Harold Cruse’s Attack on Jewish Communists: Comment

I wish to comment on the section of Professor Alan Wald’s article (Wald, 2000- 2001) that dealt with Harold Cruse’s views on Jews and Jewish Communists as set forth in Cruse’s 1967 book, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual. Wald deserves much credit for venturing, as he says, into “the specificities of [Cruse’s] treatment of Jewish Communists in Crisis [which] have never been discussed” (407). On the whole I thought that Wald’s comments on and refutations of Cruse’s attacks on the Jewish Communist spokesmen Mike Gold, Herbert Aptheker, James Allen and V. J. Jerome were appropriate, though unnecessarily restrained or overly polite. Unfortunately, Wald did not confront directly a more odious charge that Cruse made against Jews in the Communist Party: that they used the party to promote Jewish ethnic group interests while they limited the struggle for Black demands.

I believe that in his book Cruse reveals himself as an obsessive anti-Semite. Almost every reference to Jews is negative. He sees Jewish Communists as "devious" persons who misled African American Communists into devoting themselves to white-led integration efforts and to avoid creating independent Black cultural organizations and businesses that he advocated to advance the struggle of the Negro people. Cruse attributes to these few Jewish Communists a malignant power over Black intellectuals that was ludicrously out of proportion to anything they could have effected had they even wanted to. Yet Wald is in most instances unduly protective of Cruse even when criticizing him, and sees Cruse as an intellectual who is "exceptionally thoughtful" (410). I believe this accolade is unwarranted.

Wald begins his essay with a quotation from Cruse’s book which reads: "The radical Left of the 1940s and 1950s was not a movement of Anglo-Saxons or their ideology. It was an ethnic movement dominated by Negroes and Jews, and it was the Jews who ideologically influenced the Negroes." In my opinion this is a completely false picture of what the radical left movement (here Cruse means the Communist Party) was like in those years. It was not organized to be a movement of Anglo-Saxons or their ideology. This movement was not "dominated" by Negroes and Jews though it had leaders who were Negroes and Jews along with others of different ethnic origins, including "Anglo-Saxons." In passing it may be said that the participation of Jews in the movement at the time was numerically very much larger than that of African Americans. I showed Cruse’s quotation to several friends who were active in the broader left movement or the CP at the time, and none of them thought that Cruse’s description of it was like anything they remembered or recognized. Yet this statement is indicative of the tone and direction of much else in Cruse’s book.

One example of Wald’s restrained treatment of Cruse is this passage from Cruse’s book and Wald’s comment on it (409). At one point Cruse contends that only "Negro revolutionaries" and not Jewish Communists were capable of "Americanizing Marxism."

"The Jews . . . with their nationalistic aggressiveness, emerging out of Eastside ghettoes . . . demonstrate(d) through Marxism their intellectual superiority over the Anglo-Saxon goyim. . . . The Jews failed to make Marxism applicable to anything in America but their own national-group social ambitions or individual self-elevation. As a result the great brainwashing of the Negro radical intelligentsia was not achieved by capitalism . . . but by Jewish intellectuals in the American Communist Party." (Cruse, 1967, 158.)

Wald does acknowledge that in this statement Cruse, "the prisoner of `group caricature,’ runs roughshod over elemental facts." But what are these elemental facts? Wald informs us that three of the Jews Cruse apparently had in mind (Herbert Aptheker, James Allen and V. J. Jerome) are not from the "Eastside ghettos" at all! Instead, they "hailed from backgrounds and upbringings remote from `Eastside ghettos’"! Indeed, they came from upper middle class backgrounds, they went to universities and won doctorates! Would these facts impress the anti-Semite Cruse and besides, what is wrong with having been born on the East Side of New York?

Wald also does not challenge Cruse’s disgraceful claim that the Jewish Communists acted solely on behalf of "their own national-group social ambitions," that is Jewish group ambitions, of course, and not because of their desire to see Communist ideas become more popular in the United States. One is thus reminded that just as there are some non-Jews who when they see a Jew will immediately assume that he is “rich,” so Cruse assumed that every Jew in the party was using it to advance the interests of the Jewish ethnic group and never mind the class struggle or socialism.

