UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Russian Anti-Semitism

Under the Czars, the Jew was considered a foreigner by the Government and by the bulk of the population. This fact should always be remembered in judging the Jewish situation, because it explains the Pale, or segregation of Jews into restricted areas, and was the reason for the average Russian's violent expression of disgust when foreigners classed Russian Jews as Russians.

The effects of German anti-Semitic teachings on the political and social life of the countries adjacent to the empire - Russia, Austria and France - were more serious than in Germany itself. In Russia these effects were first seriously felt owing to the fury of autocratic reaction to which the tragic death of the tsar Alexander II gave rise. This, however, like the Strousbcrg Krach in Germany, was only the proximate cause of the outbreak. There were other elements which had created a milieu peculiarly favorable to the transplantation of the German craze.

The pogroms of the 1880s correspond to the revolutionary movement of the intelligentzia organized as "Narodniki" ("Zemlya i Volya," "Narodnaya Volya"). Those in the beginning of the 20th century, to the time of the first revolution (1903-1905), correspond to the great revolutionary strikes in the south of Russia. Finally, the third pogrom wave, which came right after the revolution (end of 1905 and 1906), corresponds to the outbreak of the first revolution itself.

The aim of the pogroms in the 1880s was mainly the destruction of Jewish possessions. There was robbery and plunder, down and feathers were scattered to the wind, furniture was broken to pieces, valuables and money were taken away. In many cases women were violated, men beaten, but "with moderation," not to death. The pogroms, however, in Kishinev (1903), Gomel (1903) and Zhitomir (April, 1905), already began to assume a bloody course. Jews were murdered, the victims numbered many dozens. After the revolution (1905 and 1906) the pogroms expanded both in space and in time, with about a thousand victims.

The organizing activity of the lower and middle administrative officers was clearly visible, as was shown in the judicial investigations. The parliamentary commission of the first imperial Duma, the revelations of the former active minister of internal affairs, Prince Urussov, and of the former director of the police department, Lopuchin, confirmed what was generally known, that the threads of the entire pogrom propaganda were held together in the hands of the highest representatives eft the state force, the all powerful minister of internal affairs and the director of the police. They determined the places where pogrom dramas were to be enacted, and gave proper instructions to the local authorities.

In the first place the medieval anti-Semitism was still an integral part of the polity of the empire. The Jews were cooped up in one huge ghetto in the western provinces, marked out to all their fellow-countrymen as aliens, and a pariah caste set apart for special and degrading treatment. In the next place, owing to the emancipation of the serfs which had half ruined the landowners, while creating a free but moneyless peasantry, the Jews, who could be neither nobles nor peasants, had found a vocation as money-lenders and as middlemen between the grain producers, and the grain consumers and exporters. There is no evidence that this function was performed, as a rule, in an exorbitant or oppressive way. On the contrary, the fall in the value of cereals on all the provincial markets, after the riots of 1881, shows that the Jewish competition had previously assured full prices to the farmers.

Nevertheless, the Jewish activity or "exploitation," as it was called, was resented, and the ill-feeling it caused among landowners and farmers iras shared by non-Jewish middlemen and merchants who had thereby been compelled to be satisfied with small profits. Still there was but little thought of seeking a remedy in an organized anti-Jewish movement. On the contrary, the abnormal situation aggravated by the disappointments and depression caused by the Turkish war, had stimulated a widespread demand for constitutional changes which would enable the people to adopt a state-machinery more exactly suited to their needs. Among the peasantry this demand was promoted and fomented by the Nihilists, and among the landowners it was largely adopted as a means of checking what threatened to become a new Jacquerie.

The tsar Alexander II, strongly sympathized wîih this movement, and on the advice of Count Loris-Melďkov and the council of ministers a rudimentary scheme of parliamentary government had been drafted and actually signed when the emperor was assassinated. Meanwhile a nationalist and reactionary agitation, originating like its German analog in the Hegelianism of a section of the lettered public, had manifested itself in Moscow. After some early vicissitudes, it had been organized, under the auspices of Alexis Kireiev, Chomyakov, Aksakov and Kochclev, into the Slavophil party, with a Romanticist program of reforms based on the old traditions of the pre-Petrine epoch. This party gave a great impetus to Slav nationalism. Its final possibilities were sanguinarily illustrated by Muraviev's campaign in Poland in 1863, and in the war against Turkey in 1877, which was exclusively its handiwork.

