Helsingfors Program - The Helsingfors program of
the Helsingfors (Helsinki) Congress of 1906
was prepared by Russian Zionist groups meeting in the shadow of the Kishinev Pogrom
of 1903 and subsequent Pogroms,
particularly, the 1906 Bialystok pogrom, and the worsening Russian political
situation following the aborted 1905 revolution, as well as the death of
Theodor Herzl and the failure of the "Uganda Plan" and other schemes of Territorial Zionism.
The Jews of Russia could sense that they were increasingly trapped and
powerless, and the Zionists understood that there was no future for them in
general socialist revolution, but a powerless organization could not offer any
Helsingfors was in fact the third "All Russian" congress of Zionist
organizations. Indicative of the status of the Russian Zionist movement, the meeting
took place in Helsinki Finland because political meetings in Russia were
virtually impossible. The program is often associated with
Ze'ev (Valdimir) Jabotinsky, though he was only one of its framers.
Jabotinsky stood out as an eloquent advocate there:
"this resolution was
passed mainly through the compelling arguments of twenty-six-year-old
Jabotinsky! He dominated the assembly, and Weizmann called him “the boy
The Helsingfors program reflected a great many different trends in Zionism as well as the harsh reality of a movement that was powerless to implement its program and had no political rights.
It would be a mistake to attempt to summarize the program in a single sentence,
but many summaries have made precisely that mistake. Several contradictory ideas
were born in Helsingfors, some more successful than others:
1 - Synthetic Zionism
is said to have been born there - the idea that Zionism required both a
political charter and settlement on the land, and that the latter should not
wait for the former. International recognition would come on the basis of Aliya
(immigration) practical work and settlement. Since the Second Aliya
had already started, the program was expressing a reality in the Zionist
movement as much as it was calling for action.
2. Work in the present or "Gegenswartarbeit." This
was a useful, attractive and seductive fiction in retrospect. It was an
attempt to implement the Cultural Zionism
of Achad Haam.
The principal proponent of this idea was Isaac Gruenbaum. He
submitted the following formulation: Zionism opposes the Exile (galut), but does
not oppose the
The idea was to provide a rational for political work
in advancing the rights and improving the conditions of the Jews in Russia,
rather than simply organizing for immigration to Palestine. The background of
this idea, which in the end proved to be tragically sterile in many aspects, was
understandable. The Jews of greater Russia were subject to the influence of the Bund,
Socialist organizations and others. Their conditions were desperate. Zionism
offered no practical immediate salvation, since mass immigration to Ottoman
Palestine was impossible. It was imperative that Zionism provide a political
program for the present, that would allow Zionists to build a political
organization. At the same time, an alternative had to be provided to the totally
Russian secular culture offered by assimilationists and radical socialists, the
religious framework of rabbinical Judaism which did not suit Jews for practical
life in a modern society, and the Yiddish education and culture of the Bund
and others. Both
Ze'ev (Valdimir) Jabotinsky
and Leo Motzkin spoke out on behalf of this idea.
The "work in the present" resolution was based on Paragraph Two of
the 1897 Basle Program:
"The organization and binding together of the whole of Jewry
by means of appropriate institutions, both local and international, in
accordance with laws of each country."
Meant to be the basis of Zionist political
organization, this was reinterpreted as a directive to
Zionists to organize the Jewish masses in the Diaspora as a national minority
and lead them, in the Zionist spirit, in their daily life. The conference found
itself stating and perhaps believing
that such activity would "strengthen Diaspora Jewry and provide it with new
cultural, material, and political means in its struggle for the creation of a
sound national life in Eretz Israel."
The political program included the following:
1. Full democratization of the regime according
to the principles of parliamentary democracy, autonomy of the national
territories and guaranteed legal rights for all minority peoples.
2. Full and unconditional (civil and national)
rights to the Jewish population.
3. Representation of all national minorities in
federal, regional and local elections that shall be conducted by secret
ballot. The right to vote shall be extended to women.
4. Recognition of the Jewish people in Russia as
a single political entity entitled to govern itself in matters of national
5. A national assembly of Russian Jews shall be
convened for the purpose of forming the basic structure of a national
6. Jews shall have the right to use the national
language (Hebrew) and the spoken language (Yiddish) in the schools, courts
and public life.
7. Jews shall have the right to observe the
Sabbath on Saturday instead of Sunday. This right shall be guaranteed
without regard to geographic location...
