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The following critical comments on Borochovism are excerpted from Ernest Mandel’s biographical sketch of Abram Leon. Leon was a revolutionary in Belgium whose political genesis occurred in the Borochovist Hashomer Hatzair youth movement. Leon subsequently broke with Borochovism and became a leader in Belgian Trotskyism and Mandel’s mentor prior to his capture by the Nazis and murder in Auschwitz in 1944. Mandel survived the war to become a leading Trotskyist and Secretary-General of the Fourth International (United Secretariat). Mandel wrote the sketch of Leon in 1946 under the name Ernest Germain. It was translated into English and published as the forward to the English edition of Leon’s book The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation published in Mexico City in 1950 by Mexico D.F. A modern printing is available from Pathfinder Press, New York.


Excerpts from:

A Biographical Sketch of Abram Leon by Ernest Germain

…The contradiction between the petty-bourgeois character of Zionism and the rigorously internationalist conclusions of Marxism drove Zionist working-class leaders to formulate a new theory which, by combining their socialism – which they wanted to be scientific – with their Zionist aspirations, would invest the latter with some semblance of Marxist justification. This is how the strange theory called "Borochovism" – from the name of its author, Ber Borochov – was born, a theory which was destined to become the official theory of Jewish revolutionists throughout the world for several decades.

…twenty years after Borochov, Leon in his turn, took up the trail of the Hashomer (Hatzair) "theoretician" in order to discover a Marxist justification of Zionism… As the waves of imperialist war broke closer and closer to Belgium before engulfing it in May 1940, Leon completed his "Theses on the Jewish Question" and submitted them for discussion to his organization. In his attempt to grasp the meaning of Jewish history Leon found himself in collision with Borochov’s "metaphysical materialist" theory, and his first attempt was to eliminate this obstacle. Borochov maintained that the Jewish question was rooted in the fact that the Jews, and above all the Jewish workers, played no important role in the vital sectors of the economy (heavy industry, metallurgy, coal, and so on) but instead occupied important positions solely in the peripheral spheres of economic life. The social composition of other peoples resembled a pyramid having as its base hundreds of thousands of miners, metal workers, railroad workers, etc., and then passing through large layers of handicraftsmen, industrialists and bankers. But the social composition of the Jewish people resembled an "inverted pyramid" in which large handicraft strata rested on narrow layers of workers – who were moreover engaged in non-vital sectors of industry – and had to bear the full weight of an enormous mass of businessmen.

Borochov cut his analysis short at this point; he accepted this as an historical fact, without making any attempt at an explanation, and used it as his starting point for his "solution" of the question: It was first of all necessary to "reverse the inverted pyramid," i.e., to create a "normal" Jewish society like those of other peoples; until this was done the Jewish proletariat could not seriously undertake revolutionary struggle; and such a society could be created only in Palestine.

Leon quickly grasped at everything that was "non-dialectical" in this theory: The existing social condition of the Jews could not be approached as a "fact," but as the product of historical development. How did this different historical evolution of the Jews come about? Linking up Borochov’s thread of reasoning with several casual statements by Marx, who with his habitual genius had laid bare the entire "mystery" of Jewish history, Leon commenced to reconstruct the entire past of the Jews.

The explanation for the religion of the Jews and for their preservation must be sought in the social role they played. Gathering together the mass of existing documentation he elaborated the theory of the "people-class," astonishing in its simplicity, and providing the indispensable key for understanding the past and present role of the Jews and for finding a solution to their misery.

Borochovism erred, however, not alone in its point of departure but even more so in its conclusions. It approached the "solution" of the Jewish problem not only outside the past historical process but also outside the existing social reality. In the epoch of imperialism and of capitalism in its death agony, the "will" of a few million Jewish workers to "create a society like the rest" appeared as a pathetically weak force amid the imperialist giants fighting over every unoccupied nook and cranny on the globe, amid the violent collisions of classes on the world arena. Borochov had no comprehension whatever of the law of uneven and combined development in the imperialist era, whose operation prevents every nation without exception from solving any of its problems under the capitalist regime in its death throes. The tragic peculiarities of Jewish society could not be eliminated by seeking to isolate it from decaying society as a whole. The "inverted pyramid" of the Jews could not possible "reversed" while the "normal" pyramid of other peoples was itself in the process of disintegration. The world proletarian revolution is alone capable of normalizing Jewish history. Within the framework of decaying capitalism no solution is possible…

...(Leon) not only exposed the petty-bourgeois utopian character of the Zionist ideal, but also showed how this ideal, like the rest of the petty bourgeois's "own" ideology, is bound to become in the imperialist epoch an instrument in the hands of world capitalism. He denounced Zionism as a brake upon the revolutionary activity of the Jewish workers thoughout the world, as a brake upon the liberation of Palestine from the yoke of English imperialism, and as an obstacle to the complete unity of Jewish and Arab workers in Palestine.