SCREEN

Profile

Layout

Menu Style

Cpanel

The Jewish Eurasianism of Yakov Bromberg

In 2002, the AGRAF publishing house, one of the main vehicles used by Alexander Dugin [a currently prominent Russian fascist ideologist] to spread his ideas, brought out a volume under the title Evrei i Evraziia (The Jews and Eurasia). The book is a collection of writings by Yakov Abramovich Bromberg (born 1898) and of articles on associated "Jewish" themes by Dugin and his associate A. Eskin.

Bromberg was a member of the émigré Eurasianist movement of the 1920s and 1930s who strove to develop a specifically Jewish approach to Eurasianist ideology. The publication of his work is part of a sustained effort to make the writings of classical Eurasianist thinkers available to the contemporary Russian reader (see, in particular, Savitskii 1997). More specifically, it is part of an effort to strengthen ties between Dugin's EURASIA movement and non-Christian confessions by making available works of Eurasianist thinkers of non-Russian and non-Christian background: in the same year AGRAF published a book by the "Buddhist Kalmyk Eurasianist" Erenzhen Khara-Davan (1883--1942) (Dugin 2002). At the same time, Dugin's discovery of Bromberg evidently played a crucial role in the evolution of his position on the "Jewish question."

I shall return to the matter of the relationship between Bromberg and Dugin toward the end of this paper. My main goal, however, is to understand Bromberg on his own terms, in the political and intellectual context of his own time. And, first of all, I would like to offer a few remarks on the general phenomenon of "non-Russian" Eurasianisms (using "Russian" in its narrow ethnic sense1).

"Non-Russian" Eurasianisms

Eurasianism is generally discussed in the context of ethnic-Russian nationalism. This is understandable enough: after all, its best known proponents were and are ethnic Russians. However, in view of the self-consciously multi-ethnic and multi-confessional content of Eurasianist ideas the question naturally arises of the extent to which these ideas may appeal to other "Eurasian" peoples. And in fact Eurasianist ideas can readily be found among some, though far from all, of the non-Russian peoples of the post-Soviet region. For example, a variety of Eurasianism is an important component of the official ideology, both domestic and international, of the Nazarbayev regime in Kazakhstan. Even more pertinent to my theme is the Eurasianism espoused by "official" intellectuals in the "autonomous" Republic of Tatarstan2 within the Rossian Federation.

I have before me a booklet on Tatar history, published in Kazan in 1999. The author, Rafael Khakim, is a prominent figures in the republic--director of the Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Tatarstan as well as a state counselor on political questions to President Mintimer Shaimiyev. (Most sources identify him as "Khakimov"; the omission here of the last two letters is, of course, highly significant.) Pointing out that many of "the indigenous peoples of Rossia are more ancient than the Russians," the author protests against the practice customary in Russian historiography of ignoring the states of those peoples and starting the history of the country with Muscovy or Kievan Rus. The first Rossian state, he asserts, was actually the Turkic kaganate that arose in the middle of the sixth century in the Altai and gradually conquered much of present-day Russia. Several other non-Slavic Rossian states also deserve their rightful place in the history books. Khakim, naturally, focuses especially on two states that contemporary Tatars might claim as a heritage: the Kingdom of the Volga Bulgars,3 which existed on the territory of modern-day Tatarstan before it was invaded by the Mongol Golden Horde in 1223--36, and--paradoxically enough--that same Golden Horde by virtue of the post-conquest incorporation into it of Volga Bulgaria. Citing in support the Russian historian Mikhail Khudyakov and Russian Eurasianist Lev Gumilyov, the author characterizes Muscovy as the successor to the Golden Horde, which was "not a 'wild horde' but a highly developed civilized state" (Khakim 1999, pp. 2, 7, 9-13).

This example permits us to guess which non-Russian ethnic groups might be open to the appeal of Eurasianism. Such groups are likely to be those that on account of cultural ties and/or practical considerations seek not separation from Russia but its transformation into a multi-ethnic Rossia within which they will enjoy autonomy and equal status. Such groups are also likely to be those with some grounds to identify themselves with one of the great states that at one time or another have dominated the "Eurasian heartland."

