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Antisemitism and the Russian Revolution


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  • Date Published: September 2020
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781316647165
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About the Authors
  • When the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917, they announced the overthrow of a world scarred by exploitation and domination. In the very moment of revolution, these sentiments were put to the test as antisemitic pogroms swept the former Pale of Settlement. The pogroms posed fundamental questions of the Bolshevik project, revealing the depth of antisemitism within sections of the working class, peasantry and Red Army. Antisemitism and the Russian Revolution offers the first book-length analysis of the Bolshevik response to antisemitism. Contrary to existing understandings, it reveals this campaign to have been led not by the Party leadership, as is often assumed, but by a loosely connected group of radicals who mobilized around a Jewish political subjectivity. By examining pogroms committed by the Red Army, Brendan McGeever also uncovers the explosive overlap between revolutionary politics and antisemitism, and the capacity for class to become racialized in a moment of crisis.

    • Introduces an overlooked chapter in the history of anti-Jewish violence in eastern Europe
    • Offers a new perspective on how antisemitism can overlap with class relations
    • Uses archival sources to challenge previously held assumptions about antisemitism and the Russian Revolution
    Read more


    • Winner, 2019 Ronald Tress Prize, Birkbeck, University of London

    Reviews & endorsements

    'With a remarkable mastery of the historiography and a deep investigation of primary sources, McGeever unveils the conflation between war and revolution, class and ethnos in the early Soviet Union. Displaying a style both analytical and narrative, he shifts elegantly from macro- to micro-history and rebuilds the complexity of the relationship between Bolshevism and the 'Jewish question'. This is an outstanding work.' Enzo Traverso, Cornell University, New York

    'In this highly original and deeply researched study, McGeever reconstructs the efforts of the Bolshevik leadership to confront antisemitism in the Red Army during the Civil War (1918–21), but rigorously and dispassionately exposes the ideological and practical limitations of their efforts.' S. A. Smith, University of Oxford

    'An outstanding contribution to scholarship on early Bolshevik policy toward Jews, our understanding of pogroms, and the dynamics of early communist rule. McGeever reveals the role of non-Bolshevik socialists in combating antisemitism and offers a corrective to the received wisdom that Red Army soldiers did not participate in pogroms. A tour-de-force of historical scholarship.' Robert Weinberg, Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania

    'Exceptionally well written, based on extensive, original, research, compellingly argued, and characterized by sound judgment and impressive insight, this is a work which makes a major contribution to scholarly debates revolving around the relationship(s) between the Bolsheviks and antisemitism, and which richly deserves to reach a wide audience.' Jack Jacobs, City University of New York

    'A vital contribution to the history of the Russian Revolution, of socialism more generally, and of antisemitism as a modern political force.' Laura Engelstein, Yale University, Connecticut

    '… Antisemitism and the Russian Revolution is one of the most important new contributions to our understanding of 1917 and its immediate aftermath that has appeared in recent years. It offers a valuable contribution to both Soviet and Jewish history, and deserves a broad readership in both fields.' Faith Hillis, Revolutionary Russia

    '… thoroughly researched, highly readable, and important … Antisemitism and the Russian Revolution is a work with remarkable contemporary relevance given current debates over the politics of class versus that of identity or race.' Henry Reichman, The Russian Review

    'McGeever combines an engaging writing style with meticulous research … painting a fascinating, complex and unexpected picture of the role of Jewish political activists in Russia in the fight against antisemitism before, during and after the revolution.' Julia Bard, Ethnic and Racial Studies

    'McGeever (Birkbeck College, Univ. of London, UK) uses detailed archival research to reveal and explore the phenomenon of Red Army units that engaged in anti-Jewish violence in Ukraine during the Russian Civil War … This is a deeply researched study of great value … Highly recommended.' R. M. Shapiro, Choice

    'A remarkable book.' Mario Kessler, International Review of Social History

    '… revealing and nuanced exploration of antisemitism … McGreever has tapped rich and little-used sources to tell a textured, nuanced story that centres on the fratricidal civil war in Ukraine where the bulk of pogroms took place.' Ronald Grigor Suny, Patterns of Prejudice

