Comment on "Jewish Art, Jewish Politics"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue May 5 06:30:57 PDT 1998

(posted originally on apst newsgroup)

As both a Jewish artist and communist, I wanted to throw in a few words on Proyect's comments on the Jewish cultural and political scene.

My band has performed on one of John Zorn's "Radical Jewish Culture" Festivals at the Knitting Factory. And in case anyone wants to romanticize the Knit, it is run by a typically scummy club owner (Jewish to boot), who happens to be a bit more hip than many of the other club owners in town.

I think what Zorn is doing, and the revival of Klezmer music is a fine thing. However, Proyect romanticizes this cultural trend and the supposed political awakening among younger Jews that goes along with it. Another element of what is going on in this current is the revival of Yiddish and Yiddish art forms.

Many of my arguments are based on Isaac Deutscher, so anyone interested should read "The Non-Jewish Jew and Other Essays." Deutscher noted that the Yiddish cultural movement in Poland was particularly tied in with working class political currents, particularly the Bund. He argued that any attempt to transplant that movement into the US would fail because the social conditions, particularly the segregation of Jews, were completely different than in Poland.

Since Deutscher's time, this is even more true. One could argue that there was a social basis for a Jewish cultural movement in the '20s and '30s, because there was in fact a mass Jewish working class. However, social mobility has erased the working class base which the Bund, Forward and other Jewish leftist organizations were based on, leaving them with merely cultural projects - Jewish cult/nats, if you will.

This is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Jewish Bund, so there is quite a bit of nostalgia. But it is merely that. For all its faults, the Bund was staunchly anti-Zionist. All the present-day Bundist types criticize the Zionists for is that they don't believe that Jews of the Diaspora have any role. They hardly ever level even tepid attacks on the policies of the Zionist state. If they do, it is only to support the "Labor" Party.

Proyect says:

>Perhaps the recent awakening in Jewish culture and the left-wing >politics
of previous generations will reach a whole new generation of >Jews. The Israeli state has long ceased to act as a pole of >attraction.

He is deluding himself. Zionism is as strong as ever. Even in the supposedly "progressive" Jewish milieu, it is still taboo to be staunchly anti-Zionist. If there is hope for younger radical Jews, it is in revolutionary Trotskyism and socialist revolution, not in some warmed-over revival of Bundism/Jewish cultural nationalism.

Jeffrey Schanzer

Louis Proyect


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