As it happens, the group of Jewish Communists named and defined by Cruse as "assimilated" were the very people who were least likely to be much concerned with "their own national-group social ambitions." For the most part they were disconnected from and not especially interested in Jewish concerns, and had no relations with the Communist-oriented Yiddish or Jewish organizations that existed then. Herbert Aptheker did become quite involved for a time with some Jewish issues when he assumed the editorship of the party’s publication, Jewish Affairs, after the death of its first editor, Hyman Lumer, in 1976, but then mainly as the polemicist of the party against the left-progressive Jewish movement.

Perhaps a sample of Cruse’s statements on Jewish Communists will indicate his own bias. In a key chapter of his book entitled "Jews and Negroes in the Communist Party," Cruse claims that in 1929 "the West Indian-American Negro braintrust (in the CP) could not utter a single theoretical idea about themselves unless they first invoked the precedent of the Moscow `line’." Cruse then goes on to explain:

"This situation led inexorably to the period of Jewish dominance in the Communist Party. It culminated in the emergence of Herbert Aptheker and other assimilated Jewish Communists, who assumed the mantle of spokesmanship on Negro affairs, thus burying the Negro radical potential deeper and deeper in the slough of white intellectual paternalism. The new inner group was composed of Old Guard, first generation Communists from the Jewish Socialist Federation . . . plus a young wave that was to emerge as the Communists’ intellectual and theoretical corps of the 1930s and 1940s. This younger group, who took command of The Daily Worker, New Masses and The Communist, assumed various roles . . ." (Cruse, 1967, 147.)

What is one to make of this astounding claim of a period of "Jewish dominance in the Communist Party"? Did the Jewish members of the party have their own conventicles within it where they schemed together, out of earshot of their non-Jewish comrades, to advance "Jewish interests" or Jewish cadres? If there were many Jews in the leadership of the pre-World War II Communist Party, did this not reflect the fact that the party at that time had many Jewish members? A later Jewish party activist and editor of its publication, Jewish Affairs, noted that since the party’s founding in 1919, "about half the CP’s membership and a quarter of its leadership during most of the ensuing six decades were Jewish" (Kutzik, 1994, 14). In its first three decades the CP enjoyed considerable prestige among immigrant working-class and even middle-class Jews and among many of their American-born children.

I’m sure there never was a situation in the CP where any of its Jewish members worked outside of regular party channels to gain ideological positions or jobs in the party for Jewish members on the basis of their being Jewish. Jewish party members, both the native and the foreign-born, were sincerely devoted to the idea of internationalism and they would have vehemently rejected the very notion of some parochial Jewish nationalism or ethnic favoritism. Jewish party members sought out and welcomed non-Jews as members or leaders if only because this was proof of the Americanizing of the party, which was so desirable for an organization that had a large foreign-born composition in the early years of its existence. As a young YCL member and later as a party member in the overwhelmingly Jewish Communist Party organization in the Bronx, New York, both before and after World War II, I remember how pleased and thrilled we were to have white Gentile or Black leaders address our meetings or rallies.

Something needs to be said of Cruse’s claim that "Jews took command" of the Communist Party press in the 1930s. If one were to examine left publications in the United States in the past 50 or so years including such magazines as Science & Society, Monthly Review, Socialist Review, Against the Current, Rethinking Marxism or other left- progressive publications, names would be found of many Jews among their editorial boards and contributors. Is this an example of Jews again taking "command"? None of these Jews sought out these positions or assignments for any particular "Jewish" aims or purposes and most of them probably did not feel any especial affinity to any form of Jewish culture or even Jewish peoplehood (not that there should be anything wrong if they had). These many Jewish writers or contributors were attracted to the views espoused by these publications and felt eager or able to make a contribution to them. Are they to be censured for that? The whole idea of labeling people according to race or ethnicity so as to prove these the inevitably determining factors of their ideological or political outlook ought to be repugnant in general. But Cruse is so determined on this that he even invented a period in the Communist Party, in the 1920s, which he defined as "Anglo-Saxon" when the party enjoyed an "open-minded freshness" which, he writes, it was to lose when the ascendancy of the Jews began (Cruse, 1967, 147).

