50 Years Ago – The Middle East war: a letter to a Kiev cousin

Dear K,

I know that this letter won’t reach you. Only if I were to express myself in subtle allusions might such a letter pass the censorship of the State Capitalist Russian Empire. But what I have to say must be said loud and clear. You may not hear me, but others will.

At last you hold an exit permit in your hand, your ticket to the promised land. In struggling for it, you were thrown out of your job by your bureaucratic bosses, who then sent you to a labour camp for a year on a charge of parasitism. It goes without saying, as they say, that you were guilty of being without a job — innocent people are not arrested in the Soviet Union, which has no unemployment anyway — as is well known! But tomorrow you board the train for Prague — destination Jerusalem.

Who can blame you for wanting to get out? For centuries the Ukraine has been the most deeply anti-semitic area of the Empire. Even now a Jew is occasionally knifed to death in the main square of a small market town while the “honest Soviet people” and the police look on. More commonplace are the occasions when your fellow citizens — not all of them, but enough — content themselves with spitting on the ground as they pass and muttering something about the Yids.

But I must admit to being out of sympathy with some of your complaints. While recounting how your kids have been discriminated against in education and work, you bemoan that since the war the professions of Party bigwig, secret police desk-murderer and high Army officer are no longer open to Jews. But your Old Bolshevik grandfather, who fought in Trotsky’s Red Army which suppressed the White pogroms in 1919 and later perished in a Stalinist death camp — your grandfather thought that he was fighting for a society of free and equal comrades, without exploitation or oppression of any kind, in which words like soldier, police, wages, boss would have become the obscure jargon of historians. Yes, but he forgot the technical and cultural preconditions of the Communist dawn, so far removed from the realities of a backward peasant country. In the State Capitalist despotism which arose to carry through industrialisation he was for a time a key administrator. Could he have imagined your strange complaint in his youth?

When you get out, you’ll be leaving behind your sister, a convinced supporter of the Soviet system. A Party member, she thinks that the system is basically sound, a bit perverted but objectively progressive and so forth. She prefers to do her military service in a Soviet uniform, as you prefer to do yours in an Israeli uniform. And every four or five years the real thing.

Take care as you make your way to Israel. Young men and women, calling themselves Palestinian freedom fighters, may try to kidnap and shoot you. They know nothing of the Ukraine or of how you lived there. To them you are one more Zionist coming to usurp “their” land.


(Socialist Standard, December 1973)

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3 Replies to “50 Years Ago – The Middle East war: a letter to a Kiev cousin”

  1. Back in the 1970s, two brothers, John and Bob lived in America and were members of the Communist Party. After much discussion, they decided to emigrate to the USSR and live among their communist comrades. Even though they don’t believe the American media’s negative reports on the living conditions, shortages and persecution in the USSR, they decide to exercise caution. First, only John would go to Russia to test the waters. If contrary to the media reports, the living conditions are good, and the reports about persecutions by the KGB false, then John will write a letter to Bob using black ink. This colour would signify that the letter is to be taken at face value and communism is as good as they hoped. If, however, the situation in the USSR is bad and John afraid of writing the truth, he will use red ink, indicating that whatever he says in the letter must not be believed. Three months later Bob receives a letter from John. It is written in black ink. “Dear brother Bob! I’m so happy here! It’s a beautiful country, I enjoy complete freedom and a very high standard of living. Everything the capitalist press writes in America is a bunch of lies. Everything is readily available! There is only one small thing of which there’s a shortage: red ink.”

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