Feedback

Book review

by Henrietta Mondry

Russian intellectual antisemitism in the post-Communist era
Vadim Rossman

Published by University of Nebraska Press for the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (SICSA), the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2002
ISBN 9780803239487

Vadim Rossman’s Russian Intellectual Antisemitism in the Post-Communist Era is a long overdue study of the upsurge of intellectual antisemitism in post-Soviet Russia. While various scholars of Russian studies, including the author of the current review, have tried to address this phenomenon as it appears in various spheres of cultural discourse, limiting their research to case studies such as antisemitism in literary criticism (Mondry 1989; 1996; 2002) or in Village Prose writing (Parthe 1992), Vadim Rossman has undertaken a more monumental task. His aim is ‘to examine the nature and meaning of Russian antisemitism in the perestroika and post-perestroika periods’ (p. 1). Rossman devotes his study not so much to everyday manifestations of antisemitism in Russian life, but rather to the articulation of antisemitic ideologies by various writers. His discussion centres around various types of antisemitic discourse and their functions in contemporary society.

The Introduction explains Rossman’s approach and method of analysis, and the remaining seven chapters are devoted to particular themes. Each chapter provides historical background to the theme under analysis, thus stressing the continuity in the cultural tradition of Russian intellectual antisemitism.

Chapter 1 compares the approach to the ‘Jewish Question’ taken by various early twentieth-century Eurasianists with the contemporary take on the Jews in the works of the Neo-Eurasianists. This historical overview in which Rossman identifies major trends in Eurasianist thinking on the Jews allows Rossman to delve, in Chapter 2, into a case study of Lev Gumilev’s brand of Eurasianism, with its strong antisemitic underpinning. Rossman shows that Gumilev’s theory of ‘ethnogenesis’, which contains the view that Slavic and Semitic ethnicities are incompatible, forms a strong base for Russian nationalism today. Gumilev’s fantasies on the mercantile nature of the Judeo-Khazarian’s kingdom versus Kievan Rus and on the lack of ‘complementarity’ between Slavic and Jewish ethnicities are some of the most influential but historically faulty myths that have been used to justify anti-Jewish animosities in Russian history. There is, however, an ironic twist in the reception of Gumilev’s writing by some nationalists: Apollon Kuzmin Gumilev exaggerated the level of technical development of Khazaria and thus contributed to Zionist claims of the superiority of the Jewish people.

In Chapter 3 Rossman explores the National Bolshevist brand of antisemitism that places great weight on the Jewish economic conspiracy and seeks to defeat the capitalist Jew. George Soros is viewed as an emblematic subversive Jewish figure who, allegedly, played a destructive role in Russian society by serving as an unofficial advisor to Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin and, in the words of Oleg Platonov, the author of numerous works on the Masons, financing the ‘anti-Russian activities’ (110) of the perestroika leaders. The anti-Zionist rhetoric of the National Bolsheviks had changed little since the old Soviet anti-Zionist battles. The paradox of the National Bolsheviks’ anti-Jewish stance today is that it betrays the internationalist principles of communist ideology.

Chapter 4 deals with the Neo-Slavophiles’ preoccupation with the threat to the ‘Soul of Russia’ (p. 143) posed by what is dubbed a Jewish idea (p. 143). Rossman shows that many of the former leaders of the nationalist wing of the dissident movement in the USSR contributed to the ideology of neo-Slavophilism, including Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Igor Shafarevich. Neo-Slavophile antisemitism focuses on the themes of the predominantly Jewish membership of the Russian communist movement; Jews being the driving force behind modernisation and capitalism which in turn destroyed Russian peasant communities and with it the Russian national spirit; Judaic moral principles that reveal a link between the cruelty of capitalism and the Old Testament, which for neo-Slavophiles is a cultural rather than religious document; Jews dominating Russian culture after the revolution and contaminating its form and content; and literature being the final stronghold of the authentic Russian spirit. The most contemporary representative of neo-Slavophile antisemitism, Georgii Gachev, introduces a gender edge into his theorisings about Russians and the Jews, and for him Jewish violence stands for the male principle of the Father from the Old Testament, while he views the Russian cultural archetype as feminine and non-aggressive. This gender/race construct is a complete reversal of the gender/race construct of the neo-Eurasians, for whom Jews represent an abominable feminine element as opposed to Aryan masculinity.

Chapter 5 is devoted to the re-emergence of religious antisemitism with the eruption of interest in the doctrines and practices of the Russian Orthodox Church from the late 1980s. Rossman shows that religious anti-Jewish arguments figure prominently in the agenda of many nationalist Orthodox ideologies. There are opposing views on the position of the Orthodox Church vis-à-vis the Jews in the post-communist era: one side is represented by Sergei Lezov, a historian of Christianity and a believer, and the other view is expressed by Vladimir Borozenko and Zoya Krakhmal’nikova. Lezov has argued that the Orthodox Church is more hostile to Jews than Protestant Churches or the Catholic Church, and has pointed out that Orthodox theology has not perceived the Holocaust as a religious event that challenges the faith of all Christians. Borozenko and Krakhmal’nikova, on the other hand, maintain that the position of the Orthodox Church is incompatible with antisemitism, while the sociological studies of Gudkov and Levenson found that there is a correlation between Orthodox religious affiliation and the expression of antisemitic position.

Chapter 6 is devoted to the racist antisemitism among the numerous fascist groups, such as Alexandr Barkashov’s Russian National Unity, the Russian Party, the National-Socialist Union, the National Republican Party of Russia, among some twelve parties who have their centres in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Volgograd, Novosibirsk and Irkutsk. The ideologists of race can be differentiated from other nationalists by their obsession with Jewish matters; they are proud to admit their strong commitment to historical fascism, and they openly admire Hitler and other members of the German Nazi party. Rossman uses a number of periodicals published both in the capitals and in the provincial towns as his primary source for the study of various racist forms of antisemitism. His study of newspapers and pamphlets is particularly gratifying since it allows the reader an access to the primary sources which are extremely difficult for scholars in the West to obtain.

The concluding chapter reminds the reader that all five trends identified in the book (geopolitical, religious, social, racial, cultural) correlate to the lost sense of identity among the citizens of the post-Soviet states. The obsession with Jewish matters masks concerns about the loss of communal identity, with the Jew serving the role of the enemy against whom various groups of intellectual antisemitism can achieve self-definition.

This book, based on the study of numerous primary sources, is the most comprehensive up to date study of the discursive practices of antisemitism in Russia in the last fifteen years. Based on a thorough knowledge of Russian intellectual thought, this book presents a most exciting and stimulating study of the continuity and mutability of antisemitic ideologies in a particular culture.