The Founding Myths of Israel
The Primacy of the Nation: Aaron David Gordon and the Ethos of Nation-Building
THE NEGATION OF THE DIASPORA
Most national movements and parties that managed to translate their historical and cultural aspirations into political terms in the late 1800s and early 1900s viewed themselves as fighting not only for their nation's liberation from a foreign yoke, for its unification, or for the return of its separated brethren but also for protection from assimilation, loss of identity, and cultural annihilation. Zionism was also of this nature. Physical danger, which was a real threat to Eastern European Jews, was not the only peril. The danger of a loss of identity--the result of a modernization process that had begun to spread to Eastern Europe as well--was even more serious. A seemingly paradoxical situation had arisen. Although liberalism had suffered serious setbacks in Germany, Austria, and France--as a result it appeared that the Jews' emancipation was in jeopardy--the assimilation process continued at full strength. Most Jews continued willingly to pay the price for emancipation and gave up their national identity without difficulty, even when it was perfectly clear that this provided no solution to anti-Semitism. Despite the fact that society as a whole increasingly opposed their absorption even as individuals, cultural assimilation continued. The process of loss of identity was very rapid in Central and Western Europe, but signs of it also began to appear in the east, in the Russian empire. It could easily be supposed that in a short time assimilation would gain as much ground there as it had in Western Europe.
A concern for the fate of the nation, which for the first time in its history found itself in a situation in which the traditional frameworks that had held it together for so long were disintegrating, and whose destiny had begun to depend on the personal decision of each member, was accompanied by another, no less important phenomenon: a loathing of the diaspora. No one was more disgusted with their people, more contemptuous of its weaknesses and its way of life, than the founders. These stern individuals, who permitted no self-indulgence, described exiled Jews in terms that at times resembled those of the most rabid anti-Semites. Aaron David Gordon, for instance, wrote that the Jewish people was "broken and crushed ... sick and diseased in body and soul." This great disability, he said, was due to the fact that
we are a parasitic people. We have no roots in the soil; there is no ground beneath our feet. And we are parasites not only in an economic sense but in spirit, in thought, in poetry, in literature, and in our virtues, our ideals, our higher human aspirations. Every alien movement sweeps us along, every wind in the world carries us. We in ourselves are almost nonexistent, so of course we are nothing in the eyes of other peoples either.
Indeed, said Gordon, "It is not our fault that we have reached this point, but that is the fact: that is what exile is like." This destructive criticism was very widespread at the time of the Second Aliyah and, no less than the danger of pogroms in Russia, was fundamental to Zionism.
From the beginning, Zionism faced stiff competition from two factors that played a powerful role in Jewish life: on one hand the instinctive urge to save one's skin and ensure one's economic existence by leaving Eastern Europe for the New World, and on the other hand the attraction of movements with a strong universal and humanistic component, bringing the promise of full emancipation: socialism and liberalism. Emigration to America was a response to the blows anti-Semitism inflicted, a consequence of modernization. The only barrier Zionism could place before this mass exodus was a rejection of the diaspora as such: not merely a rejection of the European diaspora, where the Jewish ability to survive had disappeared, but a total opposition to the concept of life in the diaspora. It was therefore necessary to demonstrate that Jewish life outside Eretz Israel was in its death throes. The Jews, wrote Gordon, were "a people hovering between life and death," and if they had not yet vanished from the face of the earth, it was only because "the body of the people of Israel existed in a mummified state." But now that "the walls of the pyramid have been breached ... the body has begun to crumble, and the fragments are dispersed in all directions." Thus, "In exile, we do not and cannot have a living culture, rooted in real life and developing within itself. We have no culture because we have no life, because the life that exists in exile is not our life."
This concept of the diaspora was quite common among the leadership of the Second Aliyah. In 1915 Ben-Gurion repeated Gordon's statement almost word for word: "We cannot develop a normal and comprehensive culture in exile, not because we do not have the right but because we are physically and spiritually dependent on the alien environment that consciously or unconsciously imposes its culture and way of life upon us." Thus, from the point of view of Zionist activism, there could be no compromise with exile. "Not to condemn exile means to perpetuate it," wrote Berl Katznelson at the height of the Second World War. In this connection he mentioned an article by Yosef Aharonowitz, one of Hapo'el Hatza'ir's founders, written a few years earlier. Aharonowitz, wrote Katznelson in December 1940, "contrasted Eretz Israel with the diaspora, not because he thought Eretz Israel could rescue all the Jews of the diaspora but because he saw that destruction was coming over the diaspora, and only the remnant of Israel in Eretz Israel would be rescued, and that would become the Jewish people." A hatred of the diaspora and a rejection of Jewish life there were a kind of methodological necessity for Zionism.
This had two consequences. First, the explanation of anti-Semitism given by Jew haters of the school of social anti-Semitism fell on fertile soil here. Typical of this way of thinking was an article that appeared in Ha'ahdut in 1912.
Modern anti-Semitism, which the Jews have suffered from during this last century, in politically free countries as well, is largely a consequence of the abnormal economic positions that the Jews have occupied in the diaspora.... Today, the Jewish people has many more shopkeepers, businessmen, teachers, doctors, etc., .. than the small and impoverished masses of Jewish workers is able to support. Thus, our shopkeepers, businessmen, and members of the liberal professions are obliged to gain their livelihood at the expense of the hard toil of the non-Jewish workers.
Similar ideas may be found in abundance in all modern European anti-Semitic literature, and they underlie the claim that modern anti-Semitism is not an expression of religious or racial hatred but an attempt to root out parasitic elements that prevent the proper functioning of social systems. Thus, anti-Semitism has been represented as a defense of the working masses against their exploiters, and hence as a legitimate political phenomenon. It has been seen by many as a manifestation that does not necessarily contradict universal, humanistic, or egalitarian values. At the beginning of the century, the views of those who sought Jewish political independence and those who sought to purge their countries of the Jewish presence were often quite similar.
