CURTIS LYONS: Hello, everyone. I'm Curtis Lyons, the Harriet Morel Oxman Director of Cornell's Catherwood Library. And I would like to welcome all of you on behalf of Cornell's ILR School and Cornell University libraries. Catherwood's Kheel Center for Labor Management Documentation and Archives is proud to be a part of the Di Linke conference exploring the history and impact of the Jewish People's Fraternal Order and is especially honored to house the IWO JPFO Archives, a large selection of which have been digitized and are available online for all researchers.
I look forward to hearing from the wonderful array of presenters and panelists that have been assembled to bring their research to us over the next week. I also want to personally thank Jonathan and Elissa for their hard work and, above all, their perseverance in bringing this conference to fruition in such difficult times. Thank you all for joining us. And now I give you over to Jonathan.
JONATHAN BOYARIN: Hello. I'm Jonathan Boyarin. I teach in the Department of Anthropology and Near Eastern Studies and in the Jewish Studies Program at Cornell. And I want to welcome everybody, especially our panelists, on behalf of Cornell University's Jewish Studies Program, to this conference organized under the auspices of the Jewish Studies Working Group of the Central New York Humanities Corridor and especially in collaboration with Syracuse University's Jewish Studies Program.
We warmly thank our sponsors, most especially the Central New York Humanities Corridor, Cornell Center for Social Sciences, the Kheel Center's Catherwood Library, and the Society for the Humanities at Cornell. Other academic departments and programs at Cornell cosponsoring include History, Anthropology, Near Eastern Studies, Government, and American Studies. And additional co-sponsors are the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and New York University's Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. And with that, over to Harvey Teres, Dean's Professor of the Public Humanities at Syracuse.
HARVEY TERES: Thank you, Jonathan. And a warm welcome to all of you. This webinar series will explore the Jewish People's Fraternal Order, the JPFO, the largest of the many ethnic sections of the International Workers Order, or the IWO, a fraternal order started by the Communist Party in 1930 and supportive of the Soviet Union. The order provided low cost unemployment, health, and life insurance to immigrant workers and their families, as well as medical and dental clinics and a range of cultural activities, including summer camps, music and theater groups, and numerous publications. Membership in the IWW reached nearly 200,000, with over 19,000 branches in the late '40s and early '50s.
Most of the material concerning the IWO JPFO was, in effect, confiscated by the New York state during the McCarthy period and given to Cornell University in 1961. And this material is available in the Cornell Archives at Catherwood and the links are provided to you on chat. The conference is not necessarily about the broader Yiddish-speaking Jewish Left in the United States across the spectrum of many ideologies. But relevancies certainly do exist.
Today's panel, entitled "American Communism, The Jewish Left and Unity," will be chaired by Randi Storch, who is Chair and Professor of History at SUNY-Cortland, where she teaches courses on US History. Professor Storch is the author of Red Chicago, American Communism At Its Grass Roots, 1928 to 1935 and Working Hard For The American Dream, Workers and Their Unions From World War I To The Present. She's currently working on a history of Rabbi Stephen Wise and his attempts to broaden American democracy in the first half of the 20th century.
Finally, just a brief word about the panel. After the panelists and the respondents speak, there will be a panelist Q&A before the Q&A is open to everyone. But we'll start today with rare footage of a movie made by the IWO JPFO in 1949, at a point when they were on the Attorney General's Red List as part of a cold war.
And here, I'll turn it over to Elissa Sampson, who will explain more about the conference, the dates, sessions, and format. Elissa is visiting scholar in Cornell's Jewish Studies Program. She is an urban geographer who studies how the past is actively used to create new spaces of migration, memory, heritage, and activism. Elissa?
ELISSA SAMPSON: Sholem Aleichem. Good day. And I think starting this conference off with a little bit of Yiddish might help all of us maintain a sense of humor and equilibrium, things that are in real need today. So the first one is zitsfleysh which is the ability to sit still. And that is an older word in Yiddish.
And we sort of know that it's hard to sit still with Zoom conferences for more than two hours. Hence, the sessions are two hours maximum. And there's a series of sessions.
But there's also a newer word in Yiddish, which is called oysgezoomt, meaning Zoomed out, too much Zooming. It's a problem. And so we've also broken it up into sessions on a series of days.
So today, as you heard from Harvey, we'll be looking at the relationship to the broader Left and, particularly, to the Communist Party. On Monday, we'll be looking at the JPFO and the IWO in terms of a fraternal society and its intersections with both Black life, with feminism, with insurance, mutual aid, and immigrant acculturation. And that will be from 3:00 to 5:00 PM.
On Tuesday, again at 3:00 to 5:00 PM, we have a real special treat, which is you get a virtual tour of the Archives at Catherwood, and you get to see some of the actual materiality of this collection, including books and manuscripts. And then you get to the Rare Library at Cornell, the Rare Book Library and the one at Syracuse, to see their collections. So that'll be from Tuesday from 3:00 to 5:00. And we'll be with librarians and archivists.
On Wednesday, you get to hear the whole international picture. Pity we're not going to be playing the Marseillaise, but you get to hear the Internationale. And you'll be hearing from speakers describing a larger Yiddish speaking movement that was in Europe, Latin America, and North America and, of course, the Soviet Union.
Thursday, you get to hear about "Kultur Arbet," or "Cultural Work, Creativity and Repression." And you'll have people speaking about some of the Yiddish arts that the JPFO was involved in, or people in their circles who are fellow travelers. And then, on Monday the 14th-- since we're so ambitious here we're doing more than one week-- our ending session will start, really, with a sort of keynote by Ben Katchor, a famous artist and author and academic. Paul, who's on this panel, Paul Buhle will be speaking.
And we will be seeing something of the art of resistance, children's art from this movement. Additionally, we will be hearing some memories and reflections from people who were actually involved with the Jewish People's Fraternal Order. So thank you very much, and back to you. Matt, time for the movie, I think, film footage. Even if it's not Hollywood, it is certainly worth looking at.
- My name is Albert Kahn. I am, and I say this with no small amount of pride, president of the Jewish People's Fraternal Order. This film is about the International Workers Order. The Jewish people's Fraternal Order is an important part of the IWO.
In the year 1930, a small group of far-sighted men and women founded the IWO. They felt the urgent need for creating a new type of progressive fraternal organization. They built such an organization. In this film, you will see how the IWO has contributed to every cause which advances the best interests and the democratic traditions of the American people.
We who are Jewish, perhaps more than any other people understand the true meaning of fascism. For us, democracy is a matter of life or death. Six million of our brothers and sisters died at the hands of the Nazis. In the modern world, wherever reaction grows, there fascism rises.
Today, in our own land, the ominous rumblings of anti-Semitism are becoming louder on every side. There are, in the United States today, forces ready to plunge our country into a catastrophic third World War. And to crush the forces of peace, they seek to shackle the American people with the chains of prejudice, bigotry, and fear. The International Workers Order works to achieve security and equality for all peoples.
It fights against those who attack labor and civil liberties, who spread racism, and who seek war. We in the IWO want peace. And we intend to see that the peace is kept.
- Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
- In America, we are all immigrants. Some earlier, some later, all nations, all person, all races, Jews, Hungarians, Puerto Ricans, Greeks, the names woven into our nation's fabric. Pulaski Skyway, named after the Polish patriot who helped Washington. An airfield for an Italian. A university for a Jew. Statues in every city for those who helped the new world, [Biassou?], Garibaldi, men whose ideals went into the building of our nation.
From farm to factories, the newcomers built well. In basic industries, over half of the workers are Slavs. People of all nations have built America. These workers settled near each other, making their own community, partly for protection against discrimination, partly to feel at home.
In their communities, the national groups organized clubs, fraternal societies, many of them mutual aid societies for protection against illness, accidents, and death. Most of these societies were weak because they were isolated from American life. They had small membership and smaller treasuries.
Today, things are different. These men are the general officers of the International Workers Orders, the powerful outgrowth of these early societies. It is chartered by the insurance department of the state of New York, with license to operate in 18 states and the District of Columbia. These officers have a long, progressive record of experience and service.
Peter Shipka, Secretary-Treasurer. Sam Milgrom, Executive Secretary John Middleton, Vice President and Director of the General Lodges. Dave Green, Recording Secretary and Director of Organization. Lee Pressman, Chief Counsel and former General Counsel of the CIO. And Reuben Saltzman, Vice President of the IWO and General Secretary of the Jewish People's Fraternal Order, which has an honored place in the history of the IWO, or the JPFO under Reuben Saltzman, was the original founding society of the IWO. The date was 1930, the membership, 5,000.
Since then the IWO has grown by merging with existing societies and by organizing new ones. The first merger took place at the historic Chicago Convention in 1933. Two societies joined, the Slovak Workers Society and the Hungarian Second Benevolent Society, total membership, 29,000. Assets, half a million dollars.
This convention, meeting in the midst of a depression, pioneered with demands for unemployment insurance and social security, measures which have since become the law of the land.
Since this convention, more and more fraternal societies have been organized by or have joined the IWO, Italian, Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, Spanish, Romanian, Croatian, Serbian, Carpatho, Russian, Finnish, Czech, and general lodges of Negro and white.
A living interracial generation of 15 national group societies, where each member, as he joins, knows that his welfare is paramount, that a competent staff is working out his problems so that membership in the IWO becomes a hallmark of brotherhood, something to tell your friends. The word spreads. And the IWO increases like magic. 1930, 5,000 members. 1935, 97,000 members. 1948, 170,000 members.
Dues are collected and turned in. Benefits are paid out. And as a result, the IWO has multiplied itself 36 times since its beginning. Truly a phenomenal growth, a growth based on the integrity of the organization and its treasurer, Peter Shipka.
- Safeguarding our members' benefits and improving the mutual aid services always has been and is today the primary task and function of the order. Our assets, invested in high grade bonds on January 1, 1949, amounted to $5,350,000, an increase of over $700,000 over the previous years. Last year we have paid out approximately $1,250,000 in sickness, accident, and life insurance benefits.
And since 1930, when the Order was founded, we have paid a total of $13 million in various benefits. The life insurance now in force amounts to well over $100 million. The IWO financial rating is among the top five of 200 national fraternal organizations.
