BUND (abbr. of Algemeyner Yidisher Arbeter Bund in Lite, Poyln un Rusland; "General Jewish Workers' Union in Lithuania, Poland and Russia"), Jewish socialist party founded in Russia in 1897; after a certain ideological development it came to be associated with devotion to Yiddish, autonomism, and secular Jewish nationalism, envisaging Jewish life as lived out in Eastern Europe ("Doykeyt"; "Hereness," in Bund ideology), sharply opposed to Zionism and other conceptions of a world-embracing Jewish national identity.
The structure and ideology of the Bund, while stemming from the social patterns and needs, from the problems and tensions within Jewish society in the
of Settlement in the second half of the 19th century, were also an outcome of the aims,
tendencies within, divisions in, and methods of the Russian socialist movement in the multinational empire of the czars.
The first stirrings of the Jewish labor movement in general, and the formation of the Bund subsequently, occurred in "Jewish Lithuania," i.e., the six northwestern Lithuanian-Belorussian provinces with some adjoining districts, headed by Vilna. From here came the earliest leaders and pioneers of the Bund. In this region the working element was relatively important in Jewish society and its proportion among the proletariat (occupied in crafts and industry) in the cities and towns was higher than elsewhere. The trend to
was less strong in a region where sociocultural and political conflict among the Russian, Polish, Lithuanian, and Belorussian elements was rife, none of whose aims appealed to the Jewish population which had attained independently a high cultural standard, exemplified in its celebrated yeshivot. From the Lithuanian-Belorussian provinces the Jewish labor movement spread only gradually to Poland and the Ukraine.
The Jewish labor movement, in particular "pre-Bund" and Bund socialism, drew its support from three sectors in Jewish society. The first, the hired-worker class, was just then assuming corporate consciousness and cohesion as an outcome of the capitalization of the crafts and the breakup of the traditional craft associations (*ḥevrot), which brought about the separate organization of apprentices (from the mid-19th century especially in the garment industry). Sporadic strikes had taken place in the 1870s among the textile and tobacco workers. Secondly, there were the circles of the radical intelligentsia who in this region combined revolutionary ideas and Marxist ideology with feelings of involvement with their Jewish identity and of responsibility toward the Jewish proletariat. Finally there was the semi-intelligentsia, who, though lacking a formal general education, were deeply rooted in Jewish culture.
In the 1870s
Aaron Samuel *Liebermann
and his circle made the first attempts to spread socialist ideas among the Jewish people in their own language and to start a revolutionary movement. From the 1880s this became a continuous development creating the Jewish labor movement.
Study circles for Jewish intellectuals to promote culture and socialism among Jewish working men were formed in Vilna during 1886 and 1887, and all their activities were conducted in Russian. Workers' mutual assistance funds were founded and attempts were also made to found artels. Gradually, however, the ideology of these circles changed, and, from following the traditional populist position taken by Russian socialists, turned to Marxism as advocated by Plekhanov. The circles of intelligentsia also gradually changed their attitude toward the Jewish artisan and abandoned their former "cosmopolitan" stand, which in practice had meant the "Russification" of the Jewish elements in Russia.
The change matured through several stages during the years 1890 to 1895, in which a leading part was taken by
, among others. The number of circles and their membership increased, while efforts to obtain an amelioration of working conditions were intensified, in particular to shorten the working day in the sock-knitting, tobacco, and tailoring trades where conditions were notoriously disgraceful.
