Ber Borochov

Ber Borochov
Ber Borochov

Dov Ber Borochov (July 4, 1881 – December 17, 1917) was a Marxist Zionist and one of the founders of the Labor Zionist movement as well as a pioneer in the study of Yiddish as a language.

He was born in the town of Zolotonosha, Russian Empire (currently in Ukraine). As an adult he joined the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party but was expelled for his Zionist beliefs. Subsequently, he helped form the Poale Zion party and devoted his life to promoting the party in Russia, Europe, and America. When the Russian social democrats came to power, Borochov returned to Russia in March 1917 to lead the Poale Zion. He became ill and died there of pneumonia in December 1917.

Borochov became highly influential in the Zionist movement because he explained nationalism in general, and Jewish Nationalism in particular in terms of Marxist class struggle and dialectical materialism. Borochov predicted, correctly, that nationalist forces would be more important in determining events than economic and class considerations, especially as concerned the Jews. Borochov argued that the class structure of European Jews resembled an inverted class pyramid where few Jews occupied the productive layers of society as workers. The Jews would migrate from country to country as they were forced out of their chosen professions by a "stychic process" which would ultimately force migration to Palestine, where they would form a proletarian basis in order to carry out Marxist class struggle.

A key part of Borochovian ideology was that the Arab and Jewish working classes had a common proletarian interest and would participate in the class struggle together once Jews had returned to Palestine. In his last recorded speech, he said:

Many point out the obstacles which we encounter in our colonization work. Some say that the Turkish law hinders our work, others contend that Palestine is insignificantly small, and still others charge us with the odious crime of wishing to oppress and expel the Arabs from Palestine...
When the waste lands are prepared for colonization, when modern technique is introduced, and when the other obstacles are removed, there will be sufficient land to accommodate both the Jews and the Arabs. Normal relations between the Jews and Arabs will and must prevail." Eretz Yisrael in our Program and Tactics by Ber Borochov, 1917

Borochov, along with Nahum Syrkin is considered a father of socialist Zionism. Borochov's ideas were influential in convincing Jewish youth from Europe to move to Palestine. However, Borochov's theories remained most influential in Eastern Europe, where they formed the basis of the Left Poale Zion movement which was active in Poland during the interwar years. Indeed, Borochov's vision of class struggle in Palestine was widely viewed as untenable by the 1910s, with Jewish migrants to Palestine struggling to establish an economic foothold and with interclass cooperation seemingly necessary, and his theories dimmed in popularity there. Borochov, for years an advocate for a doctrinaire Marxist Zionism, himself seemed to repudiate his former vision of class struggle in Palestine in speeches towards the end of his life. Borochov insisted that he was a Social Democrat, but Borochov's Left Poale Zion followers continued to vigorously advocate class struggle both in Palestine and eastern Europe, supporting the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 - Borochov himself returned to Russia for that purpose.

The Poale Zion movement split into left and right factions, which have evolved into the modern Israeli political parties of Mapam (later Meretz-Yachad) and the Israeli Labor Party respectively. The European branch of the Left Poale Zion movement was effectively destroyed by the early 1950s; many of its members were killed by the Nazis during World War II, and the surviving activists were persecuted and ultimately outlawed under the various post-war Communist regimes.

While most Zionists regarded Yiddish as a derivative language characteristic of the Jewish Diaspora and to be abandoned by the Jewish people in favor of Hebrew, Borochov was a committed Yiddishist and Yiddish philologist and wrote extensively on the importance of the language. He is considered the founder of modern Yiddish studies.[1]

Borochov’s contributions were recognized in various ways by the early Jewish settlement in Palestine. For example, the first workers' neighborhood in the country, in what later became the city of Giv'atayim, was named after Borochov.


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