Ber Borochov 1905

The Question of Zion and Territory

The following excerpts were published by the Habonim Dror youth movement in their undated pamphlet Nationalism and Class Struggle: Essays in Zionism and Socialism.

The dynamic cause for the Jewish national movement is the real suffering of the masses of the people which is rooted in inescapable alienation. But the ideal goal of the movement is nursed by the spiritual content of the Jewish nation. This content is formed by the totality of Jewish national values. This totality, liberated from its religious and mystical basis by the normalization of the Galut, gives us an earthly Zion with its three-fold unity, the nation, the culture, and the homeland. All the vital national values are necessary for the vision of the national liberation movement.

...the first twenty-one paragraphs [of this essay-not included here] contain the “negative basis of Zionism,” as we call it. The territorialists, who think this rationalization as the only correct and feasible path, admit to the necessity of leaving the Galut and establishing an autonomous Jewish community as a final conclusion of their analysis. For this reason, they too argue that the basis of Zionism assuredly coincides with the territorialist justification. The reader will find a detailed analysis of this question further on. At this time we only mentioned that the Zionist rationale and that of the territorialist merge in a number of lines of ideas, and if we may use an analogy from geometry, we would say that they are two intersecting circles and their common sector is the negative basis of Zionism. Besides the negative rationale for Zionism there is also a positive one that follows the path of the “Zionism of Zion” and it will be our task to present it here. For ourselves, the Zionist rationale is not identical with the territorialist one, nor with the rationale centered only on the land of Israel but it is based on the three-fold unity.

Besides this, we must note that territorialism itself arose from two strata which were essentially different. As is the case in theology, it contains both a dogmatic element and a polemical element. Dogmatic territorialism is deduced entirely from the negative basis of Zionism and arrives at a simple admission of the necessity of leaving the Galut and having an autonomous territory. However, political territorialism places before itself the task of combating in many ways-both true and false-the Zionist principle. In general both kinds of territorialism are united, but in rare instances, we meet one without the other. The former is rooted in a total worldview and the second, a creation of debate. And it is very important to differentiate between the two. The pure dogmatic territorialist is liable to relate to the question of the land of Israel in a different way. There are some who are completely apathetic towards the land of Israel, however, the majority argue that if all conditions are equal, the land of Israel is preferable to any other territory.

However, the polemic territorialist, deceived in that he thinks that there are reactionary tendencies towards sentimentality in the basic demands of Zion, one must conclude-without retreating from the foolishness of the argument that even if all other conditions are equal, and even if there are more advantages to the land of Israel, one would prefer, in any event, any other territory to the land of Israel. And so we see that polemical territorialism leads to the hatred of Zion. The dogmatic territorialist, when he compares the prospects of all possible territories, can see the national inclination towards the land of Israel as a very important advantage. But pure territorialism does not supply any standards from which to make a choice, between the Land of Israel and any other territory which is better in some respects. This is because there is no way of measuring the exclusive, national value of the appeal of the Land of Israel, on the one hand and the advantage of “a territory” on the other.

From external considerations one is compelled to accept certain standards for choice, for example-the most expedient or more secure possibility to obtain a territory on the basis of secured autonomy. Here there is nothing irrefutable. In order to escape this dilemma, the dogmatic territorialist must give up, as a matter of principle, any freedom of choice and he must take the first territory that happens to come along, the one that is given to him on the basis of secured rights of autonomy and where it is possible to establish a sanctuary for the majority of persecuted and scattered Jews. However territorialism cannot retain its lofty, theoretical, abstract principle, because the Zionists of Zion remain true to the belief that the national advantage of the Land of Israel, as an object of special endearment, doesn’t allow us to give up Eretz Israel as long as there is hope of acquiring it on the basis of our needs. And here, the territorialists, after removing themselves from the purity of dogma, after removing themselves from free choice, are compelled to move on step further and negate the Land of Israel.

The generalization that can be drawn from this is that territorialism which offers its supporters a vacuum, without having any specific country for which it can fight, can only exist in its purity for cold-spirited theoreticians-armchair politicians; but from the time that territorialism enters the broad field of life, into the arena of political argument and polemical literature, it finds only an object against which it can fight, and reaches the absurd-the hatred of Zion. Dogmatic territorialism is still not so dangerous, and is not in itself open to objection, because from a one-sided view this view is correct. However, in its one-sidedness is hidden its annihilation, because it is turned, later on, against its will to polemical territorialism, and because of this it refutes its own absurdity.