Under the Sign of the Beylis Affair (1913)

Submitted by martin on 6 July, 2020 - 6:47 Author: Leon Trotsky

Under the Sign of the Beylis Affair [1913], an article by Leon Trotsky translated by Stan Crooke. The case of Menahem Mendel Beilis, a Russian Jew framed for the "ritual murder" of a Ukrainian boy who disappeared in 1911 and was later found dead, triggered a great international outcry against the notoriously antisemitic Tsarist regime in Russia. Eventually, in 1913, Beilis was acquitted by a jury in Kiev. Above: a postcard in Yiddish commemorating the acquittal. Tsar Nicholas II (center) is bidding Beilis to go free - "but I won’t waste any time in getting even for your acquittal with your Russian brothers you’ve left behind". The seated old man depicts the "Jewish people"; the ball and chain is labeled "blood libel".

The Kiev trial which finished on 10th November is one of those rare legal affairs which, notwithstanding their complete insignificance in terms of their starting point, turn into historical events which sear themselves into the consciousness of a country and, not infrequently, form a watershed between two chapters of its political life.

The entirety of Russia as it now is, with all its social and national contradictions and monstrous cultural contrasts, found its direct or indirect reflection in this passionate conflict, the trigger for which was provided by the lacerated corpse of a street urchin, but the stakes in which were the fate of a totally unknown Jewish clerk.

The only reason why the black directors of this judicial hounding of Jewry dared to raise in the twentieth century an absurd allegation inherited from an age when witches took part in satanic covens was that they felt that they enjoyed solid support at their backs: Tsar Nicolas, who, under the tutelage of shady charlatans who have swapped the profession of horse thief for that of court miracle-worker, wanted proof at any cost of Jewish ritual murder. If, as the press hinted, his ministers included in their ranks opponents of official Russia being exposed to universal embarrassment – and our worthy Kokovtsev doubtless trembled at the thought of how he would appear in the eyes of Rothschild – those who held sway at the highest levels were, as ever, the most servile. And the most dishonourable among them, Minister of Justice Shchleglovitov1, the former pride of the ‘liberal’ judiciary, took it upon himself to organise the ritual trial with the verdict desired by the Tsar.

All the forces of state power were put in motion: the police investigators and the investigating judges who, in the light of the evidence, were averse to going down the road of a ritual murder were replaced; the most recalcitrant of them were themselves brought before a court; the local administration and more or less all who came into contact with the investigation were terrorised by police intimidation; the prosecutors were replaced; experts were selected from the ranks of maniacs and notorious fraudsters; the opposition press was terrorised by means of manifold acts of repression; and, to cap it all, the composition of the jury was rigged.

But the dimensions of the opposition also grew unexpectedly. The beginnings of this ritualistic judicial tragi-comedy are to be found at that grim time in early 1911 when a political revival was scarcely noticeable and had as yet only a potential character, but the forces of reaction, having already succeeded in exhausting all domestic resources, had begun to search for external stimuli for further heroic deeds. But the denouement of the entire enterprise, or at least that part of it which involved the Beylis affair, was separated from its launch by almost three years and occurred in a period of a seething fermentation in towns, mass political strikes, unrest in universities, protest demonstrations by different corporations, the growth of the opposition press, and the significant role played by workers’ newspapers. The very question itself which militant reaction placed on the agenda – the question of the Jewish consumption of Christian blood in an age of cinematographers and aeroplanes, a question which by its very vileness was designed for the psychology of the darkest rural masses – could only provoke feelings of indignation and extreme shame in the towns. Even very moderate elements took fright at the criminal total lack of restraint by the forces of reaction, which finally lost their ability to get their bearings in that time. Apart from “Novoye Vremya”, which exercises an influence in the higher circles of society, and which, without doubt, is the most odious paper on our generally not particularly pristine planet, hardly a dozen pogromist papers which hardly anyone reads took up the slogan of ritual murder. The “Kievliyanin”2, the foremost newspaper of the nationalists, recruited mainly in the south-west region, abandoned early on the unreliable ship of the accusation of ritual murder. In its entirety the rest of the press diligently engaged in mobilising public opinion against the initiators of the medieval trial. But because the band of “ritualists”, beginning with the Kievan thieves who murdered the boy and continuing through the ranks of the police and judicial authorities, had at their pinnacle the Tsar of all Russia, the agitation against the blood libel took on a manifestly revolutionary and anti-monarchist character, quite independently of the will of liberal politicians and newspaper editors. This was underlined best of all by the police, who were so frenzied in penalising and confiscating newspapers for having exposed the Chebyryak3 band of thieves that it could have been a matter of insults targeted directly at His Majesty. During the trial, and in connection with the trial, 66 acts of repression were carried out against the press: 34 fines were imposed, amounting to 10,400 roubles, 30 editions of newspapers were confiscated, in four cases the editors were arrested, and in two cases newspapers were shut down by the courts. It goes without saying that the workers’ press suffered most of all. The agitation by the press was supplemented by collective appeals by the most popular public figures and writers, and by resolutions adopted by learned societies and corporations of the liberal professions. Mass working-class protest strikes against the organised judicial fraud were the most decisive and impressive manifestations of outrage, delivering a fatal blow to the tales of the ‘popular’ character of the antisemitic crusade.

