Socialism, Jewish

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This article refers to specifically Jewish movements and parties which envisaged the creation of a socialist society as an essential aspect of the solution to the Jewish question. This definition, while far from perfect, has the virtue of excluding Jews who happened to be socialists, as well as socialist movements in which many Jews were active but which had no specifically Jewish content or aims (for which see *Socialism).

The Beginnings of the Movement

Jewish socialism, so understood, could originate only in Eastern Europe, and above all in the *Pale of Settlement. In distinction to Western and Central European Jewries, which were largely middle class, East European Jewry included hundreds and thousands of workers, the Yiddish-speaking "masses" so evident in the cities of western and southern Russia. Moreover, by the late 19th century a secular Jewish intelligentsia had developed in the Pale, consisting of students and professionals, many of whom were influenced by radical Russian ideologies. That they should be so was quite predictable, given the all-pervasive antisemitism which awakened their demands for social justice and made public activity, outside radical circles, impossible. These Jewish intellectuals, children of the *Haskalah ("Enlightenment"), were in revolt against the values and traditions of the ghetto. In many cases socialism, the acceptance of which in itself was a sign of assimilation, led them to discover the Jewish proletariat; this discovery, in turn, led them back to the Jewish people, to whom they preached the new doctrine.

The alliance of the radical Jewish intelligentsia with the Jewish masses made Jewish socialism possible. This alliance occurred first and foremost in the area of Jewish settlement in Lithuania (Lithuania-Belorussia, corresponding to the six provinces of the northwest region of the Pale), where the Jewish working class was numerically dominant in the cities and the Jewish intelligentsia was less subject to assimilationist pressures than in Poland or Ukraine. It is no accident that so many of the pioneers of Jewish socialism were "Litvaks" (that is, of Lithuanian origin) and that the *Bund, the first great Jewish socialist party, was founded in Vilna. Indeed, Jewish socialism may be seen as expanding from its Lithuanian base first to Poland and the Ukraine, and then beyond Russia's borders to Austrian Galicia. It took root, too, in the major centers of the Russian Jewish emigration: London, New York, Buenos Aires, and, of course, Palestine.

Russian Jewish socialism may be said to begin with A.S. *Liebermann. Born in Lunna, a student at the celebrated rabbinical seminary in Vilna, Liebermann became a confirmed Populist, influenced in particular by the doctrines of Peter Lavrov. It was in the pages of Lavrov's London journal Vpered that Liebermann published in 1875 a series of articles on the Jewish proletariat. Having taken the first vital step in his discovery of the poverty-stricken workers of Bialystok and Vilna, the author went one step further. These workers, he argued, lived under special conditions and spoke a distinct language of their own; they required, therefore, a special organization of their own, a Jewish section within the Russian revolutionary movement. This suggestion was questioned by V.N. Smirnov, secretary of Vpered, and Liebermann was accused of having deviated from socialist internationalism. He replied that recognition of the Jewish proletariat's special needs was far from nationalism, and that he himself despised "Jewry," believing only in individuals and in classes. This is the first exposition of what was to become a familiar pattern: the discovery of the Jewish proletariat is followed by the demand for a specifically Jewish organization, justified on technical grounds by reference to the obvious empiric differences between Jewish and Russian workers. Liebermann went no further than this, and his organizational schemes left no lasting impression in Russia, though he succeeded in establishing a Jewish workers' union in London. He was, however, a true pioneer, not only because he edited the first Jewish socialist journal, *Ha-Emet, but because his conception of the needs of the Jewish proletariat was accepted by all his successors. His career offered a point of departure, while his quarrel with Smirnov hinted at what was to become a major dilemma for generations of Jewish socialists.

During the 1880s and 1890s socialist circles (kruzhki in Russian) were founded in the major cities of Lithuania. These circles succeeded, for the first time, in joining together members of the Jewish intelligentsia and the Jewish working class. The leaders were russified Jews, to a far greater extent than Liebermann, who had retained the characteristics of a maskil and published his socialist organ in Hebrew. There were both Populists and Marxists among them, though Marxism was more attractive (after all, Populism placed its hopes on the peasants and there was no Jewish peasantry) and eventually won the day. The aim of the circle was to produce cadres of trained revolutionaries who would dedicate their lives to the Russian revolution. It was, in accordance with both Populist and Marxist teachings, essentially a school for socialism. The worker participants were first taught Russian and then studied economics, literature, and even the natural sciences, the purpose being to make them "class conscious." There was nothing particularly Jewish about these circles except that all the participants were Jews. This was the result not only of the preponderance of Jewish workers in the cities of Lithuania and Belorussia (Vilna, Minsk, Gomel, Dvinsk, etc.) but also of the gulf which separated Jews from Christians, the "estrangement" felt even by russified Jewish intellectuals when they sought to make contact with non-Jews. The all-Jewish character of the circles, therefore, reflected necessity rather than the desire to establish a Jewish movement, a practical example of Liebermann's view that special conditions dictated the creation of a special movement.

