Theo. Rothstein November 1913
Source: Justice, p.5. November 1, 1913;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
For the second time within living memory the trial of a Jew has drawn the attention of the world. Fifteen years ago we had a Dreyfus case, now it is a Beilis case; and now, as then, it has fallen upon an obscure Jew to act as the point where two opposing worlds have come into a violent conflict with one another.
Beilis was a poor clerk in the counting-house of a large brickyard at Kieff. One day, in the summer of 1911, he was arrested, torn away from his wife and little children, and thrown into prison pending his trial. It is only now, two and half years later, that he has for the first time again seen the light of day – at the Court of Assizes of the city where he had lived and toiled. So far it is an ordinary story in Russia. Many people are being arrested daily and kept in prison for months and years before they are brought up for their trial.
In this case, however, the circumstances have been peculiar, for the charge on which he was arrested, and is now being tried, is nothing less than that he had savagely murdered a little Christian boy, named Andrew Yustchinsky, with a view to obtaining his blood for Passover cakes. It is the old superstition which once did service in the days of the prosecution of Christians in the Roman Empire; and which since then has made repeated appearance, in the Middle Ages as well as in our own times, as a weapon against the Jews. Kings and Popes, theologians and jurists, all have in their day protested against this atrocious imputation, but superstitions have strong roots and they die hard.
But superstition is the attribute of ignorant masses, and had the Beilis case only represented superstition the world might have wondered at the terrible ignorance of the Russian masses in this the twentieth century, and then turned towards its own affairs. But we have in this case the unparalleled spectacle of the Russian Government associating itself with the “ritual” murder charge and openly proclaiming to the world its intention of proving it. This is something which is calculated to take one’s breath away – so accustomed are we to expect even from the most barbarous Government a certain minimum amount of enlightenment, without which it can pretend to no place among modern nations.
But even that perhaps would not have been sufficient to rivet the world’s attention upon the proceedings in Kieff had it not been clear that the Government which had taken up the case of ritual murder was acting thus, not in sheer superstition, but in thorough bad faith, against all evidence (if such were wanted) and with the deliberate intent of bringing about a miscarriage of justice. Apart from the fact that Beilis himself is known to have been an irreligious Jew, one detective after the other was dismissed from service because they refused to direct their inquiries into ritual murder channels and had their attention fixed upon a well-known gang of thieves. Even after the police, at the bidding of the superior authorities, had taken up the ritual murder clue and arrested Beilis, it took the prosecution two years before it was ready with its Act of Indictment. And then, when the Act was published, everyone saw that the case against Beilis was one of the flimsiest, as was at once proclaimed by the foremost jurists and medical men of the world. Since then, at the trial itself, one witness after another has collapsed to the scandal of some of the most rabid Reactionaries and Anti-Semites in Russia, and all the evidence is again turning against that gang of thieves, the leaders of which are figuring in the court as witnesses for the prosecution. A more scandalous prostitution of justice has never in our days been exhibited to our gaze!
We feel, however, that the Kieff trial, though it would have moved the Jewry and through them some portion of the rest of the world, would not have aroused so much attention and protest in our bourgeois society had it not been for another circumstance. What is it that has induced the Russian Government to enter upon this slippery ground at all? Surely the Russian Government was not so foolish as to suppose that such a case would escape the attention of the civilised world, and would fail to discredit it in the eyes even of the best of its friends? The reply is: the Government could not help it, because it was ordered to do so by those who form its sole support. The victory over the revolution had been bought by the autocracy at no small price. It had to summon to its aid all that was the worst in Russian society – the most ignorant and the most corrupt – and give them full freedom of action and full power to deal with the country, at their will. The entire machinery of the State, from the Ministry to the least police authority, was put at the disposal of these dregs of the nation, and the Czar openly placed himself under their protection. And as sheer plunder and greed could not be publicly proclaimed as the motive of this counter-revolutionary movement, the protectien of the “historical” traditions of the Russian “nation,” the defence of Orthodoxy, of Autocracy and the Individuality of the Nation was inscribed upon its banner. Hence the “nationalism” of the “Truly Russian People” under which these dregs came forward and organised themselves, an hence the incitements against every other nationality living in the Empire, the Poles, the Finns, the Jews, and so on which has been their chief pursuit ever since the suppression of the revolution.
It was at the bidding of these criminal elements that the Russian Government undertook the prosecution of the unfortunate Beilis. It was the local “nationalist” organisation at Kieff which first raised the cry of the ritual murder, and it was they who compelled the Government to dismiss the two detective inspectors who had been guilty of discarding the cry, and to bring up a charge against the first chance Jew who had been selected for the purpose. It is this circumstance which has lent the Beilis trial its outstanding importance. For the first time it has been demonstrated to the world, so that even the indifferent and foreigners could see, that the Russian autocracy is the servant of the most corrupt and unscrupulous elements of the Russian nation, and that the “Black Hundreds,” the thieves and cut-throats, are the real power on the Russian throne. This is the Power with which all the world has allied itself, and which it rejoices in worshipping!
This is deeply discrediting not only to the Czardom, but also to the European Governments and the whole bourgeois world. Hence the universal indignation at this stupid and infamous crime. And as the effect of the trial in Russia itself cannot fail to be revolutionary, exhibiting as it does the Russian autocracy in its true and naked colours, Europe, which has “backed” so much upon it, cannot but feel doubly indignant.
We welcome this awakening. It required such an exhibition of barbarity and baseness to compel even the staunchest apologists of the counter-revolutionary regime in Russia to go over to the opposition; and we fed convinced that the martyrdom of the poor unknown Jew who is now confronting his enemies at Kieff, will not have been inflicted upon him in vain.
On Saturday afternoon an audience of close upon 5,000 crowded the Mile End Assembly Hall. The meeting was organised by the Beilis Committee, mainly composed of Jewish trade unionists, to protest against Russian tyranny in general and the blood libel on the Jewish race in particular. J.N. Cohen, secretary of the Independent Cabinet Makers’ Association, is the secretary of the Committee, and is to be heartily congratulated on the success of Saturday’s meeting.
F.H. Gorle (one of the representatives of the B.S.P.) presided. Mr. Glyn Jones, the Stepney Liberal M.P., spoke in rather guarded tones. But there was no mistake about the vigour and the Social-Democratic ring of most of the other speakers. J. Fineberg (B.S.P.) and Fred Knee (for the L.T.C.) made exceedingly able speeches. J. Joseph and M. Myer (in Yiddish), and B. Weingart and Rocker (in German) clearly made an impression on the great audience; while Gossip, in it modest little speech, and A.A. Watts and J.E. Williams, each in his own style, contributed effectively to a really remarkable demonstration. A resolution protesting against the absurd blood libel and against Czardom was carried unanimously.
The same Committee is organising a Trafalgar Square demonstration next Sunday at 3. B.S.P.’ers and Socialists generally are urged to attend.
It is a curious thing that not merely the entire capitalist Press, but both the “Citizen” and the “Herald,” ignored this large meeting.