In this manner, as the Beylis affair proceeded through various stages, its threads stretched out in all directions: into the salons of the Petersburg court nobility and revolutionary workers’ districts, into liberal editorial offices and monasteries, into thieves’ dens and the Tsarist palace.

“This is what liberalism, democracy and revolution mean,” said one side, “a secret Yid-Masonic organisation with a powerful international government at its head, its task is to subordinate to itself the entire Christian world, and on the way to achieving this goal the leading Jews reinvigorate themselves with the blood of young Christian boys!”

“This is what the rule of reaction means,” said the other side, “it needs to resurrect medieval trials in order to create suitable conditions for its own existence!”

In this atmosphere of intense political passions and total mobilisation by both sides, it goes without saying that the class contours did not disappear for a moment. But the basic alignment of forces essentially took place around a more elementary axis: the seventeenth century and the twentieth! And our Russian seventeenth century, which had adopted the legacy of the European Middle Ages, turned out to be beaten on all fronts. In passing, it should be noted that the judicial ritual – the emphasis on the exalted nature of which usually increases according to the depth to which the court prostitutes itself – arises from the fiction of the complete freedom of the court from political interests and national bias. But not even a trace of this solemn hypocrisy survived the Kiev trial: for one and all it was clear that the entire mechanism of the court was driven by the transmission belts attached to the flywheels of aristocratic-monarchist reaction and pogromist chauvinism.

All Russia passed before the court: the cobbler from the urban outskirts, the Jewish capitalist, the peasant carter, the police informer, street children, liberal journalists, thieves, the previously Jewish Russian Orthodox monk, the convict, young women of loose morals, the priest, the police officer, the bankrupt operator of a loans fund in the role of a leading patriot, the former revolutionary in the role of a freelance investigator, the lawyer who doubles up as a witness, professors of medicine, the Catholic priest, professors of a theological academy and the Jewish rabbi – thieves and ‘solid’ people, learned specialists and bigots, the garbage of pogromist reaction and the debris of revolution passed in front of the astonished gazes of a dozen obscurantist individuals, mainly peasants, consciously and fraudulently selected by the Ministry of Justice as the most suitable judges for a medieval trial.

Of course, the factual aspect of the affair, in terms of its most vivid episodes, is already well known to readers from newspaper reports. Here we want to pull together the scattered details into a single overall picture which in and of itself says incomparably more than all those political considerations which can be drawn from the trial.

On 20th March 1911 the corpse of a boy who had been stabbed with an animal savagery was discovered in one of the caves to be found on the outskirts of Kiev. Even before anything about this crime could be established by the investigation, the boy’s mother received an anonymous letter from somewhere or other declaring that Jews had slaughtered her son for ritualistic purposes. The town doctor who carried out the autopsy received an anonymous letter through the town mail service even before the autopsy declaring that Yushchinsky had fallen victim to Jewish fanaticism. During the boy’s funeral proclamations were distributed at the graveyard calling on Christians to take revenge on Jews for the death of Yushchinsky. One of the people distributing the leaflets was arrested on the spot and turned out to be a criminal already known to the police and a member of the patriotic society “The Two-Headed Eagle”4 – a combination which fully corresponded to the nature of the state of affairs.

