Jews and Russians before the First World War: The Growing Awareness
In Russia—for another ten years it escaped its ruin—the best minds among the Russians and the Jews had had time to look back and evaluate from different points of view the essence of our common life, to seriously consider the question of culture and national destiny.
The Jewish people made its way through an ever‐changing present by dragging behind it the tail of a comet of three thousand years of diaspora, without ever losing consciousness of being “a nation without language nor territory, but with its own laws” (Salomon Lourie), preserving its difference and its specificity by the force of its religious and national tension—in the name of a superior, meta‐historical Providence. Have the Jews of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries sought to identify with the peoples who surrounded them, to blend into them? It was certainly the Jews of Russia who, longer than their other co‐religionists, had remained in the core of isolation, concentrated on their religious life and conscience. But, from the end of the nineteenth century, it was precisely this Jewish community in Russia that began to grow stronger, to flourish, and now “the whole history of the Jewish community in the modern age was placed under the sign of Russian Jewry”, which also manifested “a sharp sense of the movement of History.”1
For their part, the Russian thinkers were perplexed by the particularism of the Jews. And for them, in the nineteenth century, the question was how to overcome it. Vladimir Solovyov, who expressed deep sympathy for the Jews, proposed to do so by the love of the Russians towards the Jews.
Before him, Dostoyevsky had noticed the disproportionate fury provoked by his remarks, certainly offensive but very scarce, about the Jewish people: “This fury is a striking testimony to the way the Jews themselves regard the Russians… and that, in the motives of our differences with the Jews, it is perhaps not only the Russian people who bears all the responsibility, but that these motives, obviously, have accumulated on both sides, and it cannot be said on which side there is the most.”2
From this same end of the nineteenth century, Teitel reports the following observation: “The Jews are in their majority materialists. Strong in them is the aspiration to acquire material goods. But what contempt for these material goods whenever it comes to the inner ‘I’, to national dignity! Why, in fact, the mass of Jewish youth—who has completely turned away from religious practice, which often does not even speak its mother tongue—why did this mass, if only for the sake of form, not convert to Orthodoxy, which would have opened to it wide the doors of all the universities and would have given it access to all the goods of the earth?” Even the thirst for knowledge was not enough, while “science, superior knowledge was held by them in higher esteem than fortune.” What held them back was the concern not to abandon their co‐religionists in need. (He also adds that going to Europe to study was not a good solution either: “Jewish students felt very uncomfortable in the West… The German Jew considered them undesirable, insecure people, noisy, disorderly,”; and this attitude was not only that of the German Jews, “the French and Swiss Jews were no exception.”3
As for D. Pasmanik, he also mentioned this category of Jews converted under duress, who felt only more resentment towards the power and could only oppose it. (From 1905, conversion was facilitated: it was no longer necessary to go to orthodoxy, it was enough to become a Christian, and Protestantism was more acceptable to many Jews. In 1905 was also repealed the prohibition to return to Judaism.4)
Another writer bitterly concluded, in 1924, that in the last decades preceding the revolution it was not only “the Russian government… which definitely ranked the Jewish people among the enemies of the country”, but “even worse, it was a lot of Jewish politicians who ranked themselves among these enemies, radicalising their position and ceasing to differentiate between the ‘government’ and the fatherland, that is, Russia… The indifference of the Jewish masses and their leaders to the destiny of Great Russia was a fatal political error.”5
Of course, like any social process, this—and, moreover, in a context as diverse and mobile as the Jewish milieu—did not take place linearly, it was split; in the hearts of many educated Jews, it provoked rifts. On the one hand, “belonging to the Jewish people confers a specific position in the whole of the Russian milieu.”6 But to observe immediately a “remarkable ambivalence: the traditional sentimental attachment of many Jews to the surrounding Russian world, their rootedness in this world, and at the same time an intellectual rejection, a refusal across the board. Affection for an abhorred world.”7
This approach so painfully ambivalent could not fail to lead to equally painfully ambivalent results. And when I. V. Hessen, in an intervention in the second Duma in March 1907, after having denied that the revolution was still in its phase of rising violence, thus denying right‐wing parties the right to arise as defenders of the culture against anarchy, exclaimed: “We who are teachers, doctors, lawyers, statisticians, literary men, would we be the enemies of culture? Who will believe you, gentlemen?”—They shouted from the benches of the right: “You are the enemies of Russian culture, not of Jewish culture!”8 Enemies, of course not, why go so far, but—as the Russian party pointed out—are you really, unreservedly, our friends? The rapprochement was made difficult precisely by this: how could these brilliant advocates, professors and doctors not have in their heart of hearts primarily Jewish sympathies? Could they feel, entirely and unreservedly, Russian by spirit? Hence the problem was even more complicated. Were they able to take to heart the interests of the Russian State in their full scope and depth?
During this same singular period, we see on the one hand that the Jewish middle classes make a very clear choice to give secular education to their children in the Russian language, and on the other there is the development of publications in Yiddish—and comes into use the term “Yiddishism”: that the Jews remain Jewish, that they do not assimilate.
There was still a path to assimilation, doubtlessly marginal, but not negligible: that of mixed marriages. And also a current of superficial assimilation consisting in adapting artificial pseudonyms to the Russian way. (And who did this most often?! The great sugar producers of Kiev “Dobry”*, “Babushkin”**, prosecuted during the war for agreement with the enemy. The editor “Iasny”*** that even the newspaper of constitutional‐democrat orientation Retch called an “avid speculator”, an “unscrupulous shark.”9 Or the future Bolshevik D. Goldenbach, who regarded “all of Russia as a country without worth” but disguised himself as “Riazanov” to bother the readers with his Marxist theoretician ratiocinations until his arrest in 1937.)
And it was precisely during these decades, and especially in Russia, that Zionism developed. The Zionists were ironical about those who wanted to assimilate, who imagined that the fate of the Jews of Russia was indissolubly linked to the destiny of Russia itself.
And then, we must turn first to Vl. Jabotinsky, a brilliant and original essayist, who was brought, in the years preceding the revolution, to express not only his rejection of Russia but also his despair. Jabotinsky considered that Russia was nothing more than a halt for the Jews on their historical journey and that it was necessary to hit the road—to Palestine.