As we have seen, the Tatars fit the bill, and so do the Kalmyks, who are of Mongol descent. And so do the Jews, for they can look back to another of the states listed by Khakim--the Kaganate of the Khazars, another semi-nomadic Turkic people of the steppes. At the height of their power in the seventh to tenth centuries, the Khazars ruled over a vast realm in what is now southern Ukraine, southern Russia, and the Northern Caucasus. The ruling caste adopted Judaism as the state religion in 740, although in practice Khazaria always remained a multi-confessional as well as multi-ethnic polity. The capital city, Itil, consisted of four quarters: Jewish, Moslem, Christian, and pre-monotheistic.4 Khazaria qualifies in this respect as a microcosm of "Eurasia." Moreover, like the Golden Horde, the Khazars left their cultural imprint on Muscovy despite wars between the two. Prior to the diffusion of Cyrillic, Hebrew script was used throughout Khazaria to transcribe Slavic speech, and three letters of the Cyrillic alphabet were modeled on Hebrew counterparts.

Bromberg's biography

Unfortunately, I have been able to find very little biographical information about Bromberg. He was born in 1898, but I do not know when he died. (I suppose it is just conceivable that he is still alive.) From Budnitskii (2005, p. 95) we learn that he was called up for military service in 1916 and became a cadet at the Kiev Konstantinovsky College. He took part with his fellow cadets in fighting against the Bolsheviks in Kiev in November 1917, was taken prisoner, and was interrogated by a commissar's council.5 Apparently, he was the only one among his Jewish friends who chose not to seek some way of avoiding military service, whether by studying medicine or by means of self-inflicted injury (Budnitskii 2005, pp. 167-8).6

From this we may infer with a fair degree of confidence that Bromberg came from a well-to-do family who shared the social and patriotic values of Russian high society and sought acceptance therein. Jews from this kind of background--there were not many of them--tended to support moderate reformist parties like the Octobrists and Constitutional Democrats (Cadets). In 1917--21 they faced a painful dilemma: as members of the upper classes they loathed the Bolsheviks and felt drawn to the Whites, while as Jews they were alienated by the Whites' anti-Semitism. Despite the latter, some did conclude that the Whites were a "lesser evil" and resolve to lend them active support. Later, in emigration, a group of such Jews established a Patriotic Union of Russian Jews Abroad, based in Berlin, where they published what they intended to be the first in a series of collections of essays entitled Russia and the Jews [Rossiia i evrei] (Bikerman et al. 1923).7 

Although Bromberg does not appear to have belonged to this group, he shared many of their attitudes. In The Jews and Eurasia he criticizes the Whites, whose ideology he regards as superficial, but he "[does] not wish to throw dirt on its truly heroic tragism" merely on account of the "anti-Jewish excesses of its evil geniuses" (Bromberg 2002, p. 172). It is not clear to me exactly when he left Russia or joined the Eurasianist movement; his main works appeared in the Russian émigré press during the first half of the 1930s. At some point he left Europe for the United States and settled in New York. In 1934, in response to a questionnaire in Evraziiskie tetradi (Eurasian Notebooks) on the topic "Is the World Moving Toward Ideocracy?" (the Eurasianists considered ideocracy a good thing, provided that the ruling ideas were the right ones), he sent that journal his acerbic reflections on the "vulgar materialism" and mercenary nature of American life.

Bromberg as a religious and political thinker

Bromberg's main concerns are the degeneration (as he sees it) of Russian Jewry, the revival of true Judaism, and the relations between Judaism and Christianity.8 He stresses the special historical and spiritual affinity between Judaism and Christianity, and more particularly between Judaism and Orthodoxy, and calls for mutual respect between the two faiths and the renunciation of proselytism. In this connection he expresses his approval of the position adopted by his fellow Eurasianist, the Orthodox priest and theologian Lev Platonovich Karsavin (1882--1952), who speaks of the "primordial tie between the Jewish people and Rossia" (Bromberg 2002, p. 161).

