Anti-Semitism: Churchill and the Jewish question
Paul Flewers replies to Eddie Ford
Writing in these pages a few weeks back, Eddie Ford made what should be for leftwingers the axiomatic point that Winston Churchill “was without doubt the most virulently anti-working class representative of the British high establishment in the 20th century bar none”,1 and proceeded to demonstrate just how reactionary he was in both his ideas and practice.
However, Ford is wrong when he states that Churchill “was an anti-Semite”. His attitude towards Jews was rather more complex.
Churchill was a life-long believer in race theory and in the idea of the inherent superiority of white people. His deprecatory attitude towards members of what he considered to be inferior races has been well documented, and it was central to his strongly held belief in British imperialism and his opposition to even the slightest concessions to home rule within the colonies. His last recorded political statement was to criticise Harold Macmillan’s ‘Winds of change’ speech, saying that this Conservative prime minister should not have gone to Africa, “encouraging the black man”.2
It is indisputable that Churchill considered ‘International Jews’ such as Rosa Luxemburg, Béla Kun, Karl Radek, Grigory Zinoviev and - in particular - Leon Trotsky as the most dangerous threat to the world as he knew it. His portrayal of Trotsky, written in 1929 - that is, after his expulsion from the Soviet Union - and revised and sharpened for his collection, Great contemporaries of 1937, was unbelievably vicious, compared to his almost solicitous treatment of Paul Hindenburg, Kaiser Wilhelm II and even Adolf Hitler.3 As Ford points out, Churchill’s descriptions of Jews in the revolutionary movement were highly reminiscent of those of outright anti-Semites - he openly referred to the Bolsheviks as “these Jew commissars” with their aim of “a worldwide communistic state under Jewish domination”4 - but this does not mean that his attitude towards non-revolutionary Jews was the same.
Anti-Semitism is an unusual racial prejudice because it is based not upon a sense of superiority towards an ethnic group that is deemed as inferior, but rather upon a sense of fear towards an ethnic group that in certain ways is seen as superior. Alongside the general stereotypes of Jews as tightly ethnocentric, unduly ambitious and obsessed with wealth, milder forms of anti-Semitism present Jews as sharp businessmen and lawyers or clever at monopolising certain professions, whilst the most extreme forms present them as a secretive cabal using their sinister powers in order to achieve global dominance and the enslavement of the gentile world.
The presence of Jews in radical movements, just as with their presence, if usually exaggerated by anti-Semites, in various other fields of modern society, is not explained by a socio-economic analysis that situates the position of Jews as an ethnic group within the complexities of world history, but by a prejudice that assumes that this small group is somehow blessed with special immanent powers denied to the rest of humanity. Hitler’s inclusion of Jews within his category of Untermenschen sits incongruously with his dread fear of what he saw as their almost magical powers of manipulation.5
In his 1920 article, ‘Zionism versus Bolshevism: a struggle for the soul of the Jewish people’, Churchill referred to “the Jews” as “beyond all question the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has ever appeared in the world”.6 This was a key passage, and was one that underpinned both his anti-Semitic stance towards Jews in the revolutionary movement, and his very appreciative - philo-Semitic - stance towards Jews who eschewed such a viewpoint. Churchill believed that they were literally a race apart, but, although his view of Jews within society rested upon the same analysis by which anti-Semites base their hostility to them - hence the tell-tale use of the definite article in “the Jews” - he nevertheless considered that a Jew who was loyal to and identified with the country in which he lived was by dint of both his patriotism and his innate qualities an extremely valuable citizen.
So Churchill’s attitude towards Jews can best be described as a combination of philo-Semitism and anti-Semitism, depending upon the specific political outlook of any Jew when considered as an individual. To paraphrase a popular saying, ‘When they were good, they were very, very good; when they were bad, they were deadly.’ He had no problem with ‘good’ ‘national Jews’, as he considered that their innate talents were harnessed to the wellbeing of the nation,7 and historically he felt that Judaism had done much to influence the Christian ethical framework which he so appreciated. On the other hand, ‘bad’ ‘international Jews’ were a scourge and a mortal danger to civilisation - and Trotsky represented in its most concentrated form the ‘bad’ Jew, the member of “this same astounding race” who put his innate talents at the service of revolution.
