Russia and the World Problem of the Jew
By John Spargo
[Harper's Monthly Magazine, June 1918]
From the outbreak of the European war in 1914 it has been quite evident that the cause of civilization in general, and of Social Democracy in particular, would be best served by a definite and conclusive victory of the Entente Allies. Shortly after the war began I contributed to the columns of a Socialist journal an essay in support of this contention. At that time Russia was still under the sovereignty of the Czar, and a great many Liberals who sympathized with the Allied cause were sorely troubled because of the union of the great democratic nations—France and England—with the reactionary autocracy of Russia. This feeling was largely responsible for the prevalence of the hope that the war might end in the victory of France and England over Germany, on the western front, and the victory of Germany and Austria over Russia, on the eastern front. A great many Socialists expressed that view of the situation.
For such a view there could not be any sanction other than that of sentiment. It had no historical or sociological basis. The natural resentment of democratic peoples against any sort of union with the most infamous autocracy of modern history was quite comprehensible. But the careful student of political history knew that to permit the emotions to determine the evaluation of great historical events could have only a disastrous result. However one might hate the Romanoff dynasty and abhor the oppression and persecution of peoples of which it was guilty, the occasion demanded a judgment of the situation formulated upon altogether different grounds. In the essay referred to I contended that, from the point of view of the progress of international freedom and Social Democracy, it was highly desirable that Russia should gain a decisive victory. Such a result was indeed more to be desired than a victory by England and France. It would be better for France and England to be defeated and lose some of their colonial possessions, for example, than for Russia to suffer defeat at the hands of the Teutonic Powers. Of course, such a victory by autocratic Russia could not fail to strengthen the Romanoff dynasty and the ruling feudal oligarchy. Victorious wars always strengthen the hands of absolute monarchs; unsuccessful wars generally provide the opportunity for successful revolution against absolute monarchs.
Recognizing this great historic fact, a Socialist thinker would naturally be expected to desire the defeat of the Russian army as the most promising hope for revolution and democracy. Not unnaturally, a goodly number of my Socialist friends found it exceedingly difficult to comprehend my attitude. It was not surprising that many of them felt that I had been guilty of the sin of apostasy. Yet, whether rightly or wrongly, the position I took was determined by my Socialist convictions and hopes. I believed that while a victorious war would greatly strengthen the monarchy and the nobility, that would be only a temporary result, and that it would be outweighed by the great gain to freedom and democracy which such a result and the war would make inevitable. It has always seemed to me that any hope that Russia might transform her feudal absolutism into a social democracy, without passing through the phase of intensive industrial capitalism which other nations have had to experience, was utterly romantic and even dangerous. There is no reason for believing that Russia can or will be such a conspicuous exception to the great universal law of historical evolution.
Russia in 1914 was substantially in the same position as England in the eighteenth century—in so far as her economic life was concerned. With vast industrial potentialities, enormous deposits of coal and iron, and all the other natural resources essential to a great industrial economy, she remained, in the twentieth century, a feudal nation almost wholly pastoral and agricultural; her industrial system developed in very minor degree—in spots and almost as an exotic thing. If we ask ourselves why this condition prevailed, our answer will largely depend upon the basis of our intellectual judgments. If we are accustomed to judge historical events from the ideological viewpoint, we shall seek our explanation in such ideological factors as the "temperament" of the Slav. If, on the other hand, we are accustomed to the method of economic interpretation, we shall use the criteria of historical materialism in forming our judgments, and find our explanation in the politico-economic factors. Choosing the latter method—the method of Marxian Socialist-analysis—one finds an explanation for Russia's industrial backwardness that is far more adequate and satisfying than any other. Russia's economic development has been retarded, and made almost impossible, through the lack of adequate outlets to the markets of the world. The fact that she did not possess a free, direct access to the warm waters of the Mediterranean, that she commanded only meager ports—remote and inaccessible, and, for the most part, ice-bound during a large part of the year—was a serious inhibition upon her economic progress. From a sociological viewpoint, the possession of the mastery of the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles by the Turk was a strangling cord about the neck of Russian civilization.
