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Vol. 79/No. 44      December 7, 2015

(Books of the Month column)

1913: Jew-hatred key to Romanian rulers’ grip on power

The excerpt below is from Leon Trotsky’s The Balkan Wars (1912-13), one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month in November. Trotsky, living in exile in Vienna, covered the war as a correspondent for a Kiev socialist newspaper. The chapter “The Jewish Question” details the place of Jew-hatred in feudal Romania, strikingly similar to scapegoating and attacks on Jews today as the crisis of capitalism deepens.

Trotsky, one of the leaders of the 1917 Russian Revolution, fought to defend and advance the revolutionary course of V.I. Lenin and the Bolshevik Party against the political counterrevolution led by Joseph Stalin. Until his assassination in 1940, he fought to build an international movement capable of leading the working class and its allies to power. Copyright © 1980 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

In nothing is Romania revealed so completely and authentically as in her Jewish Question. King Carol is proud that he has never departed from the “strictly constitutional” path. The Romanian press enjoys great freedom, and from time to time employs quite incredible “expressions” when writing about the king, without suffering any consequences. In this country ministers are not addressed as “Excellency.” Political émigrés are not handed over. But beneath this gilded surface of political freedoms is hidden the real, the true Romania — and while this is most profoundly revealed in the situation of the peasantry, it is seen most vividly in the Jewish Question.

Three hundred thousand Romanian Jews are not considered Romanian citizens. They, their fathers, and their grandfathers, were born in Romania. They were not and are not under the protection of any other state. And yet, nevertheless, they are treated as foreigners in Romania. The Romanian Jew enjoys no protection from the constitution. Any Jew can at any moment be expelled from the country like a wandering vagabond. Families that have grown up with Romania over several generations never cease to be aware that they are only lodgers. But that is not the whole of it.

While excluding the Jews from the roll of citizens, the state nevertheless burdens them with all the responsibilities of citizenship. Not only do the Jews have to pay all taxes, they are also liable for military service. Though declared to be aliens, they serve in the Romanian army. The state, which denies to the Jewish worker, craftsman, or merchant the title of Romanian citizen — the elementary right possessed by every pickpocket of Romanian stock — this same state called to the colors 30,000 rightless Jews during the recent mobilization.

All Romania is revealed in the country’s Jewish Question. The servile bondage of the peasantry, the parasitism on state funds, the rule of the boyar-ciocoi cliques — all this finds its crown in the qualified rightlessness of Romanian Jewry.

Romania is ruled by Purishkevich. He is the master of Romania’s soil, he thrusts his arm up to the elbow into the state’s cashbox, the social and political atmosphere here is filled with his mental and moral exhalations. Purishkevich “hates” the Jews. But this is a special sort of hatred. Without Jews Purishkevich couldn’t get by. And he knows this very well. He needs Jews. But of what sort? Jews without rights, deprived of individuality by their lack of rights. This sort of Jew has to serve as intermediary between Purishkevich as landlord and the peasantry, between Purishkevich as politician and his clientele — to serve in the capacity of leaseholder, usurer, middleman, or venal journalist. He has to fulfill the dirtiest commissions for Purishkevich — and Purishkevich has no other kind — and to keep at it.

But that’s not all. While serving as a tool of feudal exploitation, the rightless Jew has at the same time to serve as lightning-conductor for the wrath of the exploited. After fleecing the peasant and pillaging the state’s till, replenished by that same peasant, Romania’s Purishkevich then fulfills his highest destiny when, from the orator’s tribune, or in the columns of his press, he angrily denounces the Jewish leaseholder, the Jewish usurer. … This is the basis in serfdom of Romanian anti-Semitism. But that does not exhaust the matter. In a stagnant society in which economic development, entangled in obstacles, makes only slow progress, a multitude of unsatisfied demands urge various groups of people along the line of least resistance — the line of anti-Semitism. The ciocoi, the new landowners, who have bought or leased boyars’ lands, naturally seek to concentrate rural usury in their own national, Christian, true Romanian hands.

Driven from the countryside, the Jews make up nearly a third of the population in Romania’s towns. The craftsman, the shopkeeper, the restaurant-keeper, and with them the doctor and the journalist, are embittered by the competition from Jews. The lawyer, the official, the officer are all afraid that if the Jews obtained equal rights they will take away their clients or step into their jobs. The teacher and the priest, agents in the countryside of the national state idea bound up with serfdom, assure the peasant that his poverty and servitude are caused by the Jews. The newspaper, in so far as it reaches the peasant, tells him the same thing. Anti-Semitism has become the state religion, the last psychological cement holding together a feudal society that is rotten through and through, and covered over with the gilt tinsel of a constitution essentially based on privilege. …

Jewish children are not accepted in the state primary schools. They are accepted in secondary educational institutions only if there are “vacant” places, which in practice means almost never. The Jews have set up their own schools, using their own resources. A wall is thus raised between Jewish and Romanian children; and yet at the same time the powers that be make it a condition for “granting” civil rights to the Jews that they become merged in Romanian society. Recent agitation has been started against the Jewish private schools, simply because they raise the cultural level of the Jewish masses, and it is quite obvious that, the higher their cultural level, the greater the danger that the Jews, suffering from lack of rights, will present for the rotten Romanian state. As for those Jewish workers who take part in the economic or political struggle of their class, the government whose turn it is chases them across the frontier by dozens and hundreds as “undesirable aliens.” Even in the hospitals, Jews are treated as second-class patients. And so on, without end. …
Related articles:
Jew-hatred, attacks on free speech threat to working class
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