7

IN BLOOD AND FIRE: JABOTINSKY AND REVISIONISM

Between the two world wars the existence of the Zionist movement was imperilled by bitter internal strife. Whatever its other qualities, the movement had never distinguished itself by a high degree of unity within its ranks. Even while the going was good there had been a great deal of dissension, and at a time of crisis Zionism, weakened by conflict, was torn in different directions. At the time of the Balfour Declaration and for some years thereafter a state of euphoria had prevailed. Few were the Zionists who did not believe that the messianic age was at hand, that within the near future a Jewish commonwealth would emerge in Palestine in which hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Jews would find their home. Altneuland, the idyllic modern society which Herzl had envisaged, seemed around the corner. Only a handful of far-sighted leaders knew that the real uphill struggle was about to begin. As for the rest, it took them a number of years to realise that progress would be agonisingly slow.

The British administration in Palestine was by no means totally sympathetic towards Zionism, and the Arabs were actively hostile. The Balfour Declaration was gradually whittled down. Immigrants were relatively few, and agricultural settlement and industrialisation expanded only slowly, the Zionist organisation having no reserves to finance large scale enterprises - the 200,000 Jews of Berlin gave more money for social welfare in their community than the whole Jewish people gave for building Palestine. The charter of which Herzl had dreamed had at last been won, but the future of the whole venture seemed almost as uncertain as before. There was stagnation and in some respects decline, while all over Europe ominous signs were appearing that the position of the Jewish communities was becoming ever more precarious. Anti-semitism was more virulent and more widespread than before the First World War, and the political storm clouds gathered darkly as the economic crisis of the 1930s struck one country after another.

In these circumstances, dissatisfaction with official Zionist policy was bound to spread. The executive was accused of weakness and lack of initiative, and Weizmann personally was made responsible for the setbacks. He was charged with indecision, leaning excessively towards the British, opting for a new ‘miniature Zionism’, betraying the legacy of Herzl and Nordau. Poland, where the situation of the Jews was most critical, was the main breeding ground of this mood, but the demand for a more activist policy quickly spread and found vociferous supporters in other parts of the world. This opposition movement had a leader of genius; it was in fact dominated by Vladimir (Zeev) Jabotinsky to such an extent that it is impossible to write its history without constant reference to the personality of the man who shaped its destinies for two decades.

Jabotinsky, the Wunderkind of Russian Zionism, was already well known and widely admired in his early twenties as an accomplished essayist and brilliant speaker, probably the best in a movement which did not lack first-rate orators. Born in Odessa in 1880 into a middle class family which became impoverished with the death of the father, young Jabotinsky grew up in the lively atmosphere of his home town - a strong cultural centre, its inhabitants a mixture of peoples and religions, cosmopolitan, colourful, open to new trends and ideas. In his early days he had shown little interest in Judaism, nor did he join, as did so many of his contemporaries, the revolutionary movement.* Russian literature was his great love. He wrote poetry in that language and at the age of sixteen began to publish essays in the local newspapers. His first contribution was on a subject which remained topical for many years to come - a criticism of the use of grading marks in school. He studied first in Switzerland and for a longer period in Italy, which became his second spiritual home. There he devoured the writings of the leaders of the risorgimento. More recent authors such as Croce also profoundly influenced him, and he began to write poetry in Italian. His interest in Jewish affairs was only slowly awakened. The pogroms of 1904–5 were for him, as for many others of his generation, a rude awakening. Jabotinsky took an active part in the organisation of Jewish self-defence, translated Bialik’s poem about the Kishinev massacre into Russian, and, at the age of twenty-two, went as a delegate to the sixth Zionist congress where (as he later wrote) Herzl made a colossal impression on him. Having embraced the new creed, no one was more enthusiastic in spreading the gospel. Within a few years he became a professional Zionist, a travelling agitator, very much in demand as a speaker all over Russia. According to Gorky, Kuprin and other leading writers of the day, this total absorption with Jewish affairs and Zionism was a great loss to Russian literature. Suddenly Jabotinsky had become aware not just of the fact that Jews had been depicted in a most unfavourable light in the works of his beloved Russian writers; he sensed that the position of a Jew who had ambitions to be a Russian writer was highly problematical.*There was something unnatural and undignified, he wrote, when Jews took a leading part in the celebration of the centenary of a writer like Gogol, whose stories were replete with antisemitic remarks.

Jabotinsky had become an enthusiastic Zionist but in his political orientation he was by no means more radical than his contemporaries. True, he opposed the Uganda project, but later on admitted that the issues were less clearcut than he had thought at the time. He helped to convene the Helsingfors meeting in November 1906 which adopted a resolution in favour of equal rights for Jews and all other nationalities of the Russian empire. This may sound innocent enough but it was in fact a major new departure from the Zionist point of view. Why should Jabotinsky have bothered to insist on full equality for the Jews if he was convinced, with Pinsker and Herzl, that antisemitism was endemic in Europe and that east European Jewry was doomed? He did not believe that a national revival was possible outside Palestine, but he was no longer determined to boycott Zionist work in the diaspora (Gegenwartsarbeit) altogether. Jabotinsky’s work in Constantinople, where he assisted Jacobson, who represented the Zionist executive in the Turkish capital, was cut short because of a quarrel concerning a book, about the ultimate aims of Zionism, by Jacobus Kann, the Dutch Zionist leader, which it was feared would gravely compromise the position of Zionism in the Ottoman empire. Jabotinsky curiously enough opted for caution rather than ‘maximalism’.

In 1914 he was at a loose end. ‘What would I have done if the world had not broken out in flames?’ Jabotinsky wrote in his autobiography, in a rare attack of self-pity. ‘I had wasted my youth and early middle age. Perhaps I would have gone to Eretz Israel, perhaps I would have escaped to Rome, perhaps I would have founded a political party.’ Such fits of depression never lasted long, for he was almost incurably optimistic. The war uprooted Jabotinsky, his family and friends. It brought about the ruin of Russian Jewry, but it also provided the historical chance for the Zionist movement to realise its aim, and it catapulted Jabotinsky into its front ranks. The stormy petrel of 1914 emerged at the end of the war as an outstanding leader and statesman.

The idea of a Jewish legion, which from now on held a central place in Jabotinsky’s thinking, was born when as a war correspondent in Egypt in late 1914 he heard that hundreds of young Jews had been deported by the Turkish authorities. He helped to found the Mule Corps, consisting of Jewish soldiers, which later on saw action at Gallipoli. But he envisaged a far more ambitious enterprise; it took several years of effort and suffered a great many setbacks before the establishment of a Jewish regiment (the Judaeans) was officially announced in London in August 1917. The legion reached Palestine the following March and played a certain, militarily not very significant, part during the last phase of the war.

In his struggle for the formation of a Jewish legion Jabotinsky was ‘almost alone, discouraged and derided everywhere’, to quote Weizmann, one of the few who followed his activities with some sympathy. That Jabotinsky faced opposition from non-Zionists goes without saying. Both the liberal assimilationist establishment and the left-wing pacifists were bitterly hostile.* But there was strong resistance among Jabotinsky’s colleagues too. After all, Zionists were fighting in this war on both sides, and there was a real danger that the Turks would react severely. Was it worth while to endanger the very existence of the small Jewish community in Palestine for a project of doubtful military or political value? While Weizmann was certain that the Allies would win the war, many Russian Zionist leaders were much less sure; nor, as far as Russia, the bulwark of antisemitism, was concerned, did they think the perpetuation of tsarist rule, the likely outcome of an allied victory, desirable.

For Jabotinsky the establishment of a legion was more than a tactical move. He was not a born militarist; as a young man he had in fact written a pacifist play. True, he had a strong romantic, even adventurist streak, and he found a certain personal satisfaction in army life despite its disappointments and hardships. Perhaps he saw himself, a Jewish Garibaldi, liberating Palestine at the head of a Jewish army. But above all there were two basic considerations which made him so fanatically persistent in his struggle for the legion: he was absolutely convinced that a Jewish army, however small, was a historical necessity. However many agricultural settlements were established, they would be defenceless in the absence of Jewish military units. The legion came into being, despite much opposition. In later years Jabotinsky grossly exaggerated its political significance during the war. It was simply not true (as he argued) that half the credit for the Balfour Declaration should go to the legion.* Jabotinsky became a great believer in the value of military training and discipline, which he thought were of special importance for a people which for so many centuries had been unable to defend itself. Henceforth these ideals played a central part in Jabotinsky’s thought. Of ‘militarism’ he wrote: ‘We ought not to be deterred by a Latin word’. The early Zionists, after all, were not put off by the nationalist label. There were two kinds of militarism - the one aggressive, out for territorial conquest; the other the natural defence effort of a people which had no homeland and was faced by the threat of extinction: ‘If this is militarism, we ought to be proud of it.’

The legion in which Jabotinsky served as a lieutenant was demobilised soon after the end of the war, much to his chagrin. He had hoped that it would be the nucleus of a Jewish army - under British command, if necessary. Jabotinsky was made political officer of the Zionist commission which during the interval between the armistice and the beginning of the mandate acted as a liaison officer with the British military authorities. From the beginning he was apprehensive about the hostility of the local administration and criticised Weizmann for being too pliant in his dealings with the British government. Not a single day should be lost, he felt, in creating faits accomplis. He referred specifically to immediate large-scale immigration and a Jewish armed force but found little sympathy among the other Zionist leaders. Weizmann said that he had not the courage to come to the Jewish people and submit a large-scale programme when he knew beforehand that it was not practical: ‘Zionism cannot be the answer to a catastrophe.’ Ussishkin, not exactly an Anglophile, and much closer to Jabotinsky politically, commented that the country could not be built up in a hurry, as in the exodus from Egypt, but by slow immigration, as after the Babylonian exile.*

At the time of the first Arab attacks in Jerusalem in April 1920, Jabotinsky was head of the Hagana in that city. As his aide de camp he had chosen Jeremiah Halpern, the son of Michael Halpern, who thirty years earlier had been the first proponent of a Jewish legion. After the riots subsided Jabotinsky was arrested and a few days later sentenced to fifteen years penal servitude. It was a scandalous trial, for Jabotinsky and his men had been acting in self-defence precisely because the British authorities had been unable to maintain public order and to safeguard the lives of the Jews in the city. Shortly after his arrival in Palestine, Herbert Samuel, the first high commissioner, granted an amnesty to Jabotinsky and the other Jewish prisoners sentenced at the same trial. Jabotinsky had been in prison for a few months only, and as a political prisoner had enjoyed preferential treatment. Upon his release he was given a hero’s welcome, but he was full of bitterness, and most reluctant to be released under an amnesty which also gave freedom to Arabs who had taken part in the attacks on Jews. Later he took legal action and succeeded in having the sentence quashed by the commander-in-chief in Egypt. More strongly than ever before he felt the need for an army for the purposes of self-defence. Nor should it be clandestine; without it colonisation was just not practical.

On this issue he parted ways with the Labour Zionists, who otherwise endorsed much of his criticism regarding Weizmann’s policy. Jabotinsky rejected the argument that a Jewish armed force would provoke the Arabs. On the contrary, he claimed, two thousand regular soldiers under British command would be less of a provocation than ten thousand illegally organised Jewish soldiers. Ben Gurion, Golomb, and the other Socialist leaders were not averse in principle to the idea of a legion, but they put two questions to which Jabotinsky had no convincing answers: how could they be sure that a Jewish legion would afford protection to the yishuv if it was not under Jewish command? And since, even if all went well, it would be some time before the legion was ready, who would protect the community during the interim period?

Jabotinsky joined the Zionist executive together with two political friends, Richard Lichtheim and Joseph Cowen, in March 1921. For almost two years he took a leading part in its activities - as political adviser, fund raiser and all-purpose Zionist propagandist. He spent several months in the United States, where he quarrelled with the local Zionist leaders (Brandeis and Mack), whose ‘minimalism’ was utterly opposed to his way of looking at things. Whereas they believed that the political phase of Zionism was more or less over, he was firmly convinced that the real struggle was just about to begin. Jabotinsky was greatly worried by events in Palestine, especially the open hostility to Zionism displayed in the Haycraft report of 1921, which put the responsibility for the Jaffa riots in May 1921 largely on the Jews. He wrote to the Zionist executive in November 1922 that the ‘wobbling attitude’ of the British government was the logical consequence of Herbert Samuel’s policy ‘and our own meekness in dealing with his administration’. ‘Our own meekness’ - this was the leitmotif of all his speeches and articles in the years to come.* He was most unhappy about the Churchill White Paper, which provided a restrictive interpretation of the Balfour Declaration. It was a lost battle, but, as he said at a subsequent Zionist congress, he could not desert his colleagues in a desperate emergency: ‘I felt it my moral duty to share with my colleagues the shame of defeat.’

