On Questions of Zionist Theory

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On Questions of Zionist Theory  (1905) 
by Ber Borochov

We must not wait.

The Jewish people has suffered so much that greater affliction is inconceivable. Regarded objectively, our situation today, compared with the suffering experienced by our forefathers, can almost be envied, and there is every reason to believe that as time goes by our troubles will diminish. This gives support to the optimists among us, who take a hopeful view of the future in their opposition to Zionist action that aims to bring about a radical change in our situation and to put an end to the Galut episode with all its achievements. These optimists, since they value these achievements, try to prove to us that there is no need to be alarmed by the slowness of progress, on which they pin rosy hopes.

Objectively speaking, our position is already assured in a number of respects. The Inquisition–it is safe to assume–will not be renewed. Nor will mass expulsions ever occur again. But can the same be said when the question is viewed subjectively? On the basis of numerous experiments, psychologists have laid down the so-called Weber-Fechner Law, according to which the intensity of a sensation increases as the logarithm of the stimulus. If we translate this law from the language of mathematics to the language of life, it means that sensation increases at a much slower rate than the changes that take place in the environment, that as time goes by the individual pays less and less attention to these changes. Therefore, the more one’s situation improves, the greater will be his demand for further improvement, and the longer will he have to wait to feel a real improvement in his environment that he regards as satisfactory. This explains the well-known fact that the most oppressed people are the least sensitive to their plight; they are content with their lot and only rarely complain. The surest way of making a slave dissatisfied and demanding is to alleviate the harshness of his lot. Some claim that our position has improved. I agree. But this very improvement has made us more sensitive: a reed of straw oppresses us more today than did the most savage torture rack in the past. The hostility of the environment, the restriction of civil rights, the pogroms, which in the past were facts of life we learned to live with, now strike us as horrible disasters. Our optimists fail to grasp this; for them progress has the brightness of the sun. But in reality, through the hazy glass of the Weber-Fechner Law, its light is becoming ever dimmer.

We have acquired more culture; we have lost our earlier faith in the world to come, in redemption by the Messiah, in our divine election–by virtue of which we allowed ourselves to look down on other nations, ignore their humiliating attitude, and regard it as conduct of creatures greatly inferior to us; hence they were unable, even by their most barbarous deeds, to upset our composure. One does not despair or lose his self-confidence just because he has been bitten by a dog. Today it is no longer a dog but ourselves who bite us, and his insults injure our honor. Formerly, religion and the ghetto constituted a wall that protected us against the enemy; but that protective wall has been undermined, and like all peoples of culture we have become sensitive to every affront to our rights, while externally our situation is much more difficult than theirs. Our optimists advise us to wait, to join forces with the progressive elements among the other nations, to help them in their struggle for the universal human ideal; they promise us and them victory over the reaction that oppresses us all.

But we Jews must not wait–and we Zionists cannot wait Some among us fear that in the course of time, as a result of our stay in the Galut and the destructive effects of progress, the Jews will disintegrate and lose their national selfhood and national distinctiveness. Others say that the persecutions will not cease and the forces threatening us will assault us again after a short interval–half a century at the most–when they will attack with even greater ferocity. Finally, there are those who, disregarding these apprehensions and dangers, think that this is the most opportune time for the Jews in their struggle for self-expression and national distinctiveness to pass from the purely passive resistance they have practiced for eighteen centuries to concrete, territorial creation. In any event, all of us regard our position in the Galut as unstable and our prospects gloomy, not only from a subjective viewpoint but even from an objective-historical one.

Be that as it may, it is our deep conviction that in the Galut there is no salvation for the Jewish people. We do not rely on progress; we know that its overpious proponents inflate its achievements out of all proportion. Progress is an important factor in the rapid development of technology, science, perhaps even of the arts, but certainly in the development of neurosis, hysteria, and prostitution. Of the moral progress of nations, of the end of the national egoism that is destroying–it is too soon about these. Progress is a two-edged sword. If the good angel in a man advances, the Satan within him advances too.

