Moscow (May. 25)
(By our Moscow Correspondent)
At No. 10, Nikolskaya is the chief office of the Central Committee of the Ozet in Moscow. There we sat and discussed the present condition of the Jews in Russia and their future.
“It is about time that in addition to the slogan ‘Jewish colonization,’ we should come out with a demand also for ‘Jewish industrialization,”, remarked A. Bragin, the leader of the independents in the Ozet.
One could see that Bragin had not made this remark casually. It was evident that the question of Jewish industrialization had been harassing him for a long time; that he had given this subject much thought; because now, as he sat here talking with us, he immediately became quite excited, although his statement had met with no opposition from his hearers.
“Do you understand?” he turned to me. “Here in Russia there are some people who are afraid to tell themselves the truth about the sad plight of the Jewish population. They are afraid to admit that of the more than two million Jews living in the Soviet Union, a whole million of Jews have no occupation and no means of livelihood. They know very well that the plight of this million Jews is a desperate one, but they persuade themselves that they will be able to help them all through Jewish colonization and this is where the error lies.
“Jewish colonization in Russia,” continued Bragin, “has its own merits. It can be made to assist, let us say, tens of thousands of Jewish families. I consider it to be the most important achievement of the present moment, otherwise, I should not take such an active interest in the work of the Ozet. But does this mean that we must content ourselves with colonization work only? Does it mean, then, that we may not at the same time come out and demand from the government an appropriation of money for the industrialization of the Jewish town, just as it has appropriated money for Jewish colonization in Biro-Bidzan?
“The Jewish town,” continued Bragin, “has all the possibilities for the development of certain industries. If mills and factories were built there, they would pay no worse than mills and factories that are being built in the cities of Central Russia. So much is said here about an intensified industrialization and there is even a special budget for the construction of new factories. Why, then, can they not build these factories in regions where the Jews form ninety percent of the population? Twofold results would be attained by this procedure: First of all, Jews would be given an opportunity to find employment, and, secondly, this would transform them into true proletarians.”
“And do you believe that Jews are really fitted for factory work?” one of those present interrupted Bragin. “Do I believe so? Of course I do. Just open this year ten new factories in the Podolia, Wolhynia or Odessa regions, where the Jews are starving and suffering from unemployment and you will see within a year whether they won’t show the best results. Who built up the clothing industry in America, if not the Jews who emigrated there from these very regions? And the leather factories, who if not the Jews, used to work in them in the Russia of old? And how many Jewish carpenters are walking around without employment in the Jewish town? And mechanics, locksmiths, blacksmiths? And the Jewish youth who are prepared to do whatever work may be given to them? And is there a lack of Jewish unskilled laborers, I should like to know?”
Bragin spoke much longer. The longer he spoke, the clearer became his point of view. We must not rely upon Jewish colonization alone. Jewish colonization is a very good thing, but its extent and possibilities are too small in the face of the great destitution that reigns in the Jewish town. This poverty must be alleviated partly through having Jews settle on the land and partly through factories to be built by the government in Jewish sections of the country. Such factories, it is Bragin’s belief, would be given technical support by Jews outside of Russia. American Jews would surely assist the technical equipment of such factories, just as they are now helping with Jewish colonization.
Why, then, doesn’t the Soviet government consider the industrialization of the Jewish masses in the same way as it assists their colonization?
The answer to this question is short and simple. It is not in the best interests of the Soviet government to build factories in such parts of Russia as are situated near the frontier.
No matter how firmly Soviet power seems to be intrenched in Russia internally, it still lives in fear of an attack from the outside. They are afraid of a war that can break out any day in the direction of Poland, or from the Roumanian side, or from an altogether unexpected direction. There is a great deal of anxiety in this respect, and war is expected at any season. This is essentially the reason why such a city as Odessa is now industrially dead. Herein lies the secret why Moscow and not Leningrad is the flourishing city. With the limited finances which the Soviet government has at its disposal, it cannot invest them in such cities as are situated near the frontiers.
The geographical location of Jewish cities and towns happens to be such that they are to be found close to the frontiers of other countries, countries that are sworn enemies of Russia, that would gladly bring about its destruction. At the present moment, they are too weak to execute their plans, but Europe is still a boiling cauldron, and who knows what can happen later?
Bragin is not alone in saying that colonization alone will not help the million needy Jews in Russia. However, both he and those who are of his opinion, are now fighting against an insurmountable obstacle. It is well and good to speak of Jewish industrialization as a principle, but it is unfortunate when the practical interests of a country are fundamentally opposed to this principle.