sinking of the Lusitania, for example, the paper personally blamed Albert Ballin, the Kaiser’s Jewish courtier whilst a campaign was launched to strip the Jew, Sir Ernest Cassel of his titles and British citizenship. The Times not only propagated the idea that all British Jews were Germans, but seemed convinced that all Bolsheviks were also Jews. Indeed, Professor Poliakov writes that the Times became the link between the reactionary anti-Semitic organisation in Russia, the Black Hundreds and the British elite. Few Jews were actually members of the Bolshevik rank and file. Jewish workers tended to look to the plethora of socialist parties in existence at that time. Yet numerous non-Jewish Jews such as Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Radek were found in the upper echelons of the Party. Despite the fact that they were far removed from the cultural milieu and political problems of their people, the Times seized on this, fact in transforming the Bolshevik revolution into a Judeo-German conspiracy to ensure world domination. The British Government also capitalised on this opportunity when British forces initially distributed antisemitic leaflets in the north of Russia during the summer of 1918. Poliakov even mentions the very strong rumour that the Protocols had been translated in Britain ‘under the auspices of the secret Service of the War Office’.
Although Professor Poliakov’s work certainly provides a good overview of the development of anti-Semitism in the pre-Hitlerite years, it is general and not specific. One important area which is not covered is the belief of many early English socialists and trade unionists in the threat of ‘international Jewish capitalism’. Beatrice Potter, founder of the Fabians, even suggested that the Jewish worker was not a genuine proletarian, but due to an almost biological greed for money, was actually a proto-capitalist.
Although the translation from French of Professor Poliakov’s style renders a dense and complex narrative, it also reveals the stupidity of anti-Semitism, both overt and covert, in the full bloom of its absurdity. It is an important book for those born after the Holocaust who relegate the spectre of anti-Jewish racism to an invisible rung on the ladder of priorities.