It is hard to say which is the more amazing in our optimists: the naiveté of their enthusiasm or the dullness of their perception. They continue to sing hymns of praise to progress at a time when "cultured" England is cruelly grabbing from the Boers their last possessions–to the thunder of cannon and the applause of all classes of the English people; when "cultured" America is guilty of wanton despoliation of the Negroes; when Germany is threatening the entire world with its arrogant militarism; when the strong nations are prepared to trample one another for a piece of land in Turkey or China; while the weak nations groan in the world of the strong, yet pass up no opportunity to steal from one another or to demonstrate their might to peoples even weaker than they are. Most important, however, is that no one has yet succeeded in proving that he is right in trusting in the saving power of progress and in its real value. The rhetoricians and the believers are naïve. It has not yet been proved that the historical process, the development of nations and society, is progress. Is it not improper, when no one has yet succeeded in convincing us that such a thing actually exists.

But let us assume that it is true that all of mankind–including inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego, the Fiji Islanders, the Japanese and the Kurds, and the anti-Semites of all varieties–will all be pacified and accept the peaceful reign of progress. But even you will not deny that such happiness cannot be attained without war and battled, you know that this war, which began some time ago, has cost and will cost mankind much blood and tears. What, then, is the price that we Jews will have to pay for it?

Let us take a small community, such as the Jews of Morocco. There are 300,000 Jews there, descendents of the exiles of Spain and Portugal in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, of the stock which gave to Judaism generations of distinguished personalities–scholars, poets, philosophers, and rabbis. A group of such superior descent deserves particular attention. But if the achievements of your progress must be attained by rivers of blood, by the degradation and torture of those Jews, is not the price of this boundlessly cruel idol of yours too high? For whom is the progress of Morocco desired? For those very Moroccans who drank the blood of the Jews with such lust in the pogroms of 1903 and who violently abused women and children? The scraps of information available from the press show that the Moroccans have proved beyond any doubt that no upheaval will take place among them without bringing catastrophe to the Jews.

Certainly, progress cannot pass Morocco by: European states have already laid their predatory hands on that primitive country. Is it conceivable that the achievements of civilization will not arouse the hostility of the Moroccan masses, who hate everything foreign or European? Will such a revolution not be the end of the Jews in that country? Will nationalist hatred not be directed against the defenseless Jews because it cannot be directed against the well-protected predators of Europe? And will the Moroccan authorities be able to prevent this bloodshed, even if they should want to come to the aid of the Jews? Will they even want to? Will they not be pleased to divert the national passions away from themselves to the line of least resistance? Remember that even during the civil war over the throne, the Jews served as an excellent lightening rod the moment popular resentment threatened to burst over the heads of the pretenders to the throne.

The same fate awaits the Jews of Persia and the other Eastern countries. These Jews will pay with their lives for the first steps of militant progress. Meanwhile, the Jews of the Moslem countries are sitting on a volcano, and those wise enough to foresee the future, who have joined the Zionist movement, are well aware of the horror of the situation. This is another reason why the Zionists cannot–have no right–to wait. Certainly, let all the nations enjoy the fruits of progress, but we do not wish to be their scapegoat. Even if we lave the Galut mankind will pay in blood and tears for every upheaval that occurs in its history, except that Jewish blood is not taken into account–it only serves as amusement for the raging mob. There are thousands of Moslem and hundreds of thousands of Jews; let progress be content with the thousands of Moslems.

It will be said that these fears are unreal. Such fears cannot arouse or give direction to a solid national movement, first because passing phenomena are liable to give rise to spontaneous eruptions rather than to conscious activity, and second, because a solid movement cannot expect quick success when immediate rescue from danger is called for. I agree with that entirely. I will go even further and say that the Jews in the past have been saved from graver dangers; they may have lost a tooth or an eye, but they have nevertheless been capable of a new and higher development. We are experienced in the tribulations of bondage. And it is not my intention, nor that of any thinking Zionist, to tie the need for the realization of our goal exclusively to the possibility of outbreaks of anti-Semitism. I trust I have shown how little good we are promised from this much-heralded progress. Now let us examine how our fate is affected by certain laws that operate in society.

One fundamental and practically unique impulse in the life of society is egoism. If, with the respect to the individual, there are grounds for arguing that man is not the miserly egoist depicted in certain ethical theories, the egoism of this group cannot be denied. For the benefit of the group, its members eschew personal gain and individual pleasure, conferring on the group’s interest a supreme moral imprimatur. The individual sacrifices himself for the good of the group, and in so doing nourishes the group’s crude lack of consideration. On the other hand, nothing is done in the life of the society that is not to the advantage of the dominant classes who are in full control and have the power to forbid or permit.

