Chapter 24. Breaking Away From the Bolshevism

At the beginning of the 20th century, Europe imagined itself to be on the threshold of worldwide enlightenment. No one could have predicted the strength with which nationalism would explode in that very century among all nations of the world. One hundred years later it seems nationalist feelings are not about to die soon (the very message that international socialists have been trying to drum into our heads for the whole century), but instead are gaining strength.

Yet, does not the multi-national nature of humanity provide variety and wealth? Erosion of nations surely would be an impoverishment for humanity, the entropy of the spirit. (And centuries of the histories of national cultures would then turn into irredeemably dead and useless antics.) The logic that it would be easier to manage such a uniform mankind fails by its petty reductionism.

However, the propaganda in the Soviet empire harped non-stop in an importunately-triumphant manner about the imminent withering away and amalgamation of nations, proclaiming that no “national question” exists in our country, and that there is certainly no “Jewish question.”

Yet why should not the Jewish question exist — the question of the unprecedented three-thousand-year-old existence of the nation, scattered all over the Earth, yet spiritulally soldered together despite all notions of the state and territoriality, and at the same time influencing the entire world history in the most lively and powerful way? Why should there not be a “Jewish question” given that all national questions come up at one time or other, even the “Gagauz question” [a small Christian Turkic people, who live in the Balkans and Eastern Europe]?

Of course, no such silly doubt could ever arise, if the Jewish question were not the focus of many different political games.

The same was true for Russia too. In pre-revolutionary Russian society, as we saw, it was the omission of the Jewish question that was considered “anti-Semitic.” In fact, in the mind of the Russian public the Jewish question — understood as the question of civil rights or civil equality — developed into perhaps the central question of the whole Russian public life of that period, and certainly into the central node of the conscience of every individual, its acid test.

With the growth of European socialism, all national issues were increasingly recognized as merely regrettable obstacles to that great doctrine; all the more was the Jewish question (directly attributed to capitalism by Marx) considered a bloated hindrance. Mommsen wrote that in the circles of “Western-Russian socialist Jewry,” as he put it, even the slightest attempt to discuss the Jewish question was branded as “reactionary” and “anti-Semitic” (this was even before the Bund).

Such was the iron standard of socialism inherited by the USSR. From 1918 the communists forbade (under threat of imprisonment or death) any separate treatment or consideration of the Jewish question (except sympathy for their suffering under the Tsars and positive attitudes for their active role in communism). The intellectual class voluntarily and willingly adhered to the new canon while others were required to follow it.

This cast of thought persisted even through the Soviet-German war as if, even then, there was not any particular Jewish question. And even up to the demise of the USSR under Gorbachev, the authorities used to repeat hard-headedly: no, there is no Jewish question, no, no, no! (It was replaced by the “Zionist question.”)

Yet already by the end of the World War II, when the extent of the destruction of the Jews under Hitler had dawned on the Soviet Jews, and then through Stalin’s “anti-cosmopolitan” campaign of the late 1940s, the Soviet intelligentsia realized that the Jewish question in the USSR does exist! And the pre-revolutionary understanding — that it is central to Russian society and to the conscience of every individual and that it is the “true measure of humanity”1 — was also restored.

In the West it was only the leaders of Zionism who confidently talked from the late 19th century about the historical uniqueness and everlasting relevance of the Jewish question (and some of them at the same time maintained robust links with diehard European socialism).
And then the emergence of the state of Israel and the consequent storms around it added to the confusion of naive socialist minds of Europeans.

Here I offer two small but at the time quite stirring and typical examples. In one episode of so-called “the dialogue between the East and the West” show (a clever Cold-War-period programme, where Western debaters were opposed by Eastern-European officials or novices who played off official nonsense for their own sincere convictions) in the beginning of 1967, a Slovak writer, Ladislav Mnacko, properly representing the socialist East, wittily noted that he never in his life had any conflict with the Communist authorities, except one case when his driver’s license was suspended for a traffic violation. His French opponent angrily said that at least in one other case, surely Mnacko should be in the opposition: when the uprising in neighboring Hungary was drowned in blood. But no, the suppression of Hungarian Uprising neither violated the peace of Mnacko’s mind, nor did it force him to say anything sharp or impudent. Then, a few months passed after the “dialogue” and the Six-Day War broke out. At that point the Czechoslovak Government of Novotny, all loyal Communists, accused Israel of aggression and severed diplomatic relations with it. And what happened next? Mnacko — a Slovak married to a Jew — who had calmly disregarded the suppression of Hungary before, now was so outraged and agitated that he left his homeland and as a protest went to live in Israel.