His position on the executive was compromised by his talks with Slavinsky, a minister in Petliura’s Ukranian exile government. Jabotinsky suggested the establishment of a Jewish gendarmerie within the framework of the Petliura régime to protect Ukrainian Jewry against pogroms. Slavinsky was a Ukrainian liberal intellectual with a fairly good record, but under Petliura’s rule thousands of Jews had been murdered. The fact that Jabotinsky was willing to negotiate even indirectly with the man responsible for these massacres provoked a storm of indignation in the Jewish world. (Petliura was killed by a Jewish student in Paris a few years later.) Paraphrasing his old hero Mazzini, Jabotinsky said in his defence that he would ally himself with the devil on behalf of Palestine and the Jews. Whatever the desirability and efficacity of such alliances, in this particular case it was totally unnecessary. The ‘pact’ was not only a disastrous tactical move, it was of no practical importance, since the invasion of the Soviet Ukraine which had been planned from Poland never came off and the Ukrainian government-in-exile collapsed shortly after. The incident harmed Jabotinsky politically, giving him the reputation of an extreme reactionary and a collaborator with pogromists. This was unjust, but Jabotinsky had only himself to blame. His political judgment had been at fault, and he had engaged in political activity for activity’s sake - a pattern that was to repeat itself in the years to come.

Jabotinsky resigned from the executive in January 1923 in protest against what he regarded as Weizmann’s fatal policy of renunciation and compromise. ‘Weizmann believes that mine is the way of a stubborn fantast’, he told a friend after a conversation with Weizmann, ‘while I feel that his line is the line of renunciation, of subconscious Marannism.’ His own approach was a difficult, stormy one, but it was to lead to a Jewish state.* He believed that Britain and Zionism had common interests in the eastern Mediterranean and that no British government would dissociate itself from the Balfour Declaration. Hence he saw no danger in asking awkward questions in London and pressing the British to fulfil their obligations under the mandate. If, however, as some of his colleagues claimed, the community of interests was questionable, if the mandate had no solid foundation of interest, and the pledge might be broken at any time, if it had all been a misunderstanding - what, then, was the use of keeping up appearances for another few months? Jabotinsky maintained that, all other considerations apart, the continuation of an anti-Zionist policy in Palestine was ruining the movement financially. Who would be willing to contribute to a cause which could not show that it was making progress? The policy of the Palestine administration was effectively blocking any advance.

Jabotinsky’s resignation from the executive was accepted without regrets. His colleagues had been irritated by his inclination to dramatise political issues, his frequent speeches and declarations in which he criticised their policies. They agreed with him that the British government and, a fortiori, the mandatory authorities, were not fulfilling their duties in accordance with the mandate, but did not believe that the alternative was as easy and clearcut as Jabotinsky contended. ‘Either there is a community of interest, in which case they will ultimately do what we want, or there isn’t, in which case we have nothing to lose, because the mandate will be repudiated anyway.’ Weizmann, who understood the British better than Jabotinsky, knew that some British statesmen were more in favour of cooperation with Zionism than others; that Zionism was just one factor among many in British Middle Eastern policy. In other words, there was nothing Jabotinsky could have done which Weizmann did not do. He could have protested more often and more loudly, but what difference would it have made? The only real alternative would have been a fundamental reorientation - away from Britain, towards some other power, or group of powers. But Jabotinsky was not at all in favour of reorientation, though later on, in the 1930s, he played half-heartedly with the idea of an alliance with Warsaw which was not, however, a real alternative.

The fundamental weakness of Jabotinsky’s policy clearly appeared from the moment he went into opposition to official Zionist policy. His analysis of the weaknesses of the line his colleagues were taking, especially in the foreign political field, was forceful if usually somewhat exaggerated. But he had no alternative to offer, other than the promise that if given the opportunity he would achieve better results. At the fourteenth Zionist congress he was challenged by his critics to say what he would use to bring pressure to bear on Britain. He replied that he was neither a friend nor an enemy of Britain but that he knew that force was not needed to persuade a civilised people like the British. He could not tell them in advance how he would convince them; nor would Herzl have been able to give such information to the congress. The main thing was that the demands of the Zionists were logical and consistent and should be pressed forcefully.*

The origins of Revisionism

When Jabotinsky left the executive he intended to withdraw from politics altogether for a time, but he was deluding himself. Temperamentally he was quite unsuited to a life outside politics. He felt constantly obliged to react in print and by word of mouth to current Zionist politics, needing immediate contact with his readers and listeners. He was invited to join the editorial board of Rassvet, for many the leading organ of Russian Zionism, which now became his mouthpiece. But the appeal of his articles, always hard hitting and well written, was limited. Rassvet was not the ideal platform for reaching the Jewish masses, certainly not the younger generation. The idea of setting up a political party and a youth movement occurred to him during a trip to Latvia and Lithuania in late 1923. The day after a speech in Riga on Zionist activism he was invited to speak to the local Jewish student association and was told that he had no right to preach such views and to stir up young people if he did not intend to call them to action: ‘You either keep quiet or organise a party.’ On his return he wrote to a friend that he had met a generation of youth that was worth believing in and that he had made up his mind to enlist them for the cause of Zionist activism. Riga, where a youth organisation (named after Trumpeldor) became the birthplace of Betar, the revisionist youth movement.

Jabotinsky now had to formulate the basic tenets of revisionism, as the new movement was to be called, following the suggestion of one of his lieutenants. It was not intended as a radical new departure. Not Zionism was to be revised, only its current policies. Revisionism saw itself as the only true heir of the Herzl-Nordau tradition of political Zionism, in contrast to the official Zionist leadership, which, by making concession after concession, had deviated from it. Jabotinsky and his followers were maximalists, claiming not only Palestine for the Jews but ‘the gradual transformation of Palestine (including Transjordan) into a self-governing commonwealth under the auspices of an established Jewish majority’.* They regarded this as the only admissible interpretation of the term ‘national home’ in the Balfour Declaration and the mandate. Transjordan was an inseparable part of the territory of Palestine, to be included in the sphere of Jewish colonisation. The British White Paper which had restricted the interpretation of the Balfour Declaration in 1922 had been accepted by the Zionist movement under duress, in the hope that it would lead to the acceptance of the Declaration by the Palestinian Arabs. Since the Arabs had refused to recognise the Declaration, the 1922 White Paper was no longer valid.

Writing in 1926, Jabotinsky defined the creation of a Jewish majority in Palestine, west and east of the Jordan, as the first aim of Zionism. A normal political development on a democratic parliamentary basis could be envisaged only after this target had been achieved. The final aim was the solution of the Jewish problem and the creation of a Jewish culture. Jabotinsky emphatically rejected the thesis that the Zionist aim should not be openly proclaimed. It was too late to preach minimalism, for the Arabs, too, were aware of Herzl’s Judenstaat. To engage in conspiracies, to cover up their real aims, would confuse their friends, not their enemies. To achieve a majority Jabotinsky proposed immigration at the rate of forty thousand a year over a period of twenty-five years. If Transjordan were included, there would have to be fifty to sixty thousand immigrants a year. Transjordan, he claimed, had always been part of Jewish Palestine; it was also much less densely populated and therefore more promising for colonisation.

This position was revolutionary inasmuch as it demanded the establishment of a Jewish state at a time when it was not openly advocated by any other Zionist leader or movement. At this early stage Jabotinsky was perhaps not thinking of full independence. The concept state (he once said) had various meanings in political usage - France was a state, and so was Nebraska and Kentucky. State did not necessarily imply complete independence, but while the degree of self-government could be discussed, there was no room for manœuvring with regard to one basic factor: either there was a Jewish majority or there wasn’t.* On this point there could be no meeting of minds with Weizmann, who at the time of the Zionist congress at which Jabotinsky launched the discussion about the Endziel (final aim), declared in an interview with a journalist: ‘I have no understanding of or sympathy for a Jewish majority in Palestine.’ This statement provoked much opposition and a few days later was one of the factors leading to Weizmann’s defeat. But it did not make Jabotinsky’s policy any more acceptable to the majority at the congress.

Jabotinsky did not shirk the Arab problem. He regarded Arab opposition to Zionism and Jewish settlement as natural and inevitable. But since the Jews in Europe were facing a catastrophe, whereas the situation of the Arabs was secure in the Middle East, he believed the moral case of the Jews to be infinitely stronger. Revisionism recognised that there would be a substantial Arab minority in Palestine even after Jews became the majority. Jabotinsky wrote in his programme that in the Jewish state there would be ‘absolute equality’ between Jews and Arabs, that if one part of the population were destitute, the whole country would suffer. Meanwhile, the Arabs would continue to fight Zionism until an ‘iron wall’ was built. Then, and only then, would they understand that there was no hope of destroying Zionism, that they would have to accept it and live with it. If the transformation of Palestine into a Jewish state was morally justified, resistance to it was unjustified. Hence Jabotinsky’s refusal to compromise with what he regarded as unjust demands from the Arab side, all the more so as on the question of the majority there was no room for manœuvre. ‘Either - or’ was the basic pattern of Jabotinsky’s policy on the Arab question, as it was in his attitude towards the British or his demand for a Jewish army: either the Jews had a right to their state, in which case Arab resistance was immoral, or they had no such right, in which case the whole argument for Zionism collapsed. These dramatisations of complicated issues were always rhetorically effective, but the issues themselves were far too complicated, both morally and politically, to be illuminated, let alone solved, by categorical declarations of this kind.

Jabotinsky never swerved from his demand for a Jewish army, however small. Why should the British taxpayer be responsible for the defence of the Jews in Palestine? Sooner or later, he would no longer be willing to carry this burden, nor was Britain morally bound to provide such security. Zionism was obliged either to offer the men and the money needed, or to give up its political demands. A small Jewish legion, consisting of three battalions (approximately three thousand men) would cost no more than £120,000 a year. This would not be unproductive expenditure, as his critics asserted. On the contrary, it was the prerequisite for any colonisation scheme.

As relations with Britain deteriorated, Jabotinsky and his friends put most of the blame on the officials on the spot: Allenby had been against Zionism, Herbert Samuel too weak to assert himself. Instead of criticising the first high commissioner and his administration, he went on, the Jewish public had never openly attacked him. The setbacks to Zionist policies and the disappointments suffered were not inevitable, not the outcome of conditions over which no one had any control, but the result of human shortcomings, of the hostile policy of the local administration, and ‘the consequence of the shortsightedness, the thoughtlessness, and the weakness of our leaders’.* Despite his own unfortunate experience, Jabotinsky did not reject the idea of an alliance with Britain, provided the mandatory power reaffirmed the original spirit of the mandate. When Sir Josiah Wedgwood, a pro-Zionist politician, promoted the idea of Palestine as a seventh dominion within the British Commonwealth, it received the blessing of the revisionists at their third world conference in Vienna in 1928, but after 1930 hopes began to fade. Jabotinsky said he wanted one ‘last experiment’ to reach a rapprochement with Britain. Schechtman, another revisionist leader, wrote in 1933 that a situation might arise in which the Jewish people would no longer be interested in the continuation of the mandate.

In 1934 the revisionists began to advocate non-cooperation with the mandatory authorities, which provoked charges of inconsistency from their critics. How could they at one and the same time demand a Jewish legion under British command, and preach non-cooperation? How would noisy demonstrations persuade the British that Zionism was the surest pillar of British policy in the orient? Revisionism, with all its criticism of British policy, was in the last resort as pro-British at the time in its basic assumptions as Weizmann. It believed that fundamentally the British government was well disposed towards Zionism and that it would live up to its obligations, both for reasons of self-interest and as a moral duty. They were less aware than Weizmann that a new generation of British leaders increasingly regarded the Balfour Declaration as an unwelcome burden, if not an outright mistake, in view of their many interests and commitments in the Muslim world. In their eyes Zionism was an embarrassment, not a potential ally.