Aside from this, human society, by virtue of the iron laws of historical development, is divided into tribes, nationalities and nations, and that has consequently prepared the ground for dividing man’s attitude toward others in a striking manner: with respect to "ours," the laws ensure equality of duties–I may not coerce, deceive, or cause unpleasantness to "mine"–while the respect to others there are no limitations, everything goes: the crudest infringement of rights, the most deceitful betrayal. I do not mean to say that this unfair demarcation will exist forever, but no one can prove it is destined to change in the foreseeable future. For the time being it is a fact of life; although its force is gradually weakening, it still must be taken into account.

It is man’s nature to try to fit others to himself. This pure desire, which has nothing to do with the seeking of advantage, the desire to spread ideas, to impart feelings or ideals, is found in every person who related to his existence with any degree of religious feeling or awe, and who appreciates their value not for himself alone. A man scatters his spiritual treasures willingly, and in this respect often reveals a degree of generosity that borders on heroism. Those whose ideas are being persecuted, are prepared for any suffering and sacrifice that will provide them with victory. And those whose views already hold sway over the consciousness of the masses–even though they are incapable of attaining such spiritual heights–are zealous in making converts, and their generosity is tremendous.

But my advice is to avoid becoming enthusiastic about such generosity; for spiritual possessions are not expropriable, and thus not only do not perish from this prodigality but even increase and improve in the process of preaching. By letting you share in my faith I may be giving you much, but I am still not depriving myself of anything. This is not the case with material or earthly possessions, measurable or not. Here man is generally not at all a squanderer, and social groups are even less so. It follows that every group is ready and willing to assimilate outsiders so long as it does not thereby surrender anything of its own, but faced with sharing material possessions with outsiders, no social group has as yet proved itself capable of such generosity.

Let us examine the meaning of this ambition, so often encountered in history, on the part of some nations to assimilate others, and the national conflicts that result. Every living creature that wishes to live requires food to replace the energy lost in every motion. For this purpose, this body acquires–i.e. assimilates to itself–energy from without. And just as the living creature, striving to expand its sphere of independent life draws and assimilates from without whatever he can swallow, without distinguishing between nonorganic parts and compounds on the one hand, and animals like itself on the other–so it is with society.

Society, all of whose functions are designed to expand its patterns of life, imbibes energy both from the nonsocial area and from other national groups, and is limited only by its ability to conquer and incorporate them within its own flesh and blood. These foreign people have no importance in themselves for the society that assimilates them. All it requires of them is their possessions and functions. There have been groups, including some quite developed ones–not to mention tribes of ancient times–who would kill babies born with a defect that made it unlikely that they would ever be able to bring any benefit to the society. This was the practice in Sparta, for example. The direct assimilation of other peoples by swallowing up their possessions–their land and the culture that flourished there–is still the ambition of all peoples, even in our day. And it is not so long ago that nations also strove to assimilate the functions of weak groups by making slaves out of them, forcing them to serve without any hope of taking part in the division of the assets accumulated by the enslavers. For a contemporary example, it is enough to cite the minor fact that the enlightened Americans bar the gates of their land to immigrants who are ill or unable to work. There is no need to mention the base exploitation of the Indians by England.

Here we must take account of the distinction between two cases so different from one another that the widespread failure to distinguish between them is enough to account for the current confusion concerning this matter. There can be no comparison between the position of two nations that live in adjacent territories, and two nations one of which lives amidst the other, in the latter’s territory. In the first instance, the stronger of the two will strive to assimilate directly the possessions of the members of the other, in the latter’s territory. In the first instance, the stronger of the two will strive to assimilate directly the possessions of the members of the other, and where possible, their functions as well. In the past this was done quite simply by wiping out the members of the second nation completely, or else by enslaving them, taking their property as a matter of course. In our time, international relations having become more complex, this method cannot be adopted. The effort is therefore made to assimilate the foreign country, and the cultural assets it has developed indirectly, by assimilating the population dwelling in it. Precisely the same objectives now being sought by German or Magyar assimilation of border areas would have been achieved in an earlier day by more simple, direct, and efficient methods.