Bromberg cites Khazaria as a model of religious tolerance.9 He adds that the Khazar episode completes a historical cycle in which Judaism was a proselytizing religion and the Jews attempted to "go beyond their ethno-cultural confines" (p. 245). He appeals to two other historical precedents that to his mind demonstrate the special affinity between Judaism and Orthodoxy. One is the sects--the Sabbatarians, for instance--that have sought to return to the Old-Testament Judaic roots of Christianity. The other is the so-called "heresy of the Judaizers" of 1470--1520, which was patronized for a time by the court of Tsar Ivan III. In contrast to the received version of the "heresy," which attributes it wholly to Jewish proselytism, Bromberg sees it as an attempt to create a hybrid faith: "The Crimean Jew Scharia brought with him to Moscow (actually to Novgorod--S.D.S.) the seed of a new doctrine that tried to reconcile the Old and New Testament aspects of the [Judeo-Christian] religious tradition" (p. 250).10 

Bromberg repeatedly deplores the apostasy, moral depravity, and hypocrisy of the stratum he calls the Jewish "peripheral intelligentsia" (or "semi-intelligentsia" or "pseudo-intelligentsia"). Echoing a theme that is salient in Russia and the Jews, he argues that the disproportionate participation of this stratum in the Bolshevik movement, which--he is convinced--has "demonic roots," cannot be dismissed as a coincidence. It should instead prompt Russian Jews to heed the warnings of the biblical prophets and engage in "repentance and purification of [their] spiritual weaknesses" and "healthy and sincere self-criticism of the sins of [Jewish] spiritual and religious-cultural life" such as the "shameful sin of self-idolatry" (p. 94).

Bromberg's approach to religion is that of a fundamentalist reformer rather than that of a traditionalist. Thus he rejects the exegetical talmudic literature as irrelevant to present-day problems. "We Russian Jews [have to] work out an independent and original system of ethnic-religious views that will precisely outline the dogmatic-philosophical content of Judaism in relation to other religions and be capable of illuminating and comprehending all the nooks and crannies of man's spiritual life in these turbulent times" (p. 132). This would seem to place him in the same camp as Reform Judaism. However, he also hopes for a revival of "the stream of messianic-eschatological energies that has dried up in our spiritual life" (pp. 168-9)--a stance directly opposed to the anti-messianic spirit of Reform Judaism.

Rossian-Eurasian culture, Bromberg believes, provides the conditions needed for the revival of Judaism. "In our search for a model for the renewal of our own faith, [we can draw on] the rich tradition of Russian thought and have the legitimate right to take pride in the contribution of Jewish thinkers to that tradition" (pp. 133-4). One of the Russian-Jewish thinkers of whom he has an especially high opinion, despite the political and religious differences between them, is Mikhail Osipovich Gershenzon (1869--1925).11 Like Gershenzon himself, Bromberg aspires to create a Judaic counterpart to the Orthodox Christian theological revival of the Silver Age.

An area of partial convergence between Gershenzon and Bromberg concerns the foundations of statehood. Both categorically reject nationalism and the principle of national self-determination, both in general and as applied to the Jews - that is, Zionism. They do so, however, from rather different positions. Gershenzon rejects nationalism - especially nationalism of the "Germanic" type, to which Zionism in his view belongs - as incompatible with liberal ideals. Bromberg, as a Eurasianist, denounces national separatism in the former Russian empire as a threat to "the organic unity of multi-tribal and multi-confessional Rossia" (p. 179). But he is also against liberalism as well as nationalism (including Zionism) as "a false political ideal of the state built exclusively on rational and utilitarian foundations" (p. 81).

Bromberg and Dugin

Ostensibly, Dugin's discovery in Bromberg of a fellow Eurasianist who was also a Jew led him to rethink his position on the "Jewish question" and distance himself from the rabid anti-Semitism of most radical Russian nationalist circles. He realized that there are "good" Jews and "bad" Jews--or, in terms of his ideology, "Eurasian" Jews and "Atlanticist" (Western) Jews. Thereby the Jews acquired the curious privilege, shared by no other people, of being simultaneously on both sides of the Manichean divide. This position was also adopted by the writer Eduard Limonov, Dugin's former associate in the leadership of the National Bolshevik Party, which duly proceeded to admit Jews--Eurasian ones, presumably--to membership.

It is possible, of course, that Bromberg merely provided a convenient pretext for a decision taken on pragmatic grounds. By renouncing anti-Semitism he may have hoped to broaden his appeal to the respectable mainstream of society and recruit new allies at home and abroad.

