Nachman Syrkin (or Nahman Syrkin or Nahum Syrkin; b. 11 February 1868; d. 6 September 1924) was a political theorist, founder of Labour Zionism and a prolific writer in Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, German and English language.
Born in the Russian Empire (now Belarus), Syrkin was influenced by Hovevei Zion and socialism in his youth and dedicated himself to synthesising the two concepts. In this task he was joined by Ber Borochov, although, unlike Borochov, Syrkin was no orthodox Marxist. He was one of the leaders of the socialist Zionist faction at the First Zionist Congress in 1897 and was an early proponent of the Jewish National Fund. He was also the first person to propose that emigrants to Palestine form collective settlements.
Unlike many other socialist thinkers of the time, Syrkin was quite comfortable with his Jewish heritage and, although he does not spell it out explicitly in his essay "The Jewish Problem and the Jewish Socialist State" (1898), it is clear that he had in mind the biblical emphasis on strict social justice, irrespective of wealth, power or privilege. However, he saw Zionism as a replacement for traditional Judaism:
The new, Zionist Judaism stands in complete contrast to the Judaism of exile … Zionism uproots religious Judaism in a stronger way than Reform or assimilation, by creating new standards of 'Judaism' which will constitute a new ideology that can be elevated to the status of a religion.
Syrkin worked to establish socialist Zionist groups throughout Central Europe. After studying and working in Germany and France and after being banned from Germany in 1904, Syrkin returned to Russia after the Russian Revolution of 1905. He took part at the 1905 Basle Seventh Zionist Congress as a delegate of the new Zionist Socialist Workers Party. In 1907 he moved to the United States, where he became one of the leaders of the Poale Zion party in America.
In 1919, Syrkin was a member of the American Jewish delegation to the Versailles Peace Conference. He was also a leading figure in the World Poale Zion conference that year and was given the task of visiting Palestine to develop a plan for kibbutz settlement. He intended to relocate to Palestine, but died of a heart attack in 1924 in New York City.
Syrkin's daughter Marie was a noted writer, educator and American Zionist activist.
Works (in English)
- Essays on socialist Zionism (New York, Young Poale Zion Alliance of America, 1935, 64p). Includes:
- The Jewish problem and the Jewish socialist state (1898)
- National independence and international unity (1917)
- "A Libel Refuted". Mishpacha (214): 11. 25 June 2008.
- Frankel, Jonathan (1984). Prophecy and politics: socialism, nationalism, and the Russian Jews, 1862-1917. Cambridge University Press. p. 686. ISBN 978-0-521-26919-3.
- The Jewish Problem and the Socialist Jewish State, Nachman Syrkin 1898 (excerpts)
- Labor and Socialist Zionism at MidEastWeb for Coexistence