Ber Borochov 1915

Two Currents in Poale Zionism

Translated by Rabbi Mark W. Kiel for Class Struggle and the Jewish Nation: Selected Essays in Marxist Zionism, Mitchell Cohen (ed.), Transaction Books, 1984.

Amidst today’s nationalist passions each class-conscious worker and every socialist must pose this question: How do the two great ideas of liberation-social liberation of laboring humanity and national liberation of oppressed peoples-relate to each other? This is not the place to broach the full breadth of this matter. We simply wish to illustrate it through the concrete instance of the Jewish Labor movement.

There is a party in the Jewish proletariat that takes on both tasks simultaneously in very radical form. This is Poale Zionism, or Proletarian Zionism, which wants to answer the social question through socialism and the Jewish question through Zionism. We define socialism as the socialization of the means of production of private property and the introduction of collective, socialized property in terms of land and capital. Further details regarding the future social order may be the free concern of every individual Poale Zionist: One may be a collectivist and believe that the land and means of production will belong to a great state, and another may be an anarchist and believe that the means of production will belong to voluntary unions of workers, without powers of political organizations and coercion.

With regard to this question I am an anarchist-socialist. I regard the politics of state and organized coercion as a means of protective private property which will perforce be abolished by a collective organization of labor. I am a Marxist without the Zukunftsstaat. Be that as it may, I regard the differences between socialists and anarchists as Zukunfstsmusik, as a question for the far off future, not a question that warrants the split in today’s labor movement. The complete split between socialists and anarchists is, I believe, the greatest misfortune of the socialist movement, the greatest obstacle to the progress of the revolutionary struggle. Socialism captured all the elements with organizational abilities and anarchism all the militant individuals with spirited drive. Consequently both movements became one-sided and incapable of toppling capitalism. Thanks to this infelicitous split both sides were constrained to accommodate themselves to existing conditions, and are equally to blame in that we are now further away from the social revolution than we were prior to the First International.

Equally unimportant for Poale Zionism are the philosophical differences between various revolutionaries. One may be a materialist, the other a Kantian, one a Marxist, the second an empiriocriticist. I myself am an empiriocriticist, believing neither in materialism nor idealism, rejecting all religions whether in obvious or disguised forms. I find every metaphysic laughable even when it hides behind the most innocent “scientific” masks. In other words I am a Marxist without “matter.” But this has no direct bearing on the social movement and as far as I am concerned, all philosophical questions may be quietly left in abeyance until after the social revolution. It is therefore possible for socialists, anarchists, syndicalists and Wobblies, materialists, Kantians, empiriorealists, revolutionaries a la Marx, Kropotkin, and Isaiah-to come together in one party. What is essential however is that they actively strive toward the abolition of capitalism and any form of private property in land and in the means of production.

The same freedom prevails among us regarding Zionism. Here too there are many tunes of Zukunftsmusik that have no bearing on the practical questions of the movement. One may think that the future Jewish colony in Eretz Israel will take the form of an independent state (Judenstaat), a second may envisage it as an economically, politically, and culturally autonomous society. One may envisage the territories of Eretz Israel limited only to Palestine, a second may have imperialist-expansionist dreams about “neighboring lands,” including Mesopotamia, the Dark Mountains, the River Samatyon with its Leviathan and Wild Bull. The essential thing is that a separate homeland must be found for the Jewish people in Eretz Israel. In sum, Poale Zionism aspires to socialism, i.e. the abolition of private property in the means of production and to Zionism, i.e. the creation of a national home in Eretz Israel. All other philosophical issues and details about the future are declared private matters.

There are also many questions of general import which cannot be left freely to individuals as private matters. The first question is how to link socialism and Zionism so that no contradiction exists between them and so that both great tasks support each other harmoniously. The problem is that socialism can be only realized through class struggle and Zionism only through the national struggle of the entire Jewish people. How do both lines come together? There are two distinguishable currents in the international Poale Zion movement: one calls itself Socialist and the other Social Democratic.