This clearly proves that no nation is interested in assimilating another without good reason. The assimilation of foreigners is actually in itself a most unpleasant business, and hence also undesirable. New people mean new candidates for benefits from the accumulated public assets, new hands hungrily stretched out for a share of the common loaf of bread. In order for a nation to desire the assimilation of another social group, it must first see in it something so valuable and attractive as to make it worthwhile despite all the inconvenience of including new partners in the distribution of the assets.

Today the functions performed by the foreign can no longer constitute such an attractive commodity. Increasing recognition of the freedom and rights of the individual proves that the nature of social relations in our time is making the exploitation of someone else’s toil by compulsion quite superfluous and even harmful. Society now requires only free workers, and these are available everywhere and in whatever quantity required, i.e. there is no longer need of the functions of the foreigner. Hence, if even today we witness the deliberate assimilation of a social group, it can only be fore the sake of its wealth. For a nation to permit a foreign people to share in its unexpropriable spiritual assets, to graft onto its language, ideals, world-view, laws, and customs without thereby thereby giving up anything tangible of its own, and yet to be able to do as it pleases with the expropriable material possessions of the foreign people–this is an extremely worthwhile exchange, which is still not renounced by nations in our day.

It should be noted that even though social bodies also act on the pleasure-seeking impulse, they do not reveal very farsighted reasoning in this matter. The gratifying hope at the time of assimilation is generally something like this: one day, when we succeed in getting the owners of the desired wealth to adapt themselves to such a degree that they no longer resist the policy of conquest, we shall be able to seize this wealth by force and stop bothering with this expensive business of assimilation. The trouble is that as the process of assimilation, which was at first only a means, turns into an end in itself–since opposition intensifies the ambition–the assimilators no longer think of the ultimate benefit. Assimilation becomes a chimera that lives by its own special power, the supreme mission of the ruling groups, and gives rise to such tension and waste of energy that all the foreign wealth is not worth the effort. Therefore discernable men among cultured nations, who have not confused ends and means, have already pointed out that a policy of assimilation is unlikely to yield any benefit. It is safe to assume that as awareness of this fact spreads and the failures of this policy become more apparent, the idea of assimilation will eventually die out, and nations will renounce the ambition to control other peoples’ property.

If the assimilation of peoples who live on their own land and have accumulated certain cultural assets has already become unprofitable and is soon likely to become undesirable, the assimilation of a people that is soon likely to become undesirable, the assimilation of a people that lives of the land of strangers, that possesses no material or cultural assets of its own, can certainly not be of use to anyone. We know, for instance, that American society rejects the Negroes, who in turn would give all they have for the chance of assimilating among the Whites, and dreams of ways of changing the color of their skin. We know that this was the attitude of the Spartans to the Helots and the Indians to the pariahs. If, for example, we see the English and French dwelling in peace in Canada, it is only because they are equal in numbers and are both equally rooted in the land.

As for us, the Jews, other people have willingly let us share their cultural possessions, so long as this sharing did not mean confiscation, so long as this sharing did not raise us from our degraded position. Our opposition to assimilation and the enthusiasm of the priests to make converts brought cruel persecution upon us. Our stiff-necked attitude aroused the stubbornness of our enemies, who longed to assimilate us within them. To convert Jews to Christianity was often regarded by priests as a sacred duty, to the point where they momentarily forgot what was best for themselves. Thus, in order to attract Jews to embrace Christianity they would grant apostates special privileges. Good Christians, in order to draw Jews unto the fold, even agreed to set aside part of their material assets for apostates. But this was only for appearance’s sake. Who is so naïve as to believe seriously that the privilege promised to individual converts would be granted to Jews as a whole if they should come in large numbers to seek refuge in the sake of Christianity? Most likely they would be expected to content themselves with having acquired eternal life in the world to come; in this world they would no doubt remain the same dirty Jews, with the addition of the new epithet, apostates.

Is not our assertion borne out by the attitude toward the Marranos in Spain and their persecution by the Inquisition? When Jews were converted individually it was customary to grant them favors for their act, and full confidence was placed in them. Many became pillars of the Catholic Church, and by their false charges against Judaism they brought more affliction to the Jews than anyone else. But when the Jews of Spain began to convert to Christianity in their tens of thousands, the attitude of the Catholic clergy toward the Marranos underwent a profound change. The converts were subjected to the closest scrutiny because of the suspicion that they were still loyal to their former religion. Naturally this only served to fan the spark of faith in the religion of their forefathers that still glowed in their hearts, and the Marranos began secretly and even openly to observe Jewish customs.

