My Life with the Radical Jewish Left

Kevin MacDonald
November 27, 2013

The first time I became aware of leftist Jews was when, as a reporter for The Daily Cardinal, the student newspaper, at the University of Wisconsin, I was assigned to cover a meeting of the Committee Against the War in Vietnam. This was around 1965, just after the war started heating up. In my short career as a reporter I had also covered a meeting of the Young Republicans, and the contrast couldn’t have been more striking. The Young Republicans were all dressed up—men in suits and ties, women in dresses—and looked like they were attending a business meeting at the country club.

Even though the Young Republicans were all white and most of them came from Wisconsin, I can’t say that I related to them much. But I felt even more alien at the meeting of the antiwar committee. The attendees were dressed in a much more Bohemian style and there was a lot of intense talk about politics. And they were Jewish.

I wasn’t the only one to notice the Jewish flavor of radical politics at Wisconsin. In their academic study of the New Left Roots of Radicalism: Jews, Christians and the Left, Stanley Rothman and S. Robert Lichter quote an observer of the New Left scene at the University of Wisconsin: “I am struck by the lack of Wisconsin-born people and the massive preponderance of New York Jews. The situation at the University of Minnesota is similar.” His correspondent replied: “As you perceived, the Madison left is built on New York Jews.”

Things changed for me when I moved in with two Jewish roommates and suddenly became immersed in the radical Jewish subculture of Madison. Living in an environment where radical politics was an unquestioned assumption, I soon became a radical myself. A social psychologist would probably explain it as conforming to a new set of social norms—when in Rome, do as the Romans do. In some ways I was probably prepared for the plunge into radicalism. I had been politically liberal, a Democrat, and a strong supporter of the Civil Rights Movements. But there was a very large gap between being a liberal and being a radical, especially in those days.

Shortly thereafter, I remember telling someone from my hometown that I had become “alienated” from the culture. And now that I recall that incident, it calls to mind a passage from Chapter 6 of my study of Jewish involvement in 20th Century intellectual and political movements, The Culture of Critique:

[The New York Intellectuals] conceived themselves as alienated, marginalized figures—a modern version of traditional Jewish separateness and alienation from [non-Jewish] culture. [As Norman Podhoretz described them,] “They did not feel that they belonged to America or that America belonged to them.” … Indeed, Podhoretz … was asked by a New Yorker editor in the 1950s “whether there was a special typewriter key at Partisan Review with the word ‘alienation’ on a single key.”

Without really realizing the ramifications, I had been acculturated into a Jewish intellectual and political milieu of alienation—and antipathy to the small-town Wisconsin milieu (Irish and German, Catholic, lower middle class) in which I grew up. My attitudes toward pretty much everything changed dramatically. I viewed the people and culture that I grew up in with disdain if not hatred.

The University of Wisconsin was a hotbed of the counterculture during the 1960s. Two buildings were bombed, several were occupied, and the Wisconsin National Guard was called in to restore order. There was also a substantial hippie subculture—relatively less political and less Jewish, and more preoccupied with drugs, sex, and rock-n’-roll.

At the center of intellectual life for radicals at Wisconsin were Harvey Goldberg and the History Department. One of the themes of The Culture of Critique is the tendency for Jewish intellectual movements to become centered around highly charismatic Jewish figures. At Wisconsin the student movement idolized historically important Jewish leftists such as Leon Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg, and Herbert Marcuse. But there was a special place in their hearts for the charismatic social historian Harvey Goldberg. Goldberg’s lectures presenting his Marxist view of European social history enthralled a very large following on campus. He commanded overflow crowds at the largest lecture hall on campus, Agriculture Hall, which holds 600 students. Going there was a commitment because it was not located near the social science buildings.

Goldberg’s lectures were an unforgettable experience of performance art. Beginning in a low key but intense style, he built up the volume and intensity level gradually to a frenzied climax. The lectures usually ended 5–10 minutes after the class was scheduled to end, but everyone remained glued to their seats. The conclusion typically elicited a rousing standing ovation from the students.