Russia could not develop an industrial economy akin to that of the other great European nations so long as she was thus imprisoned. That she was robbed of the fruits of her victory over Turkey by the conspiracy of Prussia and Great Britain was a disaster of the first magnitude. All the consequences of that combination against Russia could not have been foreseen, of course, but it is easy now to see that it was one of the great disasters to modern civilization. Russia needed an era of intensive capitalist development, and the world's best interests required it quite as much as the interests of Russia herself. No other historical process could be rationally expected to break down the worst features of Russian absolutism, and to bring to, the Russian people the degree of democracy and civilization enjoyed by the people of the great industrial nations of Europe. It was no less a Socialist than Karl Marx himself who, in a splendid passage in the Communist Manifesto, pointed out the great contributions of capitalism to democratic culture and freedom. The essential life of modern industrial civilization requires the destruction of all those oppressive and repressive features which have characterized the imperial dominion of the Czars. Any hope that these might be destroyed by the proletariat of Russia without the development of an industrial civilization must be born of romanticism; it cannot spring from a knowledge of the realities of the problem.
It was easy to foretell, either in 1914 or at any time prior to that in the last half-century, that a proletarian revolution in Russia could not be other than a disastrous and melancholy failure. There was and is no proletariat in Russia sufficiently strong in numbers and possessed of the necessary intellectual and moral qualities for creating any sort of democratic society. For the most part, and with such exceptions as are in the circumstances almost negligible; the great masses of the Russian workers are peasants; they do not belong to the category of the modern proletariat that in England creates a Labor Party, and in Germany a Social-Democratic Party. They are, as a rule, illiterate and lacking in that cohesiveness of understanding and purpose which the modern class-conscious proletariat possesses. Except for the daring and frequently brilliant leadership of a class of intelligenzia, principally Jews, it is questionable whether they would ever possess either the vision or the courage to revolt. Under that leadership they have been led to revolt time and again but every such revolt has revealed to the student of social problems their utter incapacity for self-government or for constructive political effort. As blind Samson could pull down the pillars of the temple, so a blind and infuriated mob can pull down the pillars of any existing civilization and culture. To build a new civilization requires that the blind first be given sight.
The achievement of this miracle of sight-giving is the historical mission of the capitalist system. Wherever capitalist industry has appeared it has been discovered that, for its own purposes and interests, capitalism had to wipe out illiteracy. As far back as the beginning of the nineteenth century, when machine production was in its infancy, the capitalists of England discovered that the school-house must follow the factory. To-day, with our vastly more intricate machinery of production, with electricity as the great motive force, industrial efficiency requires that the worker shall have a very considerable degree of elemental education, at least. If, as a result of any change in her politico-geographic structure, Russia had experienced at any time in the last twenty years, let us say, an economic revolution in the form of a great expansion of her industrialism, she would not have begun with the technical equipment and processes of a century ago. As happened in Japan in very recent times, the methods of production introduced would be the most recent; all the modern improved technical processes and equipment would have been imported, and thus Russia would begin technically at the highest point attained by the older industrial nations. Inevitably the ban upon popular education would be destroyed. School-houses would spring up, as if by magic, in response to the new industrial requirements. That fact alone would have removed from Russian life the greatest obstacle to the achievement of anything like a social democracy, for the plain lesson of the experience of threescore years of revolutionary agitation in Russia is that the greatest difficulty to be overcome is the inertia, stupidity, superstition, and illiteracy of the masses. I remember hearing Maxim Gorky say that all the military forces at the Czar's command did not constitute as grave an obstacle to the revolutionary movement in Russia as the lack of education among the masses.
The social changes incidental to the development of capitalist industry, and inseparable from it, would have produced other equally far-reaching results. Here, as in all other lands, the genius of the new capitalist order would have made war upon the institutions of the feudal system which hindered its development. Feudalism requires illiteracy on the part of the masses; capitalism requires a relatively high degree of literacy. Feudalism requires that people shall be confined to particular villages and forbidden freedom of movement; capitalism requires an exceedingly large freedom of movement: it must have a mobile labor supply. All the laws restricting the movement of workers from place to place, and their assembling together, would be found to be so many fetters upon the new industrial system; and the leaders of that system would, by their economic interests, be forced to attack those restrictions. That was the experience of England and France and Germany, in turn, and the experience of Russia could not have been otherwise.