This by no means displeased the fanatical priests, for one does not persecute only that which is undesirable. On the contrary, the Inquisitors were pleased with the Marranos’ reaction, for persecution by the Inquisitors brought the authorities tremendous wealth by expropriating the suspects’ property. For who were the main victims of the persecutors but the rich and the wellborn, from whose wealth they could benefit. In short, those at first so keen on assimilating us now had second thoughts and hastened to seize those earthly assets they had granted us so liberally as a supplement to our heavenly salvation, which had not cost them anything.

It will be said that my explanation is somewhat exaggerated, that the clergy in those days used to strangle all heretics and expropriate their property. But what explains this wholesale suspicion of the Jewish converts if not their prior mistrust of the Jews generally, simply because they were strangers? What explains the zeal of the Inquisition’s interrogations if not the desire to recover the property the Church had lost when, in a moment of religious enthusiasm, it presented it to the Jews? If it is recalled that most of the heretics in Spain were Jews and Moors who had been converted to Christianity–all foreigners–then perhaps this explanation will be accepted after all. They have always treated us like strangers. We have never been seen as members of another people but as strangers, so small in number that our very weakness and vulnerability served as a stimulus to various kinds of persecution and acts of violence, and so numerous that we became a thorn in the flesh of the people of the land, always the object of its animus and awaiting its next blow. The vulgar person is by nature hostile to anything foreign. He never distinguishes between fear and distrust on the one hand and hatred and contempt on the other. All these feelings fuse within him into one tight bundle.

What is foreign is not regular, so it arouses suspicion–and for the vulgar this means hatred. What is foreign is strange and therefore ridiculous, which to the vulgar means deserving to be treated with contempt and cruelty. What is foreign is mysterious and hence potentially dangerous, which to the vulgar means an enemy and a bearer of destruction. So the threat implicit in the existence of the foreigner must be repelled. And it is not surprising that although the weak individual foreigner encounters only an attitude of curiosity mixed with suspicion and sometimes even sympathy for his plight–as proved by the ancient custom of showing hospitality to the stranger–the moment foreigners become a dangerous force–and they need not be very numerous to be regarded so–they gradually become the object of great suspicion and of the most burning hatred. The dominant group frightfully exaggerates their numbers and power.

Thus, for example, the simple Russian peasant believes in all earnestness that, "the zhidi ["Yid"; derogatory Russian term for Jews] are tremendously greater in number than we are," and that all the treasures of the world are hidden among the zhidi, and he listens attentively to all sorts of fabrications about the cunning, the machinations, and the power of the Jews. The fear of Jewish plots in the abstract does not interfere with recognizing very well that the Jew of flesh and blood is weak and defenseless, which makes it possible to maltreat him at will. The primordial and elemental fear of the stranger is supplemented by the hatred of foreigners who conspire to take part of the fat of the land. This is why the Jews are tolerated only where their activity is needed. This is also the reason why the Jews have never been permitted to assimilate naturally the way two people fuse, who are of equal vitality, who live in one territory, cannot oppress one another, and who do not regard the weakness of the other as an excuse to enslave him. If all the Jews were to convert to Christianity their plight would become even worse. This would intensify the resentment against foreigners who want to penetrate what is "ours."

We see, then, that there is no comparison between the attitude prevailing between two peoples who live in contiguous territories and the attitude of an indigenous people to a foreign group, conspicuous but weak, who lives among it. In the former case, the one strives to assimilate his neighbor if he sees no other way of gaining control of his possessions, while the other opposes the assimilatory designs of the first. In the latter case, the hatred that is engendered in the indigenous people when a foreign mass penetrates it invariably repels the foreigner and prevents him from assimilating even if he should desire to do so. So long as the foreigner joins only to benefit from the host’s unexpropriable assets, no one objects, and sometimes he is even being encouraged; as far as religion is concerned, it may even be forced upon him. But once there develops a threat of equalizing the foreigner’s rights with those of the dominant group, pressure against this dangerous tendency begins. Here too the shortsightedness of social egoism is revealed. Because of its zealous preoccupation with ensuring that not a single crumb of "mine" should fall into the hands of the foreigner–who possesses no rights and who may rightly be persecuted–the ruling class completely ignores the fact that if it were to draw the foreigner in, he would become a most beneficial element. Hostility toward strangers and all related manifestations of violence are obviously harmful to the perpetrators, for they corrupt the indigenous people and educate them to lawlessness.