The second and most important consequence of the rejection of the diaspora, however, was that all hopes and efforts focused on Palestine. The country was regarded as the sole center of not only Jewish existence but also Jewish history, the source of inspiration and the elixir of life. As with all national movements, history played a decisive role in Zionism. As with all national movements, Zionist interpretations were very selective: not only was the favorite period always that of the kings and Maccabees, but it sometimes seemed that between the far-off days of independence and the beginning of the return to the land at the end of the nineteenth century, very few events worthy of mention had taken place in the nation's life. Not only was Jewish history in exile deemed to be unimportant, but the value of living Jews, Jews of flesh and blood, depended entirely on their use as raw material for national revival. The Jewish communities scattered across Central and Eastern Europe were important to the founders chiefly as a source of pioneers. They were considered to have no value in themselves.
Thus, even at the height of the Second World War, there was no change in the order of priorities: it was not the rescue of Jews as such that topped Berl Katznelson's order of priorities but the organization of the Zionist movement in Europe. In December 1940 Katznelson lashed out at Polish Jewry in areas conquered by the Soviet Union because they were unable to cope with the situation and "unable to fight even for a few days for small things like Hebrew schools. In my opinion," wrote Katznelson, "that is a terrible tragedy, no less than the trampling of Jewry by Hitler's jackboots." Indeed, this was the founders' order of priorities from the beginning, and the tragedy of the Jews in the Second World War could not change it. Zionism was an act of rebirth in the most literal sense of the term. Thus, every event in the nation's life was evaluated according to a single criterion: the degree to which it contributed to Zionism.
This concept of Jewish history explains what, in itself, is quite astounding. On the eve of his death, the Kishinev pogroms of 1903 held a more important place in Katznelson's thinking than the Holocaust. In a famous series of lectures on the history of the labor movement in Palestine, given in the summer of 1944, Katznelson dwelled at length on the pogroms at Kishinev on the reactions of Hayyim Nahman Bialik (1873-1934), the national poet, on the historian Simon Dubnow (1860 1941), on Ahad Ha'am (pseudonym of Asher Zvi Ginzberg, 1856-1927), the father of "spiritual Zionism," and on the heroic action of the youth Pinhas Dashevsky, who attacked one of the main instigators of the pogroms. Katznelson equated Dashevsky with Yosef Trumpeldor, the legendary hero killed by Arab guerrillas in 1920 during the battle for Tel Hai, the Jewish settlement on the Lebanese border. Dashevsky's deed, he said, was "the first revolutionary manifestation of Jewish national consciousness." This youth was particularly exemplary because "he understood the true nature of Zionism and adhered to it throughout his life." Judging from volume 11 of Katznelson's Writings, the story of Pinhas Dashevsky had far greater importance for the ideologist of the labor movement than the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In June 1944 one could not yet know the place the revolt would have in the history of Zionism, but at that time--a whole year after the destruction of Polish Jewry--every child in Jewish Palestine knew about the effect of the Kishinev pogroms on national revival; the Kishinev pogroms had released the mechanism of the Second Aliyah. "Nevertheless," said Katznelson, "this event of Kishinev was central in Jewish history. It was decisive for Zionism." Thus, one is hardly surprised to learn that in 1944, as in 1924 or 1914, the main problems on the movement's agenda remained the same: immigration and maintaining the movement's solidarity. When Katznelson spoke of a "disaster," he meant the internal difficulties of the labor movement, the "disaster of the Gdud Ha'avoda" or the "disaster of defection that befell Hashomer Hatza'ir," not the events taking place in Europe under Nazi rule.
For the people of the Second Aliyah, Zionism was not only an answer to the Jews' distress, and Eretz Israel was more than one night's shelter. In this matter, there were always two schools of thought in Zionism. The first, which can be described as the liberal or utilitarian school, viewed the Jews' gathering in Eretz Israel as a solution to physical and economic insecurity in Eastern Europe on one hand and as a response to liberalism's failure in Western Europe on the other. The second school viewed immigration to Eretz Israel as the culmination of Jewish history and the rescue of the nation as a historical entity. From the point of view of the first school, a Jew who clung to exile endangered his property or his person. The Jew--this was the logical conclusion to be drawn from the outbreak of anti-Semitism in France at the time of the Dreyfus Affair--carried anti-Semitism about with him like a piece of personal luggage. Jew hatred was an inseparable part of Jewish existence, and now there was no longer any reason to assume it would disappear with emigration to America. If emancipation had failed in France, there was no reason to suppose that it would succeed on the other side of the ocean. Thus, a concern for the safety of each individual made it imperative to find a territorial solution to the Jewish problem, which would ensure the nation first self-rule and later political independence. Zionism was the most rational solution, an empirical solution suited to the thinking of liberals steeped in Western culture such as Herzl and Nordau.
But Herzl and Nordau never reached Palestine, and liberal values never took root in the founders' ideology; this was not the thinking of groups of young activists who came from areas where tribal nationalism ruled unchallenged. From their point of view, Zionism's justification was not that it provided the most rational or effective solution to the Jews' need for security. The question of security, apart from their sense of shame at Jews' inability to defend their lives and honor during pogroms, was not central to their thinking. As they saw it, Zionism was an operation to rescue the nation and not an operation to rescue Jews as individuals. For them, the quantitative aspect was always secondary, and the founders knew from the beginning that only a few would be attracted to the task of building the nation. Thus, all efforts were directed toward the few thousand (toward the end of the 1930s there were tens of thousands already) who were organized in the Halutz (Pioneer) movement and in various youth movements. All their hopes were centered on this pioneering minority. To them, the masses of Jews who were not Zionists or who were not organized for immigration to Eretz Israel were of minor importance.
WHAT IS A NATION?
Aaron David Gordon, it is generally agreed, has a special place among the people of the Second Aliyah. To the pioneers who got off the ship at Jaffa, "this Jew of about fifty," as Katznelson described him after their first meeting, was already very old. But more important, Gordon was a man of intellectual stature. Among the young pioneers, he stood out as a giant. He was familiar with the dominant cultural trends of his time and knew how to adapt them to the needs of Zionism. Like Ahad Ha'am, Gordon was not an original thinker, but he was one of the few links between the young leadership of the labor movement and European culture as a whole. Katznelson was especially close to Gordon and absorbed his influence directly. At Kinneret, the legendary settlement on the shore of Lake Tiberias, they shared a room, and long afterward Katznelson related that he was the first person to see all of Gordon's manuscripts at that period. There is no doubt that Gordon's influence on Katznelson was decisive and profound. In the struggle between the heritage of Borochov represented by Po'alei Tzion and the pure nationalist current represented by Hapo'el Hatza'ir, Gordon's presence in the country carried special weight for those semi-intellectuals who began their political activities before the First World War.