Whilst he was a firm believer in race theory, for Churchill, although it is highly unlikely that he personally recognised it, the ultimate determining factor in politics was the question of ideas and in particular ideas that expressed class interests, and not the biological one of race. For a believer in the “world Jewish conspiracy”, communism is a secondary factor, one of the ploys by which the ‘elders of Zion’ bamboozle and manipulate the gullible gentile world in their quest for supreme power. For Churchill, communism as an idea - and after 1917 a reality - was his principal enemy; the “international Jew” was by dint of his immanent qualities the most adept proponent of the theory and now the practice of communism: he was a dangerous adversary and one to be fought relentlessly, but what ultimately made him so dangerous in Churchill’s eyes were the ideas of class struggle and workers’ revolution which motivated him.
Churchill therefore considered that Trotsky personified a deadly, class-based threat to the capitalist system even after he had been removed from the leadership of the Soviet Communist Party and the Communist International and had been unceremoniously turfed out of the Soviet Union. It was this realisation that encouraged Churchill to write and subsequently to beef up his florid attack upon the by-now exiled Bolshevik leader.8
Usefulness of Zionism
Churchill’s article, ‘Zionism versus Bolshevism’, appeared at a time when anti-Semitism was on the rise across much of the world. In Britain during World War I, Jews had often been accused of making a fortune from government contracts, and had sometimes been portrayed as German agents (in Germany, Jews were often seen as pro-Entente). Rightwing newspapers, in particular the Morning Post, and magazines regaled their readers with a stream of anti-Semitic stories about the Soviet regime. The appearance of Churchill’s article coincided practically to the month with the first publication in Britain of The learned protocols of the elders of Zion, and the lurid assertions about the “world Jewish conspiracy” in this notorious forgery and other inflammatory anti-Jewish tracts were often taken seriously in the mainstream press of the day.
Although Churchill’s diatribes against “international Jews” were practically indistinguishable from those of heavy-duty anti-Semites - he even cited as a reliable authority on revolutions by the conspiracy crackpot and future British fascisti member, Nesta Webster - and almost certainly gave credibility to them on account of his weighty reputation and his adherence to race theory, his article can actually be seen as an attempt, if a rather ham-fisted one, to counter the tide of anti-Jewish sentiments. He implored “national Jews” to “come forward on every occasion” and make a stand against Bolshevism. “In this way,” he continued, “they will be able to vindicate the honour of the Jewish name and make it clear to all the world that the Bolshevik movement is not a Jewish movement, but is repudiated vehemently by the great mass of the Jewish race.” The fundamental battle was not the anti-Semites’ clamorous defence of the gentile world against the “world Jewish conspiracy”, but a political struggle against communism, in which, he hoped, a good number of Jews could be persuaded to take the anti-communist side. For Churchill, therefore, an essential part of the fight against Bolshevism was the “struggle for the soul of the Jewish people”.
This, however, required “positive and practicable” ideas and activities, and Churchill was an enthusiastic supporter of Zionism and of the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. He viewed Zionism as useful both as a means of diverting Jews away from revolutionary ideas through its promotion of “a national idea of a commanding character”, and as a means of defending British imperial interests, stating that “a Jewish state under the protection of the British crown … would be especially in harmony with the truest interests of the British empire”. It can be seen here that Churchill did not suggest that the rise of Zionism might result in the development of a ‘dual loyalty’ amongst Jews in Britain, or, to put it another way, he foresaw no conflict of interests developing between the British empire and a Jewish state in Palestine. This too marked him off from the anti-Semites, for whom the question of ‘dual loyalty’ amongst Zionists was a matter of considerable concern.9
Not surprisingly, Zionist commentators have often viewed Churchill as a great ‘friend of the Jews’, although this has required some selective amnesia to get around his use of anti-Semitic language in his descriptions of Jewish communists and his enthusiastic endorsement of race theory - a dogma which helped to propel Hitler’s movement and underpinned the wartime holocaust and other manifestations of Nazi inhumanity during the 20th century.10
Defender of capitalism
Although the fruitcake ends of fascism and Islamism view Churchill as a ‘tool of the Jews’, just as many Zionist writers lavish fulsome praise upon him for his philo-Semitism and support for Zionism, it is important to remember that Churchill’s concern for Jews had its limits.