Much of the revisionist critique of the Zionist leadership had to do with economic and social policy. Jabotinsky had been interested in economics as a student, and under the influence of his Italian Socialist teachers had written in 1906 that class conflicts between employers and employed could not be reconciled, and that the nationalisation of the means of production was the only solution.* He had not belonged to a Socialist party but had certainly believed in Socialist ideals. Even twenty years later, when defining the revisionist programme, he wrote that the class struggle in Palestine was an inevitable, even healthy phenomenon. Revisionists would neither join the chorus of those who talked about the bankruptcy of the collective settlements nor would they attack the (‘bourgeois’) fourth aliya. Every form of settlement was legitimate and compatible with revisionism. Richard Lichtheim on the other hand maintained that if revisionism wanted to create a Jewish majority in Palestine in the shortest possible time, the class struggle was clearly a luxury the country could ill afford. But the movement was not against the working class. Unlike (Italian) fascism, it did not seek an alliance with big capital; it was neither Socialist nor capitalist.

Gradually Jabotinsky retreated from his early views about Socialism and nationalisation: the class struggle was perhaps justified in other countries; however sharp the conflict between German workers and employers, it would not destroy the German economy, whereas the building of Palestine was only at the beginning and irreparable damage could be caused by major class conflicts.§ He saw no basic difference between Socialism and Communism, and wrote that nationalisation of the means of production, if realised, would result in a society where there was even less freedom and equality than in the present one. For some time he was influenced by the original theories on the ideal economic system developed by Josef Popper Lynkeus, a figure of some literary renown in Vienna who was in contact with Robert Stricker, Jabotinsky’s chief aide in Austria. A more lasting impact was exerted by some of his followers in Palestine, ex-Socialists who later turned sharply against Labour Zionism. In Mapai and the Histadrut they saw the chief enemy, more dangerous than either the mandatory government or the Arabs.

While Jabotinsky was aware of the dangers of this openly anti-Socialist trend and privately rebuked the ‘hotheads’, he did not openly dissociate himself from them. As a result revisionism became more and more anti-Socialist in character. It had been its original aim to remain above the social struggle and to minimise its impact, to be neither of the Right nor of the Left. Now, through its involvement in the political fight, it became more and more identified with opposition to organised labour. The revisionists attacked the economic programme of the Zionist executive from opposite angles at one and the same time: it was too liberal, in the sense that it assumed that the building up of the country could be financed solely by voluntary contributions, and it was not liberal enough, for it discriminated against private initiative in agriculture and industry.

The revisionist programme demanded a ‘systematic colonisation régime to be charged with the positive task of creating the conditions necessary for a Jewish mass colonisation’.* No other Zionist party would have disagreed with the demand that the entire complex of Jewish immigration should be entrusted to the sole competence of the Zionist Organisation. Another demand called for a thorough land reform to be carried out, with the object of establishing a land reserve for colonisation, to include all lands not under permanent cultivation both west and east of the Jordan, subject to satisfactory compensation being paid to the present owners. The revisionists proposed the floating of a big international loan to finance mass immigration and settlement. They charged the Zionist executive with having given hardly any help at all to middle class initiative in industry and agriculture.

Some of the criticism was well founded. Soskin, a veteran agricultural expert, urged the promotion by all possible means of intensive agriculture, and opposed the tendency towards autarky prevailing at the time in some circles, according to which agricultural settlements were to produce more or less everything they needed. More often revisionist proposals exuded a spirit of well-meaning dilettantism: the advice extended to the Zionist executive to ‘think big’, to plan ahead, and to float a substantial loan was unlikely to be disputed. It reminds one of the old Jewish saying that to be young, healthy and rich is preferable to being old, sick and poor. Who would have provided the money for these projects? Independent countries offering more security and better economic prospects to investors failed to get loans during the 1920s, and after the onset of the great depression it was well-nigh impossible to borrow money on a large scale.

Jabotinsky’s approach was reminiscent of Herzl’s enthusiastic belief that somehow, something would turn up if one tried hard enough: Micawber in the role of the grand seigneur. But this was no longer 1897. When Herzl tried unsuccessfully to enlist the help of potential donors, when he made promises, hinting obscurely that enormous sums were at his disposal, the Zionist movement could afford to be irresponsible - it had neither assets nor obligations. Three decades later it carried the responsibility for the growing Jewish community in Palestine. If hard pressed, Jabotinsky would no doubt have admitted that he had no alternative suggestion, either in the economic or in the political field, but that once the movement received a powerful impetus there would be fresh enthusiasm and the dynamic energy generated would help to overcome all obstacles. There would be money and immigrants, as well as political support.

His main intention was to give new hope to the movement at a time when it was facing a steady loss of momentum which he feared would result in decline and ultimately disintegration. This support seemed all the more vital because the crisis in Zionism coincided with a deterioration in the situation of European Jewry and emigration was becoming a matter of urgent necessity. Not long before Hitler came to power, Jabotinsky said to a group of friends that he had no doubt that one, and probably only one point in the programme of the Nazi Party would be carried out in full - that which concerned the Jews. Being a politician, and the leader of a mass movement, he could not tell the Jewish masses that there were no easy solutions, no panaceas. He had to formulate slogans and demands which were clearcut, imaginative and easily intelligible, but which were bound to provoke charges of dilettantism and demagogy because they were so obviously unrealistic. All too often he chose to play the role of the terrible simplificateur. After his tour of the Baltic countries in February 1924 he reduced his policy to a simple formula:


The programme is not complicated. The aim of Zionism is a Jewish state. The territory - both sides of the Jordan. The system - mass colonisation. The solution of the financial problem - a national loan. These four principles cannot be realised without international sanction. Hence the commandment of the hour - a new political campaign and the militarisation of Jewish youth in Eretz Israel and the diaspora.*

The new party

Within less than a year of his resignation from the executive in 1923 he was back in the thick of the political struggle. It was not just a matter of unfulfilled ambitions. Whatever his shortcomings, Jabotinsky never suffered from any major personal frustrations. There was at the time widespread discontent in the ranks of the Zionist movement, inchoate, but basically on the lines of Jabotinsky’s thinking. Wherever he went he encountered enthusiastic support from local Zionist militants. His first backers were his old comrades, the Russian Zionists in exile. In Petrograd in May 1917 a group of active legionaries had been founded, among them some of Jabotinsky’s future leading political supporters, Meir Grossman and Joseph Schechtman. Thus it did not come as a surprise when Rassvet was taken over in 1924 by Jabotinsky and some of his closest supporters (Julius Brutzkus, J. Jlinov, J. Jrivus). In March 1924 a small office was opened in Berlin to coordinate the activities of the local circles of his followers in various countries. In September 1924 Jabotinsky wrote to a friend that there were now fifty such groups, from Canada to Harbin in Manchuria. But they formed at most a loose association, still without an organisational centre.

Only in April 1925, with the first conference of the Zohar (Zionim-Revisionistim), was the first step taken towards the establishment of a party. The conference, which convened in the Taverne du Panthéon in the heart of the Quartier Latin, adopted the formula mentioned already, that there was only one permissable interpretation of the term national home, namely the gradual transformation of Palestine into a self-governing commonwealth under the auspices of an established Jewish majority. It emphatically rejected Weizmann’s plan for a broadening of the Jewish Agency to include non-Zionists. All members of the Jewish Agency executive would have to be elected by the Zionist congress and to be responsible to the congress. The revisionists were not willing to give non-Zionists full rights to vote on vital political issues. They envisaged cooperation with non-Zionists only in the economic field. Lastly, the conference elected VI. Iiomkin head of the United Zionists Revisionists (UZR).

The importance of this first convention lay not (as a historian of the movement later wrote) in the substance of the new programme, nor in the ideological discussions that took place, but in the whole atmosphere, the enthusiastic mood which attracted intellectuals and young people.* The movement was still numerically small. At the fourteenth Zionist congress it had only four delegates, including Jabotinsky himself. There were no well-known old Zionists among its leaders, with the exception of Meir Grossman, a Russian-Jewish journalist and agitator whom Jabotinsky had known since before the First World War. His friends in the Paris and Berlin Russian-Jewish emigration carried little weight in Zionist counsels and Schechtman, his future biographer, did not have the qualities of a political leader. A prominent supporter in the early days was Wolfgang von Weisl, an Australian journalist who toured the Middle East on behalf of a leading Berlin newspaper; he, too, was not a second Herzl. Among the early converts to revisionism was a young Viennese student of Hungarian descent, Arthur Koestler. He dropped out of the party and from the Zionist movement a few years later, but continued to be an admirer of Jabotinsky.

As the malaise in the Zionist movement and the discontent with Weizmann’s policy deepened, Jabotinsky won the support of Richard Lichtheim and Robert Strieker, both respected figures in the central European Zionist movement. Lichtheim had represented the executive in Constantinople before the war. Together with Kurt Blumenfeld, he had been the most effective propagandist of German Zionism. A man of independent views (and independent means), he agreed with Jabotinsky that the time was ripe for a revision of Zionist policy. But neither he nor Strieker, a native of Vienna and an engineer by profession, was a popular leader likely to attract the masses. The revisionists tried hard, and not unsuccessfully, to gain influence among the Jews of Sefardi origin in the Mediterranean countries and especially in Palestine, who for a long time had been neglected by the Zionist movement. But not one Sefardi personality of stature emerged to take a leading place in their inner counsels.

More than any other Zioitist party, revisionism always remained a movement identified with one man. Even though his colleagues were often opposed to Jabotinsky, they knew that without him the movement was nothing. When Grossman once disagreed with Jabotinsky he was told by another revisionist: ‘With him you are Grossman [a big man], without him you are Kleinmann [a small man].’ Jabotinsky’s most faithful followers were the young people from Poland and Latvia whom he met during his tours in eastern Europe - Propes, Lubotzky and Dissenchik in Riga, Remba and Klarman in Poland, Weinshal who represented revisionism in Palestine. They and the thousands of nameless Betarim constituted the backbone of the movement, a new generation of Zionists, very different in character and mental make-up from the professionals who met at the Zionist congresses every year.

The years after the foundation of the Zohar, 1925–9, were devoted to the consolidation of the movement. Jabotinsky settled for a while in Palestine. He went on a propaganda campaign to South Africa, where he had considerable success, and to the United States, where he fared less well. The Palestine government, displeased by the ‘extremist’ activities of the revisionists, decided not to permit Jabotinsky to return as he ‘endangered public safety’. He was compelled to settle again in Paris, subsequently in London, and during the last phase of his life in New York. The movement grew by leaps and bounds. From four representatives at the Zionist congress to nine, to twenty-one, to fifty-two within little more than six years. The UZR conventions (December 1926 and December 1928) were to a large extent devoted to the discussion of organisational questions, of the situation inside the Zionist movement, and to the elaboration of a socio-economic programme of revisionism. Whether the revisionists should act in future from within the Zionist movement or from without became one of the main bones of contention. Lichtheim, speaking at the third Zohar world conference, expressed the view of the majority when he said that the movement had no chance of succeeding outside the Zionist camp and that it ought therefore try to conquer it from within.* For the time being Zohar lacked influence; neither Britain nor anyone else would take it seriously. Even the Zionist movement under Herzl had needed many years to gain recognition, and but for the war it would not have achieved it when it did.* The Palestinian revisionists, on the other hand, pressed for secession as early as 1928, and Jabotinsky was more than half-determined to support them. He did not want to force a decision at the third conference, saying that he was bowing to the majority while plainly hinting that he saw little hope of taking over the Zionist movement. He made no secret of his conviction that the logic of events would drive his movement towards secession and full independence.

Two years later, at the fourth conference in Prague (August 1930), he had reached the conclusion that the time was ripe. He argued in closed session that revisionism was not so much a political party or an ideology (Weltanschauung) as a ‘psychological race’, a definite inborn mentality which could not be communicated to those who did not inherently possess it. It was therefore the mission of the movement to look for people of its own ‘race’, to organise them and not waste its energies in attempts to ‘conquer’ a Zionist crowd with a very different outlook. Jabotinsky insisted on secession despite the steady growth of the UZR, which at the seventeenth congress had become the third strongest faction in world Zionism. But he felt, probably rightly, that the old guard was too firmly entrenched, that the Zionist movement could not be revolutionised from within. Shortly before the congress, at a meeting of the Zionist Action Committee, Weizmann had declared that the Jewish state was never an aim in itself, only a means to an end: ‘Nothing is said about the Jewish state in the Basle Programme, nor in the Balfour Declaration. The essence of Zionism is to create a number of important material foundations, upon which an autonomous, compact and productive community can be built.’

