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The Socialism of Poale Zion in the United States (1915)

The Socialism of Poale Zion in the United States (1915)

translated by Rabbi Mark W. Kiel for Class Struggle and the Jewish Nation by Ber Borochov; Mitchell Cohen (ed.) (1984)

The organizational weakness of Poale Zion in this country derives from its superficial approach to socialism more than any other factor. It is socialist, but its socialism is not tied to the class struggle. The official party program speaks of class struggle, but not much and in diffuse form. The old program of 1905 stated: "As socialists we participate in everything that leads to the liberation of the working masses together with all socialist organizations, so long as they do not contradict our national aspirations." In the appended notes it says: "National solidarity…facilitates the class struggle" (?!) and "Poale Zionism strives, on the one hand, to inculcate class consciousness among the Jewish working class because of the professional and political struggle against capitalism."

But take for example B. Zuckerman’s pamphlet Der Poale Zionism. Herein the word socialism is twisted and turned in all possible directions. Socialism is elevated to the sky as a holy ideal implanted in the hearts of all Jewish workers, but in the entire pamphlet there is not a single word about the class struggle.

It would appear that there is no antagonism between labor and capital. I know that B. Zukerman is familiar with the class struggle and can evaluate its significance. But he forgets it when he speaks of Poale Zionism. At such times he is only aware of abstract socialism and concrete Zion. Class struggle and Zionism are two different things to him. And such is the case with the Socialist current in general. How does it envisage the actualization of socialism? Regarding socialism world over, among all nations and the Jews of the Diaspora countries, they ignore it: it is not a very popular theme with the Socialist Labor Zionists.

Of course they have much to say about socialism in Eretz Israel. This is a kind of amazing socialism that is realized through peaceful means and solidarity cooperation with the bourgeoisie. The means to achieve a socialist order in Eretz Israel are: the shekel, the Zionist congress, the bourgeois socialist national fund, various worker cooperatives such as the Ahvah and Franz Oppenheimer’s "Siedlungs Genossenschaften," i.e. agrarian industrial cooperative colonies and garden towns. So, what about the class struggle? N. Syrkin answers us that we cannot afford a class struggle in the future yishuv in Eretz Israel. There, a Garden of Eden of social justice must be organized forthwith.

Thus while N. Syrkin was able to please the bourgeois Zionist delegates at the Zionist convention in Boston. I doubt that intelligent class-conscious workers can be pleased. But the entire thrust of American Poale Zion compels them to go hand in hand with bourgeois Zionism in order to win them over for the respectable plans for social colonization. Here there are two noteworthy theories that Socialist Poale Zion is working on. First, the idea that without the bourgeois Zionists little or nothing can be accomplished in Eretz Israel, and second, that Poale Zion must, therefore, strive "to bring the social spirit into the General Zionist movement."

Both theories virtually eliminate the need for the existence of a separate socialist Zionist party. If the working class alone can accomplish so little in Zionist colonization and if it must teach social justice to the capitalists, the simplest thing would be for the Poale Zionists to dissolve as a party and join bourgeois Zionism as a radical wing. Then there would eventually be no difference between Poale Zionism and Mizrachi [religious Zionism]: both are simply parts of the bourgeois whole, mere wings–Poale Zionism with a radical program and Mizrachi with an Orthodox one. We return happily to N. Syrkin’s original ideas, which he developed fifteen and twelve years ago, that Zionist socialist parties must belong simultaneously to two different parties: For socialism they must work in the general socialist parties and for Zionism–in the Zionist organization.

Such is indeed the case. The Socialist Poale Zionists consider themselves part of General Zionism. They regard all the bourgeois Zionist accomplishments as their own, they feel at one with General Zionism, identifying with its institutions. And what of the sublime theory of "bringing a social spirit into the General Zionist movement"? Pipe dreams. A Hebrew University in Jerusalem! A "golden book" of the National Fund, where all exploiters can perpetuate their names in the memory of the people! But let us pay closer attention to the theory of the "social spirit."

