JEWISH RADICALS: From Czarist Stetl to London Ghetto by William J. Fishman
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JEWISH RADICALS: From Czarist Stetl to London Ghetto

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Fishman has reconstructed the obscure but utterly fascinating history of Jewish radicalism in London's East End during the period 1875-1914 when hordes of unskilled, Yiddish-speaking refugees poured into England from the Tsarist stetls amidst a rising clamor for the exclusion of ""pauper aliens."" Among the just-arrived ""greeners,"" herded into the small tailoring workshops which proliferated in Whitechapel and Stepney, a handful of publicists and agitators worked to promulgate Jewish labor unions, educational organizations and a socialist, working man's press. Themselves refugees, men like Aron Lieberman who founded the pioneering Hebrew Socialist Union were ghetto organizers, but also and inevitably ""an arm of underground Russia."" Doubly despised as Jews and as leftwing subversives, Lieberman, Morris Winchevsky, Woolf Wess and a handful of others somehow managed to maintain a continuity between the nascent, struggling workers' organizations of the East End, creating among other organs, the Arbeter Fraint, a vital socialist newspaper of the period. The history of these threadbare, sweatshop radicals has more than parochial interest since the quarrels and schisms of the London group echoed, in their own small way, the ideological battles of the Second Internationale: would the Bakuninite anarchists prevail or the social democrats? Should socialism be passionately international or should it adapt to ethnicity and the strong Jewish sense of being a tribe or nation apart? Fishman makes a good case for the unique appeal of the anarchists in this destitute ghetto environment. They were consistently in the vanguard of the strikes for unionization (though trade union consciousness was an anathema to them) keeping alive the tradition of direct action initiated by the masses even as the social democratic elements veered off into assimilation into the British trade unions and middle-class, English-speaking, respectability. An important study of a unique immigrant community as well as a significant contribution to European socialism in its protean phase.

Pub Date: May 16th, 1975
Publisher: Pantheon