The author, Dr. David Goldberg, is a well known writer and lecturer who has just returned from his third visit to Russia in recent years.
It took me several minutes to extricate myself from the mood into which I was cast by my friend’s recital of the story of Sarachka’s graduation day, but at last I mustered up front and asked:
“Tell me, my friend, in what way is your child worse off today than you had been in your own childhood, under the old regime? Weren’t you marked down from your very birth for special discrimination as to schooling, domicile, movement, and most other human rights? Wasn’t your very passport a certificate of disability? How, then, is it that you take the discrimination against your child so dreadfully to heart, whereas your parents took the situation more calmly, probably believing that Jewish disabilities were foreordained?”
“Because,” answered my friend quickly, “we aren’t any more the parents our fathers were. You struck the nail on the head when you said that they probably believed Jewish disabilities were foreordained. Indeed, they so believed, and therefore they sought escape either in emigration or in assimilation, that is, they were running away either from Russia or from themselves. And they could certainly build up a moral fortitude around the fact that they were maltreated as a people, as Jews. No Jew was alone in his trouble, and parents and children never knew and never could know the terrible conflicts we are experiencing in our homes today.
POGROM FEAR GONE
“But we don’t believe any longer in the foreordination of Jewish disabilites, because the far aims of the Revolution, though we had been crushed on the way towards them, have enthralled us and they live in our blood. Our parents believed that pogroms were foreordained, but the Soviets have banished the very fear of them from our hearts. Anti-Semitism, too, was foreordained, but the Soviets have made a political offense against the State of it and treat the culprits as counter-revolutionaries. Can’t you see how impossible it has become for us to find refuge in martyrdom?
“I and my children are suffering, true enough, but not because we are Jews. Suffering disabilities as a bourgeois is a different thing from suffering them as a Jew, for side by side with Sarachka there are non-bourgeois Jewish children who never knew her pangs. From those Jews I can get no sympathy, since they believe that my troubles are well merited and that it is the only way to expiate my bourgeois past. So, then, I must learn to think of my suffering as a criminal at hard labor thinks of his punishment. And that, my happy American, is simply adding pain to injury.”
The talk did my friend good, for he suddenly lifted his head from between his elbows and straightened out his stooped shoulders, and I thought I could recognize in him once more the gaunt and vigorous youth he had been twenty-one years ago. “How wise and simple the people here had grown through travail and sorrow,” ran through my mind, “and how well they can state their case.” And I said:
“Nevertheless, a little more hoping and a good deal less brooding would do you, my friend, a lot of good. No one who sees, as you do, the light of a great goal ahead of him should drop by the wayside on account of clouds darkening his path. The clouds will pass, but the light will remain.
“Indeed, I know of the work of the Agro-Joint and the Ort, though I have never been on their delegations. These organizations furnish us from time to time with interesting figures concerning you, and I know by them that, since the beginning of the Pyatiletka (Five Year Plan) the number of the Jewish lishentsi (the declassed) had been cut by two-thirds, and the indications are that the last third, too, will soon be absorbed by the ever expanding industries. I understand that two years of labor at a worker’s stand, or on the farm, makes one a full-fledged worker or peasant, and cleanses him of the stigma of his past. And what are two years of probation for him who wishes to live in peace with the new order? No denying the fact that the disciplinary measures of a revolution are merciless; but they don’t last forever. Let me find you a different man when I come around on my next visit to your land.”
I revisited my boyhood friend last summer, after three years; and while I cannot report in the language best understood in America, that he is “in the pink of condition, hale and hearty and prosperous”; I can still report truthfully that the conditions which had been harrowing his brain three years ago no longer prevail in Russia, for him or for other Jews. He holds a responsible position in a government trust, in Minsk, and his Sarachka is an honored student at one of the Teachers’ colleges in Moscow. And my friend is only a symbol of the whole class of ex-lishentsi.
FRIEND’S STORY TYPICAL
The story of my friend is not exceptional, but rather typical of the story of all “lishentsi,” and the change for the better in his status of citizenship which took place during the past three years is to be ascribed, not to chance or favoritism, but to the very dialectics and technique, as it were, which inhered in the process of “class liquidation.”
It will be recalled that the Bolsheviki never proceeded against their enemies simply as landlords, bourgeoisie, clergymen, and kulaks, but always “as a class,” i.e., liquidate the bourgeoisie as a class, the clergy as a class, and the kulak as a class. Now, this innocent sounding phrase “as a class” actually put the teeth into the whole process of liquidation so far as the group was concerned. But at the same time, as we can see it a posteriori, it also contained the promise of resurrection for the individual of the liquidated class, minus, of course, his class consciousness.
Liquidating a bourgeois is in itself an unheroic task, since the bourgeois is a very weak person and is already ipso facto liquidated when he loses his property. We have seen in the past five years how millions of bourgeois were liquidated without a revolution and how they went back, of their own accord, to proletarian rank. Certainly, the bourgeois is not like the feudal lord who is nobility-conscious even though without land, or like the clergyman who is mission-conscious though without church or congregation.
But it is different with the ideology of the bourgeois, or his moral and, in the eyes of the Communists, immoral outlook upon law and order and proprieties, which is fed upon the consciousness of his whole class. Here he is strong and potentially dangerous.
Therefore, not the bourgeois as an individual must be liquidated but the bourgeoisie “as a class.” An inferiority complex must be in-induced through degradation of status, until, far from deriving comfort and strength from one’s own class, one will shrink from it as a source of misfortune. And this degradation of status must extend to children as well, for thus only could parents be made to suffer more acutely and their pride and morale quickly broken.
But by the same token, as the measure inimical to the Revolution class was deemed liquidated, the shackles from the individual of that class were lifted, beginning with the removal of disabilities against the children. At first a child of a “lishenets” was not to pass beyond the fourth primary grade, but by that time the liquidated bourgeois was deemed to have lost so much of his class consciousness that his children were permitted to proceed as far as the seventh grade. Here the children were offered an oportunity to redeem themselves by dint of their own allegiance to Communist doctrine, by joining the Pioneer and the Young Communist (Komsomol) groups. Another three years of suffering and discrimination, and the parents themselves were deemd sufficiently at peace with the new order to be given a new lease of life under it.
This, in broad outline, is the grueling process which the “lishentsi” have had to go through between the years 1921 and 1933, my friend being only one of them, and in no sense an exception.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.