Source: Judische Runschau 22 (June 8, 1917) pp.
190-193. Trans. and excerpted by R. Weiss and P. Mendes-Flohr. Quoted in The
Jew in the modern world: a documentary history, By Paul R. Mendes-Flohr and
Jehuda Reinharz, Oxford Univ Press 1995, pp 423-424.
This was a bow to
strange doctrine that had developed in the special conditions of Russia and the
Austro-Hungarian empire, and made sense in entities like Austria or the
Russian Empire, that, contrary to modern nation states, were composed of many
nationalities. The principle was that nationality, like religion, was a matter
of personal preference rather than political significance and should be given
expression in autonomous organization of national minorities within political
structures like Austro-Hungary or Russia. A proponent of this idea, if not an
originator, was the Austrian socialist Karl Renner. It attracted Jewish
intellectuals like Chaim Zhitlowsky and Simon Dubnow.
By anyone familiar with conditions in Eastern Europe,
the program of autonomism in general, and in particular the program of the
Helsingfors congress could charitably be characterized as wishful thinking.
Russia was not going to allow national self-expression for anyone except
Russians. and Austria, stripped of her empire, would become rabidly nationalist.
Polish patriots viewed separatist aspirations of Jews as disloyal. Greenbaum
went on to help found a political faction in the Polish Sejm after WW I, and
came on aliya in 1933. His fellow Polish Jews were less fortunate. The basis of
Zionist ideology was supposedly that faith in liberal progress would be
disappointed in Europe and there was no future for the Jews there, so this
political program, unlike the program of Zionist cultural work and organization,
was simply a hypocritical concession to political reality.
The resolutions were based on a non-existent vision
of Russia: a liberalized, democratic
Russia with autonomous rights for its non-Russian peoples. This was in line with
national ferment of other minority groups. This hypothetical utopia, which was a
constant mirage in the disatance for Russian Jewry until after World War II,
would include the
Jewish people, which, through a comprehensive organizational framework, would
exercise its political rights and its cultural, educational, and, even administrative autonomy both in Hebrew and Yiddish.
A bastardized parody of these ideas was implemented in Stalin's cynical
nationalities policy, which liquidated whole peoples, and attempted at one
point, to herd Jews into the desolation of the Birobidjan
autonomous regionc, where Jews could speak Russified Yiddish, but not Hebrew.
On the one hand, the
implementation of the gegenwartarbeit program, along with the adoption of Cultural Zionism would
help to bring Zionism into direct political contact with the Jewish masses, and
help to serve what they perceived as their needs - education and rights in the
countries of the Diaspora. This also engendered modernized Hebrew secular
education and participation in national political life in countries like Poland.
On the other hand, "gegenwartarbeit" became for many
an excuse for procrastinating
the wrenching step of aliya
to Palestine. In Poland in particular, a great deal of Zionist activity
came to look somewhat like the "Doigkeit" (here-ness) doctrine of the Bund.
It was much more comfortable, convenient and "important" to pontificate about
Zionism in Germany or Poland, to have political parties, to make fine speeches
and "organize" masses of Jews in fairly comfortable circumstances, than to break
rocks in barren farmland in the Jezreel valley. The
movement which encouraged actual
had to fight against the complacency and inertia of local Zionist establishment
leaders, who often hid their distaste for Aliya behind the slogan of
Gegenswartarbeit. The tragic end of the Jews of Eastern Europe,
including most of the Zionists who were "not opposed to the Diaspora"
needs no elaboration - most perished in the Holocaust.
In Russia itself of course, nothing came of the fine
and meticulous preparatory work and impeccably intellectual arguments of the
Zionist intellectuals. The utopian vision danced across the screen of history
for a few brief months in 1917 and thereafter, before Zionist political action -
as well as Bundist organization - became impossible and only the nationalism of
was still allowed to flourish for a time.
September 21, 2009
Synonyms and alternate spellings:
Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:
'H - ('het) a guttural sound
made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that
have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch,
especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.
ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch"
in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against
the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."
u - usually between oo as in spoon
and u as in put.
a- sounded like a in arm
ah- used to represent an a sound made by
the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative
'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic
ayin, a guttural ah sound.
o - close to the French o as in homme.
th - (taf without a dot) - Th was
formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there
is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and
Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.
q- (quf) - In transliteration of
Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding
words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for