After the assassination of Alexander II, the Slavophil teaching, as expounded by Ignatiev and Pobędonostsev, became paramount in the government, and the new tsar was persuaded to cancel the constitutional project of his father. The more liberal views of a section of the Slavophils under Aksakov, who had been in favor of representative institutions on traditional lines, were displaced by the reactionary system of Pobędonostsev, who took his stand on absolutism, orthodoxy and the racial unity of the Russian people. This was the situation on the eve of Easter 1881. The hardening nationalism above, the increasing discontent below, the economic activity of the Hebrew heretics and aliens, and the echoes of anti-Semitism from over the western border were combining for an explosion.

A pogrom is not necessarily anti-Jewish; it is any kind of a riot. The practice of the pogrom has its roots deep in the race of Russia. The Cossacks have always been the sworn foes of the Jew, or of anything, for that matter, that is not Orthodox. It is a racial hatred, a racial distrust, a racial fear. Some of it is caused by commercial jealousy; most of it is savagely primitive.

The tsarist regime endeavored to divert the attention of the socially and politically discontented masses in another direction, the direction of least resistance. This they did by inciting the ignorant and intimidated lower classes against the defenseless Jews, who, they alleged, were responsible for the misery of the people. The Jews were represented as the exploiters of the people, as leeches, who sucked the blood of the peasant and robbed him of the fruits of his economic activity. Later, when the elemental forces of the revolution burst forth and whipped the waves of passion into high fury, the Jews were depicted by the agents of tsarism before the lowest classes of the people as the "leaders of unrest and rebellion, who were rising against the Fatherland and the 'Little Father" (the tsar)." The Jewish pogroms coincide with the critical moments of the then regime and follow in scope and intensity a course parallel to that of the revolution.

A scuffle in a tavern at Elisabethgrad in Kherson sufficed to ignite this combustible material. The scuffle grew into a riot, the tavern was sacked, and the drunken mob, hounded on by agitators who declared that the Jews were using Christian blood for the manufacture of their Easter bread, attacked and looted the Jewish quarter. The outbreak spread rapidly. On the 7th of May 1881 there was a similar riot at Smiela, near Cherkasy, and the following day there was a violent outbreak at Kiev, which left 2OOO Jews homeless. Within a few weeks the whole of western Russia, from the Black Sea to the Baltic, was smoking with the ruins of Jewish homes.

Scores of Jewish women were dishonored, hundreds of men, women and children were slaughtered, and tens of thousands were reduced to beggary and left without a shelter. Murderous riots or incendiary outrages took place in no fewer than 167 towns and villages, including Warsaw, Odessa and Kiev. Europe had witnessed no such scenes of mob savagery since the Black Death massacres in the 14th century. As the facts gradually filtered through to the western capitals they caused a thrill of horror everywhere. An indignation meeting held at the Mansion House in London, under the presidency of the lord mayor, was the signal for a long series of popular demonstrations condemning the persecutions, held in most of the chief cities of England and the continent.

Except as stimulated by the Judeophobic revival in Germany the Russian outbreak in its earlier forms did not belong specifically to modern anti-Semitism. It was essentially a medieval uprising animated by the religious fanaticism, gross superstition and predatory instincts of a people still in the medieval stage of their development. This was proved by the fact that, although the Russian peasant was supposed to be a victim of unbearable Jewish "exploitation," he was not moved to riot until he had been brutalized by drink and excited by the old fable of the Blood Accusation.

The modern anti-Semitic element came from above and followed closely on the heels of the riots. It was freely charged against the Russian government that it promoted the riots in 1881 in order to distract popular attention from the Nihilist propaganda and from the political disappointments involved in the cancellation of the previous tsar's constitutional project. This seemed to be true of General Ignatiev, then minister of the interior, and the secret police. It is certain that the local authorities, both civil and military, favoured the outbreak, and took no steps to suppress it, and that the feudal bureaucracy who had just escaped a great danger were not sorry to see the discontented populace venting their passions on the Jews. In the higher circles of the government, however, other views prevailed.