At a very general level, I would agree that Dugin borrowed from Bromberg the distinction between a Eurasian (Eastern) and an Atlanticist (Western) Jewishness (Laruelle 2006). However, when one examines more closely how the two theorists draw this distinction in Jewish history one sees that Dugin has derived his schema not so much from Bromberg as from his own fertile imagination. Thus, Dugin places on one side of the divide the (good) mysticism and messianism of the Kabbalists, the Sabbateans (followers of Sabbetai Zvi of Smyrna, who proclaimed himself messiah in 1666), the Chasidim, and the Jewish revolutionaries of modern times. On the other side he puts the (bad) rationalism of the Aristotelian theology of Maimonides, the mitnagdim (opponents of the Chasidim), the haskalim (nineteenth-century enlighteners), and the Jewish bourgeoisie.12 Only a fantasist with no real knowledge of Judaism could produce such a mishmash. What sense does it make to lump together in the same camp such bitter enemies as the mitnagdim and the haskalim? A crucial difference between Bromberg and Dugin is that the former denounces the Jewish revolutionaries while the latter admires them. Bromberg is basically with the Whites, Dugin with the Reds. When Dugin speaks of the "Chasidic-Marxist milieu" (Bromberg 2002, p. 280) he gives the impression that he is paraphrasing Bromberg, but in fact only Dugin could think up such an absurd expression.

As Marlene Laruelle points out, a further shift has now taken place in Dugin's position on the "Jewish question." This latest shift is apparently connected with his cultivation of ties with the religious-nationalist right in Israel on the basis of a shared anti-Americanism and anti-globalism.13 Dugin has incorporated Zionism into his "traditionalist" ideology, evidently not realizing that from the point of view of traditional Judaism - as represented, inter alia, by Bromberg - Zionism is the ultimate in heresy and collective "self-idolatry." And how will the Zionist Dugin keep his friends in the Moslem world happy--the mullahs in Iran, for instance? Even his ingenuity must have its limits.   

Notes

1. For the classical Eurasianists it was especially important to distinguish between "Russian" in the ethnic sense (russkii) and "Russia" (Rossiia)--equated with "Eurasia" (Evraziia)--as an organic unity or "symphony" of many ethnic groups. Rossiia-Evraziia has been embodied historically in a long succession of different states, many of them not in the least ethnically Russian or Slavic. In order to stress the radical distinction between this concept and the usual meaning attributed to "Russia" in English, I intend to use the neologism "Rossia," as proposed by Valery Tishkov, director of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Rossian Academy of Sciences.  

2. True, under Putin no longer all that autonomous.

For another discussion of non-Russian versions of Eurasianism inside as well as outside the Russian Federation, see: Mark Bassin, Eurasianism "Classical" and "Neo": The Lines of Continuity.  

3. The Volga Bulgars have no connection with the Bulgarians of the Balkans in modern times. The name is anachronistic inasmuch as the river that the Russians know as the Volga was then called the Itil.

4. I use this term to avoid the negative connotations of "pagan." After a long decline, Khazaria was obliterated by the Mongols in 1259.

For more on the Jews of Khazaria, see Koestler (1976) and Brook (2006). I do not enter the controversy surrounding the question of whether present-day Ashkenazi Jews are predominantly descended from the Khazars. The evidence of family names and traditions suggests that at least some are. It should be noted that "Jews of Khazaria" is a broader category than "Khazar Jews" because it also includes converts of Slavic and other non-Khazar origin and refugees, mainly from Byzantium.

5. One of those interrogating him was a Jew fighting on the other side. 

6. Methods included pulling out one's teeth, swallowing acid, and giving oneself a hernia.

7. The collection was republished in Russian - still, indeed, in the old Russian orthography - in Paris in 1978 by the YMCA-Press. Despite its historical interest, it does not seem to have been published in English, French, or German translation.

8. I aim here not at a full analysis or even summary of Bromberg's views, but only to outline a few characteristic themes.      

9. Another Eurasianist hero, Genghis Khan, was also renowned for his religious tolerance.

10. On the "heresy of the Judaizers," see Vernadsky (1933). The received version may well be unreliable, coming as it does from those who suppressed the "heresy." Wieczynski (1975) also challenges the view of the "heresy" purely as a product of Jewish proselytism and places it in the broader context of the questioning of religious dogma throughout Europe at the time of the Renaissance.

