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The New International, April 1943

Karl Minter

Whither Zionism? Whither Jewry?

Notes on the Theology of Zionism


From The New International, Vol. IX No. 4 (Whole No. 74), April 1943, pp. 109–112.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


In singling out the Soviet Union for discussion, its limitations must be kept in mind. Firstly, the violent controversy that is raging regarding it; and, secondly, the brevity of the span in which Russia could really be considered the prototype of a workers’ state, and the subsequent degeneration of the Stalinist state. The first difficulty we shall solve is to make clear that this analysis is based upon the degeneration of Russia with the rise of the bureaucracy whose general features have been laid down by Leon Trotsky. Other difficulties we shall try to circumvent by constantly bringing in the relationship between the political and economic events in Russia and the position of the Jews.

On November 2 (15), 1917, the Declaration of Rights of the Peoples of Russia was issued, laying down the following principles:

  1. The equality and sovereignty of the peoples of Russia.
  2. The right of the peoples of Russia to freedom of self-determination, including the right to secede and form independent states.
  3. Abolition of all national and national-religious privileges and restrictions whatsoever.
  4. Freedom of development for the national minorities and ethnographic groups inhabiting the territory of Russia.

Lestshinsky’s comment on this is the following (remember that he is a follower of Borochov):

It is our opinion that whenever Jews have absolutely and actually obtained equal political rights, the Jewish economic problem has been solved. (Why Biro-Bidjan?, Jewish Frontier, February 1936, p. 12.)

This is partially borne out by the experiences in Russia and by past Jewish history. Borochov pointed out that the structure of Jews in the New World was much healthier than in Europe because they were less hampered there by political restrictions. Social anti-Semitism, first as a hang-over from the Old World, then as an attribute of declining capitalism, has made serious inroads on these gains.

The Soviet Union was not merely content to declare equal rights; anti-Semitism was made a criminal offense in 1918. Concrete steps were taken to settle Jews on land (there were exceptions among those of bourgeois origin who were allowed to settle on land) and to have them absorbed in industry.

In spite of all these steps the Russian Jews suffered severely in the years of revolution and civil war. The causes were, on the one hand, their economic structure which caused 75 per cent of them to be classified as of “bourgeois origin,” and on the other, the pogroms of the early periods of the uprising. It is already recorded as a classic example that Goddard, one of the fighters of the Paris Commune, had to plead with its leaders to inscribe Jewish civil emancipation on its program. The Russian Revolution in many ways was no different. Riots against shopkeepers, of which in certain sections Jews constituted a majority, were often turned into pogroms. In the Ukraine, nationalism was turned against assimilated Jews who were considered representative of the hated Great-Russian oppression. There was also the historical hatred of the Jews in this area, where whole estates had been farmed out to Jews in the past, whence they ruled in the name of the landlord. Yet all these pogroms were reactionary manifestations specially played up by the regular White Guard armies. Nevertheless they had a definite root in reality.

For this reason most socialist Zionists (excepting certain Left-Poale Zionists) conclude that the socialist revolution will not solve the Jewish problem. The means of livelihood are taken away from the Jewish bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie. In other words, for these sectors of society, we are to forfeit our revolutionary perspectives. What do these “socialist” Zionists want? Perpetuate these professions symbolic of capitalism? It is in their readiness to sacrifice the class interests of the Jewish workers that the “Left” of the Zionists demonstrate the degree to which bourgeois influences have permeated them. Again, certain Left Poale Zionist and parallel groups are not included in this statement, as demonstrated in our survey of recent European Zionism. We shall follow this up later. The above analysis primarily applies to American Zionists.

Those Zionists whose interests in the petty bourgeois Jews are so great would have preferred the Russian Jews to emigrate to Palestine before the Russian Revolution. They were to become proletarians in Palestine, whence they would make their own revolution. This argument besides being incognizant of the restricted character of immigration, ignores the fact that Jews will similarly suffer (they prefer to call it sacrifice) in their restratification in Palestine. But the immigrant petty bourgeois Jews do not become workers in Palestine. It is the Chalutz youth that enters the working class. And with Jewish policy in Palestine today consciously directed to become Great Britain’s main support in the Near East, who knows what vengeance will yet be wreaked upon them. The anti-Semitic propaganda of the Nazis in this area is very successful.