The second example comes from the same year. A famous French socialist, Daniel Meyer, at the moment of the Six-Day War had written in Le Monde, that henceforth he is: 1) ashamed to be a socialist — because of the fact that the Soviet Union calls itself a socialist country (well, when the Soviet Union was exterminating not only its own people but also other socialists — he was not ashamed); 2) ashamed of being a French (obviously due to the wrong political position of de Gaulle); and, 3) ashamed to be a human (wasn’t that too much?), and ashamed of all except being a Jew.2

We are ready to accept both Mnacko’s outrage and Meyer’s anger, yet we would like to point out at the extreme intensity of their feelings — given the long history of their obsequious condoning of communism. Surely, the intensity of their feelings is also an aspect of the Jewish question in the 20th century.

So in what way ”did the Jewish question not exist”?

If one listened to American radio broadcasts aimed at the Soviet Union from 1950 to the 1980s, one might conclude that there was no other issue in the Soviet Union as important as the Jewish question. (At the same time in the United States, where the Jews “can be described as … the most privileged minority” and where they “gained an unprecedented status, the majority of [American Jews] still claimed that hatred and discrimination by their Christian compatriots was a grim fact of the modern life”3; yet because it would sound incredible if stated aloud, then the Jewish question does not exist, and to notice it and talk about it is unnecessary and improper.)

We have to get used to talking about Jewish question not in a hush and fearfully, but clearly, articulately and firmly. We should do so not overflowing with passion, but sympathetically aware of both the unusual and difficult Jewish world history and centuries of our Russian history that are also full of significant suffering. Then the mutual prejudices, sometimes very intense, would disappear and calm reason would reign.

Working on this book, I can’t help but notice that the Jewish question has been omnipresent in world history and it never was a national question in the narrow sense like all other national questions, but was always — maybe because of the nature of Judaism? — interwoven into something much bigger.


When in the late 1960s I mused about the fate of the communist regime and felt that yes, it is doomed, my impression was strongly supported by the observation that so many Jews had already abandoned it.

There was a period when they persistently and in unison supported the Soviet regime, and at that time the future definitely belonged to it. Yet now the Jews started to defect from it, first the thinking individuals and later the Jewish masses. Was this not a sure sign that the years of the Soviet rule are numbered? Yes, it was.

So when exactly did it happen that the Jews, once such a reliable backbone of the regime, turned into almost its greatest adversary?

Can we say that the Jews always struggled for freedom? No, for too many of them were the most zealous communists.  Yet now they turned their backs on it. And without them, the ageing Bolshevist fanaticism had not only lost some of its fervor, it actually ceased to be fanatical at all, rather it became lazy in the Russian way.

After the Soviet-German War, the Jews became disappointed by Communist power: it turned out that they were worse off than before. We saw the main stages of this split. Initially, the support of the newborn state of Israel by the USSR had inspired the Soviet Jews. Then came the persecution of the “cosmopolitans” and the mainly Jewish intelligentsia (not the philistine masses yet) began to worry: communism pushes the Jews aside? oppresses them? The terrible threat of massacre by Stalin overwhelmed them as well — but it was short-lived and miraculously disappeared very soon. During the “interregnum,” [following Stalin’s death] and then under Khrushchev, Jewish hopes were replaced by dissatisfaction and the promised stable improvement failed to materialize.

And then the Six-Day War broke out with truly biblical force, rocking both Soviet and world Jewry, and the Jewish national consciousness began to grow like an avalanche. After the Six-Day War, “much was changed … the action acquired momentum. Letters and petitions began to flood Soviet and international organizations. National life was revived: during the holidays it became difficult to get into a synagogue, underground societies sprang up to study Jewish history, culture and Hebrew.”4

And then there was that rising campaign against “Zionism,” already linked to “imperialism,” and so the resentment grew among the Jews toward that increasingly alien and abominable and dull Bolshevism — where did such a monster come from?

