In honor of David Kelsey’s post on the Social-Democratic/Liberal Divide, I’ve decided (tangentially) to offer a brief history of Jewish involvement in radical, revolutionary movements in the
(1) 1914-1936 saw the heyday of Jewish socialism, especially in labor unions (e.g., International Ladies Garment Workers Union)
(2)1936-1956 The Old Left, born in Popular Front against Hitler, reflected an image of Jewish romance with the
(3) 1960-70 The New Left appears sharply, although it has roots in the Old Left. Its expression is the anti-war movement and the rebellions on college campuses, but it dies a quick and ignominious death with the extremism of the Weathermen (1970), who express their radicalism through blowing up buildings. For the next ten years, the Left hibernates.
(4) 1980-2000 Tikkun Magazine, first published in 1987, the
This involvement in radical leftwing politics never represented a majority view, but rather a small number of Jews who, nonetheless, were disproportionately represented in each of these movements: in the 1930s (the heyday of Jewish radicalism) 25% of the 80,000 members of the Communist Party were Jewish; Jewish districts on the Lower East Side gave 30% of their votes to socialist party; when Henry Wallace ran for President in 1948, he received 1 million votes, 35% of whom were Jewish (and in New York, 50% of his voters were Jewish). This disproportionate representation in radical movements makes Jewish radicalism highly visible and informs our Jewish historical memory.
For anyone looking for this information in detail, let me know and maybe this post will herald a new series of postings on Jewish political involvement. Aren’t you excited? Please, try to contain yourself. You’re embarrassing me.(Thanks to Steven Bayme and Jonathan Sarna, from whom I learned my Jewish American History.)