Exactly on time, the Black Hundreds press now began to scream about the ritualistic-Jewish character of the Kiev crime. The Council of the Unified Nobility – the militant organisation of the upper caste which initiates, without exception, all counter-revolutionary actions – published a collection of reports of ritualistic trials and raised the question of imposing further limitations on the rights of Jews. The Black Hundreds member of the Duma and former prosecutor Zamyslovsky5 published an agitational brochure about “Martyred Victims of the Jews”, in which he included Andrey Yushchinsky in the list of martyrs. Thanks to the efforts of the “Union of the Russian People”, which wanted to give a popular character to the whole affair, the Holy Synod discussed the question of Andrey Yushchinsky being declared a saint of the Russian Orthodox Church. Unfortunately, circumstantial evidence that Yushchinsky had close ties to a gang of thieves who were planning to loot one of Kiev’s cathedrals meant that the tempting suggestion had to be stifled.

As the criminal investigation department of the Kiev police, acting in line with the facts of the affair, followed the trail of the crime in a completely different direction, so the Black Hundreds press delivers a furious tirade that the investigating authorities have been bribed by an international Jewish qahal. The government vacillates, hesitant about capitulating to the openly criminal witch-hunt conducted by the Black Hundreds band. Six weeks after the discovery of the corpse the extreme right-wing fraction, led by the same Zamyslovsky, tables a question which demands that the government abandon its complacency and expose Jewry’s bloody-ritualistic plot. It becomes known that on this occasion too it is Nicolas II who stands at the head of the pogromist ritualists. The judicial investigation begins to be passed on from hand to hand, in search of someone capable of fulfilling the instructions. The head of the Kiev criminal investigation department, Mishchuk, having demonstrated his inability to find rabbis who had taken blood from Yushchinsky, is first removed from the investigation and then, with an unexpected ruthlessness, brought before a court and condemned for one of those frauds which, generally speaking, make up the career of Russian police officers, but of which, in this case, Mishchuk was clearly completely innocent. The Petersburg police informer Kuntsevich, the pride and joy of the capital’s police, likewise soon reveals his complete unsuitability for the task of finding proof of ritual murder and is removed as soon as the danger appears that he might stumble upon the real trail. At the insistence of Kiev’s patriotic organisations the affair is transferred to the detective Krasovsky, who is well known in the south. In the light of the very solemn state of affairs he is advised right from the outset not to follow in the mistaken footsteps of his predecessors but to immediately steer the investigation in the “appropriate” direction. Every step taken by Krasovsky is monitored by the pogromist organisation, at the head of which stands the true-Russian Czech Rozmitalsky, the bankrupt operator of a loans fund. After a succession of fruitless attempts to find evidence against Jewish rabbis and shohets, and Jewish clerks in a nearby brick factory, Krasovsky alights upon the trail of the real murderers – a gang of thieves who rightly or wrongly saw Yushchinsky as a traitor. Fearing that he would lose his post before he had finished his investigation, Krasovsky misleads his unofficial boss, in the shape of Rozmitalsky, assuring him that he would soon uncover the supposed ritual murder. At this time the gendarmerie authorities, who had not been previously involved in the affair and were unaware of the direction of Krasovsky’s investigation, arrest a brick factory clerk, Beylis, on the grounds of a ‘situation of heightened alert’, i.e. on the same grounds which are invoked in Russia to arrest political criminals against whom there is no evidence even from the point of view of the gendarmerie corps. Finally, the arrest of Beylis, as the Jew closest to where the corpse was found, provides the ritualists of all ranks with the longed-for axis around which to concentrate all the requisite perjured evidence and fabrications.

As the investigatory work being carried out by Krasovsky takes on the character of an overt threat to the fabrication of ritual murder, so Krasovsky, like his predecessors, is removed from the affair and hounded out of the police force. But then, when it becomes clear that in pursuit of his rehabilitation he is continuing his investigation as a private individual, he is brought before a court for crimes committed (or not committed) during his entire police career, including that of supposedly having fabricated evidence ten years previously. Krasovsky is arrested, but the Trial Chamber finds in his favour. In order to somehow cover up all these scandalous actions, the Black Hundreds press cries out about the systematic bribing and corrupting of all righteous Russian crime investigators by the Jewish qahal. But the leading Black Hundreds band is dissatisfied with the slowness and lack of decisiveness with which events are proceeding. In November 1911 it tables a second question in the Duma and obtains a promise from the Minister of Justice that matters will be expedited.