Furthermore, the foreigners manage, in one way or another, to link themselves to the interests of the natives since, being cut off from the land, they could not survive for a moment without such ties. Hence, all the disturbances directed against the foreigners have an ill effect on the natives although to a lesser degree. This is why discerning persons in the society, who always oppose policies of forced fusion of groups living an adjacent territories and who preach nonintervention, regard it as their duty to aid in the assimilation of foreign groups living amidst their own society, and raise their voice against the hostile expulsion of foreigners, which is practiced by most of the society. However much they may try to conceal it from themselves and from others, their attitude toward the foreigners in their land is always one of expediency: the guiding principle is the advantage to the dominant people and, by the same token, a disregard for the natural needs of the foreign people. Members of the progressive classes of society well understand that foreigners can perform valuable functions, but the foreigners’ personality is not their affair, and they treat them as animals. In order to exploit our talents they want to assimilate us and dissolve us among their masses.

In the past, even these measures were unnecessary: progressive rulers, who recognized the benefit of Jewish activity, would grant the Jews special privileges in return for the performance of these functions and would make no effort to bring about their assimilation. This was the case, for example, with the privileges granted to the Jews by Casimir the Great. He opened wide the gates of commerce and finance and ensured them freedom of religion and safety of life and property, but at the same time isolated them completely from any external influence and removed them from Poland’s political life. This treatment was appropriate to the economic positions of the Jews and the peoples about them. In that period the Jews functioned as middlemen and artisans. The surrounding society had no use for Jewish labor developed outside the guilds; its consumers were the Jews themselves. But commerce was then an important factor in the economic development of Europe. Farsighted kings and princes often even facilitated matters for the Jews in the performance of their functions; but the shortsighted masses, the tyrannical clergy, and the ignorant nobility, although they benefited from the services of the Jewish merchants and moneylenders, were still unable to overcome their hatred for the Jews and harassed them as much as they could.

The position of the Jews was then much more alarming than it is today, but at least they stood on firm economic ground: they were useful, they promoted the factors from which present-day capitalism and the bourgeoisie developed. The were by no means the poor, unfortunate multitude they are today. And even if they were eventually despoiled, they had the opportunity of arising and shaking off their degradation, because there was no one else to perform their unique economic functions. When it happened that the Jews were banished from a country that had not yet managed, by virtue of Jewish activities, to reach a stage of development that would enable it to do without them–i.e., where a vigorous and capable, commercial bourgeoisie had not yet arisen–the expulsion of the Jews caused the country’s decline, as occurred in Spain.

As for the banished Jews, the way was still open to countries that were already in need of middlemen but had not yet produced such a class from among their own people. The trend of Jewish expulsions in the Middle Ages was from Western to Eastern Europe. Here the course of capitalism overtook that of the Galut. Where the Jews had previously been of use they eventually became altogether superfluous. But the authorities did not wait until that stage was reached; they hastened to expel the Jews while the time was ripe, when the local bourgeoisie that was competing with the Jews was beginning to stand on its own feet.

The expulsions as such were no innovation in the Galut process, which was an historical necessity. If the Jews had not been expelled then, they would have been ousted from their economic position eventually, since, being prevented from owning land, they had no chance of competing with the natives and would sooner or later have emigrated from those countries. Only the expulsion from Spain was an exception to this rule, accomplishing at a very early stage what was bound to occur eventually–but this deviation was caused by special circumstances which need not be explored here. Such crude expulsions of masses of Jews are out of the question today. Consequently, the anti-Semitic society and government in countries where the Jews have become superfluous do not wait until they have become totally redundant, but hasten to drive them out of the country. Such a policy in Rumania led to a large-scale Jewish exodus.

