I’m going into territory right now that usually I don’t tread through. First of all, the idea of an “Uncle Tom”, usually a black man arguing against his own people in order to be servile to “the man” is in my mind simply a way to limit free though. Also, basing my opinions on society, politics, and policies on my religious identity is usually something that I hesitate to do.
But in some cases it only makes sense. It baffles me to no end that a community of people that were broken and smothered for century upon century under monarchs, emperors, emirs, and commissars would have so many that reject the one system where we are given the space to think, act, and live as we need and choose. That goes not only for Jews but for many Christian and Islamic dissident sects, as well as numerous eastern religious groups. This system is the capitalist economy under a British parliamentary government model.
And no, neither I nor anyone else that defends that model is ensuring that you’ll be successful, healthy, or socially admired. But with a history in the USA of having great entertainers like Gene Wilder and Bob Dylan, businessmen like Warren Buffet, and endless parallels in many other industries that have reached the summit of success, the Jewish American can’t attack the American socioeconomic model without in some way spitting from the well from which he draws water.
How much worse should it be seen when you have not only soiled your own bed, but proceed make nice with systems that have led to the total debasement of their subjects into mere elements within a continuous collective. No, Bernie Sanders isn’t the first among us to party like it’s pre-1989, but he’s sure as hell done his best to make it stylish again.
For a man that for decades has styled himself a defender of civil rights, Sanders in 1981 upon being elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont wrote letters to the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and his Communist Chinese counterpart Hu Yao-bang asking for them to disarm, a message he also sent to the western leaders in London, Paris, and DC. Sanders was also famous for going to honeymoon in the USSR in 1988, although whether this was an expression of ideological admiration is up for discussion.
Noble, you might think, right? Like many on the progressive left of the late 1970s and 80s, Sanders believed that nuclear war was the greatest threat to the human race, so he thought disarmament was the answer. In the ’80s Sanders opposed US efforts to end Soviet encroachment in Central America through funding the Contras. That’s his right, but did he have to go to that country, a communist satellite state of Cuba, and say this?
“In the long run, I am certain that you will win and that your heroic revolution against the Somoza dictatorship will be maintained and strengthened.” (Guardian, June 19, 2015)
For the record Hu Yao-bang and Deng Xiaoping were doing their best in that period to put China on the opposite economic course that Bernie would have America take, but who remembers now? It was Brezhnev’s incompetence and corruption on the other hand that led to the eventual need for reform and devolution in the Soviet Union, a process that came too late and ultimately resulted in its dissolution.
So what does this have anything to do with being Jewish in America? Many Jews are descendants of families that lost members in numerous atrocities across millennia, most famously the Holocaust but also including much less organized riots known as pogroms, sympathize with the plights of oppressed people around the world. And in a naturally many of them gravitate toward philosophies that claim to uphold the rights of those people of which socialism and by extension communism are natural examples.
This is a tendency based solely on emotion attachment, not on logic. Had Jewish Americans like Sanders really taken the lessons of history seriously, they would see that embracing any philosophy that concentrates the power and wealth of a society in the hands of a collective body known as “the state” can only lead to more human misery. Sanders’ ancestors lived in Austrian-ruled Poland and Imperial Russia, two semi-feudal backwaters where the poor were forced to fight the wars of the rich. So where did they flee? In his dad’s case it wasn’t to the new proletarian Soviet paradise but to the USA. And there they raised children that achieved more in terms of education and personal success than anyone in their home country could imagine. Sanders’ brother Larry also happens to be a progressive Green Party politician in the UK.
My next question would be, if the United States in the early 20th century was such a capitalist vortex of misery then why hadn’t Sanders’ parents fled back to the familiar environment of Russia?
This is where we get to the real reason why Bernie Sanders’ affinity to socialism displays a coarse disregard for his own people’s experiences under it. Under Lenin and Stalin, Jewish communist intellectuals in the Yevseksia (Jewish Section) of the communist party were dedicated to bringing their impoverished brethren up to date with the classless society. They were so zealous in this regard that they cooperated with the NKVD and other bodies of Soviet repression in ratting out their coreligionists and friends including the 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe R’ Joseph Isaac Schneerson for practicing Judaism or teaching Torah. Eventually many of these same Jews, loyal communists, were butchered during the Great Purge of 1938.
Many Jews credit Stalin’s USSR with saving their lives when they were refugees from German invasion in WWII and for being perhaps the crucial element in the Allied Powers that defeated Hitler. Few are willing to reckon with the fact that the Soviets signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 that allowed Hitler to invade western Poland and murder millions of Jews and Poles. Or how about the Soviet end of the bargain, where they subjugated several nations such as Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, eastern Poland and Ukraine, and Romanian Moldova?
If communism was such a great bulwark against racist Nazism, then what was the necessity of starving much of the Ukrainian population in the 1930s, or of subjugating so many captive peoples both before and after World War II? The answer is that like all state-worshiping mass movements regardless of cosmetic symbols (swastika or hammer-and-sickle is a minor difference), the communists crave control and are jealous of anyone that may challenge their hold over it.
Sanders and others denounce Nazism as a uniquely right-wing hate philosophy, but they get one detail wrong; the Nazis had plenty of right-wing competitors such as the German National Peoples’ Party (DNVP) and the German Peoples Party (DVP). None of them could compete with Hitler’s party, and one of the key reasons was that they lacked the fanatical class hatred of the Nazis. The DVP was a socially conservative, economically liberal party but it lacked the anti-rich message to mobilize an angry electorate during the Great Depression. The DNVPP, virulently anti-Jewish, was also identified too much with the traditional ruling classes.
However Hitler, enabled by a movement based on workers’ rights, class struggle, and sweeping state authority that they lacked achieved the heights of power that none of his right-wing rivals could have ever dreamed of. Certainly there were other causes for this, but the means of seizing power for him sprung for that societal organization. The Nazi platform once in power was one of the first in the world to truly push models of “urban planning” and they gave incentives to families with many Nordic children while forming large state conglomerates that performed public works like Organisation Todt.
To be clear I am not claiming that Sanders or his supporters support Nazism, on the contrary I find them to be generally very involved in their communities that look out for what they see as a need to address issues of poverty and prejudice in the USA. But they are certainly not learning the lessons from Nazism. I am not claiming that they are Soviet renaissance agents, but in many cases these individuals are oblivious to the bloody history of Soviet repression that consumed tens of millions of people.
My grandfather survived WWII by fleeing to Soviet Russia, but in doing so he had to give up his freedom to work as a military slave in a lumber colony. He was fortunate enough to flee after the war but many were not so lucky. Under the Soviets Jews would have their religion directly persecuted, first due to state imposed atheism and then later as a means to attack the problems of “world Zionism”. Like he does today with Iran and Venezuela, Sanders ignored the venomous anti-Jewish propaganda of the Soviet regime and instead chose to engage them directly as the only American mayor of a city with what he called its own foreign policy. Nowadays he talks sparingly about his Jewish identity, but when he does he’s quick to mention the Holocaust. Tellingly however, he neglects how he stood silently and ignored the cries of Soviet Jews to live a free life. Whereas he’s willing to let black nationalists rip microphones from him and he openly associates with fraudulent civil rights activist Linda Sarsour, he never misses an opportunity to condemn Jewish nationalism by appearing at a J Street convention. It’s not surprising, like with all of communism’s other casualties, Sanders would probably use the excuse of inequality to justify these people as laboratory mice for his dream of a socialist utopia.
Bernie’s far worse than the fictional “Uncle Tom” who was a tragic figure trying to be a good man in a terrible situation, whereas Sanders is fighting to ruin a great nation using a failed empire’s discredited. philosophy.