By the end of the lecture, Goldberg, who was rather gaunt and frail looking, was sweating profusely, seemingly drained and exhausted. Throughout the lecture, students would react by laughing at his jokes and applauding his condemnations of the capitalists and other oppressors in European history. Great fun, and doubtless quite influential. As a newspaper article put it, “His lectures, delivered in a voice that seemed to resonate from the depths of his soul, were a transforming experience for generations of students, stirring their minds and consciences.”

Goldberg died in 1989, but his legacy lives on. Quite a few of his lectures were recorded and are available from the Harvey Goldberg Center for Contemporary History at Wisconsin. Besides the Goldberg Center at the University of Wisconsin, he has also been immortalized by a Program for Excellence in Teaching at Ohio State (his first teaching position), and with a classroom at the Brecht Forum, a Marxist cultural center in New York.

Probably because of Goldberg, the History Department achieved pride of place in terms of academic majors for radicals. (Sociology was also fashionable; I was in philosophy, which was also at least moderately acceptable for a radical.) Being accepted as a graduate student by Goldberg was very prestigious even though Goldberg was not particularly productive as a scholar.

Goldberg’s rival for intellectual guruship at Wisconsin was George L. Mosse whose course on European intellectual history was also a magnet for campus radicals. Mosse was the grandson of the founder of the liberal Berlin newspaper Das Berliner Tageblatt—a prototype of Jewish-owned liberal media that drew the special ire of Hitler and his movement. Das Berliner Tageblatt was seized by the government when Hitler came to power, and Mosse and his family were forced to leave Germany.

The radicals I knew viewed Mosse as insufficiently radical. His main sin was that he was an intellectual historian. Serious Marxists view intellectual history as mere superstructure overlaying the economic basis of the class struggle.

I took Mosse’s course and later came to read several of Mosse’s books as background to my chapter on National Socialism [PDF] in Separation and Its Discontents. In his book The Crisis of German Ideology, Mosse stressed that an important ingredient in the rise of Nazism was völkisch ideology—the ideology that Germans had a unique folk spirit as a result of their evolutionary past. Incidentally, although unmentioned by Mosse, such racially charged views found mirror images in the writings of 19th-century Jewish proto-Zionists like Moses Hess [PDF] and became a cornerstone of the racial Zionist movement that dominates the politics of Israel today.

Unlike Goldberg, Mosse’s Jewish interests and identification were quite overt. His lectures, like his books, showed a strong interest in Jewish issues, particularly the Holocaust and the ideologoical basis of Nazism. Like Goldberg, Mosse has left behind a legacy at the UW History Department, endowing it with a bequest made possible by the restoration of his family’s property after World War II. Mosse also taught at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem; his Jewish interests can also be seen by perusing the catalog of the book series published by the institute established in his name.

Although Goldberg never discussed Jewish issues in his lectures to my knowledge, the Jewishness of both of these campus gurus was apparent to everyone. Attending the lectures and discussing them with others was an important component of the Jewish-dominated radical subculture of Madison.

I was not alone as a non-Jew adopting the attitudes of the radical Jewish subculture. The anti-war movement spread beyond its predominantly East Coast Jewish origins to a very large swathe of the university and the city of Madison.

A lot of this was brought to mind while viewing the 1979 documentary The War at Home which chronicles the period from around 1964–1970 in Madison. The only people I recognize in the film are Paul Soglin and Evan Stark—two highly visible Jewish antiwar activists during that period. (Soglin parlayed his career as an activist into 6 terms as mayor of Madison, while Stark became a tenured radical at Rutgers University.) But, besides leaders like Soglin and Stark, the protests and demonstrations—some of which I participated in—showed a preponderance of non-Jews. The protest against the war—and to a great extent the values of the radical counterculture as a whole—had become mainstream.

Memories about Madison radicals in the 1960s came up again while reading Mark Rudd’s memoir (Why were there so many Jews in SDS (Or the ordeal of civility). Rudd, who is Jewish, became well known as a student activist at Columbia University during the 1960s. After being expelled from Columbia, he became an SDS organizer and (along with Bill Ayers) was one of the founders of the Weather Underground whose mission was, as quoted by Rudd, “the violent overthrow of the government of the US in solidarity with the struggles of the people of the world.”