Passion ignited his words: it is not with the Russian people that we are in contact, we learn to know it through its culture, “mainly through its writers…, through the highest, the purest manifestations of the Russian spirit,”—and this appreciation, we transpose it to the whole of the Russian world. “Many of us, born of the Jewish intelligentsia, love the Russian culture with a maddening and degrading love… with the degrading love of swine keepers for a queen.” As for the Jewish world, we discover it through the baseness and ugliness of everyday life.10
He is merciless towards those who seek to assimilate. “Many of the servile habits that developed in our psychology as our intelligentsia became russified,” “have ruined the hope or the desire to keep Jewishness intact, and lead to its disappearance.” The average Jewish intellectual forgets himself: it is better not to pronounce the word “Jew”, “the times are no longer about that”; we are afraid to write: “we the Jews”, but we write: “we the Russians” and even: “we the Russkoffs”. “The Jew can occupy a prominent place in Russian society, but he will always remain a second class Russian,” and this, all the more so because he retains a specific ‘inclination of the soul’.”—We are witnessing an epidemic of baptisms for interest, sometimes for stakes far more petty than obtaining a diploma. “The thirty pennies for equal rights…” When abjuring our faith, strip yourself also of our nationality.11
The situation of the Jews in Russia—and not at any time, but precisely after the years 1905‒1906—seemed to him desperately gloomy: “The objective reality, that is, the fact of living abroad, has turned itself against our people today, and we are weak and helpless.”—“Already in the past we knew we were surrounded by enemies”; “this prison” (Russia), “a pack of dogs”; “the body lying, covered with the wounds of the Jewish people of Russia, tracked, surrounded by enemies and defenceless”; “six million human beings swarming in a deep pit…, a slow torture, a pogrom that does not end”; and even, according to him, “newspapers financed by Jewish funds” do not defend the Jews “in these times of unprecedented persecution.” At the end of 1911, he wrote: “For several years now the Jews of Russia have been crammed on the bench of the accused”, despite the fact we are not revolutionaries, that “we have not sold Russia to the Japanese” and that we are not Azefs* or Bogrovs**”; and in connection with Bogrov: “This unfortunate young man—he was what he was—, at the hour of such an admirable death[!], was booed by a dozen brutes from the cesspool of the Kievian Black Hundreds, come to ensure that the execution had indeed taken place.”12
And, returning again and again to the Jewish community itself: “Today we are culturally deprived, as at the bottom of a slum, of an obscure impasse.”—“What we suffer above all is contempt for ourselves; what we need above all is to respect ourselves… The study of Jewishness must become for us the central discipline… Jewish culture is now the only plank of salvation for us.”13
All of this, we can, yes, we can understand it, share it. (And we, Russians, can do it, especially today, at the end of the twentieth century.)
It does not condemn those who, in the past, have campaigned for assimilation: in the course of History “there are times when assimilation is undeniably desirable, when it represents a necessary stage of progress.” This was the case after the sixties of the nineteenth century, when the Jewish intelligentsia was still in its embryonic state, beginning to adapt to the surrounding environment, to a culture that had reached maturity. At that time, assimilation did not mean “denying the Jewish people, but on the contrary, taking the first step on the road to autonomous national activity, taking a first step towards renewal and rebirth of the nation.” It was necessary to “assimilate what was foreign to us in order to be able to develop with new energy what was our own.” But half a century later, many radical transformations took place both inside and outside the Jewish world. The desire to appropriate universal knowledge has become widespread as never before. And it is then, now, that must be inculcated to the younger generations the Jewish principles. It is now that there is a threat of an irremediable dilution in the foreign environment: “There is no day that passes in which our sons do not leave us” and “do not become strangers to us”; “enlightened by the Enlightenment, our children serve all the peoples of the Earth, except ours; no one is there to work for the Jewish cause.” “The world around us is too magnificent, too spacious and too rich”—we cannot admit that it diverts Jewish youth from “the ugliness of the daily existence of the Jews… The deepening of national values of Jewishness must become the main axis… of Jewish education.”—“Only the bond of solidarity allows a nation to hold” (we ourselves would need it!—A. S.), while denial slows down the struggle for the right of the Jews: one imagines that there is a way out, and “we leave… lately… in compact masses, with lightness and cynicism.”14
Then, letting himself be carried away: “The royal spirit [of Israel] in all its power, its tragic history in all its grandiose magnificence…” “Who are we to justify ourselves before them? Who are they to demand accountability?”15
The latter formula, we can also respect it fully. But under the condition of reciprocity. Especially since it is not up to any nation or religion to judge another.
