“The Jews” by Hilaire Belloc: Bolshevism

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Editor’s note: The following comprises the eighth chapter of The Jews, by Hilaire Belloc (published 1922).

(Continued from Chapter 7: The Anti-Semite)


The Bolshevist explosion, which will appear in history I think as the point of departure from which shall date the new attitude of the Western nations towards the Jews, is not only a field in which we can study the evil effect of secrecy, but one in which we can analyse all the various forces which tend to bring Israel into such ceaseless conflict with the society around it.

It merits, therefore, a very special examination, both as an opportunity for the study of our subject and as a turning-point of the first moment in history.

Why did a Jewish organization thus attempt to transform society? Why did it use the methods which we know it used? Why was that particular venue chosen? What aim had the actors in view? What measure of success did they hope to achieve? By what method do they propose to extend their influence? When we can answer those questions we shall have gone far to discovering the almost fatal causes of conflict between this peculiar nation and those among whom they move.

The answers usually given to these questions by the avowed enemies of the Jewish race are always inadequate and often false. When they contain an element of truth (which they often do) that truth is quite insufficient to account for the full phenomena. But the accretions of falsehood and exaggeration render the whole thing inexplicable—indeed, these explanations of the Russian revolution are very good specimens of the way in which the European so misunderstands the Jew that he imputes to him powers which neither he nor any other poor mortal can ever exercise.

Thus we are asked to believe that this political upheaval was part of one highly-organized plot centuries old, the agents of which were millions of human beings all pledged to the destruction of our society and acting in complete discipline under a few leaders superhumanly wise! The thing is nonsense on the face of it. Men have no capacity for acting in this fashion. They are far too limited, far too diverse.

Moreover, the motive is completely lacking. Why merely destroy and why, if your object is merely to destroy, manifest such wide differences in your aims? One may say justly that there is always a tendency to reaction against alien surroundings, and in so far as that reaction is intense and effective it is destructive of those surroundings. One may point out that such reaction in the case of the Jews, as in the case of all other alien bodies, is in the main unconscious and instinctive. All that is true enough; but the conception of a vast age-long plot, culminating in the contemporary Russian affair, will not hold water, any more than will the corresponding hallucination which led men to believe that the French revolution (a thing utterly different in kind from the Russian) was the mere outward expression of a strictly disciplined secret body. In the case of the French Revolution everything was put down (by the forerunners of today’s Anti-Semitic enthusiasts) to the secret agency of The Order of Templars acting unweariedly through six centuries, and finally bringing down the French monarchy. In the case, of course, of the Bolshevist anarchy a still longer range is given to the final result: for “Templars” read “Jews,” and for “600” read “2,000” years. It is all smoke.

More serious is the statement that this combination of Jews for the destruction of the old Russian society was an act of racial revenge. There is a great element of truth in that. There is no doubt that the greater part of the Jews who took over power in the Russian cities four years ago felt an appetite for revenge against the old Russian State comparable to that felt by any oppressed people against their oppressors. Probably it was more intense even than any other example that could be quoted. We are all witnesses to the way in which the Russian people, religion, and government, and particularly the person and office of the Emperor—were attacked and decried by the Jews in Western Europe, of the way in which the Jews ceaselessly conspired against the Russian State, and of the brutal repression to which they were subject. When you release a force of hatred so violent it may run to any length. That sudden release, that sudden opportunity for satisfying the thirst for vengeance, must explain a very large part of what followed. But even that does not account for the whole. It would account for mere massacre and mere chaos. It would not account for the attempts—rather pitiful attempts—at construction and for the obviously designed system of direction which has continued on the same lines since the Jews first assumed power and is still fully manifest after nearly five years of that power.

Still less is it sufficient to say that the Jew is everywhere the organizer and leader of revolution and that we only see him at work in Russia with greater vigour and thoroughness because the opportunity is there greater.

The Jew is not everywhere a revolutionary. He is everywhere discontented with a society alien to him: that is natural and inevitable. But he does not exercise his power invariably, or even ordinarily, towards the oversetting of an established social order by which, incidentally, he often largely benefits.

You do not find the Jew in history perpetually leading the innumerable revolts which citizens in the mass make against the privileged or the superior conditions of the minority. He has sometimes benefited by these movements in the past; more often suffered. We often find individual Jews sympathizing with the revolutionary side, but we also find many individual Jews sympathizing with the other. The Jew is not, in the history of Europe, the prime agent of revolution: quite the contrary. The great acts of violence, successful and unsuccessful, which have marked our society from the agrarian troubles of pagan Rome to the French Revolution, the land war in Ireland, the Chartist Movement in London, or whatever modern movement you will, have appealed much more to the fighting instincts and political traditions of our race than they have to the Jews. They are marked everywhere by an attitude towards property and patriotism which are the very opposite of the Jews’ characteristics. The Revolutions of the past were for the better distribution of property and for the betterment of the State. Often they were openly undertaken because patriotism had been offended by defeat in war and because the Nation was thought to be betrayed. Usually they were jingo and always for distribution of wealth.

