STALIN (Dzhugashvili), JOSEPH VISSARIONOVICH°


STALIN (Dzhugashvili), JOSEPH VISSARIONOVICH° (1879–1953), Bolshevik revolutionary, ruler of the Soviet Union, and leader of world *Communism. Through his entire career, Stalin had to deal with the "Jewish question," and as the autocratic ruler of the Soviet Union his policy had a profound influence on the fate of the Jewish people. At the early stages of the factional strife in the Russian Social Democratic Party, during which Stalin unreservedly joined *Lenin and the Bolsheviks, he became involved in the Jewish problem through their bitter dispute with the *Bund. In 1913, with Lenin's approval, he published an essay titled "Social Democracy and the National Question" (later renamed "Marxism and the National Question"), in which the Jews figured prominently as the subject of a theoretical analysis of ethnicity and nationhood. In this essay Stalin denied the existence of one national Jewish entity throughout the world, stressing the differences between the Jewish communities in East and West. He conceded that certain ethnic characteristics exist in each Jewish community separately, but denied the Jews any national status and adhered to Lenin's concept of the unavoidable progressive assimilation and disappearance of the Jews under advanced capitalism (e.g., in Western Europe and in America) and certainly under Socialism.

In contrast to this view, Stalin, as commissar of nationalities in the first Soviet government (1917–23), was responsible for the policy of fostering Yiddish cultural and educational activity, Jewish administrative institutions, and agricultural settlement, and it was he who gave the formal permit to the young Hebrew theater *Habimah in Moscow. In his controversy and blood feud with L. *Trotsky, G. Zinovyev, L. *Kamenev, K. *Radek, and other members of Lenin's old guard, hardly any anti-Jewish allusions were discernible. He did not refrain, however, from accusing his prominent Jewish victims of being agents of the Nazis and the *Gestapo. Although there were Jews among the executors of the bloody purges, the upheaval of the party and government structure caused by these purges resulted in a reduction of Jewish personnel in many branches of the bureaucracy.

At the same time a marked change occurred in Stalin's policy toward Jewish cultural activity and to the evolution of Jewish settlement and territorial autonomy, which had culminated in the *Birobidzhan project. Stalin's trend, con-current with the great purges, was to liquidate the Yiddish school system, Yiddish publications, research institutes, theaters, etc., so that at the end of the 1930s only token vestiges of them remained (as, e.g., the State Jewish Theater in Moscow). During his rapprochement with Nazi Germany (1939–41) he suppressed in the Soviet press and radio all mention of Nazi antisemitism and anti-Jewish atrocities, but himself refrained from using anti-Jewish allusions while attacking the Western "imperialist" powers. He extradited to the Nazi regime German communists who had fled to the Soviet Union, many of them Jews. The German attack on the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941) and his adherence to the anti-Nazi alliance induced Stalin to establish the Jewish *Anti-Fascist Committee, which, for the enlistment of Western Jewish support for the Soviet war effort, was allowed to exploit the sentiments of world Jewish solidarity and "brotherhood" and even use Jewish historical and nationalist rhetoric, in full contradiction to his original ideological concept of Jewish identity. Immediately after the war, when he was presented with a plan to allow returning Jewish evacuees to settle in the Crimea, Stalin opposed it on the grounds that in the event of war a "Jewish Crimea" would constitute a security risk for the Soviet Union.

An exceptional episode in Stalin's attitude to Jewish nationhood was his resolute and energetic support in 1947–48 for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, a policy clearly directed against Britain's position in the Middle East and largely reversed during the explicitly antisemitic (and "anti-Zionist") stance of his last years (1948–53), which coincided with the Cold War. An ominous prelude to these "black years" was the camouflaged assassination of the de facto head of Soviet Jewry Solomon *Mikhoels, the chairman of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, on Jan. 13, 1948, a crime to which Stalin was at least a passive accomplice.

