Stalin and Lenin’s Views on the Jewish Question and the Bund; Early History of the Bund

This article was published by Alliance (Marxist-Leninist) as part of the publication Alliance, issue #30, “Marx, Lenin and Stalin on Zionism.”

Background – The Position of Russian Jewry

In 1791, Tsarina or Empress Catherine II created what was to become known as the Pale Of Settlement. This restricted Jewish residence to either territories annexed from Poland along the Russian Western border, or to territories seized from Turkey along the shores of the Black Sea. Later other annexed territories were added. (See Map below from web site Beyond the Pale). The same type of restrictions noted briefly above, on Jews in Germany, prevailed both here and Poland itself.

MapPaleSettlement
Perhaps the worst anti-Semitism in Europe was in these parts.

Tsar Alexander II‘s reign saw at least the legal and theoretical emancipation of the serfs in 1861. It marked some hopes on the part of Russian Jews for major change in their living circumstances. In fact there were some improvements with Jews being able to live outside the Pale of Settlement:

“On the first anniversary of Alexander’s coronation the hated Cantonist system is repealed. Bit by bit, small groups of Jews considered useful are allowed to settle outside the Pale: merchants, medical doctors and artisans. The Jewish communities of St. Petersburg, Moscow and Odessa grow rapidly, and Jews start to participate in the intellectual and cultural life. The industrial development of the 1860s, following the disastrous Crimean War creates opportunities for a small group of Jewish entrepreneurs, particularly in banking and the export trade, in mining and in the construction of railroads.”

(Web: Beyond The Pale:
http://www.friends-partners.org/partners/beyond-the-pale/english/32.html)

But this was short lived, and the Polish Uprising of 1863, led to an anti-Semitic wave again. After Tsar Alexander II was assassinated by Narodniks, in 1881 the following repression was associated with pogroms aimed at blaming the Jews for the social unrest, and to divert social criticism. The Tsarist authorities used the Jewish question as a means of “dividing and ruling”:

“Beginning in Elizabetgrad, a wave of pogroms spread throughout the southwestern regions, more than 200 in 1881 alone. The authorities… (often) showed sympathy for the pogromists. An official investigation confirmed: the plunderers were convinced that the attacks were sanctioned by the Czar himself. The same investigation blamed ‘Jewish exploitation’ as the cause for the pogroms.”

Web Site : (Web: Beyond The Pale:
http://www.friends-partners.org/partners/beyond-the-pale/english/32.html)

Severe restrictions and persecution under the so called “Temporary Laws” of May 1882 lasted until 1917:

“The area of the Pale of Settlement was reduced by 10 percent. Jews were once more prohibited from living in villages, to buy or rent property outside their prescribed residences, denied jobs in the civil service and forbidden to trade on Sundays and Christian holidays….. In 1887, the number of Jewish students entering secondary schools in the Pale was restricted to 10 percent. As in some towns Jews constituted 50 to 70 percent of the population, many high school classes remained half empty. In 1891 a degree was passed that the Jews of Moscow, who had settled in the city since 1865, were to be expelled. Within a few months about 20,000 people were forced to give up their homes and livelihood and deported from the already overcrowded Pale.”

Web Site : (Web: Beyond The Pale:
http://www.friends-partners.org/partners/beyond-the-pale/english/32.html)

Nicholas II, succeeded Alexander III in 1894, and was as autocratic. But the reform movement gained strength. Both workers and students rebelled. Again the tactic of divide and rule was used in pogroms against Jews. At the same time the anti-Japanese war was launched. The pogroms were directly financed and supported by the vicious reactionary Minister of the Interior Viacheslav Plehve. For example, a pogrom in Kishinev in 1903, led to forty-five people’s murders, and 1,300 homes and shops were plundered. The rioters were protected:

“For his anti-Semitic agitation, the editor of the local newspaper, Bessarabets, had received funds from…Viacheslav Plehve. When the perpetrators of the Kishinev pogroms received only very light sentences, it became clear that pogroms had become an instrument of government policy, and Jews began to form self-defence units.”

