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The Iron Wall

Lenni Brenner

The Iron Wall

2. Russian Zionism: Treason to the Jews


Russia: the First Revolution

The easternmost “Christian” kingdom of 1901, Russia was, in truth, an oriental despotism, bureaucratic and murderous. Even the landed nobility was totally dominated by the bureaucrats, the chirtovniki, loyal only to the dynasty. The populists or narodniki, the terrorists of the Social Revolutionary Party, were seen as the enemy, followed by Polish, Armenian and other nationalists, with the Marxists as a growing concern. In such an environment the Odesskiya Novosti, an ordinary provincial bourgeois paper, wasn’t looking for trouble when it hired the 21-year-old Jabotinsky as a full-time columnist.

Jabotinsky: Writings and Arrest

The young Jabotinsky wasn’t very profound; he wrote chatteringty about city life and the arts. His 120 roubles per month salary was princely. He felt on top of life, and this was his trouble: he was successful too fast. His attitude became completely individualistic; no one had any rights or duties. Everyone should be as free as a bird, sophomoric bourgeois anarchism, certain to fall upon contact with real life. He turned out his first play, in verse, in 1901 but not even an outline now exists. It was vaguely pacifistic and well received by the theatre circles of the city. He ran out another verse play the next year: “There is no duty. Thou art free. Then light thy candle before Desire – Desire be thy law.” [1]

The young writer’s next production was a poem, Poor Charlotte – an individualistic glorification of Charlotte Corday, the assassin of the great French revolutionary, Jean Paul Marat. It was deemed good enough for Maxim Gorky to distribute through his publishing house, but Jabotinsky was beginning to grate on the Odessa intelligentsia. When he tried to defend his position at the local literary-artistic circle his “I’m all right Jack” posturing brought the crowd to its feet in a rage, and only the sudden arrival of the gendarmes saved him from a few rough blows. Such arrogance could not last under the pressure of Tsarist reality. Sure enough, the police came around in the spring of 1902, and found his articles in Avanti. Though unable to read Italian, they decided to hold him while they got them translated. Seven weeks in gaol, until the authorities concluded that the pieces were of no interest to them, at last made him aware that the local revolutionaries were idealistic if misguided.

Early Political Activity

His politics at first went no further than getting the opera house to put on La Juive, though while doing so he came into contact with a Zionist who gave him Herzl’s Judenstaat and the reports of the first World Zionist Congresses. It took a minor pogrom (destruction – from pogromit, to destroy) six weeks before Passover 1903, in a nearby town (minor only in that no one was killed) to finally bring him into organizational politics. Knowing the same could happen in Odessa, he wrote to the 12 richest Jews in the city calling for a defence set-up: none replied.

The Jewish burzhui were notorious for their cowardice, always afraid that if they defended themselves they would get in trouble with the authorities and, perhaps, lose their property. Besides, everybody knew it was the police themselves who always organized the pogroms, and the Jewish capitalists never had the slightest hesitation in using the police against strikers. If they mobilized their workers against the pogromshchiki they would be arming tomorrow’s enemy against today’s trouble. But one of Jabotinsky’s addressees sent his letter, anonymously, to a Zionist student defence committee: they contacted him and he joined up. As it turned out there was no pogrom in Odessa that year. (The “third section”, the Okhrana – Security – the Department for the Defence of Public Security and Order, was busy preparing a pious lesson in terrorem for the race of deicides of the Bessarabian capital of Kishinev.)

Return of the Pogroms and the State of Russian Jewry

In today’s world, 49 dead, hundreds wounded and raped, is a stow news day. But then, the 6-8 April massacre shook Jewry to the roots. It was the first killing pogrom in 20 years, a classic example of how these things were done. The government banned all but one newspaper in the province; in February, Pavoliki Krushevan, editor of the Bessarabets, started whipping up anti-Jewish hysteria. A peasant boy had been murdered and Krushevan told his readers that the Jews killed him to use his blood in their Passover matzohs (unleavened bread). At Easter, when the rabble were easiest stirred against the Christ killers, Okhrana agitators got them drunk and set them on the Jews. The world blamed the Tsar’s new Interior Minister, Vyacheslav Konstantinovich von Plehve, for the massacre. A representative of the hard-liners at court, whose answer to the rising opposition was increased official terror, he ordered the local garrison, no less than 5,000 troops, to hold their fire. Eventually they stopped the slaughter and months later some of the instigators were even brought to trial in order to still the outcry from the West. Not surprisingly, they got extremely lenient sentences. But what stirred the Jewish youth was not so much the butchery but the fact that the Jews had put up no defence in spite of months of Krushevan’s rantings. They knew that the pogrom was only the first and that they would have to respond.

New ideas were abroad in Russian Jewry. Most were still followers of the traditional religion, and the rabbis had their usual explanation for their misfortunes – the will of God – but many of the better educated, particularly the youth, no longer accepted the rabbis as the final word. For some decades there had been a few Maskilim, enlightened bourgeois who had tried to raise the cultural level of the folk, but had no success. But two new forces had entered Jewish life simultaneously in the 188Os, and by 1903 both socialism and Zionism had become mass movements. Each, in complete antagonism to the other, demanded action on the part of the people. While both were still minorities within the Jewish population they were the coming forces.

Zionist separatism was a “natural” ideological variant for Russian Jewry. Chaim Weizmann described their strangely isolated existence in telling of his youth in his little village. His Motol in Minsk province in the great Pripet marches of White Russia was the archetypal Jewish small town or shtetl. Two hundred Jewish families, one-third of the population of the town, surrounded by a sea of White Russian peasants. They were the traders, controlling the economically central timber trade of the last great primeval forest in Europe. They were the Polish landlord’s agents, leasing his mills, his distillery. In Das Kapital Marx had written of the role of trader-nations such as the Jews, who lived “in the pores of Polish society”. They were a significant economic factor:

only when the development of the productive power of labour has not risen beyond a low stage, and when, therefore, the social relations within the sphere of material life, between man and man, and between man and nature are correspondingly narrow. [2]

Their primitive economic position was reflected in their cultural level. Unlike the peasantry, most Jews could read, but not Russian or Byelorussian, which had no literature in any case. Weizmann knew only a few Russian words until he was 11 years old. [3] They spoke Yiddish, and almost all men could at least decipher the Hebrew alphabet. The more prosperous, i.e. those whose fathers could afford to keep them in the chaders or religious schools until their teens, could make themselves understood in Hebrew. The poor youth, the balagolahs and tragers, the teamsters and porters, usually dropped out from school, their Hebrew a matter of words and phrases. Few girls, even among the economically more secure, ever learnt Hebrew, few Jewish rituals involve women, for them there was the Tsenerene, a Yiddish version of the Pentateuch, therefore Yiddish was the universal language of the home and hence, inevitably, of the “Jewish street”. Thus, still only speaking, even after centuries, their unique immigrant tongue; economically sharply differentiated from the peasants; dressed in outlandish costume; theologically totally distinct from their neighbours, the Jews were truly a caste apart. Years later, Jabotinsky summed them up as “fanatics ... ‘We are chosen ... disregarding ... the world outside, ‘Pooh! to everything new’.” [4]

Piety had taken on monster proportions and thousands competed in zeal: “Who studies Talmud 100 times is not to be compared to he who studies Talmud 101 times.” The penalty was drastic: uncontrolled orality leads to personal dishevelment, and the old Jewish slums were notoriously filthy: “Two Jews and one cheese make three smells” was an old Polish proverb. Karl Marx was only being matter-of-fact when he remarked that “The Jews of Poland are the smeariest of all races.” [5] The early Jewish labour movement had to instill a desire for cleanliness into their members and insist that they clean and paint their homes and give their children clean clothing. [6] Jabotinsky himself later referred to “the grime of the ghetto”. [7] The Yiddish language was stunted and alienated from life, lacking many ordinary farming and industrial terms. Millions among the Jews, the Chassidim (pious) followed dynasties of wunder-rabbonim, descendants of followers of the Baal Shem Tov (Lord of the Good Name), Israel ben Eliaser, an 18th Century woodcutter and mystic, who sought to put joy back into the Talmudically mummified religion via dancing and other petty ecstasies. In so doing spawned yeshivas (Talmudic schools) stuffed with wordy students whose minds ran riot with caballa, secret numerical interpretations of the letters of the alphabet, hidden meanings of the scriptures, fantasies of golems – the original Frankenstein’s monster, brought to life by incantation to protect the Jews – and dybbuks, possessing spirits that could only be exorcized by these rabbinical thaumaturges. The Bible, Hebrew, eternal covenants between God and his people – these were the ideological commonplaces of life. Every Passover and Day of Atonement the Jewish world ritually exclaimed “leshono hobo Birusholaim” (“next year in Jerusalem”). In the midst of universal Bible-bashing and Jerusalem shouting, Zionism won adherents for the same reason other Messianic movements had previously arisen in Jewish life in the wake of persecution, it worked on what most Jews automatically accepted, in accord with the universal formula later laid down by Freud: it derived from the religious baggage of the Jewish male’s super-ego. It was the politics of ancient kingdoms converted into theology and transformed back, mutatis mutandis, into the practical politics of the age of Cecil Rhodes. Zionism was the utopian exponential of a beleaguered caste of chrematistic religious fanatics. In the real world, poverty-stricken Palestine under the Turks could have no meaning to most Jews or even to most early Zionists. In practice Zionism was, for most, nothing more than a modernized variant of the traditional pious charity: “one Jew begging money from a second Jew to send a third Jew to Palestine”. The wretchedness of their lives drove this most humiliated of chosen peoples not to Palestine but to the actual Promised Land of work and relative toleration in America.