The Socialist Poale Zionists proudly point to some of the supposed success of their social preachings to their bourgeois kindred spirits. If we take them at their word, they carried out the following social reforms in the Zionist organization: First, the Zionist Congress adopted in principle Oppenheimer’s plan for cooperative colonization, and for that created a separate fund and donated National Fund land for such colonies (the cooperative colony Merhavia and others.) Second, workers’ homes were built on National Fund land. Third, they worked to get the National Fund to renounce its previous tactics of supporting, with credit, private capitalist developers and of engaging nonorganized Arab strike breakers, instead of organized Jewish workers.

The Poale Zionists talk themselves into believing that they accomplished all this. But this is a great error. This was not accomplished by the Poale Zionists as an organization or as a party but by individual persons, social reformers among the Zionists like Franz Oppenheimer, Dr. Pasmanik, and the Poale Zionist S. Kaplansky. Social reformers such as these can be found everywhere and are by no means in need of a separate Poale Zion party. If there were no Poale Zion party or if they had no business at all with the Zionist Congress, the socialist spirit among the bourgeois Zionists would not be one whit less powerful than it is now.

If the National Fund and the Palestine Office take the demands of the workers into account, that has nothing at all to do with the Poale Zionists shouting hooray, and singing Hatikvah with the bosses. Nor is it because the Poale Zionists regard themselves as an organic party of the General Zionist movement, nor because they become inspired by the National Fund and the shekel. The real reason workers wage to this day in Eretz Israel, with determination and enthusiasm, and which they will continue without concerning themselves with N. Syrkin’s prophetic sermons about the class struggle in Eretz Israel.

Jewish workers in Eretz Israel struck, struggled, and withstood stiff-necked lockouts on the part of the bosses, organized into professional unions and cooperatives, created their own social-democratic press, and, last but not least, erected the military organization of the settler-guardsmen, Hashomer. Hashomer struggles not only against these unorganized Arab peasants but also against the Jewish bosses with their small shops and petty-noble interests. If not for this intense and long-lasting struggle of the working masses in Eretz Israel, nothing would have helped, not Kaplansky’s diplomatic speeches nor Syrkin’s prophetic ideas.

And the joke of it is, that under the pretense of bringing the social spirit into bourgeois Zionism, the bourgeois spirit is brought into proletarian Zionism.

When the Zionist workingmen follow the leaders and think of the shekel, the National Fund and the Colonial Bank, the National Library in Jerusalem, the Polytechnic Institute in Haifa, and what not, as their own socialist (!) institutions, the most dangerous confusion arises in their class consciousness. The separation between capitalism and Poale Zionism disappears and the Poale Zionist learns to dance to the tune of the bourgeois Zionist. The clearest expressions of this are the countless fundraisers of all kinds which the bourgeois Zionists are fond of conducting on Mondays and Tuesdays. Here the "kosher" Poale Zionist feels as if he is attending the most holy of ceremonies: He works with all the means at his disposal, to the point of exhaustion, collecting alms and becoming inspired, together with bourgeois Zionists, forgetting in the process socialism and class struggle.

No wonder that the organized and class conscious workers feel indifferent if not downright hostile to this kind of socialism. Such socialism, they feel, is a phrase without serious content. They understand that Socialist Poale Zionism is not consistent in its socialism. Nor is this at all denied by many socialists. I myself heard many Poale Zionists say we are first of all Zionists, then socialists, we are 85 percent Zionists and all told 15 percent socialists. As long as Poale Zionism regards itself as an organic part of General Zionism, as long as it continues to regard the bourgeois Zionist institutions and funds as its own; as long as its socialism is not tied to the theory and practice of a living class struggle, Poale Zionism will continue to remain a clubhouse without social impact and without influence on the broad Jewish working masses.

