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Isaac Deutscher

Warning: Page using Template:Infobox person with the greatest enemies of the Communist Party. Deutscher
unknown parameter ethnicity (this message is shown published an article called The Danger of Barbarism
only in preview). over Europe, in which he urged the formation of a united
socialist-Communist front against Nazism. Deutscher
was expelled from the party for exaggerat[ing] the dan-
Isaac Deutscher (3 April 1907 19 August 1967) was a
Polish writer, journalist and political activist who moved ger of Nazism and ... spreading panic in the Communist
to the United Kingdom at the outbreak of World War II.
He is best known as a biographer of Leon Trotsky and
Joseph Stalin and as a commentator on Soviet aairs.
His three-volume biography of Trotsky, in particular, was
highly inuential among the British New Left.[1]

1 Early life 2 Move to Britain and journalism

Deutscher was born in Chrzanw, a town in the Galicia
region of Poland, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Em-
pire, into a family of religiously observant Jews. He stud-
ied with a Hasidic rebbe and was acclaimed as a prodigy In April 1939, Deutscher left Poland for London as a cor-
in the study of the Torah and the Talmud. By the time of respondent for a Polish-Jewish newspaper for which he
his bar mitzvah, however, he had lost his faith. He tested had worked as a proof reader for fourteen years.[2] This
God by eating non-kosher food at the grave of a tzadik move saved his life and paved the way for his future ca-
(holy person) on Yom Kippur. When nothing happened, reer. He never returned to Poland and never saw any of
he became an atheist. his family again. He became a British subject in 1949,
taking his oath of allegiance on 12 May 1949.[3]
Deutscher rst attracted notice as a poet, when at 16 he
began publishing poems in Polish literary periodicals. His In London, Deutscher worked as a correspondent for the
verse, in Yiddish and Polish, concerned Jewish and Polish Polish newspaper, and for a while he joined the Trotskyist
Revolutionary Workers League.
mysticism, history and mythology, and he attempted to
bridge the gulf between Polish and Yiddish culture. He When Germany occupied Poland in September 1939,
also translated poetry from Hebrew, Latin, German, and and his connection with his newspaper was severed, he
Yiddish into Polish. taught himself English and began writing for English
Deutscher studied literature, history, and philosophy as magazines.[2] He was soon a regular correspondent for the
an extramural student at the Jagellonian University in leading weekly The Economist.[2] In 1940 he joined the
Krakw.[2] At 18 he left Krakw for Warsaw, where he Polish Army in Scotland, but was interned as a dangerous
studied philosophy and economics and became a Marxist. subversive.[2] Released in 1942, he joined the sta of The
Around 1927, he joined the illegal Communist Party of Economist and became its expert on Soviet aairs and
Poland (KPP) and became the editor of the partys un- military issues, and its chief European correspondent.[2]
derground press.[2] In 1931, he toured the Soviet Union, He also wrote for The Observer as a roving European cor-
seeing the economic conditions under the rst Five Year respondent under the pen-name Peregrine.[2]
Plan. Here Moscow University and Minsk University of- He left journalism in 194647 to write books.[2]
fered him posts as a professor of the history of socialism Deutschers name (with the remark Sympathiser only)
and of Marxist theory. He declined these oers and re- subsequently appeared on Orwells list, a list of people
turned to his underground work in Poland.[2] On his re- (many writers and journalists) which George Orwell pre-
turn, Deutscher co-founded the rst anti-Stalinist group pared in March 1949 for the Information Research De-
in the Polish Communist Party, protesting the party line partment, a propaganda unit set up at the Foreign Oce
that Nazism and Social Democracy were not antipodes by the Labour government. Orwell considered the listed
but twins.[2] This contradicted the then ocial Commu- people to have pro-communist leanings and therefore to
nist line, which saw social democrats as "social fascists", be inappropriate to write for the IRD.[4]