Our economic position has always been distressingly dependent on that of the peoples among whom we live. The reason for this is that the economic life of society is always based on its relation to nature; only through a struggle with nature can man obtain the materials and means necessary for his survival. The basis of every society is the agricultural class. This truth is valid independently of the theory of the Physiocrats. Any social group that has no such basis is compelled to form strong ties with other groups who are based on the land, and from whom it can obtain agricultural products. The entire life and fate of the Jews in the Galut, long ago cut-off from the land and with no agricultural class, depend entirely on finding a society which, because it needs the services of the Jews, will give them in return agricultural products, cattle, or manufactured goods.

But the peoples who have never needed us and those who have ceased to need us will try–as we now see–to drive us away by means of restrictive laws or, if humane feelings rule out legal discrimination, will destroy us by a persistent boycott; at best, competition will put an end to the Jews. For even where the Jews are numerous, only a few can become big capitalists while the rest, the middle and lower middle classes, cannot withstand the competition of the local bourgeoisie, whose strength lies in its land and its blood-ties with the rest of the population. At present there is hardly a need for us anywhere. We have become superfluous. There can be only one fate in store for us–complete economic degeneration–and consequently physical and cultural degeneration.

In our generation the signs of the degeneration process are already discernable in terrifying forms. Prostitution has made its appearance among us. Poverty has reached unparalleled proportions. The slightest economic tremor ejects us by the thousands from our petty bourgeoisie position into the arms of the lumplenproletariat, into the desperate poverty of the sans-culottes. Furthermore, most of the Jews are concentrated in countries where capitalism did not develop organically and steadily, but suddenly swept the whole economy into its whirling vortex: Russia, Galicia, and Rumania were sucked into the process of industrial capitalism by the tempest of inevitability. This stunned everyone, but especially the Jews, who possessed no land and were economically weak.

The extent to which we are hanging in a vacuum can easily be seen from the following example. Ask an old Jewish merchant whether he has not noticed that the number of his Christian customers has declined; his answer will be that he used to deal mainly with Christians and now deals only with Jews. Has he not noticed that lately the Jews are resorting to credit, and that on this basis they are making a living from one another and not from the Christians? You will see that the structure of Jewish commerce is built on the sand of perpetual reciprocal credit.

The Christians already have merchants of their own to whom they turn more readily than to the Jews. The Jews used to buy agricultural products, bread, cattle, iron, and the like from the local populace, and would pay for them in cash, using the money they had earned from them through trade and interest. With what will they pay the Gentile now, if he does not buy from them at all? It can only be from past savings, which of course are gradually decreasing. The possibility of making up the difference with income from the surrounding populace is diminishing, with the result that Jews who have not managed to acquire considerable property will suffer utter impoverishment.

We are foreigners, and nowhere in the world do we possess the social power that could make us masters of our fate. We are cut off from nature and have no agriculture. All this has left us hovering in the air. Our history in the Galut has never been shaped by our own powers; our fate has always depended on external ties. Can progress in the Galut redeem us from this dependence and insecurity? So land as Jew-hatred exists, hatred of us as strangers, progress will only make our position more sensitive, more passive; the difficulty of our position, subjectively, will become intolerable. Jew-hatred could conceivably come to an end as a result of a thorough social revolution, or through gradual atrophy. Many of our optimists think that the roots of Jew-hatred lie in the economic forces of the times and that if there is a basic reform of the existing social order, Jew-hatred will disappear.

If I could permit myself to digress here and examine all the fundamental principles of systematic Zionist thought–something I cannot do in the limits set for this essay–it could be proved, first, that Jew hatred does not stem from economic factors but from this sociopsychological sphere; that its roots lie in certain forces that necessarily operate in every society. Second, the Jews are not exploited, nor is it the alleged exploitation practiced by the Jews that has aroused this hatred. Competition is not the explanation of anti-Semitism, which often manifests itself most violently precisely among those social classes not even in the position of competing with us–such as peasants, laborers, or clerks. Even national competition can explain nothing in this case, since the Jews have no basis for competing. Third, basic changes in the social system can strike directly at legal institutions but not at human feelings, among which Jew-hatred is numbered. And feelings, when deprived by the revolution of legal institutions which formerly embodied them, will establish new institutions for their needs. Fourth, the social revolution, on which our optimists pin their hopes, will be a long time in coming, if at all. Finally, Jew-hatred as an independent feeling or evil spirit–that is, a feeling long-freed from any solid reason or excuse–which manifests itself as hatred for the Jew simply because he is a Jew, can be eliminated only in the course of protracted, peaceful social development atrophying for lack of nourishment as, with society’s progress, its causes gradually disappear.