The idea of creating a special Jewish movement, however, as apart from circles dedicated to supplying revolutionaries for the Russian movement, was not formulated by the circle leaders until the circles themselves were transformed into trade unions. This transformation, the famous transition from cultural "propaganda" to economic "agitation," occurred in the early 1890s, by which time the circle movement had reached a point of crisis. While the circle was intended to be a school for socialism, a significant number of worker participants used it as a means to attain secular education and to escape the poverty of proletarian existence. Some emigrated, some became students, and others even opened their own shops, thus becoming, in the eyes of the leadership, "exploiters." Searching for a way out of this impasse the intellectual leadership resolved to appeal to the economic interests of the Jewish masses, an idea which came to them partly as a result of new developments within Russian Marxist thought, partly from the example of Polish socialism, and partly from their own experience of early Jewish strikes. Thus the educational circle made way for the strike, and the dominant figure of the circle movement, the teacher, gave way to the labor leader, the "agitator." Class consciousness would be achieved not through studying economics but through the hard school of the strike movement, which would demonstrate to the workers the alliance between the boss and the regime. The new slogan was "through economics to politics." Rather than concentrating on the elite of the circles, the intellectuals went "into the streets, to the masses."

The transition from propaganda to agitation was accompanied by the ideological formulation, expressed in the writings of A. *Kremer, S. *Gozhansky, and J. *Martov, of the need for a specifically Jewish socialist organization. These men, who formerly thought only in terms of Russian socialism, now argued that the Jewish proletariat, miserably exploited and extremely responsive to the slogans of the agitation campaign, was a worthy member of the international working class. Its struggle for better economic conditions was fully justified by the tenets of international Marxism, for the organization of Jewish workers into trade unions would ultimately contribute to the struggle to make Russia into a socialist state. The leaders then went one step further. The struggle of the Jewish proletariat, they argued, was also a national struggle for equal rights for Russian Jewry, a struggle which the assimilated and cowardly Jewish bourgeoisie was incapable of waging and which non-Jewish movements were liable to ignore. Thus the connection was made between the social role of the Jewish proletariat, whose mission was to lead the way to socialism, and its national role as defender of Jewish rights in the Russian Empire. This conception was to be developed into a full blown socialist-nationalist ideology which virtually all Jewish socialist movements came to accept.

The Bund

This way of thought became the organizational and ideological basis for the General Jewish Workers' Union in Russia and Poland (the *Bund), founded in 1897 as the result of the unification of various local movements in the major cities of Lithuania. The new ideology, as well as the new trade union organization, encountered stiff opposition: Russian Marxists, who organized the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party in 1898, refused to admit the need for an autonomous Jewish organization, a position consistently affirmed by *Lenin in his polemics with the Bund. Certain members of the old circles, who prized the cultural work carried on by the intellectuals, denounced the tactics of agitation as a plot to keep the workers ignorant and therefore incapable of leadership roles in the revolutionary movement. The various opposition movements which emerged in Vilna, Minsk, and other centers advanced an additional argument which was to have considerable weight among Jewish socialists. The Jewish working class, they claimed, could not wage a meaningful class struggle because it consisted almost entirely of artisans, with little if any difference between employers and employees. Those artisans, who for various reasons could gain entrance to the great factories, had nothing in common with the Russian factory proletariat, not to mention the great proletariats of Western Europe. Agitation, therefore, could only lead to the farcical struggle of the "poverty-stricken against the indigent."

The formulators of the agitation program rejected this argument. The Jewish artisan, they wrote, was a particularly apt subject for the slogans of economic action, since he was better educated than the factory worker and was the heir to a long tradition of guild organization. The fact that 90% of the Jewish workingmen in Lithuania were craftsmen who labored in tiny shops might therefore be advantageous, and in the end a Jewish factory proletariat would doubtless develop. Indeed, the outbreak of strikes in the Pale, from 1892 on, and the remarkable organizational achievements of the Jewish proletariat under the leadership of the Bund (achievements which placed the Jewish movement, in Plekhanov's words, in the vanguard of the Russian proletarian army) would appear to bear out the correctness of the agitation tactics. Certainly the opposition movements were swept away by the Jewish workers' massive response to the agitation program. On the other hand, there is considerable evidence that the strike movement was unable to cure the economic troubles of the Jewish artisan class, which were caused to a certain extent by its inability to enter the factories. The Bund's assumption that the Jewish proletariat was essentially no different from any other was to come under heavy attack in the early years of the 20th century.

