This is not merely a book about the Russian Jews. It is a marvellous revelation of the Russian soul. It shows not only that the overwhelming majority of the Russian intellectuals, including nearly all of her brilliant literary geniuses, are opposed to the persecution of the Jews or any other race, but that they have a capacity for sympathy and understanding of humanity unequalled in any other land. I do not know of any book where the genius and heart of Russia is better displayed. Not only her leading litterateurs but also her leading statesmen and economists are represented—and all of them speak as with a single voice.
I am writing on the 16th of March. Yesterday the news reached the world that Russia had probably at last succeeded in emancipating itself from the German-sustained and German-supported autocracy which so long has been renounced by practically all classes of the Russian people. I have pointed out elsewhere that this Second Act of the great drama of social transformation in Russia was to be expected in connection with the present war. It is not surprising that this Act, like the first—the Revolution of 1905—is accompanied by an irresistible demand for the cessation of the persecution of the Jews and other minority races. The first Duma, that of 1906, demanded unanimously that all these races be given absolutely the same rights as other Russians. The rise of Liberalism during the war, in connection with military necessities, had already abolished a number of Jewish disabilities. There is no longer any question that the Jews will be given equality. Without exception the anti-Semitic organisations were supported by the pro-German party, the money which was alone responsible for the pogroms was furnished by these same organisations, and now this Party and these organisations are forever overthrown. It was Dr. Dubrovin, for example, who year by year carried out the murders of the leading representatives of the Jews in the Duma and who almost succeeded in having Milukov assassinated a few weeks ago. Dubrovin was one of the most important of the sinister forces supported by the money of the German Czarina's court party—which was organised by Baron Fredericks and other notorious Germans masquerading as Russians.
The re-birth of Russia which is now taking place cannot be understood apart from the Jewish problem. As Russia's leading Liberal statesman, Prof. Paul Milukov—who is well and favorably known in America because of extended visits here—points out in the article he contributes to the present volume, the anti-Semitic parties coincide with the anti-constitutional parties. At first this seems a strange and unaccountable fact, but a brief glance at the history of other countries will show that the party standing for the persecution of weak foreign neighbours and the oppression of minority races within and without a country has always and everywhere been the party of reaction. As Milukov says, there was no need for an anti-constitutional movement until there was a constitutional movement. As soon as Liberalism appeared, however, and gained support among the masses, it was necessary to fabricate some counter movement, and the governmental bureaucracy fixed upon anti-Semitism as a primitive means of appealing to the masses, and so of bridling them. It may be further pointed out that this systematic propaganda against democracy was almost non-existent in Russia until it had become thoroughly organised and successful in Germany. Both Kovalevsky and Milukov demonstrate in the present volume that anti-Semitism became an important factor in Russian life only after the middle of the Nineteenth Century—that is to say, after the final victory of Prussian Reactionism over German Liberalism in 1849 (a victory which has lasted to the present time)—and still more, after the great military victories of Prussia from 1864 to 1870 had put Prussian militarism in the saddle and had made it the dominating force in the Russian court and Russian bureaucracy.
However, the intelligence, energy, and courage of the Russian Liberals has entirely thwarted this scheme to divide the Russian people. The bureaucracy has gained almost no support among any section of the Russian nation, except its own narrow circles, either for its persecution of the Jews or its oppression of the Poles, Finns, Tartars, Armenians and other races. On the contrary, the anti-Semitic propaganda has reacted against its promoters. A considerable number, though by no means a majority, of the Russian Liberals are Jews, and Russian Liberals do not at all endeavour to hide this fact. The consequence is that the union of the Russian Liberals with all the persecuted races has been all the more firmly cemented. And just as all Russian Liberals are ardent supporters of the war against Germany, so practically all the leaders of the Russian Jews are equally patriotic—in spite of the fact that many forms of persecution have remained, and, furthermore, new forms of persecution have been invented since the war. Though the German agitation in America has won over a large part of the Russian Jews in this country to the German cause, this agitation has had no such success in Russia, unless among a relatively small proportion of the Jewish population.