Indeed, for many educated Jews the departure from communism was painful as it is always difficult to part with an ideal — after all, was not it a “great, and perhaps inevitable, planetary experiment initiated in Russia in 1917; an experiment, based on ancient attractive and obviously high ideas, not all of which were faulty and many still retain their beneficial effect to this day…. Marxism requires educated minds.”5

Many Jewish political writers strongly favored the term “Stalinism” — a convenient form to justify the earlier Soviet regime. It is difficult to part with the old familiar and sweet things, if it is really possible at all.

There have been attempts to increase the influence of intellectuals on the ruling elite. Such was the Letter to the XXIII Congress (of the Communist Party) by G. Pomerants (1966). The letter asked the Communist Party to trust the “scientific and creative intelligentsia,” that “desires not anarchy but the rule of law … that wants not to destroy the existing system but to make it more flexible, more rational, more humane” and proposed to establish an advisory think tank, which would generally consult the executive leadership of the country.6
The offer remained unanswered.

And many souls long ached for such a wasted opportunity with such a “glorious” past.

But there was no longer any choice . And so the Soviet Jews split away from communism. And now, while deserting it, they turned against it. And that was such a perfect opportunity — they could themselves, with expurgatory repentance, acknowledge their formerly active and cruel role in the triumph of communism in Russia.

Yet almost none of them did (I discuss the few exceptions below). The above-mentioned collection of essays, Russia and the Jews, so heartfelt, so much needed and so timely when published in 1924 was fiercely denounced by Jewry. And even today, according to the opinion of the erudite scholar, Shimon Markish: “these days, nobody dares to defend those hook-nosed and burry  commissars  because of fear of being branded pro-Soviet, a Chekist, a God-knows-what else…. Yet let me say in no uncertain terms: the behavior of those Jewish youths who joined the Reds is a thousand times more understandable than the reasons of the authors of that collection of works.”7

Still, some Jewish authors began to recognize  certain things of the past as they really were, though in the most cautious terms: “It was the end of the role of the `Russian-Jewish intelligentsia´ that developed in the prewar and early postwar years and that was — to some degree sincerely — a bearer of Marxist ideology and that professed, however timidly and implicitly and contrary to actual practice, the ideals of liberalism, internationalism and humanism.”8 A bearer of Marxist ideology? — Yes, of course. The ideals of internationalism? — Sure. Yet liberalism and humanism? — True, but only after Stalin’s death, while coming to senses.

However, very different things can be inferred from the writings of the majority of Jewish publicists in the late Soviet Union. Looking back to the very year of 1917, they find that under communism there was nothing but Jewish suffering! “Among the many nationalities of the Soviet Union, the Jews have always been stigmatized as the least `reliable´ element.”9

What incredibly short memory one should have to state such things in 1983? Always! And what about the 1920s? And the 1930s? To assert that they were then considered the least reliable?! Is it really possible to forget everything so completely?

“If … one takes a bird’s-eye view of the entire history of the Soviet era, then the latter appears as one gradual process of destruction of the Jews.” Note — the entire history! We investigated this in the previous chapters and saw that even without taking into account Jewish over-representation in the top Soviet circles, there had been a period of well-being for many Jews with mass migration to cities, open access to higher education and the blossoming of Jewish culture. The author proceeds with a reservation: “Although there were …  certain `fluctuations´, the overall trend continued … Soviet power, destroying all nationalities, generally dealt with the Jews in the most brutal way.”10

Another author considers a disaster even the early period when Lenin and the Communist Party called upon the Jews to help with state governance, and the call was heard, and the great masses of Jews from the shtetls of the hated Pale moved into the capital and the big cities, closer to the avant-garde [of the Revolution]”; he states that the “… formation of the Bolshevik regime that had turned the greater part of Jews into `déclassé´, impoverished and exiled them and destroyed their families” was a catastrophe for the “majority of the Jewish population.” (Well, that depends on one’spoint of view. And the author himself later notes: in the 1920s and 1930s, the “children of déclassé Jewish petty bourgeois were able to graduate from … the technical institutes and metropolitan universities and to become `commanders´ of the `great developments.´”) Then his reasoning becomes vague: “in the beginning of the century the main feature of Jewish activity was … a fascination … with the idea of building a new fair society”– yet the army of revolution “consisted of plain rabble — all those `who were nothing,´ [a quote from The Internationale].” Then, “after the consolidation of the regime” that rabble “decided to implement their motto and to `become all´ [also a quote from The Internationale], and finished off their own leaders….  And so the kingdom of rabble — unlimited totalitarianism — was established.” (And, in this context, the Jews had nothing to do with it, except that they were among the victimized leaders.) And the purge continued “for four decades” until the “mid-1950s”; then the last “bitter pill … according to the scenario of disappointments” was prescribd to the remaining “`charmed´ Jews.”11 Again we see the same angle: the entire Soviet history was one of unending oppression and exclusion of the Jews.