Our solvency is 146%. This means that based on present rates and experience, every dollar of our outstanding benefits is backed up by $1.46 in resources, or nearly 50% more than is required by strict insurance laws. This high financial standing has been maintained from the very inception of our order 19 years ago. We can well be proud of this record.
The International Workers Order is a people's fraternal organization. And our low cost, non-profit rates and benefits have been designed to meet the needs of the working family.
These low costs are not accidental. They grow out of the non-profit, mutual aid, workingmen's approach to paternalism, with the rates based on the best of statistical knowledge, plus low cost operation and modern machinery and technique. A person age 35, for example, can get $1,000 of life insurance for only $1.09 a month under the Convertible Step Rate Plan. For only $0.95 a month, he gets sick benefits of $10 a week.
The IWO offers insurance for as low as $250 and as high as $5,000 in various plans. It offers sick benefits from $4 to $15 a week. The IWO protects the entire family, husband, wife, and children. And it protects them at the lowest nonprofit rates.
The executive committee of the IWO guards unceasingly the interests of its members. It plans for the extension of mutual aid protection and the promotion of health insurance legislation. In addition, the national group societies actively promote the development of a progressive America, working for the elimination of Jim Crow and anti-Semitism, and for full citizenship of all national groups. Moreover, to help old and needy members, a welfare fund has been set up named the Joseph R. Brodsky Welfare Fund, in honor of Joe Brodsky, one of the founders of the IWO and, until his death, its chief legal counsel. And for the aged, this beautiful site in Ridgefield, Connecticut has been purchased by the JPFO to establish a fine old age home.
Nor is this all. In New York City, IWO members are covered by low cost medical services. Over 100,000 men, women, and children are cared for in the doctor's office or in the patient's home. There are 135 doctors on the IWO panel, 45 of them specialists. Provision is even made for dental care. But there is more to fraternalism. Listen to the president of the IWO, the distinguished artist Rockwell Kent.
- America is rich beyond all other lands in the diversity of its cultural heritage and careless beyond belief in its neglect of them. We tolerate what we should glory in. The International Workers Order will try by every means at its disposal to foster, to encourage, to build those national cultures of its membership into a new existence. And through that new and proud existence, to make their contribution to the glory of American life. Thank you.
- A good example is the National Folk Festival of the Ukrainian Society of the IWO, held in the summer of 1948 with a beautiful program of folk dances and songs, with several choruses from Newark, Philadelphia, and New York.
- Over 400 Ukrainian Americans performed. Most of them were born here. Yet through the IWO, they have learned to know and appreciate their cultural heritage, integrating it into a richer American pattern. They played to audiences of over 15,000 people.
[ACCORDION MUSIC PLAYING]
- At the 1940 IWO Convention held at the New York World's Fair, the children put on a magnificent competition of their bugle and drum corps.
The fraternal activities of the lodges are always aimed at giving a richer social life to their members.
Outings are popular, like this great festival of the Hungarian Society.
A picnic by the Italian Garibaldi Society.
And the Slovak Workers Society.
A lodge in New York takes a boat ride to get away from hot city streets.
On a private lake of their 600 acre Arrow Farm, the members of the Russian society rest and relax.
[NON-ENGLISH FOLK SINGING]
Cultural activities attract young people. This is the metro club of the Russian society in Chicago, one of the finest dance groups in America.
Sports activities of all kinds are available to the young people.
In the IWO camps, the young find an active life working together, studying their national group heritages, learning to become better citizens. A visit to Roosevelt's home is planned for the children.
In the IWO, children grow up without crippling racial prejudices. As part of the fun of this trip, they learn the history of their country and its progressive leaders.
At Hyde Park, the true meaning of Americanism sinks deep into these children as they think of a man under whose leadership America reaffirmed its democratic tradition, a man who gave his life in the struggle against fascism, the yet unfinished struggle to establish freedom, peace, and friendship among the peoples of the Earth.
Children are the future. And at IWO camps like Wo-Chi-Ca, and Kinderland, and Camp Robin Hood, their minds and their bodies grow equally healthy, as Paul Robeson can testify. This great people's artist is one of the most beloved members of the IWO.
- In our great order, we live and practice equality and the brotherhood of man all the year round. And I know this not by hearsay, but by direct association. My son has gone to the IWO-sponsored children's camp, Wo-Chi-Ca.
And I have witnessed the brotherhood, the unity of Negro and white, Jew and Gentile to which you are dedicated. When I see these children on my annual visits to Wo-Chi-Ca, I am not afraid of the future.
(Singing) You and me, we sweat and strain, body all aching and wracked with pain. Tote that barge, lift that bail. Get a little drunk and you land in jail. But I keeps laughing instead of crying. I must be fighting until I'm dying. And Ol' Man River, he'll just keep rolling along.
- The overwhelming majority of IWO members are workers. They belong to trade unions, which they fought to organize and build. The great struggles for democratic unions were fully supported by the IWO. And when the great struggle for a democratic world against fascism broke out, the IWO was at its post.
Over 300 IWO members died in the war. Men like Stelmach, a Ukrainian, Mordetto, an Italian, Velma, Hungarian, Steinberg, Jewish, Peres, Spanish, Smith, Negro, men and women from every national group. Over 8,000 members served in the armed forces. On the home front, IWO members gave of their utmost to win the war. Loyalty to America was shown in action.
A vice president of the IWO paid tribute to its war record. Congressman Vito Marcantonio.
- I know the International Workers Order. I'm proud to be its vice president. During the war, the International Workers Order gave unstintingly of its sons, its blood, and its money. So much so that President Roosevelt praised the International Workers Order and it was also commended by the Treasury Department.
The International Workers Order, throughout the war, placed the interests of winning the war against fascism above everything else. The record of the International Workers Order throughout the war is one of deeds and not words. It is the outstanding and best fraternal order in these United States.
- The war was the result of fascism. And today, Europe needs help. Help without political strings, not guns, but genuine aid through the United Nations. IWO societies are doing their share. Millions of dollars have gone for food and medicine to the peoples of Ukraine, the Soviet Union, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Israel, and others. In Poland, a delegation of members of the Polonia Society arrived to see firsthand the value of its aid.
In France, children are cared for in a home maintained by the JPFO and the Emma Lazarus Division. These children are mostly orphans, the few lucky ones to escape the bestiality of Nazis who deliberately murdered six million Jews. Today, these children learn to live again.
Growing up without fear, like our own children in America, our fortunate children who do not know firsthand the evil of fascism and war. The International Workers Order is dedicated to a happy future for our children through the protection of a family with low cost insurance, with sick benefits, with medical care, a happy future through a happy progressive country. The IWO, with its 15 societies and its strong membership of tens of thousands, proudly contributes its fraternal strength to a free, democratic America.
- This is the story of the International Workers Order. You have seen what our organization is and what it offers to you and to your family. We invite you to join us today.
- [YIDDISH SPEECH BY RUBEN SALTZMAN]
RANDI STORCH: Well, that was a treat. Thank you. Thank you, Harvey, for my introduction. And I want to thank you all for joining us today for what promises to be an enriching and thoughtful opening session to our conference. Our panelists are going to be exploring the topic, "America, Communism, The Jewish Left And Unity" by considering the relationship and significance of the JPFO, in particular, and the Jewish Left, more generally, to the American left, to mainstream Judaism, and to ideas of Americanism, as well as to American politics and society more generally.
Each presenter is going to speak for about 10 to 12 minutes. And following their presentations, there will be a formal response from Tony Michaels and an opportunity for each panelist to respond and ask each other questions. We'll then open the panel to Q&A that will organize through the Q&A function, through Zoom.
So I'm going to introduce all of our panelists and our respondent now in order of their presentations so the session can flow from one presenter to the next. So our first presenter is Emeritus Professor Paul Buhle from Brown University. And Paul's a scholar of the Jewish Left in the United States and an editor and creator of graphic novels. Among his 40 some odd books include Tender Comrade's An Oral History Of The Hollywood Blacklistees, Jews And American Popular Culture in 3 volumes, Jews In American Comics, and Yiddishkeit, with Harvey Pekar and Hershl Hartman. His paper today, the title is taken from a quote from Itche Goldberg from 1942. The Melting Pot Has A Scorched Base, navigating Yiddish-Jewish identity in the Left.
Then we'll be hearing from Elissa Sampson, an urban geographer who studies how we actively use the past to create new spaces of migration, memory, and heritage. Elissa is a visiting scholar in Cornell's Jewish Studies Program, where she teaches courses on Jewish cities, including New York's Lower East Side. A Cornell Digital Humanities Award funded Dr. Sampson's recent work on digitizing a section of the confiscated archives of the Yiddish speaking immigrant left housed at Cornell's Kheel Center and Catherwood Library. Elissa's paper, Achdus: Forging Jewish Unity in Wartime Platforms.
And our last speaker is Paul C. Mishler, an Associate Professor of Labor Studies at Indiana University, based in South Bend, Indiana. His writing includes his book, Raising Reds, Young Pioneers, Radical Summer Camps and Communist Political Culture in the United States. He's also written numerous articles on labor history and the long history of US radicalism from the 1830s through the 1980s. Paul's paper is entitled The Jewish Left and the "American" Left, Ethnicity, Radical Politics, and Tradition in the US.
And then we'll hear from Tony Michaels. Tony teaches American Jewish history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he serves as Director of the Mosse-Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies. Tony is author of A Fire In Their Hearts, Jewish Socialists in New York, editor of Jewish Radicals, A Documentary History, and co-editor, with Mitchell Hart, of The Cambridge History of Judaism, Volume 8, The Modern World from 1815 to 2000. He is currently writing a history of the Russian revolution's impact on American Jews. So Paul, we'll start off hearing from you. Paul, you need to unmute yourself.
PAUL BUHLE: OK. Very good.
RANDI STORCH: Perfect.
PAUL BUHLE: My artist Sharon Rudahl would wish to murder me if I didn't mention the Paul Robeson comic, which she scripted and drew with such great brilliance and which is a very IWO subject, as it turns out. All right, as Elissa said, I'll be rather brief and give our commenter more time for saying a few things.
It should not be a surprise for an oral historian or a scholar to revisit something from 40 years earlier, especially if the subject is life defining. But it is a surprise to me to re-examine an essay from 1980 in the Radical History Review, entitled, Jews and American Communism, the Cultural Question. It was very freshly taken from spending lots of time with old lefties, Yiddish speakers, in particular, in various places. And also reading it in the Yiddish volumes that they gave me, or in one case, picked up from an apartment in the Allerton Avenue coops from which Frayhey¿ humorist, Sam Liptzin had departed in every sense a few days earlier.
