Socialism and Jews

For members of the assimilated Jewish intelligentsia, participating in the socialist movement was often a method of social integration. The ideology, which stressed strong class divisions rather than ethnic ones, helped them avoid the identity problems associated with assimilation and discrimination.

All socialist organizations in the three partitions of Poland, as well as throughout Europe, had Jewish members. Jewish socialists made up 4% of political exiles to Siberia during the years 1878-1880. In Wilno, the narodnicy associated with B. Pilsudski included A. Zundelewicz, I. Kaminer, A. S. Liebermann, A. Finkelstein, L. Jogiches, C. Rappoport and J. Martow-Cederbaum, J. Mill and A. Kremer, as well as I. Dembo, who was implicated in the plot to assassinate the tsar and German emperor. The following people were active in Wilno: Z. Sandberg, the sisters R. and F. Puzyrenska, E. Gordon and sisters Estera and Elzbieta Gordon, who later became activists in the First Proletariat, [the first Polish workers' party, founded in 1882]. Szymon Dickstein (pseud. Jan Mlot, 1858-84), Samuel's younger brother, was an ideologist in the First Proletariat, who translated Marx's Capital (1881) and works by F. Lassalle. Rosa Luxemburg (1870-1919) began her revolutionary career in the Second Proletariat, and was co-founder and ideologist in the Social-Democratic Party of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL). Later, Luxemburg became an activist in the German Social-Democratic Party, and, finally, was founder of the Communist Party of Germany and the Spartakus Union. Jogiches, known by the pseudonym Jan Tyszka (1867-1919), had a strong influence on Luxemburg's views. S. Mendelson and F. Perl were two of the founders of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS); Perl was also its main ideologist. In Galicia, the Polish Social-Democratic Party's founders included H. Lieberman (1870-1941).

Despite the many assimilated members of the intelligentsia in the first socialist organizations, their appeal among the Jewish proletariat was negligible. R. Felsenhardt (1864-87), a member of the First Proletariat, was one of the first women socialists to be involved in a program dealing with Warsaw's Jewish artisans. She was arrested for her activism, and died on her journey into exile.
An underground socialist circle was active in the Wilno Rabbinical School. One of its members was A. S. Liebermann. In 1876, he created the Union of Socialist Jews in London [Hebrew, Agudat Ha-sotsyalistim Ha-ivrim be-London], which existed only a brief time. In Wilno, a revolutionary circle was founded in 1887. It described itself as being comprised of "Jewish social-democrats". Kremer was one of its members.

The foundation of a separate Jewish socialist organization was not associated with any clearly articulated and conscious national aspirations, but rather was based on the need for political agitation in Jews' native languages. Such was the nature of the Jewish Organization of the Polish Socialist Party, established in Warsaw in 1893, and the Jewish Workers' Union in Warsaw [Yiddish, Yidisher Arbayter Farband in Varshe], founded in 1895 by Mill. Kremer and Mill shared similar motivations, when along with thirteen of their colleagues they founded a party in Wilno in 1897 called the Jewish Workers' Union in Lithuania, Russia and Poland [Yiddish, Algemayner Jidisher Arbayter Bund in Lite, Rusland un Poyln, Polish name: Ogolnozydowski Zwiazek Robotniczy na Litwie, w Rosji i Polsce]. This became known as "the Bund". Its members continued to participate in the Polish and Russian revolutionary movement, and were part of a group that organized the social-democratic movement in Russia, founded in 1898.

Although the socialists' Paris Congress in 1892 included a declaration equal rights for all nationalities, neither PPS nor SDKPiL fully implemented this principle with respect to the Jews. The change of attitude of the Polish revolutionary parties towards the Bund was forced by the success of that party among the Jewish proletariat, which was especially apparent during the 1905 revolution. In 1920, the Bund joined forces with the Galician Jewish Social-Democratic Party. In 1924, a group of pro-communist activists who belonged to the fraction known as "Kom-Bund" left the group. From then on, the party cooperated with PPS. Somewhat later, a leftist fraction of the Zionist movement formed. In 1906, D. B. Borochow founded the illegal Jewish Social-Democratic Workers' Party, Poalei Zion.
Leftist parties gained support thanks to their activities in the trade union movement. In 1931, every fifth Jewish worker belonged to a trade union, while in the Polish population, this figure was one in twelve. This was the result of increasing social problems (such as exploitation, unemployment, etc.), which were compounded by ethnic ones (discrimination and economic rivalry based on ethnic identity, particularly during the Depression).

During the Second World War, most of the parties went underground, including those on the Left. They organized civil resistance and took part in the preparations for armed revolt. They made contact with the Home Army and also with those Polish socialists active in the underground.
After the war, during the years 1945-1950, some leftist parties remained active, including Poaley Syjon-Left and Right (united in 1947), Hitakhdut, Ha-shomer Ha-tsair, He-khaluts, and the Bund, along with youth organizations such as Dror, Gordonia, and Tsukunft. In 1949, the Bund disbanded, despite the protests of many members. The Zionist parties were dissolved by a decree of the Ministry of Public Affairs in 1949-1950.

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