During the Russian civil war, Churchill was the foremost advocate of military action to overthrow the Soviet regime, and he demanded that the British government give full support to the counterrevolutionary Whites. He was, however, dismayed at the Whites’ widespread anti-Jewish pogroms, and he wrote discreetly to White general Anton Denikin, asking him to put a stop to them. Hardly surprisingly, nothing came of it. The pogroms continued apace, hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed, injured or driven from their homes, yet Churchill carried on publicly championing the counterrevolutionaries. The overthrow of the Soviet regime was his main priority; the victims of the atrocities committed by his allies could be quietly forgotten.
It is important also to remember that Churchill’s attitude towards Zionism was conditional, and was based fundamentally upon his main concern: the welfare of the British empire. When his friend, Lord Moyne, was assassinated in Palestine in 1944 by Zionist terrorists, Churchill thundered in parliament against this “set of gangsters worthy of Nazi Germany”.11
Churchill’s philo-Semitism, his support for Zionism and his belief in some mythical Jewish essence or qualities were certainly real, but they were all subordinated to his primary political objectives of defending the British empire against external rivals and internal opposition and protecting the British bourgeoisie from working class militancy, and without doubt would have been put to one side had the requirements of British capitalism demanded it.
1. Weekly Worker May 2.
2. Cited in C Ponting Churchill London 1994, p808.
3. W Churchill, ‘Trotsky: the ogre of Europe’ Nash’s Pall Mall Magazine December 1929; revised version, ‘Leon Trotsky, alias Bronstein’ Great contemporaries London 1937, pp197-205.
4. Cited in C Ponting op cit p230.
5. Thus in Mein Kampf Hitler raged at ‘the Jews’ for ruining Germany’s chances of victory in World War I, fulminating that “if at the beginning of the war and during the war 12 or 15 thousand of these Hebrew corrupters of the people had been held under poison gas … the sacrifice of millions at the front would not have been in vain” (cited in R Black Fascism in Germany London 1975, p243).
6. W Churchill, ‘Zionism versus Bolshevism: a struggle for the soul of the Jewish people’ Illustrated Sunday Herald February 8 1920, in L Brenner (ed) 51 documents: Zionist collaboration with the Nazis Fort Lee 2002, pp23-28.
7. Pace Ford, I do not believe that Churchill viewed Jews as “parasitical finance capitalists”, nor that he distrusted them in toto. In the article cited here, he praised the Jewish bankers and industrialists of the tsarist period for having “promoted the development of Russia’s economic resources”.
8. Although when the first Moscow trial took place in 1936, Churchill was concerned that the accused “were nearly all Jews” and he felt that “the nationalist elements represented by Stalin” were “developing the same prejudices” against Jews that were becoming “so painfully evident in Germany”, the balance sheet was largely favourable: “Clearly Soviet Russia has moved decidedly away from communism. This is a lurch to the right. The throne of a world revolution which animated the Trotskyist is cracked, if not broken … Stalin has now come to represent Russian nationalism in somewhat threadbare communist trappings” (W Churchill Step by step 1936-1939 London 1939, pp59-61, 70-73).
9. Even as one prominent British fascist, recoiling at the Nazis’ anti-Jewish policies in the aftermath of the Kristallnacht state pogrom, considered that Jews in Britain should enjoy full civil rights, he emphasised that this did not include Jews who were Zionists or communists, whom he felt could not be loyal British citizens. See F Yeats-Brown European Jungle London 1939, pp186ff.
10. See, for example, the obituaries of Churchill in the Jewish Chronicle (January 29 and February 5 1965); and the summary of his politics by his official biographer and staunch Zionist, Martin Gilbert, in Churchill’s political philosophy (Oxford 1981).
11. Cited in C Ponting op cit p701.