As already noted, as early as the 1890s the socialists had attributed both a social and a national role to the Jewish proletariat. The success of the agitation tactics gave impetus to the formulation by the leaders of the Bund of a Jewish national program. The development from Liebermann's disavowal of all interest in the Jews as a national entity to the Bund's adoption of the demand for national-cultural autonomy, presented in 1903, is of great importance. It is explicable in terms of the fact that the Jewish proletariat, bearer of the Marxist mission, was also seen as the bearer of the Jewish national tradition as against the assimilated, russified or polonized Jewish middle class. This became clear to the socialists only with the inauguration of the agitation tactics, when they came face to face with the masses for the first time. In order better to serve the cause of the Yiddish-speaking Jewish workers the movement forged a natural alliance with the Yiddish literary renaissance – Jewish workers were now offered *Peretz instead of Turgenev. The interest in all things Yiddish, glorified as the language of the laboring class (in contrast to Hebrew, the language of the reactionary yeshivot), remained a hallmark of the Bund throughout its existence. Moreover, the tactics of agitation brought to the fore a new leadership, a "popular" one often drawn from the so-called "semi-intelligentsia" (meaning the Jewish youth without diplomas), which was less russified and closer to the Jewish masses than the Kremers and Martovs. Both these factors caused Bundists to advance from the attitude that a Jewish organization was justified basically on technical grounds to the attitude that the Jewish people, represented by its proletariat, presented national characteristics of a positive nature which should be fostered. This new assumption was strengthened by the growth of Jewish nationalism in Russia as a competing ideology to Bundism. It was also strengthened by the development, within the Austrian Social Democratic Party, of the theory of national self-determination on a personal rather than a territorial basis. By demanding national rights for the Jews, which meant mainly the right to foster Yiddish cultural activities, the Bund embarked on a course taken by many other socialist parties representing the oppressed nationalities of the Russian and Austrian empires. It was also following trends within the European socialist movement, which during the period of the Second International increasingly came to recognize and encourage the liberation movements of subject peoples. The Bund's combination of socialism and nationalism was therefore in line with tendencies in East European Marxism, though the Jewish case was more difficult to defend since it was by no means clear that the Jews were, in fact, a nationality. Thus Otto *Bauer, chief theoretician of the Austrian Marxists and the author of a famous book on Marxism and nationalism, specifically excluded the Jews from the community of nations. This was the background to the long polemics between the Bund and Lenin, who never doubted that the solution to the Jewish question lay in assimilation. Neither Lenin nor Bauer, however, could convince the Bundists that the defense of the Jewish workers' national needs was any less vital than the defense of their economic and political needs.

In the early years of its existence the Bund ruled, virtually unchallenged, as the party of the politically active Jewish working class. Even its greatest enemies within the Jewish socialist camp have never failed to grant the Bund credit for its role in awakening this class, in which it inspired new hopes for a society based on social justice and democracy. The Bund, in short, put the East European Jewish working class on the map of modern Jewish history. However, a fundamental weakness of the party was its assumption that the condition of the Jews in Russia was not greatly different from the condition of the other nationalities of the empire, except that the Jews lacked a territory and therefore required national cultural autonomy on a personal basis. The task of the Jewish proletariat was to struggle, side by side with the proletariats of the other nationalities, for a socialist Russia. Antisemitism was regarded as a manifestation of capitalism alone; socialism would abolish it, along with all other iniquities, and would solve the Jewish question once and for all. Zionism was therefore regarded as a bourgeois ideology, a brand of utopianism dangerous because it might lure workers away from their proper mission. Zionists were seen as working hand-in-hand with antisemites, the classic example being Herzl's meeting with Von *Plehve.

Zionist Socialism

These views were rejected by a new type of Jewish socialism, Zionist Socialism, which challenged the hegemony of the Bund in the years immediately preceding the first Russian revolution. The ideologists of this new movement were from various backgrounds: there were former "bourgeois" Zionists, such as Nachman *Syrkin, who were unable to withstand the great influence of Russian radicalism and moved to the left but without abandoning their Zionist principles; and former Russian socialists, such as Ber *Borochov, whose encounters with Russian antisemitism, including the proletarian variety, helped to push them into the Zionist camp. The *Zionist Socialists agreed with the Bund in recognizing the predominant role of the Jewish proletariat in modern Jewish history, and in recognizing the dual nature of this role – both social and national. However, they were also in fundamental agreement with the Zionist analysis of the Jewish predicament, namely that antisemitism was endemic to the Diaspora and that the reversal of class relationships through revolution, however desirable, did not constitute a solution. Their problem was to create an ideology which, rejecting both the Bund's russo-centrism and the all-class character of bourgeois Zionism, would combine the revolutionary determinism of the former with the doctrine of territorialism articulated by the latter.

