July 19, 2019


The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann 

January 1905 – December 1906

Volume IV, Series A

Introduction: Camillo Dresner

General Editor Meyer W. Weisgal, Volume Editor  Camillo Dresner and Barnet Litvinoff, Oxford University Press, London and Israel Universities Press, Jerusalem, 1973

[Reprinted with express permission from the Weizmann Archives, Rehovot, Israel, 

by the Center for Israel Education www.israeled.org.]

The fourth volume of the Weizmann Letters embraces the years 1905-06, a period of social and political upheaval in Russia. For East European Jewry, new hopes born from the first Russian Revolution remained unfulfilled, while a renewal of widespread pogroms caused immense suffering and impoverishment.

For Zionism the period marked the climax of the East Africa controversy. The Zionei-Zion, who under Menahem Ussishkin recognised Palestine as the exclusive goal of Jewish national aspirations, imposed their position upon the Seventh Congress in 1905. As a consequence a minority seceded from the movement and formed the Jewish Territorial Organization (I.T.O.).

Weizmann’s Zionist activities were necessarily limited during these years. His move to Manchester University withdrew him from the familiar Zionist atmosphere of his Switzerland past and brought him to a country where his adaptation would take time, and to a city remote from the centre of Jewish life and of the Zionist world. He was in any event out of harmony with the conditions obtaining in the movement and, furthermore, had become more fully absorbed in his scientific work. He also suffered from a feeling of personal isolation which was only ended when he married Vera Khatzman in August 1906.

Gradually, however, he returned to Zionist affairs. By the end of the period covered in this volume, the beginnings from which his leadership of British Zionism and the world organization eventually grew are already in evidence.

Professional advancement was, naturally, his earliest preoccupation upon arrival in England, and this was reinforced by the situation within Zionism. Writing early in 1905 to Martin Buber, who was contemplating a resumption of Zionist work, Weizmann stated that he had become ‘pessimistic about political objectives’ since the Greater Actions Committee meeting in Vienna the previous summer.

His initial achievements at Manchester University made him confident of rapid academic progress. He had begun his work in organic chemistry as a research student without pay, but in January, 1905, was appointed Research Fellow. The opportunity to deliver lectures afforded by the head of his department, Prof. William Perkin, only six months after Weizmann’s arrival in England when he was not yet proficient in the language, proved a considerable challenge. His debut was encouraging, prompting this comment to Vera Khatzman: ‘My Saturday lecture was a great success… At the end of the lecture the students gave me an ovation. They were delighted. I was, of course, in seventh heaven. Perkin is also very pleased.’ That same summer Perkin informed him of his promotion to the post of Demonstrator, assistant to the departmental head and supervisor of students’ work in the organic chemistry laboratory. Towards the end of the year the possibility also arose that the post of laboratory head might fall vacant, but this did not eventuate and his optimism concerning possible advancement to a professorship turned out to be premature. He did not become a Senior Lecturer until 1907.

Because of the inadequate remuneration given a part-time Faculty member, he undertook work during the academic recesses as a research chemist in the Clayton Aniline Company, work that failed to capture his interest. As he put it to his fiancée: ‘Generally speaking, science suffers a terrible degradation when every experiment is considered from the financial standpoint and the finest reactions are despised if they have no “technical,” that is “commercial,” significance. I feel dreadfully uncomfortable…’ And again, ‘I am not made for technical work; it hasn’t taken me long, at close quarters, to develop an aversion to it.’

The abrupt transformation of his style of life was painful for Weizmann. Explaining to Vera the recurringly despondent note in his letters, he wrote: ‘I feel that the true reason lies in the fact that I used to be concerned exclusively with scholars and students, people untouched by life. I saw the “real world” only when I was on the road, conducting propaganda. All is changed now. Everything I see around me is “real,” and…dreary…’ As for England itself, it was a grievous disappointment. He described the country in his letters as materialist and ‘money-making,’ with only a thin veneer of ‘respectability.’

