- The International Jewish Labor Bund After 1945: Toward a Global History by David Slucki
Once the most powerful European Jewish socialist movement, the Jewish Socialist Bund was utterly decimated during the Second World War. In the Soviet lands, the party fell victim to the onslaught of Stalinism, symbolized by the murder of the Polish Bundist leaders Henrik Erlich and Victor Alter at the hands of the NKVD in 1942. The suppression of the Bund under Stalin was surpassed only by the physical annihilation of the party during the Holocaust. In light of these twin catastrophes, historians have generally viewed the wartime period as the end of the Bund’s relevance as a political movement.
David Slucki’s study reassesses this prevailing historical narrative by examining the international effort to reconstitute the Bund in the aftermath of the war. The absolute devastation wrought across Eastern Europe left surviving Bundists with few prospects for rebuilding the party in its prewar center of Poland. Bundists had little choice but to reconfigure their party as a transnational movement nominally aligned under the World Coordinating Committee of Bund Organizations, established in 1947 to link local Bund organizations in 18 different countries. This decision, Slucki argues, transformed the Bund from a regionally specific organization focused upon the “Old World” of Poland and Eastern Europe into a decentralized “World Bund” comprising organizations in far-flung locales, from New York and Paris to Melbourne and Buenos Aires. Always internationalist in its outlook, the Bund became, out of necessity, an international movement.
From the outset, Slucki stresses that the postwar Bund failed to achieve anything close to its prewar status. At its postwar height in the late 1950s, the Bund had a total global membership of only 4,000–5,000 people. Rather than artificially overstate the party’s political influence, Slucki instead uses the postwar Bund as a lens through which to explore the political and social tensions faced by Bundist refugees—most of whom survived the war in concentration camps or in the Soviet Union—in new sites of postwar exile. To this end, the book employs a comparative analysis, examining case studies of five locales that became primary postwar Bundist centers: Poland, New York, Paris, Melbourne, and Israel.
This comparative analysis yields an array of insights, some expected, others less so. In Poland, unsurprisingly, the brief postwar resurgence of the Bund was cut short following the Communist consolidation of power [End Page 147] in 1948. In Israel, the Bund’s staunch anti-Zionism rendered it little more than a critical, marginal voice in a sea of Zionist enthusiasm. Yet the party struggled to reassert itself as a meaningful force even in conditions of relative political pluralism. In New York, the Bundists appeared as late arrivals in a city that teemed with Jewish cultural organizations, union activists, and leftwing political movements. In this context, the party proved unable to expand its base beyond the small cohort of émigrés from Eastern Europe. In France, the largest European Bund center, the party was caught between its own rhetoric of revolutionary internationalism and an urgent desire to assimilate into the post-Holocaust political milieu. As a result, the Bund undermined its own internationalist claims by aggressively supporting the socialist government of Guy Mollet (1957–58) even as it pursued colonial war in Algeria and military intervention in Egypt during the 1957 Suez Crisis. Only in Melbourne, Slucki argues, did the Bund succeed in establishing a significant postwar presence. There, the small size of the prewar Jewish population and significant influx of refugees from Poland (including many Bundists) allowed the Bund to reconstitute itself as a vibrant local political organization with a thriving youth movement. The study of Melbourne, the richest of Slucki’s case studies, suggests the value of his comparative approach, shedding light on an unexpected revival of party activism and success far removed from the traditional centers of Bundist politics.
While illuminating in parts, the comparative analysis renders Slucki’s study highly uneven. To cite one telling example, the author provides a...