The early *Po'alei Zion circles found it easier to attack the Bund than to formulate a clear alternative. Their attack was based on the theory that the Jewish working class did not constitute a proletariat, a theory somewhat reminiscent of the views of those who opposed the agitation tactics of the early 1890s. The Jewish working class, it was argued, was incapable of transforming itself into a proletariat because of the very nature of the Diaspora, which precluded the possibility of a normal Jewish existence. It was, and would remain, incapable of a meaningful class struggle, and therefore the entire Bundist program was based on a class with no future. Thus the failure of Jewish workers to enter the great factories was not a temporary phenomenon but a symptom of the Jewish people's abnormal situation, which no social revolution could alter. The Jewish strike movement, while perhaps of psychological value, was a palliative rather than a cure. The peculiar nature of the Jewish proletariat, cited by the circle's participants in their polemics with Kremer and Gozhanky, and by the Bundists as proof that the Jewish artisans would be particularly amenable to the class struggle, was presented as proof of the bankruptcy of the Bund's position. Thus the emotional argument against the Bund, the rising tide of antisemitism symbolized by the *Kishinev pogrom (1903), was given "scientific" backing by studies proving the absurdity of Jewish strikes and the absence of Jewish workers from the great factories.

As socialists, however, the Bund's critics were also obliged to base their hopes on the Jewish proletariat (or at least on the "laboring masses"). Therefore they evolved the concept that the Jewish question could be solved only through the territorial concentration of the Jewish working class, where a meaningful class struggle would be feasible and would lead to a Jewish socialist society. This territorial concentration, however, would not come about as the result of the will of the Jewish people – Herzl's famous slogan, "If you will it, it is no dream" was unacceptable to the Marxist and semi-Marxist intelligentsia – but as the inevitable result of the Jewish proletariat's search for a base from which to conduct the class struggle. Thus both the Bund's error and Zionism's ultimate victory were proven in "scientific" terms, as was the pioneering role of the Jewish proletariat in the Zionist movement. Marxist determinism was introduced to lend certainty to the Zionist ideal, a fact of great psychological significance to those who had previously suspected Zionism of being Utopian. Herzl's slogan was turned on its head; since it was proved that "it is no dream," therefore "we shall will it."

While Zionist Socialists (see below) agreed that the abnormal situation of the Jewish working class, itself symptomatic of the incurable disease of the Diaspora, ruled out a Diaspora solution to the Jewish question, there was no agreement on a number of extremely difficult problems inherent in the basic ideology. There was, for example, the problem of the "two levels." Should the Zionist Socialists participate in the political and economic struggle in Russia, or should they concentrate solely on efforts to obtain a territory? The latter alternative was not particularly attractive, since it was not clear exactly how a political party, with its base in Russia, might work to hasten the territorial solution. On the other hand, if the Jewish question could not be solved in Russia, and if the Jewish proletariat was incapable of waging the class struggle, what was the point of organizing a party in the Diaspora at all? It was logical that, despite the "negation of the exile" implied in the theses of the Zionist Socialists, their involvement in the Diaspora should nonetheless increase as their popularity among Jewish workers and intellectuals grew. From a practical point of view it was clear that the territorial solution, especially after the episode of the Uganda *scheme, was far off, and that the Jewish masses would remain in Russia for the foreseeable future. Along with this was the fact that the rising revolutionary storm in Russia, which reached its peak in 1905–06, could not be ignored by the Jewish socialists, whether Zionists or not. Thus Zionist Socialists, revealing an apparent contradiction between their theory and their practice, often became as involved in the Russian struggle as their antagonists, the Bundists. This was particularly true during great upheavals in Russia, when the temptation to participate and therefore to prove one's revolutionary worth was too great to withstand. The problem of the "two levels" remained crucial for all Zionist Socialists, just as the peculiar composition of the Jewish proletariat and the participation of workers in pogroms remained a problem for the Bund. This problem helped split the socialist Zionist camp in 1917 and during the civil war, the greatest Russian upheaval of them all.

Another basic problem was the question in which territory the Jews were to be concentrated. For many Zionist Socialists, who believed along with Herzl in the imminent collapse of Diaspora Jewry (a belief naturally strengthened by the Kishinev pogrom), any territory would do, and therefore they supported the Uganda scheme, an issue which divided the Zionist movement from 1903 on. Moreover, it was difficult for socialists to accept the Palestinian orientation of bourgeois Zionism, since it seemed to be based on mysticism and was unsupported by any scientific, socialist analysis. The eternal bond between the Jewish people and Ereẓ Israel appeared to be a fitting slogan for the *Mizrachi movement but not for Marxists. It is therefore paradoxical that the most consistent Marxist of all, Ber Borochov, nonetheless insisted on Palestine, though he too justified his choice on utilitarianism rather than on appeals to Jewish tradition. The problem of "why Palestine," like the problem of Hebrew versus Yiddish, remained a difficult one for Zionist Socialists, especially for Marxists torn between their loyalty to the national movement and their adherence to scientific socialism.

