In the Light of Dr. Nahum Sokolow’s address at the World Zionist Congress at Prague the other day, wherein he attacked the Soviets for what he called their effort to de-Judaize the Jew, it is interesting to turn today to the Jewish chapters in Elias Tobenkin’s report on the Soviets published some months ago under the title of “Stalin’s Ladder.”
I believe it may be said in editorial parenthesis that the Jews in Russia enjoy absolute democracy, the democratic opportunity to starve with every other racial group. But it isn’t starvation amidst plenty. Without meaning to use this column to set any one right, it may still be pointed out that the Jews who are being persecuted also share in the democracy of persecution meted out to all groups who may be sufferingâ€”from the Soviet point of viewâ€”from a case of divided loyalty. It is perhaps a little difficult to apportion blame and praise to the Soviets for their treatment of the Jewish minority.
Mr. Tobenkin tries hard, I know, to hold the scales even and on the whole, I believe, he inclines to the conclusion that the Soviets are pretty nice to Jewsâ€”not as Jews, mind you, but as human beings who happen to be Jews. Our violent anti-Semitic enemies to the contrary notwithstanding, it is no particular recommendation in Russia to be a Jew, either from the religious or racial point of view. Now let us attend to Mr. Tobenkin’s summing-up:
“The revolution has made an end of Jewish persecution in Russia. It has made an end of geographic, economic and religious discrimination to which the Jews were for centuries subjected under the Czars. Jews in the Soviet Union may now live anywhere and engage in any occupation they choose. Schools and colleges are open to them on the same terms as they are to all others. They mingle on an equal social basis with the rest of the population. Intermarriage has become frequent. Jews hold public office.
“The Soviet regime has abolished the commercial pursuits in which the Jews formerly engaged and they must now accustom themselves in a larger measure to work on land and in factories. Jewish reorientation under the multiplying Communist restrictions is more difficult than it is for groups and races whose foundations have not-been so deeply uprooted. Nevertheless their problems are not of persecution, but of adjustment, not of race, but of economics, and are part and parcel of the general industrial and agricultural recasting and reshaping of the country.”
Now the Sokolow answer to all that might be that it is quite possible to improve upon the Czarist condition and yet fall far short of justice to the Jew, to which there is the counter-reply that in the Communist ideology there is no room for fidelity to a cultural or racial ideal which is not susceptible of subordination to the Communist ideal; that is why Hebraists and Zionists are frowned upon, to say the least; but no more than working Catholics and Protestants would be frowned upon. Which continues to give Hebraists and Zionists the right to protest against the injustice of it.
Mr. Tobenkin devotes one of his chapters to the land settlements in the Crimea which have been looked upon as the symbol and proving ground of the attempt to make agriculturists out of urban Jews. The Joint Distribution Committee has been an active supporter of the colonization schemes, at present contributing, according to Mr. Tobenkin, 25 percent of the funds required, while the Soviet government itself contributes 75 percent, through the Comzet, a government agency for the settlement of Jews in farming collectives.
Among Jews themselves there seems to be a considerable difference of opinion concerning the outcome of the agricultural experiment. Wishful thinking has determined the trend of some of the reports. That is, the Communist is far more ready to see these schemes as successes than the non-Communist. Perhaps those who declare that the colonization experiments have failed make the error of comparing the results in Russia with what they might be under more favorable circumstances in America, for example, where the claims of government to shares in crops would be less exigent. Bearing in mind the violence with which differences of opinion on the outcome of these Jewish colonization experiments are aired. it may be worth while to quote Mr. Tobenkin’s conclusions:
“In spite of the fact that the settlement of Jews on land in the Soviet Union has not only the moral but the material support of the Soviet government, Jewish colonization in Russia today is distinctly on the downgrade. Only the poorest and most helpless of city dwellers avail themselves of the government’s offer to go on land. All others rush to the industrial centers to apply for factory work. The dream of a Jewish agricultural republic is dead. Even the continued maintenance of the established colonies is becoming psychologically impossible as the result of the government’s relentless collectivization programme. In view of this programme Jewish colonization has lost its purpose and its meaning. Established farmers drop everything and rush to the cities.”
Taken as a whole Mr. Tokenkin’s book about Russia is interesting, even if it isn’t opinionated and the scales are held so evenly that we fail to detect a definite attitude.