The Jewish Revolution: how Soviet Jews pursued artistic modernity and political freedom after 1917 — The Calvert Journal
The extent to which 1917 was tied up with questions of anti-Semitism and Jewish identity in the former tsarist Empire is rarely discussed in the West. But this was one of the revolution’s most urgent and vibrant battlegrounds, politically and culturally. Since the late 18th century, Jews in the Russian Empire had been confined to the Pale of Settlement; the February Revolution that preceded October 1917 granted them the freedom to live and work throughout the country. Violent reprisals and full-blown pogroms became commonplace, particularly across the western borderlands of the collapsing Empire. The integration of Jews into the building of a socialist society was a vital part of the Bolshevik policy to afford equal rights to ethnic minorities.
Jewish life was one of the revolution’s most urgent and vibrant battlegrounds, politically and culturally
This was especially true in light of the conservative reaction against the Revolution, which played out in the Russian Civil War of 1918-1921. The “Whites” who pitted themselves against the Red Army (newly formed by the Revolution’s most famous Jew, Trotsky) were an internationally backed ragtag of forces ranging from liberal monarchists to nationalist extremists, and were responsible for a wave of pogroms alongside their skirmishes with the Soviets. Those who lament the Bolsheviks’ eventual triumph in the Civil War tend to elide the fact that a White victory would have meant bloody catastrophe for an already brutalised Jewish population.