Other issues also separated the various socialist Zionist groups, which included strict Marxists, semi-Marxists, and Populists. To cite one example, some rejected the "catastrophe" approach to the Jewish Diaspora and insisted that the territorial solution, though necessary, could be achieved only after a long process of development in the Diaspora. During the first Russian Revolution three distinct parties formed out of the ideological confusion: the Marxist, Palestinian Po'alei Zion, the *Zionist Socialist Workers' Party (known as S.S.), which despite its name was territorialist, and the *Jewish Socialist Workers' Party, also known as the "Sejmist" party, which called for the nurturing of Jewish national life in the Diaspora (under the aegis of a Jewish parliament, or Sejm) until the time was ripe for a territorial solution. Together, these parties spelled a serious challenge to the hegemony of the Bund. Unlike the Bund, all suffered from the tension between the ultimate goal, a territorial solution, and the inescapable need to participate in the struggle for socialism, Jewish national rights in the Diaspora, and the improvement of the economic lot of the Jewish masses. The three parties, all claiming to represent the Yiddish-speaking, economically and culturally deprived Jewish laboring masses, found that their activities overlapped. It is significant that the objective situation led all of them to champion national cultural autonomy for Russian Jewry, a stand also taken by the Bund. In fact, though kept alive by polemics between party leaders, ideological distinctions tended to be blurred in the daily struggle. Thus Bundists, socialist Zionists, and socialist territorialists all cooperated in the establishment of Yiddish schools, seen as the mainspring in the creation of Jewish national autonomy. While the gulf between the Bundist and Zionist Socialist analysis of the Jewish question remained as wide as ever, so long as the Jewish masses remained concentrated in the Pale and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, the practical platforms of the various Jewish socialist parties were bound to grow more and more similar.

Europe Outside Russia

In Eastern Europe, beyond Russia's borders, Galicia offered the most fertile ground for Jewish socialism. Both the Bund and the Zionist Socialists made inroads in this Austrian province, which combined economic conditions even worse than those in the Pale with a much more moderate political system. Vienna, a magnet for Galician Jewish intellectuals, became an important Po'alei Zion center, though the absence of a substantial Jewish proletariat made Bundist incursions impossible. The great emigration from Eastern Europe did produce a Jewish proletariat in England, chiefly in London's East End, which became an important Jewish socialist and trade union center in the 1880s. In London, as in the cities of the Pale, there was a profusion of both radical Jewish intellectuals and Jewish artisans, but different conditions made for a very different development in Jewish socialism. One issue, the path to Yiddish, which was complicated in Russia, was much easier in London. Having left Russia behind and not having yet become anglicized, the intellectuals turned to Yiddish to fill the vacuum. Thus Morris *Vinchevsky, Liebermann's contemporary, abandoned his mentor's Hebrew and published in London the first socialist paper in Yiddish, the Poylishe Yidl. The English capital became a training ground for Yiddish socialist journalists, whose writings were read in both Russia and America. Trade union activities were central to the Jewish movement from the very beginning, natural in a country which, unlike Russia, boasted an advanced and legal trade union movement. The Jewish unions were often founded by socialists (or anarchists), and for as long as Jewish workers were clearly differentiated from non-Jews it is possible to speak of a Jewish movement. However, on the eve of World War i specifically Jewish unions were on the wane, a result of growing assimilation and the absorption of Jewish workers by English unions. The Yiddish socialist press and Jewish socialist and anarchist groups, deprived of leadership and subjects for organization, were also in decline. The careers of such Jewish socialists as Vinchevsky, Philip *Krantz, and Benjamin *Feigenbaum, who were active in London and then left for the new world, illustrate both the importance of London as a center of early Jewish socialist activity and its rather swift eclipse by New York.