The sons of the middle class reacted to their narrow religious training in three ways. Some rejected it thoroughly. The world contains many examples of truant schoolboys-turned-author, and many a former yeshiva bocher (Talmudic student) has described his rants-melamed (bedbug-teacher, buggy pedant) as the biggest fool yet to live. Many, but an ever-shrinking number, continued to fill the synagogues without questioning the faith. Others sought to combine the two extreme positions: Jewish life, they agreed, was outmoded, but it could and should be reformed. Zionism found its adherents among these last two groupings, the absolutely essential ingredient for the movement’s mass following being the existence of thousands of middle-class Jewish students who could, though often with difficulty, converse in what was, for most other Jews, nothing more than a liturgical language. Although Herd and the Western Zionist leaders pandered to the rabbis, hoping to win over the Orthodox masses, they were themselves free-thinkers, and Herzl, who saw himself as the Jewish Cecil Rhodes, was careful to give his movement a modernist tone attractive to any would-be imperialist patrons. But Russian Zionism predated his World Zionist Organization.

Hovevi Zion (Lovers of Zion) sprang up in the wake of the pogroms of the early 1880s. They sought to return to the land of their forefathers but they had no political ambitions. When the World Zionist Organization was set up in 1897, they carried into it their apolitical millenarian mentality. These Palestinfilstvo were not the least bit extraordinary in the theologically preoccupied Romanoff empire. Nor were the insignificant numbers, a few tens of thousands at most, who actually went off to Palestine anything new in the scenario of their Holy Land, which had seen every variety of Christian, Islamic and Jewish cult – Armenian monophysites, German Protestant Templar Pietists, Circassian Muslim warrior villages, Bahai temples, etc. Formally a part of Herzl’s new movement, these lovers of Zion were still really cultists rather than serious politicals.

The Zionist Movement

Prior to the Kishinev massacre, Zionists took absolutely no part in the opposition to the regime. [8] Though not fully legal, the movement was tolerated [9], and by 1903 there were no less than 1,572 local groups with approximately 75,000 members, though most of these were no more than nominally part of the movement, doing little more than buying a shekel’, or membership ticket, at their local synagogue. The national organization was in the hands of ultra conservatives. In his autobiography, Trial and Error, published in 1949, Weizmann summarized a memo he had written Herzl back in the spring of 1903:

Our progress, I said, was blocked there by the rightist attitude of the Zionist leadership and its clericalist inclinations ... The Jewish youth of Russia was turning from us because it would have nothing to do with an official Zionism which it regarded as Mizrachist [religious, literally, east] and petty bourgeois, while within the movement itself alt other tendencies were stamped as atheistic and revolutionary. [10]

The original memo was even blunter. The Western Zionist leaders, particularly the culturally dominant Germans, were demagogically playing for the Orthodox rabbis’ support. They, wrote Weizmann, “resort to religion as bait”. He warned: “This will lead straight to catastrophe.” He tried to impress upon Herzl that:

The larger part of the contemporary younger generation is anti-Zionist, not from a desire to assimilate as in Western Europe, but through revolutionary conviction ... Almost all students belong to the revolutionary camp.

Weizmann had just been to the Pale and knew the youth:

the attitude it evidences towards Jewish nationalism is one of antipathy, swelling at times to fanatical hatred ... In one small town near Pinsk, for example, youngsters tore the Torah scrolls to shreds. This speaks volumes ... In Western Europe, an exaggerated idea exists of the influence and following of the rabbis, bearing no relation to the facts.

He pleaded with Herzl: “We must not direct our propaganda effort, as hitherto, exclusively towards the petty bourgeoisie.” [11] Weizmann had his own “Democratic Faction”, and he wanted his world leader to break with the Mizrachi. He did not know what historians discovered 65 years later, that Herzl was so deeply committed to the course of wooing Orthodox Jewry that he had secretly subsidized the Mizrachi’s first world conference out of his own pocket. Herzl wanted absolutely no part of a left, even a moderate left, in his ranks – quite the contrary.

Herzl’s Collaboration with Von Plehve

On 4 June, a Zionist student, Pincus Dashewski, tried to assassinate Krushevan, and Plehve decided to crack down on the movement. Herzl rushed to restore the status quo ante, journeying to St Petersburg to see Plehve on 8 and 13 August. The events are known from Herzl’s Diary. The Russians were concerned about the effect of Kishinev on Western opinion and he prepared a memo for the minister. If the Russians would intervene with the Turks on behalf of Zionism, and subsidize Jewish emigration, the announcement could be made at “Our Congress, which will meet at Basel from the 10th to the 23rd of August ... This would, at the same time, put an end to certain agitation.” [12] Von Plehve explained his concern about the new directions he saw Zionism taking:

Lately the situation has grown even worse because the Jews have been joining the revolutionary parties. We used lobe sympathetic to your Zionist movement, as long as it worked toward emigration. You don’t have to justify the movement to me. Vous prêchez à un converti [You are preaching to a convert]. But ever since the Minsk conference we have noticed us changement des gros bonnets [a change of bigwigs]. There is less talk now of Palestinian Zionism than there is about culture, organization, and Jewish nationalism. This doesn’t suit us. We have noticed in particular that your leaders in Russia ... do not really obey your Vienna Committee. [13]

Herzl jumped at his opening: “Help me to reach land sooner and the revolt will end. And so will the defection to the socialists.” [14] Herzl and von Plehve exchanged letters. The Russians formally announced, in the vaguest terms, their support for Zionism, on proviso that the local organization confined itself to emigration and did nothing on behalf of Jewish national rights inside the empire. [15]

In return Herzl enclosed a letter he had just written to one of the Rothschilds:

it would substantially contribute to the further improvement of the situation if the pro-Jewish papers stopped using such an odious tone toward Russia. We ought to try to work toward that end in the near future. [16]

Immediately after his meetings with Plehve, the Zionist leader gave a speech to his Russian followers asking that they avoid antagonizing the powers that be by agitating for Jewish rights. Most important, they had to avoid the red taint:

In Palestine, in our land, such a party would vitalize our political life – and then I shall determine my own attitude toward it. You do mean injustice if you say that I am opposed to progressive social ideas. But, now, in oar present condition, it is too soon to deal with such matters. They are extraneous. Zionism demands complete, not partial involvement. [17]

Herzl was simply conning his supporters: anti-socialism was integral to his diplomatic strategy. He pitched his arguments to the Kaiser in the same way he oriented toward Plehve: back us and the Jewish masses will come with us instead of following the Social Democrats. He knew none of the capitalist states wanted a socialist Palestine; neither did the Rothschilds and other rich Jews he tried to bring into the movement; and neither did he.

On 3 September, after the Congress, Herzl wrote to Plehve to tell him that, thanks to his being able to announce Russia’s support for Zionism, he had been able to cut short the discussion of “painful occurrences”. He went onto tell Plehve of the raging debate in the movement over a British offer of part of Uganda (a part which is now in Kenya) as a temporary nachtasyl (night shelter), as a substitute for Palestine. The bulk of the Russian Zionists were not interested. Their religious predilections made them see things as Palestine or nothing. He then went on to tell Plehve that he had discussed Uganda versus Palestine with several revolutionaries and invented a completely bogus story that the revolutionaries preferred Palestine. His cock-and-bull story was devised to entice the Tsarists into doing more to help him gel Palestine, but the true story of his encounter with the revolution was far more sinister.

During the Congress, Herzl had a secret meeting with Chaim Zhitlovsky, then a leading Social Revolutionary. In February 1915, Zhitlovsky wrote for the first time of this strange conversation; Herzl had told him that:

I have just come from Plehve. I have his positive, binding promise that in 15 years, at the maximum, he will effectuate for us a charter for Palestine. But this is tied to one condition: the Jewish revolutionaries shall cease their struggle against the Russian government. If in 15 years from the time of the agreement Plehve does not effectuate the charter, they become free again to do what they consider necessary.

