Is it just me or is this extract anti-semitic? A 1943 report on the Communist Party of South Africa

I previously posted this on Facebook, but thought I’d post it here as well…

William Ormsby-Gore, 4th Baron Harlech

William Ormsby-Gore, 4th Baron Harlech

This is an extract from a report on the Communist Party of South Africa by the British High Commissioner in Pretoria during the Second World War, Lord Harlech (or William Ormsby-Gore), to the Colonial Office in London (April 1943):

It is impossible on reading through any list of active communists in the Union… not to be struck by the number of Jewish names which obtrude themselves. Except for two able young Afrikaner barristers in Johannesburg and a prominent non-Jewish barrister in Pretoria, it would not be rash to say that the leadership of the South African Communist Party is concentrated in the hands of Jews and the Jewish population of Johannesburg provides perhaps the largest single section of Communist sympathisers among the Europeans. The African native, coloured and Indian communists have produced their own active communists… But all [of] those are subordinate to, and accept their inspiration and direction from, the group of Jewish intellectuals.

(Ref: Letter from Lord Harlech to Clement Atlee, 16 April, 1943, DO 35/1199, NA)

On first reading this document, I thought that Harlech was agreeing with the common thought held by many white South Africans (and other racists across the globe) that communism was a Jewish conspiracy and the Jews were agitating trouble amongst the black, “coloured” and Indian communities. In fact, Harlech ignores that many of the CPSA’s leadership position were held by black and Indian members, including the General Secretary position, held by Moses Kotane from 1938 onwards. By emphasising the Jewish aspect of the CPSA’s membership, it seemed as if Harlech was buying into the anti-semitism present in both South Africa and Britain in the 1940s.

Some other scholars, such as Mark Israel and Simon Adams, and Alan Wieder, have noted that the CPSA had a significant Jewish membership (in many ways similar to the Jewish membership inside the Communist Party of Great Britain), but, from all other accounts, the Party was not overwhelmingly Jewish in the way that Harlech described in his report.

Yet, on his wikipedia page, it claims that Harlech was actually a convert to Judaism and that he held a pro-Zionist position from 1916 onwards. This pro-Zionism does not seem to equate with the anti-semitism which seems to emanate from this extract from the 1943 report.

Am I reading this extract from Harlech’s report wrong? Am I reading too much into one paragraph?

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One comment

  1. Given the context you provide suggesting that H was favourably disposed to Judaism, isn’t this an empirical question?
    Was the proportion of Jews in the CP leadership and amongst its most influential intellectuals higher than that of other identifiable groups?
    Was the number of Jewish communists and sympathisers higher than that of other European groups?
    H may just have been conveying facts that night be useful in combating Communism in SA. Presumably his political loyalty was stronger than his loyalty to (misguided) coreligionists.

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