Bernard Lazare

By Mitch Abidor

Bernard Lazare was born Lazare Marcus Manassé Bernard in Nîmes in 1865. Son a merchant family long-established in the South of France, he left his hometown for Paris at age 20, where he became closely involved in symbolist literary circles with an anarchist tinge.

He began his career as a militant writer in 1891, assuming the role of literary critic for La Nation, eventually writing for several reviews in which he attacked France for its friendship with the Kaiser; the world’s silence before the massacre of Armenians; and covering labor struggles and Socialist conferences (where he attacked Marxists as people who wanted “to construct a regimented society”). He collaborated on such anarchist reviews as L'Endehors, L'Action Sociale and La Revue Anarchiste.

In 1894 he published his first important work: L'Antisémitisme, son histoire et ses causes, (Anti-Semitism, Its History and Causes) which explored the Jewish Question from antiquity to modern times. His general toughness when dealing with Jewish exclusiveness and what he saw as the Jewish role in the fostering of anti-Semitism, as well as his solution — which called for total assimilation — led the notorious anti-Semite Edouard Drumont to approve of and recommend the book.

But the outbreak of the Dreyfus Affair in 1894 saw Lazare enter the fight as “the first of the Dreyfusards,” convinced from the beginning that the captain was innocent of the charges against him. Because of his tireless fight for Dreyfus the great poet Charles Péguy said of him that he was “technically a prophet, the last to date.”

His experience with the Dreyfus Affair, and time spent in Central and Eastern Europe, led to his involvement in the defense of oppressed Jews elsewhere and, after meeting the founder of modern Zionism Theodore Herzl, he founded the Zionist magazine Le Flambeau. But he never denied his anarchist and class struggle beliefs, and as a result he broke with the Zionists.

Worn out by his unceasing battles, he died at age 38, Péguy saying: “He died for it (Dreyfusism), and died thinking of it.”