Zhitlovsky wrote that the bizarre proposal made such an impression on him that he was able to remember the entire conversation word for word. He responded to Herzl’s offer in the most contemptuous manner:

We Jewish revolutionaries, even the most national among us, are not Zionists and do not believe that Zionism is able to resolve our problem. To transfer the Jewish people from Russia to Eretz-Yisroel is, in our eyes, a utopia, and because of a utopia we will not renounce the paths upon which we have embarked – the path of the revolutionary struggle against the Russian government, which should also lead to the freedom of the Jewish people.

He warned his interlocutor that:

The situation of Zionism is already dubious enough by the very fact of its standing aloof from the revolution. Its situation in Jewish life would become impossible if it could be shown that it undertakes positive steps to damage the Jewish revolutionary struggle.

Zhitlovsky told Herzl that the Social Revolutionary fighting organization was already planning to kill Plehve, and Herzl finally grasped that his plan to get the Russian revolution called off was a fantasy. He made Zhitlovsky promise not to reveal the conversation to anyone but, as we shall see anon, word did get out almost immediately. Zhitlovsky, in 1915, said of Herzl:

[He] was, in general, too “loyal” to the ruling authorities – as is proper for a diplomat who has to deal with the powers that be – for him ever to be interested in revolutionists and involve them in his calculations... He made the journey, of course, not in order to intercede for the people of Israel and to awaken compassion for us in Plehve’s heart. He travelled as a politician who does not concern himself with sentiments, but interests ... Herzl’s “politics” is built on pure diplomacy, which seriously believes that the political history of humanity is made by a few people, a few leaders, and that what they arrange among themselves becomes the content of political history. [18]

Jewish Response to Herzl’s Endeavours

Herzl’s meeting with the Tsarists was not well received by the Jewish people. The left wing enemies of Zionism simply saw him as a traitor, but even in the WZO opinion was against the venture from the outset and at the Basel Congress it was agreed not to discuss the whole affair. Only one delegate rose in defence of their leader’s meeting with the butcher of Kishinev: Jabotinsky. He argued that it was vital to separate tactics and ethics and also defended Herzl’s line that there was no room in the movement for a socialist faction. Pandemonium broke loose and Herzl had to rush onto the stage to get him away from the podium. [19]

Was Herzl correct in going to von Plehve and was Jabotinsky right to defend him? Weizmann dealt with the episode quite well in Trial and Error:

I ... believed that the step was not only humiliating, but utterly pointless. Unreality could go no further ... Nothing came, naturally, of Herzl’s “cordial” conversations with von Plehve, nothing, that is, except disillusionment and deeper despair, and a deeper division between the Zionists and the revolutionaries. [20]

Herzl’s plan was for rich Jews to, in effect, buy Palestine from the Turks in exchange for covering the Sublime Porte’s foreign debt. A confirmed monarchist, he regretted that the Christian world would never tolerate a kingdom of the Jews for theological reasons. He would settle for nothing less than an aristocratic republic modelled on the Doges of Venice – in his Diaries he refers to his dream of marrying the daughters of the best families of his future state into the dynasties of Europe. He insisted that the delegates to the first World Zionist Congress wear formal attire so that the event would be taken “seriously”. To him, Hochpolitik was all that existed. And he was convinced as early as June 1895 that “The anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies.” [21] Today even his modern pro-Zionist biographers see him as an incurable snob and crank. Jabotinsky supported him at the Congress because he shared the same elegant Machiavellianism, declaring himself unable to appreciate

Aesthetically fastidious criticism of visits and handshakes, ghese all-comprehensive investigations of the question whether or not it is permissible and necessary to send greeting telegrams to the Sultan or to come to Petersburg. [22]

He was right on a formal level; most Zionists approved of Herzl’s attempts to win the patronage of Abdul Hamid II despite the fact that Hamid was responsible for the slaughter of tens of thousands of Armenians – far more than Nicholas II ever killed Jews. But ordinary Zionists, as would most people, found it far easier to befriend someone else’s murderer than to run with their own destroyer. Jabotinsky had his own interpretation of his hero Giuseppe Mazzini’s “Noi faramo l’Italia anche uniti col Diavolo” (For Italy we would even unite with the Devil), which he reworked into “In working for Palestine I would even ally myself with the Devil.” Mazzini’s mot has become the revealed religion of modern nationalists but Jabotinsky’s reading passeth all others. They usually add an unspoken qualification: against our main enemy. Herd and Jabotinsky wanted more than a country of their own – they wanted a colony. In the world of imperialism – Hochpolitik – Romanoff was the enemy of the Jews; he was a potential ally of Zionism. Herzl and Jabotinsky had no doubt who their real enemies were: the socialists.

Jabotinsky and Jewish Self-Defense

Little is known specifically about Jabotinsky’s activities in the Zionist defence during the 1903-7 period, but there was little to their efforts beyond some student heroism. Their class base, the Jewish petty bourgeoisie, then had a reputation for their weak physiques and moral cowardice. Without being able to tell where the next pogrom would occur, it was impossible to allocate what weapons they obtained. Opposition to Social Democracy meant the Zionist defence had no base in the larger concentrations of Jewish workers and no potential of allies among gentile socialists. Zionist defence was more a determination on the part of the youth than a reality. By 1906 Jabotinsky concluded:

Self-defense – one can hardly speak about it in earnest. In the final analysis, it did not do us any good; in the beginning, the fear of it actually prevented a few pogroms, but now, when they have seen it in action and have compared the number of Jews and pogromists killed – who takes it seriously? When they wish, they start a pogrom and kill as many Jews as they want, and self-defense is just of no use. Of course, there is (moral) consolation in self-defense. But its practical balance amounts to zero and will remain zero, and it is time quietly to recognize it aloud, so that people should not hope in vain. [23]

It is difficult to find anything praiseworthy in Jabotinsky’s activities during the years 1903-8, the period of the first Russian revolution – translating Chaim Nachman Bialik’s In the City of Slaughter in the midst of slaughter hardly qualifies for a statue in the park. Some of Jabotinsky’s doings must inevitably be puzzling to any serious student of the Russian revolution. That the Tsar was evil and the desire of the people to overthrow him wholly justified is generally agreed; therefore certain events evoke universal responses: that Eisenstein’s Potemkin is a masterpiece has been recognized from the moment it came out. Later historians, after examining the weaknesses of the revolutionary leaders of the mutiny, have not even sought to challenge the universal conclusion that what they did was wholly meritorious. Jabotinsky, however, opposed the mutiny. Elias Giber, an early and devoted follower, writes that when, on 14 June 1905, the crew of the battleship, riding in the Odessa roadstead, rose in protest against maggots in their meat:

revolutionary circles held agitational meetings. Jabotinsky attended one such meeting in the office of a newspaper. Suddenly he was moved to an angry outburst; he scorned the mutiny as premature and predicted a pogrom in its wake. His words were ignored. A few days later a small pogrom did indeed break out, but the Russian-Jewish intelligentsia resented what it considered Jabotinsky’s arrogance and broke off with him. [24]

Jabotinsky’s offence against the revolution compels us to turn from him to examine his antagonists on the Jewish and Russian left, for it is their struggle against the Tsar that determined the immediate and long-term destiny of Jewry, of Russia and, indeed, all of modern civilization.

Marxism and the Bund

Marxism had originally been an affair of Russian language speakers, but the Jewish youth were the first of the oppressed nationalities to adopt it. The workers of the great Jewish slums of Warsaw and other cities of the old kingdom of Poland-Lithuania were the most literate of their class in the empire. Their poverty, their national oppression and the general oppression of Tsarism, made them into natural tinder for the fiery Russian revolutionary movement. The radicalized Jewish intelligentsia, if fluent in either Polish or Russian, usually opted for the wider worlds either language opened up. But all serious socialists realized that propaganda must be in the language of the people, and out of this need arose the Algemeiner Yiddisher Arbeiterbund in Polin, Lite un Rusland – the General Jewish Workers’ League of Poland, Lithuania and Russia – the Bund. Almost from inception they developed a severe nationalist tinge, proclaim)ng themselves to be the sole socialist organization for Jews everywhere in the empire. Their comrades in the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party welcomed the Jewish workers, but refused to accommodate to the Bund’s separatist ideas. Marxism is a guide to revolutionary struggle, and the need for unity compels Marxists to reject anything that unnecessarily divides the workers. When individual Jews spoke the language of the people around them they had no need to join special Jewish groupings. And even a Yiddish propagandist section had to be strictly subordinated to the general struggle. Tsarist Russia had at least 192 nationalities within it and the Okhrana used the traditional antagonisms between these nationalities to divide the workers, pitting Christians against Jews, and Muslim Tatars against the Armenians in the Baku oil-fields. Experience taught Social Democracy to see nationalism as a diversion, an extension of the hyper-literacy of the petty-bourgeoisie, which everywhere drags along the obsolete values and narrowness of the dominant forces in their national societies. Bolsheviks and Mensheviks fully agreed in their diagnosis of Bundism. Georgi Plekhanov, Vladimir Lenin and the other Russians were fully supported by the most outstanding of the socialist Jews, most notably Julius Martov, a former founder of the Bund, and Lev Davidovich Trotsky, both leaders of the younger Mensheviks. They had not the slightest tolerance of Zionism which they saw as obviously petty bourgeois in its appeal. They rarely directly encountered it. Only Trotsky attended a World Zionist Congress, once, in Basel in 1903, when he happened to be in the city. Zionism had little appeal to Jewish workers beyond the narrowest of “Jewish” trades, i.e. kosher butchers and the like. But the Bund was a bone in their throats, along with all the other socialist groupings which attempted to combine Marxism and nationalism. It compelled them, most notably Lenin, to scientifically define Marxism, nation, and nationalism.