The essay explored the background of the issue through a handful of left wing ethnic communities, including Finns, Slovenians Italians, and Hungarians with the Germans in the 19th century, distant background. The Jewish experience was unique, but hardly idiosyncratic. The experience of mostly, but not entirely blue collar immigrant communities adapting to life in the US, creating cultural and benefit societies, responding to capitalism, and then to the First World War, the Russian revolution, fascism in the Popular Front carried the story along.
Within this larger story, I came quickly back to a smaller and more intimate one, very close to the subject of our conference. Itche Goldberg, teacher, mentor, exemplar-- he was my friend and mentor even if I was never fortunate enough to take a course from, or to contribute to Yidishe Kultur, the journal he edited in its final decades. The Zhitlovsky Foundation, which published Yidishe Kultur, was the place that sent me on my first trip to Miami Beach in 1978 and in some way propelled me to a two year NEH grant where a lot of other field work was done in oral history and gathered at Tamiment in the oral history of the American Left.
I have a small secret. I published two left wing journals on Finn finances. And Itche hinted that, if anyone, I could or might manage to keep Yidishe Kultur going, an impossible idea for many reasons. But one of the most flattering offers ever made to me. And I may not have been the only one to receive it.
It was hopeless, even apart from my fumbling fluency in Yiddish. The readers were in the last years of their long lives. And the end was near.
But a decade later, I thought I should have proposed a bilingual journal and found someone to help me do it. And who knows? At any rate, what Itche sought to explain in his famous remarks of 1942 on the scorched bottom of the melting pot, was a Jewish-Yiddish articulation of the very best pious spirit of the Popular Front.
An IWO leader, Ernie Rymer, had explained to me that he had organized, around 1938, a demonstration in Washington, DC, where a dozen ethnic and racial groups in their costumes marched together, expressing their profoundly democratic and radical idea of the US as a nation of nations in which its parts would not lead to give up their own identities. Linked to antifascism, it was a far more socialistic version of multiculturalism than we have seen in the 21st century 80 years later. It assumed the New Deal was a sort of transition to a higher form of cooperative society in the US, the transition that never took place.
Behind and beneath the various communal expressions of the immigrant left, the choruses, the schools, and the language groups was a collective memory reaching back centuries, recuperating the precious legacies of earlier times. The Guyanese novelist Wilson Harris once explained that these buried memories are always with us. They are in us, but must be recovered because we desperately need them against the terrors of our own time.
I say, in my 1980 essay, that Cold War biases blinded Irving Howe, among others, from seeing the Yiddish left in its richness. But I was reminded in my dialogue with Howe at a historical convention at a panel of World of Our Fathers, that the aesthetic biases of modernism weighed heavily as well as political views. The so-called "teardrop millionaire" poets of the 1890s, whose legacies were kept close by the Yiddish left, had become horribly out of date and banal to the writers of The Partisan Review, if they knew about them at all, as repellent as the songs of Paul Robeson, or the assorted antifascist wartime film scripted by future blacklistees.
Or a famed radio example during wartime, the sweeping poem, Lonesome Train, about the travel of Lincoln's body from Washington, city to city, ending up in Springfield, Illinois, a poem written by another Jewish blacklistee that I interviewed, Millard Lampell, who had been a member of the Almanacs and a sometimes roommate of Woody Guthrie. All this was undesirable for political reasons, but also in part because an older group of left writers and artists, many of them in a kind of lifelong dialogue with popular culture or folk culture, was to be discredited in order for a newer group to take hold, a newer group known in part as the New York intellectuals.
Why, then, do we reach back now? There are very good scholarly reasons within Jewish-American life and beyond. Of all the fuller history of the Jewish Left, the JPFO and the IWO remain the most neglected and, at the same time, among the richest historical probes.
Why? Because the activity in and around the JPFO was more popular and more neighborhood-like than activities in and around the political movement as such. More tied to everyday life, more tied to family life, more tied to cultural memories. I leave the issues for others to discuss now. Thank you very much.
ELISSA SAMPSON: Hi. My name is Elissa Sampson. And I'll be talking about Achdus, or unity, forging Jewish unity in war time platforms. It's no surprise that the importance and popularity of the Di Linke are often underestimated, given their politics and the world that they navigated. As Paul has indicated, it's a complex world.
Yet we have an unusual window into that world, courtesy of New York state, which deposited a confiscated archive at Cornell's Kheel Center after having shut down the fraternal order during the Cold War. This bilingual archive offers insight into the everyday activities of a Soviet-oriented Jewish immigrant organization. It's a resource for scholars and for activists who attend to social justice issues that the older Jewish Left tackled with vigor.
Di Linke's Fraternal Order promoted into racial solidarity while fighting anti-Semitism and racism. It protested anti-immigrant actions and provided a comprehensive health care and other insurance for precarious workers. We can appreciate the Die Linke's progressive achievements and drive to activism while we attend to and critically evaluate its history. And that film sets the stage for understanding why that history is complex and connected to that of the CP, or Communist Party.
Di Linke's original 5,000 Yiddish-speaking members founded the International Workers Order in 1930, after breaking off from the socialist-oriented Arbeter Ring or Workmen's Circle, and subsequently became the IWO's Jewish-American Section. Renamed the Jewish People's Fraternal Order, JPFO, in 1944, the IWO's largest section grew to encompass almost 50,000 members, with 300 lodges in over 60 communities. As Paul said, they were community oriented. Its members typically did not belong to the Party, but most of its leadership did.
One of the most interesting chapters in that history concerns the JPFO's connections to mainstream Jewish organizations. In the promotion of Jewish unity, or Achdus, the JPFO called for brotherhood in a language replete with religious resonance and complexity. Historically, Jewish communities were enjoined to pull together under that demanding rubric when threatened or when dissent threatened those running communal institutions.
Here, due to the exigencies of World War II, a Jewish-Soviet-oriented fraternal Order answered the Moscow-based Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee's plea for Jews worldwide to assist the Soviet war effort through creating a United Jewish Front. In effect, Achdus was lobbied for by American Yiddish-speaking Jewish communists who wanted major US Jewish organizations to invite them into their ranks during the war.
Using wartime materials from the archives, I will explain how a famous Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee tour helped propel the JPFO's eventual entry into the American Jewish Conference after it was initially denied membership on the grounds that it was not a Jewish organization. And the materials that you're looking at here are from 1930. And they give you an idea of how radical, in English and Yiddish, the JPFO indeed was.
Di Linke also claimed the mantle of secular Yiddishism, a movement which started in late 19th century Europe. Fostering Yidishe Kultur was consistent with its overall focus on harnessing Kultur Arbet, or cultural work for overtly political ends. The battles against fascism and Nazism attracted many during the years of the Popular Front.
And that's what we see here with this book by Moshe Nadir in 1938. And it's a rare book. And it's one that's part of the Catherwood collection. We don't know who wrote the pencil.
Meanwhile, aspects of an earlier universalism as well as Jewish particularism often became subservient to promoting the best interests-- hold on one second. Apologies. --best interests of the USSR, or at the least, presenting it sympathetically to a Jewish public. Nonetheless, the JPFO leadership sometimes exercised autonomy when loyalties and priorities did not perfectly align.
By September 1939, the sharpest contradiction emerged from the JPFO's impassioned defense of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. This agreement guaranteed Soviet neutrality when Germany conquered much of Poland, thus consigning it to the Nazi war machine as the USSR grabbed the rest. Less than two years later, on June 22, 1941, Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa, targeting its Jews.
And this is a booklet, a rare booklet. It's actually a proof of that booklet. And it's from the summer in which Moscow is attacked. It's 1941. And it is an anthology by Peretz Markish, a famous Yiddish poet. And as you can see, it's For the Homeland in Battle. It's a cri de coeur.
The JPFO responded immediately. Its support for the war effort marked its political apogee, its goals of aligning fully in defense of the USSR and of Jews against the Nazi threat.
Here we have Paul Robeson. And he's already trying to raise money for the Soviet Union due to its Operation Barbarossa and its need for material aid in every sense. And here we have, in Yiddish, materials raising medical aid and telling Jews from the world to take revenge.
So there's an enormous effort, even before the US becomes part of World War II, to raise money. And of course, that increases once the US becomes part of the Allied alliance after Pearl Harbor. With the US entry into the war, the JPFO further mobilized from raising funds for Soviet tanks and medical aid to encompass large scale Jewish community fundraising for US war bonds and for troops.
In protesting Nazi genocide, the JPFO was acutely aware that fighting for Jewish lives meant fighting for the US and the USSR. By 1942, Stalin was officially seeking overseas support for the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in order to obtain financial and political aid for Soviet troops and civilians.
The Jewish-American section of the IWO responded rapidly to the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee's call to create a Jewish unity front by attempting to join the American-Jewish Conference, a war time Jewish umbrella group. The JPFO's campaign, over the course of nine months, to win mainstream acceptance Jewish and otherwise underscores its flexibility in accommodating the shifts required for its official participation by signing onto a Jewish unity platform. As the telegram shows, promoting Jewish unity also required a major shift in orientation. To participate in the American-Jewish Conference, the Jewish People's Fraternal Order had to first prove itself to be a Jewish organization, per se, which brings us back to the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee.
The call for help and Jewish unity was first broadcast from Moscow on August 24, 1941, followed by another broadcast on April 7, 1942. Two dozen cultural figures issued an international radio appeal to Jews worldwide to unite in the struggle against Nazi Germany. The JPFO helped mobilize a coalition to broadcast a response that included Albert Einstein. And he's shown here with Shloyme Mikhoels and Itzik Fefer, about whom we'll hear more in a minute.
The Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, along with four other antifascist committees, had Stalin's permission to raise funds for the Soviet war effort, document Nazi atrocities, and encourage support for an Allied war second front. Di Linke helped organized the North American leg of the Antifascist Committee's fundraising tour. On June 17, 1943, Shloyme Mikhoels came to the US and stayed for over four months, raising $16 million.