This statement, the exact antithesis of revisionism, strengthened Jabotinsky in his belief that the final showdown was at hand. In his speech at the congress, as usual one of the central events, he declared that he still believed in the honesty of the world and the power of a just cause: ‘I believe that great problems are decided by the powerful influence of moral pressure and that the Jewish people is a tremendous factor of moral pressure.’ If the elan of the Zionist movement had decreased, if Zionism had lost its spell over the Jewish soul, this was the result of ‘our own errors’; the methods and the system had to be changed: It has become a political necessity to clean the atmosphere, and this can be done only by telling the truth. Why should we allow the term ‘Jewish state’ to be called extremism? The Albanians have their state, the Bulgarians have their state. The state is, after all, the normal condition of a people. If the Jewish state were in existence today, nobody would say that it was abnormal. And if we want to normalise our existence, who dares to call it extremism - and are we ourselves expected to say so?’

The split

Jabotinsky failed in his attempt to compel the congress to adopt a clear, unequivocal stand on the ‘final aim’. Weizmann was defeated at the congress but there was no substantial change in policy. The leadership was not offered to Jabotinsky, as some had expected, but to Sokolow. By a majority decision Jabotinsky’s resolution was not even put to the vote, whereupon pandemonium broke loose. Grossman, who wanted to make a statement on behalf of the revisionists, was shouted down. Jabotinsky climbed on a chair, shouted ‘This is no longer a Zionist congress’, tore up his delegate card and attended no further sessions.

The scene was without precedent. Passions were running higher than ever, but there was still no majority in favour of secession among the revisionist leaders. True, it had been decided at a meeting in Boulogne shortly before the congress that the party would establish its own world organisation if the congress rejected its resolution in favour of a Jewish state. But even after the stormy scenes at the congress there was still hesitation at the head office in London about whether the last, fateful step should be taken. In protest, Jabotinsky withdrew for several months from active leadership and returned to his post only in September 1931. Meanwhile the debate about the advantages and drawbacks of secession continued in the revisionist press. At a meeting in Calais in late September 1931 a compromise solution was adopted: the revisionists were no longer part of the Zionist movement, but the question of a new, independent organisation was to be shelved for the time being. Individual revisionists were free to belong or not to belong to the Zionist movement, and at the fifth revisionist conference in August 1932 the Calais compromise was endorsed against the vote of the leader of the movement.

Jabotinsky’s attitude to Britain hardened in 1931. ‘The Balfour Declaration is degenerating into an anti-Zionist document,’ he declared. ‘In Jewish eyes, England’s policy has deprived her of the right to continue as the mandatory power … some people still hope that England will be compelled to change her policy radically. Others are convinced that our alliance with England has come to an end.’ Again, Jabotinsky took a ‘centrist’ position. Most members of the revisionist executive believed that the alliance with Britain had not come to an end, whereas among the Palestinians and the revisionist youth movement anti-British sentiment was rapidly spreading and there was growing impatience with Jabotinsky’s shilly-shallying. Jabotinsky, however, wanted to prevent a split among his followers at almost any price. He had agreed that in the new executive of five, four of the seats should go to men (Grossman, Machover, Strieker and Soskin) who were not in sympathy with his policy. But since the disagreement concerned fundamental issues, party unity could not be patched up for long. By early 1933 a split had become unavoidable. Jabotinsky’s colleagues did not share his view that revisionist party discipline took precedence over Zionist discipline. This was unacceptable to Jabotinsky. Bowing to Zionist discipline was tantamount to abstaining from independent action, which in his view was political suicide. A stalemate had been reached, and when the issue was submitted for decision to the party council in Kattowitz in March 1933, both sides were prepared for a break. Yet once again the meeting ended in utter confusion: the majority were opposed to Jabotinsky’s views, but did not want to expel him.*

Jabotinsky needed a few more days to make up his mind to cross the Rubicon. On 23 March he announced that he had personally assumed the leadership of the movement, suspended its elected bodies, and established a new provisional executive. At the same time he called on all party members to participate in the elections to the eighteenth Zionist congress. This, in the words of his biographer, was a tactical masterstroke. He had defeated his opponents while taking the wind out of their sails by refraining for the moment from pressing for secession. There was great indignation among the deposed leaders about Jabotinsky’s high-handed and undemocratic behaviour. Grossman compared him to an oriental belly dancer: ‘It is hard for me to grasp how democratic principles can be reconciled with the dictatorship of a single person who turns his coat before the eyes of the world in the same way as a Nackttänzerin …’. If the leadership was opposed, Jabotinsky had the enthusiastic support of the rank and file. There was no doubt whatever that the revisionist movement preferred him to his colourless colleagues, not just in the election campaign but in the greater political struggles ahead. Jabotinsky’s optimism was borne out by the results of the elections to the congress: his list gained forty-six seats, that of his opponents only seven. In Betar, the revisionist youth organisation, support for him was overwhelming: 93 per cent of the members expressed confidence in their leader. The rival faction, headed by Grossman, founded the Jewish State Party, but it lacked both a mass basis and a clear policy.* It went on vegetating for several years and after the Second World War, when the revisionists re-entered the World Zionist Organisation, the State Party rejoined them.

The cradle of the youth movement was in Riga. The local activist youth had defined itself as ‘a part of the legion which will come into existence in Eretz Israel’. It took the Betar a number of years to grow roots in Poland, where eventually its main strength was concentrated. Hashomer Hatzair, its chief rival, was firmly entrenched in Poland, but as it became politically committed, turning from scouting to the extreme Left, Betar, with its emphasis on ‘monism’ (unadulterated Zionism), gained in strength. Unlike Hashomer Hatzair, it was not elitist but always aspired to be a mass organisation, appealing not only to high school students but to young people in all walks of life. From Poland it spread to many other European countries and also established branches overseas, and of course in Palestine.

In 1933 Jabotinsky’s position as a leader was unassailable. Now at long last he seemed to have complete political freedom. The new executive was staffed by his supporters. It was less clear what use he would make of the unlimited mandate given to him. Revisionism after the exit of its elder statesmen was not the same. The influence of new forces, the Betar and the Palestinians, was bound to increase. As younger leaders came to the fore the next years witnessed the gradual radicalisation of the movement, not always in a direction which Jabotinsky desired.

Betar

Betar wholeheartedly subscribed to Jabotinsky’s political doctrine. But it also wanted autonomy; there was little inclination to play second fiddle to the Zohar and to accept party discipline blindly. It always maintained that its loyalty was to Jabotinsky, the head of Betar, and resisted attempts by other politicians to interfere in its internal affairs, let alone to dictate. In later years, after the Irgun had come into being, there were frequent disputes between these two organisations. Betar had thousands of followers in Palestine in the 1930s, but its main base was always in the east European diaspora, and with the destruction of east European Jewry it withered away in Palestine too. Despite its opposition to elitism, the educational values it wished to implant among its members were aristocratic, resembling in some respects the ideals of knighthood and chivalry prevalent in certain sections of the German Buende in the 1920s.* Like other Zionist youth movements, it prepared its members for life in Eretz Israel, maintained training farms, and put great emphasis on the study of Hebrew. It differed from them in its insistence on para-military education, with uniforms, solemn processions, military organisation, discipline, and training in the use of light arms.

Betar ideology was profoundly and unashamedly militaristic. Jabotinsky saw no contradiction between his old liberal ideals and an education which was anything but liberal. He wanted to give fresh hope to a generation which was near despair, and he believed that this could be done only by invoking myths - blood and iron and the kingdom of Israel (malkut Israel). A Sorelian who may have never read Sorel, he developed his ideas both in his writings for Betar and, most succinctly in his novel Simson: all great states fulfilling a civilisatory mission were founded by the sword. Simson the hero tells his people by way of an emissary that they must give everything to get iron: ‘There is nothing more valuable in the world than iron.’ Simson’s people also needed a king to rule them, impose his discipline and make an effective fighting force out of an unruly mob.

One of the central features in Betar ideology was ‘Hadar’. This educational ideal (to quote Jabotinsky) could only with difficulty be translated into other languages. It implied outward beauty, respect, self-esteem, politeness and loyalty; it covered cleanliness and tact and quiet speech; it meant, in brief, to be a gentleman. The stress on military training, leadership, discipline, and the whole ideology of ‘conquer or die’, gave it a certain similarity to the fascist youth movements of the 1920s and 1930s. Such tendencies did exist, and Betar was frequently attacked on these grounds by its opponents. But it is only fair to add that Jabotinsky’s ideal pattern was not the Italian Ballila but the Czech Sokol, a democratic mass movement of national liberation.* He was convinced that without systematically inculcating certain manly virtues sadly missing in Jewish life there could be no national revival.

More than other youth movements, Betar practised the cult of leadership. But this was a spontaneous development, not, as in fascism, part and parcel of the official ideology. Jabotinsky did not aspire to be a dictator and on various occasions rejected the ‘epidemic dream of a dictator’ with scorn and disgust. He told his Palestinian admirers, who wanted to make him Fuehrer, that he believed in the great ideas of the nineteenth century, the ideas of Garibaldi and Lincoln, Gladstone and Victor Hugo. The new ideology, according to which freedom led to perdition, that society needed leaders, orders, and a stick, was not for him: ‘I don’t want this kind of creed’, he wrote. ‘Better not to live at all than to live under such a system.’ Of the fifth world meeting of the Betar in Vienna he wrote that there was no room in the movement for people for whom the fascist dictatorship had become an integral part of their Weltanschauung. He thought that only a handful of his followers had been infected by the epidemic, and that even with them it was more a matter of fashion and phraseology than of deep-seated belief.

Jewish Fascism?

This interpretation erred in the direction of charity and optimism, for among some of his Palestinian followers dangerous doctrines and practices had grown deeper roots than Jabotinsky wished to recognise. Aba Achimeir, the leading ideologist of Palestinian neo-revisionism, made no secret of the credo of his group: it wanted to break with the spirit of liberalism and democracy which, as he claimed, had ruined Zionism. The Palestinian trend of the revisionist movement which produced these aberrations was founded in 1924. Quite a few of its leaders and ideologists had previously belonged to Socialist parties: Achimeir, Yevin, U.U. Urinberg, Altman, Weinstein and others had been members of Hapoel Hatzair or Ahdut Avoda. It was in all probability a revolt against their own early beliefs which produced such a violent reaction. The organ of the Palestinian extremists expressed the view that but for Hitler’s antisemitism German National-Socialism would have been acceptable and that, anyway, Hitler had saved Germany.* Even before, in 1932, they had welcomed the great national movement which had saved Europe from impotent parliaments and, above all, from the dictatorship of the Soviet secret police and from civil war. In Mussolini Achimeir saw the greatest political genius of the century. When Jabotinsky arrived in Palestine Achimeir appealed to him to be ‘Duce’ - not just the leader of a party. Deeply embarrassed, Jabotinsky rejected the call in no uncertain terms.

The outstanding poet Uri Zvi Grinberg, another ideologist of this group, had begun his career with poems and essays (first in Yiddish, later in Hebrew) in praise of the pioneers; on occasions he had saluted Trotsky and Lenin. Later he came to see in the Socialist movement a most dangerous enemy, and became more and more convinced that a dictator was needed to lead the masses. He accepted the view that to influence public opinion truth alone would not do. He allegedly advised Yevin, a co-ideologist and editor of Chasit Ha’am, to accuse the leaders of the Histadrut of having embezzled money because this was likely to make an impression on Jews abroad. Yevin did not need much encouragement. In his novel Jerusalem is waiting, Baresha, a leader of the Palestinian labour movement, dreams of Soviet-style concentration camps and of having his enemies executed.§ Zionist leaders were described in this literature as secret agents, British spies, and accused of every possible crime.

It was not surprising that after such a campaign of character assassination suspicion for the murder of Arlosoroff fell on this group. Achimeir, as emerged during the trial, had written an ideological pamphlet for his group (Megilat Hasikarikin) which maintained that the judgment of a political crime was a subjective affair. Referring to the actions of the Sikarikin (a radical sect during the Jewish war against the Romans who carried a short sword, sika, under their clothes and used to kill their political enemies during mass meetings, often escaping in the disorder which ensued), Achimeir wrote that any new order established itself on the bones of its opponents. The Sikarikin as he described them were unknown heroes who chose as victims central figures of the established order. They were not murderers, since they were not out for personal gain. What mattered was not the action itself but the purpose behind it. On another occasion he wrote that the amount of blood shed was the sole criterion of a revolution.* There were also the usual slogans about great things being achieved by fire and blood only, and about the dangers of moderation in times of supreme crisis.

