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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

3. THE GUBERNATORIAL COMMISSIONS

After wavering for some time, the anti-Semitic Government of Ignatyev finally made up its mind as to the attitude it was henceforth to adopt towards the Jewish problem. Taken aback at the beginning of the pogrom movement, the leading spheres of Russia were first inclined to ascribe it to the effects of the revolutionary propaganda, but they afterwards came to the conclusion that, in the interest of the reactionary policies pursued by them and as a means of justifying the disgraceful anti-Jewish excesses before the eyes of Europe, it was more convenient to throw the blame upon the Jews themselves. With this end in view, a new theory was put forward by the Russian Government, the quasi-economic doctrine of "the exploitation of the original population by the Jews." This doctrine consisted of two parts, which, properly speaking, were mutually exclusive:

  _First_, the Jews, as a pre-eminently mercantile class, engage in   "unproductive" labor, and thereby "exploit" the productive classes    of the Christian population, the peasantry in particular.

  _Second_, the Jews, having "captured" commerce and industry--here   the large participation of the Jews in industrial life, represented   by handicrafts and manufactures, is tacitly admitted--compete with   the Christian urban estates, in other words, interfere with them in   their own "exploitation" of the population.

The first part of this strange theory is based upon, primitive economic notions, such as are in vogue during periods of transition, when natural economic production gives way to capitalism, and when all complicated forms of mediation are regarded as unproductive and harmful. The thought expressed in the second part of the thesis is implied in the make-up of a police state, which looks upon the occupation of certain economic positions by a given national group as an illegitimate "capture" and regards it as its function to check this competition for the sole purpose of insuring the success of the dominant nationality.

The Russian Government was disturbed neither by the primitive character of this theory nor by the resort to brutal police force implied in it--the idea of supporting the "exploitation" practised by the Russians at the expense of that carried on by the Jews; nor was it abashed by its inner logical contradictions. What the Government needed was some means whereby it could throw off the responsibility for the pogroms and prove to the world that they were a "popular judgment," the vengeance wreaked upon the Jews either by the peasants, the victims of exploitation, or by the Russian burghers, the unsuccessful candidates for the role of exploiters. This point of view was reflected in the report of Count Kutaysov, who had been sent by the Tzar to South Russia to inquire into the causes of the "disorders." [1]

[Footnote 1: It may be added that Kutaysov recognized that the Russian masses were equally the victims of the commercial exploitation of the Russian "bosses," but was at a loss to find a reason for the pogroms perpetrated in the Jewish agricultural colonies, i.e., against those who, according to this theory, were themselves the victims of exploitation.]

Ignatyev seized upon this flimsy theory, and embodied it in a more elaborate form in his report to the Tzar of August 22. In this report he endeavored to prove the futility of the policy hitherto pursued by the Russian Government which "for the last twenty years [during the reign of Alexander II.] had made efforts to bring about the fusion of the Jews with the remaining population and had nearly equalized the rights of the Jews with those of the original inhabitants." In the opinion of the Minister, the recent pogroms had shown that "the injurious influence" of the Jews could not be suppressed by such liberal measures.

  The principal source of this movement [the pogroms], which is so   incompatible with the temper of the Russian people, lies--according   to Ignatyev--in circumstances which are of an exclusively economic   nature. For the last twenty years the Jews have gradually managed to   capture not only commerce and industry but they have also succeeded   in acquiring, by means of purchase and lease, a large amount of   landed property. Owing to their clannishness and solidarity, they   have, with few exceptions, directed their efforts not towards the   increase of the productive forces [of the country] but towards the   exploitation of the original inhabitants, primarily of the poorest   classes of the population, with the result that they have called   forth a protest from this population, manifesting itself in   deplorable forms--In violence.... Having taken energetic means to   suppress the previous disorders and mob rule and to shield the Jews   against violence, the Government recognizes that it is justified in   adopting, without delay, no less energetic measures to remove the   present abnormal relations that exist between the original   inhabitants and the Jews, and to shield the Russian population   against this harmful Jewish activity, which, according to local   information, was responsible for the disturbances.

Alexander III. hastened to express his agreement with these views of his Minister, who assured him that the Government had taken "energetic measures" to suppress the pogroms--which was only true in two or three recent cases. At the same time he authorized Ignatyev to adopt "energetic measures" of genuine Russian manufacture against those who had but recently been ruined by these pogroms.

