Karl Kautsky

Are the Jews a Race?

Chapter IX
Zionism Before the War

The immense transformation in the conditions of Russia has not been without its effect on Jewish thought, and it has awakened to life the most varied aspirations among the Russian Jews, many forms of the ambition to defend themselves against their enemies, and to emerge from their desperate situation.

In so far as these ambitions are not limited to a mere running away, to mere emigration, they consist in the effort to increase the strength of Judaism by means of solidarity: either through proletarian solidarity, by a union of the Jewish proletarians with the non-Jewish proletarians, or by means of a general Jewish solidarity, by uniting the powers of the Jews of all countries with those of the Russian Jews.

The efforts to make the Jewish proletariat a part of the class struggle of the entire Russian proletariat found their feasible expression in the Jewish Workers Union (Arbeiterbund). Jewish socialists, proletarians as well as intellectuals, played a prominent part in both the Russian revolutions, that of 1905 as well as that of 1917. We shall merely mention this fact in passing, for a complete exposition of the circumstances would amount to writing a history of the Russian Revolution.

The culmination of the second tendency mentioned above is Zionism.

After the first Russian Revolution (1905), a new tendency set in, aiming at a union of Zionism and socialism. We need not discuss this movement here, for our general consideration of Zionism will also pay some attention to its socialist phase.

The literary origin of Zionism is in Western Europe, but the real need of Zionism is felt only by the Jews of Eastern Europe.

The proletarian class struggle, with its socialist leadership, finds the wage workers of modern large-scale industry most accessible to its needs, and precisely this group of workers is not strongly represented among the Jewish proletarians, who furnish a larger contingent to the workers in backward forms of industry, working as individual masters, as domestic workers; the Jewish immigrants in England and America are engaged chiefly in work done at their own homes. [1] In addition, there are numerous petty traders and forms of life living from hand to mouth, on whatever resources may come to hand, Luftmenschen, as Max Nordau calls them, persons living on the edge of the Lumpenproletariat. All these elements – other things being equal – are more difficult to organise and cannot so easily be drawn into the struggle as the workers in large-scale industry, who have been already united and schooled in team action by the mechanical process. Furthermore, the revolutionary movement had first brought about persecutions of the Jews by reactionary forces in many parts of Eastern Europe. The Jewish intelligentsia always played a prominent part among the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia; this Jewish intelligentsia therefore drew the fire of the anti-Semitic reaction and because of it the entire Jewish community was held responsible, as a race rebellious by nature. For this reason the political motives of the counter-revolution associated themselves with its economic motives to increase the already considerable sufferings of the Jews.

As a result of all these circumstances, the slogan of solidarity between the proletarians of all nations and faiths became a guiding principle only for a portion of the Jewish proletarians. For the slogan of proletarian solidarity the other sections of the Jewish proletariat substituted the slogan of a national solidarity of Judaism.

Those who became tired of the struggle or felt themselves incapable of fighting, but yet had still sufficient energy to desire not to be eliminated entirely, sought foreign shores. But were they likely to find an improvement in their situation by going abroad? Wherever the Jew – we mean the Eastern European Jew, still far from assimilation – may come, he is regarded as a foreigner among foreigners. He is nowhere certain even to be tolerated. The reactionary American workers, who keep out the Chinese and Japanese, who keep Negro workers out of their organisations, are equally opposed to Jewish immigration. The beginnings of such an attitude are already apparent. The Jew is secure against oppression only in a state in which he lives not as a foreigner, in a state – therefore – of his own nationality. Only in a real Jewish state will the emancipation of Judaism be possible.

This is the guiding thought of Zionism. Even among the circles of Western European Judaism, this idea has in recent years been replacing the idea of assimilation, of equality of rights within the existing states, which had until recently been dominant among the Jews. Zionism is coming more and more in conflict with this thought, for as assimilation progresses, the national Jewry loses in strength. It is therefore necessary to segregate Jews as sharply as possible from non-Jews.

Zionism meets anti-Semitism halfway in this effort, as well as in the fact that its goal is the removal of all Jews from the existing states.

The agreement between Zionism and anti-Semitism on these points is so strong, that there have even been Zionists who expected much gracious assistance in the realisation of their objects from the head of the Orthodox Russian nation, from the fountain-head of anti-Semitism all over the world, from the Czar of Russia.

There is no doubt of the needs that serve as the basis of the Zionist aspirations; in these needs lies their strength. But the needs may only serve as an explanation of the aspirations; it may not assure their success, which depends on entirely different factors.

In the civilised world all regions have been preempted; there is no more room for a Jewish state. It is only outside of the limits of the civilised world, and only under the tutelage and patronage of a non-Jewish national state that a Jewish community is still conceivable. For a time it was hoped to found a colony in East Africa under English suzerainty, but finally thoughts have always converged on Palestine as the indicated home for a Jewish community.