(Web: Beyond The Pale: http://www.friends-partners.org/partners/beyond-the-pale/english/32.html)

After the defeat of Russia by the Japanese, the pogroms intensified, led by the rabid ultra-reactionary Black Hundreds:

“The Black Hundreds now openly declared the extermination of the Jews as their program. But the worst orgy of violence broke out after the Czar was forced to grant a constitution in October 1905. Mainly organized by the monarchist Union of Russian People, and with the cooperation of local government officials, pogroms were staged in more than 300 towns and cities, leaving almost a thousand people dead and many thousands wounded.”

(Web: Beyond The Pale http://www.friends-partners.org/partners/beyond-the-pale/english/32.html)

But by end 19th Century, the Jewish population was over 5 million. Assimilation did occur and Jews took part in the political movements, including the Narodniki:

“The early Jewish revolutionaries among the Narodniki saw themselves as Russians fighting for the right of the Russian people, and believed that the Jewish problem would be solved through assimilation after the liberation of the masses.”

(Web: Beyond The Pale: http://www.friends-partners.org/partners/beyond-the-pale/english/32.html)

But more Jews were convinced of the need for a separate Jewish workers movement. In 1897, the Jewish labor movement Algemeyner Yiddisher Arbeter Bund was founded in Vilna, and argued for “national and cultural autonomy” but not for a territorial separation:

“The Bund advocated national and cultural autonomy for the Jews, but not in the territorial sense; it argued for a middle course between assimilation and a territorial solution. The Bund also developed trade union activities and formed self-defence organizations against pogrom violence. In 1905, it had about 33,000 members. “

(Web: Beyond The Pale: http://www.friends-partners.org/partners/beyond-the-pale/english/32.html)

It is this central question of a seperate territory that distinguished the Bundists from the Zionists. Of course the Bund was more orientated to the workers movement and socialism also. So much so, that even the avowedly Zionist organisation formed in Russia adopted a socialist tone:

“Many Jews no longer saw any point in the struggle for emancipation within Russian society and turn after the publication of Herzl’s Der Judenstaat in 1836 to Zionism instead. The largest Zionist party, Poalei Zion (Workers of Zion), founded in 1906, was Marxist in orientation and defined the establishment of a socialist-Jewish autonomous state in Palestine as its ultimate goal.”

Web Site : Beyond The Pale; Ibid; p.39

Even more Jews left Russia, rather than enter the political movement, going mainly to America and Western Europe:

“Between 1881 and 1914, more than 2 million Jews left Russia.”

Web Site : Beyond The Pale; Ibid; p.39

In March 1917, the revolution moves on and the Czarist regime is toppled. This was greeted:

“With joy among the Jewish community. The Provisional Government, as one of its first acts, abolished all limitations based on religion or nationality. For the first time in their history, the Jews of Russia were free to organize and express themselves. Synagogues and schools are opened, publications appeared in Hebrew and Yiddish, and political and cultural life flourishes…. The Declaration of the Rights of the Peoples of Russia recognized the right to both religious and national autonomy.”

Web Site: Beyond The Pale; Ibid; p.40

The separation of Church and State, was decreed by both the Zionists and the religious minded Jews. This edict, introduced in January 1918, was coupled with the active organisation of Jewish Bolshevik sections in the party termed Yevsektsii. All this:

“Resulted in the confiscation of religious properties and the prohibition of religious instruction in schools….the Yevsektsii conducted a systematic campaign against all aspects of Judaism and Jewish life. Its first decision was the dissolution of the kehilla, the Jewish community administration, which served as the main instrument of Jewish religious and cultural life.”