The fact that Jews participated in visibly greater numbers in different left and progressive causes and movements is a phenomenon of the past two centuries. For example, V. I. Lenin and Frederick Engels, both non-Jews, did not think the noticeable participation of Jews was something negative. Lenin, for example, while in exile in Zurich, Switzerland, declared in a lecture that he gave on the 1905 revolution in Russia:

"Tsarism vented its hatred particularly upon the Jews. On the one hand, the Jews furnished a particularly high percentage (compared with the total Jewish population) of leaders of the revolutionary movement. And now, too, it should be noted to the credit of the Jews, they furnish a relatively high percentage of internationalists, compared with other nations . . . " (Lenin, 1974, 134.)

Frederick Engels, in a letter of April 1890, wrote:

"We owe much to the Jews. To say nothing of Heine and Borne, Marx was of purest Jewish blood; Lassalle was a Jew. Many of our best people are Jews. My friend Victor Adler, who is . . . in prison in Vienna, Eduard Bernstein, editor of the London Sozial-Democrat, Paul Singer, one of our best men in the Reichstag—people of whose friendship I am proud, are all Jews! . . . "(Letter No. 211, Engels, 1942, 469.)

One may suppose that if ever Cruse was aware of such sentiments by Lenin and Engels he would most likely have dismissed these as further evidence of the "deviousness" of Jews in the movement.

Still another grotesque statement by Cruse reads: "Under Jewish Communist prodding, the Communist Party took up the anti-Hitler crusade in the late 1930s" (Cruse, 1967, 168), that is, during the Popular Front period. Cruse, true to his anti-Communism, would have us believe that after the enormous catastrophe in 1933 of Hitler’s coming to power and the Nazi regime’s brutal destruction of the strong German Communist and Social Democratic parties, the trade unions and all anti-Nazi opposition, the leaders of the American Communist Party (Earl Browder, William Z. Foster, etc.) were so dense that they didn’t know what hit them and their world movement and needed the "prodding" of Jewish Communist members to take up the anti-Nazi struggle and the Popular Front orientation.  Wald, however, finds Cruse’s statement cited above on Jewish Communist prodding "a unique theory." Anyone who lived through this period will recognize that Cruse’s "theory" was not far off from the argument of the reactionary and anti-Semitic forces in the United States then who claimed that President Roosevelt, responding to pressure from Jews, was getting us into a "Jewish war" in Europe.

We are indebted to Wald not only for discussing some of Cruse’s crank arguments against Jewish Communists but also for noticing a deception that Cruse committed regarding the distinguished poet, Langston Hughes. Cruse claimed that in pursuit of the "Jewish crusade against Hitler" in the 1936-1939 period, "a very large corps of Negro volunteers went to Spain during the Spanish Civil War . . . to fight and die for Spanish democracy." He then went on to quote a statement made by Langston Hughes about his visit to Spain in his 1956 book, I Wonder As I Wander. Hughes wrote: "With so many unsolved problems in America, I wondered why would a Negro come way over to Spain to help solve Spain’s problems—perhaps with his very life. I don’t know. I wondered then. I wonder still" (Cruse, 1967, 168).

Wald saw that Cruse had abridged this quotation. The sentence immediately following after the above reads: "But in my heart I salute them" (Hughes, 1956, 364). But Cruse, for his own reasons, ignored it! Hughes went on to relate a few of the answers these African American volunteers of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade gave for fighting Franco. Wald adds: "Hughes should not be enlisted for Cruse’s cynical argument." True enough. Yet Wald’s protectiveness of Cruse comes into play again and he writes: "It is regrettable that Cruse did not give us a longer excerpt from this section of Hughes’ memoir." Indeed, it is regrettable but after so many other deceptions by Cruse what else were we to expect?