Lenin is universally recognized as an extraordinary writer; prolific – his collected works run to more than 40 volumes – but rarely even minutely factually wrong. He was possessed with the truth, particularly the realities of social struggle and even bourgeois Jewish scholars often have the highest regard for his name. The Soviet Union has since undergone an immense and often sinister evolution on the Jewish question, as on every other. But none, save the inevitable cranks, even pretend he had the slightest trace of anti-Semitism or hostility towards non-Russians. Indeed, it is said he refused to tolerate even the most harmless ethnic or dialect humour. In power he mercilessly suppressed anti-Semitism, and after the Civil War the capitalist Jewish charities in America co-operated with the Soviets in the rehabilitation of the ravaged Jewish communities in the Ukraine.

Since our epoch is that of the decline of the venerable empires, perhaps it was inevitable that the struggles of the oppressed nationalities should have given their nationalism a patina of undeserved glory, an illusion invariably shattered by the grim realities of the national states that arose out of the ruins of empire. Lenin never entertained such self-deceptions – for him there could be only one opinion regarding the relationship of Marxism and nationalism:

Marxism cannot be reconciled with nationalism, be it even of the most just’, purest’, most refined and civilized brand. In place of alt forms of nationalism Marxism advances internationalism, the amalgamation of all nations in the higher unity, a unity that is growing before our eyes with every mile of railway line that is built, with every international trust, and every workers” association ... Combat all national oppression? Yes, of course! Fight for any kind of national development, for “national culture” in general? – Of course not. The economic development of capitalist society presents us with examples of immature nationalist movements all over the world, examples of the formation of big nations out of a number of small ones, or to the detriment of some of the small ones, and also examples of the assimilation of nations. The development of nationality in general is the principle of bourgeois nationalism; hence the exclusiveness of bourgeois nationalism, hence the endless national bickering. The proletariat, however, far from undertaking to uphold the national development of every nation, on the contrary, warns the masses against such illusions ... The proletariat cannot support any consecration of nationalism. [25]

With world Jewry it was an open and shut case. They did not have a common territory, language or economy, the minimal requirements of nationality. Lenin was contemptuous of Jewish nationalism:

The Jews in Galicia and in Russia are not a nation; unfortunately (through no fault of their own but through that of the Purishkeviches), they are still a caste here ... It is ... only Jewish reactionary philistines, who want to turn back the wheel of history, and make it proceed, not from the conditions prevailing in Russia and Galicia to those prevailing in Paris and New York, but in the reverse direction – only they can clamor against “assimilation”. [26]

The measure of contempt the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party had for Zionism was best summed up in the Menshevik Plekhanov’s description of the Bundists as “Zionists with seasickness”. But while he vividly portrayed the national sectarianism of the Bund there was still a huge difference between the two movements. The Bund had no interest whatsoever in Hebrew or Palestine, which they sneered at as “dos gepeigerte land” (the land that had died). Their central concept was “dawkeit” (hereness). Jews were fully entitled to rights “here”, they should not have to emigrate to America or Palestine to get them.

The Bund not only shared the general Marxist conception of Zionism – a reactionary utopia – but they were the first to experience it as a counter-revolutionary force. Though themselves sectarian nationalists concerning the Yiddish language, they recognized the general need for unity with Polish and Russian workers in both the trade union struggle and the political struggle against the Tsar. They soon encountered a new breed of Zionists who tried to syncretize socialism and Zionism. The Po’ale Zion (Workers of Zion) talked about socialism in Palestine but referred to uniting with non-Jews in the struggle for socialism in Russia as assimilation, “fighting other people’s battles”. Gentile workers would always be anti-Semitic; they denounced the Bund’s programme as an illusion, claiming most Jewish workers were not factory proletarians but shop artisans, incapable of waging a real class struggle in the Diaspora. Only in their own state could Jews create a real proletariat from the bottom up. In 1901, the Bond drove the Po’ale Zionists out of their unions, informing them that, since they lived in Pinsk and not Palestine, such talk in Pinsk was objectively class-treason, as the Jewish workers of Pinsk were, quite definitely, engaged in a desperate class struggle with the capitalists and the police.

The 1905 Uprising

It was in this same period that an Okhrana official, Sergei Zubatov, concluded that it was impossible to completely crush opposition to the regime. He decided to build up a network of demagogues, renegades and spies to divide and disrupt the growing, but stilt naive, mass movement against the throne. His most famous agent, Father Georgi Gapon, tried to aim the St Petersburg Workmens’ Association exclusively at the capitalists rather than at the autocrat, but pressure from below compelled him to lead hundreds of thousands of his followers to the Winter Palace to tell the little father” of the sufferings of his people at the hands of the bureaucrats. And thus, on what became known as Bloody Sunday, 9 January 1905, almost a thousand workers, many carrying icons, were machine-gunned by the Cossacks, emancipating the survivors of their traditional illusions, and turning them into the certain destroyers of the dynasty. What will be known forever as “1905” became the greatest popular uprising since the Paris Commune. Gapon fled abroad and wrote of his experiences – the general outline of Gapon’s career can be found in any standard history of Russia or Communism, but his naive document, The Story of My Life, sank into oblivion. In it he told of his mentor’s stratagems from the inside and he listed some of the other Zubatorshchiki:

There was also Dr Shapiro, one of the leaders of the Zionist movement. Zubatoff apparently gave help to all of these persons, and I summarized his policy in the ancient formula, Divide et impera. He was evidently attempting to organize the Jewish workmen under the flag of Zionism, and trying to detach them from the Revolutionary Party, while he was enlisting the Christian workmen under the pretence of a struggle for economic concessions, in order to separate them also from political action. [27]

“Dr Shapiro” was really the General Zionist Heinrich Shayevich. As early as 1900 Zubatov had seen that the Zionists were deeply antagonistic to the revolution and had counselled that the regime not suppress them. [28] In July 1901, a Narodnik renegade, Manya Wilbushevich, set up a Zubatovist Jewish Independent Workers’ Party in Minsk with the help of Joseph Goldberg, a Labour Zionist, who wrote the new party’s platform: an attack on the Bund for bringing up political matters alien to the workers’ economic struggles. [29] In November, the Po’ale Zionists held a conference in Minsk; Wilbushevich wrote a triumphant letter to Zubatov:

Congratulate me with a great victory I did not expect so soon. The Congress of Zionists has decided to fight the Bund. Now all the Zionists are our assistants. It only remains to discover how to make use of their services. [30]

Wilbushevich, through Zubatov, got Plehve to allow an all-Russian Zionist convention in Minsk in August 1902. [31] Shayevich, a convinced monarchist, joined the Independents at the convention and soon became their Odessa leader. [32] They had their best success in Minsk where the local police looked the other way when they put on some strictly nonpolitical strikes, but they were frozen out of Vilna by a wall of worker hostility. When Shayevich’s movement in Odessa began to get beyond his control, the workers began a wave of strikes. This was too much for Plehve and in July 1903 he ordered them to close down. Wilbushevich actually tried to play on as penitent revolutionary, but hatred for her as an Okhrana felon-setter was overwhelming, and early in the winter of 1904 she decamped to Palestine where she became one of the leading figures in the Labour Zionist movement. [33]

If the Zubatov-Zionist connection was not enough, the Bund’s diagnosis of Zionism as another rat-catcher of Hamelin was confirmed after the Basle Congress when Zhitlovsky’s account of Herzl’s incredible proposal got to Vladimir Medem, perhaps the bitterest opponent of Zionism within the Bund. Medem had seen Herzl at the Congress and was struck by the contrast between Herzl’s famous regal appearance – he is said to have reminded those familiar with art of a bas-relief of the Assyrian Tiglath Pileser III – and his lack of understanding of politics:

What he wished to speak to the Bund about was easy to comprehend: during his conversation with Plehve he had received an intimation that Zionism could count on the support of the Russian government in return for which it must seek to restrain the revolutionary movement of the Jewish workers. Herzl had presumably desired to carry out that particular mission – an indication of his profound understanding of the Bund! [34]

The First Duma

Jewish revolutionary loathing for Zionism only increased during the subsequent revolution. In October 1905 the regime granted a Duma, a parliament, as part of the regime’s manoeuvres to isolate and crush the nation-wide working-class general strike rocking the throne. All revolutionaries, excepting the Georgian Mensheviks, boycotted the elections as they still had hopes of bringing down the dynasty. In the event they erred, there were still illiterate peasant troops untouched by the revolt and the generals were able to use them to provide escorts for the pogromshchiki and to smash the lightly-armed worker guards. But the Tsar was still weak and had to allow the elections to continue, and in April those who did not heed the boycott elected a Duma dominated by the Cadets, the Constitutional Democrats, the party of the liberal bourgeoisie. Among the new representatives were 12 Jews, five of them Zionists.