3 Biographer and academic (1948 4 In relation to Judaism and Zion-

1967) ism
Despite being an atheist, Deutscher emphasised the im-
portance of his Jewish heritage. He coined the expression
"non-Jewish Jew" to apply to himself and other Jewish
Deutscher published his rst major work, Stalin, A Polit- humanists. Deutscher admired Elisha ben Abuyah, a
ical Biography in 1949. Deutscher was still a committed Jewish heretic of the 2nd century CE. But he had lit-
Trotskyist, but in the book Deutscher gave Stalin what tle time for specically Jewish politics. In Warsaw, he
he saw as his due for building a form of socialism in the joined the Communist Party, not the Jewish Bund, whose
Soviet Union, even if it was, in Deutschers view, a per- "Yiddishist" views he opposed.
version of the vision of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky.
His denition of his Jewishness was: Religion? I am
The Stalin biography made Deutscher a leading au- an atheist. Jewish nationalism? I am an internationalist.
thority on Soviet aairs and the Russian Revolution. In neither sense am I therefore a Jew. I am, however,
He followed it up with his most ambitious work, a a Jew by force of my unconditional solidarity with the
three-volume biography of Trotsky: The Prophet Armed persecuted and exterminated. I am a Jew because I feel
(1954), The Prophet Unarmed (1959) and The Prophet the pulse of Jewish history; because I should like to do
Outcast (1963). These books were based on detailed all I can to assure the real, not spurious, security and self-
research into the Trotsky Archives at Harvard Univer- respect of the Jews.[9]
sity. Much of the material contained in the third vol-
ume was previously unknown, since Trotskys widow, Before World War II, Deutscher opposed Zionism as eco-
Natalia Sedova, gave him access to the closed section of nomically retrograde and harmful to the cause of interna-
the Archives. British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared tional socialism, but in the aftermath of the Holocaust he
in 2006 that the trilogy made a very deep impression on regretted his pre-war views, and argued a case for estab-
me and gave me a love of political biography for the rest lishing Israel as a historic necessity to provide a home
of my life.[5] Deutscher planned to conclude his series for the surviving Jews of Europe. In the 1960s, he be-
with a study of Lenin, but Life of Lenin remained incom- came more critical of Israel for its failure to recognise
plete at the time of his death, partly due to a politically the dispossession of the Palestinians, and after the Six-
motivated denial of a university position to Deutscher.[6] Day War of 1967 he demanded that Israel withdraw from
As later revealed, when he was asked to evaluate the the occupied territories. This 'six-day wonder'", he com-
academic credentials of Deutscher, Isaiah Berlin argued mented, this latest, all-too-easy triumph of Israeli arms
against such a promotion, because of the profoundly pro- will be seen one day... to have been a disaster... for Israel
communist militancy of the candidate.[7] itself.[10]

In the 1960s, the upsurge of left-wing sentiment that ac- His most famous statement regarding Israel is A man
once jumped from the top oor of a burning house in
companied the Vietnam War made Deutscher a popu-
lar gure on university campuses in both Britain and the which many members of his family had already perished.
United States. His Trotskyism had by then become a He managed to save his life; but as he was falling he hit a
form of Marxist humanism, although he never renounced person standing down below and broke that persons legs
Trotsky. In 1965, he took part in the rst Teach-In and arms. The jumping man had no choice; yet to the
on Vietnam at the University of California, Berkeley, man with the broken limbs he was the cause of his misfor-
where thousands of students listened to his indictment tune. If both behaved rationally, they would not become
of the Cold War.[2] He was G. M. Trevelyan Lecturer enemies. The man who escaped from the blazing house,
at Cambridge University for 196667,[2] and also lec- having recovered, would have tried to help and console
tured for six weeks at the State University of New York.[2] the other suerer; and the latter might have realized that
In spring 1967 he guest lectured at New York Univer- he was the victim of circumstances over which neither of
sity, Princeton, Harvard and Columbia.[2] The G. M. them had control. But look what happens when these peo-
Trevelyan Lectures, under the title The Unnished Rev- ple behave irrationally. The injured man blames the other
olution, were published after his sudden and unexpected for his misery and swears to make him pay for it. The
death in Rome in 1967, where he went for an Italian TV other, afraid of the crippled mans revenge, insults him,
broadcast, a play about the fallen of Trotsky written and kicks him, and beats him up whenever they meet. The
directed by Marco Leto, starring Franco Parenti as Trot- kicked man again swears revenge and is again punched
sky and Renzo Giovampietro as Stalin. A memorial prize and punished. The bitter enmity, so fortuitous at rst,
honouring him, called the Deutscher Memorial Prize, is hardens and comes to overshadow the whole existence of
awarded annually to a book which exemplies the best both men and to poison their minds.[11]
and most innovative new writing in or about the Marxist In The Israeli Arab War, June 1967 (1967), Deutscher,
tradition. Isaac Deutscher made the distinction between a Marxist of Jewish origins whose next-of-kin died at
classical Marxism and vulgar Marxism.[8] Auschwitz and whose relatives lived in Israel, wrote:

