In a 1920 article, “Zionism Versus Bolshevism,” Churchill noted that many leading Bolsheviks were Jews. He did however not write that all Jews were enemies of civilization. Quoting Churchill out of context has become a hobby among those determined to find what they expect to find among his 20 million words.
In “Jews in a Whisper” (New York Times Sunday Review), Mr. Roger Cohen argues that “Jews, with their history, cannot become the systematic oppressors of another people.” Fair enough, but we then read: “Winston Churchill, no less, argued in 1920 that Jews were part of a ‘worldwide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilization and the reconstitution of society on the basis of arrested development.”
“Zionism vs. Bolshevism”
This quotation is from Churchill’s article, “Zionism Versus Bolshevism,” in the 8 February 1920 Illustrated Sunday Herald. Some quote it to suggest that Churchill was anti-Semite.
Churchill’s article was an attack on Bolshevism (“a sinister confederacy”), not Zionism, which Churchill mainly (but not always) supported. Churchill mentioned—accurately—that many Bolsheviks were Jews—and also gave a reason: They were people “reared up among the unhappy populations of countries where Jews are persecuted on account of their race.” He then named names:
Trotsky (Russia), Bela Kun (Hungary), Rosa Luxemburg (Germany ), and Emma Goldman (United States)…. this world-wide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilization and for the reconstitution of society on the basis of arrested development, of envious malevolence and impossible equality, has been steady growing….with the exception of Lenin, the majority of leading figures are Jews.
But context matters:
To quote these lines out of context from the rest of his article is to misrepresent Churchill. He added that figures like Trotsky comprised only a small portion of Jews—which he calls “the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has ever appeared in the world.”
Similarly to his later indictment of Nazi Germany, Churchill wrote: “Nothing is more wrong than to deny an individual, on account of race or origin, his right to be judged on his personal merits and conduct.” For example, Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of judging by those same standards. Above all, Jews in every country, Churchill continued,
identify themselves with that country, enter into its national life. A Jew living in England would say, “I am an Englishman practising the Jewish faith.” This is a worthy conception, and useful in the highest degree. And in our own Army Jewish soldiers have played a most distinguished part, some rising to the command of armies, others winning the Victoria Cross for valour.
Partial quotations taken out of context distort what Churchill wrote and thought. Above all, no one can seriously use his “Zionism Versus Bolshevism” essay to accuse Churchill of anti-Semitism. Writers need to go to the source, and get it right.
Enemies and Extremists
Mr. Cohen also adds a point given him by a London professor:
A century ago, during the Sidney Street siege of 1911, it was the Jews of London’s East End who, cast as Bolsheviks, were said to be “alien extremists.’’
The Sidney Street siege was attended and conducted in part by Churchill, then Home Secretary. I can find no contemporary reports emphasizing at the time that the Sidney Street gang were Jews. Articles mentioned “anarchists” and “Latvians,” though only one had a possible Latvian name. They were indeed Russians and Latvia was a Russian province at that time.
“Zionism Versus Bolshevism” as originally published in 1920 contained some egregious typos and errors. The Collected Essays of Sir Winston Churchill (1975) contains a corrected text. Bibliographer Ronald I. Cohen compared the two texts with the original errors in brackets. A copy is available by email from firstname.lastname@example.org.