The tsar himself was at first persuaded that the riots were the work of Nihilists, and he publicly promised his protection to the Jews. On the other hand, his ministers, ardent Slavophils, thought they recognized in the outbreak an endorsement of the nationalist teaching of which they were the apostles, and, while reprobating the acts of violence, came to the conclusion that the most reasonable solution was to aggravate the legal disabilities of the persecuted aliens and heretics. To this view the tsar was won over, partly by the clamorous indignation of western Europe, which had wounded his national amour propre to the quick, and partly by the strongly partisan report of a commission appointed to inquire, not into the administrative complaisance which had allowed riot to run loose over the western and southern provinces, but into the "exploitation" alleged against the Jews, the reasons why "the former laws limiting the rights of the Jews" had been mitigated, and how these laws could be altered so as "to stop the pernicious conduct of the Jews" (Rescript of the 3rd of September 1881).

The result of this report was the drafting of a "Temporary Order concerning the Jews" by the minister of the interior, which received the assent of the tsar on the 3rd of May 1882. This order, which was so little temporary that it had not yet been repealed by the eve of the Great War, had the effect of creating a number of fresh ghettos within the pale of Jewish settlement. The Jews were cooped up within the towns, and their rural interests were arbitrarily confiscated. The doubtful incidence of the order gave rise to a number of judgments of the senate, by which all its persecuting possibilities were brought out, with the result that the activities of the Jews were completely paralysed, and they became a prey to unparalleled cruelty.

As the gruesome effect of this legislation became known, a fresh outburst of horror and indignation swelled up from western Europe. It proved powerless. Count Ignatiev was dismissed owing to the protests of high-placed Russians, who were disgusted by the new Kulturkampf, but his work remained, and, under the influence of Pobôdonostsev, the procurator of the Holy Synod, the policy of the "May Laws," as they were significantly called, was applied to every aspect of Jewish life with pitiless rigour. The temper of the tsar may be judged by the fact that when an appeal for mercy from an illustrious personage in England was conveyed to him at Fredensborg through the gracious medium of the tsaritsa, he angrily exclaimed within the hearing of an Englishman in the ante-room who was the bearer of the message, "Never let me hear you mention the name of that people again!"

The Russian May Laws were the most conspicuous' legislative monument achieved by 19th Century anti-Semitism. It is true that they re-enacted regulations which resemble the oppressive statutes introduced into Poland through the influence of the Jesuits in the 16th century, but their Orthodox authors were as little conscious of this irony of history as they were of the Teutonic origins of the whole Slavophil movement. These laws were an experimental application of the political principles extracted by Marr and his German disciples from the metaphysics of Hegel, and as such they afford a valuable means of testing the practical operation of modern anti-Semitism.

Their result was a widespread commercial depression which was felt all over the empire. Even before the May Laws were definitely promulgated the passport registers showed that the anti-Semitic movement bad driven 67,900 Jews across the frontier, and it was estimated that they had taken with them 13,000,000 roubles, representing a minimum loss of 60,000,000 roubles to the anntfal turnover of the country's trade. Towards the end of 1882 it was calculated that the agitation had cost Russia as much as the whole Turkish war of 1877. Trade was everywhere paralysed. The enormous increase of bankruptcies, the transfer of investments to foreign funds, the consequent fall in the value of the rouble and the prices of Russian stocks, the suspension of farming operations owing to advances on growing crops being no longer available, the rise in the prices of the necessaries of life, and lastly, the appearance of famine, filled half the empire with gloom. Banks closed their doors, and the great provincial fairs proved failures.

When it was proposed to expel the Jews from Moscow there was a loud outcry all over the sacred city, and even the Orthodox merchants, realizing that the measure would ruin their flourishing trade with the south and west, petitioned against it. The Moscow Exhibition proved a failure. Nevertheless the government insisted with its harsh policy, and Jewish refugees streamed by tens of thousands across the western frontier to seek an asylum in other lands. In 1891 the alarm caused by this emigration led to further protests from abroad. The citizens of London again assembled at Guildhall, and addressed a petition to the tsar on behalf of his Hebrew subjects. It was handed back to the lord mayor by the Russian ambassador, with a curt intimation that the emperor declined to receive it. At the same time orders were defiantly given that the May Laws should be strictly enforced.

Meanwhile the Russian minister of finance was at his wits' ends for money. Negotiations for a large loan had been entered upon with the house of Rothschild, and a preliminary contract had been signed, when, at the instance of the London firm, M. Wyshnigradski, the finance minister, was informed that unless the persecutions of the Jews were stopped the great banking-house would be compelled to withdraw from the operation. Deeply mortified by this attempt to deal with him de puissance ŕ puissance, the tsar peremptorily broke off the negotiations, and ordered that overtures should be made to a non-Jewish French syndicate. In this way anti-Semitism, which had already so profoundly influenced the domestic politics of Europe, set its mark on the international relations of the powers, for it was the urgent need of the Russian treasury quite as much as the termination of Prince Bismarck's secret treaty of mutual neutrality which brought about the Franco-Russian alliance.