Rudd describes the SDS at Columbia during the late 1960s as a “Jewish fraternity.” The Jewish radicals described by Rudd seem more like Harvey Goldberg than George Mosse. Their Jewish identification was never discussed among themselves: I don’t remember one single conversation in which we discussed the fact that so many of us were Jewish.” Rudd suggests that “by being radicals we thought we could escape our Jewishness.”

The late Paul Lyons [PDF], an academic historian of the American left (Philadelphia Communists 1936-56), makes the interesting comment about the Jewish Old Left that

“…most Jewish Communists wear their Jewishness very casually but experience it deeply. It is not a religious or even an institutional Jewishness for most; nevertheless, it is rooted in a subculture of identity, style, language, and social network. . . . In fact, this second-generation Jewishness was antiethnic and yet the height of ethnicity. The emperor believed that he was clothed in transethnic, American garb, but [non-Jews] saw the nuances and details of his naked ethnicity.”

It was the same with their chidren who became the Jewish New Left. The topic of why there were so many radical Jews was never discussed, at least around me. But the Jewishness of these radicals was obvious to non-Jews like me who were suddently exposed to a very different subculture. The ethnic networking among Jews was obvious, as were the East Coast accents with sprinklings of Yiddish. Their taste in clothing was different, and they liked to talk about movies a lot, especially European movies by directors like Ingmar Bergman and François Trauffaut—sort of a 1960s intellectual version of Seinfeld. They had a whole set of (Jewish) idols (Trotsky, Marcuse, Luxemburg) that were initially quite foreign to me. Rudd recalls that the frame of reference for Jewish radicals at Columbia was the Holocaust and the need not to be a “good German”. I don’t recall mention of the Holocaust, but it is certainly true that World War II and the evils of Nazism were much on the mind of Jewish radicals at Wisconsin.

Several authors have pointed out that radical Jews saw themselves as participating in a universalist movement to establish a classless society for all people; and because of this universalist veneer, they thought that their Jewishness would be invisible to others, or at least irrelevant. Obviously, it wasn’t invisible, nor was it irrelevant.

The radical Jews I knew seemed to realize that non-Jews saw them as Jews. In fact, one thing that struck me was that they were proud of being Jews and had very negative attitudes toward Christianity. At least around me, they did not condemn Christianity because of anti-Semitism. (The only allusion to historical anti-Semitism that I remember was when my roommate said something to the effect that “Do you realize that at one time or another Jews have been expelled from every country of Europe?” At that time, I did not know that.)

Rather, they were proud of the fact that Judaism represented enlightened views on sexuality, while Chistianity was prudish and sexually repressive. Their theoretical framework for this (there always has to be a theoretical framework!) was, of course, psychoanalysis which by then had become another bedrock ideology among Jewish intellectuals. In line with Freudian thinking, they attributed various forms of psychopathology and even white racial consciousness and capitalism to Christian sexual attitudes—an analysis that stemmed from their reading of Marcuse’s synthesis of Marx and Freud.

Other things about radical Jews at Wisconsin only struck me after becoming more familiar with Judaism 25 years later. The intellectual atmosphere of the movement closely resembled the atmosphere of other Jewish subcultures—intensely verbal discussions in which one’s reputation as a leftist was related to one’s ability in Marxist intellectual analysis and familiarity with Marxist scholarship. All of this required a great deal of study, but it was worth it because being a Marxist scholar, like being a rabbi in traditional Jewish society, carried a great deal of prestige. It was also attractive to the ladies.

There was also a great deal of hostility to Western cultural institutions as politically and sexually oppressive combined with an ever-present sense of danger and imminent destruction by the forces of repression. The overwhelming forces of the fascist capitialist state led by J. Edgar Hoover‘s FBI were about to round up all the radicals and do away with them. This ingroup bunker mentality—which I document A People That Shall Dwell Alone—I came to realize as a fundamental characteristic of Jewish society.

