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Bund, Jewish

BUND, JEWISH

The term Bund is an abbreviation of der algemeyner yidisher arbeter bund in rusland un poyln and refers to the General Jewish Labor Union in Russia and Poland (after 1901 the name added Lithuania to Poland and Russia). Founded in Vilna in 1897 by a group of Jewish Social Democrats, it was one of the forces behind the establishment of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party (RSDWP) in Minsk in 1898. The Bund was an integral part of the RSDWP in the Russian Empire until it split from the party in 1903, rejoining it in 1906. The Bund pioneered Jewish political activism in the Russian Empire, while making important contributions to the development of a modern, secular Jewish culture in eastern Europe.

The movement originated among russified Jewish intellectuals, the Vilna Group, who were well-grounded in the theories of social democracy circulating in the Russian Empireincluding Polandin the 1890s. As convinced and enthusiastic cosmopolitans, they did not seek to create a specifically Jewish movement. Nor were the masses of Jewish artisans seen as a suitable substitute for an industrial proletariat. Nonetheless, on the Russian model, a few activists founded circles that sought to provide a general and political education for artisans, and to transform them into revolutionary activists. In 1894 the publication of two influential pamphlets, Shmuel Gozhansky's Letter to Agitators and Arkady Kremer's On Agitation, marked a major change in strategy, a move to mass agitation and the pursuit of specific economic goals. Given that the vernacular language of 97 percent of Jews in the Russian Empire was Yiddish, the move to mass agitation also marked a permanent commitment to the use and development of that language. The movement proved successful at attracting members by engaging in practical work, such as the creation of strike funds and self-help bodies, and publication of a Yiddish-language press and agitational materials. Over time the Bund ideology developed an emphasis on the importance of Yiddish as a central element in Jewish secular culture.

The Bund was formed in 1897 to unite scattered Jewish Social Democratic groups throughout the Pale of Settlement. It combined a central political organization led by professional revolutionaries and a mass movement directed to economic and political change. The organization produced a number of outstanding revolutionary leaders such as John Mill, Vladimir Medem, and Yuli Martov. In 1898 Bund members were major participants in the foundation of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party. At this meeting the Bund was granted full autonomy as to the geographical area of its activities, and a free hand to deal with the unique problems of the Jewish working class. This autonomy was ostensibly the cause of the split of the Bund from the RSDWP in 1903; in fact, criticism of the Bund's position was only a tactical maneuver on the part of Vladimir Ilich Lenin, in his effort to impose his ideological agenda upon the RSDWP. There was thus no serious obstacle to the readmission of the Bund to the party in 1906.

One of the most successful elements of the Social Democratic movement in the Russian Empire (in terms of numbers and organizational abilities), the Bund was active in the creation of self-defense groups to resist pogroms. Its commitment to Yiddish did much to foster the development of Yiddish language, literature, and culture. The Bund developed a program that called for Jewish cultural autonomy in a democratic Russian Empire. After 1905 the Bund had to compete with a broad variety of Jewish political activities, including various forms of Zionism, which it sharply opposed. In October 1917 the Bund joined other moderate socialists to oppose the Bolshevik seizure of power, but the out-break of pogroms in 1918 led many Bundists to welcome the protective role of the Red Army in the Pale. Bundists were a principle source of personnel recruited to the task of bringing the revolution to the Jewish street, through work in the Jewish Sections of the party and the state. The Bund was formally merged with the Russian Communist Party in 1921, while remaining a significant political force outside the Soviet Union, particularly in interwar Poland and the United States.

See also: jews; social democratic workers party

bibliography

Frankel, Jonathan. (1981). Prophecy and Politics: Socialism, Nationalism, and the Russian Jews, 18621917. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Jacobs, Jack, ed. (2001). Jewish Politics in Eastern Europe: The Bund at 100. New York: New York University Press.

Mendelsohn, Ezra. (1970). Class Struggle in the Pale: The Formative Years of the Jewish Workers' Movement in Tsarist Russia. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Tobias, Henry J. (1972). The Jewish Bund in Russia: From Its Origins to 1905. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

John D. Klier

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