Although the Jews suffered the worst oppression of the Tsar’s European subjects and conversely had the most to gain from a complete revolutionary victory, the Jewish capitalists and petty bourgeoisie – Orthodox, liberal assimilationist and Zionist – were the most timid national grouping of their class throughout the entire struggle against the Tsar. [35] They had no interest whatsoever in changing society except for the restrictions against themselves as Jews.

Many modern Jewish writers have sentimentalized the ghetto, but serious scholars would concur with Jabotinsky’s assessment of the realities of “its submissiveness before a government, its lack of self-assurance, its worship of a gevir [rich man], its readiness to provide Levites for any heathen shrine.” [36] By 1906, the organized workers had emancipated themselves from the general servility but, for the most part, the larger community could be described as Mendele Mocher Sforim, the first of the literary masters produced by the ghetto, comically portrayed his people in 1891 in his Unease in Zion:

This is the way of Jews, the nature imbued in them from time immemorial, that whenever they see a fellow with a gold coin, let him be what he will, even a calf, a beast in human form – he becomes their God, and they bow down to him, dance and frolic before him, giving glory to his name. [37]

Elected by a politically naive constituency, the five Zionists completely shared their backwardness. For them, Zionism was psychologically an answer to the slurs of their Christian class rivals. They, too, could now discourse about the ancient glories of their people; although they were language enthusiasts, they were stay-at-home Zionists, not at all the type to settle in Palestine. They feared socialism, knowing that a thoroughgoing revolution would mean the rise of peasant marketing co-operatives which would put many Jewish traders out of business. They also shared the shtetl’s skepticism that “Ivan”, the ordinary shagits (young male gentile), would ever be the firm ally of the Jews. Far more “realistic”, they preferred to rely on their opposite Russian numbers, the solid lawyers and professors of the Constitutional Democrats, and most Zionist leaders affiliated with the upper crust liberal Kadety. [38] The maus-politik of the Zionist delegates had already been fully expressed at the 1902 Minsk Zionist convention, by one of them, S.Y. Rosenbaum: “We are more than loyal.” [39] Jews loyal to the Tsar!

Disaster occurred almost immediately. Romanoff knew that after he had arrested the Soviet, the council that had sprung up to co-ordinate the workers’ general strike, he had nothing to fear from the unrepresentative parliament in the Tavricheski Palace and, on 8 July, after they had sat for only 72 days, he peremptorily set the troops on them. The frock-coated Cadets duly registered outrage, called on the people not to pay taxes and not to serve in the army. The workers, who had not voted for them, were hardly about to follow their lead now, and without the masses behind it, the Duma was no more than an axe without a handle. The Tsar realized he needed a Duma in order to appease foreign critics, and held new elections in February 1907.

By then, the rest of the Mensheviks, realizing that the revolution had been temporarily defeated in the streets, put up candidates. They won 65 seats, sharply cutting into the Cadet vote. Only six Jews were returned, only one of them a Zionist. The Tsar was even less pleased with this Duma and he dissolved it in June 1907. No Zionists were elected to the Third Duma; Russian Zionism’s insignificant parliamentary role was over.

The Role of the Zionists

Lending support to the Cadets was not the only role played by Zionists during the 1905 drama: behind the scenes, Nahum Sokolow, then a Warsaw editor, later president of the World Zionist Organization, was holding meetings with Count Sergei Witte, the Tsar’s prime minister. Not much is known about these conferences – they are not mentioned in either the Encyclopaedia of Zionism and Israel or the Encyclopaedia Judaica articles on Sokolow and are barely touched upon by Florian Sokolow in his hagiography of his father. What is known is that they started in October 1905 on the eve of Witte’s appointment to office, and that Sokolow asked him to grant the Jews their rights and stop the pogroms; and that Witte always excused himself as lacking the power to help them. Zionist circumspection about these delicate pourparlers leads us to emphasize that the vast bulk of the educated Jewish youth were out in the streets trying to overthrow the Tsar while Sokolow was going cap in hand to his prime minister. [40] Nor were these to be the last direct Zionist contacts with the pogromist regime. In July 1908, David Wolffsohn, Herzl’s successor as president of the WZO, came to Petersburg to meet Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin and Foreign Minister Alexandr Izwolsky over the regime’s harassment of the Zionist’s Jewish Colonial Trust Bank. Wolffsohn was splendidly received: [41] Izwolsky was eager to please a Jew who asked so little of him and Wolffsohn and the anti-Semite got along famously: “I might also say that I made a Zionist of him”, Wolffsohn wrote. [42]

Jabotinsky was prominent in the development of Russian Zionism’s Gegenwartsarbeit in Landspolitik (day to day practical policies in the countries of the Diaspora) in those bloody years, He was a prominent figure at the Russian Zionist conference, held in Helsingfors (Helsinki), 21-27 November 1906. It was here that abstentionism was buried, and a programme calling for a democratic regime, with national cultural autonomy for the Jews, was endorsed. But in politics there is always one key question: how do you bell the cat? The Jews were a scattered 4.3% of the population: alone, they could never get their rights, but Jabotinsky’s choices for potential allies were invariably unrealistic. He ran for the Second Duma, in the Ukrainian province of Volhynia; even here Jews constituted only 13.24% of the population and he proposed that they turn first to the peasants. However, if they proved anti-Semitic he favoured a deal with the landlords. Both turned out for the reactionaries.

What Jabotinsky did not grasp was that eventually, as happened in 1917, some of the peasants would break away from Black Hundredsism, but that the landlords never would. He also worked closely with the Ukrainian nationalists. In the many-sided civil war between 1917 and 1921, the Ukrainian armies became the worst of the pogromists. Defeated in Volhynia, he ran again, for the Third Duma, from Odessa, in the autumn 1907 elections. A Social Democrat came in first on the first round, with Jabotinsky finishing third in a field of four. Since the Socialist did not win 50% of the votes a second vote was needed. The authorities ruled the Social Democrat off the ballot on a pretext, leaving Jabotinsky and a Cadet to face the Tsar’s man. Jabotinsky was compelled to withdraw as Jewish opinion would not tolerate the Zionists splitting the progressive vote. All of his stratagems were useless. There was only one grouping in Russia that could defeat Tsarism and get the Jews their rights, and that was the force that ultimately did destroy Tsarism, the workers, but to the very end of his Russian career Jabotinsky fought tooth and nail against the socialist movement.

Schechtman, Jabotinsky’s personal disciple even in these early days of his career, stresses that the main focus of Jabotinsky’s propagandistic work during the revolution was the battle against assimilation and socialism. [43] Jabotinsky libelled the Jewish leftists: in November 1905, Medem had given a speech on the revolutionary developments. He had remarked that:

Blood is being shed, the situation is horrible, bat one should bear in mind (I can literally recall the words that follow): “Blood constitutes that lubricant without which the carriage of history does not move ahead.” Here was a thought, one would imagine, that was perfectly legitimate and plainly elementary ... some sort of Zionist (I don’t know whether he was afoot or a vicious faker) who wrote ... I allegedly stated that Jewish blood is the lubricant of the Russian revolution ... I published a denial ... to no avail ... years later, the identical statement continues to meander thru Zionist byways. [44]

For the record, it was Aaron Hermoni, a young student, who had put the famous libel into circulation, but Jabotinsky picked up on it and for the rest of his life he never tired of retailing the notorious canard. As late as 1940 he was still insisting that “in Russia, it was a Jewish revolutionary who uttered the often-quoted formula: ‘Jewish blood is the best for oiling the wheels of progress’.” [45] The Bund, not the Bolsheviks or the Mensheviks, whom he rarely encountered in the Pale, were his main leftist target in these pre-World War I years. In 1906 he wrote a pamphlet, The Bund and Zionism, in which he denied the fundamental assumptions of all revolutionary currents, including the Bund, that anti-Semitism could be defeated by the revolution:

All their feats of bravery are in vain and their sacrifices useless, for in the new Russia, both they and we wilt be driven over the fence, forcibly and scornfully, as in Russia before its regeneration. [46]

In the winter of 1905, Jabotinsky attacked the non-Jewish left at a public meeting in Petersburg, claiming that they were not doing enough to protect the Jews:

People have tried to comfort us by telling us that there were no workers among those who murdered us. Perhaps. Perhaps it was not the proletariat who made pogroms on us. But the proletariat did to us something worse than that: they forgot us. That is a real pogrom. [47]

Since, at the worst, forgetting the Jews is not “a real pogrom”, it is difficult to take his remarks seriously, but the workers did try to stop the pogromshchiki. Trotsky, who had headed the Petersburg Soviet, later wrote of their defence, set up after “hooligans” started beating up Jews and revolutionaries, even on the Nevsky Prospekt, with brass knuckle dusters. The so-called Black Hundreds planned to attack a revolutionary funeral procession for the latest victims of the Tsarists. The workers bought out the gun stores, made thousands of daggers, brass knuckle dusters and wire whips and night patrols were started in the factory districts. The pogrom never came off – the workers were too well-armed and organized. This time the police, Cossacks, and elite Guard units were able to drive the defence off the streets, hut there were no further attempts to whip up another pogrom. [48]

It was estimated that there were only 3,322,000 industrial, commercial and mine workers in 1897, and only slightly more in 1905. Only 200,000 were affiliated to Soviets; these were only freshly radicalized. The mass of the moujiks were barely touched by the revolt, and the Tsar was able to use the peasant soldiery as a battering rain against the workers. But no one could have called off the vast wave of divergent forms of struggle known as “1905” but which was, at different times and places, a general strike, a workers’ revolt in Moscow, a nationalist revolt in the Baltic and Caucasus and elsewhere, and a colossal wave of student terrorism taking the lives of thousands of bureaucrats. The regime had only one reply – violence. Pogrom hordes against the Jews, Tatar mobs against Armenians, the police and army against the workers. The worst of the anti-Jewish atrocities occurred in October 1905, at the beginning of the regime’s counter-attack against the general strike. Lenin estimated that 4,000 Jews were murdered in 100 towns, mostly in the countryside of the Pale, where the organized workers were weakest. But even in the Pale the non-Jewish workers, as in Vilna, were resolutely on the side of the Jews [49] – Jews and revolutionaries were the joint victims of the Tsar’s knout. Trotsky’s estimate for the period between Bloody Sunday, 9 January 1905, and the opening of the First Duma was 14,000 killed, 1,000 executions, over 20,000 wounded and another 70,000 jailed and exiled. In Latvia, 749 workers and peasants were executed in the autumn of 1905 by the Teutonic Baltic barons. Many were forced to run the gauntlet, others were flogged to death, hung or shot. The revolution owes no apology to the Jews, and still less to the Zionists. Proof of loyalty to the Jews was shown then and again later, in 1917-21, when the Red Army fought the imperialist-subsidized pogromists in the field.

Jabotinsky’s Writings

In 1908, Jabotinsky read a new verse play, Chuzhbina, The Alien Land, to a circle of writers. Some of it saw print in 1910 and the complete text appeared in Berlin in 1922. It has never been translated. Schechtman tells us of this interesting work (republished 12 years later, after the Bolshevik revolution, by an émigré publishing house) which must stand as Jabotinsky’s retrospective and prognostic interpretation of the Russian revolution and Marxism alike. In it, Odessa’s Social Democrats, mostly Jews, look like winners and polite society courts them. Except Gonta. He tells them that while they think they are in command of events they are nothing more than “splinters on the waves of another nation’s vortexes ... holding a harmless sword in a nerveless hand, you are useless in the struggle!” Gonta has no answers, only the “cold, inexorable, unconquerable, hard-hearted, bottomless pride of a King who has been deprived of his throne and crown.” Eventually, the Jewish radicals realize their message is not getting across to the Russian masses; soon, a pogrom occurs, and the youths rush to the synagogue to organize a defence but, of course, it is too late, time had been wasted on useless revolutionary theorizing. Gonta reminds them again: “We are mere shadow, there is no role for us to play, events run their course independent of our will.” Gonta-Jabotinsky calls upon them to “cut off the last bridge between ourselves and the alien land, and to pronounce anathema! Not to accept and not to bestow anything!” Through a “real” Russian worker, Styopa, he tells the misguided Jewish socialists that what the Russian masses really want is a Russian voice ... with the flavour of the steppes and of the Volga.” [50]

Modern scholars automatically compare Jabotinsky’s prognostications with what they, in degree, know of the larger events that took place in Russia in 1903-8 and since. Stalin’s betrayal of Leninism, and his final death-bed paranoia about being poisoned by Zionist doctors, come into mind, Was Jabotinsky therefore right after all? Was the revolution an illusion from the outset, particularly from a Jewish point of view? In reality there is not the slightest relationship between Jabotinsky’s gloomy conceptions and what was to happen. Josef Vissarionovich Dzugashvili – Stalin – was a Georgian, not a Russian or even an Aryan. He had nothing of the Volga or the steppes in him. Trotsky was born on a farm in the Ukrainian steppes at Yanovka, near Bobrinetz, in Kherson province. More important, the Russian workers did not fail the Jews: the revolution came to power and gave the Jews complete equality. Even after Lenin died, in 1924, and after Trotsky was exiled in 1927, Stalin was not identified in the world’s mind with anti-Semitism. Yiddish flowered. He had a Yiddish Palestine, Birobijan, on the Amur river along the Manchurian border.

The collapse of revolutionary values had nothing to do with Jewish-Russian relations. It was inevitable in an isolated backward Russia devastated by three years of war followed by four years of civil war and foreign invasion, Ideals of equality cannot thrive amidst tens of millions of illiterate peasants, severe and universal poverty. Many of the best idealists had given their lives in the civil war. Many survivors broke spiritually surveying the ruins of the destroyed empire they had inherited. They wanted to get something back for their ordeal. They feared that furthering revolution abroad would only complicate the country’s economic problems. Stalin attracted many, including Jews, by allowing party members to receive the same salaries that Lenin was compelled to give to the remnants of the bourgeois scientists who had not fled abroad. Under Lenin’s policy of uravnilovka or wage-levelling, party members, even those doing the same work as the non-political scientists, could not make a rouble more than the wage of a skilled factory-hand – the classic formula for the pay of officials of a workers’ state, inherited from the Paris Commune of 1870. Trotsky had pointed to back-handed references by Stalin to his being Jewish: “we fight against Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev, not because they are Jews, but because ...” but even Trotsky made no claim that Stalin discriminated against Jews in social life. During the great purges of the late thirties, Stalin’s papers always ran the birth names of victims next to their party names, many were Jewish, and again Trotsky saw this as Stalin pandering to the remnants of anti-Semitism in an attempt to find himself a new social base for his regime. But the general political world, including the latter-day Jabotinsky, most definitely did not see the Soviet Union as anti-Semitic.

As late as 1940, even during the Hitler-Stalin pact period, Jabotinsky could write that:

For the last ten years we have heard no report of any symptoms of anti-Semitism in any Soviet territory, and we assume this to mean that no such symptoms exist. [51]

It was only in the post-1948 period (after Stalin had aided the creation of the state of Israel with arms from his Czech puppets) that he began to speak of “rootless cosmopolitans”. But, without minimizing his crimes, it can be accurately said that his anti-Semitism was nothing, in practice, compared to his previous ferocity toward the Volga Germans, Crimean Tatars and five other nationalities whom he deported, en masse, from their homelands. His outbursts about “Trotskyite-Titoist-Zionist wreckers” were part of his general stance against all of Soviet society. Jabotinsky’s play explained nothing of the actual degeneration of Communism, and was merely a Zionist rewrite of the reactionary notion that “the more things change, the more they stay the same”, no more than finger-wagging at the struggle of the various revolutionary movements struggling to bring down the Tsar and, not least of all, gain equality for the Jews and other oppressed nationalities in the empire.