Even more biting was Weizmann’s criticism of Jewish life in England. There was ‘none of that poetical tone perceptible in Russian Jewry.’ This community seemed, in contrast, poor in intellectual forces, crude, and materialistic.

Local Zionism, too, he regarded as marked by superficiality and empty rhetoric; its adherents came mainly from the ranks of penurious Jewish immigrants and were represented by leaders for whom Zionism was a pastime. Accustomed as he was to deep spiritual identification with his Zionist work, Weizmann recoiled from this sort of Zionism. His adversaries regarded him as a ‘first-class fanatic,’ whose knowledge of Yiddish enabled him to speak to the hearts of the poorer elements that were bewitched by the magic of the word ‘Jerusalem’ and unmoved by logical analysis.

His feeling of alienation found expression in reluctance to contemplate permanent residence in England and a desire to emigrate to Palestine after obtaining his professorship. Upon returning from the Seventh Congress he wrote to Ussishkin: ‘I am in a state of depression. I would like to go to Palestine; I am ready to drop everything and leave… ‘ It was the events in Russia at the end of 1905 that finally jolted him out of his introspection.

 At the turn of the century Manchester Jewry numbered nearly 30,000. The community had increased rapidly in the second half of the nineteenth century with the arrival of newcomers from Germany and Eastern Europe. While many of those of German extraction took no part in communal life and sought to assimilate, the majority of the East Europeans preserved their Jewish identity and affected the character of the Cheetham district, where they congregated. The expansion of the community strengthened its sense of independence from the Anglo-Jewish leadership in London. In spite of the general ignorance of Zionist affairs, Weizmann discerned a feeling of Jewish affinity in Manchester.

In January, 1905, he was elected a delegate of the Manchester Zionist Association to the Annual Conference of the English Zionist Federation held in Leeds, and there he pursued a critical line against the Anglo-Zionist leadership. The Executive of the Federation presented a report stressing its action on behalf of Jewish immigrants from Russia and its struggle against the Aliens Bill then before Parliament. With regard to East Africa, it stated that the project should not be dismissed out of hand if the findings of the survey expedition proved favourable. Weizmann opposed the attempt to give what he saw as an official Zionist stamp to relief activities. He declared that welfare work for the immigrants had nothing to do with Zionism as such, while the Aliens Bill had to be fought by Anglo-Jewry as a whole.

Weizmann professed satisfaction with his first appearance on a national Zionist platform. He found that the leaders of Zionism in England regarded him as a factor to be reckoned with. ‘Greenberg and Cowen are wooing me,’ he wrote Vera. ‘They covered me with praise and nominated me for the Executive Committee of the party in England, and I was elected unanimously.’ His success kindled his hopes for future activity. ‘I…was elected to the Federation Committee,’ he informed Ussishkin, ‘which will enable me to have a direct influence on the course of affairs […] we can have groups everywhere, with the nomination of our own delegates.’

English Zionism was divided by opposing viewpoints over the East Africa project, and by personality conflicts. The rival camps were centered on Leopold Greenberg and Joseph Cowen on the one hand and Moses Gaster on the other. Greenberg and Cowen had been closely associated with Herzl. Greenberg served as his liaison with the British Foreign Office on the East Africa proposal and was identified with that proposal more than any other leader. He was also the moving spirit in the dispatch and financing of the expedition to East Africa. Gaster, who held an influential position in Jewish public life in England, had joined Herzl prior to the First Congress and was one of the founders of the English Zionist Federation. During the East Africa debate he was one of the strongest and most uncompromising opponents of the plan, thus aggravating his personal differences with Greenberg and Cowen. After Herzl’s death, Gaster correlated his opposition to the East Africa project with a demand for radical change in the Zionist leadership, beginning with the removal of Greenberg and Cowen. In the meantime he himself withdrew from Zionist activity.

