Monday, June 24, 2024

When Jabotinsky Wrote An Article Entitled "Zionist Fascists"

The term "fascism" has been applied to Ze'ev Jabotinsky unrelentingly since 1921 and his involvement in the Petliura Affair.

The Zionist Left, Ben-Gurion and especially HaShomer HaTzair, were quite accusing during the 1930s.

Some antagonistic sources are here and here. More neutral ones are here and here. He wasn't a fascist, by the way. Chaim Weitzmann met Mussolini four times but Jabotinsky declined as Mussolini's policies were intolerable for Jabotinsky, even if to advance Zionist aims. He did, though, exploit contacts among pro-fascist Italian Revisionists in 1934 to found the Betar Naval Academy in Civitavecchia. He criticized Abba Achimeir, a member of his Revisionist movement who was enamored of fascism in the late 1920s and early 1930s until Hitler's anti-semitism became blatant.

However, in fact, an article did appear penned by him which carried the title "Zionist Fascists". It was published, in a shortened edited version in English translation under the title "Zionist Fascists" in the organ The Zionist, Volume 1, Issue Number 6, dated June 1926. The original Russian-language piece appeared in November 1925 in Rassviet.

Jabotinsky wrote it after his first appearance at a Zionist Congress, the 14th Congress of 1925  held in Vienna, Austria, a short few months after founding the Revisionist Union of Zionists.  Jabotinsky demanded a more activist policy for the Zionist movement and opposed the inclusion of non-Zionists within the Jewish Agency. His speech, in Hebrew, was reported in Davar (p. 2). The ruling leadership attempted to quash his independent, oppositionist stand.

I found the original Russian (1) and translated it, comparing to a Hebrew translation found in הרוויזיוניזם הציוני בהתגבשותו that appeared in 1985.

It shows that, at least in 1925, for Jabotinsky, as well as for his presumed audience, the term "facism", basically meant an overbearing, dominant leadership that was fairly intolerant of criticism and wasn't enthralled with democracy. Moreover, the article argued for a much more democratic Zionist movement that what he faced at that time.

Judge for yourselves:

Fascists of Zionism.

V. Jabotinsky, Rassviet, No. 51, Paris, November 11, 1925


There is no other name for the trend that now dominates official Zionism. 

It has no program nor any theoretical ideology either. There is only a cult of "leaders", and the bearers of the official banner themselves admit this. I saw it in Kovno, in Frankfurt am Main, in Brno, in Chernivtsi [Tshernowitz] and all over. In discussion meetings or just in interviews, after letting them criticize our heresy (high duties lead to higher living costs, England will not agree to agrarian reform, and the legion is militarism, etc. [that is, the Revisionist program]), I always asked them the same question: 

"Okay; let's assume that Revisionism is no good. But what do you propose — you, the majority of the 14th Congress? How will you provide markets for the sale of Palestinian goods? How are you going to get agricultural colonization off the ground, at prices of almost 20 pounds per dunam? And how will you ensure the protection of hundreds of scattered Jewish settlements with a garrison of 1,500 people? Please show me the program." 

This question always and everywhere acted in a magical fashion: half of the opponents became vague, the other half began to stutter or fall into abstract eloquence (in Brussels, one local talent answered my question with a speech about the theory of knowledge in connection with [Henri-Louise] Bergson’s system. Really.), and in the end a frank confession: “We don’t have a program in this sense, and it’s not our business. We have leaders, we trust them; they know what needs to be done and they will do it as soon as the opportunity arises.”

I am not discussing today the question of who these “leaders” are, what their human and political value is, and whether they have already twenty times, or at least once in their lives, presented the government with a demand for agrarian reform [the claim was that the local Ottoman land system inherited by Mandate Palestine as inefficient, destructive, and in need of reform such as the land tenure system]. We are not talking about these “leaders,” but about the psychology of the majority. It has now been completely and utterly reduced to the cult of individuals, and it manifests and proclaims it with all the grace of unprincipled and carefree cynicism. Programs, directions, beliefs are all worthless. The whole point is that A, B and C are at the head of the movement. They will do everything that is necessary and possible and if they don’t do something, it means it’s either not necessary or it's impossible.