The real-life Gonta’s conviction that Jews could only be unsuccessful meddlers in the affairs of the nations was based on his theories of race. Schechtman simply evades this aspect of Jabotinsky’s philosophy but it is dealt with by others of his epigones, notably Joseph Nedava and Oscar Rabinowicz. Nedava is the most candid, telling readers that “Since Hitler’s advent to power, the term race has been very much besmirched, but numerous philosophers who preceded Jabotinsky expounded the theory of race.” [52] Jabotinsky was indeed a believer in the “very much besmirched” term, insisting in a letter written in 1914 that,

the source of national feeling ... lies in a man’s blood ... in his racio-physical type, and in that alone ... a man’s spiritual outlooks are primarily determined by his physical structure ... For that reason we do not believe in spiritual assimilation. It is inconceivable, from the physical point of view, that a Jew born to a family of pure Jewish blood ... can become adapted to the spiritual outlooks of a German or a Frenchman ... He maybe wholly imbued with that German fluid but the nucleus of his spiritual structure will always remain Jewish ... The spiritual assimilation of peoples whose blood is different is impossible ... In order to become truly assimilated he must change his body. He must become one of them in blood ... he mast bring into the world ... over a period of many scores of years, a great-grandson in whose veins only a minute trace of Jewish blood remained ... There can be no assimilation as long as there is no mixed marriage ... All the nations that have disappeared (apart from those ... who were massacred ...) were swallowed up in the chasm of mixed marriages ... autonomy in the Golah [exile] is likely to lead ... to the complete disappearance of the Jewish nation as such from the face of the earth ... Just imagine ... when our offspring will be living at peace among a strange people ... These conditions will lead naturally and freely to an increase in mixed marriages ... this will mean the inception of complete assimilation ... Without those physical roots, the spiritual flower is bound to wither ... This will mark the end of the battle waged by the Jewish people for national existence ... Only those can call themselves “nationalists” who desire to preserve national integrity for the everlasting and at all costs...

A preservation of national integrity is impossible except by a preservation of racial purity, and for that purpose we are in need of a territory of our own ... If you should ask me in a sense of revolt and outrage: but surely in that case you want segregation at all costs! I would answer that one must not be afraid of words and not of the word “segregation”. The poet, the scholar, the thinker ... must cut himself off and remain alone with himself ... No creativeness is possible without segregation ... The nation, too, must create ... a creative nation is in need of segregation ... it will create new values in its segregation ... it will not keep them to itself but will place them on the common international table for the general good, and so its segregation will be looked upon with favor by humanity, [53]

In 1913, in his aptly titled article Rasa, he gave his answer to the vexing theoretical question of what constituted a nation:

A nation is manifested by its own racial spectrum” which permeates to a greater or lesser degree, the personality of any average member of the group beneath and above the diversity of their individual physiognomies. [54]

Nations were not racially pure, all were mixtures, but in the end each. nation carries with it its own substance, the

first and last bulwark of a nation’s personality-the peculiarity of its physical nature (“racial spectrum”) and parallel to it its psyche ... Some day science may achieve such refinement that it will become possible by a special. analysis of the blood, or perhaps, the secret of the glands, to establish the “spectrum” or “recipe” of the various racial types showing all the ingredients: that go into a typical Italian or an average Pole. I venture a forecast that most recipes” wilt be found to contain practically the same ingredients, only the proportion in which God and history have mined them wilt prove. different ... The Irish race may contain the same ingredients as the Scottish, but their respective quantities are probably far from the same in each combination: hence the great difference between the two national characters which no observer would question. [55]

The Zionist quarrelled with the Marxist notion of historical materialism. He recognized, in arguendo, that societies worked within economic frameworks. But, in the final analysis, culture had to be reduced to race:

Given a complete similarity of all other conditions – climate, soil, history – two “races” would create two different types of economy ... If the types of economy, its special characteristics, the social order etc., are stamped by the “racial” psyche, it is even more so in the sphere of religion, philosophy, literature.

He was insistent. All the categories that the scholars attempted to use to define the illusive essence of nationality were, in his eyes, ultimately inadequate:

One is therefore bound to state: Territory, language, religion, common history – all these are not the essence of a nation but its adjectives only ... the essence of a nation, its first and last fortress of uniqueness of its image, is its distinctive physical characteristics, the compound of its racial recipe.

But there were many who assumed that the great mass migrations of the day were in fact breaking down the homogeneity of national populations. Here again Jabotinsky chose to differ. Suddenly, for polemical purpose, he assumed that the future would be socialistic. Therefore, he argued, migration would be greatly reduced as each nation would be able to solve its economic problems. It is immediately apparent that he is merely using any means to justify his a priori thesis that nations would not and should not ever truly merge.

Will there ever be one herd and one shepherd? ... when to this is added the dream of the integration of nations into one mixture, here it is already possible to state with some certainty: It shall not be ... In such conditions the national characteristics of each closed district can only increase in purity” and strength, but never to the contrary ... to this future vision in its entirety there is no prospect of integration of cultures and their mixture, but on the contrary; glorious flourishing, such as we have not witnessed yet, of each national essence in an atmosphere of peace and tranquility. [56]

Roots of Jabotinsky’s Racism

It is easy to see the sources of Jabotinsky’s racism. The bourgeois world of the early 20th Century was inundated by social-Darwinist theories of natural biological conflicts between races, and these ideas soon took root among the early Zionists. Although in pagan times travelling Jewish merchants made converts and took non-Jewish wives, thus adding to their strength, by the Middle Ages the church fathers began to hound the rabbis if they permitted converts from Christianity. To protect the community the Talmudists began to discourage proselytizing and eventually ordinary Jews came to see mixed-marriage as treason to Judaism and the Jews, The vast bulk of the simple folk of the shtetls did not need racial theories to oppose mixed-marriage and assimilation, but the new secularized intelligentsia required more than old-fashioned Talmudic exegesis. Racism poured into Zionism primarily via German Zionists, as with the early Martin Buber, who had taken over the blut theories of German rightism and had become adorateurs de leur sang, worshippers of Semitic blood, claiming that “the deepest layers of our being are determined by blood; that our innermost thinking and our will are coloured by it.” The Jew was driven out of his land and dispersed throughout the lands of the Occident ... yet, despite all this, he remained an oriental.” [57] To the Zionist racists, the Talmudic restrictions on conversion were providential for, inadvertently of course, the restraints kept the Jews “pure”. Such “modern” theories provided the rationale needed for those such as Jabotinsky who sought a secular basis for their antagonism to Marxism. If the world consists of separate biological ethnic groups, each with their own genuine national soul, then assimilation could, at best, be nothing more than a put-on veneer, false to both Jews and gentile. If Jabotinsky’s racial theories were correct, then the Jewish radicals were all wrong, it was not the “Mizrachist” Zionist leaders who were the real obscurantists, it was the Marxists who were sucking internationalism out of their own holy books, while the down-to-earth Zionists like Jabotinsky realistically demanded an exclusive loyalty to the Jewish group and the products of their unique psyche.

If nations had distinctive national souls, then it followed that what culture the Jews had acquired from others was not, and could not be, Jewish. At the Helsingfors Conference, Jabotinsky had put the notion forward in straight fashion: “In the Galut [exile] we don’t create any values ... one single red thread, leading from Zion to Zion, traverses the entire history of our people.” [58] Logically, therefore, Yiddish was not truly Jewish. Nahum Goldmann, later president of the WZO, gave us pre-First World War Russian Zionism’s language slogan in his Autobiography: “Russian or Hebrew but on no account Yiddish”. [59] Jabotinsky became, from the beginning of his organized Zionist career, totally committed to Hebrew and, by 1910, began to advocate that all Jewish education in Russia be exclusively in Hebrew. Orality had already clearly marked his career, but it was then, as his Hebraism was rising to fever pitch, that his fixation was powerfully reinforced by the devastating effects of a domestic tragedy.

On 14 October 1907 he had married Anna Markova Gelperin, the sister of a schoolfriend; they had met when he was 15 and she was ten. Extremely bourgeois, she liked being married to a financially successful writer but had no interest in Zionism and took no part in the movement until the 1930s. But she knew from the beginning that he was already married to Zionism. A son, Eri, was born on 13 December 1910 with a hare-lip and cleft-palate. Eventually operations and voice lessons overcame these defects, but it is reasonable to believe that the disaster had a chilling effect on his parents’ sex life which, even before their misfortune, had been severely restricted by frequent assignments for the movement. When individuals suffer a traumatic experience in their adult sex life there is a tendency for their libidinous energy to regress to their previous point of gratification. Jabotinsky was not just an ordinary father. He was an orator language revivalist whose first-born man-child had a hare-lip and cleft-palate. His son would never, naturally, speak the language of his forefathers. Such a blow could shake anyone even though cleft-palate is, in the real world, an accident, usually non-recurrent and usually operable. But the unconscious, by definition, is not rational. The unconscious of a man who has already composed plays, in verse no less, could without difficulty, magically compose a domestic psychodrama: the leader of his people, trying to save them from a sinful world, is suddenly punished for his sins by a terrible stigmata on the lip of his boy-child, a classic Greek tragedy. Unconsciously, the mind tries to resolve its problem; and here the unconscious does it via atonement. Jabotinsky operates on the lips of the children of Israel, undoing centuries of Yiddish to return them their true, their Holy Tongue. In the real world the fates were not punishing him, all such sins are imaginary, but the unconscious ignores this. Jabotinsky’s obsession for all-Hebrew education for the children of Israel went into high gear only Iwo weeks after his misfortune, on 29 December, when he made his first public speech in Hebrew. His libido shifted sharply away from his wife. He had already spent significant periods, weeks and months, separated from her, they were to live together only two and a half years out of the first 15 years of their marriage and only five out of the first 25 years. They had no other children, neither were there other women in his life. In later years he justified his semi-celibacy to his followers by declaring that a leader of a political movement must, like Caesar’s wife, be above suspicion. [60]