Still we must exercise our judgment and 6 See also

must not allow it to be clouded by emotions
and memories, however deep or haunting. We Deutscher Memorial Prize
should not allow even invocations of Auschwitz
to blackmail us into supporting the wrong
cause. (Quoted in Prophets Outcast, Nation
Books, 2004, p. 184)
7 References
[1] Neil Davidson, The prophet, his biographer and the
He believed, watchtower, International Socialism 104, 2004

To justify or condone Israels wars against [2] Tamara Deutscher (1968), Isaac Deutscher 1907
the Arabs is to render Israel a very bad ser- 1967, Preface to The Non-Jewish Jew & Other Essays
vice indeed and to harm its own long-term in- [3] London Gazette 21 June 1949
terest. Israels security, let me repeat, was not uk/London/issue/38647/page/3062
enhanced by the wars of 1956 and 1967; it was
undermined and compromised by them. The [4] Orwells List by Timothy Garton Ash. The New York
friends of Israel have in fact abetted Israel in Review of Books Volume 50, Number 14. 25 September
a ruinous course. (Quoted in Prophets Outcast, 2003
Nation Books, 2004, p. 184)
[5] Cahal Milmo, The Independent, 3 March 2006, Blair re-
veals an unexpected inuence: Trotsky

5 Selected works [6] M Ignatie, Isaiah Berlin: A Life (London, 1998), pp 93,
235; cited in Neil Davidson, The prophet, his biographer
and the watchtower, International Socialism 104, 2004
Stalin: a Political Biography (1949)
[7] For this incident, see David Caute, Isaac & Isaiah: The
Soviet Trade Unions (1950) Covert Punishment of a Cold War Heretic (New Haven and
London: Yale University Press, 2013).
Russia After Stalin (1953)
Russia, What Next? (1953)
The Prophet Armed: Trotsky, 18791921 (1954)
[9] Deutscher, Isaac. Who is a Jew?" In The Non-Jewish Jew
Heretics and renegades: and other essays (1955) and Other Essays. Tamara Deutscher, ed. and Introduc-
tion. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968. P. 51.
Russia in transition, and other essays (1957)
[10] Deutscher, Isaac. An Interview: On the Israeli-Arab War.
The Prophet Unarmed: Trotsky, 19211929 (1959) New Left Review I/44 (JulyAugust 1967): 3045.

Great contest: Russia and the West (1960) [11] Deutscher, Isaac. The Non-Jewish Jew and Other Essays.
London: Oxford University Press, pp 136137
The Prophet Outcast: Trotsky, 19291940 (1963)
Isaac Deutscher on the Israeli-Arab War: an inter-
view with the late Isaac Deutscher (1967) 8 Sources
The Unnished Revolution: Russia 19171967 (G. Cli, Tony, The End of the Road: Isaac
M. Trevelyan lectures) (1967) Deutschers Capitulation to Stalinism, 1963.
Non-Jewish Jew and other essays, London: OUP,
Horowitz, David, Isaac Deutscher: The Man and his
work. London: Macdonald, 1971.
An Open Letter to Wadysaw Gomuka and the Cen-
Labedz, Leopold Issac Deutscher: Historian,
tral Committee of the Polish Workers Party (1968)
Prophet, Biographer pages 3303 from Survey,
Russia, China, and the West 19531966 (Edited by Volume 30, Issue # 12, March 1988.
Fred Halliday) (1970)
Laqueur, Walter The Fate of the Revolution: Inter-
Marxism in our time, (Edited by Tamara Deutscher) pretations of Soviet History from 1917 to the Present,
(London: Cape, 1972) New York : Scribner, 1987 ISBN 0-684-18903-8.

Marxism, Wars, and Revolutions: essays from four Neil Davidson, The prophet, his biographer and the
decades (Edited by Tamara Deutscher) (1984) watchtower, International Socialism 104, 2004.

9 Further reading
Bruce Robbins, The Red Emigrant, The Nation,
17 April 2017, pp. 2728, 3031. A sketch of the
life and thoughts of Isaac Deutscher, non-Jewish

10 External links
Isaac Deutscher Archive at
Russia in transition, Universities & Left Review,
The Failure of Khrushchevism, Socialist Register,
Maoism-Its Origins, Background and Outlook,
Socialist Register, 1964
Marxism in Our Time A Lecture given in 1965

The Tragedy of the Polish Communist Party, So-

cialist Register, 1982

The Lubitz TrotskyanaNet provides a biographi-

cal sketch and a selective bibliography of Isaac
Isaac Deutscher Speaks! (English) I still believe!":
Berkeley Anti-war Teach-in, 1965 this is a
YouTube recording of Deutschers speech at this
event (audio only)

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