Inevitably, the interests of the new capitalist class would have increasingly clashed with the interests of the older feudal ruling class, just as in all other countries. It would have been the mission of this class to overthrow feudalism and to establish in its place a constitutional government providing those safeguards for the individual and those opportunities of citizenship which make possible the progressive achievement of democratic ideals. What Russia needs and what she must have, if she is to develop a social democracy, is a strong middle class, possessed of the incentive, intelligence, and the power to destroy all Russian feudalism. For the moment, in this great débâcle, we are witnessing a gigantic chaos, and the ruin of Russian feudalism seems complete. We must not, however, let this destruction deceive us; the fact remains that there is no evident constructive capacity in the proletariat, and no great and powerful economic interests to inspire a middle class to constructive effort. The only constructive power remaining in Russia, at all likely to be able to restore order from the chaos, is the small group of Liberals and capitalists. A Bolshevik frenzy may destroy, but it cannot build!
The most tragic page in Russia's history, the blackest and most shameful, is that which records the persecution of the Jew. Much of the sympathy the world has been ready to give to almost every revolutionary movement in Russia has had for its inspiration intense indignation at the brutal oppression of the most cultured and, in the highest sense, most civilized part of the Russian population. The persecution of the Jews in Russia is intimately connected with the backwardness of the economic evolution of Russia. The emancipation of the Jews from that oppression cannot be permanently accomplished apart from a great measure of economic development. The Russian has not persecuted the Jew because he was a Russian, or because the Jew was a Jew; that ideological explanation is as insufficient as it is naive and easy to formulate. The fundamental secret of Jewish oppression in Russia is the fact that the Jew has not fitted into the economic life of Russia. The Jew never has fitted into a feudal civilization. And it is not conceivable that he ever can be made to fit into a feudal civilization. There is a vast difference between feudalism and the patriarchal system of ancient Israel. Wherever the Jew has found himself in a feudal society he has been grievously oppressed. Feudal England persecuted the Jew; and it was not until the passing of the rule of the feudal nobility that the measure of freedom which the Jew now enjoys in England came to him. Feudal Spain persecuted the Jew, and so did feudal France. Feudal Germany was brutal in its oppression of the Jew, and only the development of German capitalism brought a measure of toleration. And it remains true that, because in Germany—among the great capitalist nations—the largest amount of feudal militarism remains, antisemitism is stronger and more pronounced in Germany than in any other of the capitalist countries.
It is quite easy to understand the unfitness of the Jew for a feudal civilization. Feudalism requires a degree of servility that is impossible to the Jewish mind; it requires illiteracy, superstition, patient submission to constituted authority, and an acceptance of caste rule, which has its roots in superstition. It requires, furthermore, a lack of imagination, of which the Jew is not capable. The stolid peasant of Millet's picture, and Markham's poem, "brother to the ox," with no vision or thought of a better life this side the Eternal, piously praying God to keep him content in his condition—this is the ideal serf. It is not accidental. that the rulers of feudal societies have prevented the education of the peasant; that was their only safety. Knowledge, imagination, courage—these qualities would be to the social organization of feudalism as dynamite!
Heinrich Heine once said of the Jewish religion, "A curse on the Jewish religion; it is not a religion, but a misfortune." This mordant epigram expresses one-half of a truth which is woven as a thread of tragedy through the whole fabric of the history of Israel. The other half of the thread is that his religion has been the Jew's most splendid endowment and glory. To his religion, more than to anything else, the Jew owes his unfitness for feudal society, and therefore the persecution which that unfitness and inadaptability have brought upon him. The other side of this bitter truth is that to his religion, more than to anything else, the Jew owes that splendid intellectual and spiritual endowment which has set him upon an eminence among all. the peoples of the earth. The religion of the Jew has come to him through the medium of a great cultural language of surpassing literary beauty and culture. Living in whatever land, he has maintained his religion through the channel, of that great language and the literature of that language. Of that literature it may be fairly said that, more than any other existing literature, it is calculated to stir the imagination. An unimaginative Jew is a phenomenon almost impossible to conceive. Take, then, these two facts and consider their relation to the fitness of the Jew for a feudal social system. Forced through his religion to be literate, and through the literature of that religion as well as through its traditions, rites, and ceremonials, to be the most imaginative and sensitive of human beings, what place could he find in an economic system requiring in its labor supply the stolidity of the ox and the patience of the ass?