11. Western scholarship has devoted considerable attention to Gershenzon as a liberal political thinker and cultural critic, but very little to his religious thought. The only exception known to me is the unpublished Ph.D. dissertation of Brian Horowitz, Director of Jewish Studies at Tulane University, New Orleans (Horowitz 1993). For an excellent collection of Gershenzon's writings on the Jewish question and other topics, see Gershenzon (2001). See also Horowitz (1996, 1997).

12. The key article on the dual character of Jewry is reproduced from Dugin (2000) in Bromberg (2002, pp. 278-91); see especially pp. 280-82.

13. In an essay entitled "Doomed Israel" Dugin expresses his solidarity with Israel in face of the threat of a globalist plot to destroy it (?!) (Bromberg 2002, pp. 292-7).  

References

 Bikerman, I.M., Landau, G.A., Levin, I.O., Linskii, D.O., Mandel', V.S., and D.S. Pasmanik. Rossiia i evrei: sbornik pervyi [Russia and the Jews: First Collection]. Otechestvennoe ob"edinenie russkikh evreev zagranitsei [Patriotic Union of Russian Jews Abroad]. Paris: YMCA-Press, 1978.

 Bromberg, Iakov. Evrei i Evraziia [The Jews and Eurasia]. Moscow: AGRAF, 2002.

 Brook, Kevin Alan. The Jews of Khazaria. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006.

 Budnitskii, O.V. Rossiiskie evrei mezhdu krasnymi i belymi (1917--1920) [Russian Jews Between Reds and Whites (1917--1920)]. Moscow: Rosspen, 2005.

 Dugin, A.G. Osnovy geopolitiki [Foundations of Geopolitics]. Moscow, 2000.

 Dugin, A.G. Theses of Address to the Political Conference of the Pan-Russian Social-Political Movement EURASIA, March 1, 2002. http://eurasia.com.ru/dugin0103_eng.html

 Gershenzon, M.O. Sud'by evreiskogo naroda i drugie proizvedeniia [Fate of the Jewish People and Other Works]. Moscow: Zakharov, 2001.

 Horowitz, Brian. The Myth of A.S. Pushkin in Russia's Silver Age: M.O. Gershenzon, Pushkinist. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1996.

 Horowitz, Brian. M.O. Gershenzon and the Intellectual Life of Russia's Silver Age. Ph.D. dissertation. Tulane University, New Orleans, 1993.

 Horowitz, Brian. "Jewish Identity and Russian Culture: The Case of M.O. Gershenzon." Nationalities Papers, v. 25, no. 4, December 1997, pp. 699-714.

 Khakim, Rafael'. Istoriia tatar i Tatarstana: metodologicheskie i teoreticheskie problemy [The History of the Tatars and of Tatarstan: Methodological and Theoretical Problems]. Special issue of Panorama-Forum (Kazan), 1999, no. 19.

 Khara-Davan, Erenzhen. Rus' mongol'skaia: Chingis-khan i mongolosfera [Mongol Rus: Genghis Khan and the Mongol Sphere]. Moscow: AGRAF, 2002.

 Koestler, Arthur. The Thirteenth Tribe: The Khazar Empire and its Heritage. New York: Random House, 1976.

 Laruelle, Marlene. Aleksandr Dugin: A Russian Version of the European Radical Right? Occasional Paper No. 294. Washington, D.C.: Kennan Institute, 2006.

 Savitskii, Pyotr N. Kontinent Evrazii [Continent Eurasia]. Moscow: AGRAF, 1997.

 Vernadsky, George. "The Heresy of the Judaizers and the Policies of Ivan III of Moscow." Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies (The Mediaeval Academy of America), October 1933, pp. 436-54.   

 Wieczynski, Joseph L. "Hermetism and Cabalism in the Heresy of the Judaizers." Renaissance Quarterly, Spring 1975, pp. 17-28.

You are here: Home Themes Jewish issues Jews in tsarist Russia The Jewish Eurasianism of Yakov Bromberg

About

Contact

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.