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Russia and the Jews

From The Shield, by Various.


Edited by Maksim Gorky, Leonid Nikolayevich Andreyev, and Fyodor Sologub.

Translated from the Russian by A. Yarmolinsky

With a Foreword By William English Walling.


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.

Greenwich, Connecticut.


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. Yarmolinsky.

Alexey Maksinovich Pyeshkov, better known under the assumed name of Maxim Gorky, was born in 1869. In 1905 he was arrested and imprisoned because of his political convictions. After the revolutionary days of 1906 he left Russia and settled on the island of Capri. At the beginning of the present war he returned to Russia and took an active part in the public life of the country. He is at present residing in Petrograd, where he edits a monthly of distinctly radical tendencies.


By Maxim Gorky.

From time to time—more often as time goes on!—circumstances force the Russian author to remind his compatriots of certain indisputable, elementary truths.

It is a very hard duty:—it is painfully awkward to speak to grown-up and literate people in this manner:

"Ladies and gentlemen! We must be humane; humaneness is not only beautiful, but also advantageous to us. We must be just; justice is the foundation of culture. We must make our own the ideas of law and civil liberty: the usefulness of such an assimilation is clearly demonstrated by the high degree of civilisation reached by the Western countries, for instance, by England.

"We must develop in ourselves a moral tidiness, and an aversion to all the manifestations of the brute principle in man, such as the wolfish, degrading hatred for people of other races. The hatred of the Jew is a beastlike, brute phenomenon; we must combat it in the interests of the quicker growth of social sentiments and social culture.

"The Jews are human beings, just like others, and, like all human beings, the Jews must be free.

"A man who meets all the duties of a citizen, thereby deserves to be given all the rights of citizenship.

"Every human being has an inalienable right to apply his energy in all the branches of industry and all the departments of culture, and the broader the scope of his personal and social activities, the more does his country gain in power and beauty."

There are a number of other equally elementary truths which should have long since sunk into the flesh and blood of Russian society, but which have not as yet done so.

I repeat—it is a hard thing to assume the rôle of a preacher of social proprieties and to keep reiterating to people: "It is not good, it is unworthy of you to live such a dirty, careless, savage life—wash yourselves!"

And in spite of all your love for men, in spite of your pity for them, you are sometimes congealed in cold despair and you think with animosity: "Where then is that celebrated, broad, beautiful Russian soul? So much was and is being said about it, but wherein does its breadth, might and beauty actively manifest itself? And is not our soul broad because it is amorphous? And it is probably owing to its amorphousness that we yield so readily to external pressure, which disfigures us so rapidly and radically."

We are good-natured, as we ourselves express it. But when you look closer at our good-naturedness, you find that it shows a strange resemblance to Oriental indifference.

One of man's most grievous crimes is indifference, inattention to his neighbour's fate; this indifference is pre-eminently ours.

The situation of the Jews in Russia, which is a disgrace to Russian culture, is one of the results of our carelessness, of our indifference to the straight and just decrees of life.

In the interests of reason, justice, civilisation, we must not tolerate that people without rights should live among us; we would never have tolerated it, if we had a strong sense of self-respect.

We have every reason to reckon the Jews among our friends; there are many things for which we must be grateful to them: they have done and are doing much good in those lines of endeavour in which the best Russian minds have been engaged. Nevertheless, without aversion or indignation, we bear a disgraceful stain on our consciousness, the stain of Jewish disabilities. There is in that stain the dirty poison of slanders and the tears and blood of numberless pogroms.

I am not able to speak of anti-Semitism in the manner it deserves. And this not because I have not the power or the right words. It is rather because I am hindered by something that I cannot overcome. I would find words biting, heavy, and pointed enough to fling them in the face of the man-haters, but for that purpose I must descend into a kind of filthy pit. I must put myself on a level with people whom I do not respect and for whom I have an organic aversion.

I am inclined to think that anti-Semitism is indisputable, just as leprosy and syphilis are, and that the world will be cured of this shameful disease only by culture, which sets us free, slowly but surely, from ailments and vices.