Fenenko, the investigating judge who has been in charge of the investigation, is replaced and Mashenkevich, an investigating judge with responsibility for particularly important affairs, is sent from Petersburg to take his place. Sufficiently wisened by the fate of his predecessors, Mashenkevich does not deviate to the right or left but proceeds directly to the cherished goal. Having confirmed Beylis as the focus of the investigation, and having mechanically gathered together all the gossip, perjuries and fabrications which were needed for the line of ritual murder but which had been rejected by all previous investigators for reason of their ineptness, Mashenkevich’s only concern was to befittingly present the affair in the guise of “scientific” expertise. After protracted searches and a succession of failed attempts his goal is achieved when he finds Sikorsky, a psychiatrist who is completely out of his mind, and Father Pranaytis, who, as a proven blackmailer, had previously been obliged to abandon his professorship in a theological academy and remove himself to Central Asia in order to serve God there.

From this moment onwards the affair is finally back on track. There is ritualistic expert evidence and there are dozens of volumes of material from the investigation, sufficient to stupefy the jurors, but the main thing is that there is a live Jew with a hooked nose and a black beard who can be put in the dock and thereby make a trial a reality. Just as the future tree can be traced back to its seeds, so too the entire procedure of the courtroom drama is to be found in this preliminary history of the Beylis affair.

A threatening danger on the road to the goal, however, were the future jurors. But here too means were found. The main director of the affair, Zamyslovsky, the most prostituted figure in the arena of counter-revolutionary Russia, incessantly reminded the judicial authorities that citizens are utterly unreliable as jurors and managed to ensure that for the Beylis affair, which would involve complicated medical, historical and ritualistic-Talmudic expert evidence, a jury was selected which – completely without precedent in the history of the Kiev courts – consisted of backward peasants from the Kiev province who had been contaminated by antisemitic demagogy and were led by a minor official who demonstrated throughout the entire trial his readiness to serve the prosecution. The role of accuser was filled by the young prosecutor Vipper, who was sent from Petersburg and was a true-Russian German, one of the most odious forms of the basic Baltic type, and utterly driven by unbridled careerism.

As is well known, the barons of the Baltic region, nurtured in servility to Tsarism and in contempt for the Latvian peasant population, play a major role in the Russian diplomatic service, prosecution service and gendarmerie, and provide the purest culture of bureaucratic nihilism – devoid of nationality, devoid of even feudal ties to the indigenous population, devoid of conscience, and devoid of honour. Moreover, the official accuser’s more than modest intellectual resources fell well short of his evil intentions, and throughout the entire trial he followed the lead given by Zamyslovsky, who occupied the leading position in the trial by virtue of being a civil party to it. The second civil party was the lawyer Shmakov6, a time-served Judeophobe, known among things for the fact that in his researches he concluded that Paris, the abductor of the beautiful Helen, was Jewish, by virtue of his low moral qualities. A worthy partner for Vipper was to be found in another German with a true-Russian spirit and a symbolic surname, the official responsible for special tasks attached to the Kiev Governor General: Merder7, who, in the guise of a witness, tried to use loaded intimations to put it into the heads of the jurors that Jews needed the blood of Yushchinsky for the consecration of a place of worship which was being built at that time.

Fortunately, the entire trial, which lasted for more than a month, is enshrined in the verbatim record of a Kiev newspaper, like a strange cultural-historical monument of the age. In spite of the cynical bias of the bench, in spite of the sometimes bewildering indecisiveness and prevarications of the liberal defence, which was afraid of antagonising the jurors, who, it suspected, included Black Hundreds members, the Kiev trial revealed a truly devastating picture of a plot by the police, administration and court which was unique in its nature. In the interests of pogromist-antisemitic demagogy, this band of uniformed criminals decided to join forces in order to manufacture the ritualistic-judicial use of blood by a worker-Jew who had come to hand by chance and whose whole life was woven out of honest work and deprivations.

