- Jewish left
The term "Jewish left" describes
Jews who identify with or support left wing, occasionally liberal causes, consciously as Jews, either as individuals or through organizations. There is no one organization or movement which constitutes the "Jewish left," however. Jews have been major forces in the history of the labor movement, the Settlement housemovement, the women's rightsmovement, anti-racistwork, and anti-fascistorganizing of many forms.
Realizing that the expression "on the left" covers a range of politics, it is worth noting that many well-known figures "on the left" have been Jews, for instance,
Murray Bookchin, Noam Chomsky, Eric Hobsbawm, Karl Marx, Harold Pinter, and Howard Zinn, who were born into Jewish families and have various degrees of connection to Jewish communities, Jewish culture, Jewish tradition or the Jewish religion in its many variants. It also includes such people as rabbis Michael Lerner and Arthur Waskow, both in their own way religiously devout and culturally identified Jews. It includes as well many secular, cosmopolitan people who nonetheless remain connected to Jewish culture, such as Rosa Luxemburg, Emma Goldman, Rose Schneiderman, Muriel Rukeyserand Susan Sontag. Views regarding Zionismamong those either identified or self-identified as being among the Jewish left can be quite varied, and are often independent of their other political and social views.
While there is a slight increase of Jews "on the left" connecting their politics to their
spirituality, this is a somewhat new phenomenon, when contrasted with the long history of secular socialistand communistJewish activist history (e.g., " The Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring") as well as anarchist-Jewish activism which was not only explicitly secular but had from time to time denounced religion. From the late 1880s through the mid-1950s, there was a range of Jewish left newspapers (and other publications) in Yiddish that covered the spectrum of Jewish left-wing political and cultural expression in Eastern and Central Europe, as well as both North and South America, and in Mandatory Palestine's Yishuv, as well as the early years of the State of Israel.
Jewish religious values and social justice
A range of left-wing values vis-à-vis
social justicecan be traced to Jewish religious texts, including the Tanakhand later texts, which include a strong endorsement of hospitality to "the stranger" and the principle of redistribution of wealth in the Biblical idea of Jubilee — as well as a tradition of challenging authority, as exemplified by the Biblical Prophets.
In the twentieth century, Jewish theologians — notably
Abraham Joshua Heschel, Arthur Waskowand Mordecai Kaplan, more recently Michael Lerner and Daniel Boyarin— have emphasised these social justice aspects of the religion.
Anarchism and Orthodox Judaism"
Enlightenment and Emancipation
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a movement for
Jewish Emancipationspread across Europe, strongly associated with the emergence of political liberalism, based on the Enlightenment principles of rightsand equality under the law. Because liberals represented the political left of the time (see left-right politics), emancipated Jews, as they entered the political culture of the nations where they lived, became closely associated with liberal parties. Thus, many Jews supported the American Revolutionof 1776, the French Revolutionof 1789, and the European Revolutions of 1848; while Jews in England tended to vote for the Liberal Party, which had led the parliamentary struggle for Jewish Emancipation — an arrangement called by some scholars “the liberal Jewish compromise”.Fact|date=May 2007
The emergence of a Jewish working class
In the age of
industrialisationin the late nineteenth century, a Jewish working classemerged in the cities of Eastern and Central Europe. Before long, a Jewish labour movementemerged too. The Jewish Labour Bund – General Jewish Labor Union– was formed in Vilnain Lithuaniain 1897. Distinctive Jewish Anarchistand socialistorganisations formed and spread across the Jewish Pale of Settlementin the Russian Empire. There were also a significant number of people of Jewish origin who did not explicitly identify as Jews per se but were active in anarchist, socialist and social democratic as well as communist organizations, movements and parties.
Zionismgrew in strength as a political movement, socialist Zionistparties were formed, such as Ber Borochov’s Poale Zion.
There were non-Zionist left-wing forms of
Jewish nationalism, such as territorialism(which called for a Jewish national homeland, but not necessarily in Palestine), autonomism (which called for non-territorial national rights for Jews in multinational empires) and the folkism, advocated by Simon Dubnow, (which celebrated the Jewish culture of the Yiddish-speaking masses).
