Before he was shot and then run over by a truck outside of Minsk like a dog by Stalin’s agents, Solomon Mikhoeles was one of the greatest actors of the twentieth century. Before Osip Mandelstam was starved and frozen to death, he was a poet of wondrous and haunting verse. Before lead was lodged in Isaac Babel’s brain, he wrote peerless stories.
All were executed in the name of a classless society, for the alleged sins of the bourgeois. The hands were the hands of Stalinist goons, but the voice was the voice of Marx: “What is the secular basis of Judaism?” Marx asked in On the Jewish Question. “Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money.” The “worker’s paradise,” as it was called by socialists the world over, was a hell for Jews. The army marching under his flag would come later, but the poison was already in circulation; to the new anti-Semitism that came of age in the nineteenth century, Karl Marx was a crucial contributor.