Yet now they wail in protest in unison: “We did not elect this regime!”

Or even “it is not possible to cultivate a loyal Soviet elite among them [the Jews].”12
Oh my God, was not this method working flawlessly for 30 years, and only later coming undone?  So where did all those glorious and famous names — whom we’ve seen in such numbers — came from?

And why were their eyes kept so tightly shut that they couldn’t see the essence of Soviet rule for thirty to forty years? How is that that their eyes were opened only now? And what opened them?

Well, it was mostly because of the fact that now that power had suddenly turned around and began pushing the Jews not only out of its ruling and administrative circles, but out of cultural and scientific establishements also. “The disappointment was so fresh and sore, that we did not have the strength, nor the courage to tell even our children about it. And what about the children? … For the great majority of them the main motivation was the same — graduate school, career, and so on.”13
Yet soon they would have to examine their situation more closely.


In the 1970s we see examples of rather amazing agreement of opinions, unthinkable for the past half a century.

For instance, Shulgin wrote in 1929: “We must acknowledge our past. The flat denial … claiming that the Jews are to blame for nothing — neither for the Russian Revolution, nor for the consolidation of Bolshevism, nor for the horrors of the communism — is the worst way possible….  It would be a great step forward if this groundless tendency to blame all the troubles of Russia on the Jews could be somewhat differentiated. It would be already great if any `contrasts´ could be found.”14

Fortunately, such contrasts, and even more — comprehension, and even remorse — were voiced by some Jews. And, combined with the honest mind and rich life experience, they were quite clear. And this brings hope.

Here’s Dan Levin, an American intellectual who immigrated to Israel: “It is no accident, that none of the American writers who attempted to describe and explain what happened to Soviet Jewry, has touched this important issue — the [Jewish] responsibility for the communism…. In Russia, the people’s anti-Semitism is largely due to the fact that the Russians perceive the Jews as the cause of all the evil of the revolution. Yet American writers — Jews and ex-Communists … do not want to resurrect the ghosts of the past. However, oblivion is a terrible thing.”15

Simultaneously, another Jewish writer, an émigré from the Soviet Union, published: the experience of the Russian (Soviet) Jewry, in contrast to that of the European Jewry, whose historical background  “is the experience of a collision with the forces of outer evil … requires a look not from inside out but rather of introspection and … inner self-examination.” “In this reality we saw only one Jewish spirituality — that of the Commissar — and its name was Marxism.” Or he writes about “our young Zionists who demonstrate so much contempt toward Russia, her rudeness and savagery, contrasting all this with [the worthiness of] the ancient Jewish nation.” “I saw pretty clearly, that those who today sing hosanna to Jewry, glorifying it in its entiriety (without the slightest sense of guilt or the slightest potential to look inside), yesterday were saying: ‘I wouldn’t be against the Soviet regime, if it was not anti-Semitic,´ and two days ago they beat their breasts in ecstasy: `Long live the great brotherhood of nations! Eternal Glory to the Father and Friend, the genius Comrade Stalin!´”16

But today, when it is clear how many Jews were in the iron Bolshevik leadership, and how many more took part in the ideological guidance of a great country to the wrong track — should the question not arise [among modern Jews] as to some sense of responsibility for the actions of those [Jews]? It should be asked in general: shouldn’t there be a kind of moral responsibility — not a joint liability, yet the responsibility to remember and to acknowledge? For example, modern Germans accept liability to Jews directly, both morally and materially, as perpetrators are liable to the victims: for many years they have paid compensation to Israel and personal compensation to surviving victims.

So what about Jews? When Mikhail Kheifets, whom I repeatedly cite in this work, after having been through labor camps, expressed the grandeur of his character by repenting on behalf of his people for the evil committed by the Jews in the Soviet Union in the name of communism — he was bitterly ridiculed.