Gordon gave these young people, who lacked the intellectual equipment of a traditional Torah education and had not yet acquired any real European culture, the first solid basis on which to construct their national outlook. He developed a form of semisecular nationalism that in many respects, although in a far more moderate way, reflected some of the basic principles of European integral nationalism. "A complete and absolute nationalism," "a nationalism complete and absolute through and through," was how Gordon, in 1921, described the conceptual framework and modes of behavior that he deemed necessary for the nation's survival in the open and secular world of the future. For him, the existential danger was not anti-Semitism but liberalism. Since national life in exile, as we have seen, was not considered a life worth living, Gordon proposed a radical solution.
If we do not have a complete and absolute national life embracing our entire existence, it is better that there should be full and total assimilation. If the national ideal is not the loftiest of ideals, which puts all other party and nonparty ideals in the shade and which compels us to devote ourselves to it body and soul, it is better that there should be a total end to things, and that we should disappear in the midst of nations among whom we are scattered and dispersed. For it should be clear to us that if we do not take steps to secure our existence, assimilation will automatically prevail in consequence of the decline of religion in our time, especially if the position of the Jews in the lands of the diaspora really improves. But if we cannot renounce nationalism, it must be complete and total, embracing everything, because this is the only kind that can give us a profound life as a people. This should be clear to us.
The integral nationalism of Gordon is based on the assumption that the nation is "one great family," an organic body from which the individual draws not only his culture but his very existence. A nation, wrote Gordon, unlike a society, "is not a mechanical conglomeration of individuals from the general pool of humanity." Unlike a society, "which is a mere artificial conglomeration, devoid of the spirit of life," a nation "is bound up with nature. Its living connection with nature is its creative force, which makes it a living entity."
The nation is the source of life. "The nation created language (that is, human thought), religion (that is, man's conception of the world, the expression of man's relationship to the world), morality, poetry, social life. In this sense, one can say that the nation created man."
On several occasions Gordon expressed his absolute rejection of the liberal conception of the nation as a collection of individuals. He called this a "society," that is, an "artificial conglomeration, devoid of the spirit of life," as opposed to the nation, "which created human nature and human life." Moreover, "The nation represents the spirit of the individual." And elsewhere he said that one should always remember that the soul of the people "is the source of the soul of each one of us, and that its life is the source of our life." Finally, since it is a living body, a nation cannot exist for any length of time uprooted from the soil in which it grows. It receives its creative power from its roots in the soil. "This is the root of its soul," which sometimes it can preserve even after "being uprooted from its soil," but only if "it is not completely dried up or is not overlaid with the spirit of another nation." Thus, a nation has to preserve its purity of soul, and it can do this only by settling on a piece of land, which is the inheritance of the nation. "Purity of spirit" was always one of the shibboleths of tribal nationalism. There is no doubt that one finds in Gordon's teachings, as Shlomo Avineri has pointed out, an echo of Slavophile nationalism. In fact, one finds there not only echoes but a real intellectual affinity with integral nationalism.
Gordon was well acquainted with the liberal, individualistic, and universalistic way of thinking. He mercilessly attacked those who insisted on seeing the nation as a "fortuitous creation, a survival of the past, an unnecessary partition between men which was set up before the light of Higher Thought shone upon mankind," so that it now only remained "to destroy it and to leave it for the wide world, for humanity at large." But Gordon was also aware of the perversions and dangers to which nationalism was prone. In this respect, Gordon has a special place among the theoreticians of integral nationalism. He understood that Marxism, as well as Nietzschean individualism and Tolstoyan "altruism," could drive nationalism further and further into the clutches of the "darkest forces." Nationalism was transformed into a "brutal, vulgar chauvinism," and conditions were ripe for "the wild and vulgar national egoism to explode in all its savagery." Similar considerations applied to the relationship between the individual and the nation. "It is forbidden to sacrifice man even on the altar of the nation," said Gordon. Yet, at the same time, "Individuals are like cells in the body of the nation." A deterministic relationship defines the individual's behavior and his way of thinking even when he is not aware of the importance of the "national character in his soul." Gordon concluded that "the national "I" is in this sense the progenitor of the individual "I" or, at any rate, it plays a large part in its formation and existence." Gordon repeated this assertion in various forms, together with the principle, which was one of the cardinal tenets of organic nationalism, that this natural and organic relationship between the individual and the nation exists on an unconscious level, independently of the individual's volition. This was a key concept: even when the individual constitutes a value in himself and is not called upon to sacrifice himself on the altar of the nation, the relationship between himself and the nation remains totally independent of his own powers of decision.
Thus, we see in reality that each individual "I," to the degree that it is authentic--that is, to the degree that it draws from the depths of life, from the depths of the infinite--always draws from the wellspring of the nation it is national in its productions and in all its manifestations, whether their progenitor is aware of it or not, and quite often despite the fact that their progenitor consciously and knowingly rejects nationalism (thought, it seems, does not always acknowledge its source even when it is genuine. Authenticity does not belong to consciousness but to below the level of the conscious. Thought is genuine only to the degree that it derives from that source).
Thus we reach the conclusion that only members of the same nation can participate in a common cultural tradition. This conception of the relationship between the individual and the nation is inseparable from integral nationalism.
According to Gordon, the nation is the element linking the individual to humanity at large. Humanity is made up not of individuals but of nations: "The nation, so to speak, represents the spirit of the individual.... Through the nation, the soul of each individual becomes a kind of reflection of cosmic existence." The nation "is the link between the soul of the individual and the soul of the world.