It is known that the anti-Semitic agitation in Russia has taken hold of only a small proportion of the Russian people among the semi-criminal population of the cities and towns. It is notorious that the pogroms were often organised and carried out by the secret police and the cossacks, and that in other instances they were executed by bands of a few hundred bribed toughs, called by educated Russians "the black hundreds." This social element is what we would ordinarily call in America the "mob," and it certainly does not constitute one per cent. of the population in Russia or in any other country. Gorky refers to it as "the populace": "In addition to the people, there is also the 'populace,' something standing outside of social classes and outside of civilisation, and united by the dark sense of hatred against all that surpasses its understanding and is defenceless against brute force. I speak of the populace which thus defines itself in the words of Pushkin:
"'We are insidious and shameless,
Ungrateful, faint-hearted and wicked;
At heart we are cold, sterile eunuchs,
Traducers, born to slavery.'"
The refusal of the Russian people to be either bribed or deceived into hostility to the Jews is clearly enough demonstrated by the feeling of affection on the part of most intelligent Jews towards the Russian people. The only exceptions are those Jews which come from the Polish cities far within the Jewish Pale and do not know the Russian people except by hearsay. Unfortunately, this is a considerable portion of the total of the Jews in Russia, and it is from these cities and towns in the heart of the Pale that most of our immigrants come. But all the more educated Jews—and a very large part are educated—all those who know Russia either by a travel or through Russian literature and newspapers, feel a deep affection for their country, for in spite of all, Russia belongs to them just as much as it does to other Russians. One of the editors of the present volume, Fyodor Sologub, says:
"Whenever I met Russian Jews abroad, I always marvelled at the strangely tenacious love for Russia which they preserve. They speak of Russia with the same longing and the same tenderness as the Russian emigrants; they are equally eager to return and equally saddened, if the return is impossible. Wherefore should they love Russia, who is so harsh and inhospitable toward them?"
It is useless for Americans to deceive themselves into thinking that the Russian Jewish question is either unimportant or incomprehensible from the point of view of our progress and democracy. Do we not have our negro and Asiatic problems? Do not the English have their Irish and Indian questions? I do not suggest that the parallel is complete, but it is clear that the Russian writers in the present volume are perfectly correct in referring both to our negro question and our question of yellow labour as closely similar to their Jewish problem. Both the brilliant and fascinating discussions by Andreyev and Merezhkovsky will apply almost as well to any other so-called "race question" as to that of the Russian Jews. Says Merezhkovsky:
"We would like very much to say that there is no such thing as the Jewish, Polish, Ukrainian, Armenian, Georgian, question; that there is only one question—the Russian. Yes, we would like to, but we cannot; the Russian people have yet to earn the right to say that, and therein lies their tragedy...."
"'Judophilism' and 'Judophobia' are closely related. A blind denial of a nationality engenders an equally blind affirmation of it. An absolute 'Nay' naturally brings forth an absolute 'Yea.'"
"That is why we say to the 'Nationalists': 'Cease oppressing the non-Russian element of our empire, so that we may have the right to be Russians, and that we may with dignity show our national face, as that of a human being, not that of a beast. Cease to be 'Judophobes' so that we may cease to be 'Judophiles.''"
Is it not clear from the recent discussion in the British Parliament that the Irish problem weighs like an almost intolerable burden just as much upon the British Empire as it does upon Ireland? Is it not equally clear from England's concession of a cotton tariff to India that she will be obliged for her own sake to make further concessions to justice in that country? And can America ever hope to have any standing in the court of nations as long as our infamous persecution of the negroes and our atrocious attitude towards Asiatics continues? Nations can indulge themselves for a certain period in such gross and stupid crimes, but the longer the settlement is postponed the greater the blood-price that must be paid in the end—and in the meanwhile all our civilisation is poisoned, if not actually rotted, by the network of lies by which the persecutors are forced to defend their infamies—lies which are necessarily more far-reaching and impudently false in a democracy than they are in an autocracy where the existing system maintains itself rather by force than by public opinion.