The whole educated society, the cultured circle, had genuinely failed to notice any Russian grievances in the 1920s and 1930s; they didn’t even assume that  such could exist — yet they instantly recognized the Jewish grievances as soon as those emerged. Take, for example, Victor Perelman, who after emigrating published an anti-Soviet Jewish journal Epoch and We and who served the regime in the filthiest place, in Chakovsky’s Literaturnaya Gazeta — until  the Jewish question had entered his life. Then he opted out….

At a higher level, they generalized it as “the crash of … illusions about the integration [of Jewry] into the Russian social movements, about making any change in Russia.”17

Thus, as soon as the Jews recognized their explicit antagonism to the Soviet regime, they turned into its intellectual opposition — in accord to their social role. Of course, it was not them who rioted in Novocherkassk, or created unrest in Krasnodar, Alexandrov, Murom, or Kostroma. Yet the filmmaker Mikhail Romm plucked up his heart and, during a public speech, unambiguously denounced the “anti-cosmopolitan” campaign — and that became one of the first Samizdat documents (and Romm himself, who in so timely a manner rid himself of his ideological impediments, became a kind of spiritual leader for the Soviet Jewry, despite his films Lenin in October (1937), Lenin in 1918 (1939), and despite being a fivefold winner of the Stalin Prize). And after that the Jews had become reliable supporters and intrepid members of the “democratic” and “dissident” movements.

Looking back from Israel at the din of Moscow, another witness reflected: “A large part of Russian democrats (if not the majority) are of Jewish origin…. Yet they do not identify [themselves] as Jews and do not realize that their audience is also mostly Jewish.”“18

And so the Jews had once again become the Russian revolutionaries, shouldering the social duty of the Russian intelligentsia, which the Jewish Bolsheviks so zealously helped to exterminate during the first decade after the revolution; they had become the true and genuine nucleus of the new public opposition. And so yet again no progressive movement was possible without Jews.

Who had halted the torrent of false political (and often semi-closed) court trials? Alexander Ginzburg, and then Pavel Litvinov and Larisa Bogoraz did. I would not exaggerate if I claim that their appeal “To world public opinion” in January 1968, delivered not through unreliable Samizdat, but handed fearlessly to the West in front of Cheka cameras, had been a milestone of Soviet ideological history. Who were those seven brave souls who dragged their leaden feet to Lobnoye Mesto [a stone platform in Red Square] on Aug. 25, 1968? They did it not for the greater success of their protest, but to wash the name of Russia from the Czechoslovak disgrace by their sacrifice. Four out of the seven were Jews. (Remember, that the percentage of Jews in the population of the country then was less than 1%) We should also remember Semyon Gluzman, who sacrificed his freedom in the struggle against the “nuthouses” [dissidents were sometimes incarcerated in psychiatric clinics]. Many Jewish intellectuals from Moscow were among the first punished by the Soviet regime.

Yet very few dissidents ever regretted the past of their Jewish fathers. P. Litvinov never mentioned his grandfather’s role in Soviet propaganda. Neither would we hear from V. Belotserkovsky how many innocents were slaughtered by his Mauser-toting father. Communist Raisa Lert, who became a dissident late in life, was proud of her membership in that party even after The Gulag Archipelago; the party “she had joined in good faith and enthusiastically” in her youth; the party to which she had “wholly devoted herself” and from which she herself had suffered, yet nowadays it is ”not the same” party anymore.19 Apparenty she did not realize how appealing the early Soviet terror was for her.

After the events of 1968, Sakharov joined the dissident movement without a backward glance. Among his new dissident preoccupations were many individual cases; in particular, personal cases of Jewish refuseniks [those, overwhelming Jewish, dissidents who requested, but were refused the right to emigrate from the Soviet Union]. Yet when he tried to expand the business (as he had innocently confided to me, not realizing all the glaring significance of what he said), Gelfand, a member of the Academy of Science, told him that “we are tired of helping these people to resolve their problems,” while another member, Zeldovich, said: “I’m not going to sign any petition on behalf of victims of any injustice — I want to retain the ability to protect those who suffer for their nationality.” Which means — to protect the Jews only.

There was also a purely Jewish dissident movement, which was concerned only with the oppression of the Jews and Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union (more about it — later).


