Waters Flowing Eastward
If Herzl strove to modify and conciliate Jewish ambition with its gentile surroundings, it was the task of Ginzberg to give it a new form and the strength of mass fanaticism.
Asher Ginzberg 1 was born at Skvira, in the province of Kiev, in 1856, of well-to-do parents belonging to the Jewish sect of Hassidim. He received a strictly rabbinical education and, at seventeen, married the grand-daughter of a prominent rabbi, Menachem Mendel. Five years later (1878), he moved to Odessa, where he continued his studies, with special attention to the works of Spinoza, Moses Mendelssohn, and Nietzsche. Not long after, 2 he visited Berlin, Breslau, and Vienna where he met Charles Netter, a French Jew and one of the founders of the Alliance Israelite Universelle, who introduced him into that body.
It was thus that, in 1884, on his return to Odessa, Ginzberg joined the Friends of Zion 3 under Leo Pinsker and Moses Lilienblum, and attended the conference at Katto-witz. His shrewd, restless mind and command of Hebrew soon raised him to prominence: a letter in Hebrew to the scientist S. Finn on his seventieth birthday, attracted the notice of Alexander Zederbaum. Zederbaum was the editor of the Hebrew paper Ha-melitz, and immediately invited Ginzberg to contribute.
Although he had constantly criticized the methods of the Friends of Zidh privately, he hesitated to do so in print; but finally overcoming his scruples, he sent in a radical article, entitled Not the Way, 4 which appeared the same year (1889). In it, Ginzberg attacked Pinsker's plan of sending Russian Jews to Palestine for the material advantages they might derive. 5 All attempts to improve the condition of Russian ghettoes were futile, he insisted; the Jews must first become consciously, aggressively national. The article with its direct appeal to fanaticism was read by Jews all over Europe; other articles by the same pen followed.
He now broke with the Friends of Zion, and with him went a group of young men who had come to share his advanced views. These men he formed (1889) into a secret organization called the Sons of Moses. 6 It met in his house in Yamskaya Street, Odessa, and numbered among its first members, Ben Avigdor, Zalman Epstein, Louis Epstein, and Jacob Eisenstaat. It was to this small group that Ginzberg read what is to-day known as " the protocols ", 7 in which the national aim is set forth in such direct, forceful language, -in strange contrast to the confused, pedantic style of the Talmud.
The opening words give the tone of the whole.
The argument is then developed with conciseness and lucidity: all objections are anticipated and met in a few terse phrases. No rhetorical effect is sought; expression is natural and vivid: e.g. of the mob at the time of a revolution, 9 the author says:
The Protocols are sometimes criticized as containing nothing that had not been said previously by philosophers or statesmen; but even if that were true, it would detract little from their interest. For their importance does not lie in the aim, world domination, nor in the theory by which it is attained, exploitation of man's baser instincts, but in the extraordinary astuteness with which the practical application of the plan has been suited to existing conditions.
The very fact that the language is forceful and incisive, that all the allusions are striking, and the thesis so to speak irrefutable, is to some an obstacle to belief: nor is this surprising.
If, at Waterloo, Napoleon had had a battalion of tanks and a few batteries of modern eight-inch guns, the forces of England and Prussia would have been driven from the field: with the improved methods of warfare of the last century at his command, he could have defied the armies of the world in 1814.
For the past century the Jews have been making rapid progress in the theory and practice of politics, while the rest of the world thought them merely emerging from the ghetto; and, as it cannot understand the intricate new machinery of government they have devised and set up, it says, " Such a thing is impossible." Yet, like a great engine of war, the organization of the Kahal advances on the course determined, crashing all resistance.
That course is succinctly stated in the twenty-four protocols of Ginzberg: they are an epitome of Jewish thought from Rabbi Akiba 10 and Maimonides 11 down to Marx 12 and Engels. At the same time the reader is reminded constantly of some familiar event of recent years which bears out the thesis. For example the passage: 13
Can anyone, recalling the Russian revolution of 1918, read this, knowing it was written before 1897, 14 and not be impressed by the correspondence between the prophecy and its fulfilment two decades later?