This was once a case in a Balkan kingdom of parties, even directly named after the surnames of their 'tzaddiks': Rallists for G. Rally, Theotokists for G. Theotokis. What the difference between the programs was unknown and unimportant. Perhaps an even more vivid analogy can be found if you decide to take a walk through the annals of medieval Islam. The textbook says that Caliph Omar ordered the burning of the library of Alexandria, because if these scrolls say the same as in the Quran, then they are superfluous. And if they say something that did not occur to Mohammed, then they are harmful. Mohammed knew the whole truth and set it all out in the Quran, but the rest is unnecessary.

This is the psychology that was revealed at the 14th Congress, which now dominates the thinking amongst Zionist officials. To discuss it seriously is somehow awkward: it is outside the bounds of culture. Nevertheless, it is necessary to discuss it, if only to disassociate ourselves from it.


The cult of personality is now in great fashion everywhere. The Italian example has partly had an influence in this respect, which will probably continue to poison the atmosphere until it ends in inevitable shame. As for us, in Zionism, the English psychology and terminology, which many of us hurried to adopt, played a role in the same direction. As we know, the idiotic notion of "leader" is also of English origin. You hear phrases now like "it is the person, not the program, that counts."

Of course, this is not news in Jewish life. The old ghetto did not seem to know any other principle of orientation. The direction of the flock was determined unquestioningly by authority. There were two types of authority: of the "scholar" and of the "plutocrat" or gvir. The scholar knew the Talmud well, the gvir skillfully conducted his business.The congregation therefore believed that they could get all sorts of information about the governor and about the typhoid epidemic. When the "leader" changed his views, the flock also changed them. All this was not dangerous at that time, since there was no objective possibility at all to fight either the epidemic or the governor. Unfortunately, we have transferred the skills of the ghetto to Zionism — and not only in this one respect.

No one argues against the fact that personality can sometimes play a major role in history. If there had been no Napoleon or Garibaldi, not even Marx or even the Besht, Europe or, in particular, Jewry, would now be nothing like what they have actually become. There are, of course, "leaders" of parties. But personalities of this caliber do not arise on demand.They cannot be turned into a permanent institution; there is no such principle as "let there be a leader". And it is impossible to build a durable political system on this principle.

Moreover, no one anywhere is building a political system on this principle, with the exception of fascism and the three backwaters mentioned above: the Balkan kingdom, the old ghetto, and, unfortunately, the Zionist organization in its current composition. The English piously preserve the notion of "leader" simply out of habit, bowing to tradition, but in reality, when seriously needed, they have as little regard for this tradition as for all others. In elections to the lower house, they argue not about who is the best "leader"- Lloyd George, Macdonald, or Baldwin - but about which party has the most suitable program. It happens that the Conservatives win, although no one denies that Lloyd George has a real talent for leadership, and Baldwin is merely a middle-sized gentleman. And in France, parties win or fall quite regardless of whether the best "leader" is [Raymond] Poincaré or [Paul] Penlévé. It is the same - with one temporary exception - in every civilized country: the political struggle can proceed only along the lines of programs, without any reference to the personal genius of the representatives and secretaries.

Again, no one ever raises the question - except in the Middle Ages and in the provinces - that "if the opposition’s demands were reasonable, wouldn’t the current prime minister himself understand their rationality? After all, he’s so smart!" Civilized peoples have become accustomed to the idea that although Gladstone is smart and Disraeli is smart, and both "understand", yet they understand differently, and that is why they belong to different parties, and nothing can be done about it. Gladstone will not accept tariff reform, Disraeli does not believe in Home Rule. 

