Ẓe'irei Zion

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ẒE'IREI ZION (Heb. צְעִירֵי צִיּוֹן, "Young Men of Zion"), Zionist and moderate socialist labor movement, active mainly in Russia. The movement dates from approximately 1903, although its ideological roots go back to previous theories, as e.g., those of Nachman *Syrkin and even Moses *Hess. The year 1903 was one of traumatic experiences and reevaluations in Jewish and Zionist history. The hopes of achieving charter rights to settle Ereẓ Israel were dashed; the *Uganda Scheme controversy led to the secession of the *Territorialists from the Zionist movement and the consolidation of the opposition to *Herzl (the Ẓiyyonei Zion); the outbreak of the *Kishinev pogrom (1903) had a shock effect on the Jewish people and brought many to realize the urgency of the Zionist solution.

Against this background and the existence of an expanding revolutionary movement, Ẓe'irei Zion groups began to emerge almost simultaneously throughout Russia. In the beginning they had neither a formal program nor a socialist "scientific basis," but an unwritten platform was common to all these groups: practical, constructive Zionism based on personal fulfillment through aliyah, pioneering, the use of Hebrew, support for the interests of the working masses, participation in the struggle to liberate Russia from czarist autocracy, participation in the struggle for equal rights and national autonomy for the Jews of Russia, the organization of self-defense, and socialist aspirations. The movement's approach to socialism and Zionism is best explained by the statements of Yosef *Sprinzak and Syrkin. The former stated: "We are socialists for the future. With the creation of an independent… new reality in Ereẓ Israel, it will be possible for us to be socialists." In the words of Syrkin: "The ways and means of realizing Zionism are different from those of any other movement of national liberation, which depends on the political power of the oppressed classes, for the Zionist movement must first create the economic power which will then be transformed into political power."

Ẓe'irei Zion devoted itself from the start to practical activities – from collecting funds in *Jewish National Fund boxes to personal fulfillment through aliyah. Members of the movement filled the ranks of the Second Aliyah, bringing with them the values of self-labor, collective and cooperative settlement, equality, mutual aid, defense, etc. The settlement in Ereẓ Israel of a Ẓe'irei Zion group from Homel in 1904 is generally regarded as the beginning of the Second Aliyah. Their arrival coincided with the first signs indicating that the Uganda Scheme crisis – emigration from Ereẓ Israel and suspension of settlement work – was wearing off, and they played a vital role in improving the mood in the yishuv. Together with workers who arrived before them, they organized the Histadrut ha-Po'alim ha-Ẓe'irim be-Ereẓ Israel, which became the *Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir Party in October 1905.

Ẓe'irei Zion continued its activities in the Diaspora, mainly in Russia (including Poland and Lithuania). *He-Ḥalutz was founded in Odessa in 1905, and in 1906 a conference of the Bilu'im Ḥadashim (an organization founded by Ẓe'irei Zion in response to Josef *Vitkin's historic call for aliyah) was held. The program of the Bilu'im Ḥadashim was very similar to that of the U.S. He-Ḥalutz founded during World War i by David *Ben-Gurion and Izhak *Ben-Zvi and that of the all-Russian He-Ḥalutz established on Joseph *Trumpeldor's initiative after World War i. The alliance between Ẓe'irei Zion and He-Ḥalutz reached its high point during the time of the Third Aliyah.

The Ẓe'irei Zion movement continued to grow without a formal program, but a center was established in 1905 in Kishinev, where a large and powerful local society existed. In the same year, a countrywide conference was held with the aim of consolidating the movement organizationally and ideologically. The latter goal was not realized, however, until the second conference in Kishinev (1906) adopted the Kishinev Program in the following terms: Zionism strives for the renaissance of the Jewish people in Ereẓ Israel; Zionism is borne by working masses; the main motivating forces in Zionism are economic, cultural, and national-political; the concentration of the masses of the Jewish people in their homeland until they constitute a majority there and normal conditions for their free and independent development are created is the solution to the Jewish problem.

In 1910 a Russian-Polish conference of Ẓe'irei Zion took place in Lodz. Like all its predecessors, this meeting was illegal, but unlike them it was discovered by the czarist police and most of the delegates were arrested. Despite the arrests, or perhaps because of them, the conference strengthened the movement by ideological clarification (in the spirit of Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir) and organizational consolidation. In 1912 an all-Russian conference was held in Minsk. On its agenda were organizational questions, aliyah, He-Ḥalutz, and hakhsharah, and the convening of a world conference, which was to be held in Vienna in August 1913 to coincide with the 11th Zionist Congress. This meeting of 56 participants in the Zionist Congress (30 from Ẓe'irei Zion organizations in the Diaspora and 26 of Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir from Ereẓ Israel) laid the foundations for a world federation of Ẓe'irei Zion with permanent connections with Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir. A prolonged discussion and resolutions on the movement's attitude toward socialism led to disappointment and secessions on both the left and right. The delegates elected a central board to be located in Bialystok and decided to adopt the fortnightly Hebrew paper Shaḥarit in Odessa as the movement's organ and to transfer it to Warsaw.

In April 1914 an all-Russian council was held in Vilna, the last before the outbreak of World War i. The main subjects for discussion at this meeting were the condition of the labor movement in Ereẓ Israel, pioneering aliyah, and cultural activities. The liberation from the czarist regime by the February Revolution of 1917 caused great ferment among Russian Jews, who then prepared themselves to build their national autonomy in democratic Russia and at the same time to expand their Zionist activities. Ẓe'irei Zion became a mass movement as tens of thousands from all parts of the country swelled its ranks.

The second all-Russian conference of Ẓe'irei Zion, which took place in Petrograd on May 18–24, 1917, was a great event in Jewish life. Three main trends struggled to dominate the conference: socialist, moderate labor, and popular democratic. The presentation of the socialist case was very impressive, but the movement was not prepared to adopt a full-fledged socialist program and declared itself to be the Ẓe'irei Zion Popular Faction in the Zionist Organization in Russia. After the conference Ẓe'irei Zion acted as an independent party and grew rapidly. The party's center in Petrograd was later transferred to Kharkov after the October Revolution and from there to Kiev, which was not yet under Soviet rule. From then on the movement's activities were mainly concentrated in the Ukraine during a period filled with hope of Jewish national autonomy, but mainly dominated by the threatening storm of pogroms. Ẓe'irei Zion then played an important role as organizer of the Jewish *self-defense units and of extensive cooperative enterprises. Its main activities, however, were concentrated on the pioneering aliyah movement, promoted through the He-Ḥalutz conference in Kharkov (1918).

At the third conference of Ze'irei Zion, which took place in Kharkov in May 1920, the Popular Faction decided to become the *Zionist Socialist Party – zs, whereas the "right-wing" faction seceded and joined Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir, establishing with it the *Hitaḥadut in Prague (1920).


B. West, Naftulei Dor (1945); A. Levinsohn, Be-Reshit ha-Tenuah (1947); A. Munchik, Le-Toledot ẒẒ–Ẓs, Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir, ve-He-Ḥalutz (1943); I. Ritov, Perakim be-Toledot ẒẒ–Ẓs (1964).

[Israel Ritov]