December 12th, 2011
Jews Without Money is an interesting portrayal of the tenement upbringing of early twentieth century Lower East Side, NY. Michael Gold was the pen name for this Communist writer. I handled his papers at the Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan. Just recently, I took this book off my shelf and read through some of it. Gold writes socialist realism in order to portray Jewish ghetto life in New York City, to characterize Jews differently than early twentieth century anti-Semitism would have them. In an introduction written contemporaneously to the existence of the Third Reich, Gold declares that Hitler is only using anti-Semitism to distract the proletariat of the German people. He explains that Jews are like any race, including both working-class and bourgeois people. According to Gold, many Jews are Communists because many are proletarians but there are fascist Jews who supported the Third Reich. The claim about fascist Jews is later echoed by Lenni Brenner’s book 51 Documents and might explain why Gold’s book is so unpopular.
Jews Without Money has the intelligent style of a classical leftist: Gold depicts the details of the making of a gangster out of a tough child of the tenement ghetto streets. The narrator is a proud Jewish Communist giving us a glimpse of this character type: to my knowledge not easy to find in Singer, Malamud, or Roth to name some writers of Jewish life in America.
I remember reading some of the author’s novels in progress, typed on newspaper print and badly disintegrating. I urge anyone interested in New York, Jews, and/or the early twentieth century labor movement in this country to read Jews Without Money. It’s quick. You’ll be done in a few days.