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.
It is hard to tell this little story,—it is so simple. When I was a youth, I used to gather the children of our street on Sunday mornings during the spring and summer seasons and take them with me to the fields and woods. I took great pleasure in the friendship of these little people, who were as gay as birds.
The children were only too glad to leave the dusty, narrow streets of the city. Their mothers provided them with slices of bread, while I bought them dainties and filled a big bottle with cider, and like a shepherd, walked behind my carefree little lambs, while we passed through the town and the fields on our way to the green forest, beautiful and caressing in its array of Spring.
We always started on our journey early in the morning when the church bells were ushering in the early mass, and we were accompanied by the chimes and the clouds of dust raised by the children's nimble feet.
In the heat of noon, exhausted with playing, my companions would gather at the edge of the forest, and after that, having eaten their food, the smaller children would lie down and sleep in the shade of hazel and snow-ball trees, while the ten-year-old boys would flock around me and ask me to tell them stories. I would satisfy their desire, chattering as eagerly as the children themselves, and often, in spite of the self-assurance of youth and the ridiculous pride which it takes in the miserable crumbs of worldly wisdom it possesses, I would feel like a twenty-year-old child in a conclave of sages.
Overhead is the blue veil of the spring sky, and before us lies the deep forest, brooding in wise silence. Now and then the wind whispers gently and stirs the fragrant shadows of the forest, and again does the soothing silence caress us with a motherly caress. White clouds are sailing slowly across the azure heavens. Viewed from the earth, heated by the sun, the sky appears cold, and it is strange to see the clouds melt away in the blue. And all around me—little people, dear little people, destined to partake of all the sorrows and all the joys of life.
These were my happy days, my true holidays, and my soul already dusty with the knowledge of life's evil was bathed and refreshed in the clear-eyed wisdom of child-like thoughts and feelings.
Once, when I was coming out of the city on my way to the fields, accompanied by a crowd of children we met an unknown little Jewish boy. He was barefooted and his shirt was torn; his eyebrows were black, his body slim and his hair grew in curls like that of a little sheep. He was excited and he seemed to have been crying. The lids of his dull-black eyes, swollen and red, contrasted with his face, which, emaciated by starvation, was ghastly pale.
Having found himself face to face with the crowd of children, he stood still in the middle of the road, burrowing his bare feet in the dust, which early in the morning is so deliciously cool. In fear, he half opened the dark lips of his fair mouth,—the next second he leaped right on to the sidewalk.
"Catch him!" the children started to shout gaily and in a chorus. "A Jewish boy! Catch the Jew boy!"
I waited, thinking that he would run away. His thin, big-eyed face was all fear; his lips quivered; he stood there amid the shouts and the mocking laughter. Pressing his shoulders against the fence and hiding his hands behind his back, he stretched and strangely appeared to have grown bigger.
But suddenly he spoke,—very calmly and in a distinct and correct Russian.
"If you wish,—I will show you some tricks."
I took this offer for a means of self-defence. But the children at once became interested. The larger and coarser boys alone looked with distrust and suspicion on the little Jewish boy. The children of our street were in a state of guerilla warfare with the children of other streets; in addition, they were deeply convinced of their own superiority and were loath to brook the rivalry of other children.
The smaller boys approached the matter more simply.
"Come on, show us," they shouted.
The handsome, slim boy moved away from the fence, bent his thin body backward, and touching the ground with his hands, he tossed up his feet and remained standing on his arms, shouting:
"Hop! Hop! Hop!"
Then he began to spin in the air, swinging his body lightly and adroitly. Through the holes of his shirt and pants we caught glimpses of the greyish skin of his slim body, of his sharply bulging and angular shoulder-blades, knees and elbows. It seemed to us as if with one more twist of his body his thin bones would crack and break into pieces.
He worked hard until the shirt grew wet with sweat about his shoulders. After each especially daring feat he looked into the children's faces with an artificial, weary smile, and it was unpleasant to see his dull eyes, grown large with pain. Their strange and unsteady glance was not like that of a child.
The lads encouraged him with loud outcries. Many imitated him, rolling in the dust and shouting for joy, pain and envy. But the joyous minutes were soon over when the boy, bringing his exhibition to an end, looked upon the children with the benevolent smile of a thoroughbred artist and stretching forth his hand said:
"Now give me something."
We all became silent, until one of the children said:
"Yes," said the lad.
"Look at him," said the children.
"For money, we could do those tricks ourselves."
The audience became hostile toward the artist, and betook itself to the field, ridiculing and insulting him. Of course, none of them had any money. I myself, had only seven kopecks about me. I put two coins in the boy's dusty palm. He moved them with his finger and with a kindly smile said: "Thank you."
He went away, and I noticed that his shirt around his back was all in black blotches and was clinging close to his shoulder-blades.
"Hold on, what is it?"
He stopped, turned about, scrutinised me and said distinctly, with the same kindly smile:
"You mean the blotches on my back? That's from falling off the trapeze. It happened on Easter. My father is still lying in bed, but I am quite well now."
I lifted his shirt. On his back, running down from his left shoulder to the side, was a wide dark scratch which had now become dried up into a thick crust. While he was exhibiting his tricks the wound broke open in several spots and red blood was now trickling from the openings.
"It doesn't hurt any more," said he with a smile. "It doesn't hurt, it only itches."
And bravely, as it becomes a hero, he looked in my eyes and went on, speaking like a serious grown-up person:
"You think—I have been doing this for myself? Upon my word—I have not. My father ... there is not a crust of bread in the house, and my father is lying badly hurt. So you see, I have to work hard. And to make matters worse, we are Jews, and everybody laughs at us. Good-bye."
He spoke with a smile, cheerfully and courageously. With a nod of his curly head, he quickly went on, passing by the houses which looked at him with their glass eyes, indifferent and dead.
All this is insignificant and simple, is it not?
Yet many a time in the darkest days of my life I remembered with gratitude the courage and bravery of the little Jewish boy. And now, in these sorrowful days of suffering and bloody outrages which fall upon the grey head of the ancient nation, the creator of Gods and religion,—I think again of the boy, for in him I see the symbol of true manly bravery,—not the pliant patience of slaves, who live by uncertain hopes, but the courage of the strong who are certain of their victory.