On more than one occasion the Beylis affair has been compared with the Dreyfus affair. A certain analogy between them is not be denied, but the difference between the one and the other is just as striking as the difference between French salon-Jesuit antisemitism and Russian pogromist-criminal Black-Hundreds antisemitism, and the difference between the educated cynic Poincare, who believes in neither God nor the Devil, and Tsar Nicolas, who is still convinced even now that witches fly out of chimneys on broomsticks at night. The officer Dreyfus was accused of military betrayal. There is nothing heinous in the construction itself of the accusation, the heinousness lay in the conscious falsity of the accusation. But when an ordinary worker-Jew, fairly indifferent to the dogma of religion, but comprehensively deprived of rights and experienced in the school of Kiev pogroms, is suddenly torn away from his wife and children and told that he, Beylis, extracted all the blood of a living child in order to consume (use) it in one form or another for the satisfaction of his Jehovah, then only for a moment do you need to imagine the feelings of this unfortunate person during his twenty-six months of imprisonment for the hairs on your head to stand on end! Given the complete absence of any evidence against the accused, the role of the accusation and court, which was sympathetic to the accusation in all respects and at all times, was to instil into the Kiev jurors a hatred of Beylis as a Jew. All superstitions and all prejudices were mobilised. An ignorant 70-year-old monk, previously Jewish, was summoned to appear in court and was asked by Zamyslovsky if he had not seen with his own eyes Jewish stab marks on the eternal relics of Saint Gabriel, who had been martyred by Yids. When this question was asked the prosecutor Vipper had to bite his lips out of envy given that, as a Lutheran, he was denied the possibility of manipulating fragile material evidence such as eternal relics. But the prosecutor rewarded himself with the Bible and the Talmud. Having obtained his expert in the shape of the proven rogue Pranaytis, whose own writings were plagiarised from the proven German falsifiers Eustus and Rolling, the accusation carried out a daring raid on the Bible and the Talmud, in which all ages and epochs, and all centuries and thousands of years, were collapsed into a single jumble, and which cited as Beylis’s suspected intellectual accomplices not only a series of Jewish theologians of the second and third centuries of our era but also the forefathers Abraham and Jacob. The biblical Jehovah, who, according to Christian genealogy, has hitherto been regarded as the natural father of Jesus Christ, was unceremoniously seized by the scruff of the neck by the Lutheran prosecutor, and the very presence of the god of the Bible in Kiev, given that he lacked documentation showing that he was a merchant of the first guild, was recognised as a clear breach of the Russian law concerning the right of abode of Jews. Craning his neck, his eyes frozen in an exhausted face, Beylis followed the proceedings as rogues who were party to the accusation joined with rogues who were party to the expert evidence to form a panel of scholars for three days, spending hours deciding what was the meaning of the word “seir” in the Talmud – a word which Beilis had never even heard of. The outcome reached, applied to the circumstances of the affair, was that if “seir” meant no more than goat, then Beylis would perhaps still be able to return to his family, but if in certain texts of the third century “seir” also meant “Romans”, then Beylis could not avoid hard labour of indefinite duration. And all this was played out in front of a forum of twelve semi-literate and thoroughly frightened individuals who had to guess at the meaning of Biblical allegories and Talmudic philosophising and their connection to the fate of an adolescent street urchin from the outskirts of Kiev. With a stubborn insistence, all witnesses were questioned by the prosecution about two fearsome “tzadiks”, Ettinger and Landau, who allegedly came to Beylis for the slaughter of Yushchinsky. A cloud permeated by mysticism thickened in the court room at the mention of these two names, until the tzadiks themselves arrived from abroad at the request of the defence. One of them turned out to be a fashionable Austrian landowner who was incomparably better acquainted with the rituals of Vienna’s night-time establishments than the rituals of the Jewish religion. The other, who arrived from Paris, turned out to be the young author of several operettas, in which not a single drop of Christian blood was spilt, but in the light of the seventh commandment the matter was highly unfavourable. Both “tzadiks” appeared before the court wearing clothes made by the best tailors, and one of them – as the prosecutor maliciously pointed out to the jurors – even turned out to be a Doctor of Chemistry: organic chemistry, which, as is well known, provides very valuable guidance concerning the handling and conservation of Christian blood for domestic use by godly Jews. Faint comical notes thereby chimed in with the torturous and gruesome chords in the trial’s overall symphony, the tone of which was set by the most unbridled infamy.

The tensest moments in the trial were the questioning of the boy’s real killers, who had been found by freelance detectives and who now appeared as honourable witnesses before the court, the same court in which Beylis was sitting in the dock. These were difficult moments for the prosecution. They were not criminal Talmudists who identified a Roman with a goat, and were thereby incapable of casting a sinister light on the figure of Beylis. But what was clear was the danger for the prosecution caused by the appearance before the court of two hardened thugs against whom went the fact, in addition to many other things, that they themselves had admitted to the murder in the presence of two witnesses.

And so the prosecutor and the civil parties, with the vigilant assistance of the bench, took Yushchinsky’s killers under their protection. With the goal of establishing their alibi for all eventualities, the killers themselves told the prosecutor that in the night of the murder they had been looting an optician’s shop. (The third murderer, as soon as he had understood from what the prosecutor had said that he might be held accountable for the Yushchinsky affair, jumped out of a window and died from his injuries.)