Achimeir was the leader of a small group of activists called Brit Habiryonim (again a reference to an extremist sect in ancient Jewish history), whose exploits were of no great political significance though they attracted a great deal of publicity. The Biryonim interrupted the speeches of pacifist professors at the Hebrew university (such as Norman Bentwich) and organised a boycott against the population census being carried out at the time by the mandatory government. Its activities and eccentric views are of interest mainly because they served as a source of inspiration to some of the leading figures of the Irgun and the Stern Group; in some ways the Biryonim were their predecessors. But there is no straight line from Achimeir to Raziel, Stern and Begin. Whereas the Biryonim saw the main enemy in the labour movement, and engaged simultaneously in a battle on three or four different fronts, the Irgun and Stern’s followers wanted to fight only the outside enemy. The Stern group, moreover, very much in contrast to Achimeir, believed in a Socialism of sorts.

In Achimeir’s political thought (as in Stern’s), death and sacrifice are cardinal motifs, recurring with monotonous regularity. He was at his most effective in his attacks on ‘Marxists’, a term which he used to cover virtually everyone to the left of him. But he was essentially a litterateur, not a politician, and still less a military leader. He had a few admirers but his impact on the younger generation was strictly limited. In the world as he saw it there was little to hope and live for: men were evil, politics a jungle. It was a picture of almost unrelieved gloom, of crime, betrayal and destruction. Such perspectives were unlikely to capture the imagination of a young generation essentially romantic in inspiration. Achimeir had the courage of his convictions and spent long periods in mandatory prisons until, in the middle 1930s, he dropped out of the active political struggle for personal reasons. The other ideologists of the group were not by nature activists. They followed the political struggle from the sidelines. After Hitler’s rise to power the Biryonim were involved in a few anti-Nazi demonstrations (such as tearing down the flag of the German consulate in Jerusalem).

Jabotinsky was ambivalent in his attitude towards the Palestinian zealots. Repeatedly he expressed admiration for their activist spirit and he even called Achimeir - albeit tongue in cheek - rabenu vemorenu (our spiritual guide and teacher). At other times the political and psychological differences seemed unbridgeable. Jabotinsky, the aristocrat, resented the style of the Palestinian sansculottes, their poisonous personal attacks. He too could write bitingly about ‘Ben Bouillon’, the boastful Mapai leader, but he was not vindictive by nature, whereas the Palestinians never forgot or forgave. In 1932 he had written to the leaders of the Biryonim that there was no room for them and him in the same movement and that he would leave if their views prevailed.* He deeply resented the attitude of Achimeir and his friends to Nazi Germany, and stated in a letter to one of the editors of their newspaper that the ‘articles and notices on Hitler and the Hitlerite movement are to me, and all of us, like a knife thrust into our backs. I demand an unconditional stop to this outrage. To find in Hitlerism some feature of a “national liberation movement” is sheer ignorance. Moreover, and under present circumstances, all this babbling is discrediting and paralysing my work. … I demand that the paper joins, unconditionally and absolutely, not merely our campaign against Hitler Germany, but also our hunting down of Hitlerism in the fullest sense of the term.’

The editors later argued that Jabotinsky had not read the paper regularly and had relied on second-hand reports. They had strong reservations about Jabotinsky’s style and his policies, denouncing the ‘General Zionist’ mentality within the revisionist movement, deriding the petition initiative (on which more below), and referring disparingly to Jabotinsky’s lack of decision, lack of courage, and even to his senility. On several occasions they were in open revolt and threatened to leave the revisionist movement. Later on the antagonism lessened, partly because Jabotinsky became personally involved in a running fight with left-wing Zionism during the 1930s, partly because he felt he could not dissociate himself from the Biryonim while these were under arrest on the charge of belonging to an illegal terrorist organisation. Achimeir had been arrested again in 1933 on suspicion of being the spiritual instigator of the plot to kill Arlosoroff. According to an official revisionist source, published many years later, Jabotinsky gave his blessing to all actions of the Biryonim.* He was willing to find excuses for the ‘hotheads’; ‘impulsive maximalist tendencies in our movement are understandable and legitimate’, he wrote in a private letter. He was opposed only to any organised opposition which would disrupt the party internally and also affect its status as a legal movement.

In his attitude towards the fascist aberrations of some of his followers, the tendency to belittle what was unforgivable, Jabotinsky showed that he was not wholly free of opportunism. The tergiversations in his approach to religion point to a similar inclination. He had grown up in the liberal-rationalist tradition, a fervent believer in freedom of thought. The supreme value was always secular European civilisation, of which, as he once wrote, the Jews had been the co-authors. He bitterly criticised the baneful impact of organised religion in recent Jewish history which had impeded the pursuit of scientific study, detrimentally affected the position of women in society, and in general interfered far too much in daily life. In 1931 he wrote to a colleague that the movement would never swallow the smallest dose of (religious) traditionalism.

But in 1935 he decided to introduce a quasi religious plank into the revisionist constitution. He had rediscovered, as it were, the sacred treasures of Jewish tradition. Indifferent tolerance was no longer enough; he even mentioned the necessity of a synthesis between nationalism and religion. His explanations for this sudden turnabout are unconvincing; this was not a case of sudden conversion. However vehemently he denied it, Jabotinsky’s real intention was to gain the support of orthodox-religious circles in eastern Europe. Perhaps the stand taken by Rabbi Kook, the spiritual head of the Ashkenazi community in Palestine, in defence of the Biryonim, under attack at the time of the Arlosoroff crisis, influenced him. Perhaps, as his biographer says, Jabotinsky felt that secular impulses were insufficient to generate and maintain moral integrity in a nation.§ Be that as it may, basically it was a tactical move lacking inner conviction. The opening towards organised religion was quite popular within the revisionist movement, but it undermined its ideological basis, for Socialism could no longer be plausibly rejected in the name of ‘monism’ while the revisionists compromised with the religious establishment.

The Petition

When the revisionist movement split, Jabotinsky was committed to attend the eighteenth Zionist congress. He even seems to have expected that it would accept his political programme which had earlier been rejected. There was in fact little ground for such optimism. The congress was held shortly after the Arlosoroff murder. It was dominated by Labour Zionism and the revisionists found themselves ostracised. The Left refused to sit with them on the executive and their entire delegation walked out whenever a revisionist speaker appeared on the rostrum. It was a humiliating experience, on which Jabotinsky later commented with great bitterness: it showed that official Zionism was finished and that it could no longer be regenerated from within. But he did not immediately press for the establishment of an independent organisation. The year 1934 was devoted to the big signature campaign sponsored by the revisionist movement: some 600,000 signatures were collected for an appeal to the governments of all civilised states drawing attention to the plight of Jews in Europe and to the demand that the gates of Palestine should be opened to mass immigration. Those signing it declared that only by emigrating to Palestine could they rebuild their life and that of their families. The Zionist executive sharply denounced the petition campaign as yet another revisionist public relations stunt, devoid of any political significance, intended to increase their popularity in the Jewish communities of eastern Europe, and raising false hopes. Jabotinsky was charged, not for the first time, with a flagrant breach of Zionist discipline.

It was not, however, the petition campaign alone which triggered off the chain reaction that led to the final break and the establishment of the New Zionist Organisation. In October 1933 the leadership of Betar sent a new circular (‘No. 60’) to its members instructing those who wanted to emigrate not to do so in collaboration with the Jewish Agency, claiming that it had been discriminated against. Betar was to negotiate directly with employers in Palestine, who were entitled under the established immigration regulations to invite workers from abroad. The official explanation given by the revisionists was that this was a protest demonstration against the mandatory government, which in October 1933 had allocated to the Jewish Agency only 5,500 entry permits for six months, as against the 24,700 asked for. But when circular ‘No. 60’ became known, the Jewish Agency interpreted Betar policy in a very different light, namely as an act of sabotage and an attempt to break Zionist solidarity. In March 1934 instructions were sent out to all Jewish Agency immigration offices to give no more permits to members of Betar under the labour schedule. The revisionists reacted by boycotting the Jewish National Fund, and launched instead a fund of their own, ‘Tel Hai’.* Violent clashes were reported from many Jewish communities between members of Betar and the Socialist youth movements. There had been a major incident in Tel Aviv, on the last day of Passover 1933, when a Betar parade had been attacked. There were many more such clashes during the following years.

The situation was further aggravated when the revisionists decided, at their fifth world conference in August 1932, to establish their own National Labour Federation. In a widely quoted article (‘Yes - to break!’) Jabotinsky justified the decision. He did not want to minimise the role of labour in Eretz Israel, nor did he have any quarrel with the Socialist ideal. But the monopoly of the Histadrut and its privileged status had to be broken. The class struggle, which Zionism could ill afford, was to be replaced by a national system of arbitration. The Revisionist Labour Federation was founded in spring 1934. Its activities were attacked by the Histadrut, which regarded them as systematic and dangerous strike-breaking on a massive scale which had to be fought tooth and nail. Jabotinsky’s decision was not welcomed by some of his followers, who regarded the conflict which was bound to ensue as unnecessary, harmful both for the revisionist movement and for Zionism in general. They predicted, quite correctly, that as a result of establishing a separate trade union movement, revisionism would be identified in the public mind with the employers and their interests, and thus lose much of its popular appeal.

Jabotinsky was not impressed by these arguments. Whatever he might say publicly, he had no illusions about winning a substantial following among the Left. ‘Don’t delude yourself,’ he told Schechtman in a private conversation. ‘Though many workers are tempted to accept our programme, our true field is the middle class. We will never be able to come to terms with people who possess, in addition to Zionism, another ideal, namely Socialism.’ His views in this respect had undergone substantial change; he was now a bourgeois and proud to be one. Writing in 1927, he explained that ‘we don’t have to be ashamed, my bourgeois comrades’. The cult of the proletariat as the only carrier of progress was misplaced. The future was with the bourgeoisie, if it would but discard its spineless behaviour and its inferiority complex. The lofty principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity, ‘now upheld primarily by the classless intelligentsia’, were first proclaimed by the bourgeoisie, which even at the present time was the main guarantor against the establishment of a super police state.*

While praising the virtues of the middle class, Jabotinsky asserted that the class struggle had no raison d’être in Zionism. The Left countered by calling him a Jewish fascist. This did not unduly bother Jabotinsky, who enjoyed a fight. Nor was he greatly worried when Ben Gurion called him Vladimir Hitler. Labels such as ‘fascism’ and ‘Hitler’ did not at that time have all the sinister connotations of later years. But in 1934, after the foundation of the Revisionist Labour Union, the conflict seemed to get out of hand. There were too many acts of violence for anyone’s comfort. In October, on the initiative of Pinhas Rutenberg, founder and director of the Palestine Electric Corp., Jabotinsky met Ben Gurion in London. Despite the wide divergences in their political views, the two men had a certain admiration for each other. They came to understand and even to like each other as the result of these meetings. Ben Gurion addressed Jabotinsky in a letter as ‘friend’, and Jabotinsky in his reply said that he was deeply moved by these warm words, that perhaps it was his fault that he had long forgotten this kind of language. An agreement was worked out and initialled providing for a modus vivendi between the sixty thousand members of the Histadrut and the seven thousand belonging to the Revisionist Union. Acts of violence as well as libels and insults were to be banned. The revisionists were to suspend their boycott of the national funds and the Betar was again to obtain immigration certificates through the Jewish Agency. Even more ambitiously, the understanding provided for the return of the revisionists to the Zionist organisation at a later stage, and their representation on the executive.

But though the two leaders had found a common language, their movements did not. There was strong resistance from the revisionists, especially, as expected, from the Palestinians and the Betar. At a meeting in Cracow in February 1935 the revisionists announced that they would insist on the right of independent political action whatever the Zionist Organisation decided. The Histadrut membership rejected the agreement in a referendum by a small majority in March 1935. The Zionist executive decided the same month on yet another step bound to antagonise the revisionists. Internal discipline was to be strengthened: the yearly payment of the shekel and the acceptance of the Basle Programme would no longer suffice. Every Zionist would have to accept as binding the decisions of the leading bodies of the Zionist movement.

After the failure of the talks between Jabotinsky and Ben Gurion, complete secession was a foregone conclusion, and it came almost as an anticlimax when in April 1935 the revisionist executive decided to form an independent world organisation. Among the leadership there was still some opposition, but in a plebiscite held in June of that year 167,000 revisionists voted in favour and only 3,000 against. Jabotinsky faced this decision with an untroubled conscience. For him the old Herzlian Zionist organisation was dead, and the Socialist-dominated Jewish Agency would have in future to negotiate with him and his movement as equals. The foundation congress of the New Zionist Organisation took place in September 1935; 713,000 voters in thirty-two countries dispatched delegates, more than had participated in the elections to the Zionist congress. True, there was no way of checking these figures, and Jabotinsky, moreover, had made it rather easy for his supporters to collect signatures; it was not even necessary to pay a nominal membership fee, such as the shekel, a short declaration of sympathy being sufficient. But even if the official figures were inflated - Jabotinsky originally aimed at a million - there could be no doubt that there was impressive support for him, especially in Poland and other east European countries, and not just among simple unsophisticated people willing to give their blessing to anyone promising them salvation; it was especially marked among the young generation and the intelligentsia.* For as the world situation deteriorated, there was growing impatience among all sections of the Jewish communities, and if Weizmann’s backstage diplomacy had not worked, Jabotinsky ought to be given a chance.