If we wait for redemption we shall wait for a very long time, so long that in the meantime we might have created not one but several Jewish states. In the meantime we shall become completely superfluous, and the reserves on which we have been subsisting until now will have been consumed. On the other hand, it is no secret that in the countries still open to us, such as the United States and England, we have already become too conspicuous, and there are places there were our presence arouses a burning Jew-hatred. Our poverty-stricken masses are already so crowded in the ghetto that they are compelled to rebuff without mercy all the new immigrants who arrive. Restrictions are already being placed on our entry to those countries, and soon they will be barred to us completely. The desire to emigrate has grown under the pressure of the stifling atmosphere in the Pale of Settlement, but new outlets for the flow of emigration have not yet opened up. For who is willing to take in the homeless and impoverished members of a foreign nation, who are not even able to do productive labor?

The Zionists wish to exploit the force of this emigration to achieve their objectives, but until Zionism begins to be realized in concrete terms, the Jews have nowhere to turn. Some try to comfort us by saying that the Pale of Settlement may soon be abolished. The difficulty is–where can we go from there? There are enough merchants in Greater Russia without us, and there are hosts of unemployed workers. Moreover, the attitude of the population there toward the Jews is more hostile than in the Pale of Settlement. This is known to anyone who is familiar with the peasants’ attitude toward the Jews in the Pale; it is also known that they generally constitute the bulk of the pogrom mobs. If these peasants hate us in our Pale of Settlement, why should they hate us less in their own area of settlement? Even assuming that in Greater Russia we are left alone initially and treated humanely, will the proportion of the Jewish population change from what it is today?

Is there such a great difference between the conspicuousness of 5 million Jews among a population of 100 million in all of Russia? It should be remembered that the Jews will continue to live only in cities. This will attract attention to them both among the city-dwellers and the villagers, exactly as now occurs in the Pale of Settlement. Was there no Jew-hatred in Greater Russia before the Jews were enclosed in the Pale? Were there not cruel persecutions in Nizhniy Novgorod? Will not professional inciters of Jew-hatred make their appearance and create around the Jews a poisonous atmosphere, ostracism, and a systemic exclusion from all fields of endeavor? In what way does Greater Russia hold out greater blessings for the Jews than Galicia or the United States? Briefly, perhaps the abolition of the Pal would temporarily relieve the position of some Jewish groups, but it would extend the Jewish question to a much greater area without getting to the root of the matter. The root is in the lack of the land, the conspicuous of the mass of foreigners that catches the eye of the local populace, the fate of becoming superfluous, and of sinking into an abyss of rootlessness and grinding poverty.

For the bulk of Jewry, which is crowded together in Russia and Galicia, the present situation is critical; if deliverance does not come now it will perish, for no legal concessions can stop the inevitable process of historical necessity. Just as in the Middle Ages there were no legal restrictions or persecutions except those resulting from the internal and irresistible necessity of the Galut, which brought capitalism victorious on the heels of the Jews, so today it would be shortsighted to assume that the "temporary laws" of the Pale of Settlement and the like are simply the doing of governments that dislike the Jews.

Here as in the Middle Ages, considerations of what was advantageous to the state emerged, and merely anticipated and forced what would have come about sooner or later of itself, more gradually and without the assistance of legal restrictions, by virtue of historical necessity. From this standpoint, by recognizing the inner law operating in the Galut–which I have only sketched here in broad outline–we shall also understand that the Galut is drawing to an end. And by virtue of that same irresistible necessity we shall also understand that the law that determines our fate obliges us to take action that will speed the end of the Galut. We must hasten its death, and not prolong the death throes by a struggle to ease the conditions of Jews in the Diaspora, by letting ourselves be drawn after the mirage of emancipation, of legal amelioration, and of progress.

This work is in the public domain in countries where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less.
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It is not necessarily in the public domain in the United States if published from 1923 to 1977. For a US-applicable version, check {{PD-1996}} and {{PD-URAA-same-year}} for relevant use.