- Jewish Politics in Eastern Europe: The Bund at 100
Founded in Czarist Vilna (Vilnius) in 1897, the Jewish Labor Bund became a mass movement among the Jews of Eastern Europe. It met its demise at the hands of Nazi murderers as well as Soviet executioners. A social democratic party, it opposed the perversion of the democratic socialist idea by the communists in the Soviet Union. It [End Page 169] also opposed the Zionist focus on working to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, arguing that Jews should fight instead for full civil rights and cultural autonomy in the lands in which they resided. The Bund worked tirelessly to build a democratic trade union movement among the Jews in interwar Poland. It carried out successful general strikes to protest antisemitic outbreaks. It also established progressive schools for children, published scores of newspapers and magazines, and organized zelbst-shuts (self-defense) organizations to fight off pogromists and antisemitic hooligans. It built a summer camp and sanatorium for children and created choral groups, sports organizations, evening classes, consumers’ and producers’ co-operatives, libraries, dramatic groups, literary clubs, and other such institutions which served the poor, working-class Jews of Eastern-Europe. It championed Yiddish as the legitimate language of millions of Jews. And finally, it wrote a heroic page into the history of Jewish resistance to the khurbn (Holocaust).
This book is not a history of the Bund. It is a compilation of nineteen scholarly essays “first delivered as papers at an academic conference organized under the auspices of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw in November of 1997 [the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Bund].” Participants in the conference included “historians, political scientists and linguists, Jews and non-Jews, socialists and non-socialists, individuals sympathetic to the Bundist perspective and those who were critical of its ideology, scholars specializing in such fields as East European history, the history of socialism, and the history of ideas” (p. xiv).
The volume begins by quoting an old maxim: “History, generally speaking, is written by—or about—victors.” And in the struggle between the Bund and the Zionist movement, the Zionists emerged the victors. The author’s point: Both movements were founded in 1897, but while the 100th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress was widely commemorated and duly noted by Jewish historians, the founding of the Bund in the same year was largely ignored and forgotten (except, of course, by its surviving remnant, members of the Bund who are still loyal and active all over the world, from New York to Montevideo, from Melbourne to Buenos Aires, and from Paris to Tel Aviv).
These nineteen well-researched and well-written papers are organized into four parts: The Bund under the Russian Empire; The Bund in Poland between the Two Wars; Other Socialists and the Bund; and The Holocaust and Post-Holocaust Years.
Among them are articles dealing with the Bundist Press (“between 1905 and 1915, over 130 Yiddish publications were issued [by the Bund] . . . of these, over one third were fine literature and literary anthologies” [p. 123]); the contribution of the Bund to Yiddish culture (“the Bund was the first and foremost institution to adopt the Yiddish language, and to set for itself the goal of doing all that was within its power to increase Yiddish usage, and make it the national language of the Jewish people” [p. 127]); the national ideology of the Bund (“the Bund’s solution to the national question in general [End Page 170] and the Jewish question in particular consisted of three points: (1) full civil and political equality for Jews, (2) legislation guaranteeing the right of Jews to use their native language [Yiddish] in courts and in all public institutions, and (3) national cultural autonomy” [p. 39]); the Bund’s physical education association, Morgenstern (the Bund sent to the second International Workers’ Olympics, held in Red Vienna in July of 1931 “a delegation of around...