The calls to return to Jewish roots did not remain unheeded in those years. In Saint Petersburg, before the revolution, “we could note in the circles of the Russo‐Jewish intelligentsia a very great interest in Jewish history.”16 In 1908, the Jewish Historical‐Ethnographic Commission expanded into a Jewish Historical‐Ethnographic Society,17 headed by M. Winaver. It worked actively and efficiently to collect the archives on the history and ethnography of the Jews of Russia and Poland—nothing comparable was established by Jewish historical science in the West. The magazine The Jewish Past, led by S. Dubnov, then was created.18 At the same time began the publication of the Jewish Encyclopædia in sixteen volumes (which we use extensively in this study), and the History of the Jewish People in fifteen volumes. It is true that in the last volume of the Jewish Encyclopædia, its editors complain that “the elite of the Jewish intelligentsia has shown its indifference to the cultural issues raised by this Encyclopædia,” devoting itself exclusively to the struggle for the equality—all formal—of rights for the Jews.19
Meanwhile, on the contrary, in other minds and other Jewish hearts there was a growing conviction that the future of the Jews of Russia was indissolubly linked to that of Russia. Although “scattered over an immense territory and among a foreign world…, the Russian Jewish community had and was conscious of being a unique whole. Because unique was the environment that surrounded us…, unique its culture… This unique culture, we absorbed it throughout the whole country.”20
“The Jews of Russia have always been able to align their own interests to those of all the Russian people. And this did not come from any nobility of character or a sense of gratitude, but from a perception of historical realities.” Open controversy with Jabotinsky: “Russia is not, for the millions of Jews who populate it, a step among others on the historical path of the wandering Jew… The contribution of Russian Jews to the international Jewish community has been and will be the most significant. There is no salvation for us without Russia, as there is no salvation for Russia without us.”21
This interdependence is affirmed even more categorically by the deputy of the second and third Dumas, O. I. Pergament: “No improvement of the internal situation of Russia ‘is possible without the simultaneous enfranchisement of the Jews from the yoke of inequality’.”22
And there, one cannot ignore the exceptional personality of the jurist G. B. Sliosberg: among the Jews he was one of those who, for decades, had the closest relations with the Russian State, sometimes as Deputy to the Principal Secretary of the Senate, sometimes as a consultant to the Ministry of the Interior, but to whom many Jews reproached his habit of asking the authorities for rights for the Jews, when the time had come demand them. He writes in his memoirs: “From childhood, I have become accustomed to consider myself above all as a Jew. But from the beginning of my conscious life I also felt like a son of Russia… Being a good Jew does not mean that one is not a good Russian citizen.”23—“In our work, we were not obliged to overcome the obstacles encountered at every step by the Jews of Poland because of the Polish authorities… In the Russian political and administrative system, we Jews did not represent a foreign element, insofar as, in Russia, cohabited many nationalities. The cultural interests of Russia did not conflict in any way with the cultural interests of the Jewish community. These two cultures were somewhat complementary.”24 He even added this somewhat humorous remark: the legislation on Jews was so confusing and contradictory that in the 90s, “it was necessary to create a specific jurisprudence for the Jews using purely Talmudic methods.”25
And again, in a higher register: “The easing of the national yoke which has been felt in recent years, shortly before Russia entered a tragic period in its history, bore in the hearts of all Russian Jews the hope that the Russian Jewish consciousness would gradually take a creative path, that of reconciling the Jewish and Russian aspects in the synthesis of a higher unity.”26
And can we forget that, among the seven authors of the incomparable Milestones*, three were Jews: M. O. Gershenzon, A. S. Izgoev‐Lande, and S. L. Frank?
But there was reciprocity: in the decades preceding the revolution, the Jews benefited from the massive and unanimous support of progressive circles. Perhaps the amplitude of this support is due to a context of bullying and pogroms, but it has never been so complete in any other country (and perhaps never in all the past centuries). Our intelligentsia was so generous, so freedom‐loving, that it ostracised anti‐Semitism from society and humanity; moreover, the one who did not give his frank and massive support to the struggle for equal rights of the Jews, who did not make it a priority, was considered a “despicable anti‐Semite”. With its ever‐awakening moral consciousness and extreme sensitivity, the Russian intelligentsia sought to understand and assimilate the Jewish view of priorities affecting the whole of political life: is deemed progressive all that is a reaction against the persecution of the Jews, all the rest is reactionary. Not only did Russian society firmly defend the Jews against the government, but it forbade itself and forbade anyone to show any trace of a shadow of criticism of the conduct of each Jew in particular: and if this bore anti‐Semitism within me? (The generation formed at that time retained these principles for decades.)
V. A. Maklakov evokes in his memoirs a significant episode that occurred during the congress of the Zemstvos in 1905, when the wave of pogroms against the Jews and intellectuals had just swept through and began to rise in strength the pogroms directed against landowners. “E. V. de Roberti proposed not to extend the amnesty [demanded by the congress] to the crimes related to violence against children and women.” He was immediately suspected of wanting to introduce a “class” amendment, that is to say, to concern himself with the families of the noble victims of pogroms. “E. de Roberti hastened… to reassure everybody: ‘I had absolutely no plan in regard to the property of the noblemen… Five or twenty properties burned down, this has no importance. I have in view the mass of immovable property and houses belonging to Jews, which were burned and pillaged by the Black Hundreds’.”27
During the terror of 1905‒1907, Gerzenstein (who had been ironic about the property fires of the noblemen) and Iollos were considered as martyrs, but no one among the thousands of other innocent victims, were considered so. In The Last Autocrat, a satirical publication that the Russian liberals published abroad, they succeeded in placing the following legend under the portrait of the general whom the terrorist Hirsch Lekkert had attempted in vain to assassinate: “Because of him”[I emphasise—A. S.], the tsar “had executed… the Jew Lekkert.”28
It was not just the parties of the opposition, it was the whole mass of middle‐class civil servants who were trembling at the idea of sounding like “non‐progressives”. It was necessary to enjoy a good personal fortune, or possess remarkable freedom of mind, to resist with courage the pressure of general opinion. As for the world of the bar, of art, of science, ostracism immediately struck anyone who moved away from this magnetic field.
Only Leo Tolstoy, who enjoyed a unique position in society, could afford to say that, for him, the Jewish question was in the 81st place.
The Jewish Encyclopædia complained that the pogroms of October 1905 “provoked in the progressive intelligentsia a protestation that was not specific [i.e., exclusively Jewish‐centred], but general, oriented towards all manifestations of the ‘counter‐revolution’ in all its forms.”29
Moreover, Russian society would have ceased to be itself if it had not brought everything to a single burning question: tsarism, still tsarism, always tsarism!
But the consequence was this: “After the days of October [the pogroms of 1905], concrete aid to the Jewish victims was brought only by the Jews of Russia and other countries.”30 And Berdyaev added: “Are you capable of feeling the soul of the Jewish people?… No, you are fighting… in favour of an abstract humanity.”31
This is confirmed by Sliosberg: “In politically evolved circles,” the Jewish question “was not political in the broad sense of the term. Society was attentive to manifestations of the reaction in all its forms.”32
In order to correct this misjudgement of Russian society, a collection of articles entitled Shchit [The Shield] was published in 1915: it took on globally and exclusively the defence of the Jews, but without the participation of the latter as writers, these were either Russian or Ukrainian, and a beautiful skewer of celebrities of the time was assembled there—nearly forty names.33 The whole collection was based on a single theme: “Jews in Russia”; it is univocal in its conclusions and its formulations denote in some places a certain spirit of sacrifice.