Since Dr. Herbert Aptheker was the target of much of Harold Cruse’s animus it may be useful to present Aptheker’s opinion of Cruse’s book. As far as I can determine Aptheker made only two published criticisms of it. The first was a footnote to an article of his in the April 1969 issue of the Communist Party theoretical magazine, Political Affairs, entitled, "Anti-Semitism and Racism." The footnote reads as follows:

"Where anti-Semitism does appear in the writings of a Black author it is ignored if it is ensconced in sufficient anti-Communism. Thus, Harold Cruse’s thoroughly poisonous book, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, steeped in anti-Semitism of the most blatant kind and fanatically anti-Communist, has a major publisher (Morrow), gets excellent reviews, brings the author a professorship (at the University of Michigan) and is hailed for its 'brilliance' by no less a 'brilliant' authority than Prof. Eugene Genovese! If the American Jewish Congress, or the American Jewish Committee or any Jewish newspaper, has said a word in condemnation of Mr. Cruse’s anti-Semitism it has escaped this writer."

The second reference was made in a speech Aptheker delivered six years later when he referred in one sentence to "a sickening book by Harold Cruse, a renegade who is incapable of recognizing the truth and who is the author of the most blatantly anti-Semitic book to be published by a major house in the United States in fifty years" (Jewish Affairs, New York, May-June, 1975). The writer of this communication has had his disagreements with Dr. Aptheker, including one episode some three decades ago concerning the problem of anti-Semitism in the former Soviet Union and the former People’s Poland. Aptheker and his party at the time denounced those of us who were associated with the Jewish Currents magazine and the Yiddish Morgn Freiheit for criticizing anti-Semitic publications and discrimination in those countries. Yet, when Cruse’s book appeared and was extolled in many New Left circles, I was cheered by Aptheker’s angry response to its anti-Semitism. Still one was puzzled. Why did Aptheker relegate his first criticism to a footnote in an article? Why didn’t he then or later contest Cruse’s malicious libels against him and other of his party colleagues who were Jews? Was Aptheker’s limited response to Cruse’s attacks against him and his Jewish colleagues an example of white Communists refraining from criticizing an African American even when such criticism was justified and expected? There is another figure in the Black left cultural field, Ernest Kaiser, who was an outspoken critic of Harold Cruse. After being hit by Cruse’s mean-spirited shots at Jewish Communists it is a relief to once again look into Kaiser’s review of Cruse’s book in the Winter 1969 issue of Freedomways, where he wrote:

"Cruse’s statement that minority Jewish nationalism is more successful than majority Anglo-Saxon nationalism is absurd and anti-Semitic. His treatment of Negro-Jewish relations is away off. Israel and some of the Jews there are tied up with imperialism in Africa and should be opposed. But Cruse would rather fight them than the main imperialists who are American WASPs. . . . Jews as a group are not the Negroes’ enemy; the power elite which includes some Jews is . . ."

For some readers of Cruse’s book this review was balm indeed. Wald declares that "Cruse’s book retains authority because it has secured a niche" (415). If this is so I hope this authority doesn’t owe anything to Cruse’s false explanations of the motives of Jews who were active in the Communist Party in a previous period and who together with their non-Jewish comrades brought the struggle against white racism and respect for African American history and culture to a broader American public.

In dealing with some of Cruse’s negative and misleading views of Jewish Communists, Wald has performed a valuable service and I am grateful for that. Yet, having met or worked with many of these comrades over several decades, though not specifically with those Cruse was most exercised about, I felt hurt and insulted by what he said of all of us. I believe Wald would have been justified to deal more sharply with Cruse, and not as if he were an "exceptionally thoughtful" intellectual who made regrettable errors.

Sid Resnick
230 Treadwell St., #602
Hamden, CT. 06517


Cruse, Harold. 1967. The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual: From Its Origins to the Present. New York: William Morrow and Company.

Engels, Frederick. 1942. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence, 1846-1895. New York: International Publishers.

Hughes, Langston. 1956. I Wonder as I Wander. New York: Rinehart.

Kutzik, Alfred J. 1994. The Communist Party and the Jews: Implications for the National Question. New York: Red Balloon Collective.

Lenin, V. I. 1974. Lenin on the Jewish Question. Edited by Hyman Lumer. New York: International Publishers.

Wald, Alan. 2000-2001. "Narrating Nationalisms: Black Marxism and Jewish Communists Through the Eyes of Harold Cruse." Science & Society, 64: 4 (Winter), 400- 423.

SOURCE: Resnick, Sid. “Harold Cruse’s Attack on Jewish Communists: Comment,” Science & Society, Vol. 66, No. 3, Fall 2002, 393-400.

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