Socialist Poale Zionism handles the problem by bringing national unity into socialism. It wants to realize socialism without class struggle. Social Democratic Poale Zionism handles the problem by bringing class struggle into Zionism. It wants to realize Zionism together with the entire Jewish nation, but without renouncing the class struggle against the bourgeoisie for even a minute. Both currents therefore look differently upon socialism, Zionism, and work in the Galut. As stated above, I am not referring to philosophical differences regarding principles about the future. It is, on the contrary, a disagreement over practical working methods which on several occasions almost split the World Confederation of Poale Zion. Not so long ago it almost caused a split in the American Poale Zion movement, which was avoided only with great difficulty. The entire future of Poale Zionism and its influence on the broad working masses hangs on this disagreement.

I adhere to the Social democratic tendency in Poale Zionism. Except for an incidental interruption (in 1904-1905) I have been in the ranks of Social Democratic Poale Zionism for fifteen years now. Socialist Poale Zionism, which was founded by N. Syrkin and afterwards by the Austrian Poale Zionism S. Kaplansky, L. Hazanovitch and others, is just as old. The views of the Social Democrats received its clear and unambiguous formulations in the programs and literature of the Russian Poale Zionists and this current has remained steadfast in its principles all these fifteen years. The socialist tendency on the other hand distinguishes itself in its vagueness, its constant vacillations, and the wide dissension within its own ranks.

I am thoroughly convinced that now-during this confused and tragic war period-the time has come for Poale Zionism in America to define itself conclusively. Its spiritual physiognomy must finally be defined so that the broad Jewish masses may decide once and for all whether they accept Zionism as part of their ideal. Winning the masses over to the Zionist ideal is now the most important task facing Poale Zionism in this country [the United States]. Consequently the discussion must no longer remain within the narrow confines of the small party which exists here. The leaders of the party have done everything, to the point of excluding entire unions and party activists, in order to stifle discussion. We must therefore interest the wider public in this question. Only in this manner will we be able to force the conservative party leaders to listen to our complaints and change their tactics-those tactics whose results have hitherto been most tragically fruitless.

Indeed fruitless. Just look around; see how bourgeois Zionism blossoms in this country and how weak and insignificant Poale Zionism is. In the shortest span of time the largest bourgeois institutions have declared themselves Zionist: The Independent Order of Brit Abraham, The International Order of Brit Shalom, The Galician Farband, The Rumanian Farband, etc., etc. Has anyone heard anything about the Workmen’s Circle, the Cloakmakers’ Union or the Amalgamated etc. declaring themselves Poale Zionists? And let us not say that Poale Zionism certainly had its difficulties with the American Jewish Committee. But at the right moment for Zionism the influence of the American Jewish Committee disappeared into thin air. When will Poale Zionism’s right moment come if not now during this period of world war and national reevaluation? And if Poale Zionism here is not fit enough to make the best of the moment, just what can it make the best of? Indeed, what can it do at all?

Many of my party comrades will be infuriated with me because of these questions. But there will also be some who will take their obligations more seriously and understand that only now, not later, is the time to pose these questions. Truth must stand above party deliberations and diplomatic niceties. And the truth is: Lo zeh haderech. This is not the way. Let each of my party comrades pose the question: Whence this amazing weakness of Poale Zionism here [in the U.S.A.], even at this amazingly opportune moment? And let him not be content with such lame excuses as insufficient strength, insufficient funds, or insufficient work. There must also be a reason for our having insufficient strength or for our not having worked hard enough.

The reason is that Poale Zionism is not serious about socialism and does not have the Jewish worker at heart. Poale Zionism is alienated from the theory and practice of the class struggle and consequently the working class is indifferent to Zionism. Now is the time to change tactics. This is the demand of the Social Democrat current. More on that in future articles. The point of my articles is to show how Poale Zionism can become more of a force to be reckoned with. For now it is merely a club. And if this goal requires losing complacency, I shall not be discouraged. Nor shall I be afraid if my own comrades answer me through protests and boycott or if opponents of Poale Zionism capitalize on our internal differences.