Dreams of Nationhood: American Jewish Communists and the Soviet Birobidzhan Project, 1924-1951

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Product Details
Academic Studies Press
Publish Date
6.14 X 9.21 X 0.75 inches | 1.32 pounds

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About the Author
Henry Srebrnik (PhD, University of Birmingham, England) is a Professor in the Department of Political Studies, University of Prince Edward Island, Canada. His most recent books include Jerusalem on the Amur: Birobidzhan and the Canadian Jewish Communist Movement, 1924-1951 (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2008) and London Jews and British Communism, 1935-1945 (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1995) He also served on the editorial team for De Facto States: The Quest For Sovereignty (London: Routledge, 2004) with Tozun Bahcheli and Barry Bartmann.
"Henry Srebrnik began his research of the place of Birobidzhan in the ideological space of American Jews over a decade ago. I believe I have read the majority of his publications on this fascinating and little-known topic, and this new book, Dreams of Nationhood, is the best among them."
"Dreaming of a better world during the Depression and World War II, American Jews and some non-Jewish activists supported the building of a Jewish refuge in the Soviet Union called Birobidzhan. Henry Srebrnik's well-researched book, Dreams of Nationhood, shows readers that although short-lived, the American campaign for Birobidzhan was more widespread and important than anyone today might believe. Its most important supporters were leftist, Communist activists in such groups as ICOR and Ambidjan. However, Srebrnik painstakingly shows that in the 1930s and 1940s, Birobidzhan was discussed in polite company as a real alternative to Palestine. The book features Communist activists like Moishe Olgin and B.Z. Goldberg, as well as some unusual suspects including senators, pastors, well-known rabbis, and Albert Einstein. Srebrnik forces the reader to ask whether this is a story of willful ignorance on the part of the Americans, who did not understand the violence of Stalin's Soviet Union, or whether the idea of utopia simply captivated a group of people far away from the turmoil of 1930s and 1940s Europe?"
"Henry Srebrnik's book, Dreams of Nationhood: American Jewish Communists and the Soviet Birobidzhan Project, 1924-1951, is a richly detailed study of a fascinating, often neglected chapter in the history of the Jewish communist movement in the United States. In this meticulously researched book, Srebrnik thoroughly chronicles the world of the Jewish communist and pro-Soviet subculture that was established in the United States in 1920s until its demise in the early 1950s, drawing from an array of primary and archival sources in order to provide the reader with a sense of the "lived experience" of the adherents and participants of the Jewish communist movement. Srebrnik's in-depth account conveys a sense of the utopian ideals that drove many Jews, communist and non-communist, as well as many non-Jewish supporters, to look to the Siberian province of Birobidzhan as a territorial solution to the Jewish national problem. His main accomplishment, perhaps, is the extent to which he shows just how active and persistent this movement was in its support for the creation of a Jewish national home in Birobidzhan. Srebrnik's scholarship sheds new light on our understanding of the Jewish communist movement in North America and the larger network of supporters of the Soviet Union in the years before the Cold War."
"Two organizations in the United States devoted themselves body and soul to Birodzhan's success -- The Association for Jewish Colonization in the Soviet Union, which appealed to first- and second-generation working-class Jews of eastern European origin, and the American Committe for the Resettlement of Jews in Birobidjan, which catered to native-born middle class Jews.The two groups merged in 1946, but disbanded five years later amidst the raging Cold War and increased evidence of state-sponsored anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. Henry Srebrnik, a Canadian scholar, has written an original and absorbing book about their rise and fall. Dreams of Nationhood: American-Jewish Communists and the Soviet Birobidzhan Project, 1934-1951, published by Academic Studies Press, is the first volume of its kind."