Not only the Forward, "cosmopolitanism," or assimilation are to blame. The Poale Zionists here are also to blame that Jewish workers are so unfamiliar with Zionism and the idea of the national liberation of the Jewish people. This is the bitter truth that I want to tell my comrades openly: This is also your fault; do not place all the blame on the opposition. Take a good look at yourselves, and if you will, hear me out.

Having heard me out perhaps you will see that when the worker does not want to place nay trust in his boss this is a healthy instinct. The worker who keeps away from the kind of people who are close to his boss, is right. Workers who suffered sweatshop slavery, strikes, and hired gangsters will not trust you so long as you maintain and demonstrate solidarity with the bourgeois Zionists. Bourgeois Zionism is necessary for our people, but leave it for the middle class. Your task is proletarian Zionism, and you must nurture it not through flower-nor flag-day and not by Zionist conventions but wherever the worker suffers and struggles.

The two currents of Poale Zionism, about which I spoke in earlier articles (the Socialists and the Social Democrats), part company in their views of socialism, Zionism, work to be done in the Galut, and in the forms of party organization and discipline. The Social Democratic current prevails in Russia and to some extent in Austria and Eretz Israel. The Socialist prevails in America and to some extent in other countries. There is also a Social Democrat current here, and through the good graces of both sides, both currents can peacefully and in solidarity work together in one party, as has hitherto been the case.

The Social Democratic Poale Zionists are of the firm opinion that no socialism and no freedom movement are possible without class struggle. In this they concur with revolutionary socialists, anarchists, and syndicalists of all nations. They also recognize peaceful means as a tool of the Labor movement, namely parliamentary action and cooperative organization. But they absolutely insist that these peaceful means can, at best, facilitate the class struggle, serve an auxiliary function in the economic struggle, and direct political action. Peaceful means, however, must in no way supersede the direct struggle. And this is their view of Zionism as well. Within the Zionist movement a serious class struggle transpires and will continue so long as the working class has not freed itself from the capitalist yoke through social revolution. In order to interpret this further we must explain how the Social Democrats conceive of Zionism and the Jewish question in general. We can do this only in abridged form. For a detailed discussion the reader may refer to R. Kendzhersky’s pamphlet Di grundlagn fun Poale Zionism, and my articles from 1905.

Neither the bourgeois Zionists nor the Socialist Poale Zionists having a clear answer for the following cardinal question: Does Zionism solve all the problems of Jewish life or only some of them? The bourgeois Zionists eschew any specific answer, but their whole psychology bears witness to the fact that they regard Zionism as the definitive answer to all Jewish questions. They want to destroy the Galut altogether and concentrate all Jewish questions. They want to destroy the Galut altogether and concentrate all Jewish life in Zion. The Socialist Poale Zionists are less resolute on that point but in general they tend toward the opinion that in Zion all the needs of the Jewish people will be met and their sufferings ended. The Social Democrats, on the other hand, regard Zionism as the answer to only one aspect of the Jewish question, namely the question of Jewish homelessness and uprootedness. There is an enormous number of Jewish questions and these questions change with the times. Some of them relate to the Galut because no matter the extent of the realization of Zionism, a large portion of the Jewish people and possibly the majority will forever remain dispersed among other nations. And these questions of the Galut find their solution in various ways outside Zionism.

The Jewish question is very complex and cannot be solved by means of one simple prescription such as the colonization of Eretz Israel. The task of proletarian Zionism is to struggle for healthy and productive living conditions for the Jewish people. The Jewish people live an abnormal life, from which it suffers, in that it nowhere has an independent political home. We therefore strive to acquire for it such a home, and a host of historical, colonial, and practical reasons convince us that the only home our people can have is in Eretz Israel. That is by no means to say that we want all people to return home. This is neither possible nor entirely desirable. All peoples have their own homeland. Even the oppressed peoples have their own homes, though they may not be fully in charge there. But all peoples, upon leaving their own territories, have dispersed themselves throughout the world. The might of a nation has two aspects–being concentrated in the homeland, and the strength of its dispersal which carries it to all four corners of the world. If the Jewish people had a politically independent center in Eretz Israel and strong colonies throughout the world, it would become among the strongest and healthiest of nations.