But few of us educated Americans have the intellectual and moral courage of the educated classes of Russia. We feel that we can avoid our moral and intellectual responsibilities by turning our back on existing crimes. It has frequently been pointed out that in spite of a government even more anti-democratic than that of Germany, the Russian people have been infinitely more democratic than the Germans. In the same way, while the institutions of America are much further developed in the direction of general democracy than those of Russia, the very reverse is the case with public opinion. The educated classes of Russia have the courage and intelligence to call a spade a spade. They realise that they are partly responsible for the sins committed by the Russian nation, even though they have been powerless heretofore to remedy these conditions in the face of an armed and organised autocracy, backed by the moral, intellectual and military force of Germany and by the money of France and England. Andreyev, for example, regards the Jewish problem as primarily a Russian problem. It is one of the chief burdens, if not the chief burden, which has been crushing the Russian nation. In this book he says:
"When did the 'Jewish question' leap on my back?—I do not know. I was born with it and under it. From the very moment I assumed a conscious attitude towards life until this very day I have lived in its noisome atmosphere, breathed in the poisoned air which surrounds all these 'problems,' all these dark, harrowing alogisms, unbearable to the intellect.
"And yet I, a Russian intellectual, a happy representative of the sovereign race, although fully conscious and convinced that the 'Jewish question' is no question at all,—I felt powerless and doomed to the most sterile tribulation of spirit. For, all the clear-cut arguments of my intellect, the most fervent tirades and speeches, the sincerest tears of compassion and outcries of indignation unfailingly broke against a dull, unresponsive wall. But all powerlessness, if it is unable to prevent a crime, becomes complicity; and this was the result: personally guiltless of any offence against my brother, I have become in the eyes of all those unconcerned and those of my brother himself, a Cain."
The new Russia is being born while I write these lines, and intelligent Americans are discussing nothing else except this great world event—comparable in importance even to the colossal war itself. If we wish to understand educated Russia—which has brought about the change—many-sided, large-hearted and intellectually more brilliant perhaps than the educated class of any other nation, we cannot do better than to read and think over what that galaxy of Russian genius that has composed the present volume has written. We must not forget that the educated class in Russia is almost as numerous as in the other great nations, and perhaps plays an even more important rôle in Russia than it does in other countries. What Russia has lacked has been neither an educated class nor masses capable and ready to be trained to any kind of modern employment, but a great technically trained, free and organised "intellectual middle class"—an expression I am forced to coin for my present purpose. It is hardly necessary to prove this assertion. The world is well acquainted with Russian genius in literature, art, music, philosophy, sociology, economics, history, and the higher realms of science. Moreover Russia is not without technological schools, but the proportion of her population employed in the scientific organisation of industry and business is insignificant in comparison with that of other countries—owing, of course, to the backward state of Russian industry and Russian government. But this fact, important as it is, must not obscure the equally important fact that the educated and cultivated class in Russia, speaking several languages, and personally familiar with the civilisation of one or more foreign countries, exercises an influence over Russian society and Russian public opinion undoubtedly stronger than that of any other educated class whatever—with the possible exception of that of Germany. We cannot hope to understand the new Russia unless we understand the character and point of view of the Russian "intellegentsia," and this is nowhere so clearly, succinctly and interestingly set forth as in "The Shield."
William English Walling.