Therefore, the role of the opposition is not at all reduced to the fact that, without trying to convince a single convinced opponent, a mechanical majority removes the ruling party and takes its place. To do this, the opposition appeals to a non-partisan judge, i.e., to the mass of voters. And the duty of this mass in the elections is not to establish who is more talented, educated, tactful or effective - Disraeli or Gladstone - but to find out whether tariff reform is necessary or not, whether Home Rule is useful or harmful. The fair struggle of parties is anonymous by nature. This is the only way the masses in cultural societies understand their political duty. The Quran is a good book, Mohammed is a great prophet, but it does not follow from this that there is no truth outside the Quran and Mohammed.


To take a different point of view means to get bogged down in a swamp of absurdities, and worse, in a quagmire of social disorder. If at the head of the Zionist movement there must necessarily be “personalities” possessing such and such personal qualities - and if these individuals must be preserved at all costs, regardless of their program - and if therefore the Congress, following the example of the 14th, must adapt its decisions not to its own moods, but to the leaders - then why do we have a struggle of opinions, why elections, why debates at the congress - and the congress itself? The entire Zionist community then turns into an unnecessary absurdity. A person or group who has a new thought must then simply present it to the "leaders". If the “leaders” reject it outright, then this is the end of the matter: there is no point in continuing to fight, there is no point in recruiting supporters, there is no point in speaking at the congress - after all, this is not in the Quran, which means the book will be burned, for Mohammed must remain a prophet under all conditions.

It becomes even more absurd when, in the end, new “leaders” will have to be chosen—which is inevitable in a long-lasting enterprise. We will choose them, then, again based on personal qualities: oratorical talent, knowledge of languages, manners, acquaintance with feudal rulers and local governors, those with “personal magnetism”, etc. If at the same time the city turns out to have voters have different favorites, it will be interesting to listen to this paperwork. How to measure, with objective persuasiveness, qualities completely immeasurable? In English, you can still arrange an exam. But where are the scales for such an essential detail as, say, "personal charm" as applied to the average type of the English Minister of the Colonies? I think it's superfluous to apologize for the lightness of my tone but strictly speaking, this whole "ideology" deserves nothing but mockery.

That is why I called the notion of a "leader" an idiotic notion. I repeat: the English themselves do not take it seriously but we believe in it with the fervor of a provincial who has entered a restaurant in the capital for the first time and bowed to the gilded doorman. In England, each party elects a representative and, according to the old custom, awards him the title him "leader". However, in reality, he is simply the chairman of the Central Committee. He maintains his post as long as he obeys the instructions of the party congress, and in case of disagreement, it is not the congress that abandons its views, but the chairman simply leaves. With us it is the other way around. One can't help but remember the saying: if you put him in a position to pray to God, he will bruise his forehead.

This is all about absurdities; but there are also ugly outrages. The mere fact that young people growing up in our country are indoctrinated with the rule: not to reason, not to move their brains, but to go where the god-inspired ones tell them to go - this alone is a public disgrace. The disgrace is the boom around individual names, the very injection of the term "leaders", which creates the impression that our movement is alive not with thousands of ordinary bearers of enthusiasm, not with the sweat of pioneers old and new, not with the blood spilled in Gallipoli, in the Jordan Valley and in Tel Hai, not with the pennies of ordinary people and the moral hard labor of those who collect these pennies, going from house to house - but is alive only thanks to the incidental talent of two or three individuals. 

But even worse ugliness will result if the opposition accepts all this clerical whistling as a dogma and also admits that "it's not about programs, but about personalities”. For then what can be done by those who, as honestly and sincerely as their admirers, believe neither in their divine inspiration, nor in their special talent, nor in the intellectual subtlety of their "leaders"? Instead of arguing about the benefits of agrarian reform, they will have to engage in blaspheming Mr. A. or Mr. V., while praising Mr. S., their own candidate. All this belongs in a bazaar, not in a decent movement.

