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2 - ‘Red Pogroms’: Spring 1918

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 September 2019

Brendan McGeever
Affiliation:
Birkbeck College, University of London
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Summary

The Bolsheviks had come to power in October 1917 on a wave of revolutionary optimism that a new society could be constituted free of the oppression and exploitation of the capitalist world. However, in the weeks and months that followed, these hopes were kept in check by a dramatic increase in antisemitism. In early 1918, open antisemitic agitation increasingly began to assert itself in the industrial heartlands of Moscow and Petrograd.1 By the spring, the first pogrom wave to follow the October Revolution broke out in various regions of the former Pale of Settlement. What shocked the Bolshevik leadership most of all was the participation of Red Guards in this violence. Whereas in mid- to late 1919 the majority of pogroms were carried out by anti-Bolshevik military forces, in the spring of 1918 antisemitic violence flowed principally from Red Guards in the former Pale. Consequently, the first Soviet response to antisemitism was directed at those who were ostensibly committed to the Bolshevik project. The pogroms of the spring of 1918 revealed the extent to which antisemitism could articulate with the revolutionary process: in some regions of the former Pale, Bolshevik power was actually constituted through anti-Jewish violence. Although marginal in the overall picture of anti-Jewish violence during the Civil War, the Red pogroms of the spring of 1918 will be placed centre stage by virtue of the fundamental questions they posed of the Soviet government and its anti-racist strategy.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2019

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