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Jewish Socialist Workers' Party

JEWISH SOCIALIST WORKERS' PARTY (also known as Sejmists, or J.S. = Jewish Socialists; Rus. abbrev., SERP = Sotsialisticheskaya Yevreyskaya Rabochaya Partiya), party based on a synthesis of national and socialist ideas, founded at a conference in Kiev in April 1906. Its leaders were M. *Silberfarb, *Ben-Adir, M. *Ratner, N. *Shtib, J. Novakovski, I. *Yefroykin, Z.H. *Kalmanovich, M. Levkovski, V. Fabrikant, and B. Friedland. The party published an organ in Yiddish, Folksshtime (1907), a collection, Shtime (2 vols., 1908), and a social-political organ in Russian, Serp ("Sickle," 1907–08). The party evolved from differences within the *Po'alei Zion movement and was the successor of the *Vozrozhdeniye group. In general matters the Jewish Socialist Workers' Party regarded itself as part of the international socialist movement, but claimed that the manifold national pressures from all sides confronted the Jewish proletariat and the Jewish people in general first and foremost with the national question. According to the party platform, autonomy was an essential principle for the multinational states. Hence the party demanded the assurance of a special legal status for the Jews as a national group to be embodied in an extraterritorial "national personal autonomy" (*Autonomism). The theoretical foundation for this claim also rested on the vital continuity of the historic trend in Jewry to preserve its specific forms of existence and creativity in all spheres of life.

The Sejmists derived their ideological inspiration from C. *Zhitlovsky, who had already advocated socialist autonomism in the 1890s. They were also influenced by S. *Dubnow and trends in Austrian Social Democracy. The party claimed that the basis for Jewish autonomy should be the Jewish community, and its supreme institution, to be endowed with binding authority, a Jewish national Sejm (parliament). The Sejm would represent the collective affairs of the whole of Jewry. Its functions, whose details would be defined by a Jewish constituent assembly, would include cultural and educational matters, medical and health concerns, mutual aid, assistance in work, agricultural training, statistics, organization of emigration, and the settlement of emigrants in a "free, unsettled territory." The acquisition of autonomy was a prerequisite for a Jewish territorial center to be established "anywhere" which would have an impact on all aspects of Jewish life in the Diaspora. But the realization of the project was put off to "some time" in the distant future.

Unlike the *Zionist Socialist Workers' Party (SS) and the Po'alei Zion, the Jewish Socialist Workers' Party did not adhere to Marxism. On the agrarian question the party identified with the Social Revolutionaries who were also more inclined than the Social Democrats to support federalist and autonomist solutions to the national question. The Jewish Socialist Workers' Party was represented at the congresses of the Socialist International as a subsection of the Social Revolutionaries. In conjunction with the Social Revolutionaries, the Sejmists convened a conference of national socialist parties in Russia to discuss the national question in 1907.

The main stronghold of the Jewish Socialist Workers' Party was in the Ukraine, with some adherents in Lithuania and none at all in Poland. It took part in the revolutionary events of 1905–06: in the series of strikes and in the "self-defense" organized by socialist parties against pogroms. In Yekaterinoslav (*Dnepropetrovsk) the Sejmists established a Jewish Council of workers' delegates. They upheld the principle of inter-party solidarity within united trade unions. The party boycotted the elections for the First *Duma, while for the second it nominated candidates in six districts (Zhitlovsky was the candidate for Vitebsk). In other places it supported the Social Revolutionaries in preference to the Social Democrats, and the *Bund in preference to the Zionist Socialist Workers' Party.

During the reaction that followed the 1905 Revolution the party became limited mainly to intelligentsia circles. Some of its active members went over to the Folkists (Folkspartei) while the SERP group, headed by Zhitlovsky, was also active in the United States. In 1909 it united with Po'alei Zion and the Socialist-Territorialists. The Jewish Socialist Workers' Party cooperated with the world organization of Po'alei Zion and the Zionist Socialists toward the establishment of a Jewish section in the Socialist International. After the 1917 Revolution the Jewish Socialists united with the Zionist Socialists and established the *United Jewish Socialist Workers' Party.


N.A. Buchbinder, Geshikhte fun der Yidisher Arbeter-Bavegung in Rusland (1931), 398–402; O.I. Yanowsky, Jewsand Minority Rights (1933), index s.v. Seymists; Sotsialistisher Teritorializm (1934), 51–78; A.L. Patkin, The Origins of the Russian-Jewish Labor Movement (1947), 237–41; A. Menes (ed.), Yidisher Gedank in der Nayer Tsayt (1957), 172–5; B. Borochov, Ketavim, 1 (1955), 383, 488–9; 2 (1956), 543–4; Y. Maor, She'elat ha-Yehudim ba-Tenu'ah ha-Liberalit ve-ha-Mahpekhanit be-Rusyah (1964), 221–7.

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