From the end of 1948 until his death, Stalin displayed an extremely hostile attitude toward everything Jewish (mostly labeled "Zionist"). He embarked on a course of complete liquidation of the last Jewish institutions and personalities who engaged in Yiddish literature and culture. The Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee and the publishing house Der Emes were closed down. Mass arrests of leading Jewish writers and artists followed. Jewish intellectuals and professionals active in various fields were also arrested. Among the arrested was Molotov's Jewish wife, whom Stalin believed to be sent by Zionists to spy on her husband. These purges were accompanied by a vituperous campaign of the Soviet press against Western-oriented *"Cosmopolitans" in which Jews were the obvious target. In mid-1952 a closed trial was held against members of the Anti-Fascist Committee and other leading personalities in Jewish cultural life, 26 of whom were secretly executed on August 12 of that year. They were accused of Jewish nationalism, of having maintained contact with Western espionage, and of having planned to detach the Crimea from the Soviet Union. Jews were assigned a prominent role in the Slánský *Trials, staged in Czechoslovakia on Stalin's orders, and based mainly on an alleged link between Jews, Zionism, and U.S. espionage. This trial indicated Stalin's intentions to use antisemitism not only in the Soviet Union, but also in the satellite countries of Eastern Europe. The *"Doctors' Plot," staged under Stalin's supervision in 1952 and published on January 13, 1953, represented his fears and suspicions of the Jews. It is generally believed that Stalin's death on March 5 of that year prevented a major disaster to Soviet Jews.

Personal Anti-Jewish Bias

Stalin's ruthlessness and secretive nature make it impossible to prove conclusively when and to what extent a personal anti-Jewish bias played its role in his policy toward individual Jews and the Jewish people. Jews were known to him from his childhood and adolescence, since both Georgian towns – Gori, his birthplace, and the capital Tbilisi, where he received his Greek-Orthodox education – had a sizable Jewish population. A jest to which he referred in an article in 1907, in which the Bolsheviks' rivals, the Mensheviks, were portrayed as a "Jewish" faction of the Social-Democratic Party, and the humorous allusion made to the fact that it would not have been a bad idea if the Bolsheviks staged an intraparty "pogrom" seemed to indicate a certain train of thought. On the other hand, on Jan. 12, 1931, in an interview with a representative of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Stalin made one of the sharpest statements ever made against antisemitism, describing it as "the most dangerous vestige of cannibalism," and in 1936 he allowed this statement to be published in the Soviet Union (Pravda, Nov. 30). However, there is a series of indications of a personal anti-Jewish bias, as, e. g., a remark made to General Sikorski, the head of the Polish government in exile, in 1941 ("the Jews are rotten soldiers"), and various hints and remarks he uttered in 1948 to the Yugoslav Communist Milovan Djilas, or, in his family life, his disapproval of his son Yakov's marriage to a Jewess, his highly emotional irritation over his daughter's romance with the Jewish film director Kapler (having him arrested and sent to a labor camp) and avoiding meeting his Jewish son-in-law. The enthusiastic response of Soviet Jews to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 seemed to have reinforced his antagonism. He said to his daughter, Svetlana, that the entire older generation of Soviet Jews was contaminated with Zionism and that they were teaching it to their young people. Thus it seems evident that, while consciously exploiting deep-rooted anti-Jewish suspicions of the populace for his political ends – through the anti-"Cosmopolitan" campaign, the Slánský Trials, and the Doctors' Plot, which highlighted his nationalist, anti-Western Cold War policy – Stalin himself became more and more paranoid and disturbed in his attitude to Jews and the Jewish people.

See also *Antisemitism: In the Soviet Bloc.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

I. Deutscher, Stalin: A Political Biography (1949, 19633); S.M. Schwarz, The Jews in the Soviet Union (1951); idem, Yevrei v Sovetskom Soyuze, 2 (19664); M. Djilas, Talks with Stalin (1962); S. Allilueva, Twenty Letters to a Friend (1967); idem, Only One Year (1969).

[Shimon Redlich]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.