Mark Rudd on Jewishness and Sixties radicalism

Mark Rudd, leader of the student rebellion at Columbia University in 1968, member of the Weather Underground, and fugitive for seven years during the 1970s, speaks about his Jewishness and the central role he says Jewishness played in the student radical movement. As I’ve read elsewhere, Rudd renounced Weatherman-type criminal violence, but, as is clear in this speech, given last year to the New Mexico Jewish Historical Society, he has not renounced leftist anti-Americanism. It’s not fair to take an unrepentant anti-American radical like Rudd as typical of Jews as such, but, unfortunately, following the pattern of many recent statements by Jews that I have discussed at VFR, Rudd himself puts front and center the claim that his attitudes are representative of Jewishness. Though many Jews would doubtless disagree that his views are representative, he thinks they are, and we must deal with them as such, as least as regards some Jews.

As Rudd discusses in the below culminating passage of his speech, his Jewishness—though he’s completely non-religious—is more formative for him than being an American. His political and cultural loyalty is to secular Jewish leftist internationalism, not to America. Through this 5,000 word speech, he does not show any fondness or appeciation for America, only dislike. The same coldness these leftists express toward religion and the idea of God, they express toward their country:

To be outsiders in a nation or an empire is not such a terrible thing. Keeping critical and alert has allowed the Jewish people to survive all sorts of imperial disasters over the millennia—the Greeks, the Romans, Islam in Spain (which went from Golden Age to Inquisition in a few centuries), the Crusades, Reformation Europe, the Russian Czars, Nazism. This particular empire is neither the first nor the last to attempt to seduce us to join up. But we’d better not: it’s our job to be critical outsiders, both for our own survival and for that of the planet.

As a child I never fell for the seduction of patriotism. It seemed so arbitrary, who’s an American and who’s not. If my relatives hadn’t emigrated, who would I be? Since I was also at core an idealist and a utopian—another Jewish tradition?—I wanted to skip all that obviously stupid and dangerous stuff that gave rise to wars and racism. In 1965 I began to identify myself as a socialist and an internationalist. I still am an internationalist since old religions die hard.

Consider those words again:

“To be outsiders in a nation or an empire is not such a terrible thing…. This particular empire is neither the first nor the last to attempt to seduce us to join up. But we’d better not: it’s our job to be critical outsiders, both for our own survival and for that of the planet.”

Is he perhaps calling on his fellow leftist Jews to be critical outsiders in the nation in order, prophet-like, to lead the nation to the right path and save her? No. The Jews must be outsiders in the nation not for the survival of the nation but for their own survival and the planet’s. In an earlier version of this blog entry, I wrote of the “unaffectionate, superior, contemptible way that Rudd talks about his own country.” But I realize this was incorrect. America is not Rudd’s country in any sense. America is a bad country in which Rudd happens to reside (all national identity being “arbitrary,” as he puts it) and from which he must separate himself in order to save himself and mankind, but not in order to save America.

Which brings up an obvious question. If the only way the radical Jews can “survive” is by detaching themselves from America, what does he think will happen to them when the America they have no concern for crashes? How can anyone imagine that a withdrawal of Jewish loyalty from America, the safest home the Jews have ever had, would promote Jewish survival? I doubt that he’s thought two seconds about that, because he’s a leftist. Leftists create nothing real, and they preserve nothing real. They take for granted the genuine goods of this world and then tear them down because they don’t live up to the left’s requirements. America is there for Rudd to oppose and criticize, not to be a part of and to protect.

Only in an America where the majority culture had already given up any belief in itself, could people get away with saying the kinds of things Rudd says.

One can’t help but wonder, if the U.S. immigration authorities who admitted into this country Rudd’s father (who became a career officer in the U.S. Army) had known that that immigrant’s son would be like this, would they have let in the father? Should they have let in the father?