In addition to the general revolutionary tension in Russia at this time, unrest among Jews was enhanced by the widespread antisemitism in general society and government circles, which, combined with the social and economic constriction in the overcrowded shtetl, also led to massive emigration, and revived Ḥovevei Zion activity (see
). Eventually the leaders of these circles reached the conclusion that Jewish workers could and must form their own socialist labor movement, since their specific circumstances necessitated demands which were largely peculiar to the Jewish worker. They also considered that the Jewish environment in general was more objectively receptive to the idea of opposition to and revolt against the authoritarian czarist regime. A new line of action was formulated by Kremer in his "On Agitation" that was to influence the whole Russian Social Democratic movement. Elaborated by Gozhanski ("Letter to Agitators," 1893) and
(May Day lecture, 1895), it called for a change from activity in closed propaganda "circles" to mass "agitation" in order to rally workers to struggle for better conditions as a "phase" toward revolutionary political consciousness and activity. To enable the "agitation" to reach the Jewish masses, both orally and in writing, it was decided to replace Russian by Yiddish as the medium for propaganda, and "Jargon committees" were formed (in Vilna in 1895) for this purpose. Thus the movement was integrated into the concomitant process of revival of the Yiddish language and literature. The radical Jewish intelligentsia was called upon to abandon its "mistrust of the Jewish masses" and "national passivism," to work for the establishment of an organization of Jewish workers aimed at obtaining their rights, and to carry on a "political national struggle" in order to obtain civic emancipation for all Jews. This organization should associate itself with the non-Jewish proletariat and the all-Russian labor movement in an "indissoluble bond," but only on the basis of equal partnership and not of integration of the Jewish within the general labor movement. This dualism was to be the cause of ideological oscillation throughout the whole of the Bund's existence.
The "Workers' Opposition" to the "new program" led by
failed, and from 1894 the new trend gained support in many industrial centers. Funds ("Kases") hitherto established for mutual assistance were converted into workers' struggle funds (trade unions). At the beginning of 1896, 32 such funds existed in Vilna alone. A wave of successful strikes ensued. The Jewish labor groups were represented at the congress of the Socialist International in London in 1896. A central "Group of Jewish Social Democrats" was formed, and published the periodical Yidisher Arbayter (1896–1905), as well as Arbayter Shtime (1897–1905), both of which later became the organs of the Bund.
The Bund was founded at a secret convention held in Vilna on Oct. 7–9, 1897, with the participation of 13 delegates (eight of them working men). At the founding convention of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party in March 1898, three of the nine delegates were Bundists. The Bund entered the Russian party as an autonomous body, and Kremer was elected a member of its central committee. The sovereign institution of the underground Bund was its periodic convention. In addition to the founding meeting, the following conventions were held: the second convention, October 1898, in Kovno; the third, December 1899, in Kovno; the fourth, May 1901, in Bialystok; the fifth, June 1903, in Zurich; the sixth, October–November 1905, in Zurich; the seventh, August–September 1906, in Lemberg (Lvov); the eighth, December 1917, in Petrograd (Leningrad). The convention elected a central committee which was the chief political administrative and representative body of the Bund. Between the conventions, conferences, whose authority was more limited, also met. Larger branches were headed by committees, mostly comprising members nominated by the central committee. The "strike funds," including the national unions of bristlemakers and tanners, were integrally incorporated within the Bund. There were also groups of intellectuals. The number of Bund members from 1903 to 1905 varied between 25,000 and 35,000. The "Committee Abroad," which was founded in December 1898 by students and workers who had left Russia, its members including at various periods the most important Bund leaders, served as the Bund representative vis-à-vis the international socialist movement, raised funds, printed literature, and organized its transportation. Considerable assistance was given to the Bund by its
and branches of sympathizers in the United States, headed by the "Central Farband," which in 1906 comprised 58 organizations with 3,000 members. Although the Bund opposed cooperation with the Jewish labor movement in other countries, it had a significant influence on the formation of the
Social Democratic Party in Galicia in 1905. Bundist principles contributed to the establishment of the Jewish Socialist Federation of America in 1912. Some prominent activists of the American Jewish Labor Movement came from the ranks of the Bund, including
, B. Hoffmann (
, Y.B. Salutzki-Hardman,
, N. Chanin, and
. The activity and ideas of the Bund also had influence on Jewish socialism in Argentina, Bulgaria, and Salonika (Greece).
