KOMZET , committee for the agricultural settlement of Jews under the auspices of the Presidium of the Nationality Council, of the Central Executive Committee of the U.S.S.R. (vtsik). Komzet was established on August 29, 1924, with the aim of productivizing the Jewish population primarily by engaging it in agricultural labor. This followed the massive impoverishment of the Soviet Jewish population which had been hard hit by pogroms, government requisitioning of property during the Military Communism period (beginning of the 1920s), the general economic disaster in the country, and the heavy burden of taxes. Among the Jews the number of persons classified as "without definite occupation," such as merchants, religious functionaries, etc., deprived of voting and other civil rights, such as state schooling, or state medical help (lishentsy), reached massive proportions, amounting in 1926–27 to 30% (reaching 40% in the shtetls) of the recognized laboring population among the Jews of the Ukraine.
The Komzet was empowered to organize Jewish settlement and regions, recruit Jewish settlers, and care for them on their journeys and until they became established in their new locations. Komzet had departments with a special recruiting office attached to the central executive committees of the Soviet Union's republics. It received significant assistance from Jewish philanthropic organizations abroad such as Agro-Joint (see *American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee), the Jewish Colonization Association, and *ort.
As early as 1924 Komzet began establishing new Jewish villages in the Ukraine. Poor shtetl Jews were resettled on uncultivated land while the allocation of land was intended to unite the previously Jewish agricultural settlements destroyed in the Civil War into a compact area populated by Jews. Thus in the late 1920s three Jewish national regions were established in the Ukraine: *Kalinindorf, *Novo-Zlatopol, and *Stalindorf. By 1936 Jewish collective farms occupied 175,000 hectares in the Ukraine.
In the mid-1920s Komzet proposed large-scale Jewish agricultural settlement as the only way to solve the Jewish problem in the Soviet Union and as an alternative to Zionism. The area initially allocated for this purpose was the uninhabited and agriculturally quite inappropriate northern and northwestern steppe region of the Crimea. Komzet hoped to cover the preliminary expenses for preparing the land by receiving funds and farm machinery from abroad. Of the 22.5 million rubles expended before 1929 on settling Jews on the land in the U.S.S.R., 16.7 million rubles (74.2%) came from abroad. In the Crimea the Jewish settlers were allocated 342,000 hectares mainly in the Yevpatoria and Dzhankoysk regions of which, in 1930, 240,000 were allocated to the (Fraydorf) Jewish National Region. In 1927 a plan was proposed for massive Jewish settlement in one of the Amur regions; due to the tensions in this area, close to the Chinese border, it was considered of paramount political and strategic importance and its settlement was of top priority for the Soviet government. In the spring of 1927 Komzet decided to send to the *Birsko-Bidzhan of the Far Eastern Territory a scientific expedition to explore the possibilities for resettling large numbers of people there. Despite the less than enthusiastic report of the expedition and the objections of some of the leaders of the *Yevsektsiya (the Jewish section of the Communist Party), the presidium of the Central Executive Committee of the U.S.S.R. on March 28, 1928, resolved to charge Komzet with responsibility for settling the Birobidzhan region, and in the event of favorable results, to have the possibility of establishing a national administrative-territorial region. From that time all of Komzet's activity was basically connected with the Birobidzhan project. On January 10 and 26, 1928, the Central Executive Committee of the U.S.S.R. lifted the deprivations of rights for the Jews who settled in the framework of the Komzet.
Komzet also operated, on a smaller scale, in Belorussia (where the Jewish population was allocated 22,000 hect-ares), in the Smolensk area, and also among the Soviet Asian Jewish communities. In the last context, ten collective farms of Bukharan Jews were established in Uzbekistan, 15 collective farms of Georgian Jews were established in Georgia, and collective farms of Mountain Jews were established in Daghestan, Azarbaijan, the northern Caucasus, and in the Crimea.
In 1928 Komzet drew up a five-year plan for the restructuring of the social composition of the Jewish population of the U.S.S.R. The plan projected that by 1933, 250,000 Jews (compared with 100,000 in 1927–28) would be employed in agriculture, that 70,000 scholarship students (vs. 30,000 in 1929/30) would be sent to technical schools, and that artisans cooperatives would be formed which would number only 200,000 (vs. 293,000 in 1929/30). A long-range plan of Komzet envisaged half a million Jews in agricultural labor but this was never realized. In 1936 there were slightly more than 200,000 Jewish agricultural workers farming approximately 250,000 hectares. The heads of the Komzet were non-Jews, P. Smodovich (1924–35) and S. Chutskayev (1935–38), and their deputies were Jewish Yevsektsiya activists, A. Merezhin and B. Troitski. During the period of mass repression in the mid-1930s the activities of Komzet were practically halted. In the summer of 1938, it was liquidated.
[Mark Kipnis /
The Shorter Jewish Encyclopaedia in Russian]