The imperial ukase published on August 22, 1831, dwells on "the abnormal relations subsisting between the original population of several governments and the Jews." To meet this situation it provides that in those governments which harbor a considerable Jewish population special commissions should be appointed consisting of representatives of the local estates and communes, to be presided over by the governors. These commissions were charged with the task of finding out "which aspects of the economic activity of the Jews in general have exerted _an injurious influence_ upon the life of the original population, and what measures, both legislative and administrative, should be adopted" for the purpose of weakening that influence. In this way, the ukase, in calling for the appointment of the commissions, indicated at once the goal towards which their activity was to be directed: to determine the "injurious influence" of the Jews upon Russian economic life.

The same thought was expressed even more directly by Ignatyev, who in his circular to the governors-general, dated August 25, reproduced his report to the Tzar, and firmly established the dogma of "the harmful consequences of the economic activity of the Jews for the Christian population, their racial separatism, and religious fanaticism."

We are thus made the witnesses of a singular spectacle: the ruined and plundered Jewish population, which had a right to impeach the Government for having failed, to protect it from violence, was itself put on trial. The judges in this legal action were none other than the agents of the ruling powers--the governors, some of whom had been guilty of connivance at the pogroms--on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the representatives of the Christian estates, urban and rural, who were mostly the appointees of these governors. In addition, every commission was allotted two Jewish representatives, who were to act in the capacity of experts but without voting power; they were placed in the position of defendants, and were made to listen to continuous accusations against the Jews, which the; were constantly forced to deny. Altogether there were sixteen such commissions: one in each of the fifteen governments of the Pale of Settlement--exclusive of the Kingdom of Poland--and one in the government of Kharkov. The commissions were granted a term of two months within which to complete their labors and present the results to the Minister.

The sessions of all these "gubernatorial commissions" [1] took place simultaneously during the months of September and October.

[Footnote 1: In Russian, _Gubernskiya Kommissit_, literally, "Government Commissions," using "Government" in the sense of "Province."]

The prisoner at the bar was the Jewish people which was tried on the charges contained in the official bill of indictment--the imperial ukase as supplemented and interpreted in the ministerial circular. A well-informed contemporary gives the following description of these sessions in an official memorandum:

  The first session of each commission began with the reading of the   ministerial circular of August 25. The reading invariably produced a   strong effect in two different directions: on the members from among   the peasantry and on those from among the Jews. The former became   convinced of the hostile attitude of the Government towards the   Jewish population and of their leniency towards the instigators of   the disorders, which, according to an assertion made in Ignatyev's   circular, were due exclusively to the Jewish exploitation of the   original inhabitants. Needless to say, the peasants did not fail to   communicate this conviction, which was strengthened at the   subsequent sessions by the failure to put any restraint upon the   wholesale attacks on the Jews on the part of the anti-Semitic   members, to their rural communes.

  As for the Jewish members (of the commissions), the effect of the   ministerial circular upon them was staggering. In their own persons   they beheld the three millions of Russian Jewry placed at the   prisoner's bar: one section of the population put on trial before   another. And who were the judges? Not the representatives of the   people, duly elected by all the estates of the population, such as   the rural assemblies, but the agents of the administration,   bureaucratic office-holders, who were more or less subordinate to   the Government. The court proceedings themselves were carried on in   secret, without a sufficient number of counsel for the defendants   who in reality were convicted beforehand. The attitude adopted by   the presiding governors, the speeches delivered by the anti-Semitic   members, who were In an overwhelming majority, and characterized by   attacks, derisive remarks, and subtle affronts, subjected the Jewish   members to moral torture and made them lose all hope that they could   be of any assistance in attempting a dispassionate, impartial, and   comprehensive consideration of the question. In the majority of the   commissions, their voice was suppressed and silenced. In these   circumstances the Jewish members were forced, as a last resort, to   defend the interests of their coreligionists in writing, by   submitting memoranda and separate opinions. However, the instances   were rare in which these memoranda and protests were dignified by   being read during the sessions.

This being the case, it is not to be wondered at that the commissions brought in their "verdicts" in the spirit of the indictment framed by the authorities. The anti-Semitic officials exhibited their "learning" in ignorant criticisms of the "spirit of Judaism," of the Talmud and the national separatism of the Jews, and they proposed to extirpate all these influences by means of cultural repression, such as the destruction of the autonomy of the Jewish communities, the closing up of all special Jewish schools, and the placing of all phases of the inner life of the Jews under Government control. The representatives of the Russian burghers and peasants, many of whom had but recently co-operated or, at least, sympathized with the perpetrators of the pogroms, endeavored to prove the economic "injuriousness" of the Jews, and demanded that they should be restricted in their urban and rural pursuits, as well as in their right of residence outside the cities. Notwithstanding the prevailing spirit, five commissions voiced the opinion, which, from the point of view of the Russian Government, seemed rank heresy, that it was necessary to grant the Jews the right of domicile all over the empire so as to relieve the excessive congestion of the Jewish population in the Pale of Settlement.



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