From the beginning of the 20th century, the Bund concentrated its activities on the political sphere, and the party became an important factor in Jewish public life. The fourth convention of the Bund (1901) already recommended discretion in the proclamation of strikes – for the government was suppressing them severely and they brought little amelioration of the workers' conditions – and called for struggle through purely political agitation, May Day demonstrations and strikes, accompanied by political demands. This trend gained in strength as a result of various economic, social, and political factors (see also
Feelings became inflamed when Jewish workers were flogged during the May Day demonstrations in 1902 on the order of the governor of Vilna who was subsequently shot by a Bundist youth,
. However, the tendency to advocate violent measures – "organized vengeance" – which evolved in the Bund after this assault was short-lived. The pogroms at the beginning of the 20th century intensified political alertness among the Jews as a whole, and efforts were made toward active
. These bloody attacks dissipated the reservations of many who had formerly held aloof from the revolutionary activity of the Bund. The Bund then became one of the principal promoters, and in some places the main organizer, of the self-defense movement to combat the perpetrators of the pogroms. It began to find support among the Jewish middle classes, and gained adherents in the provincial towns of Poland and southern Russia. From mid-1903 to mid-1904 the Bund held 429 political meetings, 45 demonstrations, and 41 political strikes, and issued 305 pamphlets, of which 23 dealt with the pogroms and self-defense. The number of Bundist political prisoners in 1904 reached 4,500. A children's organization, Der Klayner Bund, was formed. The Bund reached its peak influence during the revolution of 1905. It then acquired semilegal status, played an important role in general revolutionary and political activities, and began to publish a daily newspaper under various names (Veker, Folkstsaytung).
About this time (at the fourth convention in 1901) the Bund advanced beyond its former demand for equal political and civic rights for Jews. Various internal and external factors pressured this change, such as the solutions advocated by
, the views of H. Zhitovsky, and the growth of Zionism. The Bund now drew a Marxist legitimation for its nationalist tendencies from the Austrian Social Democratic Party which had changed its structure to a federal-nationalist one, approximate to the concepts of
, as the basis for the constitution of a multinational state. The third convention of the Bund (1899) still rejected Mill's suggestion that the demand for Jewish "national rights" be included in its program. However, at the fourth convention, promoted by
, a representative of the second generation of Bund leaders, with the support of the older leaders, Kremer, Mill, and Kossovski who were absent at the convention, the proposition was advanced that Russia should be converted into a federation of nations without reference to region of domicile, with the provision that the concept of nationality should be applied to the Jews. However, as a compromise with opponents of this proposal, it was decided not to campaign for Jewish autonomy as a concrete demand for fear of "inflating the national feeling" which was liable "to blur the class consciousness of the proletariat and lead to chauvinism." This limitation was not observed in practice even in 1904, and was officially removed at the sixth convention in 1905. A further resolution of the fourth convention sought to reconstruct the Russian Social Democratic
Labor Party on a national-federal basis. This proposal was rejected by the second convention of the Russian Social Democratic Party. In consequence the Bund seceded from it and constituted itself as an independent party.
Even after its fourth convention, the Bund did not consider the Jews a worldwide national entity, and was opposed to a global Jewish policy, limiting its demands for rights and autonomy with reference to Russian Jewry. The Bund rejected, in the name of class-war principles, any collaboration with other Jewish parties, even in the organization of self-defense against pogroms. While assimilationist Russian Social Democrats regarded Bundist ideology as "inconsistent Zionist," the Bund, for its part, defined Zionism as reactionary and bourgeois or petit-bourgeois, even including such parties as the
Workers' Party (the Sejmists), and the
Socialist Workers Party (the Territorialists), in this category. From 1903 the struggle with other Jewish parties sharpened, as the Bund's Zionist and other rivals penetrated the proletarian camp. The Bund itself remained in a constant state of ideological vacillation and internal strife in its perpetual effort to square nationalism with internationalism, and the conception of the Jewish proletariat as part of the all-Russian proletariat with its position as part of Jewry. Opposing nationalist, cosmopolitan, and semi-assimilationist elements confronted each other within the Bund and prevented a clear-cut decision either for or against devotion of its efforts to seeking full Jewish political and cultural identity, while even its positive attitude toward the use of Yiddish was mainly governed by pragmatic considerations. Hence the Bund adopted the doctrine of neutralism developed by the party ideologist
with the fundamental reservations of Kossovski. Neutralism assumed that no prognosis of the survival of the Jewish people could be advanced: they might equally be expected to subsist or assimilate. The task of the Bund was to fight for a political framework which would guarantee freedom of evolution for both trends, but not to regard as incumbent on it to assist intentionally national continuity. During 1905–06, the Bund sided on many questions with the Bolsheviks, whose support at the convention of the Social Democratic Party in Stockholm in 1906 enabled the Bund to return to the all-Russian organization. After a sharp cleavage of opinion, the "softliners," prominent among them Medem, Rosenthal, and
, prevailed, and amalgamation with the Social Democrats was decided at the seventh convention of the Bund (1906). The question of the national program was left open, and in practice the Bund retained its independence.
