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Are Jews obsessed with Capitalism?

Dr R Balashankar

Capitalism and the Jews, Jerry Z Muller, Princeton University Press, Pp 267 (PB), $19.95

$img_titleJews as a community have always been ‘associated’ with money in public mind. Such notions have been reinforced by jokes and characters in fiction (Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, for instance). In a highly intensive book Capitalism and the Jews, Jerry Z Muller analyses the relations between finance and the Jews. Says he, “For Jews, Jewish economic success has long been a source of both pride and embarrassment. For centuries, Jewish economic success led anti-Semites to condemn capitalism as a form of Jewish domination and exploitation, or attribute Jewish success to unsavory qualities of the Jews themselves.”
Jews have lived long as a diaspora, ever since their dispersion from the Land of Israel till their modern state was formed. Like other diasporic merchant minorities they developed the trading skills. Such minorities, Muller says, are characterised by the combination of specialised economic competence and political powerlessness, unlike other minorities, say the Muslims in India who are just the reverse. Their economic prowess is not so visible but they wield a lot of political power, much beyond their legitimate strength.
Jews migrated to liberal nations and welcoming societies and tried to assimilate while still holding intact their identities. But they discovered, repeatedly, that these liberal societies could also turn hostile and illiberal. Some sections of Jews even crossed over to Communism, as that ideology promised a recognition beyond the religion and the race. Yet another development in the community was the birth of Zionism.
Hence, Muller looks at these distinct points in separate chapters on Capitalism and the Jews, Jewish response to capitalism, the Jew as a Communist and the Economics of Nationalism and the fate of the Jews in 20th century Europe. In each of these broad chapter heads, Muller analyses the political, economic, and socio-cultural developments, with a constant touch on the subject matter — the Jews.  “Within western Christendom, the image of commerce was closely connected to that of the Jew, who was regarded as an outsider and wanderer, able to engage in so reviled an activity as moneylending because he was beyond the community  of shared faith.”
He feels that “Jews have been a conspicuous presence in the history of capitalism, both as symbol and as reality. Yet the relationship of the Jews to capitalism has received less attention than its significance merits.” The book traverses the boundary between general and Jewish history and between intellectual, economic and political history.
There is an interesting point made by Muller on the “religious intellectualism” of the Jews. “Theirs was a religion oriented to continuous contact with texts: a culture of handling books, reading them, and reflecting upon their message.” These learning skills, he says, easily translated into other secular areas — medical, legal, financial etc. They tended to excel, coupled with the strict mitzvot (discipline) prescribed by the religion and followed by their society.
Muller explains the historic contexts that helped the Jews to surge ahead, wherever they were, which often turned out to be the cause of misery for them, with the entire nations becoming enemies overnight. The Jews were bound to excel, even in their normal course. The book offers an interesting and new perspective into the economic history of the Jews, which is a by-product of their religious and cultural history. Jerry Muller is a leading historian of capitalism and is professor of history at the Catholic University of America, Washington DC and has authored books.
(Princeton University Press, 41 William Street, Princeton, New Jersay 08540)

