Jewish Socialism and Zionism

Jewish socialism and Zionism were thus near-contemporaries as popular movements - and they competed in bitter rivalry on the Jewish street of Eastern Europe, particularly in the latter years of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth.

Jewish socialism, or Bundism (1897), envisaged an ideal society, along the following lines:

- Jewish communities would be governed by the Jewish working class who would live according to (a secularised version of) Jewish
- Jews would live among the nations, as part of wider society;
- Yiddish would be their cultural language (at least in Europe);
- and the reign of the scholars would pass from the world.
- Jewish workers would – at times of need – be the protectors of the Jewish world, working shoulder to shoulder with workers of other nationalities against the forces of reaction (in the class struggle and revolution).

Further reading:

Zionism held out a very different vision:

It was based on a primary and stronger attachment to a (perhaps romanticised) vision of an ancient history and an old-new land, and aspired to join the family of nations, through a removal of the Jews from the physical presence of the host nations to concentrate them in Eretz Yisrael.

Jews would create their own society or state, and would accept responsibility for all aspects of life in the land: they would farm, they would build up their land and their way of life – and they would, of course, defend their land.

Zionism demanded the restoration of the physical Jew in all his, or her, three-dimensional glory.

In the Zionist world-view, the Zionist Jew would thus try and erase thousands of years of the Diaspora (termed Galut [Exile] – or, the traditional model of) life and Diaspora attitudes. The Zionist Jew would bridge these intervening millennia, of both powerlessness and the glorification of powerlessness, to reclaim – or recreate - this concept of the full, three-dimensional Jew.

This person, moreover, might or might not respect G-d and have a sense of G-d, but would not view G-d as a replacement for his or her own physical action.

# Religious Zionism would develop a model of “a G-d helps those who help themselves” and consider human physical endeavour to be the necessary prelude to Divine, messianic action.
# Secular Zionism would perceive Jewish physical endeavour as a replacement for G-d.

In both versions, Jews would not rely on G-d to do things for them; Jews would do what needed to be done for themselves. Both models – the religious Zionist and the secular Zionist – drew on Haskalah roots and prescribed a model of the working Jew who would both work the land and defend what she or he had grown.

Zionism and Jewish socialism were thus very different in many ways.

At times, the bitterness between the two movements became extremely pronounced.

However, these two movements, more than any others, fashioned the image of the physically emancipated Jew - the Jew who would use power and physicality wherever it was needed -, drawing upon the source of earlier, Haskalah ideology.

It was therefore Jewish Socialism and Zionism as movements which gave birth to a new Jewish type, that - only a few generations earlier - would have seemed utterly fantastic as a model: the fighting Jew, someone who was prepared to use force unapologetically, although always in the service of a higher moral goal.




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31 May 2005 / 22 Iyar 5765 0