Isaac Nachman Steinberg – Исаак Нахман Штейнберг

Isaac Nachman Steinberg

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Isaac Nachman Steinberg – Исаак Нахман Штейнберг was born in DvinskRussian Empire (today DaugavpilsLatvia) into a family of Jewishmerchants. He was raised in a traditional religious home.

From December 1917 to March 1918, he was People’s Commissar (Narkom) of Justice in Vladimir Lenin’s government during theBolsheviks‚ short-lived coalition with the left wing of the SR. Steinberg resigned his post in protest against the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and campaigned against the Bolsheviks. In 1923, having been warned that he was in danger of assassination, he again moved to Germany and took his young family with him.

After the Nazis came to power in 1933, Steinberg, his wife and three children settled in London. There, he was one of co-founders of the Freeland League, which attempted to find a safe haven for European Jews fleeing the Holocaust.

The League selected the Kimberley region of Western Australia as a place to purchase agricultural land where 75,000 Jewish refugees from Europe could be resettled. This effort became known as the Kimberley Plan, or Kimberley Scheme.[1] Steinberg based his campaign on the officially declared need to populate northern Australia. On 23 May 1939 he arrived in Perth and by early 1940 gained substantial public support, but also encountered opposition.

Steinberg left Australia in June 1943 to rejoin his family in Canada. On 15 July 1944 he was informed by the Australian Prime Minister John Curtin that the Australian government would not „depart from the long-established policy in regard to alien settlement in Australia“ and could not „entertain the proposal for a group settlement of the exclusive type contemplated by the Freeland League“.[1]

Steinberg continued his efforts in spite of setbacks. In 1946, the Freeland League started negotiations with the Surinamese and Netherlands governments about the possible resettlement of 30,000 Jewish displaced persons from Europe in the Saramacca district of Surinam. In August 1948, the Surinamese parliament decided ‚to suspend the discussions until the complete clarification of the international situation‘. The negotiations were never resumed.

Isaac Steinberg died in New York in 1957. His son was the distinguished art historian Leo Steinberg.

Steinberg’s political views were essentially anarchist, although he defined himself as a Left Eser or Left Narodnik. Russian Left Esersproposed a radically decentralized federation of worker syndicates, councils and cooperatives whose delegates are chosen by direct democracy and could be revoked at any moment.

Unlike many anarchists, Steinberg believed that it is possible and necessary to form a political party whose task would be the destruction of the state from within. He also noted, like some contemporary anarchists, that even an established syndicalist federation would not be completely free of elements or „crystals“ of organized power. According to Steinberg, even a relatively free and stateless social system has to acknowledge the existence of some reminiscent government-like structures within itself, in order to decentralize or dismantle them and further „anarchize“ the society. Steinberg viewed anarchism as an underlying principle, spirit, and drive of revolutionary socialism, rather than as a concrete political program with an ultimate goal. Therefore, he refrained from equating his syndicalist ideas with „anarchism“, because such an equation, in his view, would have compromised the very subtle and perpetual nature of anarchist principles.[2]

Steinberg was a leader of the Jewish Territorialist movement. He worked hard to establish a Jewish self-managed territory, but did not support the idea of the Jewish nation-state and was highly critical of Zionist movement politics. After the establishment of the State of Israel, he supported the idea of creating a binational federation in Israel/Palestine and, at the same time, continued his efforts to establish a compact self-ruled Jewish settlement somewhere outside the Middle East.

He was also a prolific Yiddish writer, editor, and prominent cultural activist.

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