The United States

The history of U.S. Jewish socialism is not unlike that of English Jewish socialism, though incomparably richer and more important. In the United States Russian-Jewish radicals, arriving from the early 1880s onward, found themselves estranged from the mainstream of American political life: even American Marxism, whose main practitioners were German immigrants in New York, was too reformist for them. Leaving Russia behind, but not the Russian radical tradition, they plunged hopefully into the Yiddish-speaking milieu of New York, editing socialist newspapers, writing Yiddish pamphlets and poetry, and above all organizing Jewish workers into trade unions. These unions, unlike most American labor organizations, were socialist in ideology; there were no greater enemies of S. *Gompers' nonpolitical unionism, embodied in the American Federation of Labor, than the Jewish unions led by former Russian radicals. The various waves of immigration brought to the U.S. numerous East European Jewish socialists, including illustrious Bundists and Zionist Socialists, who formed groups of their own. Such organizations, aside from their local activities, were of great importance for their sister organizations in Eastern Europe and Palestine, since they were in a position to offer both political and financial support. Thus just as the significance of American Zionism within the world Zionist movement increased, so did that of the American Po'alei Zion within world labor Zionism, all the more so since most of the prominent Po'alei Zion leaders were at one time or another active in America. Equally important was the cultural work accomplished by Jewish socialists among the Yiddish-speaking immigrants. If the Russian movement had its circles, and later its Yiddish secular schools, American Jewish socialism created the Arbeter Ring ("Workmens' *Circle"), a fraternal organization which combined economic and cultural activities. In the United States, as in Eastern Europe, socialism was the means whereby great numbers of the Jewish poor received an education.

In the United States, as in Russia, the organization of Jewish unions and the use of Yiddish were justified on technical grounds. Thus A. *Cahan, perhaps the dominant figure in American Jewish radicalism, a former student at the same Vilna rabbinical seminary which Aaron Liebermann attended, used Yiddish in his speeches to the Jewish workers in America simply because they understood no other language. Unlike Russia, however, where the tendency was from Russian to Yiddish, in the United States the tendency was from Yiddish to English. The mainstream of the U.S. Jewish socialist movement, represented by Cahan and his newspaper Jewish Daily Forward, favored the Americanization of the Jewish masses. National cultural autonomy was regarded as a justified demand for East European Jewry but was clearly absurd in the United States, the land of democracy, where the all-pervasive influence of English soon made itself felt among the immigrant masses. Moreover, if Russian conditions favored the creation of mass socialist parties, like the Bund, which were of a pronounced Marxist, revolutionary character, in the United States the mass Jewish organization was the union, whose socialist character was clear at the outset but which tended to leave socialism behind with the passage of time. It is interesting to note that in Russia, where Jewish workers were not particularly successful in improving their economic situation, the Jewish labor movement and Jewish socialism remained more or less identical. In the United States, where major breakthroughs were made in the Needle Trade Union relations with management in the years immediately preceding World War i, this identity was not maintained. The career of David *Dubinsky, a former Bundist who became the leader of the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union and left Bundism behind, illustrates this process. Thus American soil nourished neither the national nor the radical sides of East European Jewish socialism, though both Yiddishists and Jewish Marxists remained active on the American scene.

Relations with the Communist Party

The Bolshevik October (1917) Revolution and the establishment of the Communist International inaugurated a period of schisms within the Jewish socialist movement, as within virtually all socialist parties. It became necessary to choose between affiliation to the victorious Communist movement and continued adherence to democratic socialism. For the Jewish parties this choice was particularly difficult; the Russian Communist Party, while clearly opposed to antisemitism, inherited an assimilationist attitude toward the Jewish question and was hostile to both Zionism and Bundism. Hence to join the Communist movement meant, essentially, to abandon a specifically Jewish program (though not the use of Yiddish to reach the Jewish workers). In the Soviet Union, of course, there was no freedom to choose. The Bund, which was anti-Bolshevik during the revolution, was not tolerated by the new regime. After the failure of efforts to maintain organizational autonomy as the so-called "Kombund" ("Communist Bund"), the Bund was forced out of existence by 1921. The various Zionist socialist movements, though they lasted longer than the Bund, were finally crushed in the Soviet Union during the later 1920s. It should not be imagined that the collapse of autonomous Jewish socialist parties in the U.S.S.R. was solely the result of repression. In 1918 many Bundists began to opt for Communism, reflecting, among other things, the Jewish reaction to pogroms in the Ukraine. Many members of Po'alei Zion, favorably inclined toward the Bolshevik coup from the beginning, also declared their adherence to the Communist movement, as did the United Jewish Socialist Workers' Party, the left faction of the so-called Fareynikte ("United," e.g., the unified S.S.-Sejmist Party, which had amalgamated in 1917). Such erosion indicates that, at least among certain Jewish socialists, the Jewish content was less important than the hopes for a new society in which all national problems would be automatically solved. If many Jewish radicals had been led to Jewish territorialism by the atmosphere of antisemitism so prevalent in czarist Russia, the victory of Communism, transforming Russia from the most backward to the most enlightened country in Europe, led them back to the ideals of pure internationalism. Moscow for them appeared to be a surer Zion than Jerusalem. As for the Bundists, the attraction of participating in building the new socialist state in Russia, along with the hope that their national program might, after all, be implemented by the Communists, led large numbers to break with the anti-Bolshevik tradition of their party. All Jewish socialists in Russia, moreover, were influenced by their fear of the counter-revolution, which had revealed its antisemitic character in the terrible pogroms in the Ukraine. Clearly it was necessary to fight these forces of reaction, and in the polarized atmosphere of the civil war in Russia the Bolsheviks appeared to many Jewish socialists to be the lesser of the two evils.