Prior to the war, Mikhoels was the Soviet Union's most famous Yiddish actor and the director of the Moscow State Jewish Theater. Fefer was a poet known for his straightforward and often propagandistic style. JPFO leaders served on the executive boards of the two groups instrumental in organizing the tour: the American Committee of Jewish Writers, Artists, and Scientists and the Jewish Council for Russian War Relief.
On July 8, at the New York Polo Grounds, approximately 47,000 people welcomed Mikhoels and Fefer to a family reunion of the world's two largest Jewish populations, separated for over 20 years by world war, revolution, and immigrant quotas. Official greeters included Mayor LaGuardia, Rabbi Stephen S. Weiss, Albert Einstein, Sholem Asch, and Eddie Cantor, as well as representatives from the Joint Distribution Committee B'nai B'rith and World Jewish Congress.
The Polo Grounds event made quite an impression, despite opposition by socialists aligned primarily with the Forverts, as well as by organizations such as the American Jewish Committee, afraid that overt Jewish support for communists would feed anti-Semitic perceptions that World War II was a Jewish war, Fefer's 1943 Polo Grounds speech reinforced the link between Jewish unity and support for the Soviet Union.
"Unity is the surest guarantee for victory. He who speaks against the unity of our people aids our enemies. He who speaks against the Soviet Union acts against the interests of our people."
Fefer's remarks made clear that the fate of Soviet Jews and all Jews depended on Soviet victory. The call for unity and support, in effect, demanded that American-Jewish organizations paper over existing differences regarding the Soviet Union. And for those who are interested in history of Jewish socialism, among other things, that is Mrs. Nora Zhitlovsky in the background with members of the JPFO and Mikhoels and Fefer at the Soviet consulate during that visit.
The tour enhanced the JPFO's credentials and its own campaign for mainstream acceptance. The archives contain a voluminous correspondence between the JPFO's leadership and that of the major Jewish organizations who dominated the Conference's executive committee. Already in January 1943, the JPFO's leadership had requested admission to the Conference. When letters and telegrams did not suffice, the JPFO promoted large scale petition campaigns and meetings, demanding democracy and accountability in being able to participate in elections for Conference delegates.
The question posed was, who gets to represent all of America's Jews at a time when the war demanded Jewish unity? In fact, petitions for the JPFO's admission to the Conference provided to Polo Ground rally attendees, a rally which many of the Conference's leaders attended. And if Rabbi Stephen S. Weiss, from the World Jewish Congress, could welcome Soviet-Jewish communists, surely he could welcome American-Jewish communists as well. Documents detail the JPFO's lengthy, contested, but ultimately successful, grassroots war time campaign to convince B'nai B'rith, the Zionist Organization of America and the American-Jewish Congress to accept it as a Jewish organization per se, the sticking point being its relation to the IWO, and by implication, the Communist Party.
By the end of August 1943, the JPFO's acceptance into the Conference ultimately gave it that much coveted seat at the executive table, the Jewish table. Tellingly, its July 4, 1944 Sixth Convention ratified its official name change to the Jewish People's Fraternal Order, JPFO, dropping the IWO from its name.
Somewhat improbably, Di Linke eventually became part of mainstream Jewish and other efforts to support US troops and Jewish causes. A cohesive cultural political alignment of Yiddishist or Anglophone Jewishness, American, and pro-Soviet identification was no longer contradictory, but possible. The JPFO's unceasing support for the war and for FDR as commander-in-chief entailed numerous campaigns, often in coalition with other groups, as well as with pro-Soviet circles.
If you look at the slide, you'll see a Gropper, a illustration of tanks that are bought by Jews worldwide with names such as-- the tanks have names such as Haym Solomon, Baruch Spinoza, Bar Kochba. Not necessarily names that are associated with communist history. To the right, you can see something that perhaps resonates today, the idea that registering to vote counts as, if not a weapon of war, at least as a political act. A dependable ally for large scale fundraising, the JPFO could also organize mass rallies, run clothing drives, letter writing campaigns, get out the vote programs for FDR, concerts, Soviet relief, and support for soldiers and veterans.
JPFO also proposed and agreed to Jewish unity platforms with mainstream organizations explicitly devoted to the promotion of Zionism. By the end of the war, the JPFO mobilized with major Jewish organizations and coordinated large scale campaigns, urging President Truman to vote for partition in the UN to establish a Jewish state. This stance only aligns partially with Soviet policy regarding Mandate Palestine and its post-war protesting of British imperialism.
Not least, its push for Jewish unity was also internal to the organization. The JPFO's English-speaking lodges participated for the first time in its 1944 convention as it welcomed an American-born generation, a pursuit by the JPFO's leadership of a Jewish unity agenda, also prompted a wartime recalibration of its relationship to the IWO and the CPUSA. Its increased autonomy needed for wartime support contributed to the unease concerning its very existence as a national immigrant fraternal order.
As the war ended, anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union, further fueled by Stalin's paranoia, began to combine with Cold War blues at home. The work in the Soviet Union unraveled, a prelude to Stalin's subsequent suppression of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee and murder of most of its members. By 1946, the Committee's Black Book project of documenting Nazi genocide against Jews was closed down by Stalin, exemplifying the contradictions of garnering support for Soviet policy.
Much to the surprise of the JPFO's leadership, its troubled Soviet legacy came home to roost, precisely as the memory of its wartime mobilization and support of America faded. With the onset of the Cold War, mainstream Jewish organizations increasingly joined the fight against communism and work with the JPFO became problematic. Once the Cold War began, the JPFO remained intent on retaining the goodwill of American-Jewish organizations, now busy distancing themselves from any association with perceived communists. Thus, the JPFO continued to attest to its support for the Yishuv and then, for Israel, even as its commitment to doing so was questioned by those organizations.
After the war, the JPFO continued to raise funds to aid Jewish refugees and orphans, especially in Poland, but in France, Belgium, and Mandate Palestine, Israel, as well. Letters from Marc Chagall-- and he's here at the center of this photograph-- show his continued participation in a JPFO project to raise funds for a Jewish orphanage in Andrésy, France. Again, and that work was done by the Emma Lazarus League or Division. The JPFO advocated for the right of Jewish refugees to stay in Europe or to settle elsewhere, including by obtaining US visas or transport to Mandate Palestine. Arguably, this was their most principled stance.
Cornell's archives show the chilling effect of the Cold War years, documenting internal and external responses to a series of actions that ensued once the IWO was placed on the attorney general's Red List in November 1947. Jewish umbrella organizations that worked with the JPFO expelled it as part of an anti-communist purge. In the end, this fiscally-conservative, successful Leftist fraternal society lost its ability to provide low-cost insurance due to New York State's claim that its politics proposed a fiscal hazard.
Adding to its woes, the JPFO's inability to acknowledge the possibility of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union increasingly constrained and distorted its responses at a point when members had begun to leave in response to Cold War pressures. In January 1948, Mikhoels was assassinated. By Jan-- by August 12, 1952, almost all the remaining Anti-Fascist Committee members accused of es-- were accused of espionage and treason, and were killed in what is now known as the Night of the Murdered Poets.
Three years after Stalin's death, an article appeared in the Warsaw Folks-Shtime about the suppression of Soviet Jewish culture. It was reprinted in Di Morgn Frayhayt the American-Jewish communist newspaper. It then appeared in the JPFO's English-language magazine Jewish Life, and was-- which was then subsequently relaunched as Jewish Currents after the belated revelations about Stalin. In conclusion, excising Di Linke from this larger messy narrative continues the legacy of a Cold War that no one won.
Agency and angst can be glimpsed at unexpected points in these confiscated organizational files. Clearly, informing and joining an immigrant Yiddish fraternal organization, there was no evasion of Jewish identity. Its founders saw themselves as profoundly and naturally Jewish.
Being a Jewish communist offered a way of being Jewish without betraying working class interests and alliances. Their Americanization was mediated through a beloved immigrant fraternal organization that promoted Yiddish culture, even as it offered solidarity with others. We can learn from the failures and successes of that tightrope dance, even as we mourn its misplaced allegiances.
PAUL C. MISHLER: Elissa, should I start? OK. Thank you, Elissa. Thank you to Cornell for organizing this conference. And I'm especially happy to see inspirational historians like Randy Storks, and Paul Buhle and Bob Zecker here, who I've been reading assiduously as I've been thinking about these issues.
I want to address the question of what was Jewish about the Jewish contribution to the Left in the United States. The role of the Left in the Jewish community has been the subject of much discussion, concluded by our panelists and others who are going to be in the other panels. And the large number of activists of Jewish background and the major Left-wing social movements and organizations of the 20th century has also received much notice by scholars, by participants and commentators. From the Left, as well as you might know, from the Far Right.
But does the Left in the US have a particularly Jewish character? That's the question about-- so this relationship between a movement that was started by Yiddish-speaking immigrants, how does that play out in the ongoing Left tradition in the United States? Now, I'm not just privileging the Jewish experience. I mean, clearly, other racial and ethnic groups have had significant impact, particularly the history of the African-American struggle, which continues to inspire activism all across the country, as we can see in the movements that developed over last summer.
But also that we-- one of the discussions that, to figure out what the Jewish contribution is, it's worth remembering that the Left, as it emerged in the United States, had very different non-Jewish roots. And in particular, I would talk about the Left in the 19th century, which was often in its structure of feeling, and its thinking and its ideas, much more influenced by Evangelical Protestantism, which many might be surprised often had a much stronger Left before it was captured by the Far Right in the 1980s.
But also, the ongoing discussion of the heritage of the American Revolution, which is claimed by most American political organizations, movements, from Left to Right. So the focus of this paper is the creation of a Left-wing political culture that had the Communist Party at its center, and operated through networks of sympathetic organizations like the International Workers Order. I will look at two issues. The notion of multi-ethnic radicalism as it was expressed in the IWO during the 1920s through the end of World War II, and the role of these aspects of Jewish radical-- Jewish aspects of Jewish radicalism that were carried by the children and grandchildren of the immigrant generation into the movements beginning in the 1960s, and in fact, continuing till today.
So as far as the modern Left emerged in Europe during the 19th century, they were immediately faced with the problems of ethnicity and nationality. In many of the nations and empires of Europe, the quote "Jewish question", born in the Middle Ages, was a point of contention. Were Jews nationality? A religion? A foreign people to distrusted?