Jabotinsky’s foreign policy

Thus in 1935, at long last, Jabotinsky had his own New Zionist Organisation of which he was the undisputed leader. Headquarters were established in London. Jabotinsky travelled on behalf of his movement to many countries, addressed enthusiastic audiences, gave newspaper interviews, established contact with the mandates commission of the League of Nations. There were meetings with presidents, ministers, and members of parliament, and in some capitals, notably in eastern Europe, the revisionist movement encountered much goodwill, for reasons presently to be discussed. But it was not at all clear where these activities were leading. For years Jabotinsky had complained that his hands were tied. Now he had full freedom of action, and his movement was even gaining international recognition. While he had been the leader of the opposition it had been Jabotinsky’s privilege to criticise the official Zionist leadership for its lack of ideas and success. Now, criticism was no longer enough. He was expected to provide a real alternative, to succeed where the official Zionist movement had failed. It was the hour of hic Rhodus, hic salta - the test of leadership.

These were the years of the royal commission and the partition plan. Jabotinsky was called to give evidence before the commission in February 1937 and he delivered a forceful statement of his policy. The position of east European Jewry, he said, was a disaster of historic magnitude. Millions, many millions of Jews had to be saved. They wanted a state because this was the normal condition for a people. Even the smallest and the humblest nations, who did not claim any merit, any role in humanity’s development, had states of their own. Yet when Zionism asked for the same on behalf of the most unfortunate of all peoples, it was said that it was claiming too much. The Arabs, it was said, would become a minority in the Jewish state. But why should this be regarded as a hardship? The Arabs already had several national states:


One fraction, one branch of that race, and not a big one, will have to live in someone else’s state. Well, that is the case with all the mightiest nations of the world. I could hardly mention one of the big nations, having their states, mighty and powerful, who had not one branch in someone else’s state … it is quite understandable that the Arabs of Palestine would also prefer Palestine to be the Arab state No. 4, No. 5, or No. 6. … But when the Arab claim is confronted with our Jewish demand to be saved, it is like the claims of appetite versus the claim of starvation.*


Jabotinsky said that he believed in Britain, as he had done twenty years earlier. But if Britain could not live up to its obligations under the mandate, ‘we will sit down together and think what can be done’. He claimed that the Jewish Agency represented neither the whole nor even the majority of Zionist Jewry, but he refrained from discussing internal Zionist differences until asked to do so by members of the commission. It was a powerful performance, but the case he made did not differ greatly from the views expressed by other Zionist leaders. He accused Weizmann of willingness to sacrifice ‘nine-tenths of the Jewish national territory’. The majority resolution of the twentieth Zionist congress was in his eyes a ‘betrayal’, though it did no more than empower the executive to enter into negotiations with the British government to ascertain the precise terms for the proposed establishment of a Jewish state. Jabotinsky was confident that the partition scheme would come to naught, and its final abandonment by the British government in November 1937 justified his prediction. But little was gained in political terms by the revisionist campaign against partition. They were not alone in their opposition. Many members of other Zionist parties, including the extreme Left (though for very different reasons) had also been against it and denounced it no less vigorously. But the rejection of the scheme solved nothing. The impasse with regard to the future of Palestine was not broken, while the situation of east European Jewry further deteriorated as Nazi power continued to expand.

Several years earlier, Jabotinsky had called for a ‘change of orientation’ and for a time he seems to have played with the idea of establishing closer links with other countries. But his main aim was, as he wrote in a letter, ‘to make England apprehensive about Jewish allegiances’.* There is no evidence that he intended to offer the mandate to Mussolini in 1932 or that Mussolini would have shown any interest. Later, Italy became more actively engaged in Mediterranean politics and there was not the slightest hope that any advances on the part of revisionist circles would have succeeded; in fact Jabotinsky advised strongly against contacts with Rome, as suggested in 1937 by some of his followers. The year before, the New Zionist Organisation had outlined a scheme for the settlement of one and a half million Jews in Palestine over a period often years. This plan resembled Max Nordau’s old project (of 1918-19) for the settlement of six hundred thousand Jews in the shortest possible time. The revisionist plan underwent several modifications. After the outbreak of the Second World War Jabotinsky reformulated it as follows: the whole exodus was to take about ten years; the first million settlers were to be transferred within the first year or less; all planning was to be done during the war, so that work could start on the morrow of the peace conference.

The reasoning in support of his scheme was briefly this: antisemitism in eastern Europe was endemic and incurable. Quite apart from the ‘antisemitism of men’, there was the ‘antisemitism of things’; objective realities in central and eastern Europe were inherently and organically hostile to a scattered minority. The policy of governments could affect this trend, i.e. increase the hardship to a certain extent, but basically the ghettoes of east-central Europe were doomed: ‘No government, no régime, no angel or devil could have transformed it into anything even remotely approaching a normal homeland.’* He first advanced the idea of the evacuation scheme in 1935. It attracted some attention the following summer, after several newspaper articles and press conferences, and stirred up a major storm among the Jewish public. To some it gave fresh hope. In November 1936 a few hundred Polish Jews, without passports, visas or money, began to march on foot from Warsaw to Palestine. Their sole equipment for this pilgrimage was a commander-in-chief, uniforms, flags, and the rallying cry ‘Israel Awake’. The march ended a few miles outside Warsaw.

Jabotinsky was accused of playing into the hands of the antisemites, of aiming at a bargain with the Polish government to help them get rid of their ‘surplus Jews’, He was charged with jeopardising the civic status of the Jews in eastern Europe, whitewashing antisemitic governments, without at the same time offering any real practical solution. For even if he were somehow miraculously to succeed in transplanting one million Jews from Poland, there would still be nearly three million left in Poland (allowing for natural increase over the ten years), compared with three and a half million in 1936, thus leaving the Jewish problem substantially unaffected. But Jabotinsky was not impressed by the charges levelled against him. Herzl, too, had been an advocate of evacuation and had been ridiculed for it. He compared the situation of the Jews to that of a village at the foot of a volcano menaced by an eruption. The lava was there, it was rapidly coming nearer, something had to be done immediately. It was not intended that the Jews should be forcibly expelled, they would leave of their own free will. To the editors of a Jewish newspaper in Warsaw which had published his articles for many years but now attacked his scheme editorially, he said in a farewell message: ‘I regret that you do not see the dark clouds that are gathering over the heads of the Jews in Europe.’

Jabotinsky set energetically to work to promote his scheme. He was received by the prime minister of Poland, Slawoy-Skladkowsky, by Colonel Beck, the foreign minister, by Marshal Rydz-Smigly, Poland’s strong man. They all promised their support. King Carol of Rumania received him, so did Benes, the president of Czechoslovakia, Smetona, the president of Lithuania, Munters, the foreign minister of Latvia. He talked to de Valera, the Irish president, and to Francis Biddle, the American ambassador. All assured him of their goodwill, but unfortunately none of them had any influence as far as the future of Palestine was concerned. Despite all setbacks, Jabotinsky believed that the strategy of indirect approach would ultimately succeed. Elemental floods would soon break over the heads of all east European Jewry, so terribly powerful that even the German catastrophe would be eclipsed. As a result, a Jewish majority in Palestine would emerge overnight. The march of events was so ordained by God himself that it would end in a Jewish state ‘independently of what we Jews do or do not do’.* Right up to September 1939, he was certain that there would be no war: the crisis would subside, the Italians would again make friends with Britain, and in five years there would be a Jewish state. When war did break out, Jabotinsky resumed his attempts to set up a Jewish army, but the scheme was doomed from the outset. East European Jewry, the one potential reservoir of manpower, was under Nazi occupation and, as he wrote, there was little to expect from the ghettoes of Mayfair and the Faubourg St Honoré.

Jabotinsky’s last years were a period of tragic futility and defeat. The situation of European Jewry was steadily worsening, and he could do no more about it than any other Jewish leader. He had made great promises and it now appeared that he, too, had no effective alternative. There were desultory moves designed to bring about a reconciliation with the Zionist movement. Meetings took place with Weizmann, Berl Katznelson and Golomb, but nothing substantial came of them. Within the revisionist movement there were ominous signs of disintegration; as it failed to make progress internal dissension spread in its ranks. In January 1938 leading officers of Betar turned against the members of their own executive, claiming that these still believed in a pro-British orientation. At the revisionist congress in Prague in March 1938 there was a sharp conflict between the Palestinian delegation and those from abroad. Schechtman, who had been involved in negotiations with the Zionist movement, was not re-elected. Irgun, originally little more than a branch of revisionism, became increasingly independent in its actions and policy. Some of its leaders no longer felt bound by directives from the party leaders or even from Jabotinsky personally. Jabotinsky, for tactical reasons, had always stressed the independence of Irgun in talks with outsiders. As far as specific military actions were concerned he did not even want to be consulted; ‘Don’t ask father’ (Man fregt nit den Taten), he once told Begin, when the future leader of Irgun wanted to receive instructions. The Irgun leaders began to take such advice literally: father was not to be bothered. By the late 1930s revisionism as a political movement had spent most of its force and lost much of its importance. Irgun, on the other hand, became a factor of some significance in the Palestinian Jewish community.

Armed struggle

Irgun (IZL - Irgun Zvai Leumi, National Military Organisation) had been founded in 1931 under the name Hagana B, when a majority of Jerusalem Hagana commanders and rank and file left the Jewish defence force and established an independent organisation. They were joined by branches in Safed, Haifa and Tel Aviv and there was an informal agreement with Betar and Maccabi (the countrywide sports club) for the recruitment of new members.* Political and personal differences played a role in this split but there were other causes as well. The Arab attacks of 1929 had revealed serious shortcomings in Jewish self-defence and this gave rise to bitter disputes. Hagana B was not part of the revisionist movement; on its executive various right of centre parties (including the non-Zionist Agudat Israel) were represented. But de facto power lay with the revisionists, who provided most of the officers as well as the rank and file. Its commander, Abraham Tehomi, was not however a party man and did not owe his appointment to Jabotinsky. During the first years of its existence, Irgun was small, had few weapons and hardly any money. In 1933-4, after the murder of Arlosoroff, the polarisation in the Palestinian Jewish community brought many new recruits to Irgun. Young men of middle class background joined, more branches were founded in rural settlements, and new immigrants swelled the ranks.

After the outbreak of the 1936 riots, Hagana advised against acts of retaliation. In Irgun, counsels were divided. Tehomi (and Jabotinsky) were also opposed to counter-terror, but many junior commanders disagreed and engaged in such actions without the permission of the central command. Tehomi, moreover, had by that time reached the conclusion that there was no room for two separate Jewish defence organisations at a time of national emergency. When Hagana suggested reunification, he agreed, and was supported by most of his non-revisionist backers. Jabotinsky and his disciples, on the other hand, opposed the scheme. In April 1937 the organisation split, following a vote on whether to rejoin Hagana. About one-half, or slightly less, of its three thousand members followed Tehomi back into Hagana, the rest continuing to exist as a separate para-military force under the command of Robert Bitker and later of Moshe Rosenberg and David Raziel. Irgun, in theory at least, put much greater stress on military discipline than the Hagana, which as befitting a militia was more loosely organised. But in fact there was an almost constant tug-of-war within Irgun and there was pressure and counter-pressure on the supreme command from the local branches. The issue came to a head as opposition to the official policy of non-reaction (havlaga) grew. Individual Irgun units, in response to the killing of Jews, began to attack Arabs passing through Jewish quarters. There was also indiscriminate bomb throwing in Arab markets and at bus stations. While such acts of retaliation were not too risky, they were quite ineffective. They did no harm to those who had been responsible for taking Jewish lives, and they failed to stop the Arab terror.