A trasformation in public consciousness often pushes forward outstanding individuals as representatives, symbols and spokesmen of the age. So in the 1960s Alexander Galich became such a typical and accurate representative of the processes and attitudes in the Soviet intellectual circles. (“`Galich´ is a pen name, explains N. Rubinstein. It is made of syllables of his real name — Ginsburg Alexander Arkadievich. Choosing a pen name is a serious thing.”20 Actually, I assume that the author was aware that, apart from being “just a combination of syllables,” “Galich” is also the name of the ancient Russian city from the very heart of Slavic history.) Galich enjoyed the general support of Soviet intelligentsia; tape recordings of his guitar performances were widely disseminated; and they have almost become the symbol of the social revival of the 1960s expressing it powerfully and vehemently. The opinion of the cultural circle was unanimous: “the most popular people’s poet,” the “bard of modern Russia.”

Galich was 22 when the Soviet-German War broke out. He says that he was exempt from military service because of poor health; he then moved to Grozny, where he “unexpectedly easily became the head of the literature section of the local Drama Theatre”; he also “organized a theater of political satire”; then he evacuated through Krasnovodsk to Chirchik near Tashkent; in 1942, he moved from there to Moscow with a front-line theatrical company under formation and spent the rest of the war with that company.

He recalled how he worked on hospital trains, composing and performing couplets for wounded soldiers; how they were drinking spirits with a trainmaster…. “All of us, each in his own way, worked for the great common cause: we were defending our Motherland.”21 After the war he became a well-known Soviet scriptwriter (he worked on many movies) and a playwright (ten of his plays were staged by “many theaters in the Soviet Union and abroad” [216] [references in square brackets refer to the page number in the source 21]. All that was in 1940s and 1950s, in the age of general spiritual stagnation — well, he could not step out of the line, could he? He even made a movie about Chekists, and was awarded for his work.

Yet in the early 1960s, Galich abruptly changed his life. He found courage to forsake his successful and well-off life and “walk into the square.” [98] It was after that that he began performing guitar-accompanied songs to people gathering in private Moscow apartments. He gave up open publishing, though it was, of course, not easy: “[it was great] to read a name on the cover, not just someone else’s, but mine!” [216]

Surely, his anti-regime songs, keen, acidic, and and morally demanding, were of benefit to the society, further destabilizing public attitudes.

In his songs he mainly addressed Stalin’s later years and beyond; he usually did not deplore the radiant past of the age of Lenin (except one instance: “The carts with bloody cargo / squeak by Nikitsky Gate” [224]). At his best, he calls the society to moral cleansing, to resistance (“Gold-digger’s waltz” [26], “I choose liberty” [226], “Ballad of the clean hands” [181], “Our fingers blotted from the questionnaires” [90], “Every day silent trumpets glorify thoughtful vacuity” [92]). Sometimes he sang the hard truth about the past (“In vain had our infantry perished in 1943, to no avail” [21]), sometimes — “Red myths,” singing about poor persecuted communists (“There was a time — almost a third of the inmates came from the Central Committee, / There was a time when for the red color / they added ten years [to the sentence]!”[69]). Once he touched dekulakization (“Disenfranchised ones were summoned in first” [115]). Yet his main blow was against the current establishment (“There are fences in the country; behind fences live the leaders” [13]). He was justly harsh there; however, he oversimplified the charge by attacking their privileged way of life only: here they eat, drink, rejoice [151-152]. The songs were embittering, but in a narrow-minded way, almost like the primitive “Red proletarian” propaganda of the past. Yet when he was switching his focus from the leaders to “the people”, his characters were almost entirely boobies, fastidious men, rabble and rascals — a very limited selection.

He had found a precise point of perspective for himself, perfectly in accord with the spirit of the time: he impersonalized himself with all those people who were suffering, persecuted and killed (“I was a GI and as a GI I’ll die” [248], “We, GIs, are dying in battle”). Yet with his many songs narrated from the first person of a former camp inmate, he made a strong impression that he was an inmate himself (“And that other inmate was me myself” [87]; “I froze like a horseshoe in a sleigh trail / Into ice that I picked with a hammer pick / After all, wasn’t it me who spent twenty years / In those camps” [24]; “as the numbers [personal inmate number tattooed on the arm] / we died, we died”; “from the camp we were sent right to the front!”[69]). Many believed that he was a former camp inmate and “they have tried to find from Galich when and where he had been in camps.”22

So how did he address his past, his longstanding participation in the stupefying official Soviet lies? That’s what had struck me the most: singing with such accusatory pathos, he had never expressed a single word of his personal remorse, not a word of personal repentance, nowhere! Didn’t he realize that when he sang: “Oh Party’s Iliad! What a giftwrapped groveling!” [216], he sang about himself? And when he crooned: “If you sell the unction” [40], as though referring to somebody else, did it occur to him that he himself was “selling unction” for half of his life. Why on earth would he not renounce his pro-official plays and films? No! “We did not sing glory to executioners!” [119] Yet, as the matter of fact, they did. Perhaps he did realize it or he gradually came to the realization, because later, no longer in Russia, he said: “I was a well-off screenwriter and playwright and a well-off Soviet flunky. And I have realized that I could no longer go on like that. Finally, I have to speak loudly, speak the truth …” [639].

