Yevsektsiya

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

YEVSEKTSIYA

YEVSEKTSIYA (plural Yevsektsii), Jewish sections of the propaganda department of the Russian Communist Party from 1918 to 1930. *Lenin, the founder and leader of the Communist Party, denied that the Jews were a living nation and saw assimilation as the progressive solution to the Jewish problem in Russia. This view gained currency in party circles as a result of the debate between the Russian Social-Democrats and the *Bund at the beginning of the 20th century. When the Communist Party took power in November 1917, however, it was faced with the fact that millions of Jews, speaking their own language and maintaining their own social institutions, existed in Russia, and with the necessity of establishing some temporary agency to deal with them until such time as they had assimilated among their neighbors. In January 1918 a "Jewish Commissariat" headed by S. *Dimanstein was created, and Jewish sections (Yevsektsii) were organized in local party branches on the model of the national sections which were then being established to direct party work among other non-Russian peoples.

The first conference of the Jewish sections and representatives of the Jewish Commissariat in the provinces took place in Moscow in October 1918; their function was defined as the propagandizing of Yiddish-speaking workers and the establishment of the "dictatorship of the proletariat" among the Jews. It was strongly emphasized that the Jewish sections had no national goals and that Yiddish was to be simply regarded as a necessary means of communication with the Jewish masses, on no account valuable in itself. The conference decided on "systematic destruction of Zionist and bourgeois institutions," with the kehillot, hadarim, Hebrew schools, and Zionist parties heading the list. A central bureau headed by S. Dimanstein was elected. At the second conference, which was attended by representatives of communist parties and related organizations from the Ukraine and Belorussia, economic activity among the Jews was decided upon. The essential aim of this economic activity was the cooperative organization of "semi-proletarian elements" (i.e., craftsmen and artisans), and the mass settlement on the land of erstwhile Jewish merchants, deprived of their means of livelihood by the revolution.

During the same year a considerable proportion of the Jewish left-wing parties joined the Jewish sections as organized bodies or as individuals. At the third conference (July 1920), which represented 1,743 active members, 34 of the 84 delegates were erstwhile Bundists, 11 were previously United Socialists ("Fareynikte"), and 7 were previously members of *Po'alei Zion. The heads of the Jewish sections kept a close watch on the ex-members of these Jewish parties to see that no hint of their Jewish national allegiance was introduced into their new party work. Fear of being accused of "nationalistic and Zionist deviations" was so pervasive in the Jewish sections that they were wary of endorsing any comprehensive plan for Jewish rehabilitation in Russia, even when put forward by such outstanding Communist leaders as Kalinin, Smidovich, and *Larin. The third conference decided that the Jewish sections were no more than "technical [Communist] Party tools." At this time head offices were established in the Ukraine and Belorussia. Active in the Jewish sections besides Dimanstein were A. Merezhin, M. *Rafes, M. *Frumkin ("Esther"), M. Levitan, M. *Litvakov, A. *Tshemeriski, and M. Kipper.

With the help of government agencies, the police, and the internal security forces, the Yevsektsiya initiated and executed the liquidation of Jewish kehillot, the confiscation of synagogue buildings, the closing of yeshivot, ḥadarim, and Hebrew schools, the closing of libraries, and the banning of books. They fought the remnants of Jewish political and cultural organizations to the bitter end (*He-Ḥalutz, *Habimah, Left Po'alei Zion) or attempted to take them over (Kultur Lige, *ort). The destruction of the existing Jewish framework was accompanied by attempts to create a Jewish Communist culture; a Jewish press in Yiddish, headed by the dailies Der Emes (Moscow), Der Shtern (Kharkov), and Oktyabr (Minsk), which had a circulation of 27,000 at the end of the 1920s, was founded; publishing houses which printed books in tens of thousands of copies were established; a network of primary and secondary schools was created; and a few departments of Jewish culture were even created in institutions of higher learning. In 1924 the Jewish sections were made responsible for integrating "classless elements" into the Soviet economic system by directing them to industrial and agricultural labor. A public company "ozet" ("Land Cultivation Company") was set up under the direction of the Jewish sections to assist in the Jewish settlement project. Cultural work was intensified, and Yiddish became the official language in trade unions and youth and women's organizations with a predominantly Jewish membership.

Attempts were made to adapt Soviet institutions in towns with large Jewish populations in order to serve the Jewish public in their mother tongue. The Jewish sections were also made responsible for bringing the problems involved in their activities among the Jewish population before the central and local Communist Party committees. Territorial programs for Jewish settlement on the land were put forward; this culminated in the proclamation of *Birobidzhan in the Far East as an area of Jewish settlement (1928). Contrary to their initial "technical" program, the Jewish sections began to serve also as consolidatory factors in Jewish life. At the council of Jewish sections in 1926 a struggle between different trends took place. The council expressed reservations both with regard to the assimilationists in the Communist party, who saw any separate work among the Jewish population as a nationalist deviation, and with regard to those who saw the work of the Jewish sections as "a way of preserving the Jewish people"; it redefined the sole function of the Jewish sections as the introduction of socialism among the Jewish masses.

While the revolution had created the conditions for the agricultural settlement of Jews and the consolidation of some of them as a separate national unit in a separate territory, the great majority of Jews were to find the solution to their social and economic problems in the transition to heavy industry, and were inevitably to assimilate among the masses of non-Jewish workers. When Soviet policy swung leftward at the end of the 1920s, the fate of the Jewish sections was sealed. In January 1930, within the context of the general liquidation of the national sections of Communist Party institutions in the Soviet Union, it was decided to liquidate the Jewish sections. Jewish section activists in practice continued to work among the Jewish population until 1934, but the scope of their work became more and more limited. The imprisonment and liquidation of Jewish section activists, which began in 1934, continued until the late 1930s and was accompanied by the gradual liquidation of educational and cultural institutions and other achievements of Jewish autonomy; their liquidation was completed by the end of the 1940s.

bibliography:

S. Agurski, Der Yidisher Arbeter in der Komunistisher Bavegung (1925); Alfarbandishe Baratung fundi Yidishe Sektsies fun der akp (b) (1926); S. Agurski, Di Yidishe Komisariatn un di Yidishe Komunistishe Sektsies (1928); N. Gergel, Di Lage fun di Yidn in Rusland (1929); M.G. Rafes, Orcherki istorii yevreyskogo rabochego dvizheniya (1929), 217–54; B. Slutski, Leksikon fun Politishe un Fremd-Verter (1929), 78–83; S. Agurski, in: Bolshaya Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya, 24 (1932), 337–8; J. Lestschinsky, Ha-Yehudim be-Rusyah ha-Sovyetit (1943); S.M. Schwarz, The Jews in the Soviet Union (1951), 100–1; M. Altshuler, Reshit ha-Yevsektsiya, 19181921 (1966).

[Yehuda Slutsky]