Folkspartei (Russia)

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FOLKSPARTEI (Russia ), populist party; Jewish political party influential in most of Eastern Europe and active from 1906 to 1939. Its founder and mentor was Simon *Dubnow, who formulated with associates the party program on the basis of his ideology of *autonomism. According to this, the Jewish communal organization would serve as the secular cell of Jewish national existence and autonomy, to be administered on democratic lines. It was to establish Jewish schools whose language of instruction would be determined according to circumstances and the parents – Hebrew, Yiddish, or the language of the country – but the spirit and aims of this education should be Jewish. The local communities were to band together in a council on the lines of the *Councils of the Lands to represent the Jews vis-à-vis the authorities, whereby the state would grant it the right to collect taxes for internal Jewish requirements. The council would establish central institutions (rabbinical seminaries, teachers' training colleges, etc.), supervise the Jewish schools, and deal with economic and social matters (cooperatives, emigration, and welfare). On a higher plane, Dubnow visualized a world Jewish congress that would deal with problems concerning the whole of the nation in the Diaspora, such as the struggle for *emancipation in countries where it had not yet been achieved, and care for emigration and settlement in Ereẓ Israel and other countries. In 1911 a group of Autonomists-Socialists joined the Folkspartei. The party was led, in addition to S. Dubnow, by M. *Kreinin, I. *Yefroykin, S. *An-Ski, J.W. *Latzky-Bertholdi, Nahum *Shtif, and Joseph Tschernikhov.

After the Russian Revolution of February 1917, the party organized openly. It played a role in the political struggle among Jews during this period but made no headway against the Jewish socialist parties, the Zionists, and the Orthodox groups: in the elections to the Ukrainian Jewish Council of 1918, only four of its delegates were returned out of 125. Latzky-Bertholdi served as minister for Jewish affairs in the Ukrainian government for a short while in 1918. When the Soviets gained control of Ukraine and Belorussia, the activities of the party in these areas were brought to a halt. With the granting of *minority rights in international treaties, the Folkspartei considered that its program had been given international sanction.

In Poland the founding congress of the Folkspartei met in November 1918. The program adopted resembled the Russian one, differing in that it proclaimed Yiddish the sole language for the cooperative movement and for secular education and culture. Among the leaders of the party were: N. Prylucki, S. *Hirschhorn, J. *Zeitlin, H.D. *Nomberg, and others. In the elections to the Polish parlament (Sejm) two were elected: Prylucki and Hirschhorn; in the 1922 only Prylucki, but he did not join the Jewish Circle and the minorities bloc. In 1928 he joined forces with Agudat Israel and the government and not the second minorities bloc headed by Yiẓḥak *Gruenbaum. During the 1920s and 1930s, the party continued its activities in Poland and the Baltic countries. Its members took part in community affairs, and in conjunction with the Jewish leftist parties promoted secular Jewish schools with instruction in Yiddish (cysho [Central Yiddish School Organization]), and supported the Jewish cooperative movement and relief institutions (*ort, *ose). The party drew most of its adherents from the intelligentsia, small tradesmen, and artisans. While operating only in limited circles, it had some influence in communal life (see *Folkspartei, Poland). In the Baltic countries, the Folkspartei continued to exist until the rise of the dictatorial regimes and the abolition of Jewish autonomy. With the growing antisemitism and nationalism in the late 1930s, the party gradually disintegrated. Many of its members and leaders abandoned it, some joining the Zionists (such as Latzky-Bertholdi), and others the Territorialists (Tschernikhov).


S. Dubnow, in: K. Pinson (ed.), Nationalism and History (1958); N. Kastelyanski, Formy natsionalnogo dvizheniya (1910).

[Yehuda Slutsky]