The introduction presents the book's main themes and arguments. It highlights the problems with defining nationalism and explains the distinction between territorial sovereignty and nonterritorial autonomy. In particular, the introduction emphasizes that the movement for Jewish autonomy developed in the context of changing notions of political sovereignty, decentralization, and federalism among the many national groups of Eastern Europe and should be seen as a key element of both the political campaign for Jewish individual and collective rights and the cultural mission to create an alternative to religious traditionalism.
This chapter explains how Simon Dubnov's political and historical theories developed, with attention to his philosophical influences. It also considers what Jewish autonomy meant historically and what actually happened to Jewish autonomy in the Russian Empire in the nineteenth century that led Dubnov and others to conclude that it should be revived. To Dubnov, the only way to ensure Jewish national continuity in the future was to rebuild the structure of Jewish autonomy along secular national lines, with legal recognition from the state. Thus, the final section of this chapter gives a view of how the significant legal and economic changes affecting the Russian state and its inhabitants generally over the course of the nineteenth century had altered Jewish society in particular.
This chapter looks at the intellectual ferment in which ideas about autonomism percolated among Jewish liberals and socialists. Jewish socialists in Russia (and Russian Jewish socialists living abroad) looked to Austria to see how the solutions proposed by Marxist jurists and legal theorists about resolving the simmering disputes among that empire's many nationalities might apply in Russia. On the other hand, Jewish liberals, and the emerging Jewish intelligentsia in general, watched a wide-scale experiment with local self-government in Russia and emulated the Russian activists who sought to decentralize the empire and regenerate it. In sum, socialists, liberals, and others who took up ideas about Jewish autonomy adapted the prevailing intellectual trends to the Jewish situation in order to argue that Jews in the Russian Empire must attain equality not just as individuals but also as a group.
This chapter examines the role of the Russian revolution of 1905–7 in politicizing Russian Jewry and bringing the issue of national rights to the fore. During these revolutionary years and thereafter, politically active Jews in Russia became convinced that if the Jews did not create a program for nonterritorial Jewish autonomy, they would be left without the autonomous rights of the other national minorities. Particular attention is paid to the Union for Full Rights for the Jews of Russia and its debates over national rights and autonomy. As new Jewish parties were founded and others became legally allowed, the demand for Jewish national rights and autonomy was adopted and adapted in various forms by all parties, such as Zionists and socialists, who took up demands for Jewish national rights in Russia alongside their demands for a Jewish state or proletarian revolution.
The decade leading up to World War I saw the creation of new autonomist initiatives and growing nationalism across the Jewish political spectrum. Jewish intellectuals, lawyers, and communal activists debated the nature of the national idea and the ideal form of Jewish self-government. This chapter analyzes the Jewish conferences, organizations, and publications established during the interrevolutionary period that debated the "national idea" and the possible means of implementing Jewish autonomy in Russia. As this chapter explores, the debate over Jewish autonomy and community after 1907 both reflected and exacerbated existing divisions, not least those between secular and religious definitions of the Jewish community and between Yiddishists and their opponents. Most important, autonomist projects of the period came to be based on the belief among highly Russified Jewish intellectuals that autonomy should be constructed as a bulwark against the pressures of assimilation on the Jewish public as a whole.
As discussed in this chapter, Jewish political activists worked during World War I to centralize Jewish communal organizations and establish local and Russia-wide self-government. In the midst of war, widespread anti-Jewish violence, and a refugee crisis, Jewish activists (like those of other nationalities, including Russians) seized the opportunity to build institutions that might actualize their national autonomy. The war created the need for relief on a massive scale, and the organization of such relief dramatically expanded the scope of activities undertaken by Jewish communal organizations. Furthermore, the war provided both the governmental leeway and urgent crisis necessary to centralize Jewish communal organizations under a single body in St. Petersburg, controlled by a mix of the Jewish financial elite and professional activists. Thus this chapter traces how the war led to a form of proto-autonomism that laid the foundation for genuine Jewish political autonomy.
This chapter examines the institutional and political construction of Jewish autonomy in Russia between the February and October Revolutions of 1917 and assesses the significance of the dramatic changes in Russian society to the political views of the broader Jewish public. A constitutional or a revolutionary state, socialism or liberalism, individual civil rights versus national self-determination—all of these were questions that turned organizing for the All-Russian Jewish Congress, the general elections to the All-Russian Constituent Assembly, and the local Jewish self-governments into battlegrounds between conflicting ideological visions of the future. This chapter also pays particular attention to Jewish voting in the wide array of Jewish and general elections that took place over the course of 1917 and provide a rare opportunity to assess how political ideas about nationalism, national rights, autonomy, liberalism, and socialism made their way (or didn't) into Jewish public opinion.
As discussed in the book's final chapter, Jewish claims to national minority rights made their way to the Versailles Conference's deliberations and eventual treaties, and the question of collective Jewish rights was one with considerable ramifications in the early Soviet Union. With the breakup of the Russian and Austrian Empires, a Jew might find him- or herself either a citizen of the Soviet Union, a state hostile to religious traditionalism but eager to integrate Jews as individuals, or a citizen of one of the new nation-states, which were indifferent to religious traditionalism but reluctant to integrate Jews as full participants in national politics. Only in Lithuania and Ukraine, and then only briefly, did Jews find themselves in states willing to grant Jews their national autonomy. All the post-Versailles states eventually squelched the one political aspiration uniting the different strands of Jewish politics in Russia and Eastern Europe: autonomy.
The conclusion attempts to give succinct answers to the following questions: How did autonomism become the genesis of Jewish political culture in late imperial and revolutionary Russia? How should one measure Simon Dubnov's influence on the development of Jewish nationalism, broadly speaking, and the assumption of Jewish demands for national rights specifically? How can one assess autonomism's ultimate viability? Finally, the conclusion suggests that autonomism was most successful not in Eastern Europe but in Palestine before the establishment of the State of Israel.