There had always been anti-Semitism in Europe, or I think quite properly, anti-Judaism, as Jews were targeted both for their rejection of Christianity, and then for their perceived fluency in trade and finance. As we know that Marx also, in his On the Jewish Question, reflected that-- a view that Jews were especially fluent in money, something that the Right has always focused on. Jews themselves were not absent from this discussion.
The beginning of a specifically Jewish Left emerged in the context of this tendency, especially in the pale of settlement in Europe, where a combination of poverty and anti-Semitism prevented most Jews from believing in any sort of national integration. So unlike Poles, or Italians, or Germans, where creating a nation in those countries was very important, that was not going to be possible without the overthrow of the Czar. Within these developments of Jewish modernism, there were two strains of modern Jewish ideology: Zionism and Socialism.
While Left Zionists looked to establishing a Jewish socialist state in Palestine, which was then part of the Ottoman Empire. Socialist Jews, coalescing in the general Jewish labor Bund, known familiarly as "The Bund" beginning in 1897. And there were many Jews in Eastern Europe that were also involved in non-ethnic socialist movements as well.
In their debates with the Zionists, and the plethora of other Jewish ideologies determined to fight the disabilities Jews suffered under, the Bund developed a perspective called Doikayt in Yiddish, or "here-ness," the idea that Jewish liberation must occur in the countries where Jews lived. There was no going away, no escaping it. Now, this idea became crucial in the development of the Jewish Left in the United States, as in the early years, most Bundist immigrants, of which there are many, found themselves within US-based movements and parties, such as the Socialist Party, and later the Communist Party.
It was this meeting between Bundism and-- based in Eastern Europe and US-based radicalism that made Doikayt into what I want to call "rooted cosmopolitanism", which is a characteristic of Jewish Leftism in the United States, and which is essentially what contemporary Left-wing multiculturalism is based upon. We know there's also Right-wing multiculturalism, but that's another discussion. So early in the 19th century, radical movements in the United States were confronted with ethnic differences within the working class.
Prior to the Civil War, the vast majority of European immigrants were from Ireland and Germany. The Irish-American working class came from those fleeing the famine in 1845 to 1848, while many of the German immigrants were exiles fleeing the repression that came from the failure of the 1848 revolutions. American radicalism during this period was brought and multifaceted, including early trade unionism. But the most central issue was the struggle against slavery.
Irish immigrants brought their own hostility to British rule in Ireland, and Irish nationalism developed many forms and organizations. However, the Irish were little-involved in the US radicalism, and in particular, were quite hostile to abolitionism. There's a whole long discussion about why that was true. On the other hand, German immigrants brought their radicalism into the US context. The problem was that German American radicalism remained confined to German-speaking communities.
Engels complained-- was oft quoted about the predominantly German Immigrant Socialist Labor Party, quote, "that they will have to doff every remnant of their foreign garb. They will have to become out-and-out an American. They cannot expect the Americans to come to them. They, the minority and the immigrants, must go to the Americans, who are the vast majority and the natives. And to do that, they must above all things learn English."
American Marxists, including most socialists and the Communist Party at its inception, shared Engels' belief that immigrants who brought their radicalism from Europe should shed their foreign garb. If Marxism was ever to find a true home in the US. It should be noted here that this kind of universalism did not mean that these radicals were unsympathetic to issues of racism or ethnic exclusion, as is sometimes maintained by young radicals today. German socialists in the 19th century even expressed solidarity with immigrant Chinese workers on the West Coast, who were so often maligned by American Jew-- labor activists, even expressing it in mostly German-language publications.
Nonetheless, immigrant workers, even if to only continue to communicate with their fellow immigrants from their home countries, built and maintained ethnic-language institutions within the Socialist Movement. What was different about the radical Jewish immigrants is that they truly had no nation, and in no country was their language, Yiddish, the national language. When the Communist Party in the US was organized in 1919, the vast majority of supporters were working class immigrants.
Immigrant Jews, who had made up a large bloc within US socialism, also were significant within the new Communist Party. The Jews were not alone in this regard. There was significant participation in radical movements from Ukrainians, South Slavs, Finns, Hungarians, and other smaller groups. Radical, working class Jews became central to radicalism in the working class in New York City through their strength within the burgeoning ready-made garment industry, and then as organizers and members of the large garment trade unions.
There were four historical significant moments in which Jewish communists played a significant role in defining a new Marxist approach to multi-ethnic politics. The first was in the formation of the JPFO, and then later, the International Workers Order, out of the split between the socialists and communists in the Arbeter Ring the Jewish socialist fraternal society. The second was when the the CP in dialogue with the Communist International recognized the struggle against racism directed primarily against African-Americans was central to workers' struggles in the United States.
For Jewish communists this was especially important, because it decentered the Jewish experience in Eastern Europe, and helped Jewish immigrant communists confront the role that racism and other forms of chauvinism and repression were central to the struggle in the United States. Rather than seeing others' experiences as like anti-Semitism, they came to see anti-Semitism as a form of racism. Thirdly, in the period of the 1930s where the communists became committed to the development of the Popular Front against fascism, they became partisans in the struggle to democratize America, not simply to overthrow its capitalist form.
During the 1950s and '60s, the children and grandchildren of these immigrant communists further develop these ideas, and came to see as the direct struggle for socialism receded, due to repression, among other factors, what brought all struggles together was an antifascist democracy. While this antifascist democracy was rooted in the Popular Front, it differed significantly in that it was divorced from the socialist and communist traditions, and came to include reinvigorated trends from the past, and incorporate brand-new struggles against marginalization and oppression. I cut out a little bit of even the presentation.
So when the communists created-- and it's important, as Alyssa said, that we-- that this was not just one other Jewish organization. It was led throughout its history by people who identified with the communist world. The communists-- because of the strength of communism among Left-wing Jewish immigrants, the Jewish People's Fraternal Order emerged, really, out of the struggles with the Arbeter Ring, the camp split between Kinderland, which is communist, and Kinder Ring which remain part of the Arbeter Ring. They supported the new Yiddish newspaper, the Morgn Frayhayt, which competed with the forward.
And in 1930, the JPFO initiated the conference, drawing all the breakaway organizations from the Workmen's Circle to form the National Fraternal Order and the International Workers Order. The IWO drew on the traditions and practices of past mutual aid societies, with one important difference. They envisioned the new IWO to include ethnically-organized societies that had existed alongside the Socialist Party, or had been organized independently.
Some had been part of the foreign language federations directly affiliated with the Socialist Party, and others had existed on the fringes of the SP as independent organizations. Most of these organizations, like the Finnish Socialist Federation, had undergone divisions between communists and socialists, similar to what happened in the Workmen's Circle. So initially, as you saw in the film, the IWO included, along with the JPFO, other previously-existing mutual aid societies, such as those among the Hungarians, the Russians, Ukrainian, Polish, Finnish, and South Slavs.
If the formation of the IWO in 1930 seemed to be a communist version of the Workmen's Circle or the Socialist Foreign Language Federations, there was one significant difference. While previous Left-wing ethnic societies were imagined as being a temporary way station for immigrant workers until they and their families learned English, the IWO saw ethnic identification as a road to radicalism, rather than a hindrance to it.
So the-- unlike the sort of tradition that we saw represented by Engels, the IWO became a federated order with an approach to ethnic identification that sort of celebrated ethnicity, rather than seeing it as a temporary problem. Even if always led by figures identified with communism, the IWO defended its vision of multiculturalism, even against fellow communists who desired to Americanize it. The best example, I think, is after the war, when the Communist Party sent Steve Nelson to Työmies, the Finnish-language communist newspaper, to try to convince them to put an English page in, and they refused.
Although JPFO was always the largest section of the IWO, the organization was deeply committed to the idea that the IWO, as a federated ethnic fraternal society, should reflect all ethnic groups under its umbrella. And Robert Zecker, in his recent study of the IWO, concentrated on the non-Jewish branches of the IWO, which is a welcome contribution to this history. This is also seen clearly in the creation of English-speaking African-American lodges during the 1930s. That is, applying to the African-American experience something that was learned in the struggle to define a secular American-Jewish ethnicity.
What the JPFO brought to this multi-ethnic melange was the belief that ethnic culture could be a place to stand in the conflict with the conservatives of American culture. This issue had been part of the discussion among Eastern European Jewish radicals, both in their organizations and theoretically. In essence, it was an expansion of the Bundist view of the role of ethnic autonomy within the larger struggle for socialism to non-Jewish ethnic communities. In this way, the IWO promoted its own version of Americanism, one composed of many nationalities and ethnic groups, adding their culture and perspective into a vision of the future in which all would be respected for what they brought, not by how quickly they would discard their ethnic characteristics.
As these ideological and practical developments were taking place among Jewish immigrant communists and their allies, another discussion was emerging in the communist movement that also distinguished the communist approach to ethnicity and nationality from their socialist forebears. More than any other group of white communists, Jewish communists came to see the African-American struggle as their own. This can be seen in the campaign to free the Scottsboro defendants early-on. And while people-- it was well-known that these cases had happened before in the South, and were quite well-known due to the anti-lynching campaigns run by the NAACP early in the century, the CP undertook to make this case a national issue. For the first time, a majority-white organization would campaign against racial terror-- racist terror in the South.
Jewish communists were involved in the campaign from the beginning. Articles, including poetry, about Scottsboro appeared in the Frayhayt and other Yiddish publications. The case was first brought to the attention of the Communist Party by James Allen, the editor of the Southern Worker, whose first name-- excuse me, birth name was Saul Auerbach, and who was born to immigrant Jewish parents in Philadelphia. Joining the party, he was sent to edit the Southern Worker based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and he alerted the International Labor of Defense in the Communist Party about the Scottsboro defendants.
The ILD, the Communist Party's legal defense arm, hired Jewish lawyer Samuel Leibowitz to defend the accused. And the Jewish Left, from this point on, and this has been quite amply documented, continued its engagement with the African-American struggle, and I think still does. Jewish communist historians, Herbert Aptheker, Philip Foner, and James Allen himself were among the first white historians to highlight the history of the African-American resistance and to celebrate anti-racism. Communist labor organizers brought international racial unionism into the South, as well as elsewhere, and many of them were Jewish.