Weizmann had apparently become acquainted with Gaster at the Third Congress (1899), where both were elected to the Cultural Commission. Their association, renewed during Weizmann’s visit to England in the autumn of 1903, became closer when Weizmann settled in England; and although at first he indicated a desire not to become involved in the internal struggles of British Zionism, it was evident that he gave his support to Gaster, who was ‘above petty political intrigue’ and who was the outstanding figure around whom the opponents of the East Africa plan could rally.

The principal clash between supporters and opponents of the project, the so-called ‘Yea-sayers’ and ‘Nay-sayers,’ went on within Russian Zionism, which elected most of the delegates to the Congress. A conference of the Russian Zionei-Zion, led by Ussishkin, was held in Vilna in mid-January, 1905. Along with its decision in principle to reject the East Africa proposal in whatever form it would take at the Seventh Congress, the conference resolved on support of only such candidates for election as were identified with its stance. It also determined upon a programme of cultural activities in Palestine, including the initiative to establish a secondary school. Though Weizmann did not go to Vilna, he was elected to two sub-committees set up to deal with cultural work in Palestine. He was also delegated to lead Zionei-Zion propaganda in Great Britain.

The central office of Zionei-Zion, which the conference set up in Vilna, did not limit its activity to Russian Zionism. Contacts with a view to common action were established with individuals and groups in Western Europe and the United States. At Berthold Feiwel’s initiative a Zionei-Zion group, consisting mostly of former members of the Democratic Fraction, was also formed in Berlin to work in concert with the Russian parent body. Weizmann was among the signatories of the group’s manifesto.

The East Africa expedition submitted its conclusions to the Greater Actions Committee in mid-May. The consensus of opinion was that the area offered was unfit for Jewish settlement; it was on this basis that the G.A.C. resolved unanimously to recommend to Congress the rejection of the East Africa proposal.

The G.A.C. resolution failed however to put an end to the great debate, which had in the meantime developed into a broad theoretical discussion of the link between Palestine and Zionism. The Nay-saying camp was unanimous in rejecting Jewish colonization outside Palestine and neighboring countries (although they were not united on the method of conducting propaganda against the opposition). The `Yea-sayers’, though united on the need for some territorial settlement, were divided in their attitude to Palestine.

The most extreme `Territorialists’ repudiated any link in principle between Zionism and Palestine. The aim of Zionism, they claimed, was to acquire an undeveloped territory, exercise autonomous political rights there, and build up a free Jewish society.

The more moderate `Ugandists’ conceived Palestine as the ultimate objective of Zionism. Emphasizing their fidelity to the political Zionism created by Herzl, they inclined towards an interim solution until the acquisition of legally secured national rights from Turkey became possible.

Weizmann, sharing the Zionei-Zion view, felt that both groups should be vigorously opposed. He advocated an amendment to the statutes of the Zionist Organization which would deny all Territorialists membership in the movement and the right to purchase the Shekel, i.e., the Zionist suffrage. Expressing his views to Buber, he stated: ‘One ought to influence the elections, one ought to bring pressure on the A.C. through the Press, to issue a statement proclaiming the exclusion from the Congress of all so-called “Territorialists” as unconstitutional elements, even though they had the perfidy to smuggle themselves into the Party by way of a Shekel.’

At the end of April, 1905, with the approach of elections to the Seventh Congress, the Zionei-Zion held a meeting in England and set up a framework within which they would conduct their campaign. Weizmann joined the expanded committee formed at the meeting, though not without private reservation: ‘Not to join meant remaining outside, in a difficult isolated position. To join meant temporary association with people, who, with very few exceptions, have little in common with me.’

Letters which Weizmann wrote Ussishkin and Ben-Zion Mossinson in that period sounded a defensive note in regard to the limited scope of his activity. In fact, Weizmann’s public appearances in the subsequent six weeks were limited to lecture engagements and participation in debates on the East Africa project. In June he took part in the semi-annual conference of the English Zionist Federation, and brought about a short-lived reconciliation between Gaster and Greenberg.