Published by the Russian Society for the Study of Jewish Life under the joint editorship of three eminent men-of-letters, Gorky, Andreyev, and Sologub, the original Shield saw the light of day last year in Petrograd. The book consists of numerous studies, essays, stories and poems, all these contributions to the symposium on the Jewish question coming exclusively from the pen of Russian authors of non-Jewish birth. In making a selection for the present volume, I have thought it advisable to give decided preference to the publicistic articles of the original collection. Thus, the present version contains practically all the various important studies and essays of the Russian Shield, while most of the stories have been omitted, without great detriment to the book. I have also had to sacrifice, for obvious reasons, all the poetic contributions to the original, signed by such great masters of modern Russian poetry as Balmont, Bunin, Z. Hippins, Sologub, and Shchepkina-Kupernik.
My thanks are due to Dr. Louis S. Friedland and Professor Earle F. Palmer for going over a considerable portion of the present volume.
A sad and disquieting image often rises before my eyes.
It happened in Petrograd, on the staircase of a large, new building, one apartment of which was transformed into a private ward. When I entered the porter's lodge, on my way to a friend, I saw that it was filled with wounded soldiers, who had just arrived, while curious spectators crowded near the plate-glass door. The house was new and luxuriously furnished, and the elevator on which the wounded soldiers were taken up, was carefully covered with some kind of cloth, for fear that the velvet would be soiled and the insects would get into the seams. Upstairs the wounded were cordially greeted by a priest and a man dressed in white. After having kissed the priest's hand, the wounded, evidently embarrassed by the bright light and the luxury of the place, entered the ward awkwardly and silently. There were no seriously wounded on stretchers among them, all were able to walk; yet it was painful to look at them.
There was a wounded soldier in one of the last groups taken up by the elevator who strangely attracted everybody's attention. He was a short, young, lean, ghastly pale Jew. All the wounded were pale, but there was something sinister about the pallor of his face; it was a paleness of an utterly exhausted, anæmic or fatally sick man. He was walking alone, feebly moving his feet, and like everybody else bent to kiss the hand of the priest, but he hardly knew what he was doing, and his kiss was strangely indifferent and meaningless. He was evidently wounded in his arm, which he held stretched out. Several fingers were wrapped up, the others, which were not injured, were covered with a crust of dirt and blood. But on his coat, on the back, there was a large brown blotch of blood, a very large one, covering almost half of his back and in the midst of the soft cloth it bulged stiffly as if starched. And this horrible spot told the simple story of the battle and the wound. But it was not the stain that made him so peculiarly conspicuous—other soldiers had similar blotches—it was rather his unusual pallor, thinness and smallness, and, above all, an expression of peculiar timidity, as if he was not at all sure whether his behaviour was appropriate and whether he had come to the right place. The faces of the other wounded soldiers, non-Jews, expressed nothing of the kind. These men were confused, but not afraid, and walked straight ahead, into the ward.
And then I recollected how a military sanitarian, whose duty it is to escort a train of wounded soldiers, had told me that the wounded Jews actually try not to moan. It was hardly credible, and at first I did not believe it; how was it possible, that a wounded soldier, freshly picked up from the battlefield and lying among wounded soldiers should try not to moan, as all do? But the sanitarian confirmed his statement and added: they are afraid to attract attention to themselves.
The Jewish soldier entered the ward after the others, and the door was closed, but his image, sorrowful and disquieting, lingered before my eyes. Of course, he, too, tried not to attract attention—and therein is the cause of his shyness; and when his wound will be dressed and he will be put into bed, he will also try not to moan. For, what right has he to moan aloud?
It is very possible, that he has no right of settlement in Petrograd and is allowed to stay there only as one of the wounded; a rather precarious right! And that which is home for others is nothing but a kind of honourable imprisonment for him; he will be kept for a while, then they will let him go, saying: "Go away, you must not be here."
And what if his mother, or sister, or father, who also have no right of settlement, will desire to come to him and kiss his bloodstained hand which has defended Russia—vague, distant Russia? But these reflections and questions came to my mind later. At the moment, I beheld, with the eyes of a peaceful citizen, the bloody, hardened blotch and the dreadful pallor of war, and the needless terror before that which, after all, is your own, and I felt an overwhelming depression and sadness.