    'McGeever's account deserves a wide reading, not just among those with an interest in Russian revolutionary politics and the Bolshevik encounter with a troubled imperial legacy, but among scholars of the political left and those beyond academia …' James Dunne, Europe-Asia Studies

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    Customer reviews

    21st Jan 2020 by SSHebert

    Review from the Times of Israel blog by Shelley S. Hebert, January 21, 2020 When I began reading “Antisemitism and the Russian Revolution,” I thought it would help me understand the world of my great-grandparents and grandparents. What I found instead is a story that is as important for dealing with the present as it is for learning about the past. Professor Brendan McGeever has combined his interests in the study of racism and class politics with an extraordinary examination of a dark period in history. Described as a work of “historical sociology,” his meticulously researched narrative offers a detailed view into the lives, responses and actions of individuals and political movements at the intersection of idealistic vision, revolution, and violent antisemitism a century ago. I was startled to discover that among them was an activist named Avrum Kheifets. Born in 1880 in Riga, he had the same name as a member of my family who lived not far away in a Russian town called Zhuravichi. Both came from families of Jewish school teachers. The other Avrum (whose name was transliterated as Chafetz, then Heifetz) was the son of my great-uncle Yitzhak Aaron. I learned for the first time not long ago that my great-uncle was brutally murdered in one of the horrific pogroms that devastated Jewish communities and families in the period after World War I. Thanks to the courage of my great-grandmother Shima Heifetz, young Avrum and his siblings escaped to America and began a new life. It was his daughter, now a grandmother herself, who found me on 23andMe. We need not look beyond the daily news to understand why the questions McGeever raises in examining antisemitism in a time of political upheaval are critically important. How did divisions of class become entwined with racism? What were the responses among Jews and others hoping to be part of a movement for revolutionary societal change? What strategies were debated by committees and campaigns aimed at fighting antisemitism? When I had the opportunity to participate in a meeting arranged by the global advocacy organization AJC San Francisco with Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, who represents the Silicon Valley region, she concluded with words that have stayed with me ever since. “This is the challenge we have been given in our time and it is our duty to meet it,” she said. I would add that it is also our responsibility to learn about the past to inform our actions and strengthen our commitment in the present. Innovative scholarship such as “Antisemitism and the Russian Revolution” is an invaluable contribution to that effort. In 1923, my great-grandmother and the children she rescued from virulent antisemitism were impoverished immigrants taking their first steps into America after the ship they traveled on reached New York. It was the same year in which the daily Talmudic study practice known as Daf Yomi began. A century later, we are still learning from sages who lived in other eras and from contemporary scholars such as McGeever willing to do the difficult work day after day, year after year. As we continue to meet urgent challenges in our times that few would have even imagined possible in the 21st century, we need both to keep us moving forward.

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    Product details

    • Date Published: September 2020
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781316647165
    • length: 259 pages
    • dimensions: 230 x 153 x 15 mm
    • weight: 0.35kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    A note on translation
    Terms and abbreviations
    1. 1917: antisemitism in the moment of revolution
    2. 'Red pogroms': Spring 1918
    3. The Soviet response to antisemitism, 1918
    4. Antisemitism and revolutionary politics: the Red Army in Ukraine, 1919
    5. The Soviet response to antisemitism in Ukraine, February–May 1919
    6. Conclusions: anti-racist praxis in the Russian Revolution
    7. Reinscribing antisemitism? The Bolshevik approach to the 'Jewish question'
    Epilogue: in the shadow of pogroms

  • Author

    Brendan McGeever, Birkbeck College, University of London
    Brendan McGeever is Lecturer in Sociology at Birkbeck, University of London. His work examines the relationship between antisemitism and racism, historically up to the present day. He is based at the Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism at Birkbeck, University of London, where he teaches in the Department of Psychosocial Studies. He is a 2019 BBC/AHRC New Generation Thinker, with his work featuring across television and radio.


    • Winner, 2019 Ronald Tress Prize, Birkbeck, University of London
    • Winner, 2020 Reginald Zelnik Book Prize in History, Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies
    • Honorable Mention, 2020 W. Bruce Lincoln Book Prize, Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies
    • Honourable Mention, 2019 Alexander Nove Prize, British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies.

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