The Zionei-Zion in England made appreciable gains in the Congress elections. They scored a resounding victory in Manchester, where Weizmann was elected by the local Zionist Association, and they gained ground in the provincial centres.

The Zionei-Zion of all countries went to the Congress in Basle fully determined to exploit their organizational and numerical advantage to the utmost. They had held a party caucus at Freiburg a few days earlier to formulate motions for presentation to Congress as representing the majority view.

The resolutions of this Freiburg conference rejected, both as an ideological objective and as a practical measure, all colonization beyond the limits of Palestine and adjoining territories, and stressed that only those accepting the Basle Programme could be recognized as members of the Zionist Organization. Weizmann was elected to the secretariat of the conference.

The Seventh Congress had to decide on two matters of far-reaching importance: election of a new leadership and the East Africa project. Herzl’s death in July 1904 had left a vacuum, and there was general agreement within the movement that his distinctively personal style of leadership with its mystique was bound to disappear. Moreover, his tendency to hold all political reins in his own hands without consulting the G.A.C. had raised demands for a collective leadership comprising the outstanding figures and reflecting the main trends of Zionism. While Max Nordau’s refusal of the presidency of the Organization paved the way for David Wolffsohn’s election, the Smaller Actions Committee (S.A.C.) elected at the Seventh Congress constituted a balance between the two principal trends in the movement. The adherents of Herzl’s doctrine of ‘political’ Zionism were represented by Greenberg, Jacobus Kann and Alexander Marmorek, while Otto Warburg, Ussishkin, and Jacob Bernstein-Kohan were identified with ‘practical’ Zionism.

An Extraordinary Congress on East Africa preceded the Congress proper. This began with Warburg’s account of the expedition’s findings and the G.A.C.’s decision to recommend rejection of the British Government’s proposal.

Israel Zangwill, opening the debate, defended the moderate attitude of the ‘political’ Zionists who sought to retain the political value deriving from the British offer, and tried to steer the argument away from a choice between East Africa and Palestine. The extremist Territorialist attitude, represented by the Territorialist-Socialist wing, led by Nahman Syrkin, emphasized the social nature of the Jewish question and the need for an urgent solution to the plight of the Jewish masses in Eastern Europe.

Yehiel Tschlenow, leading exponent of the Zionez-Zion position, asserted that the immediate aim of Zionism was the creation of a centre for the Jewish people, but only in their historic homeland. The Zionist movement was in duty bound to combine political measures for the attainment of Palestine with practical work in the country itself.

Finally, the Congress by a large majority adopted this stand, which with minor amendments corresponded to the Freiburg decisions. Zangwill then tried to impugn the constitutionality of the Congress verdict, alleging that it ran counter to the statutes of the Jewish Colonial Trust. Nordau, however, refused from the presidium to permit Zangwill to develop his motion. The defeated minority thereupon seceded and founded the Jewish Territorial Organization, electing Zangwill as its president.

Weizmann did not address the plenary session, but played an active part in the caucuses held during the period of the Congress. He was elected by the British delegation to the Standing Committee, and was also elected, for the first time, to the G.A.C.

Controversy was not stilled with the formation of the I.T.O. The new movement recorded some preliminary achievements in a number of countries, especially England. Within the Zionist movement itself there was post-factum criticism of the Congress decision, which was interpreted as a deviation from Herzl’s political Zionism.

Zangwill sought to revive negotiations with the British Government, but the latter, which had in any event been seeking a pretext to free itself of its commitment to the Zionist Organization, was unresponsive, citing the Congress’s decision. Despite its initial success in establishing branches in various countries, the I.T.O. failed completely in its attempt to obtain a territory for settlement.