One cannot, however, easily wave off the accomplishments of the Jewish community in Palestine. Palestine has absorbed in the post-war era up to 1939, a share of Jewish immigration larger than any other country. The numerical proportion between the Jewish workers and the Jewish bourgeoisie is healthier than in any other country. The number of collective settlements is further evidence of this fact. However, nothing is more false than to ascribe this proletarianization to the miraculous effect of Palestine alone. As proletarianization affects greater masses of the population, the Jews will similarly be affected. Where capitalist society declasses them, they will not be accused by the coming workers’ regime of being of “bourgeois” origin. Besides, there was unemployment before the war in the holy land, Palestine, also.

As far as proletarianization in the SU is concerned, there has been definite conscious halutz activity in the Crimea. Unfortunately with the rise of Stalin, from 1924–29, all these settlements were liquidated (from Lestshinsky’s Jews in the USSR, p. 22). Jewish industrial workers have increased in number by 100 per cent; the number of Jews in agriculture has increased by 300–350 per cent (Lestshinky: Why Biro-Bidjan?).

Still Zionists point to the unhealthy phenomena in Jewish structure. The table is from Lesthinsky’s Jews in the USSR.

Economic Distribution of Jews in the USSR










Officials and white collar workers





Liberal professions










Agricultural workers




















What is indicated by the statistics is first of all an undue concentration of Jews in the ranks of the bureaucracy. Jews who, in contradistinction to the rest of the Russian population, were predominantly city dwellers were naturally better fitted to participate in the functions of administration. Zionists deplore this situation. Jews are still in the “unproductive” occupations, they say. Thus their opposition to Jewish participation in the Stalinist bureaucracy finds its roots not in an analysis and comprehension of the parasitic function of that upper strata of Soviet Russia, but it is derived from nothing other than the outmoded physiocratic concept that sees productive labor only in relation to nature. And a large portion of these Zionists call themselves socialists.

The transfer of Jews from “bourgeois” trades into the administrative posts of the SU has in itself nothing negative. One cannot but hail the participation of hitherto “unproductive” Jews in the task of Soviet reconstruction. They are functioning in the fields in which they are, because of past tradition, most capable. It is as senseless to transfer an illiterate Russian peasant into the post of administrator as it is to force unprepared Jews into agriculture. Especially if both positions are occupied by individuals quite capable in their sphere. Further, the exploiting character of the government shopkeeper, contrary to its character in a capitalist society, is eliminated. But that does not yet satisfy the argument of the socialist Zionists.

They discover that similar statistics of the non-Jewish population show a relatively greater and more rapid influx into the ranks of the officialdom. This to them is irrefutable proof that even under socialism the Jews are going to be deprived of their livelihood by the native population. In other words, even though they are dismayed at the concentration of Jews in the government positions, they wail when Jews are not allowed to share in the spoils of the Soviet bureaucracy. Instead of pointing out that the more rapid influx of the gentile population into these coveted positions means a closer approximation of the Jewish economy to that of the native Russian (since Russia, as later Germany, has solved its unemployment problem), they will allow the Jew to become proletarianized in Palestine only.

Yet there is a serious Jewish problem accompanying present Russian trends. This is to be blamed not merely on the remnants of capitalist society, which would on the basis of a socialized economy have been straightened out, but on the exploiting character of the bureaucracy. Undoubtedly the wrath of the population is gradually turning against the bureaucracy. Since Jews are prominently represented, especially in the lower strata of the bureaucracy, they appear as the immediate cause of this exploitation, and because of their more personal contact with the population as the embodiment and representatives of this hated class. (For a more detailed exposition, see Anti-Semitism and Soviet Thermidor, by Leon Trotsky)

Not yet content, Zionists insist on forcing our hand by playing their trump card, “Biro-Bidjan.” The implication is that Russia, forced to cope with the Jewish economic problem, finally gave way to this necessity by establishing Biro-Bidjan. The Soviet government, after a decade of unsuccessful experimentation, was finally forced to set aside a tract of undeveloped territory to turn Jewish city-bred bourgeois into farmers. The Jewish community was to advance Russia’s frontier into Eastern Asia, and it is merely a shift from the Crimea region to the Eastern frontier, whence it shifted in turn to Uzbekistan.

Our hand unwillingly forced, we are again forced to resort to the Borochovist, Lestshinsky. Our trump ace reads:

The problem arises again – which economic problem can Biro-Bidjan solve?

The best proof that Biro-Bidjan is no longer solving the problem of the declassed is the fact that it is workers from factories and other productive projects who are sent to Biro-Bidjan. – (Why Biro-Bidjan?)

A very exhaustive survey of the social composition and trades of the settlers follows, inconceivable for the people who look at the Jewish problem through the spectacles of “enlightened” sophism.