The confession concerning the break-in was so obviously untrue that the investigating judge did not even open a case against the self-confessed culprits. Nonetheless, the prosecutor refused to budge in his acceptance of the evidence of alibi. The defence drew the attention of the witnesses to the fact that the looting had taken place at twelve o’clock at night, but the murder had taken place between nine o’clock and ten o’clock in the morning, and, therefore, there could not be any question of alibi in any shape or form. The witnesses-cum-murderers did not utter a single word in answer to this objection, thrice repeated and followed with rapt attention by the entire court room. But at this point the prosecution intervened in the matter. Using crude leading questions, the sole purpose of which was to cater for the extreme intellectual limitations of the peasant jurors, the prosecution developed the line of thought that the witnesses, as serious and experienced thieves, could not have burgled the shop (which they had not in fact burgled) without having carried out a painstaking preliminary reconnaissance and a preliminary study of all aspects of the environment and habits of the house, and that they therefore could not have been distracted away from this in order to carry out the boy’s murder – 14 hours before the burglary (which they did not commit). The murderers were left with nothing to do, other than to confirm these considerations with monosyllabic answers. After several minutes of confusion and alarm, they promptly sensed that they were on firm ground: they realised that the prosecutor and the judges, who they otherwise found so fearsome, were now their undisguised fellow conspirators, and that by refusing to admit to the murder which they had committed they were, so to speak, fulfilling an important state duty and could count on this being appreciated. This scene appears improbable when you read it, question after question, in the verbatim record. But this open and obvious perjury, which had as its purpose to allow the killers to whitewash themselves and to accuse an innocent person, this perjury which was directed by the prosecutor and the bench was committed before the eyes of the entire country and the whole world. And an impudent rogue dressed in the garb of a prosecutor not only did not fear being called to account for his crime but, on the contrary, was confident that it was precisely the cynical-provocative character of this crime which was the surest guarantee of his career in the grateful memory of the Minister of Justice and in the favour of the royal court.

There are many shameful pages in the annals of Russian courts, and the epoch of counter-revolution was thoroughly the epoch of the corrupting of Russian justice. But we do not know of a single trial in which the lumpen-bureaucratic baseness of that clique which rules over the fates of a people of 160 millions was deployed with such terrifying candour. Apart from whatever moods or thoughts it may provoke, reading the record of the trial induces above all a feeling of physical nausea. And perhaps the principal significance of the Beylis trial lies in its ability to arouse this feeling.

It is difficult to convey the tension which gripped the entire country during these historic weeks. And Russia continues to live under the sign of the Beylis affair through to the present. The very character of the affair – at the centre of which was not the working class, or the peasantry, or Jews as a collective, as is the case in the legislative labours of the forces of reaction, but a specific living individual, who was to be sacrificed as a person of flesh and blood to some “ideological” needs of the ruling class – this dramatic-personal character of the judicial proceedings facilitated to an extraordinary degree the popularisation of the questions which came up in the course of the trial. The most backward and indifferent were touched to the quick. And at the same time this nightmarish drama of Beylis, precisely because the affair was essentially no more connected with Beylis than with anyone else, revealed the broader initiating forces, i.e. court-monarchist depravity and bureaucratic banditry. The Beylis affair emerged as a fraud organised by the powerful state apparatus against one weak and helpless individual, against a worker-Jew, i.e. an experienced embodiment of injustice. The monstrous enormity of the crime daily bored its way into the conscience of everyone who read about the trial, everyone who thought about the trial, and even everyone who knew about the trial second-hand or third-hand. The print-run of the opposition press doubled or trebled during that month, but the number of readers and those to whom the newspapers were read probably increased tenfold. Every day throughout the month many millions avidly snatched a newspaper, clenching their fists and gnashing their teeth as they read it. Politically indifferent people leapt up in bewilderment and horror, just as people jump up from their seats in a railway carriage in the event of a crash. Every day people who considered themselves to be conscious opponents of the Russian political regime had to convince themselves anew that they had never thought that our country is governed by such miscreants. It is superfluous to say that it was urban workers who reacted with the greatest passion. Millions of proletarian hearts were tempered in hatred for a monarchy which this year celebrated its bogus tricentenary jubilee with such pomp.

