Paul Hanebrink’s tremendous book could not be more timely. As he points out, we are in the middle of a “surge in political activity on the far-right in Europe and North America”. At Charlottesville there were neo-Nazis shouting the slogan “The Jews Will Not Replace Us”.
These are dangerous times and we need to know as much about the history and politics of the far-right as we can. Hanebrink’s book is a challenging and important contribution helping to develop that understanding.
Antisemitism has always been more than just another racist prejudice as far as the far-right is concerned. It plays an important strategic role whereby Jewish people are not just the victims of a traditional racist discourse — taking away “our” jobs, causing a housing shortage, looking at “our” women, and so on. Instead, the Jewish people are cast in the role of being the secret rulers of the world, responsible for every wrong. They either already have total control or aspire to it and are intent on the destruction of Christian/white civilisation.
This nonsense manages to combine a belief that the Jews are responsible for capitalism, controlling the banks, the media, indeed big business generally, but also and at the same time for socialism and communism. As well as controlling the world banking system during the First World War, the Jews were behind the Russian Revolution, the failed German Revolution, and the defeated Hungarian Revolution.
Hanebrink’s focus is on the strategic importance of one side of this contradictory but still potent ideological weapon: the myth of Judeo-Bolshevism. It was to cost millions of Jewish people their lives in the 20th century.
He painstakingly traces the development of this myth, the role of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion forgery, and the terrible persecution of Russian Jews during both the First World War and the Russian Civil War. During the World War, perhaps as many as a million Russian Jews were expelled from their homes and herded eastwards for fear that they sympathised with the German invaders. This was followed by the Civil War in which the White Armies and their allies perpetrated over 2,000 pogroms, costing the lives of some 180,000 Jews and leaving another half a million homeless, refugees.
As he shows, this antisemitic plague infected Poland, Hungary, Romania and Germany in particular with even more terrible consequences in the 1930s and early 1940s. The myth did not actually require any significant number of Jewish people. Spain’s 6,000 Jews, for example, could still serve as a scapegoat for the Spanish Civil War.
There is one criticism that can be made of Hanebrink’s discussion, however. It certainly explains the pogromist dimension of the Holocaust, the early phases of the policy of mass murder that were unleashed with the Nazi invasion of Russia in June 1941, and that cost over 2 million lives. What it does not adequately explain, however, is the industrial mass murder that was introduced in the death camps — the attempt to actually exterminate all Jewish people.
He carries his account into the post-1945 period, examining the Stalin regime’s antisemitism, and into the post-1989 world, looking at the successor regimes in Hungary, Poland and elsewhere.
And as he points out, today we have the spectre of “Islamisation” increasingly replacing the Judeo-Bolshevik myth in the thinking of the right, although to be fair many on the far-right see Islamisation as a Jewish plot.
He pointedly refers to the obscene spectacle of President Trump warning a Polish audience, at a commemoration of the Warsaw Uprising no less, of the threat facing the West “from the South or the East”.