THREE ROADS TO MODERNITY AT THE TURN OF THE “JEWISH CENTURY”: Boasian Revolution, Imperial Revolution, and Bolshevik Revolution
At the turn of the twentieth century and especially during the interwar period, Jews served as an important litmus test for modernization projects aimed at restoring, establishing, and standardizing pure forms of groupness, such as nation-state, postimperial racial homogenization, or class-based society. The article considers the racialization of Jews by Jewish intellectuals themselves in three different contexts: in the United States, late Imperial Russia, and the early Soviet Union. The "Boasian revolution" took place in the Progressive Era United States, in the context of rising anti-immigrant sentiment and panic about the "pollution" of American society by the influx of East Europeans. The 1911 study of Jewish immigrants by the anthropologist Franz Boas relativized the notion of race in order to rehabilitate the idea of America as a melting pot and prove that Jews could assimilate into a modern society. In Eastern Europe and particularly in the Russian Empire during the interrevolutionary period and in the early USSR, Boas's ideas and methods were picked up and developed to prove the reality of Jews as a particular race. Self-racialization became an effective anticolonial strategy of a nonterritorial nation whose representatives rejected the perspective of becoming a "secondhand" minority or integrating into Soviet modernity exclusively on Soviet terms. Ultimately, the article raises the issue of functionality of the language of race in different early twentieth-century projects of Jewish modernity.