But, curiously enough, there had already been a Jewish state in Palestine, founded by Jews in exile, under the protection of a non-Jewish state; and even at that remote period – two thousand years ago – this state had not served as a very powerful attraction for the Jews living in the Diaspora. Most of the Jews chose to remain in Babylon, Damascus, Alexandria, Rome, and in other places of domicile, only a portion of them settling in Jerusalem. Most of them contented themselves with an occasional pilgrimage to the Holy City. They found that they prospered better when living as strangers among strangers than in the national state.

Nothing has since been changed in this condition. To be sure, the situation of the Polish, Hungarian and Rumanian Jews is desperate, unendurable. But the question is not whether they could live better in Palestine than now in Western Europe, but whether the founding of a Jewish community in Palestine would afford them better opportunities than revolution in their own country. In fact, it is very questionable whether all the Jews now living – though but painfully – in Eastern Europe, could find any opportunities for their existence in Palestine at all.

One of the conditions for the independent existence of a state is that it shall include all the classes necessary for its process of production under the present conditions of division of labour. This process is based on a constant exchange between city and country; a state is impossible without agriculture. But whence is the agriculture of the new Zion to be derived?

It is, of course, absurd to maintain that the Jewish race is incapable by nature of engaging in agriculture. In the days when it was far more possible to speak of the existence of a Jewish race than now, namely, in the period preceding the Babylonian Exile, the Jews were predominantly agriculturists, as were all the peoples of antiquity. Even in our day efforts to make peasants of Jews have occasionally met with success. If such efforts have never been extended and followed up, this condition is due not to the fact that the Jews are Jews, but to the fact that they are city-dwellers. While the path from country to city is easy to follow, it is difficult to retrace one’s steps if they are to lead to hard manual toil and not to mere enthusiasm for nature and sport. Let anyone point out any large body of “Indo-Germanic” city-dwellers flocking to the country in order to earn their living as peasants or farm hands! Needless to say, there are none. In present day society earning one’s living in the country is associated with conditions that are intolerable for the city dweller. There is no doubt that we are emphatically in need of a stemming of the present tide from country to city, both for hygienic as well as for economic reasons, but the conditions for such a reversal of the process may be found only in a socialist society. Even Herzl recognised this situation when he said: “Anyone who would make agriculturists out of Jews is a victim of a most peculiar delusion.” [2]

Herzl indeed recognised the necessity of agriculture for the Jewish State, but in order to find a possibility for Jewish agriculture he was obliged to build up an entire Utopia.

We are well aware, however, that the replacement of the present mode of production by a higher mode of production can only emanate from centres in which capitalism has already been developed to the highest point. We are no longer living in times when men sought to establish socialist colonies in the wilderness. Industrial capitalism is the sine qua non of socialism. Whether it be desired to establish the Jewish state on a capitalist or on a socialist basis, the capitalist structure of society will be the necessary point of departure and it is here that we encounter a second obstacle.

How will it be possible for a powerful industry to develop in Palestine? There is no large domestic market. The rising industry would be obliged to work for the export trade from the very beginning. But even in the competitive struggle on the world market, an industry – other things being equal – can maintain itself far better if it has at its disposal an extensive internal market capable of absorbing large quantities, and furnishing the basis for the industry’s demand. If an industry is to become capable of meeting competition on the foreign market, without possessing a market at home, exceptionally favourable circumstances must be on its side. In Palestine, on the contrary, the conditions for the growth of industry have been as unfavourable as possible: the soil has thus far revealed no deposits of coal or of raw materials; neither ores, nor textile substances, nor wood; it grows but few foodstuffs, with the result that prices of foodstuffs rise at once when immigration increases; there are no transportation routes; no navigable rivers, no good ports, no highways; and, before the war, there was no railroad line of importance.

The conditions in Turkey had not turned out to be very favourable for an industrial boom, and these conditions were nowhere so wretched as in Palestine. No industry can be founded on Biblical reminiscences; and Palestine has hitherto produced nothing in the way of other products. Capital, in its hunt for profits – Jewish capital as well as other capital – has therefore always avoided the “Holy Land” in spite of the eager rapacity with which it has penetrated into all other countries affording any prospect of gain.

The Zionist state of the future in Palestine had therefore not succeeded before the war in making any notable advance. According to Ruppin, 2,000,000 Jews emigrated from 1881 to 1908 from Russia, Austria and Rumania, of whom 1,600,000 went to America, almost 300,000 to Western Europe, and only 26,000 to Palestine!

We have already mentioned Nawratzki’s work on the colonisation of Palestine, which is a painstaking and detailed book and which was evidently written as a labour of love. But the critical reader will not be able to form the optimistic expectations which the author draws from his material.