In this affair the government thoroughly revealed not just its vileness but also its weakness. The jurors acquitted Beylis. The fact that some bewildered peasants gave an answer to the first deceptively phrased question which can be interpreted as a disguised semi-acknowledgement of the ritualistic character of the murder – this can really only be of importance for the professionals of antisemitism who periodically need to replenish their spurious stocks of judicial documents. But what speaks volumes to the consciousness of the popular masses is the clear and simple fact that a dozen carefully selected people, who were held under lock and key for a month, who were entangled in a web of deceit, who were befuddled by the phantom of Jewish violence, and who were terrorised by the authority of the monarchy and the Church, turned out to be incapable of carrying out the dirty deed with which they had been entrusted – and sent Beylis home. The jurors said: No, not guilty. This means that for all its outward power, Tsarism appeared morally bankrupt to the people as a result of this trial.

The Black Hundreds cried from the housetops that there would be Jewish pogroms, especially in the event of an acquittal. And even in the courtroom the civil litigants made the same threats. The local authorities declared that they would not tolerate any “excesses” – and there were indeed no pogroms. The government, having manifested its bankruptcy in the trial, thought that it could thereby demonstrate its strength. But what happened was the opposite. That pogroms occur only when the governmental authorities want them was eloquently confirmed. All talk of the spontaneous-unstoppable character of antisemitism turned out to be a lie: there are no popular masses behind the government capable of acting independently of the will of the police. But such masses exist in opposition to the government. The pogroms were banned – and did not take place. But workers protest strikes against the Jewish blood libel spread throughout the entire country – in defiance of any and all bans. Meetings in factories and industrial plants, street demonstrations, unrest in universities, agitation in the press, protests by corporations and societies – all these run their course in spite of the deluge of police repression. The morally soiled government also reveals itself to be bankrupt as an organisation of material force. In their writings reactionary publicists evoke more and more frequently the ghost of 1905.

Of course, all this did not fall from the skies but was prepared by complex molecular processes. Years of industrial growth fortified and invigorated the working class and this was now reflected in the political state of health of the entire country. Democracy again came to believe in itself. The Beylis affair merely concentrated the process of the rapid revolutionising of the popular masses and imparted an outward-dramatic character to it.

While conceding none of its historic rights, Tsarism attempted for eight years to use supposedly constitutional institutions in order to adapt itself to the new demands of societal development but now appeared before the country as a purely parasitic organisation with an openly expressed criminal-lumpen character. By exposing the abyss which necessarily exists between a monarchy based on the estates and the Black Hundreds and all historically vital social classes, and by giving both sides the opportunity to peer down to the bottom of this abyss, the Kiev trial thereby performed a major historical labour and has entered the history of Russia as a portent of a new epoch of profound revolutionary upheavals.

“Die Neue Zeit”

November 1913

Translated from: “L. Trotsky: Collected Works”, volume four, Moscow-Leningrad, 1926.

First published as “The Beilis Affair” in “Die Neue Zeit”, monthly magazine of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, in November 1913 (under the name “N. Trotsky”).

While the two articles do not differ in terms of political substance, there are regular differences throughout in the exact wording.

One section of the German version, attached as an appendix below (which also includes a footnote from the German version), was replaced in the Russian version by the section running from “An ignorant 70-year-old monk …” to “… an adolescent street urchin from the outskirts of Kiev.”

Footnotes are taken from the version in the 1926 Collected Works.

Three Hebrew expressions in the text not translated in footnotes are: “qahal” (congegration, assembly), “shohet” (person licenced by rabbinic authority to kill animals and poultry) and “tzadik” (righteous one, spiritual master).

1) Shchleglovitov – A liberal lawyer in his youth. Contributed to “Pravo”, “Yuridichesky Vestnik” and other liberal publications. Was given the post of Chief Prosecutor in the Criminal Department of the Senate. Was Assistant Minister of Justice in Witte’s Ministry of 1905, and appointed Minister in April 1906. From the time of the Second Duma, when there was finally a turn to undisguised reaction, Shchleglovitov became one of the closest collaborators and lackeys of Stolypin. Promptly changed from being a liberal to being one of the most fervent of the Black Hundreds. As Minister of Justice paid a lot of attention to court affairs; not infrequently, personally involved himself in the course of judicial proceedings, dictated judgements, etc. Particularly distinguished himself in this field in the Beylis affair, which, with his close cooperation, was inflated to the proportions of an all-Russian scandal. In order to guarantee with absolute certainty a guilty verdict, implemented all possible “transfers and appointments” in the Kiev court where the Beylis affair was heard. In the summer of 1915, under the pressure of social forces triggered by military failures, took retirement, along with Suchomlinov, Maklakov and others, and was appointed a member of the Council of State, where he headed the extreme right wing. In 1916 was appointed Chair of the Council of State. Encountered the February Revolution in this post.