A compilation on Veer Savarkar

Tej N Dhar

Rashtramrit Ke Paanch Kalash. Harindra Srivastava; Pp 720 (HB); Rs 1501.00

$img_titleHarindra Srivastava has firmly established himself as a researcher, writer and a crusader of sorts. He has spent long years doing research and collecting valuable information about two of his favourite revolutionaries, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and Subash Bose, in various parts of the world, and spun very interesting and absorbing narratives about them, which are not only engaging but also raise interesting and even provocative questions about the turn of events in pre-Independence times of our country and issues related to historiography.
Five of his books on them in Hindi and English were launched as a set at India Habitat Centre by Lal Krishna Advani, the then Deputy Prime Minister of India, on July 2, 2002, because July 2 is a special day in the lives of the two titans, as Srivastava calls them. On this day in 1911, Savarkar started his two life imprisonments in Andaman and on this day in 1943, Bose landed in Singapore to take over the command of the INA. Srivastava’s new book Rashtraamrit Ke Panch Kalash is a crisply edited compilation of previously published five books in Hindi on them. 
Srivastava considers Savarkar and Subash true and staunch nationalists, the two glowing eyes of Mother India, and his books on them the urns of nationalist nectar, the result of his passionate involvement with their lives and their contribution to the evolution of the Indian polity, though both of them were marginalised in the evolving national discourse during pre-Independence times, because of their views and actions, which clashed with the ideology of Mahatma Gandhi and his followers, who managed to dominate the political scene of the country.  
The three books on Savarkar differ in their scope and orientation. Kaljaye Savarkar was actually written for the National Book Trust, as a part of its series on important national figures, but could not be published by it because by the time the manuscript was ready, the government at the centre had changed.  This in itself shows how controversial Savarkar can be! The book is in the shape of a well rounded portrait of Savarkar, narrating his life from his birth to the extraordinary manner in which he brought his life to an end. He was born in Nasik, grew up under the strong influence of his parents, and at the tender age of fourteen vowed to free his motherland from the cruel hands of the British.  In 1901, he organised a small band of youngsters to hold meetings against the British rulers, in which he urged people not to take part in any celebrations held in their honour. During his college days, he inspired a host of people to form a group of revolutionaries, and organised campaigns for burning of foreign clothes long before calls for the same were given by known political leaders.  He went to London on a scholarship to work for the liberation of his country from there.  He became a disciple of Shyamji Verma and within a short time took virtual control of India House. Under the influence of Mazzini and Garibaldi, he looked at the history of his own country from a perspective that was revolutionary in its import, and inspired young men like Madan Lal Dinghra to kill those who caused pain and suffering to their people.
He wrote a book on the happenings of 1857, and made all the people of the world see that it was not a mutiny, as the British historians had called it, but India’s War of Independence. The activities of the residents of India House extended gradually to smuggling arms into India, which led to bomb blasts in the country. This was used as an excuse for arresting Savarkar and carrying him to India for his trial. He jumped from his ship near the French coast, but was eventually tried and sentenced to two life imprisonments in Andamans. After he was shifted to Ratnagiri, he devoted his energies to social work, organising community festivals and dinners and ensuring that the Hindu temples were thrown open to all members of the community so that the divisive barriers within it could be destroyed for ever. 
Apart from providing interesting information about the two revolutionaries, which makes them very readable, the tone of Srivastava’s books distinguishes them from routine historical accounts. Inbuilt into them is his appeal to readers, even to historians, to rethink on what happened during the pre-Independence times and why the turn of events acquired the shape that they did.  Implicitly, he also urges us to rethink on versions of history that project Gandhi and Nehru as key players in the freedom movement of the country and belittle or ignore the contribution of revolutionaries like Savarkar and Bose.
(‘Vishram’, 225 C, Mainwali Colony, Gurgaon, Haryana-122001)

A soldier’s love story

Manju Gupta

$img_titleAn Indian Lieutenant’s Elusive Bride, Col MS Sandhu, Unistar Books Pvt Ltd, Pp 258, Rs 495.00

This is an autobiography of a young Lieutenant who is commissioned into the Army and whose story begins with a description of the city of Chandigarh, designed by French town planner, Le Corbusier. The protagonist boasts of the beauty of the city with its civic amenities and shopping plazas whose pavements are crisscrossed by innumerable foot falls of strolling women, girls, youth and children, “like the clouds being driven by the wind in no definite direction.”
On his first posting to Jaipur, a small military station with paucity of government accommodation, he takes up a flat with plenty of green space surrounding it and where children and youth come to play cricket and badminton in the evening. Adjoining his flat lives a South Indian Brahmin family of Mr Vishwanathan, an engineer, whose son Ravi plays cricket with the Lieutenant. Ravi’s sister Rajni becomes friends with the Lieutenant and they have an affair. Rajni is exceptionally bright in her studies and is planning to appear for the Civil Services examination. The love affair between the Lieutenant and Rajni continues without the knowledge of Mr Vishwanathan, who is already busy finding a suitable Tamilian boy for his daughter.
One day Rajni meets with an accident and receives head injuries, which make her land in hospital. She recovers after treatment, though she still suffers from severe headaches. Now the story shifts to the Lieutenant’s colleague and friend, Vipin, who is in love with a Punjabi girl named Poonam and who is now carrying his child. Lieutenant Sandhu decides to enter the scene and befriends Poonam’s parents and after winning their affection, he manages to persuade Mrs Chopra to agree to her daughter’s marriage to Vipin. Though Poonam’s father, Mr Chopra, is himself an army man, he is not very favourably inclined towards Vipin. However, with persistent endeavour and hard work, the Lieutenant succeeds in getting Vipin to marry his sweetheart Poonam.
There is another colleague of Lieutenant Sandhu and he is called Shukla, who on regular visits to a brothel, falls in love with a twenty-one-year-old dancing girl named Rosy and wants to marry her. On talking to her, he discovers that Rosy had been kidnapped as a child and sold to the brothel, though she hailed from a well-to-do Sharma family, which has been living in sorrow since the disappearance of Rosy from their home. Lieutenant Sandhu and Shukla decide to locate Rosy’s parents and after a lot of enquiries find out where the Sharmas live and help to unite them with their daughter Rosy. The Sharmas are only too happy to get their daughter married to Shukla.
On retirement from the army, one day he is seated in a restaurant when a middle-aged South Indian woman comes and sits on a chair lying vacant on his table. They start talking to each other and after meeting a number of times, he discovers that she is his erstwhile Rajni and they decide to begin life afresh.
(Unistar Books Pvt Ltd India, 26-27 Top Floor, Sector 34-A Chandigarh; unistarbooks@gmail.com)

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