By the way, I went to the same high school as Mark Rudd, Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey, which he discusses in his talk, and where I was two years behind him; in my sophomore year I was a member of the political science club of which he was president. We also went to the same university, Columbia. Furthermore, as I learn from his talk, his father was born two years before my father, and his mother was born two years before my mother. His family lived in Newark before moving to the suburbs, as my family did. And of course his family was Jewish, as mine was (though I must confess that I did not know until I read the speech that he was Jewish; I had always assumed he wasn’t.) So there would seem to be some kind of mysterious correspondence or parallelism between us. But there’s none that I can see, other than the external facts already mentioned. The intensely ethnocentric attitude, “We Jews versus those gentiles,” “We Jews as outsiders in America,” which he expresses throughout his talk and claims was the ubiquitous atmosphere in which he lived, did not exist in my family, in the development of my consciousness of the world, and in my America.

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A reader writes:

Rudd was initially “into” violence and helped create the very violent Weathermen after being part of the most violent SDS faction at Columbia. However, give Rudd credit: he soon realized that the violence which Weatherman (and Weather Underground) was advocating was the wrong path. While he still opposed much of American foreign policy (the Vietnam war etc.) and American capitalism in general, he no longer could support the elitist violence of the Weatherman kind. He paid for that by being demoted and forced out of the organization in everything but name. Considering the times and the context, Rudd exhibited a lot of insight and a lot of courage. Many of his comrades did not swerve from the path of violence. He then went on to teach mathematics for many years at a small college in New Mexico and it wasn’t until the recent film “Weather Underground” (you must see this, it’s on DVD) that he has been in the public eye again. While I disagree with some of his views about America and feel that he often ignores the evils of Communism and Islamic Fascism (I know I could say Islam but in this context I won’t) blaming the U.S for the ills of the world, I would not call him anti-American. He would deny that he hates America and often praises certain aspects of it (now, not then) You are resorting to the same personal insult “trip” which Spencer and others do in regard to you. Let’s keep to the issues.

LA replies:

Tell me how I’m doing that? Rudd is a public figure. He gave a speech saying the anti-American things (or at least the totally-indifferent-to-America things) things he said, which I quoted at length and then commented, this man has no fondness or regard for America and he bases it in his Jewishness. How does that compare to a personal insult which tries to rob a person of his dignity?

Dana writes:

I have been thinking about this issue a lot and it occurred to me recently that the very way in which Jewish kids are raised in America promotes this to such an extent that I don’t see how any Jews end up like you and me, pro-American, conservative, not hostile to the host country’s native people and traditions, etc.

I was raised in a secular Jewish beatnik home. I went to private Jewish school until 10th grade and all of my parents” friends were Jewish “folkies” of their generation, consequently most of my friends were their children. I had almost no contact with non-Jews, unless they were in the “folk” community, which means they thought and acted like secular leftist Jews. I was raised in an culture wholly different from that of my fellow Americans.

It didn’t dawn on me until I was “not invited back” to my private school in the middle of tenth grade due to behavioral problems and had to go to public school that I was an stranger in a NORMAL land. I had none of the shared cultural memories and rituals of my non-Jewish classmates, Christmas and its associated tv specials, Easter egg hunts, church, big 4th of July and Memorial Day observances, going to certain beaches at the Jersey shore for the summer, like Wildwood. My new peers didn’t have MY memories either, like being given pot at 13 by old hippies at the Philadelphia Folk Festival I camped out at every year, having artsy types screen silent versions of “Nosferatu” on their parents” living room wall at parties, or being CONSTANTLY CONSTANTLY told they belonged to a unique and superior bloodline that was smarter and better in every way than the “Goyim,” who were stupid, uncultured hicks who paid too much for everything and drank all the time.

Basically, I guess in the end its not the JEWISHNESS per se, but the continuation of the diaspora Jewish culture that I suppose has sustained the Jews for so long, but also leads to their inevitable downfall every time. In the face of the existence of Israel, I don’t understand how Jews can continue to live as hostile aliens in every country they inhabit. If you want to practice an exclusionary unassimilable form of Jewish identity, go do it in Israel, what’s so hard about that?

LA replies:

Very interesting story, and I love your phrase, “a stranger in a normal land.” That could be the title of a book about the attitude of many Jews in America.

Maureen writes:

Rudd: “If my relatives hadn’t emigrated, who would I be?”

Maureen: Probably left dead in a pogrom in Minsk … but don’t let that stop you from trashing America.