A few samples—L. Andreev: “The prospect of an approaching solution to the Jewish problem brings about a feeling of ‘joy close to fervour’, the feeling of being freed from a pain that has accompanied me all my life,” which was like “a hump on the back”; “I breathed poisonous air…”—M. Gorky: “The great European thinkers consider that the psychic structure of the Jew is culturally higher, more beautiful than that of the Russian.” (He then rejoiced at the development in Russia of the sect of the Sabbatists and that of the “New Israel”.)—P. Maliantovitch: “The arbitrariness to which the Jews are subjected is a reproach which, like a stain, covers the name of the Russian people… The best among the Russians feel it as a shame that pursues you all your life. We are barbarians among the civilised peoples of humanity… we are deprived of the precious right to be proud of our people… The struggle for the equal rights of the Jews represents for the Russian man… a national cause of prime importance… The arbitrariness subjected to the Jews condemns the Russians to failure in their attempts to attain their own happiness.” If we do not worry about the liberation of the Jews, “we will never be able to solve our own problems.”—K. Arseniev: “If we remove everything that hinders the Jews, we will see ‘an increase in the intellectual forces of Russia’.”—A. Kalmykova: “On the one hand, our ‘close spiritual relationship with the Jewish world in the domain of the highest spiritual values’; on the other, ‘the Jews may be the object of contempt, of hatred’.”—L. Andreev: “It is we, the Russians, who are the Jews of Europe; our border, it is precisely the Pale of Settlement.”—D. Merezhkovsky: “What do the Jews expect of us? Our moral indignation? But this indignation is so strong and so simple… that we only have to scream with the Jews. This is what we do.”—By the effect of I am not sure which misunderstanding, Berdyaev is not one of the authors of the Shield. But he said of himself that he had broken with his milieu from his earliest youth and that he preferred to frequent the Jews.
All the authors of the Shield define anti‐Semitism as an ignoble feeling, as “a disease of consciousness, obstinate and contagious” (D. Ovsianikov‐Kulikovsky, Academician). But at the same time, several authors note that “the methods and processes… of anti‐Semites [Russians] are of foreign origin” (P. Milyukov). “The latest cry of anti‐Semitic ideology is a product of the German industry of the spirit… The ‘Aryan’ theory… has been taken up by our nationalist press… Menshikov* [copies] the ideas of Gobineau” (F. Kokochkin). The doctrine of the superiority of the Aryans in relation to the Semites is “of German manufacture” (see Ivanov).
But for us, with our hump on our backs, what does it change? Invited by the “Progressive Circle” at the end of 1916, Gorky “devoted the two hours of his lecture to rolling the Russian people in the mud and raising the Jews to the skies,” as noted by the Progressive deputy Mansyrev, one of the founders of the “Circle”.34
A contemporary Jewish writer analyses this phenomenon objectively and lucidly: “We assisted to a profound transformation of the minds of the cultivated Russians who, unfortunately, took to heart the Jewish problem much more greatly than might have been expected… Compassion for the Jews was transformed into an imperative almost as categorical as the formula ‘God, the Tsar, the Fatherland’”; as for the Jews, “they took advantage of this profession of faith according to their degree of cynicism.”35 At the same time, Rozanov spoke of “the avid desire of the Jews to seize everything.”36
In the 20s, V. Choulguine summed it up as follows: “At that time [a quarter of a century before the revolution], the Jews had taken control of the political life of the country… The brain of the nation (if we except the government and the circles close to it) found itself in the hands of the Jews and was accustomed to think according to their directives.” “Despite all the ‘restrictions’ on their rights, the Jews had taken possession of the soul of the Russian people.”37
But was it the Jews who had seized the Russian soul or did the Russians simply not know what to do with it?
Still in the Shield, Merezhkovsky tried to explain that philo‐Semitism had arisen in reaction to anti‐Semitism, that the blind valourisation of a foreign nationality was asserted, that the absolutisation of the “no” led to that of the “yes”.38 And Professor Baudouin de Courtenay acknowledged that “many, even among the ‘political friends’ of the Jews, experience repulsion and acknowledge it in private. Here, of course, there is nothing to do. Sympathy and antipathy… are not commanded.” We must nevertheless rely “not on affects, but on reason.”39
The confusion that reigned in the minds of those days was brought to light with greater significance and reach by P. B. Struve, who devoted his entire life to breaking down the obstacles erected on the path that would lead him from Marxism to the rule of law, and, along the way, also obstacles of other kinds. The occasion was a polemic—fallen into a deep oblivion, but of great historical importance—which broke out in the liberal Slovo newspaper in March 1909 and immediately won the entirety of the Russian press.
Everything had begun with the “Chirikov affair”, an episode whose importance was inflated to the extreme: an explosion of rage in a small literary circle accusing Chirikov—author of a play entitled The Jews, and well disposed towards them—to be anti‐Semitic. (And this because at a dinner of writers he had let himself go on to say that most of the literary critics of Saint Petersburg were Jews, but were they able to understand the reality of Russian life?) This affair shook many things in Russian society. (The journalist Lioubosh wrote about it: “It is the two kopeck candle that set fire to Moscow.”)