It is the unique mark of the Russian revolution and of its attempted extension elsewhere that it repudiates patriotism and the division of property. In that, it differs from all others; and it is markedly, obviously, Jewish. But why had the Jews a chance of action in Russia which they lacked elsewhere?

What were the special characters in the Russian opportunity which made the Jew the creator of the whole movement?

There are, I take it, three main factors present in this case peculiarly suitable to the Jewish effort.

In the first place, this revolution fell upon, and was directed towards, a particular social phenomenon in which that profound instinct in the European, the desire for settled property, had decayed. It fell upon the state of affairs called Industrial Capitalism, the chief mark of which is the destruction in the mass subjected to it (or, at any rate, the atrophying) of that essential part of the European soul—ownership. The Jew is, undoubtedly, unable to sympathize with us in that central core of our civic instincts. He has never understood the European sense of property and I doubt if he ever will.

But in Russia Industrial Capitalism was quite new. The resentment against it was keen. The victims were the sons of peasants, or had themselves been born peasants, so that this proletarian mass in the Russian towns, though less than a tenth of the whole nation, was peculiarly open to propaganda against its masters. And an attack successfully conducted, on that weakest point of modern Capitalism, might easily succeed and then spread to neighbouring industrialized centres in Poland, Germany, and so westward.

Now the attack on this international phenomenon, an attack directed against Industrial Capitalism, required an international force. It needed men who had international experience and were ready with an international formula.

There are two, and only two, organized international forces in Europe today with a soul and identity in them. One is the Catholic Church, and the other is Jewry. But the Catholic Church, for reasons which I will discuss in a moment, cannot and never will directly attack industrial capitalism. It will undoubtedly attack that system in flank and indirectly destroy it in the long run wherever the Faith has a strong hold upon masses of people. But it will not and cannot directly attack it. The Jew, on the other hand, is free to attack it precisely because our sense of property means nothing to him, is to him something strange, and even, I think, comic. Further, the Jew was present, he was on the spot. The Church was not.

Of the two international forces present, therefore, the Jews alone could act.

Here I must digress and say why the other great international force, the Catholic Church, has not been able—and will never be able—to attack Industrial Capitalism as a whole and directly, though, as I have said, it acts indirectly as a solvent of this evil and will destroy it wherever society remains Catholic. The Catholic Church, not only in its abstract doctrine, but acting as the expression of our European civilization, is profoundly attached to the conception of private property. It makes the family the unit of the State and it perceives that the freedom of the family is most secure where the family owns. It perceives, as do all Europeans, instinctively or explicitly, that property is the correlative of freedom, or, at any rate, of that only kind of freedom which we Europeans care to have: that it is the safeguard of spiritual health (the mark of which is humour), of breadth and diversity in action, of elasticity in the State, of permanence in institutions. Property, as widely distributed as possible, but sacred as a principle, is an inevitable social accompaniment of Catholicism.

Apart from this, it is also a definite feature of Catholic doctrine to deny that private property is immoral. No Catholic can say that private property is immoral without cutting himself off from the Communion of the Church, any more than he can say that the authority in the State is immoral. He cannot be a communist, in abstract morals any more than he can be an anarchist.

Now Industrial Capitalism is a disease of property. It is the monstrous state of affairs in which a very few men derive their vast advantage from the corresponding fact that most men whom they exploit do not own.

But it remains true that the sheet-anchor of Capitalism is a sense of ownership in the mass as well as in the privileged few. The only moral force remaining to Industrial Capitalism, the only spiritual tie which prevents its dissolution, is this admission by the European mind that property is a right—even property in a diseased and exaggerated form.

The whole of the operations of Industrial Capitalism rely upon the sanctity of property and the sanctity of contract which develops from the sanctity of property. And whenever society loses this sense, industrial capitalism will fall into chaos. The Church cannot deny that one moral principle. Its action will always be towards the dissolution of the great accumulations promoted by capitalism. It always will work indirectly for the establishment of well-divided property, an ideal defined by the voice of its great modern Pope, Leo XIII, who explicitly states it in his Rerum Novarum. But the Church can never take the short cut of destroying Industrial Capitalism root and branch and at once, by erecting against it the doctrine of Communism or (as many people call diluted Communism) “Socialism.” It never can do so in theory, and still less will it ever do so in practice. A Catholic society will always tend to be a society of owners: with all the elements of co-operation, with the Guild, with masses of corporate property attached to the State or connected with the city, with the college, with the corporation. For without such corporate property in a State, property is never well founded.

