Jewish Socialism in Europe

Jewish influence and vice versa.

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There is no doubt that the disproportionately large presence of Jews in revolutionary movements served to aggravate anti‑Jewish feelings among those sectors of European society who, as adherents of the old order, had every reason to fear a "brave new world." It was easy to pin these apprehensions on persons belonging to a people that had always been regarded as foreign among the European family of nations. The role played by Jews in the communist enterprise was to result in terrible consequences on one hand, it gave credence to the anti-Semitic slogan of "Judeo-Bolshevism." On the other hand, within the communist world itself, thousands of Jews, regardless of whether they had been communist activists themselves or simply supporters of communism as the enemy of fascism, were sacrificed to the Leninist‑Stalinist Moloch.

Social utopianism also colored various Jewish nationalist movements. "If you will it, it is no fairy‑tale" was Theodor Herzl's motto for Altneuland, the most famous of early Zionist literary utopias. Although considered "bourgeois" by Moses Hess and other committed socialists [Hess was not actually a contemporary of Herzl, so the author, Barnavi, bases this assertion on his interpretation of Hess' writing], there is no doubt that Herzl, and some of his predecessors in the Zionist utopian genre, were influenced by socialist ideologies prevalent in Europe during the second half of the nineteenth century: they shared the dream of creating in the Land of Israel a society based on social justice, enlight­enment, and tolerance. The kibbutz, a concrete and lasting expression of the agrarian social utopia, was the creation of Zionist movements originating in Eastern Europe, such as Ha‑Po'el Ha‑Tsa'ir ("Young Worker") and Ha‑Shomer Ha‑Tsa'ir ("Young Guard"). The utopian bent inherent in Zionism was manifested not only in the socialist movements which were predominant in the Palestinian yishuv, but also in the philosophies of major thinkers such as Martin Buber, spiritual leader of his generation and a partisan of a Jewish‑Arab dialogue. The present collapse of communism does not necessarily signify the death of social utopia. However, only the future will tell what form it will take and whether Jews will continue to play a prominent role in bringing it about.

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Eli Barnavi is the Director of the Morris Curiel Center for International Studies and a Professor of Jewish History at Tel Aviv University