And Chicago, where efforts to unionize the meatpacking industry had floundered in the 1920s in the face of racism and employer terror, was finally organized during the 1930s in a drive led by Jewish communist Herb March on an explicitly antiracist basis. Leon Davis, another Jewish communist, led the largely Jewish Pharmacists' Union Local 1199 to organize the mainly Black and Latino hospital workers in private hospitals in New York City, and then later in campaigns, such as the one in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1968.
And the 1962 strike in New York brought support from across the Civil Rights Movement, including Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, A. Philip Randolph. Martin Luther King called 1199 his favorite union.
Jewish participation in the African-American struggle has been explored extensively, but much of this research is oriented toward looking at the Jewish impact on the Black freedom struggle. What has been neglected are the questions of how the Black freedom struggle affected Jewish radicalism, and the related question on how this relationship influenced the development of American radicalism in general.
And I would argue that it's like the meeting of Bundism with the American conditions had one important transformation. The meeting of Jewish Communists with the Black freedom struggle also helped define what the future of the American Left would be. And it's no surprise that, for example, so many of the young white activists in the early years of the Civil Rights Movement had come from Communist families.
And indeed, if you look at the recent studies of the Freedom Riders, and there are these photographs of all these white young people, and there are a large number of them who sort of openly say that they were part of the YPSL or the Socialist Party. There's also a large part of-- a number of them who have Jewish names who don't say anything. And I-- but if you know what you're looking at, a large number of those who came from the Labor Youth League or who'd grown up in the IWO or the Communist Party.
For Communists in the United States, this shift in approach had implications for every arena in Communist activity. However, in 1935, and sort of in the 1936 Congress, the Seventh Congress of the Communist International, the general secretary, Bulgarian Georgi Dimitrov gave his main address calling for Communists to help form a united front against fascism.
Dimitrov criticized fellow Communists for their failure-- for their underestimation of the dangers of fascism, and he called for all Communists and socialists to unite in opposition to fascism and to reach out to all workers in defense of bourgeois democracy. It was Dimitrov's approach to the development of ethnic national culture and, in the context of his call for united and popular front, that played a significant role in the development of Communist approaches in the multiethnic character of the US working class.
Dimitrov directly challenged the universalism that had been characteristic of radical movements in Europe since the 19th century. He recognized that one of the appeals of fascism was its appeal to national and ethnic pride. He wrote, "The fascists are rummaging through the entire history of every nation so as to be able to pose as the heirs and continuators of all that was exalted in the past, while all was degrading or offensive to the national sentiments of the people, they can make use of as weapons against enemies of fascism.
Communists who suppose that all of this has nothing to do with the cause of the working class, who do nothing to enlighten the masses on the past of their people, who do nothing to link up the present struggle with the people's revolutionary traditions and past, voluntarily hand over to the fascist falsifiers all that is valuable in the historical past to the nation that the fascists might bamboozle the masses."
In the US, the Popular Front strategy led to the Communist embrace and creation of a democratic antifascist tradition in the United States that had two significant characteristics. It legitimized the practices that emerged among radical immigrants who had formed their old immigrants and organizing in their own language. No longer seen as a temporary way station for immigrants, it became valuable in themselves in developing antifascist culture.
Secondly, it led to the Communist engagement in the creation of an alternative American history, one that included excluded stories of African-Americans, labor unions, radical activists, and immigrants.
Central to the project of creating a culture is whether and how practices and beliefs are passed on to the next generation. Looked at a moment in history, the International Workers Order and the Communists who created it built a vibrant culture among Left-wing immigrants, drawing on the long history of mutual aid societies, but integrated with the revolutionary perspectives of Communists and their allies.
Yet as broadly based in diverse immigrant communities as the IWO was, few of the children of white immigrant radicals, other than Jews, became significant as activists in the later period in the post-war in the 1960s and beyond, although children of African-American and Puerto Rican Leftists often became activists themselves in those movements.
So anecdotally, I've met one Finn, two Ukrainians, and one Slovak of my generation of activists whose roots were in the Communist-led immigrant organizations of the 1930s and '40s, while I've met hundreds of Jews. There are two--
RANDI STORCH: Paul? We're going to-- thank you. We're going to have to wrap up--
PAUL C. MISHLER: Let me just come to a conclusion, OK?
RANDI STORCH: Sure. Thank you.
PAUL C. MISHLER: Between 1900 and the end of the 1950s, Jewish radicalism and all its forms-- socialism, communism, anarchism-- were recognized part of the overall Jewish community and, as Elissa pointed out, the struggle to represent that. All of them were rooted in these experiences of oppression in Europe. This changed as the immigrant generation died, and their children and grandchildren were beneficiaries of the opportunities opened up by the New Deal.
But even with these changes, many kept their radical sensibilities, if not the complete ideologies of the Jewish immigrant Left. And indeed, one issue that was raised by Elissa is that new young Jewish radicals today actually don't come from these traditions. As they looked at it, the young Jews who are active in pro-Palestinian activities very rarely have roots in the Jewish Communist Left. In fact, those radicals tended to have very little to do with Jewish organizations of any kind.
So it's just that Communist approach that recognized the importance of the sectoral oppression of Jews, African-Americans, and others have been expanded significantly today. Today, all ways that individuals face equality, such as LGBT or disabled people, are incorporated in ideology that is multiculturalism writ large and expanded to newer areas. I'm sorry for going on for a little long. But Randi?
RANDI STORCH: Thanks. We're going to turn it over to Tony now.
TONY MICHELS: Randi, I'll try and go quickly, just because we're running short on time. So in the voluminous scholarship on American communism, Jews have received relatively little attention. Why is that? Paul Buhle offers one answer. He attributes it to a kind of bias towards high culture, whereas the IWO, the JPFO were oriented towards more popular and folk culture.
Elissa provides an additional answer in her reference to the Cold War and the atmosphere of fear and antisemitism intertwined with anticommunism of that period, and that that served to suppress interest in Jews and communism.
I'm going to add a third explanation for why I think this is true, why there's been a relative neglect of Jewish communism or Jews and communism. And that has to do with-- my explanation has to do with one of the central contentions of much of the scholarship of the last 50 years.
Most of the scholarship has tended to depict American communism as a largely autochthonous movement in which rank and file members acted on their own initiative in accordance with indigenous radical traditions. This conceptualization was originally formulated starting in the '60s and '70s in response to anticommunist historians, journalists, who often treated American communism as an extension of the Soviet state.
The revisionist tendency that emerged five decades ago and predominates to this day has yielded many fine, richly detailed studies, but there is at least one glaring flaw in my opinion, and that's the insufficient attention to Jews. While historians have not ignored Jews altogether, rarely have they treated Jews as a distinct subject.
It remains true to this day that the major studies of communism, the most celebrated and influential books, hardly deal with Jews, despite the fact that Jews have always constituted the single largest demographic group within the Communist movement. So why is that?
Again, two answers have been provided, and I propose a third. And that is the thrust of the scholarship that I referred to a moment ago-- the desire to separate as much as possible American communism from the Soviet Union. By that, I mean if it's one's aim to create distance between the two, then Jews can easily become unattractive subjects, and this is because most Jews came to the United States from the Russian Empire. And the fact that-- and many maintained ties to their country of origin.
Given that fact, Jews unavoidably lead historians in the direction many have wished to avoid. Furthermore, the geographic concentration of Jews in New York City, the most European of American cities and home to the largest number of Communists at any given time, has also deterred research on Jews. The old stereotype of the Communist as a New York Jew is a corollary to the notion of communism as a Russian implant, and both perceptions cause trouble for historians seeking to Americanize the Communist Party.
This reluctance to deal with Jews as such has prevented a full understanding of communism, and I would say that one simply cannot understand one apart from the other. And I think our panelists today have each, in their own way, made that point Paul Mishler has presented a broad framework for understanding the interplay of Jews, ethnicity, and radicalism between the 19th century and into the 21st century.
Paul Buhle talked about the centrality of folk culture within both the Jewish and larger Popular Front. And here I just want to also mention or underscore something Paul alluded to, and that is the oral history collection that he under undertook. It really can't be minimized, the importance of the oral histories he conducted in the 1970s and '80s, and which are located at the Tamiment Library at NYU.
Really, it's a gold mine. Anybody has to use that collection, and Paul Buhle is one of the first-- not only did he conduct and oversee those interviews, but he was one of the first scholars of American radicalism to locate Jews at the center of communist history and that article he referred to from the Radical History Review from 1980 was one of the first I read on the subject, and remains a classic.
Elissa's paper draws our attention to something of a golden age in communist history, when the party leadership decided, for the first time in the history of the Communist Party, to devote great attention to Jewish communal affairs. Under the banner of banner of Jewish unity, or Jewish people's unity to use the term Communists often used-- deployed-- Communists made common cause with previously shunned elements in the Jewish community-- Zionists, rabbis, wealthy businessmen, and so forth.
The reason for this alliance, for this push for Jewish unity, was, as Elissa mentioned, the Nazi invasion of Soviet Russia in 1941 and the subsequent decision of the Soviet government to mobilize Jews in the West, the United States especially, behind the war effort. This is the formation of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, which emerged on the scene-- well, the first real public statement leading up to the Anti-Fascist Committee was on August 24, 1941.
And in subsequent pronouncements and broadcasts, the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee broadcast or implored American Jews, not just Communists, but American Jews to unite behind the Soviet war effort for the purpose of defeating fascism. It was a very important shift in communist history, because with the formation of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, the Communist Party then made the decision that it needed to mobilize Jews as such, calling for, again, Jewish unity to do so.
Jewish unity actually entailed, I would suggest, three kinds of unity. One was national unity-- Jews and the nation as a whole coming together behind the American war effort. There was a second form of Jewish unity was-- well, Jewish unity, meaning Jews engaged in coming together in all ways behind this effort.
And the third is interethnic unity. And really, especially, this meant in practice Jewish-Black unity, which was a major cause, as Paul Mishler referred to, for Communists. When you look through the materials, Jewish-Black unity was promoted strongly during this period, and you can see it in the JPFO in the constant encouragement of Jews-- branches of the JPFO to study Black history. That's just one example.
But Black History Week was frequently promoted by JPFO branches, and that was a decision made at the top of the organization. So unity meant national unity, interethnic or in this case Jewish-Black unity, and then Jewish communal unity, all at the same time.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Jewish intercommunal unity was the coming together of Communists and Zionists. In the 1920s, the Communist Party viewed Zionism as a form of fascism. During the Popular Front starting in 1935, that was softened when the Communist Party started to recognize the importance of the Yishuv, of the Jewish community in Palestine.