The Jew has neither that political instinct in his national tradition nor a religious doctrine supporting and expressing such an instinct. The same thing in him which makes him a speculator and a nomad blinds him to, and makes him actually contemptuous of, the European sense of property. When therefore we have reached, through Industrial Capitalism, or any other social disease, a state of affairs in which the practical denial of property is possible because the mass of men have lost the desire for it, and when the repudiation of property offers an immediate solution for intolerable evils, then the Jew can appear at once as a leader.

One must find in such a movement an international leader because the disease is international, and still more because the proposed cure of that disease, through Communism, must be international if it is to succeed. A Communist society may stand apart from the general society of owners in other countries, but if it is to succeed in competition with them it must convert them to its own creed.

The Jew took international action for granted. He took the narrow and false economic view of property—that it was a mere institution to be modified indefinitely, and, if necessary, abolished. He had an obvious opportunity for leadership accorded to him when international action against property was demanded. Again, our national sense, patriotism, which is incomprehensible to the Jew save on the false analogy of his own peculiar nomadic and tribal patriotism, is a check upon Communism, and, indeed, against revolution of any kind. The process of thought in the patriotic citizen—largely unconscious but none the less efficacious—is somewhat as follows:

“I cannot function save as a citizen of my nation, and, what is more, that nation made me what I am. It is my creator in a sense and so has authority over me. I must even give up my life in its defence if necessary, because but for its existence I and those like me could not be. My happiness, my freedom of individual action, my self-expression are all bound up with the existence of the civic unit of which I am a part. If something which appears to me good in the abstract, or which apparently will procure for me a material good, involves danger to that civic unit, I must forego the good, regarding the continued existence and strength of my people as a greater good to which the lesser should be sacrificed.”

That, I say roughly, is the expression of the patriotic instinct in the European man. That is what he has felt for many and many a great State in the past and for every polity to which he has ever belonged; that is what he feels to-day for his country.

The Jew has the same feeling, of course, for his Israel, but since that nation is not a collection of human beings, inhabiting one place and living by traditions rooted in its soil, since it has not a strong, visible, external form, his patriotism is necessarily of a different complexion. It has different connotations and our patriotism seems negligible to him.

The implied fallacies current in the modern industrial revolutionary formulæ, in such phrases as “What does it matter to the working man whether he is exploited by a German or an English master?” or, again, “Why should the individual Tom Smith be sacrificed for an abstraction called England?” or again, “Nationalism is the great obstacle to the full development of humanity”—all that sort of thing, which we feel by instinct and can, if it is necessary, prove by reason to be nonsense in our case, sounds, in Jewish ears, as very good sense indeed. For in his case these things involve no fallacies at all; they apply to him vividly and exactly. Why should the Jew be sacrificed for England? In what way is England, or France, or Ireland, or any other nation necessary to him? Again, is it not obvious in his eyes that these terms, “France, Ireland, England, Russia,” are but abstractions? The real thing in his eyes when he thinks of us, is the individual and his certain needs, especially his physical and material needs; because upon these there can be no doubt; upon these all are agreed; these are visible and tangible. “England,” “France,” “Poland” are whimsies.

It is true that if you were to put his special case to the Jew with similar force and say, “No Jew should run any risk for Israel,” “no Jew should suffer any inconvenience by trying to help a fellow Jew in distress,” “the idea of Israel is a vague abstraction—all that counts is the individual Jew and especially his physical requirements”; if you said that sort of thing you would be offending the most profound instincts of Jewish patriotism and you would, in fact, clash with the overt and covert action of the Jews throughout the world. But the Jew would answer that, as his was an international polity, the argument applying to our national polity did not apply to him; that his feelings, though analogous to ours, were of a different kind, and that, at any rate, he cannot sacrifice a fine idea of his like Communism for our provincial and local habit, called by us Europeans “the love of our country.”

There is more than this in the business. Even those truths which we know to be truths have little effect upon us, unless they enter into the practice of our lives. There are, no doubt, a number of Jews who would admit at once the truth of any nationalist statement made by a European. When a Frenchman, or an Englishman, or a Russian says to him, “My first duty is to my people; I must keep them strong as well as in being and I must sacrifice my interests to theirs when it is necessary,” there are many Jews who would answer: “You are quite right. The theory is sound. Man can only function as a part of a particular society,” and so forth; but it is one thing to recognize a truth and another thing to experience it in one’s bones, as it were, and these truths, even where he is admitting them, are truths indifferent to the Jew.

