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Jewish Nationalism and Emancipation (1897-1899)


Jews in the Modern World

We call a nation free when it can materially, intellectually, and morally develop itself, without any external trammels whatever being placed upon that development, If one nation, by reason of conquest or in any other fashion causes another nation to become dependent upon it, there will remain of the second nation only a certain number of denationalized individuals, that is, persons no longer able to give expression to their special collective spirit, that is persons having lost their collective freedom.

These individuals are the vanquished the conquered, are therefore relegated to a state of inferiority, and if they are unwilling to disappear, they. lose their own proper freedom. Why don't they disappear, men will ask- why do they continue to cling to ancient forms, which during one moment of time they represented? Here are idle questions. At the very most it could be said in reply that only such human groups as are still amorphous, possessed only of ill-defined traits and a vague awareness of themselves, are capable of letting themselves be absorbed.

Firmly established and homogeneous groups, having settled traits and a clear-cut awareness of themselves necessarily resist. It is as true of collectivities as it is of individual men that the weak yield and the strong persevere. However that may be, we are confronted here with an historic fact- the maintenance and the survival in the midst of the nations of certain individuals belonging to different nationalities, by which I mean men who have preserved forms of being different from the forms of those who surround them. These individuals, by the very fact that they have held out, suffered a constraint, since all peoples have an inevitable tendency to reduce the heterogeneous elements existing among them. Hence their freedom is diminished, and if they continue in their stubborn refusal to yield, they will be able to keep their individual liberty only on the condition that they are able to win back the collective liberty which they have lost. In short, the rebirth of their nationality is the prerequisite of their individual freedom. The constraint under which they labor likewise prevents their contributing everything that lies within them, a portion of their energies being spent upon that resistance upon that struggle which alone allows them to retain the capacity for development, without that development being able to take place. Once again it is the re-establishment of their nationality which will give them an opportunity to flower.

This is the case of the Russian or Romanian Jews who are in no position under the present circumstances, to contribute in the measure of which they are capable. Tomorrow, western Jewry may find itself in the same situation- obliged to spend its strength in the struggle against anti-Semitism the eternal struggle, perpetual strife, built of victories and of disasters, eminently suited to exhaust the minority which wages it.

For a Jew, the word nationalism should mean freedom. A Jew who today may declare, "I am a nationalist," will not be saying in any special, precise, or clear-cut way, "I am a man who seeks to rebuild a Jewish state in Palestine and who dreams of conquering Jerusalem." He will be saying, I want to be a man fully free, I want to enjoy the sunshine I want to escape the oppression, to escape the outrage, to escape the scorn with which men seek to overwhelm me." At certain moments in history, nationalism is for human groups the manifestation of the spirit of freedom.

In saying this I do not in the least deny internationalist ideas. When socialists fight nationalism, in fact they are fighting protectionism and national exclusivism; they fight that chauvinistic, narrow, and absurd patriotism which leads peoples to set themselves up against each other as rivals or as enemies determined to grant each other neither reprieve nor mercy. Such is the selfishness of nations, as hateful as the selfishness of individuals and as deserving of contempt. Internationalism obviously presupposes the existence of nations. To be an internationlist means to set up between nations bonds not of diplomatic friendship but of human brotherhood; it means to abolish the political-economic structure of our present nations, since this structure has been created only to protect the people's private interests or rather to those of their governments, at the expense of neighboring peoples. To suppress the frontiers does not mean to produce one sole amalgam of all the inhabitants of the globe. The federative concept, the concept of a fragmented .1umanity made up of a multitude of cellular organisms, is one of the commonplace notions of international socialism and even of revolutionary anarchism. Granted that in its ideal development this theory conceives that the cells which will thus come together will be knit by virtue of affinities not entailed by any ethnological, religious or national tradition. But this is of little import as long as the theory allows for groups. Moreover, our task is only to deal with our own day, and our own day requires us to seek the most suitable means for assuring men their freedom. Now in our day and generation, .it is by virtue of traditional principles that men wish to associate together. To this end they invoke certain identities of origin, their common past, similar ways of looking upon phenomena beings and things; a common philosophy, a common history. They must be allowed to band together.

But, object certain socialists, in furthering the development of nationalism, you encourage unity among classes in such fashion that the workers forget the economic struggle and link themselves to their enemies. This result, however is not necessary. Such an alliance is generally only temporary and-be it noted-it is most frequently not the property holders who require it of the poor and of the workers, but rather the latter who force the rich to go along with them. Moreover, is it not necessary for the wretched mass of working-class Jews that before it can escape from its proletarian wretchedness, it should possess its freedom which means the opportunity to struggle and to conquer? That problem will certainly arise when, for instance, access to certain countries will be refused to the Jews who leave Russia.

I find nothing in nationalism which would be contrary to socialist orthodoxy, and I who am orthodox in nothing, do not hesitate for an instant in accepting nationalism alongside internationalism. On the contrary, I believe that for internationalism to take root, it is necessary that human groups should previously have won their autonomy; it is necessary for them to be aw-are of what they are.

"The Zionist Idea." Arthur Hertzberg (Atheneum, New York, 1969)

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