Furthermore, there is a revolutionary and democratic quality in the great and splendid literature of Judaism which cannot be ignored in considering the role that the Jew plays in the social-revolutionary movements of modern times. The burning denunciations of oppression and injustice by the great prophets of Israel, the splendid visions of righteousness and social justice by the minor prophets, the inspiring social idealism of the major part of the Old Testament—these are but intimations of the forces which his religion has instilled into the Jew, making servility and meek acceptance of oppression impossible. We may accept Heine's bitter, dictum concerning the religion of his race, only if we remember that if it brought pain it brought likewise a priceless heritage of glory and self-expression. The Jew was not persecuted under the Romanoffs because of his religious belief. Fundamentally, that which distinguished his religious belief from the prevalent orthodox religious belief of Russia was simply the fact that, instead of believing that the Messiah had lived and died and wrought His work of redemption, he believed that the Messiah had not yet come and was to be expected at some future time. For no such reason as this were pogroms instituted; for no such reason was the knout of the Cossack applied to quivering Jewish bodies. It was not the religion itself, but the culture which the religion created that caused the persecution. The religion was intimately associated with the cause, but it was not the cause, even when used, as in the Mendel Beiliss case, as a pretext.
The Jew was persecuted because he did not fit into the economic system. He must always be persecuted in lands where he does not fit into the structure of the industrial and political organization. Masses of people, unassimilable and incapable of adapting themselves to the economic and political life of nations, have been persecuted in all times and places. It is not a higher morality, in the personal sense, which accounts for the greater freedom given to the Jew in England and America and other capitalist countries, but the fact that in those countries the Jew finds a place, is adapted to the economic and political system, and is capable of highly efficient service therein. It follows, therefore, that the emancipation of the Jew in Russia requires the destruction of feudal society and the development of a new social industrial system which will call forth the splendid qualities of the Jew. It might almost be said, without irreverence, that the Jewish religion, through the intellectual culture it imposes upon the Jew as a birthright, contributes enormously to the success of modern capitalism. Whenever a new epoch of capitalist expansion opens up in Russia the Jew will inevitably be found to be so necessary to the economic life that his emancipation will be complete and permanent.
It is for this reason that all who have profoundly understood the Jewish problem have deplored those machinations which deprived Russia of her natural outlet to the Mediterranean. To have eliminated the Turk from Europe, where he has no rightful place and can only be a source of disturbance and disease, and to have liberated Russia from the bonds which prevent her normal economic development, would have been one of the greatest achievements of civilization in a thousand years. The whole spirit of German imperialism and of Prussian Kultur was necessarily directed against Russia's realization of that freedom to develop and expand. Britain's jealousy was political and opportunistic; she feared for her eastern dominion; but it was always within the possibility of practical politics that some alliance or arrangement might be made with the great Slav empire. Germany's opposition, on the other hand, was more fundamental and deep-rooted. It was and is to the interest of Germany to have Russia remain a feudal agricultural country and prevent, if possible, the development of Russian industrialism. So long as Russia can be maintained as an agricultural, food-producing country she will be at once Germany's greatest and cheapest granary and an important customer for her manufactured goods, instead of a competitor. These are the basic features of the economic imperialism which induced Germany long before the war to dominate the government of Russia. All who are well informed concerning Russia know that for many years past the worst evils of Russian government and of its despotism and oppression have been of Prussian rather than of Russian origin. Prussia's intrigue was the most potent factor in the extensive corruption of Russian government. The Little Father of St. Petersburg was blamed, but the real culprit was in Wilhelmstrasse.
Let us imagine the results that would almost certainly flow from the possession of a great Mediterranean outlet by Russia. There would necessarily be a great and far-reaching movement to develop the industrial resources of the country; capital seeking investment would seize upon the opportunities presented; immediately there would be a demand for an enormous supply of skilled labor. Without such a labor supply a successful capitalism is, of course, impossible. Where would the new industrial masters find this supply of highly skilled labor? Certainly not in the peasants. It would require the greater part of a generation to get from the peasantry an adequate supply of labor of the highest type of intelligence and skill. Surely no earthly power could have prevented realization of the fact that the Jews alone were able to supply the fundamental need of the new economy. Keen and alert of intelligence, traditionally skilled as craftsmen, the Jews, instead of being an element unsuited to the economic life as in the feudal regime, would have been the most valuable asset of the new system, its most dependable force. In such conditions persecution of the Jew as aforetime would be impossible; he would be too valuable to burn and kill. All the humiliating and distressing discriminations which a stupid oligarchy has thrown up against him would be destroyed, along with all the other impedimenta of the feudal regime.