Interest in the survival of Jewish culture has been repeatedly voiced in official Soviet circles, especially by Kalinin. In view of previous attempts almost to stamp out Jewish culture by physical force, the sincerity behind these statements can be justly doubted. To conclude from the failure of plans for Jewish mass settlements in Biro-Bidjan, that productivity can only occur in the historic Jewish homeland is unwarranted. In our efforts to avoid quoting experts of doubtful repute, we shall once more refer to Lestshinsky:

These experiments in the preservation of Jewish national group life (territorial concentration and local cultural and political autonomy – K.M.) have been notably lacking in success. Territorial concentration is practically at a standstill, and local autonomy is constantly declining because of the shifting of the Jewish population and its assimilation into Great Russian culture (p. 27).

And again:

... the tendency of Jews to migrate to the large Russian cities from the former concentration in the Pale, has gradually broken down the centers of Yiddish cultural life. The accelerated assimilation of Jewish communists has also weakened this new nationalism (p. 29. Both citations from Jews in the USSR, 1940).

It would be paying too great a respect to bureaucratic mechanization to attribute the creation of Biro-Bidjan purely to the scheming minds of the bureaucrats. There was a definite demand on the part of Yiddish-speaking communists especially for national autonomous status for the Jews. But Jews simply could not be persuaded to emigrate there. Progressing assimilation and the convenience and opportunities offered by the Russian cities brought the enthusiasm when the project reached its practical stages to premature ebb.


Penetrating now for a few idle moments the realm of speculation, let us pose a few questions of serious import only at the Left Zionists for those on the Right will by now have flung this document away in utter disgust. Supposing that the Zionist movement were a proletarian movement under working class leadership and based on a perspective of overthrowing the capitalist system, conducting serious propaganda along those lines in addition to its Zionist work and following the type of Palestinian program indicated in the theses on Palestine, and thus fighting all the false “facts” disseminated by official Zionist propaganda – supposing all that for the purpose of discussion – could not Jewish concentration in Palestine seriously improve that abnormal economic structure, thus easing Jewish suffering in the coming revolution without deviating from the path of international proletarian strategy? The answer in our opinion is, unfortunately, No!

Restratification is under all circumstances a painful process. So is emigration. Jewish immigration into Palestine (further exemplified by Biro-Bidjan) has had necessity as its primary motive. No Jew, worker or petty bourgeois alike, will subject his future to the strange fortunes of a foreign and distant country unless so forced by the desperateness of his social and economic plight. This is only in light of the classic statement of Herzl, “The most desperate will go first,” and Borochov, “The class struggle leads the Jewish proletariat to Palestine.” American Jewry, despite the growth of social anti-Semitism, and its “sympathetic” views of Zionism, staunchly rejects emigration. For American middle class Jewry, Palestine, according to the posed question, would mean proletarianization. But what is more ridiculous than confronting a class with the proposition that it voluntarily abandon its privileges so that it can fight more effectively for a social order that it fears and abhors? This proposition will furthermore not aid us in “approaching” Jewry. If proletarianization is to be their fate, surely it will be easier in a land whose language and customs they have assimilated.

As for the Jewish workers, there can be no problem of re-stratification that will be solved in Palestine. They cannot become workers all over again. As far as their transition from skilled labor to unskilled labor is concerned, it is a by-product of capitalism from which the Jews in Palestine will escape as little as the rest of the world.

Wherever we face declassed Jews, Zionism will not be able to spare them that humiliating experience. All it can do is to promise a better future in Palestine. But the choice as to where the Jews will want to start anew, whether in Palestine or some other country, will not depend on problems of re-stratification but on the degree of special anti-Semitism prevailing in the countries in consideration. Social anti-Semitism does not exist in Palestine; yet other problems face the Jew there, and social anti-Semitism itself has never prevented the Jew from participating in the class struggle.

Doubtless the security of the individual Jew from the ravages of anti-Semitism are today greater in Palestine than in any other country. But these are problems of expediency. The Jewish emigrant is constantly wandering from country to country to escape persecution, and nowhere can emigration be construed as a revolutionary force. It arises out of need. But in contradistinction to the class struggle of the workers – which is supplied by capitalism not only with growing misery as an impetus but also with the material means of its realization – immigration is a mere palliative while the decisive struggle is fought out on another front.