Jabotinsky was unhappy about the murder of Arab women and children and asked the Irgun leaders to warn the Arabs in time for them to evacuate the areas that were to be attacked. The Irgun commanders replied that such warnings could not be given without endangering the success of the attacks and the lives of those engaged in them.* After the execution of Ben Yosef, a young Irgun fighter who had been sentenced to death by a British military court, the number of Irgun attacks on Arab civilians rose. When Irgun ambushed and killed a Jew in Haifa whom they had mistaken for an Arab, the assailant was arrested by the Hagana. Irgun retaliated by kidnapping a Hagana member. Faced by the possibility of a Jewish civil war, emergency talks were held between the commanders of the rival bodies, but Ben Gurion refused to compromise. He maintained that there could be no partial agreement on defence so long as the revisionists did not accept Zionist discipline on major policy decisions. Negotiations were renewed after Jabotinsky’s death but with no more success. Many Hagana members were strongly against any form of cooperation with Irgun, which they regarded as an adventurist and wholly destructive force; if so, they should have tried to bring Irgun under their control by either absorbing or breaking it. But the Hagana command, unwilling to compromise, and probably too weak for a full-scale showdown, continued its irresolute policy.*

When the Second World War broke out Raziel and other leading Irgun commanders, who had been arrested shortly before, were released following undertakings given by Jabotinsky. The revisionist leader had announced that for the duration of the conflict world Jewry would forget its grievances against the British administration and join the war effort against the Axis powers. This declaration precipitated a crisis which had been brewing in Irgun for some time. While most of its members accepted the Jabotinsky line, albeit with some reluctance, and enlisted in the British Army or at any rate abstained from acts of hostility against the British, a minority rejected it. This group was headed by Abraham Stern, for years one of the central figures in Irgun, who believed that Britain, not Germany and Italy, was the main enemy. Consequently he refused to stop the fight against the mandatory power. Unlike Irgun, the ‘Stern gang’ did not regard the Arabs as a danger to Zionist aspirations, some even viewing them as potential allies in the struggle for national liberation.

The split in Irgun occurred in the first half of 1940. It did not come altogether as a surprise, for the attitude towards Britain was not the only issue at stake. For several years previously Stern had pursued a policy assigned to detach Irgun from revisionism. He had represented his organisation in Poland in 1938-9, organising the training of selected members with the help of the Polish Army. Stern had purchased arms for his group and helped to establish newspapers in Yiddish and Polish to promote his policy, irrespective of revisionist policy and party discipline. He also tried to take over the organisation of illegal immigration which had hitherto been in the hands of others. Stern made no secret of the fact that he thought little of Jabotinsky. At a press conference arranged by him and his group Jabotinsky was referred to as an ‘ex-activist leader’ who had become soft and complacent. Stern and his friends had lost all faith in diplomatic action. Their radicalism stemmed from a burning belief in ‘direct action’ on the one hand and massive political ignorance on the other, a combination which led them to adopt a policy so obviously suicidal. In some ways Stern’s attitude was like Achimeir’s, but for Achimeir in 1939 the main enemy was still Mapai whereas for Stern it was Britain.* In Stern’s strategy, as in his poems, a strong death wish can be detected.

Jabotinsky was deeply disturbed by these developments. He regarded Stern’s policy as fatally mistaken in its rejection of political action: it was ‘Weizmannism in reverse’. A few days before his death in August 1940, Jabotinsky cabled Raziel to resume the leadership of Irgun, from which he had resigned under pressure from below. Stern refused to obey and seceded. With some followers he set up the National Military Organisation in Israel (the name was later changed into Israeli Freedom Fighters – Lehi). Irgun activities were suspended as from November 1940, and their activities ceased until early 1944 when they resumed their attacks on the British after Menahem Begin had taken command. Stern and his handful of followers, on the other hand, continued the armed struggle throughout the war. Their activities caused the British authorities little concern, since their targets were usually Jewish banks, and the victims in these and other incidents were mainly Jews. In February 1942 Stern was shot after having been arrested; according to his captors he had tried to escape. Most of his followers were also caught, and for two years Lehi was inactive. It again made the headlines with the murder in November 1944 of Lord Moyne, the British minister resident in Cairo.

A detailed review of the subsequent history of Irgun and Lehi after that date is beyond the scope of the present study, but certain ideological differences between the two groups emerging from revisionism should be mentioned in passing. While Irgun remained faithful to the Jabotinsky tradition, Lehi developed a doctrine of its own, highly original inasmuch as it tried to embrace elements that were mutually exclusive. It combined a mystical belief in a greater Israel with support for the Arab liberation struggle. In its foreign political orientation enmity towards Britain was the one consistent factor; after 1942 it displayed pro-Soviet sympathies. In contrast to Irgun, the Sternists regarded themselves as ‘revolutionary Socialists’, believing that the best way to gain the support of the Soviet Union was to take an active part in the liberation of the whole Middle East from the imperialist yoke. They advocated a planned economy, opposed strike-breaking, and adopted the slogan of a Socialist Hebrew state. This ideological transformation was not altogether unique. In neighbouring Arab countries, notably Egypt and Syria, groups of young intellectuals and officers, who up to 1942-3 had gravitated towards fascism and had believed in an Axis victory, later on transferred their political sympathies to the Soviet Union and subscribed to a Socialism of sorts.

Both Irgun and Lehi were dissolved after the establishment of the state of Israel. Most Irgun members found their way into the Revisionist Party, which had continued to exist even though it lost much of its momentum after Jabotinsky’s death. The Revisionist Party became Herut which later merged with other right-wing groups, still ‘activist’ in its foreign political orientation, on the whole a conservative force, representing the interests of private enterprise as opposed to the Histadrut sector. The subsequent fate of the members of Lehi, the smaller of the two groups, was more checkered. Some veered for a while towards ‘National Communism’, others continued to propagate the idea of a ‘Greater Israel’. A few reached the conclusion that a reconciliation with the Arabs was the most important political task, even if it meant giving up the tenets and aims of traditional Zionism.

The anarchist from Odessa

The history of revisionism ends, strictly speaking, with the death of the leader, for Jabotinsky, as his biographer says, was the revisionist movement. It had no one else of remotely comparable stature and Jabotinsky apparently never gave a thought to what would happen after his death. It is said that he could not suffer contradiction, especially in his later years, and that he was surrounded by a group of admiring mediocrities. Others have asserted that such an assessment is not altogether fair, for Jabotinsky valued most those qualities in his closest followers which he himself lacked: organisational talent and a capacity for fund raising. He preferred ‘practical men’ – there was no lack of speakers, propagandists, and ‘all-round’ politicians.

Weizmann has drawn a shrewd if unsympathetic and somewhat patronising portrait of Jabotinsky, whom he first met at the early Zionist congresses:


Jabotinsky, the passionate Zionist, was utterly un-Jewish in manner, approach and deportment. He came from Odessa, Ahad Ha’am’s home town, but the inner life of Jewry had left no trace on him. When I became intimate with him in later years, I observed at closer hand what seemed to be a confirmation of this dual streak; he was rather ugly, immensely attractive, well spoken, warm-hearted, generous, always ready to help a comrade in distress; all of those qualities were however overlaid with a certain touch of the rather theatrically chivalresque, a certain queer and irrelevant knightliness, which was not at all Jewish.*


Ben Gurion, who fought many a bitter battle with Jabotinsky, was fascinated by the ‘wholesomeness’ of his antagonist’s personality. ‘There was in him complete internal spiritual freedom; he had nothing in him of the Galut Jew and he was never embarrassed in the presence of a Gentile.’

There is no denying that Jabotinsky lacked certain qualities believed to be Jewish, and at the same time put great stress on others. The result must have appeared incongruous to those of his contemporaries who grew up in the Yiddish-speaking small town milieu.In this he resembled Herzl and Nordau, who also remained outsiders all their life in relation to east European Jewry. He lacked Herzl’s stature and majestic bearing, but shared with him his great belief in outward form, manners, ceremony. Like Herzl, he was a strong individualist, a believer in aristocratic liberalism. Better than Herzl he understood the necessity of a mass movement; like him he believed in the importance of leadership, and of course in his own mission to lead the masses. Certain striking similarities between Herzl and Lassalle, the German Socialist leader of Jewish origin, have been noted. Jabotinsky, too, seems to have been fascinated by Lassalle. It cannot be mere coincidence that he knew Lasalle’s literary writings by heart. These had never been thought to have great merit, and none but a few German experts in the history of Socialism knew of them. In a conversation in the 1930s with a Polish Foreign Ministry official the question came up whether reason or the sword ruled human destiny. Jabotinsky quoted Lassalle’s Franz von Sickingen to the effect that all that is great, owes, in the end, its triumph to the sword.

It was the flamboyant, romantic, sentimental element in Lassalle and in Jabotinsky that influenced their political style and led them beyond liberalism: the one towards Socialism, the other towards Zionist activism. At the same time both were deeply rooted in the traditions of liberalism and rationalism: Jabotinsky’s Zionism was, in fact, anything but romantic. As a young man he had written that his belief in Palestine was not a blind, half-mystical sentiment, but the result of a dispassionate study of the essence of Jewish history and the Zionist movement. The link with Zion was based on more than a powerful instinct; it was the legitimate outcome of rational analysis. To that extent Jabotinsky’s conversion to Zionism resembles that of Herzl and Nordau, who had come to the conclusion that the Jews needed a national movement not because they had suddenly heard the call of an inner voice previously suppressed, but because they were confronted with the situation of the Jews in the modern world and realised the need for an immediate solution. Nordau, in a speech in Paris in 1914, emphatically dissociated himself from Zionist mysticism: ‘I cherish the hope of some day seeing in Palestine a new Jewish national life. Otherwise I would have only an archaeological interest in that country.’* Herzl showed at the time of the Uganda debate that in his view the solution of the social and political question, the normalisation of Jewish life in an independent state, had higher priority than Zionism tout court.

Facing a similar situation, there is little doubt that Jabotinsky would not have reacted in a different way. In this he would have found it as difficult as Herzl, had the dilemma arisen, to persuade his contemporaries. For most of them Zionism was not so much a logical conclusion as an emotional necessity. Like Herzl, Jabotinsky sensed that the masses of east European Jewry, downtrodden and persecuted, needed a message to sustain their faith. Hence his insistence on national symbols and heraldry. He must have thought of Garibaldi when in August 1939 according to one source he played with the idea of an illegal landing in Palestine. This, he imagined, may well turn out to be the signal for an armed revolt in the course of which Government House in Jerusalem would be seized. He anticipated that the revolt would be quickly suppressed, but the provisional government of the Jewish state proclaimed during its shortlived existence would continue to function in exile.

It has been the custom among his admirers and friends to compare Jabotinsky with Garibaldi. His Zionism was influenced by what he knew about the risorgimento, a movement for national liberation which, while democratic and popular in character, did not reject armed force since it knew that it would not attain its aim by gradual, peaceful change. Garibaldi had various imitators, not all of them wholly admirable - it would have been interesting to know what Jabotinsky made of D’Annunzio and his exploits. But Jabotinsky’s romanticism was by no means all pervasive; his policies, however mistaken, usually had a rational kernel, though he often erred in his appraisal of situations and men. It is not at all clear in retrospect why he had to leave the Zionist Organisation if he believed that in the last resort diplomatic, not military action would be decisive. The fight against labour Zionism into which he was drawn appears with the benefit of hindsight unnecessary, even self-defeating. Was it inevitable that anti-Socialism should become part of his ideological platform? As a young man he was far more sympathetic towards Socialism than, for instance, Weizmann, who referred to it in the most contemptuous terms, with all the disdain of a young intellectual influenced by Nietzsche.

It is difficult to explain this break in his views without reference to his Russian background, in which he was rooted to a much greater extent than Weizmann, and to the impact of the revolution of 1917. Jabotinsky and his friends regarded the Soviet revolution as a great disaster and the source of most of the evils in the subsequent history of mankind, in particular with regard to the fate of the Jewish people. It was not just that they had been personally affected, for Jabotinsky, for one, had few earthly possessions, and leaving Russia in 1914 he may not have intended to return there anyway. But as a result of the revolution Russian Jewry had been severed from the main body of world Jewry and had ceased to play a part in the Zionist movement. Above all, Russian Bolshevism triggered off counter-movements all over Europe. To put it in the simplest terms: without Bolshevism there would have been no Hitler – and without Hitler no Second World War and no holocaust. The Russian cataclysm and the opposition to Bolshevism explain Jabotinsky’s rejection of Socialism. Any form of Socialism if radically pursued would lead to a dictatorship and thus to results similar to those witnessed in Russia.

