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The Bolshevik Response to Antisemitism in the Russian Revolution

Pears Institute Lunchtime Seminar

Event Information

2nd February, 2016
1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Dreyfus Room, University of Birkbeck, 28 Russell Square, WC1B 5DQ
Dr Brendan McGeever, Pears Institute Research Fellow, Birkbeck, University of London

The Russian Revolution of 1917 was the high point of class struggle in the twentieth century. In the very moment of revolution, however, the Bolsheviks were forced to confront mass outbreaks of antisemitic violence as pogroms raged across the Western and South-Western borderlands. The pogroms posed fundamental questions for Marxist theory and practice, particularly since they revealed the nature and extent of working-class and peasant attachments to antisemitic representations of Jewishness.

Based on extensive fieldwork in Russian and Ukrainian archives, this paper has two aims: first, it offers a broad analysis of the nature of the articulation between antisemitism and the revolutionary process, focusing in particular on the phenomenon of Red Army pogroms; and second, it offers an analysis of Bolshevik attempts to arrest these articulations. The paper argues that the key agent in the Soviet response to antisemitism was not the Bolshevik party leadership, as is often assumed, but a small grouping of non-Bolshevik Jewish socialists who coalesced around the peripheral apparatuses of the Soviet state.

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