If there is one conclusion more warranted by an economic interpretation of Russia's great historical problems than any other, it is that anything which brings about a new industrialism in Russia, an economic development analogous to that of the industrial revolution in England, should be welcomed as offering the surest way to freedom for the Jew. It is one of the most tragic facts connected with the present débâcle that Jewish Socialist leaders, seeing life through the colored lenses of romanticism, should have, in the first declaration of their intentions, avowed that they did not want and would not take Constantinople or the Dardanelles. In that declaration they consciously or unconsciously—unconsciously, we may believe—betrayed civilization, betrayed their race, and betrayed the cause of Social Democracy throughout the world.
Curiously enough, even the Bolshevik leaders appear to have recognized that Russia must needs have a great capitalist development; that any present realization of a Socialist Commonwealth is entirely impossible. In a statement of the objects and the program of himself and his associates, Trotzky said that, of course, it would not be possible to jump into Socialism; that Russia needed a capitalistic development. He outlined a program of which the central feature was the proposal to have the government encourage the establishment of individual capitalist enterprises to be subject to government regulation, the government to guarantee a fixed profit of six per cent. This program, which reminds one so forcibly of Lassalle and the social theories prevalent in Lassalle's day, cannot be realized unless Russia obtains that outlet to the warm waters for which her most far-sighted statesmen have contended. One is almost inclined to question the good faith of the Bolsheviki in putting forward such a program, while at the same time making its realization impossible. It is, however, probably unnecessary to impugn their motives. We need only recognize their pathetic ignorance of the laws of social development, their lack of historical understanding, and their incurable romanticism. They are not social thinkers so much as they are religious mystics. Like all mystics, they cling with fanatical tenacity to the most impossible ideologies, and ignore the stern realities of life. The religious mysticism of Trotzky and his associates is the mysticism of their race, which has its roots deep in history, corrupted by the superstition of its environment. It is characteristic of mysticism that it always absorbs the superstition in its environment. The Canaanites were thus corrupted by the superstitions and idolatries of Baal. We have been far too tolerant in our judgments of the Bolsheviki. We have endowed them with a glamour wholly without justification. Even the President of the United States has contributed to this by paying to them a tribute wholly undeserved. For the President, the excuse of political expediency may perhaps be wisely invoked. It is time, however, that the plain truth was spoken concerning them.
Take, for example, the widespread belief that, whatever their failings, Lenine and Trotzky and their followers are entitled to the credit of having first promulgated a great constructive peace program. Sermons and speeches and essays innumerable have extolled the Bolsheviki upon this ground. The facts are, however, that they are entitled to no such credit, and that the so-called Bolshevik idealism is not of Bolshevik nor even of Russian origin. The program of "no annexations, no indemnities, and the self-determination of peoples" did not emanate from the brain of Lenine, Trotzky, or any of their followers. They lack the constructive minds necessary for the formulation of such a program; their minds are destructive, disordered, and chaotic. Trotzky's book is a most distressing literary exhibition of these qualities. The so-called Bolshevik peace program was first adopted by the Workmen's Council in the early days of the revolution in the Kerensky regime, at a session presided over by Tchcheidze, on the basis of the war speeches of President Wilson, and open acknowledgment of the source of inspiration was made at the time. Thus the program which our pacifists have hailed with so much satisfaction, because they believed it to be of Bolshevik origin, is precisely the platform of the government they have been opposing. Mental confusion is not a condition confined to Russian Bolsheviki!
Fundamentally the Bolsheviki leaders are profoundly indifferent to democracy, and even hostile to it. At the conference of the British Labor Party held at Nottingham early in the present year the Bolshevik government was represented by a special ambassador, Maxim Litvinoff. In his address, according to the reports published in the British Socialist press, he declared that "democracy is all right in its way, but that if it went, against the desires of the Bolsheviki, it was their determination to carry through their policy at all costs." Litvinoff appears to have frankly recognized the fact that the Lenine-Trotzky administration represented only a minority of the working-people. It would not be fair, of course, to judge the Bolshevik, government by a single statement made by one representative, no matter what his official position might be, but we must link Litvinoff''s statement to similar statements made by other eminent leaders of the Bolsheviki, and, more important still, to the policy they have pursued. Speaking at the Congress of Soviets on the 25th of January, 1918, Lenine, according to the British Socialist press, declared that the immediate object of the government was the establishment of a dictatorship, and that all of those who were opposed to the policy of the government must be forced into submission. That the government has ruthlessly and brutally suppressed every criticism, with as much energy as ever was manifested by the old regime is now universally known.