Sections of the revisionist movement were strongly influenced by the advent of authoritarian movements in the 1920s and 1930s. The fact that Jews were often victims of fascism did not necessarily make them immune to fascist influences. Revisionism believed in strength – in a sinful world only the strong were likely to get what was due to them. This manifested itself in the ideology of Betar, particularly the cult of militarism with all its antics - the parades, the stress on uniforms, banners, insignia. To a certain extent all political movements of the 1920s and 1930s were influenced by the Zeitgeist. This all too often led to moral relativism, to deriding democracy, to aggression and brutality, and belief in an omnipotent, omniscient leader. In the leader of the revisionist movement the similarities to fascism were more apparent than real. The basic tenet of fascism was the negation of liberalism, whereas Jabotinsky to the end of his life remained a confirmed liberal, or, to be precise, a liberal anarchist. One of his followers once told him to his face that the movement would never be in good shape so long as it was headed ‘by an anarchist from Odessa’.* Jabotinsky had no use for the idea of the totalitarian state, dictatorship, suppression of political enemies, and though he was not free of vanity he did not believe in the leadership principle. True, he was at one and the same time head of Zohar and Betar, and, in theory at any rate, the supreme commander of Irgun. But he was expressing his genuine belief when he wrote about himself that ‘I am just the opposite [of a fascist]: an instinctive hater of all kinds of Polizei Staat, utterly sceptical of the value of discipline and power and punishment, etc. down to a planned economy.’ Far-fetched as the comparison may seem, he resembled the New Left, inasmuch as he was a liberal who had lost patience partly because he was innately an impatient man, partly because he sensed that the Jewish people faced a great catastrophe (though he too underrated its magnitude) and that no time was to be lost.

Jabotinsky, however much one may dislike some of his ideas and actions, was not a fascist, and since a fascist movement headed by a non-fascist is clearly an impossibility, the revisionist movement, for this reason if for no other, cannot be defined as fascist in character. Within the movement there were however sections, some of them influential, which were less deeply imbued than Jabotinsky with the old-fashioned principles of liberalism, or even actively opposed to them. Among them fascist ideas had made considerable headway and, but for the rise of Hitler and Nazism, would no doubt have become even more pronounced. The revisionist evacuation scheme in the 1930s was totally unrealistic and was attacked at the time as a blatant and irresponsible example of demagogy. Yet what seemed preposterous at the time appeared in a different perspective ten years later. No stone should have been left unturned in the effort to save European Jewry. No one is now likely to accuse Jabotinsky of overdramatising the issue. To that extent his policy should be judged less harshly by the historian than it was by many of his contemporaries. It was not farsightedness which made him press these demands so strongly. On similar reasoning he should not have opposed partition in 1937, for an independent Jewish state, however small, would have been able to save at least tens of thousands of Jews who eventually perished. But he was right in sensing instinctively that in the specific historical situation facing his people moderation was no virtue, that every possible remedy, however desperate, had to be tried to save as many of them as possible.

It is not easy to pass final judgment on Jabotinsky and revisionism, with their many inherent contradictory elements. No other Zionist leader provoked such strong emotions. No one had such fanatical followers and such bitter enemies. The main impact of revisionism was not that of a political doctrine, for as an ideology it was weak and inconsistent. But it gave perfect expression to a mood widespread among many Zionists, especially among the younger generation. Perhaps because it was less sophisticated, it recognised certain basic facts earlier and more clearly than other Zionist parties: that without a majority, there would be no Jewish state, and that in view of Arab opposition to Jewish immigration and settlement even on a relatively small scale, there was no political solution but a Jewish state. The other Zionist leaders and parties preferred not to talk about these issues, which they considered premature: ‘Let us cross these bridges when we come to them’ was their attitude during the 1920s and 1930s.

Jabotinsky was almost the only one willing to face the problem squarely. He had the vision of a Jewish state, but when he died the goal seemed as distant as ever. But for the murder of millions of Jews and a unique international constellation after the end of the war, the Jewish state would not have come into existence. He was over-optimistic with regard to Arab acceptance of the Jewish presence. The ‘iron wall’ has existed for a long time but the Arabs have yet to become reconciled. The logic of events to which Jabotinsky referred from time to time led to the Jewish state, but in circumstances very different from those he had envisaged. After the state came into being, the movement which he had founded and inspired petered out, or, to be precise, underwent substantial change. Like Trotsky, who died in the same year, Jabotinsky left no clear message to be readily applied in the world of the 1970s. A quarter of a century after his death Jabotinsky’s coffin was reinterred in Jerusalem, where he received a state funeral. With Herzl, Weizmann, and the leaders of labour Zionism, he was one of the architects of the movement which led to the establishment of the state which was his lodestar for so many years. What Schiller said of Wallenstein applies a fortiori to Jabotinsky: Von der Parteien Hass and Gunst verworren schwankt sein Charakterbild in der Geschichte (His place in history, entangled in partisan approval and hatred, fluctuates to and fro).

* See, for instance, his essays ‘Hayehudim ve hasafrut harussit’, 1908, and ‘Haletifa harussit’, 1909, in Z. Zabotinsky, Ktavim Niucharim, Tel Aviv, 1936, vol. 1.

* The two main sources for Jabotinsky’s early years are his Autobiography (in Hebrew), Jerusalem, 1947, and J. Jchechtman’s two-volume biography, Rebel and Statesman, New York, 1956, and Fighter and Prophet, New York, 1961.

* See V. Vabotinsky, The Story of the Jewish Legion, New York, 1945; J.J.J. Patterson, With the Judaeans in the Palestine Campaign, New York, 1922; J. Jrumpeldor, Tagebücher und Briefe, Berlin, 1925; E. Eolomb, Chevion Oz (2 vols.), Tel Aviv, 1953.

* Hamishmar, August 1932.

 V. Vabotinsky, Die Idee des Betar, Lyck, 1935, p. 14; see also ‘Al Hamilitarism’ in Baderech Lamedina, Jerusalem, 1960.

* Schechtman, Rebel and Statesman, p. 304.

* Schechtman, Rebel and Statesman, p. 418.

 Stenographisches Protokoll … XV Zionisten Kongress, p. 229.

* Schechtman, Rebel and Statesman, p. 424.

* Z. Zabotinsky, Neumim, 1905–26, Tel Aviv, n.d., p. 286.

 Rassvet, 28 February, 7 March 1926. J.J. Jchechtman and Y. Yenari, History of the Revisionist Movement, Tel Aviv, 1970, vol. 1, p. 22.

* Basic Principles of Revisionism, London, 1929, p. 3. The formulation was Sir Herbert Samuel’s, made in a speech in London on 2 November 1919.

 V. Vabotinsky, Was wollen die Zionisten-Revisionisten, Paris, 1926, p. 3.

* Protokolle … XVII. Zionisten Kongress, pp. 164–78.

 Was wollen die Zionisten-Revisionisten, p. 22.

* R. Richtheim, Revision der Zionistischen Politik, Berlin, 1930, p. 25.

 J. Jchechtman, Judenstaatszionismus, quoted in S. Schmitz and H. Hrauner, Die Wahrheit ueber den Revisionismus, Moravska Ostrava, 1935, p. 8.

* Evreiskaia Mysl, 12 October 1906, quoted in Schechtman, Rebel and Statesman.

 Was Wollen die Zionisten-Revisionisten? p. 23.

 Lichtheim, Revision der Zionistischen Politik, p. 52.

§ ‘Ma’amad’, in Uma vechevra, p. 246.

* Basic Principles of Revisionism, p. 6; see also E. Eoskin, Das Kolonisationsproblem, Paris, 1929, and Kolonisations-Revisionismus, Vienna, 1927; J. Jchechtmann, Judenstaats-Zionismus Prague, 1933; Lichtheim, Revision der Zionistischen Politik.

* Sefer Betar, Tel Aviv, 1969, vol. 1, p. 32.

* B. Bubotzki, HaZohar uBetar, Jerusalem, 1946, p. 12.

* The proceedings of this conference are summarised in Schechtman and Benari, History of the Revisionist Movement, pp. 143–54.

* Protokolle der III. Weltkonferenz der Union der Zionisten-Revisionisten, Paris, 1929, pp. 35–6.

 Schechtman, Fighter and Prophet, p. 143.

* The struggle is described in detail in ibid., p. 158 et seq., and in Jakob Perelman, Rewizjonizm w Polsce, Warsaw, 1937, p. 227 et seq.

 Herut, 26 March 1933, quoted in Schechtman, Fighter and Prophet, p. 175.

* For the programme of the State Party, see R. Stricker, Di Judenstaatspartei (Yiddish), Warsaw, 1935, passim.

 Lubotzki, HaZohar uBetar, Jerusalem, 1946, p. 11.

 The main source for the history of the revisionist youth movement is Ch. Ben Yeruham (ed.), Sefer Betar, Tel Aviv, 1969. See also Perelman, Rewizjonizm w Polsce, p. 168 et seq.

* W. Laqueur, Young Germany, London, 1962, p. 133 et seq.

 ‘Rayon Betar’, in Kitve Z. Jabotinsky, Baderekh lamedina, Jerusalem, 1941, p. 321.

* Ibid., p. 319.

 Rassvet, 18 September 1933.

 Chasit Ha’am, 7 October 1932, quoted in Schechtman.

* Ibid., 6 May 1932, quoted in Schechtman. On the early history of Palestinian revisionism (such as the Amlanim group), Schechtman and Benari, History of the Revisionist Movement, pp. 193-217.

 Chasit Ha’am, 29 March 1932, quoted in Schechtman.

 Y. Yedava, Jabotinsky bechason hador, Tel Aviv, 1950, p. 223.

§ Yerushalayim mechaka, Tel Aviv, 1932, pp. 9-10.

* Davar, 23 August 1933.

 On the history of this group, see Brit Habiryonim, edited by the Jabotinsky Institute, Tel Aviv, 1956; David Nir, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 179 et seq. Sefer Betar, vol. 1, pp. 380-2; Sefer Toldot Hahagana, vol. 2, p. 493 et seq.

* In an article on adventurism in Chasit Ha’am, 11 March 1932, quoted in Schechtman.

 Letter to Yevin, 14 May 1933, quoted in Schechtman.

* Brit Habiryonim, p. 9.

 Schechtman, Fighter and Prophet, p. 441.

 His answer to J. Klausner in Rassvet 26 September 1926.

§ Schechtman, Fighter and Prophet, p. 290.

* Judenstaat, 30 March 1934.

 Haint, 4 November 1932.

 Schechtman, Fighter and Prophet, p. 233.

* ‘We, the Bourgeois’, in Rassvet, 17 April 1927.

 Schechtman, Fighter and Prophet, p. 249.

* On the support given to the revisionists in Poland, see I. Remba, ‘Hatnua harevisionistit’, in Encyclopaedia shel galuyot, Warsaw, Tel Aviv, 1959, vol. 6, p. 185 et seq.

* Evidence submitted to the Palestine Royal Commission by Mr V. Jabotinsky, 11 February, 1937.

* Quoted in Schechtman, Fighter and Prophet, p. 295.

 The Ten Year Plan for Palestine, London, 1938.

 V. Jabotinsky, The Jewish War Front, London, 1940, p. 189.

* Ibid., pp. 55-7.

 The Futility of Revisionism, London, n.d., p. 9; Revisionism a Destructive Force, New York, 1940, p. 3 et seq.

 Schechtman, Fighter and Prophet, p. 340.

* Ibid., p. 352.

* D. Dir, Ma’arakhot hairgun hazvai haleumi, Tel Aviv, 1965, vol. 1, p. 156, et seq.

 Ibid., p. 268 et seq.; Sefer Toldot hahagana, Tel Aviv, 1964, vol. 2, p. 722 et seq.

* Schechtman, Fighter and Prophet, p. 453.

* Y. Yauer, Diplomatia vemahteret, Merhavia, 1963, p. 115.

 See Y.Y. Yrenner, ‘The “Stern gang” 1940-8’, in Middle Eastern Studies, October 1965.

 Schechtman, Fighter and Prophet, p. 460.

* On Stern, see Y. Weinshal, Hadam asher basaf, Tel Aviv, 1956, passim.

 Lehi. Ktavim, Tel Aviv, vol. 2., p. 714 and passim; on Lehi ideology, see also Eldad in Sulam, Tevet, 1962, p. 46.

 See Miriam Getter’s unpublished M.M. dissertation, The Ideology of ‘Lehi’ (in Hebrew), Tel Aviv, 1967, p. 79 et seq.

* Weizmann, Trial and Error, p. 63.

 Quoted in Schechtman, Fighter and Prophet, p. 248.

 Ibid., p. 477.

* Die Welt, 3 April 1914.

 Y. Yedava, Jabotinsky bechason hador, Tel Aviv, 1940, passim.

* Schechtman, Fighter and Prophet, pp. 561-2.

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