As Eastern European Jews migrated West from the 1880s, these ideologies took root in growing Jewish communities, such as
London’s East End, Paris's Pletzl, New York’s Lower East Sideand Buenos Aires. There was a lively Jewish anarchist scene in London, a central figure of which was, perhaps ironically, the non-Jewish German thinker and writer Rudolf Rocker. The important Jewish socialist movement in the United States, with its Yiddish-language daily, " The Forward", and trade unions such as the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Unionand the Amalgamated Clothing Workers. Important figures in these milieux included Rose Schneiderman, Abraham Cahan, Morris Winchevskyand David Dubinsky.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Jews played a major role in the
Social Democraticparties of Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary and Poland. Historian Enzo Traversohas used the term "Judeo-Marxism" to describe the innovative forms of Marxismassociated with these Jewish socialists. These ranged from strongly cosmopolitan positions hostile to all forms of nationalism(as with Rosa Luxemburgand, to a lesser extent, Leon Trotsky) to positions more sympathetic to cultural nationalism (as with the Austromarxistsor Vladimir Medem). Again, it is probable that most of these figures would not have considered themselves to be part of an explicitly "Jewish" left, but the significant number of Jews active in diverse movements and parties "on the left" is relevant.
talinism and fascism
As with the American revolution of 1776, the French revolution of 1789 and the German revolution of 1848, many Jews worldwide welcomed the
Russian revolution of 1917, celebrating the fall of a regime that had presided over antisemitic pogroms, and believing that the new order in what was to become the Soviet Union would bring improvements in the situation of Jews in those lands. Many Jews became involved in Communist parties, constituting large proportions of their membership in many countries, including the Great Britain and the U.S. There were specifically Jewish sections of many Communist parties, such as the Yevsektsiyain the Soviet Union. The Communist regime in the USSR pursued what could be characterised as ambivalent policies towards Jews and Jewish culture, at times supporting their development as a national culture (e.g., sponsoring significant Yiddish language scholarship and creating an autonomous Jewish territory in Birobidzhan), at times pursuing antisemitic purges (e.g., the so-called Doctors' Plot) and its aftermath, as well as the so-called Doctors' plot. (See also Komzet.)
With the advent of
fascismin parts of Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, many Jews responded by becoming actively involved in the left, and particularly the Communist parties, which were at the forefront of the anti-fascistmovement. For example, many Jewish volunteers fought in the International Brigadesin the Spanish Civil War(for instance in the American Abraham Lincoln Brigadeand in the Polish-Jewish Naftali Botwin Company). Jews and leftists fought Oswald Mosely's British fascists at the Battle of Cable Street. This mass movement was influenced by the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committeein the Soviet Union.
World War II, the Jewish left played a major part in resistance to Nazism. For example, Bundists and left Zionists were key in Żydowska Organizacja Bojowaand the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
Radical Jews in Central and Western Europe
As well as the movements rooted in the Jewish working class, relatively assimilated
middle classJews in Central and Western Europe began to search for sources of radicalism in Jewish tradition. For example, Martin Buberdrew on Hassidismin articulating his anarchist philosophy, Gershom Scholemwas an anarchist and a kabbalahscholar, Walter Benjaminwas equally influenced by Marxismand Jewish messianism, Gustav Landauerwas a religious Jew and a libertarian communist, Jacob Israël de Haancombined socialism with HarediJudaism, while left-libertarian Bernard Lazare(after a youthful flirtation with antisemitism) became a passionately Jewish Zionist. In Weimar Germany, Walther Rathenauwas a leading figure of the Jewish left.
ocialist Zionism and the Israeli left
In the twentieth century, especially after the
Second Aliyah, socialist Zionism - first developed in Russia by the Marxist Ber Borochov and the non-Marxists Nachman Syrkinand A. D. Gordon- became a powerful force in the Yishuv, the Jewish settlement in Palestine. Poale Zion, the Histadrutlabour union and the Mapaiparty played a major part in the campaign for an Israeli state, with socialist politicians like David Ben-Gurionand Golda Meiramongst the founders of the nation. At the same time, the kibbutzmovement was an experiment in practical socialism.
In the 1940s, many on the left advocated a
binational statein Israel/Palestine, rather than an exclusively Jewish state. (This position was taken by Hannah Arendtand Martin Buber, for example). Since independence in 1948, there has been a lively Israeli left, both Zionist (the Labour Party, Meretz) and anti-Zionist( Palestine Communist Party, Maki). The Labour Party and its predecessors have been in power in Israel for significant periods since 1948.