Considering that he had not sufficiently expressed himself on the Chrikov affair in a first article, Jabotinsky published a text entitled “Asemitism” in the Slovo newspaper on 9 March 1909. He stated in it his fears and his indignation at the fact that the majority of the progressive press wanted to silence this matter. That even a great liberal newspaper (he was referring to the Russian News) had not published a word for twenty‐five years on “the atrocious persecutions suffered by the Jewish people… Since then the law of silence has been regarded as the latest trend by progressive philo‐Semites.” It was precisely here that evil resided: in passing over the Jewish question. (We can only agree with this!) When Chirikov and Arabajine “assure us that there is nothing anti‐Semitic in their remarks, they are both perfectly right.” Because of this tradition of silence, “one can be accused of anti‐Semitism for having only pronounced the word ‘Jew’ or made the most innocent remark about some particularity of the Jews… The problem is that the Jews have become a veritable taboo that forbids the most trivial criticism, and that it is them that are the big losers in the affair.” (Here again, we can only agree!) “There is a feeling that the word ‘Jew’ itself has become an indecent term.” “There is here an echo of a general state of mind that makes its way among the middle strata of the progressive Russian intelligentsia… We can not yet provide tangible proofs of it, we can only have a presentiment about this state of mind”—, but it is precisely this that torments him: no proofs, just an intuition—and the Jews will not see the storm coming, they will be caught unprepared. For the moment, “we see only a small cloud forming in the sky and we can hear a distant, but already menacing roll.” It is not anti‐Semitism, it is only “Asemitism”, but that also is not admissible, neutrality cannot be justified: after the pogrom of Kishinev and while the reactionary press peddles “the inflamed tow of hatred”, the silence of the progressive newspapers about “one of the most tragic questions of Russian life” is unacceptable.40
In the editorial of the same issue of Slovo, were formulated the following reservations about Jabotinsky’s article: “The accusations made by the author against the progressive press correspond, in our opinion, to the reality of things. We understand the sentiments that have inspired the author with his bitter remarks, but to impute to the Russian intelligentsia the intention, so to speak deliberately, of sweeping the Jewish question under the rug, is unfair. The Russian reality has so many unresolved problems that we cannot devote much space to each one of them… Yet, if many of these problems are resolved, this will have very important effects, including for the Jews who are citizens of our common homeland.”41
And if the editorialist of the Slovo had then asked Jabotinsky why he did not defend one or the other of those fools who uttered “the most innocent remark about some particularity of the Jews”? Was Jewish opinion interested only in them, did they take their part? Or was it enough to observe how the Russian intelligentsia got rid of these “anti‐Semites”? No, the Jews were no less responsible than the others for this “taboo”.
Another article in the same paper helped launch the discussion: “The agreement, not the fusion”, of V. Golubev. Indeed, the Chirikov affair “is far from being an isolated case”, “at the present time… the national question… is also of concern to our intelligentsia”. In the recent past, especially in the year of the revolution*, our intelligentsia has “sinned very much” by cosmopolitanism. But “the struggles that have been fought within our community and between the nationalities that populate the Russian State have not disappeared without leaving traces.” Like the other nationalities, in those years, “the Russians had to look at their own national question…; when nationalities deprived of sovereignty began to self‐determine, the Russians felt the need to do so as well.” Even the history of Russia, “we Russian intellectuals, we know it perhaps less well than European history.” “Universal ideals… have always been more important to us than the edification of our own country.” But, even according to Vladimir Solovyov, who is however very far removed from nationalism, “before being a bearer of universal ideals, it is essential to raise oneself to a certain national level. And the feeling of raising oneself seems to have begun to make its way into our intelligentsia.” Until now, “we have been silent on our own peculiarities.” Remembering them in our memory does not constitute a manifestation of anti‐Semitism and oppression of other nationalities: between nationalities there must be “harmony and not fusion”.42
The editorial team of the newspaper may have taken all these precautions because it was preparing to publish the following day, 10 March, an article by P. B. Struve, “The intelligentsia and the national face”, which had coincidentally arrived at the same time than that of Jabotinsky and also dealing with the Chirikov case.
Struve wrote: “This incident,” which will “soon be forgotten”, “has shown that something has moved in the minds, has awakened and will no longer be calmed. And we will have to rely on that.” “The Russian intelligentsia hides its national face, it is an attitude that imposes nothing, which is sterile.”—“Nationality is something much more obvious [than race, colour of skin] and, at the same time, something subtle. It is the attraction and repulsion of the mind and, to become aware of them, it is not necessary to resort to anthropometry or to genealogy. They live and palpitate in the depths of the soul.” One can and must fight to make these attractions/repulsions not be brought into law, “but ‘political’ equity does not require from us ‘national’ indifference.” These attractions and repulsions belong to us, they are our goods”, “the organic feeling of our national belonging… And I do not see the slightest reason… to renounce this property in the name of anyone or anything.”
Yes, insists Struve, it is essential to draw a border between the legal, the political domains and the realm where these sentiments live. “Especially with regard to the Jewish question, it is both very easy and very difficult.”—“The Jewish question is formally a question of law”, and, for this reason, it is easy and natural to help solve it: to grant the Jews equal rights—yes, of course! But at the same time it is “very difficult because the force of rejection towards the Jews in different strata of Russian society is considerable, and it requires great moral force and a very rational mind to, despite this repulsion, resolve definitively this question of right.” However, “even though there is a great force of rejection towards the Jews among large segments of the Russian population, of all the ‘foreigners’ the Jews are those who are closest to us, those who are the most closely linked to us. It is a historico‐cultural paradox, but it is so. The Russian intelligentsia has always regarded the Jews as Russians, and it is neither fortuitous nor the effect of a ‘misunderstanding’. The deliberate initiative of rejecting Russian culture and asserting Jewish ‘national’ singularity does not belong to the Russian intelligentsia, but to this movement known as Zionism… I do not feel any sympathy for Zionism, but I understand that the problem of ‘Jewish’ nationality does indeed exist,” and even poses itself more and more. (It is significant that he places “national” and “Jewish” in quotation marks: he still cannot believe that the Jews think of themselves as others.) “There does not exist in Russia other ‘foreigners’ who play a role as important in Russian culture… And here is another difficulty: they play this role while remaining Jews.” One cannot, for example, deny the role of the Germans in Russian culture and science; but by immersing themselves in Russian culture, the Germans completely blend into it. “With the Jews, that’s another matter!”
And he concludes: “We must not deceive [our national feeling] or hide our faces… I have a right, like any Russian, to these feelings… The better it is understood… the less there will be misunderstandings in the future.”43
Yes… Oh, if we had woken up, as much as we are, a few decades earlier! (The Jews, they, had awakened long before the Russians.)