Having had no share in the actual revolution, Lenine and Trotzky made their way into Russia and immediately became disturbing factors in the situation. That their influence was a disintegrating and divisive one was from the first apparent. They found the Provisional Government exceedingly tolerant, especially to all the different Socialist groups: They took advantage of the situation, and, having once succeeded in overthrowing the Provisional Government, they proceeded to the establishment of a reign of terrorism, which constitutes one of the blackest pages in Socialist history. It has been charged by representative Socialists that in the organization of this reign of terrorism they used the aid furnished by the German government. The Petit Parisien published documents which seemed to prove that German agents transmitted large sums of money to Lenine and Trotzsky. The fact that the German government enabled Lenine to travel through Germany to Russia with so much éclat would appear to give some color to this suggestion. However, it is not necessary to accept the charge or to impugn the motives of Lenine. The fact remains that they immediately established an intolerable despotism. All Socialist newspapers which did not approve of the Bolshevik methods were immediately suppressed. The best known and most honored Socialists of the country were cast into prison without the formality of a trial. Great leaders of Russian Socialism, whose lives have been spent in the revolutionary movement, were thus imprisoned without trial, exactly as in the worst days of Romanoff tyranny. Such leaders as Katerina Breshkovskoya, the Grandmother of the Revolution, the story of whose life is a glorious epic, and George PlechanofF, the eminent Marxist, were seized and imprisoned for no other reason than that they expressed their dissent from the policies of Lenine and Trotzky. Even the old methods of the Black Hundreds, the secret assassination of people whose presence was not desired, were not avoided by these desperate men who established tyranny in the name of Socialism.
The Bolshevik Commissioner of Justice was impudent and imprudent enough to give, in an official statement, the reasons for the imprisonment without trial of the members of the Provisional Government and other leaders of the various moderate Socialist groups. He declared that the prisoners would not be brought to trial; they were imprisoned because they constituted a kind of political symbol around which the elements which were discontented with the present government might collect; they would be released again as the existing authority was consolidated. "Our chief enemies," he said, "are not the cadets. Our most irreconcilable opponents are the moderate Socialists. This explains the arrests of Socialists and the closing down of Socialist newspapers. Such measures of repression, however, are only temporary. As soon as the acuteness of the moment has passed all the arrested persons can be released. This applies also to the arrested members of the Union for the Defense of the Constituent Assembly."
Of course, it may be urged, in extenuation, that the anarchy and chaos prevailing required some departure from the normal methods of police government. There cannot be any adequate justification, however, for the policy pursued by the Bolshevik government, and it is simply fatuous to attempt to idealize them and point to them as exemplars to be followed by the rest of mankind. There is some excuse for many of our American pacifists who have thus idealized Lenine and Trotzky and the regime for which they are responsible—the excuse of ignorance. Many of them can plead, in extenuation of their attitude, a complete and virginal ignorance of ail the salient facts. But for those Russian-Jewish Socialist leaders in this country who have likewise idealized the Bolsheviki there is not even this poor measure of excuse.
The gravest element of danger lies, not in the fact that the cause of Socialism has been so befouled that there must inevitably be created a strong prejudice against it, but in the possible effect upon the attitude of the world to the Jew. Most thoughtful Jewish Socialists in America recognize this danger as a result of the Bolshevik excesses and their condonation by leading Socialist Jews in this country. Surely never was greater tragedy than this, the spokesmen of Socialism in America, blindly feeding the flames of antisemitic passion. Well may we hope that the best and bravest minds in our nation will hold themselves under solemn obligation to fight whatever manifestations of this 'brutal and senseless prejudice appear.
