WHILE MESSIAH TARRIED: Jewish Socialist Movements, 1871-1917 by Nora Levin

WHILE MESSIAH TARRIED: Jewish Socialist Movements, 1871-1917

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For the French Socialist Charles Fourier, Jewish emancipation counted among ""the most shameful"" of all the contemporary ""vices."" Such dubious assessments by socialists about Jews, and the nevertheless persistent Jewish interest in a socialist emancipation, makes for a subject well worth exploring. Nora Levin's scholarly social history of the Jewish proletariat, its organizations and secular-messianic ideologies at a time of general economic flux and mass migrations, adds qualitatively to the literature on the topic. The book purposely avoids the more glamourous problem of the brilliantly radical ""non-Jewish Jews""--intellectuals like Marx and Trotsky, who have been accused of masochistic anti-Semitism. Instead, it paints a meticulous picture of the struggles of East European Jewry--in Russia, America, and Palestine--for economic and ethnic survival. Although socialism was ""a movement among Jews, not a Jewish movement,"" nationalism was thrust upon it. Tsarist anti-Semitism, New York's Lower East Side ghetto, the increasingly shrill racism emanating from civilized Western Europe, and the Bolshevik centralist obsession--as much as the fact that Jewish workers hired themselves of necessity to Jewish businessmen--gave the Bund in Russia and American Jewish trade unionism an exclusive quality it did not freely choose. Yiddish culture flourished differently in Russia and the US, responding to the specific context of each movement. Although Zionism is included as the final form of Jewish socialism, its presentation is more sketchy. After the rich saga of social labor history, which well begins to remedy ""the absence of material on Jewish socialist movements in general histories of socialism,"" a concluding chapter is unfortunately lacking. This shows up the somewhat weak interpretive framework of the book without detracting from its pithy substance.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Schocken