Individual revolutionary leaders of Jewish origin — such as Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Sverdlov — played a conspicuous part in the revolution of November, 1917, which enabled the Bolsheviks to take possession of the state apparatus. Yet the majority of Jewish radicals adhered to democratic socialism, and among the Jewish working class the Leninist faction had a limited following. From the first, the so-called United Jewish Socialist Labor Party fought the Bolsheviks, and the more influential Bund, too, after some hesitation ranged itself with the Menshevik opposition, though many of its members joined the Bolsheviks. In July, 1918, there was established a Jewish section (along with other national divisions) of the Central Committee of Communist Party (CPSU). This was transformed into the Jewish Bureau in 1926, and, its functions having been absorbed by local organizations, it was abolished in 1930.
The Jewish masses viewed the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks with apprehension. They could not respond to the slogan: “Land to the peasants, factories to the workers”, since there were scarcely any peasants or factory hands among the Jews. They were to a large extent artisans and traders. The prohibition of free commerce and the nationalization of private enterprises, no matter how small, meant economic disaster for them. It has been estimated that in 1918 to 1921 seventy to eighty percent of the economically active Jews were idle.
2. The Revolution and Civil War (1917 to 1921). The political revolution of March, 1917, brought about the complete emancipation of the Russian Jews. All the disabilities under which they had labored, including the Pale of Settlement which had already been breached, were abolished by a general decree of the Provisional Government dated March 20 (April 2), 1917. Jews were placed on an equal footing with tile rest of the citizenry.
No official measures were taken, however, to implement their right to live as a national minority having an identity of its own. Yet, with the exception of the small Jewish People’s Group, which represented the assimilated minority, all parties, Zionist and Socialist, demanded for the group some sort of cultural autonomy to be realized through self-governing communal agencies recognized and supported by the state. In many localities the old Kehillahs were reorganized on a democratic basis and assumed a new importance, although they had no official standing.
On November 2/15, 1917 (eight days after the overthrow of the Provisional Government), the Bolsheviks [page 668] promulgated their Declaration of the Rights of the Peoples of Russia (signed by Lenin and Stalin). [ ] Half a dozen of the candidates sponsored by the Jewish National Committee secured seats in the All-Russian Constituent Assembly, but this was dissolved after a single session held in January, 1918. In July, 1918, representatives of the Great Russian communities held a conference, but this achieved no practical results.
On July 17, 1918, the Council of the People’s Commissars outlawed all those who either perpetrated or incited to pogroms. [ ]
In April, 1919, a Soviet decree had summarily abolished the Kehillas, and most of the Jewish cultural and charitable agencies, as inconsistent with the principle of the dictatorship of the proletariat. [ ]
Second Period (1893 to 1907). The actual Jewish socialist movement began in Russia at the beginning of the 1890’s. It grew out of the so-called socialist circles that were founded by Russian Jewish students for the Jewish working class in order to win it over to socialism. After 1893 the movement took on a mass character and led to the foundling (1897) of the Bund, the first Jewish socialist party, which developed intensive activity in industrial as well as in political fields. The program of the party was generally socialistic, that is, equal civil rights were to be won for the Jews. Only after the turn of the 20th cent. was interest in national questions aroused and, finally, the party formulated (in 1901, and again in 1905) a platform for the national-cultural autonomy of the Jewish people. This became an essential feature of its program after that time.
In contrast to the Bund, another part of the Jewish working class began from a national standpoint and also arrived at socialism. It was the portion of the Jewish working class that came under the influence of Zionist ideology and was brought into the Zionist Movement. The segregation of the Labor Zionists within the general Zionist Movement began early in the 20th cent, and, in the course of time, led to the founding of three so-called proletarian Zionist parties: the Sejmists, the S.S. (Zionist socialists) and the Poale Zion. [ ]
The Poale Zion held that the Jewish masses should be concentrated in Palestine. The other two parties were also territorialistically minded, but the Sejmists emphasized in their program (contrary to the S.S.) the necessity for struggling for the improvement of the position of the Jewish people in whatever country they may live, especially by achieving a national-political autonomy which they saw as a prerequisite for successful territorial concentration.
In contrast to the Bund, which was essentially a Russian party (similar movements developed under other names also in England, America and Galicia), the S.S. movement especially, and the Poale Zion as well, spread also to other lands, namely, America, Austria, Palestine and England. In 1907 the Poale Zion succeeded in unifying the various national parties into a world union.
