The Radical Jewish Tradition—revolutionaries, resistance fighters and firebrands by Donny Gluckstein and Janey Stone is published at a critical juncture.
It comes as millions react in horror and rage at Israel’s genocide in Gaza.
It has rarely been more important to restate the Jewish radical alternative to Zionism and reject a conflation between Jewish identity and Israel.
The Jewish radical tradition has been largely written out of the record both by establishment historians and by Zionists determined to expunge the role of Jewish anti-Zionists.
Gluckstein and Stone bring together great threads of the radical Jewish tradition from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, up to the Holocaust.
They have provided an invaluable resource for socialists and anti-imperialists today.
The book dispels the narrative of Jewish history as one of “eternal victims”, used by Western governments and Zionists to justify support for Israel.
The authors root the rise of modern antisemitism in the development of capitalism, not as simply the latest episode of ‘the longest hatred”.
This is important because, as the authors show, for the Jewish radicals, the fight against antisemitism was inseparable from the fight for socialism.
The authors note how Jews sought to embrace equality and assimilation into wider society during the nineteenth century.
Legal restrictions on Jews were dismantled but they found themselves facing rising “racial” antisemitism and violence born of a capitalist system wracked by crises and state rivalry. In response, a radical tradition sought to wage a common struggle with non-Jews against a capitalist order.
But those promoting a Zionist ideology sought an accommodation with capitalism, and a place in the world imperialist order on the basis of Jews as a “nation”.
The book highlights the pre-First World War and inter‑war Jewish experience, spanning Russia, Poland, New York to London’s East End, where Jews were highly prominent in all the major revolutionary currents.
During the Russian Revolution of 1905, Leon Trotsky, a Jew, was elected president of the Petrograd workers’ council—and 11 of its 35 executive members were Jewish.
In London’s East End and in New York, radical Jewish movements mobilised through working class struggles.
They were also in solidarity with the victims of the pogroms in Tsarist Russia and against the rising fascist movement of the interwar years.
In New York, Jews also organised with black people against racism.
This was often in the face of opposition from leaders of the Jewish establishment and reformist leaderships.
An important chapter deals with Poland and particularly the anti-Zionist Jewish Labour Bund, which organised workers’ struggles and mobilised militias to defend Jewish people.
Another section addresses the heroic resistance of Jewish fighters in the ghettos and concentration camps of Europe during the Holocaust.
Today, Zionist historians emphasise collaboration on the part of non-Jewish populations in Europe, such as Poland, and participation in the Holocaust.
On the other hand, right wing regimes in Poland, Hungary and elsewhere seek to erase the historical record of complicity.
New forces are now emerging, fighting towards the renewal of a radical, anti-Zionist politics.
They seek common cause with Muslims, Palestinians and non-Jews against Islamophobia, antisemitism, settler colonialism and imperialism.
This is evident amongst a layer of young Jewish radicals in the United States and on a lesser scale, in a growing Jewish bloc on London’s pro-Palestine demonstrations.
The Radical Jewish Tradition offers an important contribution to the debates taking place in these movements.
Crucially, this book provides a much-needed counter to the Zionist narratives peddled unremittingly by warmongers and the media. Donny Gluckstein and Janey Stone signpost a tradition of which our movement can be proud and from which we have so much to learn.
The Radical Jewish Tradition: by Donny Gluckstein and Janey Stone, £12 plus postage. Available from bookmarksbookshop.co.uk or phone 020 7637 1848Original post