But then, in the sixties, he intrepidly turned the pathos of the civil rage, for instance, to the refutation of the Gospel commandments (“do not judge, lest ye be judged”): “No, I have contempt for the very essence / Of this formula of existence!” And then, relying on the sung miseries, he confidently tried on  a prosecutor’s robe: “I was not elected. But I am the judge!” [100] And so he grew so confident, that in the lengthy Poem about Stalin (The Legend of Christmas), where he in bad taste imagined Stalin as Christ, and presented the key formula of his agnostic mindset — his really famous, the clichéd -quotes, and so harmful lines: “Don’t be afraid of fire and hell, / And fear only him / Who says: `I know the right way!´” [325].

But Christ did teach us the right way…. What we see here in Galich’s words is just boundless intellectual anarchism that muzzles any clear idea, any resolute offer. Well, we can always run as a thoughtless (but pluralistic) herd, and probably we’ll get somewhere.

Yet the most heartrending and ubiquitous keynote in his lyrics was the sense of Jewish identity and Jewish pain (“Our train leaves for Auschwitz today and daily”). Other good examples include the poems By the rivers of Babylon and Kadish. (Or take this: “My six-pointed star, burn it on my sleeve and on my chest.” Similar lyrical and passionate tones can be found in the The memory of Odessa (“I wanted to unite Mandelstam and Chagall). “Your kinsman and your cast-off / Your last singer of the Exodus” — as he addressed the departing Jews.)

The Jewish memory imbued him so deeply that even in his non-Jewish lyrics he casually added expressions such as: “Not a hook-nosed”; “not a Tatar, not a Yid” [115, 117]”; “you are still not in Israel, dodderer?” [294]; and even Arina Rodionovna [Pushkin’s nanny, immortalized by the poet in his works] lulls him in Yiddish [101]. Yet he doesn’t mention a single prosperous or non-oppressed Jew, a well-off Jew on a good position, for instance, in a research institute, editorial board, or in commerce — such characters didn’t even make a passing appearance in his poems. A Jew is always either humiliated, or suffering, or imprisoned and dying in a camp. Take his famous lines: “You are not to be chamberlains, the Jews … / Neither the Synod, nor the Senate is for you / You belong in Solovki and Butyrki” [the latter two being political prisons] [40].

What a short memory they have — not only Galich, but his whole audience who were sincerely, heartily taking in these sentimental lines! What about those twenty years, when Soviet Jewry was not nearly in the Solovki, when so many of them did parade as chamberlains and in the Senate!?

They have forgotten it. They have sincerely and completely forgotten it. Indeed, it is so difficult to remember bad things about yourself.

And inasmuch as among the successful people milking the regime there were supposedly no Jews left, but only Russians, Galich’s satire, unconsciously or consciously, hit the Russians, all those Klim Petroviches and Paramonovs; all that social anger invoked by his songs targeted them, through the stressed ”russopyaty” [derogatory term for Russians] images and details, presenting them as informers, prison guards, profligates, fools or drunks. Sometimes it was more like a caricature, sometimes more of a contemptuous pity (which we often indeed deserve, unfortunately): “Greasy long hair hanging down, / The guest started “Yermak” [a song about the cossack leader and Russian folk hero] … he cackles like a cock  / Enough to make a preacher swear / And he wants to chat /  About the salvation of Russia” [117-118]. Thus he pictured the Russians as always drunk, not distinguishing kerosene from vodka, not interested in anything except drinking, idle, or simply lost, or foolish individuals.Yet he was considered a folk poet…. And he didn’t image a single Russian hero-soldier, workman, or intellectual, not even a single decent camp inmate (he assigned the role of the main camp inmate to himself), because, you know, all those “prison-guard seed” [118] camp bosses are Russians. And here he wrote about Russia directly: “Every liar is a Messiah! / <…> And just dare you to ask — / Brothers, had there even been / Any Rus in Russia?” — “It is abrim with filth.” — And then, desperately: “But somewhere, perhaps, / She does exist!?” That invisible Russia, where “under the tender skies / Everyone shares / God’s word and bread.” “I pray thee: / Hold on! / Be alive in decay, / So in the heart, as in Kitezh, / I could hear your bells!” [280-281]