The events in Russia drove the debate with the Territorialists into the background. The revolutionary crisis, which had become increasingly grave after the workers’ demonstration in St. Petersburg in January, 1905, reached its peak in October of that year with the spread of a general strike throughout the Empire. Tsar Nicholas II’s proclamation promising a constitutional monarchy, fundamental civil rights and the extension of the right of suffrage to the Imperial Duma, failed to assuage the rebellious elements. The Jews were the principal victims of the extremist right-wing nationalist gangs, organized at the initiative and with the encouragement of the government and the secret police. At the end of October and beginning of November pogroms broke out in hundreds of localities throughout Russia, 876 persons were murdered and 1,700 injured.

As these events unfolded Weizmann hoped that the anticipated revolution would result in tremendous upheaval ‘in that half-rotten organism’ of Russia. But he was seized by profound anxiety lest Russian Jewry pay a heavy price for the revolution. Following the St. Petersburg demonstration he had written his fiancee: ‘I am horror-stricken by the realization that […] torrents of Jewish blood will also flow.’ And after the pogroms in Zhitomir and Brest-Litovsk in the summer of 1905 had justified his fears he wrote: ‘The period of Russian revival will be written into Russian history in Jewish blood.’ The courageous Jewish defense in these cities he described as ‘the only consolation, if consolation is indeed possible.’

In October, 1905, hope spread that the Revolution would succeed and a constitutional regime emerge, bringing with it a declaration of equal rights for the Jews. Weizmann had wondered what type of Jewish life would ensue. He predicted a period of assimilation as inevitable among Russian Jewry, but felt that ‘the Zionist cause can only benefit when the period of anarchy is over.’ 

The disturbances that immediately followed caused his optimistic mood to dissipate. There is anguish, confusion and helplessness in Weizmann’s letters written under the impact of the news: ‘It hurts so much! Again and again, thousands slain, thousands wounded, groans, weeping and wailing. And such helplessness! And why did fate put us in such a situation that all we can do is observe from afar! […] I am terrified.’

It was this separation from ‘our dear ones and from the people shedding their blood…’ that was most distressing to Weizmann. He had an urge to go to Russia. ‘I don’t know what I would do there, but I must.’ He repeated this sentiment to Gaster, adding: `It is painful, and a terrible irony, to be teaching chemistry to “Goyim” now, and I laugh with derision at myself!’ 

The bloodshed in Russia aroused a storm of protest in Western European and American Jewry. Meetings in the United Kingdom were attended by leading public figures and Church dignitaries, and fund-raising campaigns were inaugurated. However, within Anglo-Jewry differences arose over the method of conducting pro tests and the nature of the aid to be extended to Russian Jewry. A public declaration signed by several Anglo-Jewish leaders emphasized material aid, provided it was not used to foster Jewish emigration to England. The statement aroused a public outcry. Zionist circles saw it as an endorsement of the Aliens Act by the Jewish leadership, and Weizmann was particularly incensed.

In January, 1906, the historic meeting between Weizmann and

Arthur James Balfour took place in Manchester. They had first made each other’s acquaintance in January, 1905, through Charles Dreyfus, managing director of the Clayton Aniline Company and president of the Manchester Zionist Association, a man whose influence with Conservative politicians Weizmann considered to be useful to the Zionei-Zion cause. Indeed, Weizmann’s main reason for seeking contact at the time with British statesmen was his desire to offset the position Greenberg had acquired at the Foreign Office thanks to the East Africa negotiations.

Balfour was now in Manchester for the General Election campaign, his government having been replaced the month before by a Liberal administration. According to the brief account which Weizmann sent Vera Khatzman, the discussion between them turned on the possibility of the Zionists acquiring Palestine and on the question of Territorialism. Balfour, he wrote, did not foresee political difficulties in realizing Zionist aspirations in Palestine, only economic ones. Weizmann, on his part, explained to Balfour the reasons for the Zionei-Zion opposition to Territorialism, and undertook to give him a memorandum on the subject. This, however, was never sent and their next meeting took place eight years later.

In view of the role subsequently played by Balfour in the realization of the Zionist idea, this conversation was to acquire a special significance. Both Balfour and Weizmann recalled it on several occasions. Weizmann’s personality and his exposition of the Jewish bond with Palestine had undoubtedly strongly impressed the future Foreign Secretary.