Let us turn to another aspect of this great problem of Israel's share in world freedom and opportunity. A definite victory by the Allies is desirable for another supremely important reason. We must begin with the fact that for thousands of years a great people, with a racial unity unmatched in history, a racial unity guarded by a great religious faith and tradition, with noble and extensive chronicles and traditions that go back to the dawn of history, has been compelled to wander through the world without a homeland. The Jews have been alien strangers in all the countries where they have sojourned, never acquiring citizenship, until recent times, in the democratic nations.
The aspiration of the Jewish people for a return to the homeland, from which for so many centuries they have been exiled, has a basis that is much more solid and substantial than any mere sentimental yearning for the continuation of their national history. Even when not consciously perceived, there has been for this yearning the sociological sanction of a great social law that is as old as civilization itself. That law is: that no people anywhere have been able to maintain themselves in equal estate with other men unless they commanded the instrument of a national organization whose statesmen and ambassadors could represent their interests in the councils of states and nations. No person with an understanding of political history can doubt for a moment the contention that the infamous persecution of the Jews in Russia under the Romanoffs, and in Rumania, would have been quite impossible if somewhere in the world there was a Jewish nation whose ambassadors were present in the courts of all other nations.
I am, of course, entirely familiar with the attitude of those Socialists and others who argue that to create a new nation would be in itself a departure from the movement toward internationalism upon which so many hopes for the future have been based. This attitude arises from a complete misconception of internationalism—the state of being without national allegiance does not make the Jew an internationalist; he is simply a man without a country, and he will not be efficient for internationalism 'until he attains nationality.
In this great débâcle in Russia we are witnessing the destruction not merely of a civilization, but the destruction, too, of a social romanticism which has long held many noble minds enslaved. In the struggle for internationalism we see how the contempt for nationality, which lies at the heart of Bolshevism—the contention that the working-man is not interested in the defense of a particular nation—is swept aside by the fierce torrents of national aspirations. Finns, Ukrainians, Cossacks, Lithuanians—all peoples with any degree of homogeneity distinguished from other peoples asserting their right to follow paths of their own choosing and to develop their culture as they will! This does not mean that internationalism is being destroyed. Internationalism will be enormously strengthened as a result of this world war. But so, too, will nationalism. The two things are inseparable. For their own well-being in all lands, the Jews need somewhere a nation. It is idle to meet this assertion with the taunt that the Jews will not return to Palestine, that the Jews in America will prefer to remain in America. This is obviously true for the most part, and there is no reason why it should be otherwise. The argument for Polish independence does not rest on the willingness of the Poles in America to return, for instance. The argument for the creation somewhere—preferably in the land historically associated with the national life of the Jew—of a Jewish state cannot be ridiculed out of existence by telling the story of the Rothschild who said that he believed in creating a Jewish nation in Palestine provided he could be its ambassador at the Court of St. James's.
From the nations in which they have been most oppressed and denied opportunities for self-expression there will be a sufficient exodus of willing and daring spirits to lay the secure foundation of a national organization. Doubtless those will be joined by thousands of idealists from the freer nations, drawn by the irresistible magnet of being permitted to participate in the restoration of the glory of Israel. Such a state, having no imperialistic ideals or dynastic ambitions, would not only tend to foster the splendid culture of a great people and give it historic continuity, but it would, in the very nature of things, elevate the status of every Jew, no matter where in civilization he may be found.
Some have doubted whether the restoration of the Jew in Palestine is practically realizable. Admitting the desirability, they have expressed the belief that, for reasons which lie deeply embedded in the culture of the Jew, he can never become a successful colonist. In particular, it is doubted whether any great body of Jewish people can be induced to settle upon the land as agriculturists. The Jew succeeded in a nomadic pastoral state, but there is no evidence of any large capacity to succeed in a settled agricultural country. Centuries of ghetto life under the compulsion to live within the Pale have developed a gregariousness among the Jews which many thoughtful observers and students have believed must be an insurmountable obstacle to the settlement of Palestine by the Jews. Unlike all other peoples who have come to this country, the Jews have shown no great inclination to adopt farming and settle upon the land. It has been necessary to create a great national organization for the purpose of inducing Jews to become agriculturists. This is probably due, in a very large part, to those restrictions which, in Russia and elsewhere, forced the Jewish people to live in ghettos and forbade them to become owners of land.