1907 to 1917
With the failure of the 1905 revolution the Bund suffered a serious decline and succeeded in maintaining only the nucleus of its organization. Terrorization, frustration, and despair, together with the massive emigration, considerably reduced the ranks of the Bund. With the limitation of political and trade union activities, the semilegal activities of the Bund now concentrated on culture – the organization of literary and musical societies, evening courses, and drama circles. The Bund became an advocate of fundamental Yiddishism. The eighth conference of the Bund (October 1910) decided in favor of pressing for freedom of rest on the Sabbath and for state Yiddish schools. The Bund agreed to participate in several conferences and cultural institutions of a general Jewish nature, such as the
for the Promotion of Culture among the Jews of Russia and the meeting of Jewish communal leaders, where the Bundists demanded greater autonomy, and secularization, and democratization in Jewish communal life. The theory of Neutralism was rejected by some prominent Bundists. In 1910–11 the Bund made renewed efforts to strengthen its organization, both openly and by underground activity. It took part in the elections to the fourth
(1912). In Warsaw the joint candidate of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS) and the Bund, E. Jagello, was returned thanks to the support of the nonsocialist Jewish electorate. The Bund campaigned actively on several Jewish issues, including the Polish anti-Jewish
, and the ousting of Jewish workers from their places of employment. It organized a protest strike (Oct. 8, 1913) in reaction to the
trial, which was observed by some 20,000 Jewish workers. The Bundist press was also revived (Lebns-Fragen, Tsayt). In regard to the division in Russian social-democratic opinion between those who supported continued underground activity and those opposing it, the Bund in general adopted a mediatory stand. After the final split between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks in 1912, the Bund remained within the Menshevik Social Democratic Party, which now tended to favor Jewish national-cultural autonomy, while the Bolsheviks hardened their position against it. The Bund belonged to the socialist wing that condemned all belligerents in World War I, and approved the manifestos of Zimmerwald, 1915, and Kienthal, 1916. The Bund at this time turned more expressly toward adopting a general Jewish stand. At a consultation held in Kharkov (spring 1916) the Bund decided, in contrast to its former position, to take part in activities of the communal Jewish relief organizations, such as
. It also recognized there, to a certain extent, that the Jewish question had assumed some international significance. The Bund publicized cases of persecution of Jews in Russia through its committee abroad. However, discussion on the question of constituting a World Jewish Congress was not resolved.
The 1917 Revolutions and Their Aftermath
By the end of 1917 the Bund had approximately 40,000 members, in almost 400 branches, of whom 20% were outside the former Pale of Settlement, mostly refugees expelled from the Pale. On the general political scene, Bund leaders (M. Liber and
) were spokesmen for both the right and left wings of the Mensheviks, and the Bund discussed and took a stand on problems connected with the revolution. At the same time, it brought forward the claim for Jewish national-cultural autonomy. It participated in communal elections and
was represented on the organizing committee for a general Jewish convention to be held in December 1917. However, it opposed the moving of Zionist formulations there as well as debate on the guarantee of rights to Jews living outside Russia. In the Ukraine, the Bund, led by
, was in favor of an autonomous Ukraine as part of federal Russia. At the elections for the Jewish National Assembly of the Ukraine (November 1918), the Bund received 18% of the votes.