Defectors from the various Jewish socialist parties constituted the backbone of the so-called "Jewish Sections" (*Yevsektsiya) which existed until 1930 as Jewish Communist organizations designed to propagate Communism among the Soviet Jewish masses. Their creation was in fact a concession to reality on the part of the Communist leadership, whose antipathy to autonomous Jewish organizations was tempered by the fact, "discovered" so many times in the history of Jewish socialism, that the Jewish masses were not yet assimilated and that propaganda would have to be carried on in their language. There was no question of going further, since the Soviet regime saw to it that "national deviations" did not appear. Nonetheless the leaders of the Yevsektsiya, though doubtless they were made use of by the regime in its war with Zionism and other "reactionary" Jewish ideologies, saw themselves as defenders of the interests of the Jewish masses. Inevitably, as the regime consolidated itself, and as its policy toward the national minorities became more inflexible, the Yevsektsiya came increasingly under attack. Their demise in 1930 meant the end of the history of Jewish proletarian organizations in Russia.

During the interwar period the newly constituted Polish Republic, which included both Galicia and large areas of the former Pale of Settlement, became the center of Jewish socialism. Here the Bund withstood the blandishments of Communism, and despite a sharp move to the left which included the readiness to accept much of the Communist platform, remained intact, though factionalized. In the end its inner solidarity, the fruit of decades of conflict with the Russian and Polish socialist movements, its firm organizational base among Jewish workers, and the failure of the Bolsheviks to conquer Poland, allowed the Bund to flourish until 1939. The Bund retained its hold over the majority of Jewish trade unions, played a dominant role in the Yiddish secular school movement, and succeeded in winning general acclaim as a champion of Jewish rights against the omnipresent Polish antisemitism. The party benefited from the general trend to the left within Polish Jewry, itself the result of the worsening economic and political situation, and became far more than merely the strongest Jewish working class party. Despite the Bund's failure to improve the conditions of the Jewish masses, which deteriorated during the interwar period, it became, by the later 1930s, the strongest Jewish party in Poland. It was the Bund's tragedy that evidence of this strength, its victories in local elections in such cities as Warsaw and Lodz, occurred only a few years before the German conquest, which destroyed East European Jewry and with it the great socialist party which thought only in terms of a Diaspora solution to the Jewish question.

The world Po'alei Zion movement, which had come to overshadow the socialist territorialist parties after the failure of the Uganda project and which naturally benefited from the *Balfour Declaration, split in 1920 over the issues of whether or not to adhere to the Communist International and of their relations with the Zionist movement. The left faction, drawing its strength chiefly from Russia and Poland, actually accepted *Zinoviev's celebrated 21 points for admission to the Comintern, while the right, based mainly on delegations from the United States and Palestine, refused to go that far (though it too took a positive attitude toward the Bolshevik revolution). However, the Left Po'alei Zion did not join the Comintern, not because it decided against this step but because the world Communist movement could not accept its program for Palestine. It thus existed, mainly in Poland, as a Zionist party too far left to have anything to do with the official Zionist movement and as a revolutionary Marxist party unacceptable to the Comintern. This unenviable position, complicated still further by the party's ambivalent attitude toward Hebrew and toward aliyah (emigration to Palestine), reduced its appeal and its ability to compete both with the Bund and with the more moderate Zionist socialist movements. No other organization illustrated more clearly the inherent contradictions of a Diaspora-based Marxist Zionist party. On the other hand the Right Po'alei Zion, identifying with *Aḥdut ha-Avodah in Palestine, with the pioneering movement, and generally with progressive Zionism, became ever stronger within the world Zionist movement. In Poland, for example, by the 1930s the moderate socialist Zionist faction had become the strongest force within the Zionist movement. Generally speaking Right Po'alei Zion became less socialist and more nationalist, following the lead of party developments in Palestine, where Syrkin's non-Marxist ideology was more influential than Borochov's strictures. If to Left Po'alei Zion Palestine appeared less important than world revolution and Yiddish more important than Hebrew, Right Po'alei Zion broadened its national base. It thereby followed the course taken by so many other socialist parties which, once they had gained a certain degree of power (in this case in Palestine), spoke less and less of the proletariat and the class struggle.