Therefore when, as in the particular case of Russia, a national feeling stood in the way of an abstract ideal, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to the Jew that the national obstacle should go to the wall in order that his ideal of Communism might triumph.

There lay behind this great change in the Russian towns, and the capture of what remains of Russian government by the Jewish Committees, a force most positive. It was the sense of social justice, the indignation against indefensible evils.

That sense of social justice, that indignation against indefensible modern evils, we all feel. There may be men among the wealthier classes of Western Europe who are so ignorant of the past, or so stupid, that they do honestly believe Industrial Capitalism to be an inevitable and even perhaps a good thing. But such men must be very rare. Not only must they be rare, but they cannot have any wide social experience. A man has only got to live the life of the poor in the great industrial cities for a day to see the enormity of the wrong that has to be righted. There are, of course, not a few but many thousands of individuals who try to find arguments for Industrial Capitalism, either because they benefit themselves through the system and are the richer by it, or because they are the hired servants of those who so benefit—and of this kind are the writers in the capitalist press. But all these, who are hired advocates, or advocates with a direct proprietary interest in the continuance of the modern disease, may be neglected; for they are not in good faith. They are not really arguing that the thing is good in itself, they are only trying to find arguments as lawyers do for something which they have to defend and which in their hearts they admit is evil; or to the evil of which they are indifferent so long as it gives them a disproportionate share of material enjoyment.

We must add to these the sincere man who will admit the domination of Industrial Capitalism because he honestly believes that, bad as it is, it is now become inevitable and that to tamper with it would bring the whole State into anarchy. “Such as it is,” he would say, “the structure of our society now depends upon it. We may palliate its evils, we may try very gradually to transform its worst features. But in its essence it must remain as it is, or our last state will be worse than our first.”

Of this kind are those who argue that any social experiment antagonistic to Industrial Capitalism, if pushed sufficiently far, would result in famine and chaos and even physical evils far worse than the physical evils which the mass of men have to suffer in the great towns which capitalism has produced.

Apart from these categories, the masses of men, I say, to-day are convinced that Industrial Capitalism is an evil, an evil of the grossest sort; an evil of a sort unknown to the greater part of human history and unknown to-day in the greater part of the human race; an evil which those peasant societies, or societies of well-divided property throughout Europe, are happy to have escaped; and an evil from which we, who are caught in it, are trying to escape as best we may.

In that modifying phrase “as best we may” lies the crux, for the great mass of Europeans feel that any attack on Industrial Capitalism which denies the nation its supreme place, or which impedes the superior task of keeping the nation strong and wealthy, is barred; they also feel instinctively that any attack which denies the general right of private property and the value of that institution to the healthy conduct of our affairs is also barred. The great mass of our race, when faced by the problem of Industrial Capitalism, feel that it has to be solved in some way that will neither destroy property nor the nation through which the individual alone can function.

But this, which is true of the great mass of our race, is not true of the Jews. Therefore they were able, in the case of the Russian Revolution, to go straight for their object, and that object was (apart from the obvious object of revenge, of love of power, and the rest) the destruction of an economic inequality.

These Jews who have destroyed what we knew as Russia were undoubtedly possessed of a political ideal: the ideal of Communism. No doubt many individuals among them (all ultimately) would prefer the good of Israel to the good of any Russian. No doubt the wreaking of vengeance upon former oppressors was strong, as also the appetite for destroying a general and a national sentiment alien to them and even repulsive to them; but there remains, as a positive motive behind the whole affair, the ideal of Communism. The Jews alone of the forces present were capable of heartily entertaining that ideal, and were free of all obstacles against the achievement of it—the obstacle of patriotism, the obstacle of religion, the obstacle of the sense of property.

These considerations, I take it, are what explains the Jewish character of the upheaval in the East, with its destruction of the Russian nation, its enormous experiments in social economy, its inevitable impoverishment of the State as a whole, its enthusiastic support by the minority which accepts its doctrine.

Those very few men and women who have been witnesses of the Jewish experiment in Russia (excluding those engaged in propaganda upon one side or the other) give us a picture which is much what we should have expected of the situation.