Third Period (1907 to 1914). All Jewish socialist parties came into public life out of a struggle among themselves and with the civil parties existing within Judaism. In the early years of the 20th cent. the Bund achieved great influence in the political life of Russia, anti it played a significant role during the revolutionary years (1905-6). The Jewish socialist parties in Russia and Austria participated actively in general political life; for example, in Russia, in the Duma elections, and in Austria, in the struggle for the right to be elected to the Reichsrat or the Galician Landtag. In Austria there was a struggle for the recognition of Jewish nationality and of the Yiddish language. In internal Jewish life, an attempt was made to win the working class by means of direct agitation as well as by founding unions, always under the leadership of the parties, of which there were as many in each land as there were Jewish socialist parties. Only in the United States was it possible to create large politically unaffiliated Jewish unions. In addition, there was a struggle for the democratization and secularization of the Jewish communities. In the field of cultural work the attempt was made especially to foster Yiddish language and culture. There was a demand also for the founding of public schools with Yiddish as the language of instruction, and in the United States the first of these schools, the so-called national radical schools, were set up. Between 1908 and 1912 the Jewish socialist parties in Russia were hard-hit by the pressure of political and economic reaction, but by the end of the period the movement began to revive.
Fourth Period (1914 to 1919). In the first years of the first World War, the Jewish Socialist movement, to all intents and purposes, came to a standstill. Only the movement in the United States remained active, where the interest of the parties revolved about charitable work, on the one hand, and the thought of a Jewish congress in America, on the other. Moreover, the world union of Poale Zion did much for the clarification of the international socialist movement in relation to the Jewish question, and it was able to secure from the Second International a statement of precise Jewish peace demands. The outbreak of the revolution in Russia, where Jewish socialist parties played a significant role generally as well as in internal Jewish life, greatly stimulated tile Jewish socialist movement. The Zeire Zion movement began in this period. It was different from the other Jewish socialist parties mainly in the fact that it had a broader conception of the proletariat and it emphasized the significance of Hebrew cultural work.
The end of the War brought disruption to the Jewish socialist movement in Russia which until that time had been unified. It became divided into a series of national movements (Greater Russia, Poland, Ukraine, White Russia, Lithuania and Latvia). The center of the movement shifted to Poland, where the strongest parties were located and where union and cultural work developed intensively.
Fifth Period (from 1919 on). The most important phenomenon of this period is the splitting and liquidating process which occurred within the Jewish socialist parties under the influence of the communist movement. This movement, which promised to bring with it a quick and direct solution of the question of the Jewish worker, attracted large numbers of members of the Jewish socialist parties. In Russia and the Ukraine the Bund and the United, a party which was created in 1917, when the S.S. and the Sejmists merged, were absorbed by the Russian communist party. Although it remained independent, the Poale Zion accepted the communist program. In 1920 the world movement of the Poale Zion, within which many parties took on the communistic program, split into a Right and Left (communist) world union. The communist wing broke away from all other Jewish socialist parties, with the exception of the Zeire Zion. [page 586]
2. Modern Times. After their entrance into general political life in the 19th cent. Jews participated significantly and creatively in all political tendencies and parties. They were to be found in considerable numbers in the conservative parties (Stahl, Disraeli, Neander) and in the national liberal and free-thinking parties of all shadings. The same is true of the socialist movement. They spread over all the various tendencies, from the right wing, which has hardly any relationship with international socialism and is politically conservative (Samuel Gompers), over right revisionism (Eduard Bernstein) to right center (Leon Blum), to left center (Oscar Cohn) and, from there, over left Marxism (Rosa Luxemburg) to Bolshevism (Leon Trotsky) and anarchism (Gustav Landauer, Bernard Lazare). In continental socialist parties the Jews always played a determining and, at times, leading role. In Italy, Austria (Victor Adler), Germany (Paul Singer), Bohemia (Alfred Meissner and Leo Winter), France, Poland and Russia they were to be found in all parties, from the Right Social Revolutionary and Menshevik to the Bolshevik.
Some of the founders of European socialism were Jews. They played an especially helpful role as disciples of Saint Simon (Emile Pereire). Scientific socialism originated in the combination of Jewish Messianic feeling with German philosophy in Marx and Lassalle (whose thinking is founded upon Ricardo’s theory of values), Moses Hess, and their contemporaries, including, to a degree, Heine and Börne. On the other hand, Jews played a most insignificant role in the origin as well as in contemporary leadership of English socialism. Even the radical left wing of the English movement is free of Jews. Yet, it is just in English socialism that the effects of the Bible are most clearly to be noted.