There are two worldwide groupings of left-wing Zionist organizations. The
World Labour Zionist Movement, associated with the Labor Zionist tendency, is a loose association of the Israeli Labour Party (Avoda), the Habonim DrorLabor Zionist youth movement, the TAKAMkibbutz federation, the Histadrutand the Na'amat. The World Union of Meretz, associated with what was historically known as the Socialist Zionist tendency, is a loose association of the Israeli Meretz party, the Hashomer HatzairSocialist Zionist youth movement, the Kibbutz Artzi Federation and the Givat Havivaresearch and study center. Both movements exist as factions within the World Zionist Organization, as well as regional or country-specific Zionist movements; the two roughly correspond to the interwar split between the Poale Zion Right (the tradition that led to Avoda) and the Poale Zion Left (Hashomer Hatzair, Mapam, Meretz).
Contemporary Jewish left
As the Jewish working class died out in the years after the
Second World War, its institutions and political movements did too. The Arbeter Ringin England, for example, came to an end in the 1950s and Jewish trade unionism in the US ceased to be a major force at that time. There are, however, still some survivals of the Jewish working class left today, including the Jewish Labor Committeeand "Forward" newspaper in New York, the Bund in Melbourne, Australia, or Labour Friends of Israelin the UK.
Meanwhile, the 1960s-1980s saw a resurgence in interest in cultural heritage and ethnic identity, prompting a renewal of interest among assimilated Jews in the West in Jewish working class culture and the various radical traditions of the Jewish past. This led to a growth in a new sort of radical Jewish organisations, interested in Yiddish culture, Jewish spirituality and social justice. For example, in the decade of 1980–1992 one organization,
New Jewish Agenda, functioned as a national, multi-issue progressive membership organization with the mission of acting as a "Jewish voice on the Left and a Left voice in the Jewish Community." The Jewish Socialists' Groupin Britain and Rabbi Michael Lerner's Tikkun have continued this tradition, while more recently groups like Jewdasand Heeb Magazinehave taken an even more eclectic and radical approach to Jewishness.
In the U.S. in the last decade, the Jewish vote has gone to Democrats by 76-80% [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/US-Israel/jewvote.html] in each election, leading to the reasonable conclusion that the majority of American Jews remain in at least some way more supportive of the liberal to left side of the political spectrum vs. the conservative to right side of the spectrum.
Because of the emotional connection many Jews have for Israel, the issue has generated strong passions among left-wing Jews. There is a significant Jewish presence in the disparate political movement known variously as "
liberal hawks", the pro-war leftor the " Decent Left", which is strongly committed to liberal or leftist social policy, while supporting a liberal interventionist, hawkishor pro-Israel foreign policy. (Examples include Joe Lieberman, Christopher Hitchens, many of the contributors to "Dissent" magazine and many of the signatories of the Euston Manifesto.) At the same time, there is a significant Jewish presence in the anti-Zionist movement, including Norman Finkelstein, Noam Chomskyand key UK advocates of an academic boycott of Israel like Stephen and Hilary Rose.Fact|date=October 2007
Contemporary Israeli left
Operating in a parliamentary governmental system based on
proportional representation, left-wing political parties and blocs in Israel have been able to elect members of the Knessetwith varying degrees of success. Over time those parties have evolved, with some merging, others disappearing, and new parties arising.
Israeli left-wing parties have included:
Notable figures in these parties have included:
Shulamit Aloni, Uri Avnery, Yossi Beilin, Ran Cohen, Matti Peled, Amnon Rubinstein, and Yossi Sarid.
History of the Jews in Russia and the Soviet Union
Anti-globalization and antisemitism
Jewish political movements
Jewish Communist Party (Poalei Zion)
Independent Australian Jewish Voices
Independent Jewish Voices
Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism"
Contributions to liberal theory
List of Jewish American activists
List of Jewish feminists
* [http://www.marxists.org/subject/jewish/index.htm Jews and the workers' movement (Marxist Internet Archive)]
* [http://www.marxists.org/history/usa/eam/lf/lfedjewish.html Yiddish language sections of American socialist parties (Marxist Internet Archive)]
* [http://www.left-wing.net/ Jewish Left-Wing Community]
* [http://www.sp-usa.org/commissions/index.html Socialism and Faith Commission of the Socialist Party USA]
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