Of course, this does not relieve me of the duty to combat in every way the development of anti-Semitism and, according to my powers, to preserve people from getting infected by it. The Jew of to-day is dear to me, and I feel myself guilty before him, for I am one of those who tolerate the oppression of the Jewish nation, the great nation, whom some of the most prominent Western thinkers consider, as a psychical type, higher and more beautiful than the Russian.

I think that the judgment of these thinkers is correct. To my mind, Jews are more European than the Russians are, because of their strongly developed feeling of respect for work and man, if not for any other reason. I admire the spiritual steadfastness of the Jewish nation, its manly idealisms, its unconquerable faith in the victory of good over evil, in the possibility of happiness on earth.

The Jews—mankind's old, strong leaven,—have always exalted its spirit, bringing into the world restless, noble ideas, goading men to embark on a search for finer values.

All men are equal; the soil—is no one's, it is God's; man has the right and the power to resist his fate, and we may stand up even against God,—all this is written in the Jewish Bible, one of the world's best books. And the commandment of love for one's neighbour is also an ancient Jewish commandment, just as are all the rest, "thou shalt not kill" among them.

In 1885 the German-Jewish Union in Germany published "The Principles of the Jewish Moral Doctrine." Here is one of these principles: "Judaism teaches: 'Love thy neighbour as thyself' and announces this commandment of love for all mankind to be the fundamental principle of Jewish religion. It, therefore, forbids all kinds of hostility, envy, ill-will, and unkindly treatment of any one, without distinction of race, nationality and religion."

These principles were ratified by 350 rabbis, and published just at the time of the anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia.

"Judaism teaches respect for the life, the health, the forces and the property of one's neighbour."

I am a Russian. When, alone with myself, I calmly scrutinise my merits and demerits,—it seems to me that I am intensely Russian. And I am deeply convinced that there is much that we Russians can and ought to learn from the Jews.

For instance, the seventh paragraph of the "Principles of the Jewish Moral Doctrine" says: "Judaism commands us to respect work, to take part by either physical or mental labour in the communal work, to seek for life's goods in constant productive and creative work. Judaism, therefore, teaches us to take care of our powers and abilities, to perfect them and apply them actively. It, therefore, forbids all idle pleasure not based on labour, all idleness which hopes for the help of others."

This is beautiful and wise, and this is just what we Russians lack. Oh, if we could educate our unusual powers and abilities, if we had the will to apply them actively in our chaotic, untidy existence, which is terribly blocked up with all kinds of idle clack and home-spun philosophy, and which gets more and more saturated with silly arrogance and puerile bragging. Somewhere deep in the Russian soul—no matter whether it is the "master's" or the muzhik's—there lives a petty and squalid demon of passive anarchism, who infects us with a careless and indifferent attitude toward work, society, people, and ourselves.

I believe that the morality of Judaism would assist us greatly in overcoming this demon,—if only we have the will to combat him.

In my early youth I read—I have forgotten where—the words of the ancient Jewish sage—Hillel, if I remember rightly:

"If thou art not for thyself, who will be for thee? But if thou art for thyself alone—wherefore art thou?"[1]

The inner meaning of these words impressed me with its profound wisdom, and I interpreted them for myself in this manner: I must actively take care of myself, that my life should be better, and I must not impose the care of myself on other people's shoulders; but if I am going to take care of myself alone, of nothing but my own personal life,—it will be useless, ugly and meaningless.

This thought ate its way deep into my soul, and I say now with conviction: Hillel's wisdom served me as a strong staff on my road, which was neither even nor easy. It is hard to say with precision to what one owes the fact that one kept on his feet on the entangled paths of life, when tossed by the tempests of mental despair, but I repeat—Hillel's serene wisdom assisted me many a time.

I believe that Jewish wisdom is more all-human and universal than any other, and this not only because of its immemorial age, not only because it is the first-born, but also because of the powerful humaneness that saturates it, because of its high estimate of man.

"The true Shekinah—is man," says a Jewish text. This thought I dearly love, this I consider the highest wisdom, for I am convinced of this: that until we learn to admire man as the most beautiful and marvellous phenomenon on our planet, until then we shall not be set free from the abomination and lies that saturate our lives.

It is with this conviction that I have entered the world, and with this conviction I shall leave it, and in leaving it I will believe firmly that the time will come when the world will acknowledge that

"The holy of holies is man!"