But Ginzberg was no visionary: he knew of what he wrote, and the course of the revolutionary movement already on foot in Russia had been too carefully calculated to leave any doubt as to its eventual success.
The Second International was formed in 1889, and the theories of Marx and Engels adopted. The labour movement was no longer represented by a small group of workingmen led by theorists, but by powerful national organizations of workers. Therefore the aim of the Second International to secure the transfer of power to the proletariat was to be pursued under conditions more favourable than those which had prevailed at the time of the First International. The dominant industrial and financial interests served to further the objectives of the socialists through a callous disregard for labour. 15
In 1900, on Lenin's return from exile, appeared the first number of the revolutionary paper Iskra (" The Spark ") edited in London by Trotski (Braunstein) a Jew, and supported by another Jew, Blumenfeld. 16 Organizations directed by Iskra spread throughout Russia: it was the source from which the ideas of local leaders were derived. In March 1903, there emerged at its first meeting in Minsk, a completely formed Russian communist party; it represented six organizations and was headed by nine men, of whom at least five were of Jewish descent. 17 It was known as the " Russian social democratic party " (until 1918), and its methods as well as its motto " Proletarians of all countries, unite ", were those of Marx and Engels. A second congress of the party met at Brussels and then at London, in July and August, of the same year. Here the doctrine that " the necessary condition of the social revolution is the dictatorship of the proletariat ", was expressed for the first time. 18
Then came the split between bolsheviks and mensheviks, and the movement faced its first real test in 1905. Weakened by defeat in the war with Japan, the Tsarist government could not forestall strikes and disorders. The shooting down of workmen who had assembled before the winter palace encouraged the bolsheviks to attempt an armed uprising. A congress of the party met in London on April 25, 1905, and formulated the programme which was to be put in practice twelve years later. 19
The outbreak in Russia was immediately hailed by a Zionist paper as the work of Jews.
Unsupported by the peasants and the army, the revolts of 1905 failed. A period of reaction set in, bringing with it the arrest and exile of many of the revolutionary leaders. From that time, in fact, plans for a revolution in Russia had to be entirely directed from abroad. How the old leaders usually managed to escape their prison sentences; 21 how they secured funds to travel about and participate in congresses in Stockholm, Paris, Prague, Berne and other cities; and how they managed to keep alive a central organization is not explained in published documents; but the connection between these subversive activities and Zionism will become clearer further on. 22
Meantime the protocols, secretly circulated in Hebrew among the Sons of Moses, had helped the expansion of that order throughout Russia and Poland and contributed to its victory at the Basle congress in 1897, 23 when Zionism became an official movement.
But when Ginzberg saw that Herzl's conception of Zionism was " an economic one first and foremost ", 24 excluding as it seemed the spirit of Jewish nationalism, he gathered his old adherents into a new secret order, the Sons of Zipn (B'nai Zion) to propagate the true faith. While affecting himself to keep outside of the official movement, he edited a Hebrew paper, Hashiloah (" The Way "), thanks to financial aid from a Moscow tea merchant, a Jew, Kalonymous Wissotzkii, and became head of a great Hebrew publishing firm called Ahiasaf. With these powerful organs, he could attack Herzl with impunity. One of the latter's friends complains : 25
Fourteen years of labour at last began to show fruit. In 1911, Ginzberg's representatives, Chaim Weizmann and others, scored a victory at the tenth Zionist Congress. Two years later (1913), " when he visited the congress for the second time," writes a disciple, 27 " he was happy. He could see how some of his ideas, some of the truths that he had fought so bitterly to advance, were already working within. He was happy, as a practical philosopher should feel when he realizes that his life has not been in vain, that he has been one link in the long chain that pulls Israel to a glorious future, that he has served Israel, and, through Israel, mankind ".
From this point, Zionism, as Ginzberg understood it, became a reality which his disciples 28 have since carried from victory to victory under the eye of the master. He himself remained aloof, at least from public view, until his death in 1927 in a Judaized Palestine.
18. Ibid., p. 692. Compare, " It suffices even for an instant to give the masses self-government, and they will become a disorganized mob... Capital which is entirely in our hands, will hold out to this state a straw, to which it will inevitably be forced to cling." Protocol I, par. 6.
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