Following victories in the Democratic Primary and his recent one in the Nevada caucuses, Sen. Bernie Sanders is well on his way to winning the Democratic nomination. While a majority of delegates totaling some 40% of the overall count will be determined on Match 3, “Super Tuesday,”it appears at this time that little truthful examination of the Sanders’ platform has come under any real scrutiny to this point.
The opposition to Bernie Sanders by his fellow Democratic Primary contenders will likely pivot to the down ballot argument and fact that there is very little Congressional support for Sanders. This fact could very well create issues for fellow Democrats in November and the contention will be that a Sanders nomination will threaten many other Democrats on the ballot nationwide.
However, what is not being covered by the media, is the real threat that Bernie Sanders and to a lessor extent, but a threat nonetheless, by Elizabeth Warren is to American Judaism. The American Jewish Diaspora has an historic tradition and relationship with Socialism in America. Jewish Socialism in America came to life as a direct result of the massive Ashkenazic immigration of the late 1800’s from Eastern Europe, specifically from 1880-1920 when Ellis Island was open and actively welcoming immigrants. Once Jewish immigrants from Russia began arriving in America it was not long before there was real struggle in America for Jewish allegiance within the industrial working classes within the Jewish community.
It is common knowledge that the greatest proponents of 20th century Socialism in its truest sense came from the Jewish tradition. Karl Marx, is infamously focused on the most by today’s political analysts when dissecting the tenets of Socialism. However, we cannot discount the impact of Saint-Simon and men like Moses Hess and Ferdinand Lassalle as every bit as significant. The earliest Jewish immigrants, mostly of German origin established a determined socialist movement for workers- while focusing in late 1800’s on the individual., Decades later, the European movements would diverge into a nationalistic socialism that pitted the “nation” state against the individual.
Jews experienced the devastating impact of the nationalistic socialism experience in places like Poland. Long a significant population force in Poland, the assimilation of Jews and the nationalistic Polonization movement resulted in greater oppression and social inequality relating to both power and mobility throughout the provinces of Poland. Again, socialism creates “subjects” and it was not long before Jews were considered nothing more than a caste in both Poland and Russia. A caste perceived with a distinct level of foreignness and thus inferiority.
The experience of Jews throughout the growth of the Socialist Movement should never be understated. No people have suffered more at the hands of socialism and the American Diaspora should recognize this fact and be very suspicious of socialism being advocated in America. The historical experience bears witness and justifies this suspicion no matter the brand that people like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren advocate.
By the 1930’s Jews represented some three million people in Poland. Lenin would assert that half the Jews in the world lived in Poland and Russia at the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917. By the late 1970’s there was less than fifteen thousand Jews remaining in Poland. Jews that were fortunate to make it out of Poland and immigrate to America not unlike other Jews from other countries of Eastern Europe brought with them their socialism experience. In America there was a level of autonomy yet given the European experience Jews recognized that given the rise if other immigrant populations like the Irish and the Italians there lied very similar risks they faced in places like Poland with regard to not only cultural assimilation but also social equality and mobility in America.
It was not long for the socialist infrastructure to effectively take root in America within the Jewish community and the road paved to equality, equity and ultimately power was perceived to be through the vehicle of labor. The American Jewish Socialist movement’s purest institutions was the Workmen’s Circle established in 1900. The Circle’s economic justice messaging resonated with Jews largely due to the experience of Eastern Europe. Much like Bernie Sander’s socialism, its secular nature did little to advance Jewishness or Jewish identity. The Circle would eventually come under the control of the Bundist influence rivaled only by Labor Zionists which sought to incorporate nationalism into its socialist movement.
American Socialism would forever be influenced by the immigration of Jews. Forty years post World War II Jews will experience another exodus from Russia (Soviet Union) resulting in half of the Jewish population emigrating largely to Israel and America that mirrored the immigration from Russia from 1880-1920. The result was over two million Jews leaving Russia. Just as the immigration at the turn of the century contributed to the rise of socialism movement in America, the Soviet Jewish immigration came in the post socialism era in America as socialism had been absorbed by the Democratic Party. The traditions of Jews aligning with the Democratic tradition remains to this day.
Critics of Bernie Sanders continue to raise the issue of his 1988 visit to the Soviet Union for his honeymoon. Sanders has claimed that the visit shaped his political views which up to that point much of his politics was mostly centered around the Liberty Union Party in Vermont however at the time of the trip Sanders was serving as Independent Mayor of Burlington, VT. Sanders clearly had to recognize in 1988 the fact that Soviet Jewish emigration was well under way as in just a few short years the Soviet Union would collapse. The series of mass immigration movements throughout the century from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union illustrated the failure of socialism in delivering the expectations that it held for the Jewish people.
It is evident that Bernie Sanders has not been dissuaded regarding socialism regardless of its history relating to Jews.