2) “Kievliyanin” – Black Hundreds newspaper, published under the editorship of Professor Pichno, and then Shulgin.

3) Vera Chebyryak – The wife of a postal official, keeper of a thieves’ den, and leader of a well-organised gang of thieves. The gang planned to loot one of Kiev’s cathedrals. One member of the gang, Andrey Yushchinsky, was to get into the cathedral through a casement window and open a previously designated door. Suspected of betrayal, Yushchinsky was killed by members of the gang, with the participation of Chebyryak. His body was found in a cave on the outskirts of Kiev, near to the Zaytsev brick factory. The large number of wounds on the body caused the creation of the “affair”, in which Jews were accused of using Christian blood. At the head of this “affair” stood Nicolas II himself, the immediate organiser and inspiration for this pogromist trial was the Council of the Unified Nobility. The person put on trial and accused of the murder of Yushchinsky was an employee of the Zaytsev brick factory, a Jew called Mendel Beylis. The Beylis affair attracted the attention of the entire world. In the trial Chebyryak appeared as the main witness for the prosecution. Despite the wealth of evidence confirming that Chebyryak killed Yushchinsky, the court nonetheless did not hold her accountable. Using false documentation, Chebyryak wheedled her way into the membership of the Kiev Soviet in 1919. When her real identity was uncovered, she was arrested and shot by the Kiev Provincial Cheka.

4) “The Two-Headed Eagle” – A Black-Hundreds antisemitic organisation of Kiev student youth. Its main leader was the student V. S. Golubev, later killed at the front in the earliest days of the World War. Through its systematic antisemitic propaganda “The Two-Headed Eagle” played a major role in the preparations for the Beylis trial

5) Zamyslovsky – One of the most virulent antisemites and members of the Black Hundreds. Was prosecutor in the Vilnius district court, and then in main court in Vilnius. Was the prosecutor in many political trials. Played a prominent role in the Union of the Russian People. Was elected from Vilnius province to the Third Duma. In the Duma was Senior Assistant Secretary and member of the Presidium. As a member of the Duma he occupied himself with witch-hunting anyone who not an indigenous Russian and demanded the total Russification of Finland, Poland and other countries bordering Russia. From 1912 member of the Fourth State Duma. In 1913, along with another Black Hundreds member, Shmakov, was a civil party in the Beylis affair, who was accused of murdering the Christian boy Yushchinsky for ritualistic purposes. During the trial Zamyslovsky gave evidence of Jewish ritual killings. “Martyred Victims of the Jews” (the Saratov affair) was, according to genuine records, an antisemitic brochure by Zamyslovsky, published in Kharkov in 1911.

6) Shmakov – active member of the Black Hundreds, lawyer. Slandered Jews with a particular hatred. Appeared in a succession of trials in defence of pogromists. In the Beylis affair appeared as a civil party. Author of many brochures of a Black-Hundreds antisemitic content.

7) Merder – Mörder in German, which means murderer.


Section in German version omitted from Russian version:

… All superstitions and all prejudices were mobilised. As “scientific” material, the book of the baptised Moldovan Jew Neophit was also read out, a collection of curiosities of insanity and diabolical slander in which it is claimed, for example, that blood descends from the air onto Jewish food, causing Jews to die, and that only a fork smeared with Christian blood protects Jews from death. Extracts from the “learned” work of another Jewish renegade, by the name of Serasimovich, were also read out, in which the author explained that he himself had slaughtered a Christian child and that the blood of the child had been as white as milk. Finally, the cruelty of the Jews in their wars against the Amaleks was enthusiastically discussed, and this entire murky flood of sludge was poured over the person of the defendant Beylis. With a stubborn insistence, all witnesses were questioned …

Footnote in German version, referring to Kokovtsev (paragraph three):

If Herr Kokovtsev trembled, than he was badly acquainted with his Pappenheimers. When he was travelling through Western Europe, he was flattered by all of Jewry, insofar as it stands in the capitalist camp, and also by ethnic intellectuals such as Herr Theodor Wolff of the “Berlin Daily”. The Beilis Trial is not just a dishonour for official Russia, but no less so for the capitalist section of the Jewry of Western Europe, without the support of whom the Russian tormentors of Jews would long be bankrupt. The Editor.

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