It seems that the great mass of the nation has affirmed the instinct of private property with the greatest vigour, and that some nine-tenths of the Russians have settled down upon the land to which they always claimed ownership and in which their sense of ownership is more fierce than ever. In the towns the unnatural system—unnatural because it opposes all our instincts as Europeans—works more and more slackly as the original system of terror weakens. For it is clear that Communism needs a despot, and the active rule of a despot is necessarily short: it is a system incapable of transition and therefore of duration.

The perfectly explicable but deplorable exercise of vengeance by the Jews has been directed against what we euphemistically term the governing directing classes, who have been massacred wholesale and whose remnants are subjected to perpetual persecution.

The productivity of the industrial masses has naturally sunk to a very low level, because under Communism it can only work through something like military discipline, and work done under those conditions is on a much lower productive level than free work.

But the real interest in the Jewish revolution in Russia, to which is now permanently affixed the name of Bolshevist (which is nothing more than the Russian for “whole-hogger”), lies in these two points: first, the continued propaganda of Communism throughout the world (which propaganda in organization and direction is in the hands of Jewish agents); secondly, and much more important, the effect of the Jewish revolution in producing hostility to the Jews throughout the world.

I say this second fact is much more important because it is the more real and the more enduring. You will never make a Communist of the highly-civilized, tenacious, intelligent and humorous Occidental European. You will no more make a Communist of him than you will make him walk on all fours or permanently abjure the use of good liquor. You may get middle-class faddists to accept Communism as a mere creed, and of course you can easily get exasperated men, ground down by capitalism, to accept any theory, any system, which promises them relief. But you will not get Communism working in men who boast the old European blood, in the descendants of those who created our past and its monuments. They will certainly preserve their traditions and their character. Though the peril must be combated, and is being successfully combated everywhere, it is not a peril of great magnitude to the West.

The other effect of the Jewish revolution in Russia—the peril into which it has put the Jews themselves—is permanent and is of the first magnitude. I know no way to meet it except to explain why that revolution was almost necessarily a Jewish revolution, to emphasize the sincerity of the Jews who have led it, to exculpate them as far as possible, and, at any rate, to shield their unfortunate compatriots abroad from the consequences of what was certainly a very bad piece of tactics so far as the future of this people was concerned.

We ought, I think, not to nourish a new and special hostility against the Jew on account of what he has done in Russia, but, on the contrary, to excuse him, especially because he is a Jew. We ought, as it seems to me, to say: “He had reasons for action and excuse for action which men of our race would not have had, and though we must prevent that action from spreading, we must not allow what seemed quite natural under the circumstances to the Jew to warp our attempted solution of the Jewish problem. We ought to work for its solution as impartially and as soberly as though the provocation of Bolshevism had never been given.”

That sounds an extreme thing to say, and I fear it will be ridiculed by most of those who (as they tell us) have had their eyes opened by the Bolshevist explosion and who are now confirmed enemies of the Jewish people. But though it sound fantastic, I am convinced that it is a right attitude. To lose one’s judgment on a permanent problem through panic or heat, to forget the elements of such a problem merely because it has been presented to us suddenly in an acute form, is the negation of reason. As well might a man who is dealing with the problem of fermented liquor, and trying to get people to use it rationally, let his judgment be overcome by a case of delirium tremens and rush thereupon into some scheme of prohibition. The very test which distinguishes good statesmanship from bad is the power to keep one’s head under provocations like these; to maintain a middle course and to aim at whatever solution our reason tells us to be just under normal circumstances. We who saw the gravity of the Jewish problem long before the recognition of it was general, and who studied it under calmer conditions for many years, have a right to be heard now: now that the tide is making against these people and that the fear of anarchy threatens to turn men’s heads.

We were long blamed for attacking the Jews, we are already blamed for defending them. It is a proof that our attitude is well grounded and unaffected by fashion.

The Bolshevist revolution will not last. Its Jewish character was inevitable. It had a side to it of Jewish enthusiasm for a sort of incorporeal justice, and, in any case, it ought not to be allowed to deflect us from a conclusion which the much larger lines of history and all general considerations of reason impose.

Our conclusion, as I have said, is a recognition and protection of the Jewish nation as something quite different from ourselves and yet necessarily inhabiting our society. Such a full recognition leaves us fore-armed against the tendency in the Jew (which we cannot avoid) to forget our national feelings and to misconceive our sense of ownership. It would render impossible the conspiracies and the vengeance which have destroyed Russia, and I believe that had the former Russian Government treated the Jews as I say they should be treated, it would be in power today.

(Continue to Chapter 9: The Position in the World As a Whole)

Raised in a home filled with books on Western civilization, P.G. Mantel became a lover of history at an early age. An amateur writer of verse, he makes himself useful as an editor for Men of the West.

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