"This work by Srebrnik (political studies, U. of Prince Edward Island, Canada) is a reconstruction of the engagement of two American Jewish Communist groups with the Soviet project of establishing a Jewish "autonomous" oblast in the Soviet Far-East over the years 1924-1951. The author offers a narrative reconstruction of how the Association for Jewish Colonization in Soviet Russia (ICOR), founded in 1924 and composed primarily of first and second generation Yiddish-speaking Jews of East European origin, and the American Committee for the Settlement of Jews in Birobidjan (Ambijan), "founded in 1934 as a popular front group catering to native-born, English-speaking, middle-class Jews," described and understood their own activities, as seen through their own written accounts and perspectives found in their newspapers' news stories, editorials, belles lettres, poems, organizational notices, advertisements, brief notices, and other materials. The focus is self-consciously narrow in that readers interested in, just for the sake of example, the histories of Birobidjan itself or communism among American Jews are referred to the already well-established literature elsewhere."
The Canadian Jewish academic Henry Srebrnik has long been an astute observer of the Jewish Left. His earlier 1995 study of the Jewish communist movement in Britain provided a rich insight into the blending of Jewish and Communist concerns. Here Srebrnik extends his analysis to the American Jewish Communist movement, and particularly their support for the strange Soviet plan to establish a Jewish national homeland in the isolated far east region of Birobidzhan. The actual history of the Birobidzhan project has been covered extensively by other authors such as Robert Steinberg in his 1998 study, Stalin's Forgotten Zion. Srebrnik's major focus is rather on the American Jewish Communists organized in groups such as the Association for Jewish Colonisation in Russia (known as ICOR) and the Ambijan Committee, who provided political and financial backing to the project from the 1920 to the 1950s. Srebrnik situates the Birobidzhan project within the context of Jewish statelessness. For the first half of the twentieth century, many Jews were the wandering asylum seekers of their age, desperately seeking refuge from persecution. One response to this Jewish statelessness was territorialism, the proto-Zionist doctrine that emanated from the so-called Uganda Plan of 1903 which was ultimately rejected by Herzl and the Zionist movement. A number of similar plans emerged in the Soviet Union with the aim of promoting Jewish economic and cultural regeneration. These plans culminated in the 1928 Soviet approval of Birobidzhan as a Jewish national district. By 1932, 25,000 Jews lived in the district. Two years later it was declared a Jewish Autonomous Region, and it was also promised that when the Jewish population reached 100,000 or formed a majority that it would be declared an official Soviet republic. But this did not eventuate. The Jewish Communists formed an important if not majority component of the American Communist Party, particularly in large cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Chicago. The American Jewish Communist sub-culture included both actual Party members and much larger numbers of secular Jewish radicals involved with affiliated trade unions, fraternal orders and newspapers. These were not self-hating or assimilated Jews alienated from their Jewish background. Rather, they were secular Jews who viewed themselves as promoting Jewish interests via participation in a worldwide movement for the liberation of Jews. Their commitment to the formation of a Jewish homeland in the Soviet Union reflected this alignment of non-Zionist ethnic identity and internationalist class politics. They reached the apex of their support in the period from approximately 1941-1949 when the Soviet Union was viewed favourably by most Jews. The visit of the two famous Soviet Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee leaders, Itzik Fefer and Shloime Mikhoels, to America in 1943 gave them enormous traction as did the Soviet Union's support for the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. But the Cold War including direct FBI pressure, and the increased allegations of Soviet anti-Semitism destroyed their support. The majority of this book details the activities and strategies of the various Birobidzhan support groups who included both Yiddish-speaking working class immigrants, and American-born English-speaking middle-class Jews. These organisations attracted thousands of members, raised millions of dollars for the Jewish Autonomous Republic, and played a significant role in shaping American Jewish opinion on key international issues. Their key argument in favour of Birobidzhan was that the Soviet Union had eliminated anti-Semitism which was allegedly a punishable crime, and provided complete equality for its Jewish population. Not only that, but Birobidzhan offered a potential sanctuary for Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany and other anti-Semitic European countries. Plans were even made to resettle thousands of Jewish orphans in the Soviet Union fol