But the very next day, it was a whirlwind: as if all the newspapers had waited for that! From the liberal Hacha Gazeta (“Is this the right moment to talk about this?”) and the right‐wing newspaper Novoie Vremia to the organ of the Democratic constitutional party Retch where Milyukov could not help exclaiming: Jabotinsky “has succeeded in breaking the wall of silence, and all the frightening and threatening things that the progressive press and the intelligentsia had sought to hide from the Jews now appear in their true dimension.” But, later on, argumentative and cold as usual, Milyukov goes on to the verdict. It begins with an important warning: Where does it lead? Who benefits from it? The “national face” which, moreover, “we must not hide”, is a step towards the worst of fanaticism! (Thus, the “national face” must be hidden.) Thus “the slippery slope of æsthetic nationalism will precipitate the intelligentsia towards its degeneration, towards a true tribal chauvinism” engendered “in the putrid atmosphere of the reaction reigning over today’s society.”44
But P. B. Struve, with an almost juvenile agility in spite of his forty years, retaliates as soon as 12 March in the columns of the Slovo to the “professorial speech” of Milyukov. And, above all, to this sleight of hand: “Where does it lead?” (“Who benefits from it?” “Who will draw the chestnuts from the fire?”—this is how people will be silenced—whatever they say—for a hundred years or more. There is a falsifying process that denotes a total inability to understand that a speech can be honest and have weight in itself.)—“Our point of view is not refuted on the merits”, but confronted on the polemic mode to “a projection”: “Where does it lead?”45 (A few days later, he wrote again in the Slovo: “It is an old process to discredit both an idea that one does not share and the one who formulates it, insinuating perfidiously that the people of Novoie Vremia or Russkoye Znamya will find it quite to their liking. This procedure is, in our opinion, utterly unworthy of a progressive press.”46) Then, as to the substance: “National questions are, nowadays, associated with powerful, sometimes violent feelings. To the extent that they express in everyone the consciousness of their national identity, these feelings are fully legitimate and… to stifle them is… a great villainy.” That is it: if they are repressed, they will reappear in a denatured form. As for this “‘Asemitism’ which would be the worst thing, it is in fact a much more favourable ground for a legal solution of the Jewish question than the endless struggle between ‘anti‐Semitism’ and ‘philo‐Semitism’. There is no non‐Russian nationality that needs… all Russians to love it without reservation. Even less that they pretend to love it. In truth, ‘Asemitism’, combined with a clear and lucid conception of certain moral and political principles and certain political constraints, is much more necessary and useful to our Jewish compatriots than a sentimental and soft ‘philo‐Semitism’”, especially if this one is simulated.—And “it is good that the Jews see the ‘national face’” of Russian constitutionalism and democratic society. And “it is of no use to them to speak under the delusion that this face belongs only to anti‐Semitic fanaticism.” This is not “the head of the Medusa, but the honest and human face of the Russian nation, without which the Russian State would not stand up.”47—And again these lines of Slovo‘s editorial team: “Harmony… implies recognition and respect for all the specificities of each [nationality].”48
Heated debates continued in the newspapers. “Within a few days a whole literature was formed on the subject.” We assisted “In the Progressive Press… to something unthinkable even a short time ago: there is a debate on the question of Great‐Russian nationalism!”49 But the discussion only reached this level in the Slovo; the other papers concentrated on the question of “attractions and repulsions”.50 The intelligentsia turned its anger towards its hero of the day before.
Jabotinsky also gave voice, and even twice… “The bear came out of his lair,” he lashed out, addressed to P. Struve, a man who was however so calm and well‐balanced. Jabotinsky, on the other hand, felt offended; he described his article, as well as that of Milyukov, as “a famous batch”: “their languorous declamation is impregnated with hypocrisy, insincerity, cowardice and opportunism, which is why it is so incorrigibly worthless”; and to ironise in quoting Milyukov: thus “the holy and pure Russian intelligentsia of old” “felt feelings of ‘repulsion’ at the encounter of the Jews?… Bizarre, no?” He criticised “the ‘holy and pure’ climate of this marvellous country”, and the zoological species of Yursus judaeophagus intellectualis.” (The conciliatory Winaver also took for his rank: “the Jewish footman of the Russian palace”). Jabotinsky fulminated at the idea that the Jews should wait “until was resolved the central political problem” (i.e. the tsar’s deposition): “We thank you for having such a flattering opinion on our disposition to behave like a dog with his master”, “on the celerity of faithful Israel”. He even concluded by stating that “never before the exploitation of a people by another had ever been revealed with such ingenuous cynicism.”51
It must be admitted that this excessive virulence hardly contributed to the victory of his cause. Moreover, the near future was going to show that it was precisely the deposition of the tsar which would open the Jews to even more possibilities than they sought to obtain, and cut the grass under the foot of Zionism in Russia; so much and so well that Jabotinsky was also deceived on the merits.
Much later and with the retreat of time, another witness of that era, then a member of the Bund, recalled that “in the years 1907‒1914, some liberal intellectuals were affected by the epidemic, if not of open anti‐Semitism, at least ‘Asemitism’ that struck Russia then; on the other hand, having gotten over the extremist tendencies that had arisen during the first Russian revolution, they were tempted to hold the Jews accountable, whose participation in the revolution had been blatant.” In the years leading up to the war, “the rise of Russian nationalism was present… in certain circles where, at first sight, the Jewish problem was, only a short time before, perceived as a Russian problem.”52
In 1912, Jabotinsky himself, this time in a more balanced tone, reported this judicious observation of a prominent Jewish journalist: as soon as the Jews are interested in some cultural activity, immediately the latter becomes foreign to the Russian public, who is no longer attracted to it. A kind of invisible rejection. It is true, that a national demarcation cannot be avoided; it will be necessary to organise life in Russia “without external additions which, in so large a quantity, perhaps cannot be tolerated [by the Russians].”53
To consider all that has been presented above, the most accurate conclusion is to say that within the Russian intelligentsia were developing simultaneously (as history offers many examples) two processes that, with regard to the Jewish problem, were distinguished by a question of temperament, not by a degree of sympathy. But the one represented by Struve was too weak, uncertain, and was stifled. Whilst the one who had trumpeted his philo‐Semitism in the collection The Shield enjoyed a wide publicity and prevailed among public opinion. There is only to regret that Jabotinsky did not recognise Struve’s point of view at its fair value.