The primary issue facing Bernie Sanders- and the conflict with American Jews and Judaism is the lack of attention being drawn to the Sander’s “revolution.” This “revolution” is one that we American Jews have seen before, in the form of the socialist anti-Zionist Bundist movement. Originally established in pre World War I Russia, Poland and Lithuania at the end of the 19th century, it could only be construed as a revolutionary movement that created two distinct pronged movements; one being the Bund (General Jewish Workers Union) and the other known as Labor Zionism. The culmination of the success of the socialist movements resulted in the creation of the first Socialist government in Russia by the Bolsheviks, resulting in “the beginning of the end” of any political dominance and acceptance of Jews in the movement and as a collective strong voice. Much of the Russian experience has been overshadowed by the horrors of National Socialism in Germany, but there is no question that Russian experience was every bit as disasterous for the Jewish people.
As any American Jew born before 1980 knows, the implementation of Socialism has not been kind to the Jewish people. In fact, it was the extreme issues of persecution, poverty and pogroms in Eastern Europe that drove the creation of these “workers” movements and subsequent active leadership and participation by Jews. We cannot forget that the social exclusion of Jews from the growing socialist Soviet world indeed partially served as a catalyst for the mass immigration to America. Once arriving, it did not take long for both Jews from the European and Russian experiences to begin to influence American culture and it labor force especially on the Lower East Side of New York, home to countless sweatshop factories that took advantage of the new immigrants thirst for hard work and social upward mobility. It was logical that in America Jews would perceive socialism as a desired vehicle. In truth, socialism was the only vehicle Jews knew.
Forty years of immigration created an institutional framework for American Socialism to take root. In today’s terms this is not unlike Bernie Sanders calling his movement a “grassroots” working class revolution. Sander’s socialism in effect has morphed the classic Bundist Socialism and Wilson Progressive ideology.
This combination, advocated by both Sanders and Warren should alarm the American Jewish community. The movement is virtually entirely secular and void of personal responsibility. It instills the very constructs that are counter intuitive to the Torah and the Rabbinic teachings that serve as the foundational basis modern Jewish thought, theology, and practice – many of which Jews have come to embrace as critical elements of their personal Jewish identities. The call for “revolution” is a call to surrender to the role of government control and elimination of the true role of G-d in the lives of Americans. It is a “class” warfare revolution void of “free will” or “free choice” of the individual- in Hebrew referred to as bechirah chofshit.
The elimination of the role of Jewish core values are now being replaced by proposed governmental controls that in effect are entirely antithetical to Judaism. The framework for this kind of working class social construct places the government in direct conflict with the needs and freedom of the individual to pursue their own destiny. Additionally, it removes the ability of individuals to practice the Jewish value of areyvut, an individual’s personal responsibility to care for others, instead handing over that privilege, right, and power to the government exclusively.
This socialist Utopia sought by Sanders and Warren is one that historically has not been beneficial to the Jewish people. The former socialist movements were founded in agrarian then industrial economies, however in modern America’s economy, the system simply does not work and could hardly be characterized as such a plausible “solution,” especially with the rise of the digital and technological economy. Sanders is seeking to highlight a “class struggle” that both Sanders and Warren as socialists perceive as illustrated by the working class be exploited in America for generations. In classic socialistic fashion, groups or classes are pitted against one another, but it cannot be lost that neither Sanders nor Warren indeed truly represent the American working class and in fact are part of the very thing the old socialist movements would call the “proletariat.” Both Sanders and Warren are millionaires. In 2016, Sanders harshly criticized “millionaires and billionaires” in his campaign. Now however in the 2020 campaign, Sanders has dropped “millionaire”.
Whereas the Bundists historically pushed for workers rights, they also attempted to advance the rights of Jews. While Sanders has expanded a Bundist like movement to nationalizing healthcare, education and even banks in America, Sanders today appears opposed to not only the Israeli leadership but also organizations like AIPAC. Not only has Sanders and Warren both refused invitations to speak at the AIPAC Conference March 1-3, but Sanders in 2016 sought to include language in the Democratic Platform that called for “the end to occupation in illegal settlements”. Elizabeth Warren in 2015 chose not to attend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before the United State Congress. Sander’s Israeli positions appear to mirror the Russian positions in the post 1967 period in truth and that should alarm every Zionist in the American Diaspora. Sanders went so far as to state recently ( at J Street event) that foreign aid provided Israel authorized by Congress should be withheld as a means of influencing a change in the Israeli “occupation” agenda in the settlements.
It is clear that historically the Socialist Movements of the last century and a half have not been kind to the Jewish people or Jewish identity. While appealing to the younger demographic, young Jews should be reminded that there is little hope that this socialist revolution being called for by Bernie Sanders will be any different than every other socialist movement given the Sanders movement denies both individuality and choice in favor of government determinations but more importantly stands as an even greater danger to the State of Israel. What socialist governing principle by any government in the history of the world has been beneficial to Jewish life, security, equality, social mobility or continuity?