There is no doubt that throughout his career Gordon was deeply influenced by Johann Gottfried von Herder. Herder's thinking had tremendous importance in Eastern Europe. Shmuel Hugo Bergmann has already drawn attention to the similarity between Herder's and Gordon's views. Bergmann observed that "Herder's definition of the people and the state recurred in Gordon's `people-state' concept. And, like Herder, who stressed the organic nature of the people (Volk) and the mechanical nature of the state, Gordon claimed that the people reflected the life of the cosmos, whereas the state was merely a machine." Bergmann regards Herder the father of a pluralistic concept of nationalism, advocating a comradeship between nations, believing in spontaneity, and disparaging both the state and a closed society. He writes that Zionism, in the beginning, drew from the same "sources of humanism as those which Herder offered the awakening peoples of Europe."
There is no doubt that Herder's teachings, especially in their immediate context, in the second half of the eighteenth century, had a humanist dimension. But, at the same time, Herder's conception of the Volk community as an organic whole, his stress on tribal roots and on community's distinct collective consciousness, to which he also referred in terms of "national character" and "national spirit," his discussion of the conflict between "climate" and the "genetic force," had a different connotation at the beginning of this century. Herder's organic concept of the nation, the cult of the Volksgeist (the spirit of the people), his historicism, his assertion that the proper foundation of collective identity is a common culture, fostered a cultural nationalism that as early as the second half of the nineteenth century gave rise to the historical-biological form of nationalism. By contrast, liberal nationalism was inspired by the doctrine of natural rights and the idea that the individual had priority over society, and that civil society, as a collection of autonomous individuals, had priority not only over the state but also over the nation.
Neither liberal thought, which centered on civil society, nor Hegel's system, which was based on the state, corresponded to the needs of the Eastern European intelligentsia. This was even more applicable to the Jewish-nationalist intelligentsia: an acceptance of the liberal concept of society would have meant the end of the Jewish people as an autonomous unit, and Hegel's philosophy of history and philosophy of law had little significance where the Jews were concerned. However, the concept of nation offered by Herder, the father of volkisch thought, had much relevance in Eastern Europe. The definition of the nation not in political or judicial terms but in cultural, historical, linguistic, and religious terms raised the stature of all those peoples who had lost their political independence hundreds of years earlier. The idea that the individual owed his being to the nation, that unique cultural unit which derived its existence from nature and was rooted in the soil of the motherland, created a human identity independent of a person's political or social status.
In nationhood there is something cosmic, as if the spirit of nature of the nation's motherland fused with the spirit of the nation itself.... And that is what is all-important. This is the nation's source of life and creativity, its supreme source of abundance, and it constitutes the difference between the nation, a living and creative collective body, and a society, a mere functioning mechanism.
This form of nationalism had a religious component. A cultural-organic conception of the nation necessarily included religion, which it saw as an inseparable part of national identity. This was the case in Eastern Europe, but also in Western Europe, in France and Spain. French integral nationalism was no less Catholic than Polish nationalism, and religion played the same role in it as it did in Poland or Romania. It was a focus of unity and identity, over and beyond social divisions. In integral nationalism religion had a social function, unconnected with its metaphysical content. Generally, it was a religion without God; in order to fulfill its function as a unifying force, religion required only external symbols, not inner content. Thus, it was natural that Gordon would reject anticlericalism and seek a rapprochement between the religious and the secular. He regarded Jewish anticlericalism as an imitation of European phenomena, an expression of spiritual servitude. Jewish anticlericalism, in his opinion, had no justification because "our religion does not give anyone power over anyone else." If certain rabbis aspired to clerical status, he said, they were in principle no more to be blamed than those who sought power "in the name of the Haskala [Jewish Enlightenment] or in the name of the proletariat." Gordon admitted that the Haskala's negation of religion had been necessary to national revival, but now that it had taken place there was no reason to continue emulating others,
for the simple reason that our religion is not, like the religion of the European peoples, of alien origin, but is the creation of our national spirit. Our religion permeates our national spirit, and our national spirit is to be found in every part of our religion. To such a point is this true that it is perhaps not too much to say that our religion is our national spirit itself, only in a form that has come down to us from primeval times, and it is no accident that we have survived on the strength of it until today. Its form has grown old, but its spirit seeks renewal.
This was also the view of Katznelson and the great majority of the leaders of the Second Aliyah. They all regarded religious heritage or "tradition" as having a value in itself, without any connection to ceremonial or metaphysical beliefs.
Eliezer Schweid has examined the place of religion in Gordon's thinking Gordon's expectation "that Zionism would prove to be a movement of religious renewal," wrote Schweid, "that only as such would it have a chance of succeeding, his prayer for the revival of prophecy among the people, is simply an expression of his belief in the existence of an eternal stratum of basic religious experience." Religion, according to Gordon, is "one of the basic factors that have made man what he is ever since he has been man." Schweid concludes with two observations that are particularly interesting from our point of view: on one hand, he points out Gordon's positive attitude not only to "the traditional requirements of religion: its beliefs, its rituals, its commandments as a whole," but also to "the historical manifestations of tradition"; on the other hand, he draws attention to "the paradox of religiosity without belief in God" in Gordon's thinking.
In fact, this is not a paradox at all. European integral nationalism also regarded religion as an essential component of national identity. Consequently, its attitude to tradition, ritual, and, generally, the church as an institution was extraordinarily positive. Its affirmation of religion as a source of identity had no connection with metaphysics. At the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, religion divested of a belief in God was considered an unrivaled basis for mobilization and a component of national identity not only in Eastern Europe but also in the West. This was an outstanding example of the common ground between all national movements.
Essentially, Gordon, and Katznelson after him, accepted Ahad Ha'am's view that "someone who says `I have no connection with the Jewish religion, with the historical force that gave life to our people and influenced its life, spirit, and observances for thousands of years' ... may be a decent man, but he is not a national Jew even if he lives in Eretz Israel and speaks the national tongue."
In the Zionist context, the religious element was reinforced by a supremely important factor: for the founders, the Bible was not only a tool to cement the inner unity of society but an indispensable weapon in the struggle for the land. "We in this country," said Gordon, "created the saying `Man is made in the image of God,' and this statement has become part of the life of humanity. With this statement, a whole universe was created." From this he drew the following political conclusion: "With this, we gained our right to the land, a right that will never be abrogated as long as the Bible and all that follows from it is not abrogated."
It may be said that the religiohistorical element as a focus of national identity had even greater importance in Zionism than in other national movements. In the final analysis, it was religion in the broadest sense, with all its national and historical connotations, that provided the justification for the conquest of the country and the legitimation of Jews' return. As in all expressions of integral nationalism, there is in Gordon a turn to irrationality. We have seen the importance Gordon attached to the unconscious, both individual and collective. Like all theoreticians of tribal nationalism, he abhorred an excessive inclination toward reason and skepticism. National rebirth was supposed to be a remedy for that weakness as well, a weakness that Gordon very typically viewed as the cause of modern degeneracy.
It is not the very thing, the very defect for which we hope to find healing in a new life? Being sick with too much cerebralism and lack of life, and eaten up by doubts to the point of despair? One could say that all cultured humanity is clearly sick with excessive cerebralism, for the whole tendency of the present culture is toward excessive cerebralism at the expense of life, and it is this, in fact, that is responsible for the decline of humanity.
To counter this "excessive cerebralism," Gordon, like Brenner and all the cultural critics of the period, turned to elan vital, mysticism, the forces of the soul. In fact, his work reflects the intellectual revolution of the turn of the century. Menachem Brinker has pointed out the feverish preoccupation with Nietzsche in Russian literature between 1890 and 1905. The currents that were active among young Jewish intellectuals at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century found their way into the work of Brenner, and Nietzsche is no less present in his narratives than Tolstoy or Marx. These European influences are also very recognizable in Gordon. Even when it is difficult to know whether these are direct influences or were absorbed from the prevailing Zeitgeist, there is no doubt about the way in which these influences molded Gordon's vision of history. His 1920 article, "A Clarification of the Basis of Our Ideas," is an adaptation of Nietzsche to the needs of nationalism, very common at that time among nationalist intellectuals in Europe. The taste for spontaneity, the cult of "life," and the rejection of the "mechanical" and the "herd instinct" will he familiar to any reader of the post-Nietzchean synthesis, anyone whose ears are attuned to the expression of the reaction against modernity, socialism and liberalism which swept over Europe at the beginning of the century. Whether such an interpretation was faithful to Nietzsche's teaching is irrelevant in this context.
When he asked himself the basic question put by every thinker and writer at the beginning of this century--"How can people be mobilized?"--Gordon accepted the conclusions of the Sorelian doctrine of "myths." He did not call it that but embraced its view that in order to mobilize people one must appeal to their instincts and emotions rather than to their intellect. "An idea has little influence on the public," he said, "as long as it is the property of individuals, or as long as the public has only a cerebral understanding of it but does not grasp it emotionally. But one has no greater power over life than when the idea becomes everyone's property, the property of all." For Gordon, the great, the one-and-only question in history and politics was: "How does one get the public to accept the idea until it becomes its own property, part of its very being, working naturally and constantly within it as an inalienable force?" As early as 1904, in his "Letter from Eretz Israel," Gordon claimed that nothing can be achieved by realism, or without self-sacrifice: material interests have no power to move people. Only the spirit, the consciousness, and the will can do this. Even socialism, wrote Gordon, had power only because of the idea it contained, because of its ability to turn "the idea from a spirit hovering upon the surface of life into a movement, a mighty current within life itself." Gordon's explanation of socialism's success shows that he did not underestimate it, which made him all the more determined to fight it.
NATIONALISM VERSUS SOCIALISM: THE AMELIORATION OF MAN, NATION, OR SOCIETY?
Gordon regarded socialism as the diametrical opposite of nationalism and its greatest enemy Socialism's appeal to emotions made it all the more dangerous. Gordon realized that because of its essential nature and its principles, no synthesis between socialism and nationalism was possible. In his view, socialism held that "the basis of life is matter," and the human unit on which it depended was society, the "mechanical collectivity," whereas nationalism represented "the living collectivity, the collective personality, collective man." Gordon not only understood the nature of Marxism but knew that there was also another form of the "mechanical," another type of "materialism," namely, capitalism and liberalism. He thus rejected with equal force both of these individualistic systems, which represented the domination of "the mechanical" over "the natural." He complained that capitalism, "with its advanced technology and cities cut off from nature[,] ... has finally destroyed the collective cell, the nation ... and reduced the individual, the private personality, to an isolated atom."
Gordon rebelled against the sense of urban alienation that industrial societies and large cities necessarily produced by tearing individuals away from their natural roots, soil, and landscape and by the modernization process that shattered the organic unity of the community, turning an individual into an isolated molecule without an identity. Gordon's view of the individual was essentially anti-individualistic and communitarian. The individual was considered a cell in the body of the nation, an inseparable part of the whole.
We see that Gordon grasped the point that socialism and liberalism had in common: the concept of society as a collection of individuals and the view of the individual as the final object of all social activity. These were precisely the social principles that integral nationalism abhorred, seeing them as a mortal danger to the nation. In this struggle, Gordon was totally uncompromising. He was consistent in the positions he adopted, and in the best traditions of integral nationalist ideology he attacked socialism and liberalism with the same vehemence. As he saw it, the nature and purpose of socialism and liberalism were completely opposed to the nature and purpose of nationalism. "In the world of mere matter there is room only for isolated individuals, who together are called humanity," wrote Gordon. He hated this idea, which he saw, with some justification, as one of the foundations of modernity. "Modern thought," he wrote, "which bases everything on observation and experiment, has come to the general conclusion that the basis of life is matter. It sees the economic factor as the motive power of life, as if soul and spirit were not important." He deplored "the tendency to make people envisage the future in mechanical, materialistic terms, in terms of the economic well-being of the individual."
Thus, Gordon rejected the individualistic, hedonistic, and utilitarian content of both liberalism and Marxism. On one hand, he condemned "the teachings of socialism," which, he said, were "the doctrine of a human collectivity whose members have only a mechanical relationship, and whose collective life has only a mechanical economic basis"; on the other hand he attacked "modern individualistic teachings," because "individualism shrinks into its skin like a tortoise into its shell." Gordon repeatedly said that "in these teachings ... the principle of contraction ... is so profound that it can only give rise to materialism. It is the principle of contraction that produces the mechanical quality in human life, its separation from the life of the cosmos."
However, in the context of Jewish Palestine, Gordon believed that the true enemy was socialism and not liberalism. Thus, his whole struggle was directed against a single objective: Marxism, which the first members of Po'alei Tzion had brought with them from Russia. Although Borochov had already adapted this socialism to allow it to be assimilated by the national movement, Gordon rejected this solution, declaring that "between nationalism and socialism there is an essential opposition, a contradiction that cannot be resolved. Those socialists who violently oppose nationalism are undoubtedly consistent."
Gordon repeated this claim many times in various forms while adhering consistently to the principle. The ultimate argument was always that "if one pairs socialism with nationalism, one is pairing one kind with another, and the pairing cannot be successful." In 1909 Gordon insisted on his total opposition to socialism, giving the following as his reason: "I am as distant from socialism in the form in which it exists today as Judaism is from materialism. This, indeed, was an essential principle of his, and it is of paramount importance for an understanding of his teachings and their influence on the labor movement. In his rejection of the materialism of socialism, he employed the classic terminology of romantic, volkisch nationalism.
At the beginning of the century, materialism was a code word describing the rational and utilitarian nature of both socialism and liberalism. The idea that society and the state were tools to serve the good of the individual was regarded as materialistic. The term materialism denoted a hedonistic and utilitarian concept of society, a readiness to accept the pursuit of wealth and happiness as a legitimate goal, and a belief that human weaknesses and the darker side of human existence were the products of social factors rather than personal ones. No opinion was more despised by the integral nationalist school than the idea that the reform of civilization necessitated the reform of society rather than of the human being. In many respects, Gordon was a moralist who was bound to be revolted by the political culture of modern materialism. "It is no accident," he wrote, "that the founders of socialism based socialism on materialism and class warfare. The very fact that they based their whole argument on one aspect of human life shows how mechanical their thinking was." The "mechanical" nature of socialism particularly repelled Gordon. Although he was aware that socialism had nonmaterialistic currents, he condemned all forms of socialism as mechanical.
In Gordon's terminology, the "mechanical" denoted first individualism, which contradicted the idea of the individual as a cell in the body of the nation, an organic part of a whole. All representatives of the various organic or communitarian approaches hated individualism, in the sense that this concept had possessed since the seventeenth century, when the founders of Western liberalism, Hobbes and Locke, compared man to a molecule and society to a collection of units grouped together for their mutual advantage. In many ways, there is a great similarity between Gordon's point of view and that of the communitarian thinkers who flourished in Europe at the beginning of the century in the Catholic, antiliberal, and anti-Marxist Left. Gordon, whether consciously or instinctively, was in agreement with these cultural trends, which, although they contained oppositions and contradictions, had the same disgust for both the individualistic and the materialistic bourgeois culture and for Marxism, which was basically no less materialistic and individualistic. Adherents of the communitarian philosophy promoted organic concepts, which negated both capitalism and Marxism. But Gordon was also well grounded in the principles of romantic nationalism, which detested the "dryness" of liberalism and Marxism. He yearned for the spiritual exaltation, the outbursts of vitality and altruism of romantic nationalism, which, for him, represented the antithesis of the various kinds of Marxist socialism.
One feels this mechanical quality in all the actions, in all the public activities of the socialists, and in all that they write. One sometimes seems to catch sight, here and there, of signs of breadth, flights of imagination and song, but when one looks more closely one sees that this is only the sweep of an exhibition, of a large battlefield, of a public procession, but not the expanse of a universe; that it is the flight of an aeroplane, of some advanced Zeppelin with all its sound and noise, but not the flight of an eagle, nor of a dove, nor even of a small free bird; that it is the sound of a gramophone, of some extraordinary singing machine, but not the song of a living person.
And on the previous page, he observed:
The greatness of nationalism is its cosmic dimension. Socialism is totally different.... It is the absolute opposite of nationalism, being entirely based on production and technology, whereas nationalism represents life and creativity.... For this reason, the reforms and innovations in human life proposed by socialism depend chiefly on the reform of the social order and not on the reform and renewal of the spirit of man.
Gordon regarded the socialists' ambition of reforming society as merely an aspect of the hated "mechanical" approach. Their preoccupation with society rather than with the individual as a cell in the body of the nation reflected, in his view, a preference for quantity over quality. Socialism's exploitation of the power of the masses--in Gordon's terminology, the exploitation of "deterministic force, or, one might say, the force of the herd"--its concern with class consciousness, and its doctrines of class warfare and the dictatorship of the proletariat betrayed its essential unhealthiness. Its practice of making social change the focus of human endeavor hindered the improvement of human beings, encouraged their egoistic and utilitarian tendencies, and finally imposed the "spiritual coercion" of a minority on the majority. Instead of developing the workers' sense of creativity and personal responsibility, socialism fostered a "herd psychology," utilitarian demands, materialism, collectivism, and an obsession with class warfare. It did not matter whether workers' claims were right or wrong. Socialism made it impossible to "change man's life and improve his character"; thus socialism's bankruptcy was revealed in all its starkness.
This total war against socialism did not, however, imply an acceptance of social injustice. A conservative who rejected socialism in the name of history and the natural order might have abandoned the idea of seeking justice and equality. The integral nationalists did not do this; they wished to do justice for the sake of the indivisibility of the nation, but while completely dissociating themselves from socialism. "As if justice and socialism were synonymous!" cried Gordon, repeating a formula used by all European integral nationalists. Moreover, the problem of exploitation was said to be not only of the workers but "of the people." Capitalism was not only the enemy of wage earners but the enemy of the people as a whole. Gordon declared that "our nationalism is all-embracing." Nationalism, which by definition represented the life of the nation in all its aspects, embraced the social side as well. A nationalist ideology could not be indifferent to the fate of any part of the people. Thus, in order to defend workers, in order to support their demands, there was no reason to resort to socialism. It was enough, for this purpose, to adhere to the principle of national solidarity. "We demand justice--justice in all its forms, between a man and his fellow human beings and between one people and another--not in the name of socialism, but in the name of nationalism," wrote Gordon. He appealed to justice for the simple reason that "a robber is a robber, and a perverter of justice is a perverter of justice, whether the robber is a capitalist or a proletarian."
We have already seen that Gordon's main objection to socialism was that "it bases human life chiefly on the reform of social order and not on the reform and renewal of the spirit of the people." Indeed, the entirety of Gordon's nationalist ideology was focused on the reform of the human being and the reform of the nation. If the individual is a limb in the body of the nation, the improvement of the nation clearly depends on the reform of the human being, and the reform of the human being can be achieved only through labor. "In order to renew life and reform the human being," wrote Gordon, one must "wage war against parasites and parasitism, and not against this or that class or this or that group. We must wage war against parasitism of every kind, parasitism that is also rooted among us, the workers, and also against spiritual parasitism, parasitism on the spirit, the thought, the creativity of others, the universes and lives of others, and so on." For Gordon, like all socially aware nationalists, "parasitism" was first a cultural rather than a socioeconomic phenomenon. For him, a parasite was anyone, an individual or a group, who did not stand on his own two feet, who did not provide for himself, and who was dependent in some way on his fellow human beings. This, he claimed, was the situation of the Jewish people as a whole, including the Yishuv in Eretz Israel. It was a parasitic body living off the labor of others. And finally, it fell into spiritual parasitism as well: "We are parasites living on the handiwork of strangers and we do not feel it, for we have been parasites exploiting the minds of strangers, the souls of strangers, and the lives of strangers."
Thus, humanity--individuals, social groups, and peoples--was divided into two basic categories, the only ones that were really significant: those who created material and spiritual wealth, people living on their own labor, and the others, that is, all those whose dependence on their fellow human beings made them material and spiritual cripples. Gordon rejected the Marxist conception of society, the class conception subscribed to by all streams of world socialism. He dismissed the theories of socialism on the grounds that they were trivial or absurd. In explaining the relationship between capitalists and proletarians, Gordon's ultimate argument was that "the power of the capitalists does not reside in their wealth, and indeed, they do not have any real power. Their power is simply the individual weakness of the workers." And farther on he wrote that "the war between capitalism and the proletariat is not so much a war between capital and labor as a war between the individual and collectivity in its modern form." The solution to class struggle, as to all political, social, and cultural problems, lay in the reformation of people by developing their "sense of creativity and responsibility.
In the reform of the human being, the essential first step toward the reform of the nation and the normalization of Jewish existence, physical labor had a special role. Katznelson even went so far as to say that his life in Eretz Israel and the work of Gordon had been entirely consecrated to the promotion of physical labor. Physical labor was for Gordon the means to the solution of all the problems of humanity and society. First, it was the prerequisite of all spiritual life: "The ultimate foundation of all works of the spirit is physical labor. That is, it is their foundation not in an economic sense but in a moral sense, in the sense of constituting a foundation of truth for all constructions of the spirit." Second, physical labor was the prerequisite for the reform of humans and the renewal of national existence. Similarly, Gordon viewed physical labor as the solution to the problem of exploitation and the realization of social justice. If everyone, he wrote, agreed "to abandon a life of parasitism, and if all potential idealists ... went to work and lived a life of labor, ... they would constitute a body that, through their multiplication, would slowly shift the center of power and activity in economic life and public life in general from the sphere of the capitalists to that of the workers." And finally, labor was a tool to redeem the land: the true instrument for conquering the land and restoring it to the Jewish people. "Thus, in saying `labor,' we have said everything. And if we add that labor must be free, on the basis of the nationalization of the land and the tools of labor, we have no need to seek the support of any mechanical socialism."
In these circumstances, not only was socialism unnecessary, but in Gordon's opinion it stood in opposition to all personal and national renewal. Socialism denied the primacy of the nation, loathed nationalism in its organic and cultural forms, and saw a change in the ownership of wealth as the prerequisite to a change in life. It focused on the need for a social revolution and regarded all attempts to "reform man" as naivete and bourgeois hypocrisy, if not sheer deceit. It was bound to be described by Gordon as the great enemy of Zionism. Thus, Gordon stated categorically: "We did not come to Eretz Israel on behalf of socialism, and it was not for its sake that we came here to labor and to live on the fruits of our labor." Gordon endlessly repeated this assertion, and at the same time he provided the truest description of the real situation: "We all came here to be the nation and to be ourselves. A small minority came here in the name of socialism, bringing its teachings."
Moreover, socialism, with its universal and international dimension, represented a mortal danger to Jewish nationalism, as it threatened to bring the hated exile to Eretz Israel. The founders' hatred of the exile knew no limits, and socialism represented an "exilie demon" that led astray "a rootless people hovering between life and death." Socialism, wrote Gordon in 1920, in an article entitled "Building the Nation," split the unity of the pioneering force that came to Eretz Israel, shattered its ideological cohesion, and weakened its purpose by promoting class interests and links with the international proletariat. He claimed that if socialism had triumphed, instead of a nation being built in Palestine, everything would have remained "as in the cities and shtetls of the exile." Socialism, wrote Gordon, was based on the opposition of classes, but the well-being of the nation required a solidarity transcending social divisions. One should seek unity with "our `bourgeois.' Are they not the multitudes of the house of Israel: the shopkeepers, the merchants, etc., etc.?"
There is no doubt that Gordon's position was entirely consistent and of an unassailable inner logic. To those who hoped that one day "a suitable compromise would be found between nationalism and socialism," Gordon answered, "Here, no compromise is possible. Here, the only thing possible is a slow, imperceptible transition from socialism to nationalism in its new form." The new nationalism, for its part, understood that "all attempts to renew human life by means of new social arrangements and social education without beginning everything afresh, from the foundations, are only palliatives, perhaps able to provide a superficial and deceptive alleviation of the sickness for a time, and are in fact harmful, in that they distract attention from the cause of the illness and the necessity for a radical cure."
A radical cure was possible only through labor. Labor had both a spiritual and a national value. It created the new human being and the new nation; it was the expression of self-realization and of national rebirth; it symbolized a separation from the exile and was the supreme moral and practical instrument for conquering the land. It also represented a direct contact with nature. "To work in nature, to experience nature in Eretz Israel," and to feel part of the country, wrote Gordon, were one and the same thing.
