Jabotinsky takes on socialism
By Ted Belman
Shmuel Katz: Jabotinsky was “the best beloved and most maligned Jewish leader of this century”
Its was about time, if not long overdue, that I finally got around to reading the definitive biography of Vladimir Jabotinsky, 1880-1940, titled The Lone Wolf, by Shmuel Katz. I have read biographies of Ben Gurion and Manachem Begin and thoroughly enjoyed coming to know them. But Jabotinsky was a personage who died before Israel was declared and I felt no particular desire to learn about him. But over the years his name kept cropping up as a towering figure who greatly influenced Jewish Zionist thought and movement.
I have only read 100 pages so far but couldn’t wait to share some of it with you.
The book jacket has this to say;
- Arthur Koestler, the famous writer, said of Jabotinsky that he was “one of the great tragic figures of the century.. adored hero of the Jewish masses of Russia and Poland”. Newspapers described him as the “Jewish Garibaldi”; to others he was “the Jewish Churchill”.
He was a journalist, novelist, poet (translator of Dante and Edgar Allen Poe, soldier, linguist, and the outstanding orator of his day, holding his audiences rapt in any of seven languages. Most of all, he was a great political leader with rare prophetic vision.
Jabotinsky admits that not until his early twenties did he have any particular views, either about Judaism or about any particular social or political question what ever. And this was when Jews in general were consumed by the revolution by communism by nationalism and so on. Yet due to his brilliance as a writer and orator he was already famous.
For the purpose of this limited review I want to highlight one thing. Just as now, the Jewish intelligentsia were liberal, universalist, assimilationist. If you didn’t subscribe to their views you were rejected by them. They were the “good Jews”, the Zionists were the “bad Jews”. Universalism and communism eschewed nationalism whereas Zionism embraced it. It fell upon Jabotinsky to take the battle of ideas to them.
You will recall that by the time of the progroms in 1905, Zionism was a spent force. Herzl was a towering figure, much beloved and believed in. He had failed in his overtures to the Ottoman Empire to allow the Jews autonomy in Palestine and had no recourse but to offer to them in 1903 what was available, Uganda. The Jews, Jabotinsky among them, rejected it. One year later, the great Herzl died and so too, almost, did Zionism.
Jabotinsky took up the slack. He argued that the Jews should take pride in their heritage and not reject it. Because of his unique talents, Jewish national pride was revitalized.
What follows is an excerpt from the book in which he takes socialism to task.
It is remarkable that a person so young could have understood so well.
By the way, “Altelena” was his original pen name.