As for the 1909 debate in the Slovo columns, it was not limited to the Jewish question, but turned into a discussion of Russian national consciousness, which, after the eighty years of silence that followed, remains today still vivacious and instructive,—P. Struve wrote: “Just as we must not Russify those who do not want it, so we must not dissolve ourselves in Russian multinationalism.”54—V. Golubev protested against the “monopolisation of patriotism and nationalism by reactionary groups”: “We have lost sight of the fact that the victories won by the Japanese have had a disastrous effect on the popular conscience and national sentiment. Our defeat not only humiliated our bureaucrats,” as public opinion hoped, “but, indirectly, the nation as well.” (Oh no, not “indirectly”: quite directly!) “Russian nationality… has vanished.”55 Nor is it a joke that the flourishing of the word “Russian” itself, which has been transformed into “authentically Russian”. The progressive intelligentsia has let these two notions go, abandoning them to the people of the right. “Patriotism, we could only conceive it in quotation marks.” But “we must compete with reactionary patriotism with a popular patriotism… We have frozen in our refusal of the patriotism of the Black Hundreds, and if we have opposed something of it, it is not another conception of patriotism, but of universal ideals.”56 And yet, all our cosmopolitanism has not allowed us, until today, to fraternise with the Polish society…57
A. Pogodin was able to say that after V. Solovyov’s violent indictment of Danilevsky’s book, Russia and Europe, after Gradovsky’s articles, were “the first manifestations of this consciousness which, like the instinct of self‐preservation, awakens among the peoples when danger threatens them.” (Coincidentally—at the very moment when this polemic took place, Russia had to endure its national humiliation: it was forced to recognise with pitiable resignation the annexation by Austria of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was equivalent to a “diplomatic Tsou‐Shina”.) “Fatality leads us to raise this question, which was formerly entirely foreign to the Russian intelligentsia, but which life itself imposes on us with a brutality that forbids all evasion.”58
In conclusion, the Slovo wrote: “A fortuitous incident triggered quite a journalistic storm.” This means that “Russian society needs national awareness”. In the past, “it had turned away not only from a false anti‐national policy… but also from genuine nationalism without which a policy cannot really be built.” A people capable of creation “cannot but have its own face.”59 “Minine* was certainly a nationalist.” A constructive nationalist, possessing the sense of the State, is peculiar to living nations, and that is what we need now.60 “Just as three hundred years ago, history tells us to reply,” to say, “in the dark hours of trial… if we have the right, like any people worthy of the name, to exist by ourselves.”61
And yet—even if, apparently, the year 1909 was rather peaceful—one felt that the Storm was in the air!
However, certain things were not lost sight of (M. Slavinski): “Attempts to Russify or, more exactly, to impose the Russian‐Russian model on Russia… have had a disastrous effect on living national peculiarities, not only of all the non‐sovereign peoples of the Empire, but also and above all of the people of Great‐Russia… The cultural forces of the people of Great Russia proved insufficient for this.” “For the nationality of Great Russia, only the development of the interior, a normal circulation of blood, is good.”62 (Alas! even today, the lesson has not been assimilated). “Necessary is the struggle against physiological nationalism, [when] a stronger people tries to impose on others who are less so a way of life that is foreign to them.”63 But an empire as this could not have been constituted solely by physical force, there was also a “moral force”. And if we possess this force, then the equality of rights of other peoples (Jews as well as Poles) does not threaten us in any way.64
In the nineteenth century already, and a fortiori at the beginning of the twentieth century, the Russian intelligentsia felt that it was at a high level of global consciousness, universality, cosmopolitanism or internationality (at the time, little difference was made between all these notions). In many fields, it had almost entirely denied what was Russian, national. (From the top of the tribune of the Duma, one practised at the pun: “patriot‐Iscariot.”)
As for the Jewish intelligentsia, it did not deny its national identity. Even the most extreme of Jewish socialists struggled to reconcile their ideology with national sentiment. At the same time, there was no voice among the Jews—from Dubnov to Jabotinsky, passing by Winaver—to say that the Russian intelligentsia, who supported their persecuted brothers with all their souls, might not give up his own national feeling. Equity would have required it. But no one perceived this disparity: under the notion of equality of rights, the Jews understood something more.
Thus, the Russian intelligentsia, solitary, took the road to the future.
The Jews did not obtain equal rights under the tsars, but—and probably partly for this very reason—they obtained the hand and the fidelity of the Russian intelligentsia. The power of their development, their energy, their talent penetrated the consciousness of Russian society. The idea we had of our perspectives, of our interests, the impetus we gave to the search for solutions to our problems, all this, we incorporated it to the idea that they were getting of it themselves. We have adopted their vision of our history and how to get out of it.
Understanding this is much more important than calculating the percentage of Jews who tried to destabilise Russia (all of whom we did), who made the revolution or participated in Bolshevik power.
- B. T. Dinour, Religiozno‐natsionalny oblik ruskovo ievreistava (The religious and national aspects of the Jews of Russia), in BJWR-1, pp. 319, 322.
- F. M. Dostoyevsky, Dnevnik pisatelia za 1877, 1880 i 1581 gody (Journal of a writer, March 1877, chapter 2), M., L., 1929, 1877, Mart, gl 2, p. 78.
- I. L. Teitel, Iz moiii jizni za 40 let (Memories of 40 years of my life), Paris, I. Povolotski i ko., 1925, pp. 227‒228.
- JE, t. 11, p. 894.
- V. S. Mandel, Konservativnye i pazrouchitelnye elementy v ievreïstve (Conservative and destructive elements among Jews), in RaJ, pp. 201, 203.
- D. O. Linsky, O natsionalnom samosoznanii ruskovo ievreia (The national consciousness of the Russian Jew), RaJ, p. 142.
- G. A. Landau, Revolioutsionnye idei v ievreïskoi obctchestvennosti (Revolutionary Ideas in Jewish Society), RaJ, p. 115.