It is possibly, and even probably, true that the gregarian instincts and habits of the modern Jew make it difficult for him to adapt himself to our agrarian system. Our American agricultural life is characterized by a degree of isolation unknown in the Old World. For the farmer to have no neighbor within two or three miles, for days to pass without coming into contact with any of his fellows, is a commonplace experience. This terrible isolation and loneliness, with the accompanying cultural barrenness of the life, is probably more responsible than anything else for the increasing unwillingness of our American young men and young women to remain upon the land, for we, too, are becoming increasingly gregarious in our habits. The great agencies of modern civilization—the telephone, the daily newspaper, free rural postal delivery, and similar things —tend to modify the situation somewhat, but they do not go far enough. It is probably safe to predict that we shall be compelled, within a very short period of time, to so refashion our life as to make it possible for agriculture to grow up around villages, as in the Old World. Agricultural life need not, for the Jew, mean isolation and lack of companionship. It has not meant that in the old European civilization. The village, with its social life and conviviality, surrounded by farms, has provided the agricultural laborer in France and other European nations with abundant companionship; and in these villages there exists the possibility, at any rate, of bringing every cultural advantage of city life to the farm worker. I think that the Jew may be trusted to provide in Palestine some such solution for this problem.
The triumph of the Teutonic Empires would have made the restoration of Israel impossible. From the point of view of the Jew, therefore, the defeat of the Hohenzollern is to be desired above all else; and it is particularly to the interest of the Jewish proletariat. Here, as everywhere in history, we observe that whenever inequality and oppression become the lot of a people, the heaviest burden of suffering falls upon the proletariat. Even in Rumania the rich Jew could acquire, by open purchase or by bribery, some degree of immunity. At all times and in all places the rich have been able to bear tolerably well the most infamous and intolerable despotisms. There is not a Jewish girl, working in an American factory, whose interest would not be subserved by the new dignity and influence of her people inevitably resulting from the creation of a Jewish nation. It is a tragic thing that, seeing the great unfolding drama through the spectacles of romanticism, so large a part of our Jewish proletariat in America has hailed with loud acclaim the mad mysticism of the Bolsheviki—so ruinous to its own interests—and has been indifferent to the ousting of the Turk from Palestine and the declaration of the British government that in Palestine a Jewish state is again to be reared. It was this event that they should have greeted with hosannas; the other they might have well mourned in sackcloth and ashes.
Finally, we must always remember that the solution of the Jewish problem is as important to the non-Jew as to the Jew. To free the Jew from all inequality, discrimination, and oppression is to free the Gentile world from one of its gravest perils. So long as the plaintive cry of Israel, which every Jewish child hears from its mother's lips, is that Israel is a people without a country, wandering to and fro among the nations, so long will the inability of the Jew to recognize responsibility for the maintenance of any nation in which he may be found continue. It is not inexplicable that the Jewish proletariat here and everywhere has, to such a large degree, so readily accepted the doctrine that the workers had no country to defend. From the acceptance, as a matter of course, of the idea that the Jew has no nation to the acceptance of the idea that the worker has no nation is an easy transition for the Jewish proletarian. In some cases it may be suspected the transition is more apparent than real; so that, when he says he has no country, he is speaking really, though unconsciously, as a Jew rather than as a proletarian. Once a Jewish nation appears there will be a sense of nationality; that is, of responsibility for the maintenance and defense of a particular land, at no matter what sacrifice or cost, which will be the heritage of every Jew, whether he resides in that land or elsewhere. The voluntary enlistment of thousands of American Jews of Russian birth in the British army to assist in conquering Palestine clearly indicates this.
It is not too much to claim, I think, that, had there been a Jewish nation with a definite status among nations and a voice in the councils of nations, this America of ours would have found, in this great crisis, far less opposition to its war policy from the Jewish proletariat than it has found; that it would have received from that Jewish proletariat loyalty and service unexcelled by that of any section of our population. Jews have been ready to fight and die in the great revolutionary struggles for freedom. They are not cowards or slackers; they are not non-resistants. They have shown that they are brave and ready to die for an ideal. Germany's invasion of Russia after the peace agreement with the Bolshevik government caused thousands of young American Jews who had escaped the draft to offer to fight in defense of Russia and the Revolution. It is my profound conviction that, with the development of that civic psychology that can only come through responsibility for the well-being and direction of a nation, the Jew in America will be as ready and as zealous as any man to fight, and if need be, die, for the maintenance of our democracy—which is likewise his.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald