Stalin's anti-Jewish pogrom and the SACP

Paul Trewhela on the crazy, racist secret at the heart of the Party

When the South African Communist Party was conceived and born in secret between 1950 and 1952, it was the most anti-Jewish political party in South Africa, despite having - head for head - the greatest proportion of Jews among its leading members.

"You Jews," the Big Daddy of South Africa's (and all the world's) Communists, Joseph Stalin, told the émigré German Jewish writer, Leon Feuchtwanger, during a six-hour interview in the Kremlin on 8 January 1937, "You Jews have created one eternally true legend - that of Judas." In other words: you are traitors and betrayers, by nature and by history. That is what you are.

In other words: you deserve to be destroyed.

Not Moses, not Jesus, but Judas - this defined Jews as a racial category for Stalin (his adopted Russian name, meaning "steel"), who as a young seminarian Iosip Vissarionovich Djugashvili studied the teachings of the Orthodox Christian Church in his native Georgia

As Feuchtwanger noted in his book Moskau 1937, published the same year in Amsterdam, "When I saw Stalin, the proceedings against the first Trotsky group, Zinoviev and Kamenev, were over; the accused had been condemned and shot, and an action against the second Trotsky group, Pyatakov, Radek, Bukharin and Rykov, was pending" (cited in Karl Schlögel, Moscow, 1937, translated by Rodney Livingstone, Polity Press, London, 2012. pp.83-84).

Radek (shot in 1939), Trotsky (assassinated on Stalin's orders in 1940), Zinoviev and Kamenev (shot in 1936) were all Jews.

This was only the prelude, however, to Stalin's great anti-Jewish pogrom of the last six years of his life, before his death on 5 March 1953 - an event which saved the lives of unknown tens of thousands of people. Stalin's final purge of Jews took place across all countries directly under his command in a period that covered the last two and a half years of active existence of the Communist Party of South Africa (which dissolved itself in June 1950, before it was banned), followed by the two years in which the CPSA recreated itself in secret prior to the "formal founding conference" of the SACP in 1952 with "about twenty-five delegates" at the back of a shop "in a rural part of the Eastern Transvaal", as Rusty Bernstein, one of its leaders, has reported.

Every one of Stalin's murders of Jews was cheered and celebrated by the CPSA-SACP, not least by their Jewish members.

At the same time, every one of the Jewish founding members of the SACP - among them Rusty Bernstein, Joe Slovo, Michael Harmel, Ray Alexander, Eli and Violet Weinberg, Brian Bunting, Hymie and Esther Barsel, Julius and Tilly First (the parents of Ruth First) and Ben Turok (the only one of these still alive) - would almost certainly have been executed themselves by Stalin, because they were Jews, if they had been Communists in Russia or anywhere in Eastern Europe in the period 1948-1953.

That is the crazy, racist secret at the heart of the SACP, which earlier this month published a renewed attack on Israel in the same manner as Stalin. With no equivalent critique of the ongoing slaughter day after day between Muslim and Muslim in Syria, or the Jihadi attack by Al-Shabaab on innocent Kenyans at a shopping mall in Nairobi last September, or the ongoing mass murder of students and church-goers by Boko Haram in Nigeria, or the assistance given by an al-Qaeda cell in South Africa to the "White Widow", Samantha Lewthwaite, to travel in and out of the country under a false passport, the article "Israel's ‘South Africa' moment is here" by the SACP's second deputy general secretary, Solly Mapaila, treads again the path where Stalin led.

The complexities of political reality in the Middle East were of no concern to Mapaila in this article, who acts on behalf of his party on this issue as an auxiliary of genocidal Jihadi Islamism.

By the time of his racist purge of Jews after World War II, Stalin's regime had already sent three South African Jewish Communists to their deaths. It was not a matter the SACP cared to mention. Having travelled to the Soviet Union on CPSA business, the brothers Maurice and Paul Richter were shot in 1938, condemned for having "moved in circles hostile to the Party and the Soviet government" (reported in The Communist International, March-April 1937). A CPSA Central Committee member, Lazar Bach - whom Gillian Slovo, the daughter of Joe Slovo, reports as having been briefly the lover of her grandmother, Tilly First - was sent to the Gulag for taking part in "disruptive factional work" in South Africa. Ruth First's father, Julius First, had driven him to Beira to board ship on his fatal journey. Bach died in the Gulag in 1941.

JB Marks, who like Moses Kotane had studied earlier in the Soviet Union, saved his life when ordered to return to Moscow in Stalin's great killing year of 1937 by refusing to go. Expelled from the CPSA "for gross and criminal negligence" in July 1937, he was later re-admitted, and became the leading organiser of the strike by the African Mine Workers' Union in 1946, at a time when working to death was the rule for Soviet Gulag prisoners in the gold mines at Kolyma in eastern Siberia. Marks was later a harmoniser of tribal differences in the ANC in exile, before dying and being buried in Moscow.

Soviet police mugshots of Bach and the Richters were published in the Communist Party newspaper, Izvestia.

Following on Hitler's Holocaust, Stalin's racist and psychopathic purge of Jews began in January 1948, four months before the founding of the state of Israel, which Stalin initially endorsed at the United Nations as a means of getting British troops out of the Middle East. Polina Zhemchuzhina, the Jewish wife of Stalin's Foreign Commissar, Vyacheslav Molotov - who had himself signed hundreds of death warrants for Stalin - was arrested in January 1949 and exiled to Kazakhstan, her life on a thread, a deadly warning to her husband.

She had attended the state funeral in Moscow of the most famous Jewish actor in the Soviet Union, Solomon Mikhoels, whom Stalin had sent on a theatre tour of Germany and France in 1928, and whom he'd sent - together with the Jewish poet, Itzik Fefer - to the United States in 1943, both as leading members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, in order to raise money and support for the Soviet war effort. "Ikh bin a yidische tokhter" (I am a Jewish daughter), Zhemchuzhina had said in Yiddish to Golda Meir, a member of a diplomatic delegation from Israel. (Zhemchuzhina had been the best friend of Nadezhda Alliluyeva, Stalin's wife, and the last person to see her alive before Alliluyeva commited suicide on 8 November 1932 because of her husband's brutality).

Mikhoels's state funeral was a sham. Stalin had personally ordered him to be killed, carried out by the secret police on12 January 1948 and covered up as a traffic accident.

On 21 September 1948, the most prominent Jewish journalist in the Soviet Union, Ilya Ehrenburg (who praised Stalin in Pravda after his deathwith the words: "Stalin lives!"), published an article in Pravda attacking Israel as a bourgeois state, and asserting that allegations the Soviet Union was "squeezing" its Jews were a malicious slander.

November 1948: the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (which had been set up on Stalin's instruction) is ordered to be disbanded.

24 December 1948: arrest of Itzik Fefer. (Fefer had already withdrawn his poem, "I am a Jew", from an anthology of his work published in 1946).

January 1949: the Soviet press begins an "anti-cosmopolitan" (i.e., anti-Jewish) campaign.

26 January 1949: arrest of Solomon Lozovsky, Old Bolshevik colleague of Lenin, executive secretary of the Soviet Central Council of Trade Unions (1917), general secretary of the Red International of Trade Unions (Profintern, 1921-37), former Soviet deputy Foreign Minister (from 1939), member of the Central Committee of the CPSU (from 1939), deputy chairman of the Soviet Information Bureau during World War II, and head of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (from 1941). Further extensive arrests of members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee were already under way. Four years of torture, interrogation and a secret trial of members of the JAC followed, continuing until after the formation of the SACP. The transcript of the secret trial of 15 Jews associated with the JAC was kept in a closed archive of the KGB, and not published for the world to know until 1994, following the downfall of the Soviet Union.

12 August 1952: "Night of the Murdered Poets", in which Fefer, Lozovsky and 11 other leaders of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee are executed in the Lubyanka. The internationally celebrated painter Marc Chagall, who was born and had worked as a young man in Russia, collaborated as an artist with at least six of them, including Mikhoels and Fefer, but dared not speak out when living in France for fear of what the consequences might be for two of his sisters and their families, living in the Soviet Union.

January 1953: Soviet press alleges a plot by Jewish doctors against the lives of Soviet leaders. Arrests, interrogation and torture of Jewish and non-Jewish doctors follow, as well as the sacking and arrests of remaining Jewish commanders in the secret police. These include Major General Nahum Isaacovich Eitingon (also known as Leonid Eitingon), a security policeman since 1920 responsible for supervising the murder in Mexico of Leon Trotsky and infiltration and theft of the atomic bomb secrets of the United States during and after World War II; arrested, October 1951.

During this period, Stalin told a meeting of the Presdium of the Central Committee on 1 December 1952: "Every Jew - is a nationalist, an agent of American intelligence. Jewish nationalists believe that their nation has been saved by the USA (there you can become rich and bourgeois). ...Among the doctors there were many Jewish nationalists. Unsatisfactory situation in [security police]. Blunt vigilance." (Notes by Presidium member VA Malishev. Cited in Jonathan Brent and Vladimir Naumov, Stalin's Last Crime: The Plot against the Jewish Doctors, 1948-1953, HarperCollins, 2003. n.39, p.359).

This was the period in which "Stalin ordered the arrests of all Jewish colonels and generals in the Ministry of Security," as Lieutenant General Pavel Sudoplatov, who supervised Eitingon in the assassination of Trotsky, reported long after Stalin's death.

Isidor B Maklyarsky, one of those arrested Jewish security officers, reported afterwards - also after Stalin's death - the words of Deputy Minister of State Security Mikhail D Ryumin, the secret police commander whom Stalin had chosen to be responsible for the arrests, interrogation and torture of Jewish and other doctors, and the crafting of a future court case against them. Ryumin, he stated, had "often said that all Jews - it is a spying nation, that he was already finished with Jewish assistants in the MGB [security police] and now he was authorized by the government to uncover all Jewish nationalistic undergrounds in the Soviet Union."

It was Ryumin (executed after Stalin's death by his successors) who made the classic statement of Soviet Communist morality: "The question of whether you are guilty is decided by the fact of your arrest."

In this "insane asylum", as it was later described by Stalin's principal successor, Nikita Khrushchev, "Stalin was crazy with rage, yelling at Ignatiev [Ryumin's predecessor, arrested for not being ruthless enough] and threatening him, demanding that he throw the doctors in chains, beat them to a pulp and grind them into powder. It was no surprise when almost all the doctors confessed to their crimes. ...

"That's how the so-called Doctors' Plot arose.  It was a shameful business."

Ben Turok is the last surviving Jewish member of the SACP who attended the fourth World Youth and Student Festival in Bucharest, in Stalinist Romania, between 2-14 August 1953, five months after the death of Stalin, under whose mailed fist that post-war state was formed. Given that the SACP had held its founding conference the previous year - the same year as the execution of the leaders of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee - it is legitimate to ask him how he feels about his enthusiastic support for such a murderous regime.

"All these years we protected Stalin," a Jewish members of the CPSA and of the SACP said at her dining-room table in the early 1960s, "and in one speech Khrushchev let us down."

Her reference was to Khrushchev's so-called "secret speech", made to the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU on 25 February 1956, in which as Stalin's successor he revealed a range - by no means all - of Stalin's crimes.

Her husband, also a Jewish member of the CPSA and SACP, walked out of the film The Confession, by the director Costa-Gavras, starring Yves Montand and Simone Signoret (1970), describing it as "anti-Soviet." Based on a true account by Artur London of the trial of Rudolf Slánský and 13 other leaders of the Communist government in Czechoslovakia (11 of them Jews), accused of fomenting a Trotskyite-Titoist-Zionist conspiracy and resulting in the public hanging of 11 of them in Prague on 3 December 1952, this was a strange but characteristic response from a man who - had he been a Czech or Slovak - might very well have been hanged himself.

The South African Yiddish scholar, Professor Joseph Sherman, who died in Britain in 2009 after teaching at Oxford, has posthumously had published a more honest response to Stalin's persecution of the Jews, From Revolution to Repression: Soviet Yiddish Writing, 1917-1952(Five Leaves Publications, Nottingham, UK, 2012). That final date, 1952, marks the Night of the Murdered Poets.

In the concluding chapter to their study of the so-called "Jewish doctors' plot", Brent and Naumov acutely identify the tragic paradox in the relation of the oppressed Jews of Tsarist Russia to the revolutions of 1917, which released them from confinement to the Pale and inferior status, much in the same way as the Soviet Union and the SACP assisted the ending of apartheid in South Africa.

"Jews had advanced with extraordinary speed from second-class citizens in Tsarist Russia to the plenipotentiaries of a great world power. Trotsky, Litvinov [Maxim Litvinov, Stalin's Foreign Commissar, 1930-39], Kamenev, Zinoviev, Yagoda [Genrikh Yagoda, appointed by Stalin head of security police,executed 1938], Kaganovich [the only Soviet Jewish leader to die in his bed after Stalin's purge], and Solomon Lozovsky (executed as a member of the Jewish Antifascist Committee in 1952) were only a few of the Jews who rose through the system to the very top and exercised more real power in the Soviet Union than Jews had for nearly two millennia anywhere else in the world. ...

"The Revolution gave Jews the chance to be part of a great culture, with nearly fatal consequences." (p.331)

The Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin analysed the devils' pact with totalitarian power made by many Russian Jews when he wrote in a critique of Marx's theory of the state (1873), that under Communist theory, "freedom is the aim, while state and dictatorship is the means, and so, in order to free the masses of people, they have first to be enslaved!"

The political crisis in South Africa now brought about by the unaccountable power of its elected politicians shows that Bakunin's paradox has lost none of its truth, just as the article by Solly Mapaila shows that the SACP has lost none of Stalin's anti-Jewish zeal.

Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email newsletter