by Jason Lever
Posted on Sun, 01 Dec 2013 17:30:38 GMT
The effect of the Second World War
In spite of social reform by the LCC and municipal socialism by East End boroughs, there was still a constituency for the Communist Party of Great Britain among Jewish voters. This was not least because of 15 to 20 per cent unemployment in Stepney and Poplar in the 1930s. This enabled Stepney Communist Party ‘to win over sections and organisations within the Jewish community’ (ref: Weightman and Humphries; Srebnik).
The party’s anti-fascist credentials added to its support, and it remained attractive to Jewish East-Enders through to the Second World War. As the late Emanuel Litvinoff recorded in ‘Journey Through a Small Planet’, he drifted into communism when he was about eleven and attended pioneer meetings where he was told that there was no anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union and that ‘after the Revolution there would be no Jews left, only workers’ (ref: Litvinoff).
In relation to fighting fascism in the East End, some argue that the Association of Jewish Friendly Societies was as active as the Communist Party in the grassroots fight against the British Union of Fascists, and it was the dockers – and not the Communist Party – who had voluntarily taken on the task of defending Cable Street in 1936.
For others, while the Labour Party advised opponents of Mosley and his Blackshirts to stay at home, it was the Communist Party that adopted a policy of direct opposition (ref: Jewish East End 1840-1930).
The London Jewish Bakers Union was notable among the organisations affiliated to the Jewish People’s Council Against Fascism and Anti-Semitism. At a major fundraising bazaar in December 1927, Jewish bakers provided food for the 3,360 people attracted over eight evenings (ref: Rosenberg).
The Communist Party remained attractive to Jewish East-Enders right up until the start of World War Two, still being seen as a force for ‘self-defence’ by its willingness ‘to fight Fascism and anti-Semitism’. Indeed, the Communist candidate in Mile End, Phil Piratin, was elected in the 1945 general election on a wave of post-war euphoria, with the help, it is estimated, of ‘old-fashioned latkes-and-strudel Jewish campaigning’ gaining at least 2,500 Jewish votes, about half his total (ref: Freedland; Alderman 1981, 1983).
Yet it lost significant Jewish support when their leader, Issie Panner, pronounced during the War that Zionism conflicted with the rich, revolutionary tradition of Jewish history admired by Marx and Lenin. At the same time, revelations were emerging about the persecution of Russian Jews (ref: Srebnik).
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