Rudd: “Since I was also at core an idealist and a utopian—another Jewish tradition?—I wanted to skip all that obviously stupid and dangerous stuff that gave rise to wars and racism. In 1965 I began to identify myself as a socialist and an internationalist.”

Maureen: The same sort of internationalism and utopianism that punished the tsar for killing hundreds, while bringing to power Lenin and Stalin who murdered millions—not to mention preparing the way for French socialism, Castro, Che Guevara, Hugo Chavez.

Here is a biographical profile of Mark Rudd, apparently written by himself. Other than his renouncing revolutionary violence (which he did 35 years ago, so that’s not news), it is evident that he has not abandoned any of the views he had in the 1960s and ‘70s. In the course of this biographical profile, written in the third person, the unnamed author uncritically repeats all the rhetoric of that period, denouncing America’s “racist” war against Vietnam and so on, as though he still fully believes it. This confirms my impression from Rudd’s New Mexico speech that he is an unreconstructed anti-American leftist.

Further confirming this impression, the article on Rudd at Wikipedia tells us:

He was interviewed in the 2002 documentary, The Weather Underground, and stated that while he believes the group’s motivation, to end the Vietnam War, was justified, and that its Marxist-inspired understanding of the history of United States imperialism was correct, the terrorist actions performed in pursuit of the goal of its overthrow were wrong.

Right. So, other than renouncing that brief period (a few months at most), when the Weather Underground was actively pursuing revolutionary violence, Rudd in the last 36 years has had No Second Thoughts.

Sam B. writes:

Mark Rudd, and those like him, are what Dennis Prager in his “Why the Jews” (a study of anti-Semitism) calls Non-Jewish Jews. Rudd is as much of a Jew as the Rosenbergs were on the eve of their execution (for passing on atomic information to that great secular utopia, the USSR). When their lawyers appealed that the execution should be delayed because it was scheduled to take place on the Jewish sabbath, the rationale was that the couple should not be executed on that holy day because they were Jews. But these two Communist Party members had no use for Judaism—any more than Rudd has, for they never attended synagogue, never a religious school, and, like all communists—including Jewish communists—derided all religion, including their own. In Marx’s words from the Communist manifesto, religion is the opiate of the people. As Prager sees it (in his Why the Jews…), for secular Jews, Liberalism is their religion. While citing Marx, Proudhon, Bakhunin, Lenin, Stalin (before his exposure) and now Noam (America-hater) Chomski, how many have entered a synagogue to worship in their adulthood? How many have opened their (OT) Bible? Maybe as “literature.” How many have studied the great Jewish philosophers, mystics, rabbis, and prophets—from martyred Rabbi Akiba in ancient times, to Maimonides (the RAMBAM) in the Golden Age of Spain? How many have read Martin Buber (“I and Thou”)—and taken him seriously (Through a love of man one comes to a love of G-d)? But the Jewish leftist never gets much beyond the love of Man, a form of idolatory. As Isaac Bashevis Singer put it in his novel The Family Moskat, “a new generation [of Jews] has arisen that has only one thing in mind—humanity! They weep bitter tears over every Ivan, every Slav. There’s only one nation they’ve got no use for—their own flesh and blood!”

Every Utopia—Rudd calls himself a Utopian—has ended in hells on earth. Comrade (SDS-er) Mark Rudd has learned nothing—except that violence, his kind, doesn’t pay off in practical terms to his own interests.

Like so many secular Jewish leftists, Rudd tries to prove that the reason for Jewish survival over the millenia was that Jews remained “critical outsiders.”—non-conformists (as in his brand of conformist non-conformism) This squares nicely with the old communist saw—Nazis, too—that Jews are rootless, not attached to anything larger than themselves, a “tribe.” But, blind to history and the power of faith, the Rudd’s of the world have overlooked what’s obvious in the survival of the Jewish people—faith in the one G-d, the Torah (the “ethical” in ethical monotheism), and a sense of people/nationhood (Israel, the collective Jewish people). This has nothing to do with dual loyaltes; for in every state where Jews have lived and formed part of its civilized polity, Jews have blessed its government in the synagogue on every Sabbath. This is especially true of the United States of America, which has been a haven not only to Jews, but to the oppressed of the world—even to the likes of ingrates like Mark Rudd. Criticism of one’s country is no sin, but to find everything wrong with it while ignoring the great sins of Islamic murderers is to split the atom of conscience.