Further, with the decline of capitalism, which brings in its wake a farther deterioration in the position of the Jews, the possibilities of immigration are similarly curtailed. While we have no absolute guarantees that the present policy of the United Nations toward Palestine will be maintained, we can unambiguously declare that those interest groups that would possibly be interested in post-war Jewish immigration will be equally concerned to see that the Jewish community in Palestine will remain under their domination or as their tool. Never, if they can help it, will they allow it to gain independent strength.

Because of this and the political boundaries that are instituted by these very same powers for imperialist reasons, and because private and national capital will never be able to promote the development of Palestine to a degree where it will hold the majority of Jews (unless their number radically declines) a significant number of Jews will continue to dwell in the diaspora. How their position will be affected, no left wing Zionist has been able to explain on a Marxian basis. Concentration in Palestine can be the solution of certain social problems of individual Jews, but never the social and economic solution of the specific Jewish problem.

The realization of a solution to the Jewish problem, whether within or outside of Palestine, becomes thus ever more closely tied up with the world problem. The war has intensified and marked these trends. We have noted previously certain trends in contemporary Zionism; it is also useless to mention that the lives of those Jews living in the diaspora will be dependent upon the type of society in which they live. Hence the solution of the Jewish problem and the realization of Zionism will be dependent upon the socialist revolution.

From the historical analysis presented, it will become clear that Zionism arose as a misdirected movement aiming at Jewish emancipation under capitalism. The character of this movement has been exposed and socialism counterposed as a solution. There is nothing in the Jewish problem which forces a solution beyond the confines of a socialist society. Yet the Zionist movement, despite its misguided character, had its root in social reality. This social reality is the existence of a relatively coherent Jewish group. For the accumulated energy of this group, socialism too must allow.

Yet the socialist revolution, in allowing for the practical realization of the ideals of Zionism, at the same time renders the urgency of such a movement unnecessary. By paving the road to Jewish concentration, the death-knell of this movement is at the same time sounded. The physical need for a solution of the Jewish problem will gradually ease as the countries settle to the building of the new society. Once the outward restrictions upon the Jewish community are drastically eliminated, one of the strongest points of Jewish survival will be undermined. That, whether considered desirable or not, will be the inevitable future trend. But our immediate perspective will be limited to the social revolution.

The social revolution can be compared to the focus of all the problems of capitalism – concentrated at one point by the efforts of the party of the proletariat acting as the lens – whence they diverge again. This time, though, the image is not perceived as the old reality but in inverted form. Not only are classes once oppressed now on top; new vantage points are gained also. What once stood on its head has now firm root in society.

So too, ahead of Zionists in France, Poland, and those in America that are moving in our direction by interpreting Zionism as national revolutionary or pro-Palestinian, we have come to join at the focal point. We cannot but whole-heartedly subscribe to Trotsky’s statement:

... But not a progressive, thinking individual will object to the USSR designating a special territory for those of its citizens who feel themselves Jews, who use the Jewish language in preference to all others and who wish to live as a compact mass. Is this or is this not a ghetto? During the period of Soviet democracy, of completely voluntary migrations, there could be no talk about ghettos. But the Jewish question, by the very manner in which settlements of Jews occurred, assumes an international aspect. Are we not correct in saying that a world socialist federation would have to make possible the creation of a “Biro-Bidjan” for those Jews who wish to have their own autonomous republic as the arena for their own culture? It may be presumed that a socialist democracy will not resort to compulsory assimilation. It may very well be that within two or three generations the boundaries of an independent Jewish republic, as with many other national regions, will be erased. I have neither time nor desire to meditate on this. Our descendants will know better than we what to do. I have in mind the transitional historical period when the Jewish question, as such, is still acute and demands adequate measures from a world federation of workers’ states. The very same method of solving the Jewish question which under decaying capitalism has a Utopian and reactionary character (Zionism) will, under the regime of socialist federations, take on a real and salutary meaning. This is what I wanted to point out. How can any Marxist, or even any consistent democrat, object to this? (Soviet Thermidor and Anti-Semitism – L.T., The New International, May 1941)

It had been my intention to invoke discussion on the role of Zionism in such a period, for the social revolution will solve nothing, but will only remove the barriers in the way of socialist reconstruction. However, it is necessary to relegate future problems into their proper place and to proceed to a discussion of a Jewish program, which is the immediate task. As the logical conclusion from my article I will point out that the strategy of the Jewish working class will be similar to that of all other workers. This is not new in Marxian thought. Yet to lead them successfully to our road, we must be capable of pointing out clearly their connection to the proletariat. This necessitates exposing propaganda of anti-Semitism scientifically, knowledge of the history of anti-Semitism, understanding of other current ideologies among Jews. To this I hope to have contributed my small share.

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