In Gordon's opinion, the idea of physical labor "as a natural value in our lives," as a condition for "the renewal of life here," that is, the redemption of the individual and the nation, and "the war against parasitism through labor" necessitated "the nationalization of the land and the tools of labor." Gordon laid great stress on the fact that there was no connection between his call for nationalizing the means of production and socialism or class warfare; nor, he wrote, was there any connection between the war against "parasites" and the war against the bourgeoisie. However, he claimed there was an inalienable connection between "the idea of labor and the nationalization of the land." Just as labor was the inescapable prerequisite of the reformation of man and national redemption, so "the primary foundation of national creativity ... is the land." Gordon was in total agreement with those who thought that "all the land should be national, just as all industry should be national. And there is no need," he wrote, "to be exploiters or exploited, but simply Jews working and living on their labor." The nationalization of agricultural and industrial resources was both an "economic necessity" and a means of redeeming the people."
Thus, Gordon can be ranked among the theorists of modern nationalism who on one hand developed a violent anti-Marxism, which also meant rejecting democratic socialism, yet on the other hand opposed capitalist exploitation and demanded public ownership of the means of production on behalf of the nation. The unity of the nation required the elimination of the exploitation that tore it apart, just as it necessitated an uncompromising struggle against the principle of class warfare. Gordon entirely opposed the policy of promoting "Jewish labor" in Palestine to serve any class interests whatsoever. In 1920, after the founding of Ahdut Ha'avoda and the Histadrut, he saw fit to declare, on behalf of those who rejected the idea of the unification of Hapo'el Hatza'ir and Po'alei Tzion, that Hapo'el Hatza'ir "did not seek socialism-either political socialism or productive socialism (if its activities in any way resemble productive socialism, that is, life; but the way of socialism is not its way, nor is the spirit of socialism its spirit)." The only union he recognized was "the complete union of soul of the entire people without any differences of class, party, or sect." Although Gordon regarded the reform of the human being as a value in itself, he considered the nation the sole criterion of all social and political action. It was the national "I" that prescribed the nature of the individual "I"; he did not view the individual as having any existence outside the organic framework of the nation. Thus, the moral arguments that Gordon used in favor of public ownership of the means of production were nationalist.
In 1920 Gordon summed up his nationalist outlook in two articles. In "Building the Nation," an essay that can be counted among the classics of nationalist socialism, he demonstrated his awareness of the deeper implications of his teachings.
I do not mean that we must be segregated from all other peoples, but the interaction and hence the comradeship between peoples must be an interaction of complete bodies, like the interaction of celestial bodies. There can be no question of an interaction of parts of these bodies against the other parts. Any union of parts of different bodies against the other parts of those bodies necessarily produces a division in those bodies and harms their wholeness of spirit, vitality, power of creativity, and inspiration. This means that such a union unwittingly destroys in the depths, from within, the subjective spiritual foundation of the structure that this type of unification is intended to create.
In the second article, "On the Unification," Gordon gave us another classic example of nationalist socialist doctrine.
The socialists can say what they like, but I say quite openly: we are closer to our own "bourgeois" than to all the foreign proletariats in the world. It is with them, with our bourgeois, that we wish to unite, and we seek their resurrection as we seek our own. We shall fight their parasitism: perhaps we shall fight it more than the socialists themselves, just as every one of us would combat his own weaknesses more than the weaknesses of others. But even in the midst of this war, we shall never forget for a moment that they are our own brethren and flesh and blood, whose sins and transgressions are our own, which we have to correct, just as we have to correct our own sins and transgressions.
Like all nonconservative, or revolutionary, nationalists, Gordon knew that economic oppression, like great social differences, tears the nation apart and places its future in jeopardy. He rejected the rule of finance and class warfare in equal measure. The perpetuation of the existing social and economic order was almost as dangerous, in his opinion, as a socialist revolution. Gordon condemned the "rotten order of the domination of work by capital," but he claimed that capitalists and "those living on the work of others" who are interested in maintaining that order "constitute a very small part of any people." The great majority of the population, including the middle classes, has no reason to want "that rotten order to continue." In the best traditions of nationalist socialism, Gordon maintained that "from the national point of view, the war between labor and capital is not a class war and is not only an economic conflict but a war of the people against its parasitic elements, a war of life against corruption." He continued: "The power of the people is in labor, and the people wants the worker to eat the fruit of his labor in its entirety but does not want the power of his labor, the power of the people, to come to nothing." The worker, wrote Gordon, is the people, and workers as a class constitute the majority of the people, as opposed to a small stratum of exploiters. The war against exploitative capital is not a war against the bourgeoisie (a social category that in Gordon's oeuvre generally appears in quotation marks) but against parasitical elements, for the true struggle of all times and places is between producers and parasites.
Finally, Gordon asked the workers not to waste their energies on a war against capital, "which is essentially international, or a-national and inhuman," but "to concentrate on work, which is essentially national, and to fight against capital within the limits of the nation." Farther on, Gordon added another principle, which would become basic to constructive socialism and would be a chief feature of the cultural revolution as interpreted by the labor movement: "The emphasis should be not on the workers' portion of the immediate material benefits of labor but on the work itself--that is, its creativity and the spiritual benefit contained in it."
Thus, in addition to possessing a moral value, labor also had a national value: the reformation of the individual and the rebirth of the nation would come about through labor, as would the conquest of the land. Here, the workers played the role of "a vanguard going before the people." However, in a letter to Brenner in 1912, Gordon was careful to point out that although in his teachings "the main emphasis is on the actions of a few," he was not advocating a Nietzschean morality. These few are "the first to go forward and reach the place where the people are to be gathered," but this group should not "regard itself as a special class among the people, or as one part in opposition to another part." It serves as an infrastructure for the national edifice; it assumes responsibilities and experiences hardships, but unlike the proletariat in socialism, it has to remain an inseparable part of the nation as a whole. The Yishuv in Eretz Israel, the prototype of such a pioneering group, was "the first living cell of the national body in the process of resurrection." Its task was to bring to fruition the rights of the Jewish people over Eretz Israel.
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