Immense sums have been spent by Jewish philanthropists in order to further the colonisation of Palestine. “In the foundation of the Rothschild colonies very large sums have been invested by these philanthropists alone; the amount is estimated at about fifty million francs.” [3]

The Jewish Colonisation Association was given a capital of 160,000,000 marks by Baron Hirsch [4], most of which went to the work of advancing the colonisation of Palestine. In addition, there was an uninterrupted flow of money to Palestine from many other collections and donations.

“An approximate estimate of all the moneys flowing annually into Palestine for the above-mentioned purposes would reach the figure of at least 10,000,000 francs.” [5]

What has been accomplished in Palestine in the three decades of colonising activity preceding the war, with these enormous money resources? One of the tasks was the founding of a Jewish agricultural community. “At the end of the year 1912, and including the settlements of the recently arrived Yemenites and the farm workers in the colonies and land groups, there was a country population of about 10,000.” [6] As compared with the total Jewish emigration to foreign countries, this is a mere drop in the bucket.

The experiences gathered in the attempts at colonisation led to the following inference: “The costs of a farm ‘are comparatively high and may fluctuate between 12,000 and 18,000 francs per family. The necessary requirements to be met by a family of colonists are a sufficient knowledge of farming and enough money to pay for one-eighth or one-fourth of the cost of the farm and, in addition, to have enough operating capital left over for the first year’s operations’.” [7]

Where such wealthy and experienced Jewish peasants are to come from we are not told. And, therefore, this proposition is not one that could lead to the emancipation of the Jewish proletarians in Russia.

But of course, there were also large-scale Jewish agricultural establishments which flourished. The Jewish capitalist farmers had found a difficulty, however, in the employment of Jewish proletarians from Russia as farm hands: these Russian Jews are more exacting and less easily managed than the Arabs, for which reason the Jewish patriots have substituted Arab workers for their Jewish workers, as German patriots have frequently substituted Italian and Polish workers for their German workers. Since this device, however, conflicts with the purposes of Jewish colonisation, and since it is necessary, nevertheless, to exploit Jews as farm hands, recourse was had to the introduction of Jews from Yemen (Arabia). These Jews are at as low a cultural level as the Arabs among whom they live, are completely cut off from their European co-religionists, and have not the slightest connection with the problems of the European Jewry; but they are willing and cheap and therefore afford a possibility of solving the question of the Jewish colonisation of Palestine. “Within the last ten years, about 6,000 Yemenites have probably emigrated to Palestine.” [8]

No doubt this was very fortunate for the purposes of the capitalist Jewish colonist, but it threatened to bring on a bankruptcy of the policy of inducing the Jewish proletarians of Russia to take up agriculture in Palestine.

Now for the non-agricultural Jewish population in Palestine. This population, on the whole, seems hitherto to have lived in wretched conditions, in many cases resorting to actual mendicancy. This mendicancy was not a form of street-begging, but a drawing of alms from charitable institutions supported by Jews in all countries. Nor was it possible for the non-agricultural population to live in any other way: “Industry has as yet attained no importance in Palestine.” [9]

The wages that were paid before the war may be inferred from the fact that Jewish farm hands who asked from 1.15 to 2 francs per day were considered too expensive; Arabs could be had for 1.10 francs. Efforts were made to introduce a lace industry: “A fairly good factory girl gets as much as 1 franc per day!” Furthermore, foodstuffs were high. The workers in the colony of Rechoboth had to pay about 45 francs per month for food alone in the years 1907 to 1910.

It should give rise to no surprise to find that the immigration to Palestine was not large and that a large percentage of this immigration consisted of aged persons who did not go to Palestine in order to work, but in order to live on charity, or on their own incomes, and to end their days in the land of their fathers. Most of the younger immigrants again set forth to other parts. Of the 1,979 Jewish emigrants leaving Odessa for Palestine in 1910, 606, or 30 per cent., were over 50 years of age. Data gathered in Jaffa show that in 1912 there arrived in that port, in addition to 350 Yemenites and 950 Bukhara Jews, 2,280 Jews from Eastern Europe (Ashkenazim), of whom only 30 per cent. were under the age of thirty. [10] If we calculate the absolute figures on the basis of the percentages communicated by Nawratzki – who does not furnish us with the absolute figures – we find that 684 young Jews entered Jaffa in 1912, while 790 emigrated in the same year.

In other words, there were more young Jews emigrating than immigrating. In spite of Sombart’s “theory of the wilderness”, the Jew, like any other modern man, is attracted to the large city and not to the wilderness, when in search of a livelihood.



1. With the gradual abandonment of the sweatshop system in New York, in favour of comparatively large factory centres, this condition may now be regarded as a thing of the past. – Translator.

2. Der Judenstaat, Leipzig, 1896, p. 23.

3. Nawratzki, p. 495.

4. Nawratzki, p. 100.

5. Nawratzki, p. 109.

6. Nawratzki, p. 849.

7. Nawratzki, p. 860.

8. Nawratzki, p. 441.

9. Nawratzki, p. 403.

10. Nawratzki, p. 444.


Last updated on 7 June 2020