With the suppression of the armed rising in Moscow and the general strike, the fate of the Russian revolution was in effect sealed by the close of 1905. The struggle now entered the arena of elections to the first Imperial Duma, due to take place in April, 1906. Simultaneously, conflicting aspirations began to develop within Russian Jewry: on the one hand there was a greater urge towards emigration; on the other, hopes persisted for constitutional changes that would lead to equal civil and perhaps national rights for the Jews.

In the wake of the pogroms, the S.A.C. initiated a conference with the participation of non-Zionist organizations, in order to discuss the position of Russian Jewry and to consult on methods of organizing emigration. Some of these bodies declined to attend, fearing that the conference might assume a Zionist character. The assembly took place in Brussels at the end of January, but without concrete results.

Weizmann was unable to participate, as his hands had been injured in a laboratory mishap. Initially he had supported the intentions of the conference, but subsequently he dismissed it as insignificant. Writing to Judah L. Magnes, he asserted that cooperation with ‘partly or wholly assimilated bodies’ would harm Zionism and cause it to surrender its moral strength. He saw the conference as `a sterile attempt to travel together with those people in a great and distressing issue. […] It is lamentable that we always snatch at paper successes without plunging into the main task.’

He defined this task in a letter to Mossinson in July, 1906. ‘The only thing is to work for Palestine.’ Writing to Ussishkin some   weeks after the 1905 Congress he had stated that ‘the most important period now begins—work, mostly work in Palestine. This of course is to all intents in the hands of the Smaller A.C., and it would be very interesting to know where it will begin.’

The reports on the emigration to Palestine—the ‘Second Aliyah’ —which had already begun in 1904, inspired Weizmann with a feeling that the Zionist undertaking was truly on the road to fulfillment. `The number of Jews in Palestine increases week by week. We, the Party, must now take charge of affairs;’ he wrote to Magnes in New York.

But what was the actual significance of practical work? The resolution adopted by the Congress was an amended version of the Freiburg decision. The amendment had been moved by Marmorek, on behalf of the ‘political’ Zionists, and the text as submitted to Congress was a joint motion by him and Ussishkin. The decision dwelt on the need for the systematic consolidation of Zionist positions in Palestine, to be implemented simultaneously with political-diplomatic action, and to be effected by the following means: comprehensive research; the advancement of agriculture, industry, etc., on a democratic basis; the cultural and economic organization of Palestine Jews and the raising of their level by an infusion of intellectual forces; the introduction of administrative and legal reforms. The last clause of the decision rejected all unsystematic and so-called ‘philanthropic’ small-scale colonization.

However, differences concerning the application of these principles soon became apparent—most acutely at the Annual Conference at Cologne in August, 1906, over Ussishkin’s proposal to establish a mortgage bank and a land-purchase fund out of the resources of the Jewish National Fund. Marmorek opposed this, as well as the activities of the Commission for the Investigation of Palestine, on the grounds that the National Fund had not been set up to found commercial enterprises.

Weizmann’s participation in the debate at the Annual Conference proved a milestone in his Zionist activity, marking him as an outstanding spokesman for ‘practical’ Zionism. He effectively deflected the discussion to a debate on the reciprocal relationship between political action and practical work, both of which he saw as necessary to Zionism. But whereas it was difficult to gauge the importance of political activity, practical work was there to be done and had an immediate, positive value. Diplomacy alone was insufficient. It had to rely on the power created by achievements in the sphere of practical work. And practical work would buttress the power of the Zionist movement among the Jewish masses.

Weizmann’s importance in English Zionism also began to grow. In the final months of 1906 he was the force behind a change in the leadership of the E.Z.F. Gaster was elected president of the Federation at its Birmingham Conference in February, 1907, with Weizmann himself a vice-president. He had at last ceased to be an impotent spectator in the affairs both of the World Zionist Organization and the British Zionist movement.

CAMILLO DRESNER