Socialist zionism and nation building

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Since the mid-1980s engagement with Jewish and Zionist socialism has become marginal. All at once the fascinating and very complex relationship between the Zionist left and the Bolshevik Revolution, and between the Russian culture and the one extant in Palestine of the time, stopped sparking the creative imagination and was no longer of interest. There were several reasons for this: the ideological and actual victory of the free market, which in Margaret Thatcher’s and Ronald Reagan’s day seemed to be the only credible possibility for economic and political success; the moral and political collapse of the Soviet Union, which was accepted as firm proof of the failure of socialism; and the triumph of the right in Israeli politics and the decline of the Israeli labor movement as an alternative to it. The New Left, which appeared in the 1960s, did not speak in the language of the socialist left, and more than it extolled the rule of social justice and equality - which had rallied the old left - it spoke in the language of anti-colonialism. But in recent years we have witnessed worldwide social unrest driven by the difficulties of globalization, the halt of middle-class growth, and the widening of the gap between the haves and have-nots. Only time will tell whether the first buds of the new social justice discourse will yield reforms in the present brutal capitalistic regime, just as social democracy did in the previous century. The late Jonathan Frankel propounded a theory that, it seems to me, is universally accepted by scholars: Jewish socialism sprang from a common trunk in late-nineteenth-century tsarist Russia and sprouted three branches: the Eastern European branch, the American one, and the Palestinian one. It is important to remember these common origins, manifested as they are by the numerous shifts of personalities and leaders from branch to branch and from stream to stream. The borderlines among the Bund, Zionism, territorialism, the workers’ movement in the diaspora and Palestine, Yiddishists and Hebraists, were fluid, and both people and ideas moved from stream to stream and movement to movement; Chaim Zhitlovsky and Jacob Lestshinsky are good examples of such shifts.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationJews and Leftist Politics
Subtitle of host publicationJudaism, Israel, Antisemitism, and Gender
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781107256521
ISBN (Print)9781107047860
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2017


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