For nearly three years more the persecutions continued. Elated by the success of his crusade against the Jews, Pobedonostsev extended his persecuting policy to other non-Orthodox denominations. The legislation against the Protestant Stundists became almost as unbearable as that imposed on the Jews. In the report of the Holy Synod, presented to the tsar towards the end of 1893, the procurator called for repressive measures against Roman Catholics, Moslems and Buddhists, and denounced the rationalist tendency of the whole system of secular education in the empire.

A year later, however, the tsar died, and his successor, without repealing any of the persecuting laws, let it gradually be understood that their rigorous application might be mitigated. The country was tired and exhausted by the persecution, and the tolerant hints which came from high quarters were acted upon with significant alacrity.

A new era of conflict dawned with the great constitutional struggle towards the end of the century. The conditions, however, were very different from those which prevailed in the 1880s. The May Laws had avenged themselves with singular fitness. By confining the Jews to the towns at the very moment that Count Witte's policy of protection was creating an enormous industrial proletariat they placed at the disposal of the disaffected masses an ally powerful in numbers and intelligence, and especially in its bitter sense of wrong, its reckless despair and its cosmopolitan outlook and connexions.

As early as 1885 the Jewish workmen assisted by Jewish university students led the way in the formation of trades unions. They also became the colporteurs of western European socialism, and they played an important part in the organization of the-Russian Social Democratic Federation which their "Arbeiter Bund" joined in 1898 with no fewer than 30,000 members. The Jewish element in the new democratic movement excited the resentment of the government, and under the minister of the interior, M. Sipiaguine, the persecuting laws were once more rigorously enforced. The Bund replied in 1901 by proclaiming itself frankly political and revolutionary, and at once took a leading place in the revolutionary movement.

The reactionaries were not slow to profit by this circumstance. With the support of M. Plehec, the new minister of the interior, and the whole of the bureaucratic class they denounced the revolution as a Jewish conspiracy, engineered for exclusively Jewish purposes and designed to establish a Jewish domination over the Russian people. The government and even the intímales of the tsar became persuaded that only by the terrorization of the Jews could the revolutionary movement be effectually dealt with. For this purpose a so-called League of True Russians was formed. Under high patronage, and with the assistance of the secret police and a large number of the local authorities, it set itself to stir up the populace, chiefly the fanatics and the hooligans, against the Jews. Incendiary proclamations were prepared and printed in the ministry of the interior itself, and were circulated by the provincial governors and the police (Prince Urussov's speech in the Duma, June 8 (21), 1906).

The result was another scries of massacres which began at Kishinev in 1903 and culminated in wholesale butchery at Odessa and Bielostok in October 1905. Thus, in one day - October 18th, 1905 - pogroms took place in 200 cities, a counterrevolution against all revolutionists-Russian, Jewish or Tartar, conducted by mobs and directed by the Black Hundred, the reactionary society. During the troublous times of 1902-7, 40% of the revolutionists were Jews (in some districts 90%!), which accounted for many of the subsequent riots against them. An attempt was made to picture and excuse these outbreaks as a national upheaval against the Jew-made revolution but it failed. They only embittered the revolutionists and "intellectuals" throughout the country, and won for them a great deal of outspoken sympathy abroad. The artificiality of the anti-Jewish outbreak was illustrated by the first Duma elections. Thirteen Jews were elected and every constituency which had been the scene of a pogrom returned a liberal member.

Unfortunately the Jews benefited little by the new parliamentary constitution. The privileges of voting for members of the Duma and of sitting in the new assembly were granted them, but all their civil and religious disabilities were maintained. Both the first and the second Duma proposed to emancípale them, but they were dissolved before any action could be taken. By the modification of the electoral law under which the third Duma was elected the voling power of the Jews was diminished and further restrictions were imposed upon them through official intimidation during ihe elections. The result was lhat only two Jews were elected, while the reactionary tendency of the new electorate virtually removed the question of their emancipation from the field of practical politics.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:47:06 ZULU