It is not suggested that Eri’s birth, and what we speculate occurred in his father’s psyche as a result of the child’s disabilities, pushed Jabotinsky in any new direction. It drove him further down his political path. He was now both a Moses and an Aaron to the unbelieving children of Israel, wandering in the desert, indifferent to the Promised Land, hankering for the fleshpots of Russia. In 1911 he wrote The Four Sons, a reworking of the traditional Passover Haggadah (tale) wherein a father answers his son’s questions about the exodus from Egypt. His Hebraicist ecstasy is boundless – and unreal. He tells his reader to tell his Simple Son how, “from day to day our pride grows ... how beautiful our language is, how great is the happiness oft nation to have power over such a language.” He pleaded with his readers to tell their sons of the “wonderful poets who now write in our language”. The grotesqueness of this lit-course politics is obvious if we recall the real situation of Russian Jewry in 1911 – the year Mendel Beilis was arrested on a charge of ritual murder – but the unconscious mind works along the principle of the omnipotence of words – say abracadabra and, to presto, as Herzl insisted, “If you will it, it is no dream.” Jabotinsky’s parable ended on a soft note his readers heard but could not have understood – neither perhaps did he – consciously – understand it himself. The last son is the Son Who Does Not Know How To Enquire. In his use of the image in The Four Sons and elsewhere this son is the symbol for the dull masses, still sitting in the synagogues, but we can see that unconsciously he was talking to himself about Eri.

According to tradition, you should tell this son everything he does not ask. But in my opinion, it is better for the father to keep quiet. Let him only – without saying a word – kiss the forehead of this son, who is the most faithful of those who guard the Holy: who does not talk about it with the lips of his mouth, [61]

For two years he waged a full-scale sprachenkampf up and down the Pale, giving the same speech, “The language of our culture”, over and over again, word for word, in 50 cities and towns, sometimes three or four times in one city. [62] By 1913 he showed up in Vienna for the conference of the Russian delegation to the World Zionist Congress to demand endorsement for his programme. He got it, on paper – after all, Zionism without Hebrew is a non-starter – but most leaders spoke against him. They were practical men and the implications of a full Hebrew education were enormous. There were no primers for kindergarten children, nor texts in most subjects. However, the Congress duly voted for his resolution but then did nothing to implement their decision. He had fought for the loshn kodesh (holy tongue) and had been finally defeated in 1915, aged 35, making his first public speech in the despised mamaloshn fun dos Yiddisher folk. [63] Eventually, he regularly lectured in it, but abroad, not in Russia, which was about to be closed to Jabotinsky for the last 25 years of his life.


Can we today applaud the role taken by Zionism in the theatre of the Romanoff empire? We cannot be kinder than its own reviewer. What Weizmann said of Herzl’s cabal with Plehve applies to Russian Zionism in full sum: humiliating, pointless and disillusioning. Who today could try to justify any movement that had an audience with Louis XVI on 14 July 1789? Ante-bellum Zionism had the traitor’s part in the revolutionary play, as insensate of the life problems of Jewry as the local Theosophists or Esperantists. Only with Zionism we hear off-stage whisperings and treacheries in the ministries of anti-Semitism. For Zionism to have ever been correct politics we must believe, ipse dixit, that the eventual creation of a revived Hebrew state should have been the prime political concern of flesh and blood Jews. That was nothing better than ideological future-music. Drowning swimmers need dry land, not the Holy Land. Magnification of things Jewish and of the past homeland of the Jews, tells us that we deal with philosophers intently gazing through the wrong end of the intellectual telescope. What must be said of the movement must stand for one of its leading protagonists. Goldmann summed him up quite simply and well: a monologist. The truths of politics are always as simple and common as the simple and common people. Yet fanatics of all persuasions live as if they have a superior wisdom all their own. It is obvious that people prefer to speak the tongue they already understand – which is of use to them – than the language of their ancestors 20 generations removed. Such extravaganzas are the metier of the educated. In no country have poor Jews been the base for the Hebrew language or Zionism. Vastly more economically secure than the people, an accomplished linguist and literary wordsmith, Jabotinsky was totally estranged from the masses. Always at the podium, a spieler, a talker, for him Zionism was the word from on high and he was the Moses of Odessa, trying to lead a stiff-necked nation out of Egypt. In the real world he was doomed to see the educated youth of Jewry reject him and his ideas and join the ranks of the revolution.


1. Schechtman, Rebel and Statesman, p.66.

2. Karl Marx, Capital (New World Paperbacks), p.79.

3. Chaim Weizmann, Trial and Error, pp.3-10.

4. Jabotinsky, The Story of the Jewish Legion, p.169.

5. Dagobert Runes (ed.), A World Without Jews, p.vii.

6. Bernard Goldstein, The Stars Bear Witness, pp.9-10.

7. Jabotinsky, The Jewish State, Current Jewish Record, November 1931, p.20.

8. Schechtman, Zionism and Zionists in the Soviet Union, p.12.

9. Schechtman, Russia: Relations with Zionism and Israel, Encyclopaedia of Zionism and Israel, vol.II, p.974.

10. Weizmann, p.81.

11. Weizmann, Letters and Papers of, Series A, Letters II, pp.306-9.

12. Raphael Patai (ed.), The Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl, vol.IV, pp.1520-1.

13. Ibid., p.1525.

14. Ibid., p.1526.

15. Amos Elon, Herzl, p.381.

16. Patai, p.1538.

17. Elon, pp.381-2.

18. Samuel Portnoy (ed.), Vladimir Medem – The Life and Soul of a Legendary Jewish Socialist, pp.295-8.

19. Schechtman, Rebel and Statesman, pp.85-6.

20. Weizmann, Trial and Error, pp.82-3.

21. Patai, vol.I, p.84.

22. Schechtman, p.90.

23. Ibid., p.79.

24. Elias Giber, A History of the Jewish Legion, p.16.

25. Hyman Lumen (ed.), Lenin on the Jewish Question, pp.111-12.

26. Ibid.

27. Georgi Gapon, The Story of My Life, p.94.

28. Henry Tobias, The Jewish Bund in Russia, p.146.

29. Ibid., p.141.

30. Ibid., p.146.

31. Ibid., p.147.

32. Ezra Mendelsohn, Class Struggle in the Pale, p.150.

33. M.M., Independent Jewish Workers Party, Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol.8, cols.1347-8, and Y.S., Shochat, Mania Wilbushewitch, ibid., vol.14, cols.1441-2.

34. Portnoy, p.295.

35. Jonathan Frankel, Prophesy and Politics, p.165.

36. Jabotinsky, The Jewish State, p.20.

37. Mendele Mocher Sforim, Unease in Jacob.

38. Louis Greenberg, The Jews in Russia, vol. II, p.201.

39. Portnoy, p.267.

40. Florian Sokolow, Nahum Sokolow, pp.100-3.

41. Getzel Kressel, Wolffsohn, David, Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol.16, col.614.

42. Emil Cohn, David Wolffsohn, p.196.

43. Schechtman, pp.97-8.

44. Portnoy, p.354.

45. Jabotinsky, The Jewish War Front, p.33.

46. Joseph Nedava, Jabotinsky and the Bund, Soviet Jewish Affairs, vol.III, no.I, p.42.

47. Schechtman, p.94.

48. Leon Trotsky, 1905, pp.131-9.

49. Lucjan Dobroszcki and Barbara Kishenblatt, Image Before My Eyes, p.110.

50. Schechtman, pp.139-41.

51. Jabotinsky, The Jewish War Front, p.92.

52. Nedava, p.45.

53. Jabotinsky, A Letter on Autonomy, Israel Among the Nations (Z. Zohar, ed.) (WZO, Jerusalem, 1966), pp.110-17.

54. Oscar Rabinowicz, Vladimir Jabotinsky’s Conception of a Nation, p.28.

55. Ibid., pp.27-9.

56. Elazer Pedazur (Gad) (ed.), Nation and Society, pp.5-12.

57. Martin Buber, On Judaism, pp.15-19, 75-7.

58. Schechtman, p.115.

59. Nahum Goldmann, Autobiography, p.32.

60. Schechtman, Fighter and Prophet, p.500.

61. Jabotinsky, The Four Sons, p.5.

62. Schechtman, Rebel and Statesman, p.176.

63. Schechtman, Fighter and Prophet, p.545.

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