So, with the new opportunity and the lure of emigration, Galich was torn between the submerged legendary Kitezh [legendary Russian invisble city] and today’s filth: “It’s the same vicious circle, the same old story, the ring, which cannot be either closed, or open!” [599]. He left with the words: “I, a Russian poet, cannot be separated from Russia by `the fifth article´ [the requirement in the Soviet internal passport – “nationality”]!” [588]

Yet some other departing Jews drew from his songs a seed of aversion and contempt for Russia, or at least, the confidence that it is right to break away from her. Heed a voice from Israel: “We said goodbye to Russia. Not without pain, but forever…. Russia still holds us tenaciously. But … in a year, ten years, a hundred years — we’ll escape from her and find our own home. Listening to Galich, we once again recognize that it is the right way.”23

1 В. Левитина. Русский театр и евреи. Иерусалим: Библиотека – Алия, 1988. Т. 1, с. 24.

2 Daniel Mayer. J’ai honte d’etre socialist // Le Monde, 1967, 6 Juin, p. 3.

3 Michael Medved. The Jewish Question // National Review, 1997, July 28, p. 53.

4 Михаил Хейфец. Место и время (еврейские заметки). Париж: Третья волна, 1978, с. 174.

5 Ю. Колкер // Русская мысль, 24 апреля 1987, с. 12.

6 Г. Померанц. Проект письма XXIII съезду // Неопубликованное. Frankfurt/Main: Посев, 1972, с. 269-276.

7 Ш. Маркиш. Ещё раз о ненависти к самому себе // “22”: Общественно-политический и литературный журнал еврейской интеллигенции из СССР в Израиле. Тель-Авив, 1980, № 16, с. 188.

8 Р. Нудельман. Советский антисемитизм — причины и прогнозы: [Семинар] // “22”, 1978, № 3, с. 147.

9 Ф. Колкер. Новый план помощи советскому еврейству // “22”. 1983, № 31, с. 145.

10 ЮШтерн. Ситуация неустойчива и потому опасна: [Интервью] // “22”, 1984, № 38, с. 130.

11 В. Богуславский. В защиту Куняева // “22”, 1980. № 16, с. 169-174.

12 Ю. Штерн. Ситуация неустойчива… // “22”, 1984, № 38, с. 130.

13 В. Богуславский. В защиту Куняева // “22”, 1980. № 16. с. 175.

14 В.В. Шульгин. «Что нам в них не нравится…»: Об Антисемитизме в России. Париж, 1929, с.49-50.

15 Дан Левин. На краю соблазна: [Интервью] // “22”, 1978, № 1, с. 55.

16 А. Суконик. О религиозном и атеистическом сознании // Вестник Русского Христианского Движения. Париж-Нью-Йорк-Москва, 1977, № 123, с. 43-46.

17 Р. Нудельман. Оглянись в раздумье…: [Круглый стол] // “22 . 1982, № 24, с. 112.

18 А. Воронель. Будущее русской алии // “22”, 1978, № 2, с. 186.

19 Р. Лерт. Поздний опыт // Синтаксис: Публицистика, критика, полемика. Париж, 1980, № 6, с. 5-6.

20 Н. Рубинштейн. Выключите магнитофон — поговорим о поэте // Время и мы (далее — ВМ): Международный журнал литературы и общественных проблем. Тель-Авив, 1975, № 2, с. 164.

21 Александр Галич. Песни. Стихи. Поэмы. Киноповесть. Пьеса. Статьи. Екатеринбург: У-Фактория, 1998 (далее — Галич), с. 552, 556, 561-562. Страницы в тексте в квадратных скобка; Указаны также по этому изданию.

22 В. Волин. Он вышел на площадь // Галич, с. 632.

23 Н. Рубинштейн. Выключите магнитофон — поговорим о поэте // ВМ, Тель-Авив, 1975, № 2, с. 177.

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1 Response to Chapter 24. Breaking Away From the Bolshevism

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