As a wag once cracked about Jewish left revolutionaries, employing Leon Trotzky (pseudonym) as an example: “The Trotzkys make the revolution and the Bronsteins (Trotzky’s patronymic) pay for it.” Rudd has yet to learn that bit of “sechel”—wisdom.

LA replies:

I don’t disagree with your main point that these leftists have nothing to do with the Jewish religion, properly speaking. But you can’t blank out the fact that Rudd himself, and many leftists like him, are born Jews who see what they are doing as Jewish. Somehow you have to deal with the fact that the phenomenon of “non-Jewish Jews” is a Jewish phenomenon.

Also, if you read Rudd’s speech that I posted, you will see that his family was very active in their synogogue, even though they weren’t believers. Go figure.

Alan L. writes:

My own inclination is to side with Sam B. I do not, however, deny the exceptional Jewish participation in radical movements, including the New Left. I just think that there is little new to be said about this that was not said back in the 1980s by Rothman and Lichter in the “Roots of Radicalism.”

I do, however, have a real problem with taking Rudd’s personal reminiscences “straight.” My own observations are in line with Sam B and Rothman and Lichter: radical Jews are usually from backgrounds completely free of Jewish religious and even much ethnic identification. But apart from that, I have trouble taking ANYTHING ever said by ANY New Leftist, ex- or otherwise, seriously. Their main personal characteristic, apart from running over with hatred, is that they are liars. They will rewrite the past, their own and everybody else’s, to suit their current agenda; and they will tell a different lie in the future when things have changed.

LA replies:

That’s an interesting angle. So you think what he said about being involved in his temple, and his father being a major figure in the temple and so on, is made up? Could be. It certainly struck me as strange, that a non-believing family would be such active synogogue participants.

J. writes:

My experience as an outsider corroborates Dana’s account more than the others’: Jewishness among my friends and family members (in-laws and converts) has been overwhelmingly ethnic/cultural versus religious. Many times I’ve heard things like “he’s not really Jewish, he’s not religious, he’s never even been bar-mitzvahed,” etc., only to see some decision later on that is clearly based on ethnic/cultural identity—such as an insincere return to some branch of Judaism versus other religious options that would seem more compatible with that person’s politics, in order to reap the benefits of religious officialdom; or keeping a “kosher” house despite no religious belief; or only considering other (non-religious) Jews for marriage despite other prospects. For many people their religion is merely an unconscious affirmation of ethnic identity, rather than a sincere belief or conscious choice. Catholics and Lutherans in my experience are also famous for this. For that matter, Republicans and Democrats seem to be mostly born into it.

So the definition of “who is a Jew” seems unconsciously assumed by many, maybe the majority, of Jews to be naturally broader than mere religion; choice of religion/non-religion is merely a subset. I suspect that those who claim that non-religious Jews aren’t really Jews are falling into liberal lines of argument, denying the felt differences that are perhaps the most important but the most difficult or uncomfortable to articulate. You seem to suspect something similar, based on your replies.

OK, you may pile on now. My apologies to the devout of any of the faiths mentioned above, I am not questioning the sincerity of your beliefs.

What does Israel’s Law of Return set as a definition? That would seem pretty conclusive.

LA replies:

Very interesting. This is a discussion I’ve had many times, with most every Jew I’ve talked to insisting that Jewishness is only a religion and not an ethnicity. Recently, however, I got a Jewish friend to agree that Jewishness consists both of religion and ethnicity. You’ve articulated the ethnic side of the argument in a way that I think gets at the core of the issue in many cases. Assuming for the sake of argument that Rudd is speaking the truth, and that there are all these non-religious Jews who nevertheless feel their Jewishness intensely, not just as an ethnicity, but as something carrying a moral mission, then how can we deny their Jewishness? Or at least, that it is a certain category of Jewishness?

Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 02, 2006 07:32 PM | Send

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