Author (Your Name)

Eric N. Suchman, Colby College

Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. History Dept.




This paper first examines the realities facing the Russian Jew on the Eve of the pogroms. From the optimism and liberalism of Jewish intellectuals, the decline of traditional Jewish life, and the socio-economic conditions of Russian Jewry, to the roots of popular anti-Semitism, this section provides valuable insight into the condition of the Jewish people who were about to experience the destructive and shattering events of 1881. Next, this paper considers the events of 1881 and the tsarist government's response to these events. Following the assassination of Alexander II, mobs of angry Russians attacked and looted thousands of Jewish homes and businesses. Historians have traditionally placed the responsibility for the planning and organization of these pogroms upon the Russian central government. Recently, however, revisionist historians have concluded that the pogroms were spontaneous and unorganized, owing more to socioeconomic causes than tsarist planning. This paper will consider the controversy surrounding the pogroms, as well as examining the Jewish policy of the tsarist government that followed the events of 1881. This paper then considers Jewish reactions to the realities facing the Russian Jew during this time period. In general, this time period witnessed three significant responses to the difficulties facing Russian Jews: emigration., Zionism, and socialism. Of the three responses, Zionism and socialism were more organized and intellectually motivated than the mass emigration that took place, therefore this paper focuses primarily on these two responses. It was the advent of Zionism and socialism that marked the beginning of the Jew's desire to take his political destiny into his own hands, thus beginning the era of a politically self-conscious Jewry. This paper continues by making several conclusions regarding the manner in which the realities facing the Russian Jew shaped Zionism and Jewish socialism differently. The Zionist ideology was molded and determined by the difficulties facing Russian Jews, most importantly the 1881 pogroms. Prior to these pogroms many proto-Zionists had been assimilationists, stressing the Jews' ability to become a functioning part of Russian society. The wave of violence and official anti-Semitism that followed Alexander It's assassination, however, forced many of these assimilationists to embrace the notion that Jews could never be free unless they fanned their own autonomous nation. The ideology of the Russian Jewish socialists, on the other band, was molded by the economic conditions facing Russia as whole. Industrialization, urbanization, and the growth of an urban work force led many Jews to turn towards socialism as a solution to these problems. While their ideology remained focused on socialism and Marxism, their methods and practices were inevitably shaped by the realities facing the Russian Jew. Legal discrimination, anti-Semitic violence, and the segregated nature of Jewish society forced Jewish socialists to focus on the problems facing Jews, rather than those facing Russia as a whole. This focus on the Jewish question led to the eventual split between the Bund and the Russian Social Democratic party. Finally, the paper will examine the 1903-1906 pogroms, and the manner in which these years saw Zionism and Jewish socialism change. The aim of this paper is to show how the realities facing Russian Jews led to the development of a national and political awareness among many of the Jewish people.


Russian Jew, pogroms, popular anti-Semitism, 1881 evetns, tsarist government, Zionism, Jewish Socialism

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