Incidentally, this is a very useful thing to know about Jews. It explains how the ADL and the SPLC—the $PLC as calls it—makes their money: Create the feeling of imminent destruction by the forces of white racism and bigotry as a way of prodding Jews to donate.

Not surprisingly, there was an attitude of moral and intellectual superiority as well as contempt toward traditional American culture, particularly rural America and most particularly the South. These attitudes are hallmarks of the other intellectual movements reviewed in The Culture of Critique. In Rudd’s case, his ire is directed at the genteel culture of Columbia:

What outraged me and my comrades so much about Columbia, along with its hypocrisy, was the air of genteel civility. Or should I say gentile? Despite the presence of so many Jews in the faculty and among the students … the place was dripping with goyishness.”

Ah, the stuffy white goyim at Columbia hadn’t abdicated quickly enough and still had the temerity to hang around past their time. We can all breathe a sigh of relief that those days are over. I suppose he would have had the same reaction to the Young Republicans at Wisconsin in 1965.

In my experience at Madison during the 1960s, there was also a strong desire for bloody, apocalyptic revenge against the entire social structure—perceived by them to be the goyish, fascist, capitalist, racist, anti-Semitic social structure. (Harvey Goldberg, whose lectures often celebrated bloody uprisings against the forces of oppression, probably fed into this.) This fits well with the set of interviews with New Left Jewish radicals in Percy Cohen’s Jewish Radicals and Radical Jews: many had destructive fantasies in which the revolution would result in “humiliation, dispossession, imprisonment or execution of the oppressors.” These fantasies of destruction of the social order were combined with a belief in their own omnipotence and their ability to create a non-oppressive social order.

Finally, it was very striking to me that these anti–Vietnam War Jewish radicals were euphoric incongruously about Israel’s victory Six-Day War of 1967. This also struck’s Paul Gottfried as worthy of comment:

“All my Jewish colleagues in graduate school [at Yale], noisy anti-anti-Communists, opposed American capitalist imperialism, but then became enthusiastic warmongers during the Arab-Israeli War in 1967. One Jewish Marxist acquaintance went into a rage that the Israelis did not demand the entire Mideast at the end of that war. Another, though a feminist, lamented that the Israeli soldiers did not rape more Arab women. It would be no exaggeration to say that my graduate school days resounded with Jewish hysterics at an institution where Wasps seemed to count only for decoration.” (Paul Gottfried, On “Being Jewish”, Rothbard-Rockwell Report [April]:9–10, 1996.

I guess the old white genteel elite at Columbia weren’t the only ones capable of hypocrisy.

To his credit, Rudd does better than most Jews in trying to explain Jewish involvement in radicalism, citing John Murray Cuddihy’s classic The Ordeal of Civility: Freud, Marx, Levi-Strauss and the Jewish Struggle With Modernity. Here is the central quote from Cuddihy:

“With the advent of Jewish Emancipation, when ghetto walls crumble and the shtetlach begin to dissolve, Jewry—like some wide-eyed anthropologist—enters upon a strange world, to explore a strange people observing a strange halakah They examine this world in dismay, with wonder, anger, and punitive objectivity. This wonder, this anger, and the vindictive objectivity of the marginal nonmember are recidivist; they continue unabated into our own time because Jewish Emancipation continues into our own time.”

Rudd comments:

“We Jews at Columbia—and I would guess at colleges throughout the country—brought the same outsider view to the campuses we had been allowed into. We were peasant children right out of the shtetls of New Jersey and Queens screaming, ‘You want to know the truth about Columbia University, they’re a bunch of liberal imperialists!'”

Rudd also cites Israel Shahak’s important book Jewish History, Jewish Religion —but Rudd twists Shahak’s thesis to state that

“…as a reaction to being the victims of racism throughout the centuries, we developed a religion which itself enshrined racism toward the other. This is especially true of the rabbinical commentaries developed in Eastern Europe over the almost one thousand years in which we occupied a middle position between the landlords, whom we served, and the peasants who despised us and whom we in turn despised. How could it have been otherwise? In my family, if you wanted to say somebody was stupid you said they had a ‘goyishe kup,’ a goyish head.”