And then during the war, came to-- took a much-- came much further in not only cooperating with Zionist organizations, including the Zionist Organization of America, Hadassah, the American Jewish Congress, which is not officially Zionist, but-- well, actually, it might have been. I'm not sure, but in any case, was mostly Zionist in orientation. The World-- Hadassah, the B'nai B'rith, and so on. All these different groups, many of which, Zionists played a major role.
The Communists not only cooperated with Zionist organizations, but rearticulated its position on Zionism. Here, I'm going to read to you a quote from the editor of the Yiddish Communist paper, the Morgn Frayhayt, and this is from a speech he gave to the JPFO in May 1945 on the question of Zionism. So I'm quoting.
"We are now on friendly terms with the Zionists. We are not fighting Zionism, because Zionism is a progressive force, a unity for us. So we are glad to associate with our friends with whom we differ on certain respects. We are glad to work with them on the many points which unite us. We want Zionists in our movement. We want Zionists in the JPFO." And end quote. He went on in that vein.
By the same token, or conversely, the major Jewish organizations, Zionist and not, cooperated with Communists and praised the Soviet Union in really striking ways in retrospect. So for instance, a man by the name of Abraham Goldberg who represented the World Zionist Organization at a rally held in Madison Square Garden, organized by the group that Elissa referred to, which was the Committee of Jewish Writers, Artists, and Scientists, a kind of--
RANDI STORCH: Tony is it OK? I'm sorry, if you can just--
TONY MICHELS: I'll wrap it up right now.
RANDI STORCH: Thank you, thank you.
TONY MICHELS: The only point that needs to be made here is there was a reciprocity, in which Zionist organizations and other Jewish communal organizations praised Communists in the Soviet Union in similar terms that Paul Novick praised the Zionist movement.
And I will just say one final point, and that is with the onset of the Cold War and a change in American Communist Party's position on all sorts of international issues, this unity movement started to unravel with one exception that we can view as a kind of postscript to the Popular Front that we're talking about.
And that was the movement to create the state of Israel, in which the Communist Party again rallied with Zionist organizations behind a common cause. And that came to a head most prominently in a second Polo Grounds rally, the first being the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee rally that Elissa referred to.
The second mass rally at the Polo Grounds was on Israel's Independence Day, in which the culminating moment, according to the Frayhayt is when children of the Yiddish-speaking schools of the JPFO came marching into the field with members of Hashomer Hatzair, the socialist Zionist youth group.
And then they sung in Yiddish, they sung songs in Yiddish and Hebrew, they danced Israeli folk songs-- did Israeli dances, and Paul Robeson sang "Hatikvah" in Hebrew. So that was sort of a postscript to this Popular Front that we've been talking about. OK, I'll cut it short there.
BOB ZECKER: Great, great.
RANDI STORCH: So we're actually-- while our presenters have been presenting, Bob has been collecting the Q&A. So we're going to turn it over to Bob, and he's going to present some of the questions-- as many as we can get to. And then we can allow presenters to-- I think it's time to go to the Q&A. And if panelists have questions for one another, perhaps they can roll it in as they address the different questions.
BOB ZECKER: Yeah. Thanks very much. Some great, really great stuff. I'm going to try to group them a bit and do them in the order, and if it's OK, I'll present the questions and just rapidly-- and then you can get to as many as you can.
The first question was about the film. It said, during the march, there was a placard on one of the groups marching that seemed to be scratched out. Do you have any idea what it said? And then about the movie, somebody else said, this seems like a Browder era film, but to whom was it shown? What was the audience intended for this film? Was it just an ad for the insurance benefits or was there a broader audience?
Then there were two questions asking about the insurance companies, private for-profit insurance companies-- did they have a role to play in the founding of the IWO? And then somebody else asked, was the IWO seen as a competitor by corporations such as Metropolitan Life Insurance, a quote, "not inconsiderable player in post-war New York City." And I had an answer to that, but I'll let you guys go to it.
What led to the split with the Workmen's Circle, was a simple question. And then there were two questions-- how much did people in the US know about Stalin's atrocities to the Jews? And a similar question, how was the JPFO membership affected by the August 1939 Nazi-Soviet pact?
Then there was two questions-- why were the Emma Lazarus clubs established as an entity separate from the JPFO? And perhaps a broader question-- we know there was the Emma Lazarus club, but it seems that the leadership of the IWO was exclusively male and in general, there was a masculinist proletarian feel. How did gender operate in the Jewish Left?
And then there was a question-- how did the JPFO-- maybe also to Tony's last remarks-- how did the JPFO leadership address Palestinian natives' refugee problem in '48 and beyond, or did they address it? And does that seem like enough? [CHUCKLES]
Oh, and there were two questions to Tony, or suggestions-- perhaps the Yiddish language barrier that perhaps scholars have difficulty, or don't have Yiddish at all, accounts for some of the gap in the scholarship. Question from Rebecca Hill. And then somebody else, I think Dan Wolkowitz. And that's-- and if I forgot anybody else's, I'm sorry about that. But those seem to be the questions.
ELISSA SAMPSON: Can I go for the movie? It was one of the first questions, so it caught my attention. I think of the movie as a best foot forward movie, meaning they're under attack legally by New York State and its insurance department and the AG, the attorney general Tom Clark, in the US. They want to explain their philosophy.
Not everybody who was at the top level of the IWO's leadership was actually associated with the Communist Party, particularly Rockwell Kent, who's an artist and a writer. And so you see different types of footage here that are sympathetic, from their point of view, in terms of promoting this question of the multiethnic.
But you also see the idea that they are Americans and contributing to America. Whether or not the film was successful in touching a broader audience, it certainly did not influence New York State's insurance department, which shut them down.
BOB ZECKER: OK. Questions about the insurance company and perhaps their rivalry with the IWO?
ELISSA SAMPSON: If I can take that, then also I will, and I will defer to others. MetLife was not worried about the IWO. There are things it worried about during the Great Depression, and it did sell what's called industrial insurance policies, which were very cheap insurance policies that they sold to labor unions. But that would have been really the only overlap, because the IWO policies were nonprofit policies, much cheaper, and had comprehensive medical care. It was different markets, and this was a downscale market, no offense meant politically.
BOB ZECKER: Yeah, the only thing I tried to say was the Metropolitan Life Insurance, though, was the builder of Stuyvesant Town, the segregated public housing-- or excuse me, public housing in New York-- and the IWO led that campaign to integrate Stuyvesant Town. So perhaps the insurance company hated, if not that it competed with the IWO.
OK, question about the split with the Workmen's Circle? Anyone? Why did-- what led to the split with the Workmen's Circle?
ELISSA SAMPSON: Tony, you want to go for that?
TONY MICHELS: So the split culminated in about 10 years of acrimony within the Workmen's Circle between Communists and socialists and anarchists. And there are all sorts of reasons for that that had to do with disagreements about trade union policies. It had to do with differences about-- or criticism of the Soviet Union, which had become increasingly authoritarian and imprisoning anarchists and Mensheviks and other revolutionaries, so that was mixed into it.
There were some differences about cultural issues, with one element in the Workmen's Circle not very pro-Yiddish. Some were assimilationists. So that was thrown into it, that was mixed into it. But really, what precipitated it was a shift in Soviet policy and American Communist policy, what was called the Third Period. It was a highly sectarian direction that the Communist Party went in in 1928.
And so what that sectarianism meant for the Workmen's Circle is that instead of-- so the Communists, instead of trying to struggle to take over the Workmen's Circle, decided to just split from it and form a dual and competing organization. There was a parallel to that in the trade union movement, where instead, again, of trying to win the majority of trade union members over to the Communist side, Communists started forming dual unions competing with the existing unions.
So that's-- it was a shift in overall party policy that rippled out into the Workmen's Circle and led to the split.
BOB ZECKER: OK. Yeah. Oh, Elissa, did you want to--
ELISSA SAMPSON: I saw a question pop up that said, what was Morris Schappes' connection to this.
BOB ZECKER: Oh yeah.
ELISSA SAMPSON: He was the editor of Jewish Life. He was one of the most important people or figures in terms of the JPFO itself, and then eventually, when it relaunched, he became-- he was the editor of Jewish Currents. And of course, he was famously fired by CUNY for his views, which were communist. He was immigrant Jewish with native English, and so he basically straddled both worlds as a professor until he was fired.
BOB ZECKER: Yeah. Thank you. I'm sorry to the attendees. I think I neglected that one. Thank you, Elissa. And then the other question, how much did people in the US know about Stalin's oppression of Jews, and what happened in the JPFO with the Nazi-Soviet pact in late '39? Anyone?
TONY MICHELS: Well, I'll jump in. News-- reliable information about what was going on in the Soviet Union, broadly speaking, not just regarding Jews, but broadly speaking, started to become known by 1922, mainly due to the efforts of anarchists and Mensheviks living in Germany. In the '20s, started to organize Leftists in America behind the cause of Soviet political prisoners.
So already, even prior to Stalin, there was a movement on behalf of persecuted revolutionaries in the Soviet Union, and that grew since then. So pretty much whatever you wanted to know was available already, going back to the '20s.
The Hitler-Stalin pact was-- harmed the credibility of Communists quite a great deal, but the outbreak of World War II kind of rescued the IWO and associated Communist groups. So it turned out-- the effects weren't terrible. There was a moment in which communism's credibility was really questioned and membership went down a little bit, but the Communist Party-- Communist movement recovered fairly quickly.
BOB ZECKER: Yeah. OK. Yeah. And I'll just say, there are JPFO lodges in Newark, for example, that are writing to the headquarters in late '39 saying, how do you expect us to defend this pact? And then conversely, there are others saying, you know, it's something we have to support. So the IWO was not univocal in marching in lockstep with the party on this, or any other issue, I would argue.
OK, then there was the question about the Emma Lazarus club and, more broadly, the masculinist, if you will, leadership in the IWO and Jewish Left, and how gender operates in this scenario. [CHUCKLES] Simple question.
ELISSA SAMPSON: I would argue that one of the most interesting things about the JPFO and IWO is they start looking at Blacks and at women not simply as constituencies that they organize, but as members, and start admitting them into a variety of jobs as organizers, and eventually, into the executive levels.