In short, the Jewish question can be solved only by connecting healthy Galut life with a healthy center in the independent homeland. Zionism really solves only some Jewish questions. The rest are solved through national consolidation in the Galut per se. Without Zionism there is no healthy national development but neither so without the Galut. We want a secure Zion and a secure Galut–that is the catch-phrase of Social Democratic Poale Zionism.

Among the questions which Zionism as such can solve only partially is the Jewish workers’ question. Through the creation of an independent homeland for the people, the condition of our workers also becomes more normal and the class struggle on the Jewish street will acquire healthier forms. In the countries of the Galut Jews are excluded from a number of important industries such as coal mining, metallurgy, the railroads, and also from agriculture. Jewish labor bears a specific character, concentrated as it is in the weakest industries such as the needle trades, shoe production, the tobacco industry. This robs the Jewish worker of the ability to spread out and exploit his revolutionary energies. His class struggle is consequently limited and insufficiently productive. These anomalies will disappear in Eretz Israel, where the Jewish worker will penetrate into all the hitherto excluded branches of production.

But exploitation itself, the struggle between capitalists and workers, will continue full blown in Eretz Israel as long as capitalism exists. It is dangerously Utopian to think that Eretz Israel alone will be an exceptional country and that only there will the kind of colonization occur which can be free of capitalist foundations. This is the fantasy of many Socialist Poale Zionists. We, the Social Democrats, find that the workers’ question in Eretz Israel can and will be solved through class struggle alone, and we therefore strive to organize the worker entirely apart from the bourgeoisie, even within the Zionist movement itself.

Proletarian Zionism has its own work and has no need to join the bourgeois Zionist institutions in order to carry out its own tasks. The Socialists argue that the worker cannot accomplish very much independently in Eretz Israel. That is true as long as proletarian Zionism does not have sufficient strength. And its strength will remain meager as long as it is wed to bourgeois Zionism. Standing on its own feet, proletarian Zionism does will in the end draw to its ranks the great mass of organized Jewish workers and will then acquire sufficient strength to fulfill its own aims. Instead of the Socialists’ theory that Poale Zionism must, so to speak, "bring the social spirit into the General Zionist movement," the Social Democrats propound quite a different theory: The Poale Zionists must inculcate the national and socialist spirit into the Labor movement. We regard Poale Zionism as part and parcel not of the General Zionist movement but of the International Labor movement.

We therefore have a different understanding of the kind of work to be done in countries of the Galut. The Socialist Poale Zionists delude themselves in speaking of the Galut, and of Hebrew and Yiddish. Actually, for them Zion is superior to the Galut, and of Hebrew and Yiddish. Actually, for them Zion is superior to the Galut and Hebrew superior to Yiddish. Nor am I speaking of die-hard Hebraists and Galut haters such as N. Syrkin. Even the official spokesmen of the Socialist Labor Zionists consider Galut work, at best, as a means and preparation for Zionism (this is explicitly stated for example in Zuckerman’s pamphlet). Work in the Galut is a means, and not the most important means at that–simply one of many. The aim throughout remains Zion. It is of course understood that to means one can never accord the same respect as to ends. No wonder then that while the Socialist Poale Zionists give generously of themselves for National Fund work, for cooperatives in Eretz Israel, etc., they treat matters and activities relating to the Galut as after-thoughts. Even in the national radical schools–their most important accomplishment among Galut activities–they devote too much time to Hebrew literature

For us Social Democrats, work in the Galut has no lesser value as an independent goal than work in Zion. Galut and Zion are each ends unto themselves, and both may use each other as means. A healthy Galut life, a healthy independent Eretz Israel, a healthy labor movement–these are the ideals of the Social Democrats. And if Socialists admit to being 85 percent Zionist and 15 percent socialist, we rejoin: We are 100 percent socialist and 100 percent Zionist.

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