- Stenographic Record of the Debates of the Second Duma, 13 March 1907, p. 522.
- Literally “good”, “generous”.
- P. G.—Marodiory knigi 3 (The Marauders of the Book), in Retch, 1917, 6 May, s.
- Vl. Jabotinsky, [Sb] Felietony. SPb.: Tipografia Gerold, 1913, pp. 9‒11.
- Vl. Jabotinsky, [Sb] Felietony, pp. 16, 62‒63, 176‒180, 253‒254.
- Azef Evno (1569‒1918), terrorist, double agent (of the S.‐R. and the Okhrana), unmasked by A. Bourtsev.
- Ibidem, pp. 26, 30, 75, 172‒173, 195, 199‒200, 205.
- Ibidem, pp. 15, 17, 69.
- Ibidem, pp. 18‒24, 175‒177.
- Ibidem, pp. 14, 200.
- Pamiati, M. L. Vichnitsera, BJWR-1. p. 8.
- JE, t. 8, p. 466.
- JE, t. 7, pp. 449‒450.
- JE, t. 16, p. 276.
- I. M. Bikerman, Rossia i rousskoye ievreisstvo (Russia and the Jewish Community of Russia), RaJ. p. 86.
- St. Ivanovich, Ievrei i sovetskaya dikiatoura (The Jews and the Soviet Dictatorship), in JW, pp. 55‒56.
- JE, t. 12, pp. 372‒373.
- Sliosberg, t. 1, pp. 3‒4.
- Sliosberg, t. 2, p. 302.
- Sliosberg, t. 1, p. 302.
- Linsky, RaJ, p. 144.
- Vekhi: resounding collection of articles (1909) in which a group of intellectuals disillusioned from Marxism invited the intelligentsia to reconcile with the power.
- V. A. Maklakov, Vlast i obchtchestvennost na zakate staroï Rossii (Vospominania sovremennika) [The power and opinion during the twilight of ancient Russia (Memoirs of a Contemporary)], Paris: Prilojenie k “Illioustrirovannoï Rossii” II n 1936, p. 466.
- Der Letzte russische Alleinherscher (The Last Autocrat: Study on the Life and Reign of the Emperor of Russia Nicholas II), Berlin, Ebcrhard Frowein Verlag , p. 58.
- JE, t. 12, p. 621.
- JE, t. 12, p. 621.
- Nikolai Berdyaev, Filosofia neravenstva (Philosophy of Inequality), 2nd ed., Paris, YMCA Press, 1970, p. 72.
- Sliosberg, t. 1, p. 260.
- Shchit (the Shield), 1916.
- Menshikov Michel (1859‒1918), began a career as a sailor (until 1892), then became a journalist at the New Times, supported Stolypin. After October, takes refuge in Valdai. Arrested in August 1918 by the Bolsheviks, he was executed without trial.
- Kn. S. P. Mansyrev, Moi vospominania (My memories) // [Sb.] Fevralskaïa revolioutsia / sost. S. A. Alexeyev. M. L., 1926, p. 259.
- A. Voronel, in “22”: Obchtchestvenno‐polititcheski i literatourny newspaper Ivreiskoi intelligentsii iz SSSR v Izrailie, Tel Aviv, 1986, no. 50, pp. 156‒157.
- Perepiska V. V. Rozanova and M. O. Gerchenzona (Correspondence of V. Rozanov and M. Gerchenzon), Novy Mir, 1991, no. 3, p. 239.
- V. V. Choulguine, “Chto nam v nikh ne nravitsa…”: Ob antisemitzme v Rossii (“What we do not like about them…” On anti‐Semitism in Russia), Paris, 1929, pp. 58, 75.
- Shchit (the Shield), p. 164.
- Ibidem, p. 145.
- Vl. Jabotinsky, Asemitizm (Asemitism), in Slovo, SPb., 1909, 9 (22) March, p. 2; See also: [Sb.] Felietony, pp. 77‒83.
- Slovo, 1909, 9 (22) March, p. 1.
- V. Golubev, Soglachenie, a ne stianie, Slovo, 1909, 9 (22) March, p. 1.
- P. Struve, Intelligentsia i natsionalnoïe litso, Slovo, 1909, 10 (23) March, p. 2.
- P. Milyukov, Natsionalizm protiv natsionalizma (Nationalism Against Nationalism), Retch, 19O9, 11 (24) March, p. 2.
- P. Struve, Polemitcheskie zigzagui i nesvoïevremennaya pravda (polemical zigzags and undesired truth), Slovo, 1909, 12 (25) March, p. 1.
- Slovo, 1909, 17 (30) March, p. 1.
- P. Struve, Slovo, 1909, 12 (25) March, p. 1.
- V. Golubev, K polemike o natsionalizme (On the controversy regarding nationalism), ibidem, p. 2.
- M. Slavinski, Ruskie, velikorossy i rossiane (The Russians, the Great Russians, and the citizens of Russia), ibidem, 14 (27) March, p. 2.
- Slovo*, 1909, 17 (30) March, p. 1.
- Vl. Jabotinsky, Medved iz berlogui—Sb. Felietony, pp. 87‒90.
- G. I. Aronson, V borbe za grajdanskie i natsionalnye prava Obchtchestvennye tetchenia v rousskom ievreïstve (The fight for civil and national rights currents of opinion in the Jewish community of Russia), BJWR-1, pp. 229, 572.
- Vl. Jabotinsky—[Sb.] Felietony, pp. 245‒247.
- P. Struve, Slovo, 1909, 10 (23) March, p. 2.
- V. Golubev, ibidem, 12 (25) March, p. 2.
- V. Golubev, O monopolii na patriotizm (On the monopoly of patriotism), ibidem, 14 (27) March, p. 2.
- V. Golubev, Ot samuvajenia k ouvajeniou (From self‐respect to respect), ibidem, 25 March (7 April), p. 1.
- A. Pogodin, K voprosou o natsionalizme (On the national question), ibidem, 15 (28) March, p. 1.
- Slovo, 1909, 17 (30) March, p. 1.