From the fall of 1918, Bundist sympathies, especially in the Ukraine, the scene of frightful pogroms, began to incline toward the Communists. In March 1919, the "Communist Bund" (Kombund) was established in the Ukraine led by Rafes. In May it joined the United Jewish Communist Party to form the Komfarband, which in August amalgamated with the Communist Party of the Ukraine. At the all-Russian (12th) conference of the Bund held in Moscow (April 1920), a split occurred. The majority, led by
(Lifschitz), favored affiliation with the Communists, but on an autonomous basis. Although this condition was rejected by the Communist International, the conference at Minsk (March 1921) nevertheless decided to join the Russian Communist Party. In January 1925, there were only 2,795 former Bundists in the Communist Party, forming 9% of its Jewish members. These included some leaders of the
(Jewish section of the Russian Communist Party). A minority at the 12th conference (which included Abramowitz, Eisenstadt, and
) broke away and established the short-lived Social Democratic Bund. Sooner or later the activists in both factions became victims of Communist government persecution.
The Polish Bund
In November 1914, when the threat of German invasion became apparent, a Committee of the Bundist Organizations in Poland was formed in Warsaw by the central committee of the Bund (including
). The forced dissociation from the all-Russian movement, and the resurrection of Poland led the Polish Bund to constitute itself as an independent body. The more moderate regime of the German occupation authorities enabled the Bund in Poland, though still functioning clandestinely, to stress Jewish demands, and to set up Jewish trade unions, workers' kitchens, cooperative shops, and a network of cultural institutions. It began to publish a weekly organ (from the end of 1918, a daily), Lebns-Fragen. The Bund also participated in elections to the municipal councils. At the first conference of the Polish Bund at Lublin (end of December 1917) an independent central committee for Poland was elected. At the first all-Polish convention in Cracow (April 1920), the Bund organization became united with the Jewish Social Democratic Party of Galicia.
Subsequently the following conventions were held: the second, in December 1921, in Danzig; the third, December 1924, in Warsaw; the fourth, January 1929, in Warsaw; the fifth, June 1930, in Lodz; the sixth, February 1935, in Warsaw; the seventh, November 1937, in Warsaw. The most prominent leaders of the Polish Bund were
. It published a daily organ Naye Folkstsaytung between 1921 and 1939. The Polish Bund functioned as a legal, independent political party from the outset, unlike the Russian parent body. It maintained a youth organization, Zukunft, which numbered 15,000 members on the eve of World War II; a children's organization, SKIF, from 1926; a women's organization, YAF; and a sports organization, Morgenstern. During the first years of its existence the Polish Bund was severely persecuted because of its opposition to the war against Soviet Russia. During the 1930s some of its activists were incarcerated in the
concentration camp. The party was split into permanent factions, which were proportionately represented in its central institutions, the centrist or rightist faction (Einser) and the leftist (Tsvayer). The split originally occurred over affiliation to the International. Parallel to development of the Kombund in Russia, the Bund in Poland also shifted its allegiance to the "dictatorship of the proletariat" and "government of the Soviets." The Cracow convention in 1920 decided in principle on affiliation with the Comintern, which demanded that the Bund accept its full program as a condition to affiliation. The intended affiliation did not materialize but caused some older prominent Bundists to feel out of place within the movement and they finally emigrated (V. Medem,
); others (notably
) formed the short-lived Social Democratic Bund. One group, however, established the Kombund which later joined the Communist Party. The question of affiliation with the Comintern continued to disturb and divide the Bund for a long time, the majority shifting first one way and then the other. Even the leftist faction, whose chief spokesman was
("Chmutner"), had reservations in regard to affiliation if this was likely to impair the unity of the Bund. The fifth convention (1930) decided, by a small majority, on affiliation to the Socialist International, where the Bund formed part of the left wing. Another cause of division was its relationship with the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), which left-wing Bundists regarded as anathema because of its "nationalism and reformism" and its policy to form a center-left front with the nonsocialist peasant parties. A convergence between the two parties occurred, mainly as a result of the Bund's affiliation to the Socialist International and radicalization within the PPS during the 1930s.