Louise Thompson Patterson is a very good example of that. Clara Lemlich Shavelson and June Gordon are examples of that. So while the standards of the day may not be today's standards, you can see, actually, in looking at an over 20-year history, you can see the changes in how they deal with gender and race, and they're very telling.
PAUL BUHLE: If I could add something. Am I unmuted here?
ELISSA SAMPSON: Yes.
PAUL BUHLE: Oh, I am. Yes, I interviewed half a dozen or so Emmas in 1980, and the main rule was that if you wouldn't leave for the co-op city or wherever it was and get all the way to a meeting, you were out. They were very determined that everyone be active until they literally were ready for an IWO funeral ceremony.
But as said, it was seen as a place for Americanized Left-wing Jewish women and others, they could recruit. And as a very special place in which they knew what they did. They could do these things that were crucial. And my belief is, from interviewing the elderly ladies in Miami Beach, that the wartime activity-- many of the men were away raising the-- organizing to raise the money became more high women's activity than anything since the rent strikes.
Again, since the days of the rent strikes, women were at the very center of activities. And this elevated them in ways they had not been elevated within the broad Popular Front milieu.
BOB ZECKER: Yeah yeah. And the example of Louise Thompson Patterson is excellent. When she was in the IWO, she was organizing, and she says it in her unpublished memoirs at Emory. You know, she goes to these steel mill towns in Western Pennsylvania and she thinks these-- not only men, but these Slovak and Hungarian immigrant men are never going to listen to me, an African-American woman. And she's delighted when that's not the case.
And by the way, they also-- Thompson Patterson used the phrase "intersectionality" in 1950 in the IWO. They were talking about class, race, and gender. So they were not, perhaps, what feminists are today, but for their time and place, there were some pretty righteous people in the IWO on that question.
PAUL BUHLE: Can I add one more footnote?
BOB ZECKER: Yeah
PAUL BUHLE: Jerry Trauber, who was the IWO funeral monument creator, he told me in 1981 that those particular images in the film had been effaced because, as I recall, they had isolationist slogans on them.
BOB ZECKER: Ah, oh, OK. So the Yanks are not coming. Yeah, which is not good.
PAUL BUHLE: Along those lines, yes.
BOB ZECKER: Yeah, yeah, very good. OK. And a question, if we want to address-- how did the JPFO leadership address Palestinian refugees in '48, or did they?
ELISSA SAMPSON: I guess I'll go for that one, unless anybody else prefers it?
PAUL C. MISHLER: Yeah, I can kind of make a comment after you, Elissa, about this.
ELISSA SAMPSON: There is a really interesting history of the CP in regard to the Yishuv and Israel and two political parties. And it should be read by people who are interested in this question. Having said that, what the CP in the US did versus what the JPFO did, I'm one of the fans of the types of history that people do in which they look at what organizations do as well as what they say.
The JPFO raised money for ambulances for Israel and a children's kindergarten and did a lot of other things. So though officially not Zionists, in fact they participated in these coalitions, as Tony indicated, and they did so enthusiastically. So it's interesting, I think, in the US, they're not paying any attention to this. In Israel or the Yishuv, they very much are paying attention to this, if you're in CP ranks.
PAUL C. MISHLER: Yeah, let me just add something to that a little bit, is that there was a kind of universal Jewish support for the foundation of the state of Israel. And even among Communists-- you know, the early recognition of Israel by the Soviet Union. And I think there was sort of an absence of knowledge about the Palestinians as a social force that lasted up until the period of the 1967 war.
So one of the expressions of it within this world that we've been talking about is the expulsion of Paul Novick from the Communist Party in 1972 when-- the Frayhayt had for years been associated with the kind of belief that there would be a kind of lefty Jewish state in Israel, and really pushing back against the growing kind of interest in what was going on with the Palestinians in the Left.
And I think that it wasn't an issue in the '40s-- I mean, it was sort of-- the anti-Zionism was an issue in the early period. It wasn't around the time of the war. And then post-- really, not post-'67, but post-1973, the Jewish Left is really struggling, right? There are large sections of the Jewish Left, including young people as well as these older Communists, who just couldn't do it. They wanted to support Israel and that was it.
And within the Jewish community, it wasn't the Soviet Union-- anybody who was critical of the Israeli state became isolated within Jewish organizations. So that the kind of growth of pro-Palestinianism in the Left, as I said in one of my private comments, I find it's interesting that the people I meet in that, since I've been active in some of these organizations, is how few young people who come from these kind of backgrounds are present, are concerned with Palestine.
Many of the Jews I know who remain on the far Left don't have anything to do with Jews at all. It was too difficult to sort of raise issues of Palestine over-- between the mid-'60s and the '80s. But the young Jews who are active in Palestine solidarity-- again, in Jewish Voice for Peace or If Not Now-- seem to be quite a new group, and not having roots within the Left. And as people pointed out, that the JPFO Left tended to become very pro-Israel, even if not explicitly pro-Zionist.
BOB ZECKER: I don't know at what point people want to say no más, or genug, or whatever, but there was one last-- somebody asked, did anybody do oral histories, or are they created with the people who were in the youth branch of the JPFO? And I know Tamiment has some-- Sam Pevzner and others that Paul, you--
And by the way, when I was doing my research, Sam Pevzner was so wonderful and funny and spot on, I actually was cackling with laughter. And I didn't get expelled, but people came over and said, what are you listening to? But are there other collections of oral histories we could point attendees to?
ELISSA SAMPSON: I don't know about oral histories, but at Tamiment, you have Ernie Reimer's papers. And he FOIAed himself. In other words, he asked the federal government to find the files from when he was under FBI surveillance. They're heavily redacted, but it's clear that in five years, two agents basically found he used a phone booth twice or something like that. But it does also tell you a little bit about his activities, and it's a good source.
TONY MICHELS: I mean, one thing that might be relevant to say is that you know, when we're talking about the JPFO and the Jewish Communist Left, we're talking about two elements that became quite closely associated in the '40s. One are the Yiddish-speaking immigrant Jewish Communists.
The other are the children of immigrants, or those who came over at a really young age, and they also got involved in the JPFO, in the broader-- what was previously an exclusively Yiddish cultural scene. And that was very-- and they did so because of the new atmosphere of the 1940s that celebrated, in the Communist movement, celebrated Jewishness.
And so someone like Morris Schappes, who, as he talked about quite candidly in his oral histories, he was embarrassed about being a Jew. In the '20s into the '30s, he didn't want to be a Jew. It was something that he was ashamed of. And then various things happened in his life, some of which were personal, some of which were political. He came to recognize that celebrating Jewishness, learning Yiddish or re-learning Yiddish, was very important.
So I'll give you another example. The IWO film, remember that someone named Albert Kahn-- I think he was one of the first speakers. Albert Kahn came from a very assimilated Jewish home. He didn't know any Yiddish at all. But during this context of the Jewish people's unity movement, he started studying Yiddish. He got involved in the JPFO. He gave speeches on the importance of Jewish culture. So that's another element.
So there are two elements in the '40s and beyond. It's, again, the American, or Americanized Jews, the Yiddish immigrant Jews, and then the third, and I think this is maybe who the questioner was asking about, is the young children of both those generations. You know, people-- kids who were born in the '30s, let's say, maybe the '40s, and how did they grow up in this context?
And one book that's really important to look at is called, I think it's called Red Diapers.
BOB ZECKER: Red Diapers.
TONY MICHELS: Yeah, it's Red Diapers. It's a collection of oral histories with red diaper babies. Almost all of them are Communists, couple exceptions. But almost-- but the edits-- it's very telling, and this goes to what Paul Mishler was saying. I don't think the editors acknowledge this at all in the introduction. The editors are Jews, almost everyone's Jewish, but Jewishness as a subject is not foregrounded or theorized or anything like that. Although everyone in it talks about being Jewish.
So it's both an important source and an example of the kind of methodological problems researchers face in trying to deal with Jewishness in the Communist movement.
PAUL C. MISHLER: Yeah, I think there's also this other problem of this kind of present absence of non-Jewish children of the IWO and how rare they-- so that the self-consciousness of the red diaper babies has a very Jewish character to it. But there are few similar stories in the United States among non-Jewish children.
There's been some work in other countries. I mean, there's an English-- British version of the red diaper baby book which has some non-Jews, but also very heavily Jewish as well. So this issue of transmission-- I mean, in general, one could say that the ability to transmit to one's children an underground ideology is so built into the Jewish experience and so not built into any other experience in the United States that being like your parents ideologically, even if nobody likes them, is very, very Jewish.
It's very hard for non-Jews to have that dual experience, I think. Other than it's like taking Du Bois's notion of dual consciousness for African-Americans. Say, well, Jews have that also.
BOB ZECKER: [INAUDIBLE]
RANDI STORCH: I guess at this point, I just want to say thank you so much to all our panelists and to Tony for his response. And of course, to the organizers of this conference and to everyone for your time. We're almost 20 minutes over time, and I just want to be respectful to everyone.
And we have just an incredible week ahead of just more wonderful sessions, and we want you to know that we respect your time and we want you to tune back in. So thank you to everyone and to Matt behind the scenes, and we look forward to seeing everyone tomorrow.
PAUL BUHLE: Thanks so much.
RANDI STORCH: Same time, same station.
PAUL C. MISHLER: Thanks very much. Thanks, everybody. Good to see you all.
PAUL BUHLE: A wonderful encounter. Quite wonderful.
We've received your request
You will be notified by email when the transcript and captions are available. The process may take up to 5 business days. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about this request.
"Di Linke: the Yiddish Immigrant Left from Popular Front to Cold War" explores the history, cultural and political activities of the Jewish People’s Fraternal Order (JPFO), a significant component of the Yiddishist immigrant Jewish Left. The JPFO, the Jewish section of the Soviet-oriented multi-ethnic International Workers Order (IWO), was shut down with the IWO during the Cold War when its funds and organizational archives were confiscated. Much of the material discussed is from the now partially-digitized IWO/JPFO archive housed at Cornell’s ILR School Kheel Center.
In this session: Paul Buhle, Elissa Sampson, Paul Mishler, Toni Michels, and Randi Storch discuss the JPFO’s relations with the American and Yiddishist Left, Jewish organizations, the Soviet Union, and Communism. Starts with IWO film footage.