It is unbearably painful to see that human beings who have produced so much that is beautiful, wise and necessary for the world, live among us oppressed by unfair laws, which in all ways restrain their right to life, work and freedom. It is necessary,—for it is just and useful—to give the Jew equal rights with the Russians; it is imperative that we should do so not only out of respect to the people which has rendered and is constantly rendering yeoman service to humanity and our own nation, but also out of self-respect.

We must make haste with this plain, human reform, for the animosity against Jews is on the increase in our country, and if we do not make an attempt to arrest the growth of this blind hatred, it will prove pernicious to our cultural development. We must bear in mind that the Russian people have hitherto seen very little good, and therefore, believe all the evil things that man-haters whisper in their ears. The Russian peasant does not manifest any organic hatred for the Jew,—on the contrary, he shows an exceptional attraction for Israel's religious thought, fascinating for its democratic spirit. As far as I can remember, the religious sects of "judaizers" exist only in Russia and Hungary. In late years, the sects of "Sabbathists" and "The New Israel" have been developing rather rapidly in our country. In spite of this, when the Russian peasant hears of persecutions of Jews, he says with the indifference of an Oriental:

"No one sues or beats an innocent man."

Who ought to know better than the Russian peasant that in "Holy Russia" the innocent are too often tried and beaten? But his conception of right and wrong has been confused from time immemorial, the sense of injustice is undeveloped in his dark mind, dimmed by centuries of Tartardom, boyardom, and the horrors of serfdom.

The village has a dislike for restless people, even when that restlessness is expressed in an aspiration for a better life. We Russians are intensely Oriental by nature, we love quiet and immobility, and a rebel, even if he be a Job, delights us in but an abstract way. Lost in the depth of a winter six months long, and wrapt in misty dreams, we love beautiful fairy-tales, but the desire for a beautiful life is undeveloped in us. And when on the plane of our lazy thought something new and disquieting makes its appearance,—instead of accepting and sympathetically scanning it, we hasten to drive it into a dark corner of our mind and bury it there, lest it disturb us in our customary vegetative existence, amidst impotent hopes and grey dreams.

In addition to the people, there is also the "populace," something standing outside of social classes and outside of culture, and united by the dark sense of hatred against everything surpassing its understanding and defenceless against brute force. I speak of the populace which thus defines itself in the words of Pushkin, our great poet, who himself suffered so cruelly from the aristocratic populace:

"We are insidious and shameless,
Ungrateful, faint-hearted and wicked;
At heart we are cold, sterile eunuchs,
Traducers, born to slavery."

It is mainly this populace that is the bearer of the brute principles, such as anti-Semitism.

The Jews are defenceless, and this is especially dangerous for them in the conditions of Russian life. Dostoyevsky, who knew the Russian soul so well, pointed out repeatedly that defencelessness arouses in it a sensuous inclination to cruelty and crime. In late years there have appeared in Russia quite a few people who have been taught to think that they are the finest of the wheat, and that their enemy is the stranger, above all—the Jew. For a long time these people were being persuaded that all the Jews are restless people, strikers and rioters. They were next informed that the Jews like to drink the blood of thievish boys. In our days they are being taught that the Polish Jews are spies and traitors.

If this preaching of hatred will not bring bloody and shameful fruits, it will be only because it will clash with our Russian indifference to life and will disappear in it; it will split against the Chinese wall, behind which our still inexplicable nation is hidden.

But if this indifference be stirred up by the efforts of the hatred preachers,—the Jews will loom up before the Russian nation as a race accused of all crimes.

And it is not for the first time that all the troubles of Russian life will be blamed on the Jew; time and again was he the scapegoat for our sins. Only recently he paid with his life and goods for the help he rendered us in our feverish struggle for freedom. I think no one has forgotten the fact that our "emancipatory movements" strangely wound up with anti-Jewish riots.

When the many-raced populace of Jerusalem demanded the death of the defenceless Jew, Christ, Pilate, believing Christ innocent, washed his hands, but allowed him to be put to death.

How then will honest Russian men and women act in Pilate's place? Their judgment is awaited.


[1] "If I am not for myself who is for me? And being for my own self, what am I?" "Pirqe Aboth," I, 14.—Translator's Note.

Maxim Gorky