In our time, in the European cultural scene, there is only one country where something similar is observed. Fascism, too, has no clear program - no such provisions and demands which would not be a rehash of what every other patriotic and bourgeois party has said a hundred times. That is why the program there is replaced by faith in a "leader." The latter concept is so alien to the Italian tradition that there was not even a suitable word for it in the everyday dictionary: we had to take the Latin "dux" and re-Italianize it into "duce". Henceforth, the truth is what the "leader" says, that is, what is not in the Quran is to be burned. But in Italy, at least, behind all this, there is a fighting temperament, youth, national pride. In our case, it is all used to justify the schutz judentum [lit.: Jews protected by the Crown who acted as go-betweens], or the abandonment of national ideology for the sake of attracting moneybags. And in Italy this blindness will end badly. In ours, it will be even worse, and sooner.

It is true that we do not have a physical club with which to subdue the opposition but we have surrogates of no less squalid and impure character. The most popular of these is simple slander. Those who deny the "leaders" are thereby declared to be opponents of the Keren-Hayesod [the funnding arm of the World Zionist Orgnaization]. Worse, they are said to advise Jews not to go to Palestine. They need to be "boycotted."

When a person from the opposition comes to Chișinău [formerly Kishinev], and he is greeted in the streets by a crowd of ten thousand people, the local Zionist Committee considers it its duty to announce somewhere in the Events section of the local newspaper that the committee in this meeting 'will not be participating'. (It is obvious that in a few years, if the executive will pass into other hands, and if Mr. Sokolov, then an opposition figure, will come to Chișinău to state his views, it then will be necessary to 'boycott' him). 

But there are worse subsitutes for truncheons. In one city, the pro-Revisionist secretary of the Zionist committee is removed from office. In another, the teacher at the Jewish gymnasium is offered an ultimatum: either to leave school or to abandon the role of chairman of the [new] activist group. Lackeyism and boorishness always go hand in hand. It is obviously impossible to defend an unprincipled position by pure means.

But an assault on an unprincipled position can and should be carried out by pure means, i.e., principles, namely: 

1. The struggle within Zionism is to be conducted only on the basis of programs. Proper names cannot play any role in this. An honest program is essentially anonymous. 

2. Congress votes not for an Executive or against an Executive, but for this or that program. Only after this do they see whose name is signed under the winning program. No matter whose name it is - Wolfgang von Goethe or Ivan Bezrodny - its bearer is entrusted with drawing up the executive agenda. We will achieve this. And, judging by the ideological collapse that I now saw in the ranks of Zionist fascism from Riga to Bucharest, soon.


(1) Here's the first paragraph, as an example:

Фашисты сионизма. В. Жаботинский

Никакого другого имени для направления, господствующего теперь в официальном сионизме, не придумаешь. Программы у него нет, теоретической идеологии тоже; есть только культ «вождей», и носители официального знамени сами в этом сознаются. Я это видел в Ковне, во Франкфурте-на-Майне, в Брюнне, в Черновцах и повсюду. В дискуссионных собраниях или просто в собеседованиях, дав им покритиковать нашу ересь (высокие пошлины ведут к вздорожанию жизни, на аграрную реформу не согласится Англия, а легион есть милитаризм, и т. п.), я всегда задавал им один и тот же вопрос: «Хорошо; допустим, что ревизионизм никуда не годится. Но что же вы предлагаете — вы, большинство 14-го конгресса? Как вы-то обеспечите рынки для сбыта палестинских товаров? Как вы-то сдвинете с мертвой точки земледельческую колонизацию, при ценах чуть ли не по 20 фунтов за дунам? И как вы-то обеспечите защиту сотни с чем-то разбросанных еврейских поселков при гарнизоне в 1500 человек? Будьте любезны, предъявите программу». Вопрос этот всегда и всюду действовал магически: половина оппонентов стушевывалась, вторая половина начинала заикаться или впадать в отвлеченное красноречие (в Брюсселе один местный талант ответил на мой вопрос речью о теории познания в связи с системой Бергсона: факт), и в конце концов раздавалось откровенное признание: «Программы в этом смысле у нас нет, и не наше это дело. У нас есть вожди, мы им доверяем; они знают, что нужно сделать, и они это сделают, как только явится возможность».

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