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Independent Jewish Workers Party

INDEPENDENT JEWISH WORKERS PARTY, Jewish workers' party existing in Russia between 1901 and 1903. Its headquarters were in *Minsk, with branches or connections in *Odessa, *Bobruisk, *Kraslava (Kreslavka), and *Vilna. The members of the party were known under various names: "Independents," "Legalists," "Economists," "Zubatovists," and the party slogan was "Bread and Knowledge." The program and manifesto issued in summer 1901 announced that its organizational structure would be democratic and that the party did not pursue any political objectives; its aim was to raise the economic and cultural level of the Jewish proletariat by the development of trade unions, funds, and clubs which would function in a legal manner. Membership would not be conditional upon any political outlook. In the same document the *Bund was accused of exploiting "economic activity" in order to "arouse revolutionary agitation among the working masses" without taking into consideration the specific psychology, sympathies, and aspirations of the "rank and file worker" on which it imposed its "political outlook and objectives," thus preventing wider organization of workers of other opinions.

The initiative for organizing such a party actually emanated from S. Zubatov, head of the secret police (Okhrana) in Moscow, who wanted to establish a loyal workers' organization in order to estrange the workers from the Social-Democratic revolutionary intelligentsia. The organization would function under the supervision and guidance of the Okhrana, and concern itself solely with trade union activities. After success in Moscow, he turned to Minsk, one of the centers of the Bund. In the wake of widespread arrests (1898, 1900), Zubatov succeeded in influencing many of the political prisoners, and convincing some of them of his idea for a legal and peaceful workers' movement. The "Independents" were led by a group of people who had formerly been connected with the Bund: Manya Wilbushewitz (later *Shohat), the moving spirit of the party, A. *Tschermerisky, G. Shakhnovich, and the litterateur Y. Volin. They were joined by *Po'alei Zion members of the Minsk trend, including Joseph Goldberg and Hayyah Kagan (later in the United States), and in 1902 also by the General Zionist Heinrich Shayevich of Odessa. Wilbushewitz and especially Shayevich were even influenced by the idea of monarchy and they were both co-opted to a restricted secret body which administered the all-Russian legalist party. Zubatov won the confidence of his Jewish supporters, connecting social and national elements. He argued that a constitutional government would not eliminate antisemitism and that only the bourgeoisie would benefit from political freedom. On the other hand, the czarist regime would moderate its anti-Jewish policy. He did indeed propose to his superiors some slight alleviations in the legislation on Jewish rights of residence, especially for the workers, and a more tolerant censorship of Yiddish publications. Zubatov also hoped to establish contacts with other Jewish personalities and public bodies through the intermediary of the "Independents." Upon intercession by Wilbushewitz, authorization was obtained for the Zionist convention to be held in Minsk (August 1902). Under the protection of the local police chief, the "Independents" succeeded in establishing unions in Minsk and engaging in several activities, including strikes for the improvement of working conditions. They also published an information bulletin entitled "The Labor Market." Various workers' circles hoped that they would improve their situation without the cost of victims; some were also dissatisfied with the politicization of the Bund and its increasing centralism.

The Bund strongly opposed the "Independents," referring to them as provocateurs and calling for a boycott against them. The Po'alei Zion did not prevent their members from joining the "Independents." For their own ideological reasons, they were opposed to revolutionary activity and since the Zionists had been excluded from the trade unions by the Bund, they were inclined to cooperate with the "Independents" in this field. This policy encountered opposition within the ranks of the Po'alei Zion. The pogrom of *Kishinev and the intensified official anti-Jewish policy had an adverse effect on the public image of the "Independents." The minister of the interior, Vyacheslav von *Plehve, ordered that their activities should cease and they themselves were compelled to declare their "self-liquidation" (July 1903). Their failure was best illustrated by the fact that it was just during the years 1901 to 1903 that the number of Jewish political prisoners in Russia reached its peak. Unlike its development among the Russians, there was no successor to the pro-czarist legalist party among the Jewish workers.


S.M. Schwarz, Russian Revolution of 1905 (1967), 267–300; E. Mendelsohn, Class Struggle in the Pale (1970), 139–52; N.A. Buchbinder, Geshikhte fun der Yidisher Arbeter Bavegung in Rusland (1931), 179–252; M. Mishkinsky, in: Zion, 25 (1960), 238–49; J.S. Hertz, in: Unzer Tsayt, 6 (1967), 15–20; no. 7–8 (1907), 30–36; 1–2 (1968), 33–38; S. Schwarz, ibid., 1–2 (1968), 26–32.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.