Among the Jewish public, the Bund pursued its relentless campaign against Zionism and religious Orthodoxy, but in contrast to its former policy, collaborated in various fields with other Jewish labor parties. On more than one occasion it aligned with the left Po'alei Zion in municipal elections. In 1930, a common list was drawn up with the right Po'alei Zion for the elections to the Sejm (parliament). The Bund held the overwhelming majority in the national council of Jewish Trade Unions, which, at the end of 1921, comprised seven unions with 205 branches and 46,000 members, and, in 1939, 14 unions with 498 branches and approximately 99,000 members. The Polish Bund, not without opposition, approved initiatives and institutions to work with and organize small-scale artisans' and contractors' cooperatives (1927)
in conjunction with the
*American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
In 1921 the Central Yiddish Schools Organization was established, with large participation of the Bund. The Bund was adamant in its extreme opposition to instruction in Hebrew but slightly modified its attitude toward the traditional Jewish holidays and the teaching of Jewish history. In the 1930s the Bund was active in the party lists for Jewish representation on municipal councils and for communal leadership. It maintained a bureau to deal with emigration – but its fixed attachment to the principle of "Doykeyt" ("hereness") prevented the Polish Bund from appreciating the importance of Jewish emigration.
The Polish Bund achieved its greatest political influence between 1936 and 1939, on the eve of the Holocaust. It scored a substantial success in the municipal elections. This was due less to its socialist appeal than to the role it played in campaigning against the rabid antisemitism within the Polish government and general public after Hitler's rise to power. The Bund displayed initiative and energy in organizing self-defense groups, a protest strike after the pogrom of
, a Workers' Congress against antisemitism (1936), which was banned by the authorities, as also a proposed Congress for the Struggle of the Jewish Population in Poland (1938).
During the Nazi occupation of Poland, the Bund took an active part in the Jewish resistance movement (prominently A. Blum, L. Feiner, B. Goldstein, M. Edelman).
left the Bund underground in order to represent it on the National Council of the Polish Government-in-Exile in London. His suicide in 1943 was a heroic symbolic act of identification with the Jewish martyrs and a protest against the silence and apathy of the general public in face of the annihilation. The Bund was also active among the refugees from Poland in the Soviet Union. Two of its prominent leaders –
and H. Erlich – were executed in 1941 by the Stalinist regime on false espionage accusations.
After World War II the Bund renewed its activities among the survivors of Polish Jewry but it was liquidated in 1948 with the Communists' liquidation of the general political life of the country.
The International Jewish Labor Bund
At the beginning of World War II, some of the Polish Bundists succeeded in reaching the United States, mainly with the assistance of the Jewish Labor Committee. An American Representation of the Bund was formed and for some time continued activity under the leadership of Portnoy. Beginning with 1941 the monthly Unzer Zeit has been published in New York. The first world conference of the Bund was held in Brussels (1947). It established a World Coordinating Committee of Bundist and Affiliated Socialist Jewish Organizations, with headquarters in New York. Its secretary until 1961 was Emmanuel Novogrodski, formerly the secretary of the Bund in Poland and later of the Representation in the United States. The World Bund affiliates included the Bund organization of Israel, as well as the older Bundist organizations of various countries, most of which had already existed before World War II, and later absorbed the refugee members of the former Polish Bund. In its postwar transfiguration it embodied the previously rejected idea of Jewish world nationality. The Bund differed from other sections of Jewish labor opinion in the United States in that it did not recognize the special importance of the State of Israel in the life of the Jewish people or necessity for a Jewish international policy. At the same time the Bund demanded that the Jewish population in Israel recognize the supremacy of world Jewry. It took a "neutralist" position on the Israeli-Arab conflict. A minority in the Bund, as represented by Liebmann,
, attempted to argue for a certain re-evaluation toward a more positive attitude of the Bund toward the State of Israel. As a moribund movement, it remained officially affiliated with the Socialist International.
The Gotteiner Institute for the History of the Bund and the Jewish Labor Movement was established in 1991. The archives of the Jewish Labor Bund are located at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York City.
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Nationality: The Bund and the Polish Socialist Party in Late Tsarist Russia, 1892–1914 (2003).
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