My view is that it’s the other way around: The Jewish concern with racial purity can be seen in the Old Testament and throughout Jewish history.

From time to time, Western societies have attacked or erected defenses against Jewish elites and their non-Jewish allies. Since the 19th century, important anti-Jewish movements have been racialist (National Socialism in Germany), but this racialism was not the basis of Christian anti-Jewish movements (Christianity in the 4th and 5th centuries and during the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal). As Shahak points out (p. 64), the general pattern throughout European history was for popular uprisings against Jews as components of oppressive elites—and for the non-Jewish elements of the elites to come to the aid of Jews.

Rudd sees Israel for what it is: A racialist, militarist, expansionist state:

“Israel is America’s future: militarized, racist, religio-nationalist, corporate, riven with so many internal splits and hatreds that only the existence of a perpetual enemy keeps the nation from exploding. If we don’t organize to stop the current direction in this country, thirty years from now we will be Israel.”

Rudd is probably right that America of the future will be hopelessly “riven with … internal splits and hatreds”. Such are the predictable results of the rise of multiculturalism and massive non-white immigration unleashed by the activism of the organized Jewish community [PDF].

What Rudd doesn’t discuss is that Jewish activism on behalf of non-white immigration can be directly traced back to Jewish activists on the left—people like Rudd. Massive non-white immigration into Western societies has been a project of the Jewish left for pretty much the entire last century. The Jewish left has been the most influential component of the organized Jewish community. And even when a significant number of Jews defected from the left, giving rise to the neoconservative movement, they retained the traditional Jewish attitudes on immigration.

That’s why I think the real explanation of Jewish involvement in the Left includes an additional component. It’s certainly true that, as Cuddihy wrote, Jews emerged from the ghetto with hostility toward the culture around them. This fits with modern psychological data on how people with a strong ingroup identity, like Jews, perceive outgroups. Jewish hostility toward the culture of non-Jews has been a constant throughout Jewish history. The difference was that, as Cuddihy notes, they and their preferences suddenly became part of mainstream Western culture, with a great deal of political influence and access to the media and the academic world.

But it was more than that. It’s about displacement and domination. The displacement of the genteel white Protestant culture at Columbia that Rudd hated is part of the general displacement of non-Jewish whites. Rudd doesn’t consider the fate of that other very influential group of leftist Jews—the Jewish radicals who fled the shtetls of Eastern Europe and, instead of going to Ellis Island, became dominant elite in the USSR after the success of the Bolshevik Revolution. These Jewish radicals were able to actually carry out in the USSR the fantasies the New Left Jewish radicals in the US—i.e., the “humiliation, dispossession, imprisonment or execution of the oppressors” mentioned above. Harvey Goldberg’s wet dream.

This group of Jewish radicals became an integral part of the machinery of mass murder and oppression in the USSR. In doing so, they displaced the older non-Jewish elites of Russians and Germans. (Doubtless, they were too genteel and had other faults that warranted their displacement.) At least through the 1950s, political radicalism was popular among American Jews in large part because the Bolshevik Revolution was good for Jews. Jews had risen to the heights in the USSR, and the USSR had crushed fascist Germany.

Even though the New Left rejected Stalinism, there is no doubt it was bent on a similar displacement of white elites. All of its policies led inexorably in that direction. To a considerable extent, the current malaise of whites in the US can be directly traced to the triumph of the attitudes of the New Left—especially non-white immigration, the rise of multiculturalism, and the steady erosion of whites as a percentage of the electorate. (The last Democratic president to get a majority of white votes was Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.

I have a suggestion for Rudd: If you are really interested in stopping racism, become active in opposing Zionism and its influence in the US.

Otherwise, we get the impression that you tacitly approve Jewish ethnic chauvinism in Israel while favoring the displacment of whites in the US.

And if you want to quell the” “internal splits and hatreds” within the US, become active in the cause of reversing the effects of four decades of non-white immigration.