Axelrod, Pavel Borisovich

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AXELROD, PAVEL BORISOVICH (1850–1928), Russian revolutionary, one of the founders of the Russian Social Democratic party. He was born in a small village in the province of Chernigov and spent his childhood in great poverty. While still at school, he published his first article on the condition of the Jewish poorer classes. He started his revolutionary activity in 1872 among Jewish students in Kiev where, attracted by anarchist ideas, he was anxious to work among Russian peasants and workers. In 1874, during a period of severe czarist repression, he escaped abroad and lived for a while in Berlin, where he studied the German socialist movement. He later settled in Geneva and married Nadezhda, daughter of the socialist Hebrew poet Isaac *Kaminer. Living at starvation level, Axelrod continued his revolutionary activity both in Russia and abroad. He maintained close contact with the "Land and Liberty" movement (Zemlya i Volya), editing its organ of that name, but left because of his opposition to the use of terror advocated by most of its members. Together with George Plekhanov, he founded the "Chorny peredel" group, which favored distributing the nobility's landholdings among the peasants.

In 1881, during the anti-Jewish pogroms in southern Russia, Axelrod was briefly attracted by the ideas of Ḥibbat Zion and prepared a pamphlet describing the disillusionment of young Jewish radicals with the attitude of the revolutionary movement to the specific problems of Russian Jewry. His ideas found little response among his closest friends, however, and he became a Marxist and an opponent of both the Bund and Zionism. In 1883 he was one of the founders of the "Liberation of Labor" (Osvobozhdeniye Truda) movement, which was to develop into the Russian Social Democratic party, and he edited the movement's newspaper, Iskra ("The Spark"). When in 1903 the party divided into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, he became one of the Menshevik leaders, and from 1913 represented the party at socialist conferences. Axelrod returned to Russia in 1917 but after the October Revolution went to live in Germany. Later he took part in congresses of the Socialist International and was a member of its international bureau. He was an uncompromising opponent of the communist regime. Axelrod was the author of several works on social democratic ideology and tactics; his memoirs, My Life and Thoughts, appeared in 1922.


L. Deutsch, Yidn in der Rusisher Revolutsie (1924); L.S. Dawidowicz (ed.), Golden Tradition (1967), 405–10.

[Simha Katz]