Pioneering Youth Movements

A striking feature of Jewish socialism in the interwar period was the rise of pioneering youth movements. To a certain extent these movements followed in the footsteps of the *Ẓe'irei Zion ("Youth of Zion") circles, whose history began in Russia in the early 20th century. A fervent supporter of settlement in Palestine, nationalistic, at the outset non-socialist, and even nonpolitical, the Ẓe'irei Zion rejected the Marxist determinism and intense involvement in the Diaspora of the various Jewish socialist parties. Their voluntarism and emphasis on personal salvation through aliyah, which established an alternative for Jewish youth to the existing parties, whether Bundist or Zionist, was also the hallmark of the pioneering youth movements established during and after World War i. Thus *Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir, founded in Galicia during the war by middle-class youths seeking their way between the Polish world which rejected them and the Jewish bourgeois existence they found so distasteful, turned not to Marxism and not to party organization but to self-fulfillment through pioneering, through an act of will which would make them productive proletarians building a just society in Palestine. Both Ẓe'irei Zion and Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir shared a natural sympathy for socialism, and neither was able to withstand the pressure to organize into political groups. In 1920 the left faction of Ẓe'irei Zion created the Zionist Socialist Party (*ZS), which later merged with Right Po'alei Zion, while the right faction merged with the Palestinian nonsocialist party, *Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir, to form the *Hitaḥadut. Both these parties offered a moderate labor Zionist alternative to the radical Left Po'alei Zion. As for Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir, it developed from a self-styled vanguard of romantic idealists into a Marxist movement based on the organizational structure of the Ha-Kibbutz ha-Arẓi, founded in Palestine in 1927. The attraction of Marxism for the Zionist Socialists of the early 20th century had been that it could make Zionism appear determined rather than a mere dream. For the voluntaristic members of Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir, on the other hand, it functioned as a cement which held the movement together in Palestine, guarding against internal collapse and amalgamation with other elements. The history of both Ẓe'irei Zion and Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir demonstrates that organizational and ideological consolidation could not be avoided by groups whose initial mission was personal redemption through proletarianization. The acceptance by the Ẓe'irei Zion, for example, of the principle of Jewish national autonomy in Russia, and their active struggle for Jewish rights in the Diaspora, is reminiscent of the history of Po'alei Zion. But the political offshoots of Ẓe'irei Zion, active in an era when aliyah was a clear possibility, were firmly centered on Palestine and less subject to the dilemma of the "two levels." The problem of "which territory," of course, had completely disappeared.

This also held for the various pioneering youth movements, Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir, He-Ḥalutz ha-Ẓa'ir, etc., whose major problem in the Diaspora concerned the likelihood of aliyah and the impact of aliyah on the local organization. What tied the youth movements of the 1920s and 1930s, whether Marxist or not, to the Jewish socialist tradition, was their preoccupation with the necessity to create a just Jewish society based on productive labor. If Liebermann and later the Bundists and Zionist Socialists discovered the Jewish proletariat, members of the pioneering movements proposed to turn themselves into proletarians in Palestine, an extreme solution which reflected the crisis of East European Jewry in the period between the two world wars.

Later Developments

In the United States in the interwar period, as elsewhere, the Jewish socialist and trade union movement was rent by dissension between communists and socialists, the former mounting a serious and at least partly successful challenge within the Jewish union membership. Here, as in Eastern Europe, former Bundists and socialist Zionists lent their talents to the formation of a Jewish federation within the Communist Workers' Party. More important, however, was the steady decline of the American Jewish proletariat and of Yiddish. To a certain extent this was a function of America's immigration laws, for the children of the Jewish needle trades' workers did not, as a rule, follow the professions of their parents, but entered areas which would have been closed to them in the old world. The striking feature of the Jewish proletariat in the United States was that it was a one-generation phenomenon. If the Jewish unions remained Jewish, they remained so only in terms of their leadership. Similarly, the decline of Yiddish dealt a blow to the socialist press and to the cultural activities of Jewish labor institutions. Thus the ideology of A. Cahan, who believed that the Jewish labor movement's goal was to make good Americans of its members, was achieved, but the movement itself naturally declined once americanization was completed. While certain white collar unions in America, such as the Teachers' Union in New York, were still predominantly Jewish in membership in 1971, they were neither socialist in content nor Jewish in any meaningful form.

The Jewish socialist tradition was eliminated in Eastern Europe by the Holocaust, and in America by the unparalleled opportunities offered by American society. Its chief impact was in Israel, where ideas formed in Eastern Europe were molded to fit the task of building the yishuv. The Jewish socialist movement, in the old world and the new, was of enormous significance to countless numbers of Jews, to whom it offered new vistas of education, the ideals of democratic socialism, and the chance to obtain a decent standard of living. The vision of men as different as Liebermann, Kremer, Borochov, and Cahan – that the Yiddish-speaking Jewish masses needed special organizations in order to better their economic and cultural conditions, whether in the Diaspora or in Palestine, and that the task of the radical Jewish intelligentsia was to devote itself to these masses – produced one of the most fruitful of modern Jewish political movements.


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[Ezra Mendelsohn]