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HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN RUSSIA AND POLAND - S.M. Dubnow




jewish genealogy in Argentina

HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN RUSSIA AND POLAND

FROM THE DEATH OF ALEXANDER I UNTIL THE DEATH OF ALEXANDER III

by S.M. Dubnow

A Project Gutenberg EBook

CHAPTER XIX



THE REACTION UNDER ALEXANDER II.

1. CHANGE OF ATTITUDE TOWARD THE JEWISH PROBLEM

The decided drift toward political reaction in the second part of Alexander's reign affected also the specific Jewish problem, which the homoeopathic reforms, designed to "ameliorate" a fraction of the Jewish people, had tried to solve in vain. The general reaction showed itself in the fact that, after having carried out the first great reforms, such as the liberation of the peasantry, the introduction of rural self-government and the reorganization of the administration of the law, the Government considered the task of Russian regeneration to be completed, and stubbornly refused, to use the expression current at the time, "to crown the edifice" by the one great political reform, the grant of a constitution and political liberty. This refusal widened the breach between the Government and the progressive element of the Russian people, whose hopes were riveted on the ultimate goal of political reorganization. The striving for liberty, driven under ground by police and censorship, assumed among the Russian youth the character of a revolutionary movement. And when the murderous hand of the "Third Section" [1] descended heavily upon the champions of liberty, the youthful revolutionaries retorted with political terrorism which darkened the last days of Alexander II. and led to his assassination.

[Footnote 1: See above, p. 21, n. 1.]

The complete emancipation of the Jews was out of place in this atmosphere of growing official reaction. The same bureaucracy which halted the march of the "great reforms" for the country at large was not inclined to allow even minor reforms when affecting the Jews only. Even the former desire for a "graded" and partial amelioration of the position of the Jews had vanished. Instead, the center of the stage was again occupied by the old red-tape activities, by discussions about the Jewish question--endless no less than fruitless--in the recesses of bureaucratic committees and sub-committees, by oracular animadversions of governors and governors-general upon the conduct of the Jews, and so on. Theory-mongering of the reactionary variety was again at a premium. Once more the authorities debated the question whether the Jews were to be regarded as useful or harmful to the State, instead of putting the diametrically opposite question of simple justice: whether the State which is called upon to serve the Jews as part of the civic organism of Russia is useful to them to an extent which may be lawfully claimed by them.

Under Nicholas I. the Government chancelleries had been busy inventing new remedies against the "separatism" of the Jews and their "harmful pursuits." During the first liberal years of Alexander's reign commerce ceased to be branded as "a harmful pursuit." Yet as soon as the Jewish merchants, stimulated by the partial extension of their right of residence and occupation, displayed a wider economic activity and became successful competitors of the "original" Russian business men, they were met with shouts of protest demanding that this Jewish "exploitation" be effectively "curbed."

In this connection it must be pointed out that the economic advancement of the Jews was not altogether due to the privileges accorded to them by the Russian legislation, but was rather the effect of general economic conditions. The great progress in industrial life during "the era of reforms," more particularly the expansion of railroad enterprises during the sixties and seventies, opened up a wide field for the energies of Jewish capitalists. Moreover, the abolition, in 1861, of the old system of farming out the sale of liquor transferred a part of the big Jewish capital from the liquor traffic into railroad building. The Jewish "excise farmers" [1] were converted into railroad men, as shareholders, supply merchants, or contractors. A new Jewish plutocracy came into being, and its growth excited jealousy and fear among the Russian mercantile class. The Government, filled with enthusiasm for the cultivation of large industries, was not as yet prepared to discriminate against the Jews whenever big capital was concerned. But it lent an attentive ear to the "original" Russian merchants whenever they complained about Jewish competition in petty trade, on which the lower Jewish classes depended for their livelihood. The Government, which had not yet emancipated itself from the habit of "assorting" its citizens and dividing them into a protected and a tolerated class, set out to elaborate measures for "curbing" the Jews belonging to the latter category.

[Footnote 1: i.e., those that leased from the Government the collection of excise on liquor. They were designated as _aktzizniks_, from _aktziz_, the Russian word for "excise."]

The question which confronted the Government next was this: to what extent have the hopes for a fusion of the Jews with the original population been justified by the events? Here, too, the reply was unsatisfactory. The naive expectation that a few gratuities offered to the Jews in the shape of privileges would fill them with the eager desire to "fuse" with the Russians did not come true. Strong as was the trend towards Russification in the new Jewish _intelligenzia_ of the sixties, the broad masses of Jewry knew nothing of such a tendency. The authorities became suspicious: what if these crafty Hebrews should fool us again and refuse to pay for the donated rights by fusing with the Christians? Russian officialdom received new food for reflection which was to last it for years, nay, for decades.



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