Web Site: Beyond The Pale; Ibid; p.40

After the Bolshevik Revolution, the Civil War against White counter-revolutionaries had a major focus in the Ukraine, where 60 percent of Russian Jews lived. The pogroms of the White led armies were only fought off by the Bolsheviks. That left the Jewish population at the end of the Civil War depleted, but with gratitude to the Bolsheviks:

“In spring 1918, the Red Army had to defend itself against the Germans, the Ukrainian Army under Petlyura struggling for Ukrainian independence, and the ‘White’ Armies under Denikin and Wrangel that tried to topple the Bolshevik government. Apart from these more organized armies, armed gangs of bandits under their own leaders (atamans) joined the fighting. All groups took part in anti-Jewish attacks, looting and murder. Only the Red Army Command prohibited anti-Semitic violence and even punished some of the attackers. No such policy was introduced in the Ukrainian Army. During 1919, when the Ukrainians had to retreat, anti-Jewish violence on an unprecedented scale claiming tens of thousands of lives. None of the perpetrators were prosecuted. The majority of Jews in the Ukraine, fearful of Ukrainian independence, came to regard the Red Army more and more as the only force capable to stop the violence. The other major participant in the Civil War, the ‘White’ Army, also engaged in looting, rape and murder, using the old slogan ‘Strike at the Jews and Save Russia.’ When they had to retreat southward at the end of 1919, they vented their rage on Jewish communities along the way. Jewish self-defence units were occasionally able to stop them, partly with material support from the Soviet government. By the time the Civil War was over, about 2,000 pogroms left an estimated 100,000 Jews dead and more than half a million homeless.”

Web Site: Beyond The Pale; Ibid; p.42

Stalin & Lenin’s View On the Jewish Question & The Bund

Stalin was asked by Lenin, in 1923, to write a work to define the Bolshevik response to the national question. This became the famous classic Marxism And The National Question. What did Stalin consider as the definition of a “nation?” Stalin held that nationality was not dependent upon religion, nor upon a racial mixture. The famous succinct definition given by Stalin is that:

“A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.”

J.V.Stalin Works, Moscow; 1956; Vol 2; Marxism and the National Question; p. 307.

Stalin pointed out, that under conditions of a national oppression, the workers suffer more than the bourgeoisie. One of the examples he uses to demonstrate this are the Jewish workers. This might in fact, imply that Stalin views Jews as a ‘nation’. He states :

“Restriction of freedom of movement, disfranchisement, repression of language, closing of schools, and other forms of persecution affect the workers no less, if not more, than the bourgeoisie. Such a state of affairs can only serve to retard the free development of the intellectual forces of the proletariat of subject nations. One cannot speak seriously of a full development of the intellectual faculties of the Tartar or Jewish worker if he is not allowed to use his native language at meetings and lectures, and if his schools are closed down.”

J.V.Stalin Works, Moscow; 1956; Vol 2; Marxism and the National Question; p.304. OR: via: http://gate.cruzio.com/~marx2mao/Stalin/MNQ12.html

Stalin therefore argued that the national liberation struggle was a key issue for the workers movement. But the national liberation struggle must also be supported for another reason. Because the national struggle is diversionary for the real interests of the working class. It obscures and diverts from the real workers struggle – for socialism:

“The policy of nationalist persecution is dangerous to the cause of the proletariat … It diverts the attention of large strata from social questions, questions of the class struggle, to national questions, questions ‘common’ to the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. And this creates a favourable soil for lying propaganda about ‘harmony of interests’, for glossing over the class interests of the proletariat and for the intellectual enslavement of the workers. This creates a serious obstacle to the cause of using the workers of all nationalities.”

J.V.Stalin Works, Moscow; 1956; Vol 2; Marxism and the National Question; p. 320-21

And linked to this, moreover, nationalism encourages a policy of “divide and rule,” allowing a ruling class to split workers apart, again diverting from the main struggle – the class struggle:

“The ‘system’ of oppression leads to a ‘system’ of inciting nations against each other to a ‘system’ of massacres and pogroms. Of course the latter system is not everywhere and always possible, but where it is possible – in the absence of elementary civil rights – it frequently assumes horrifying proportions and threatens to drown the cause of unity of the workers in blood and tears. The Caucasus and the South Russia furnish numerous examples. ‘Divide and rule’ – such is the purpose of the policy of incitement. And where such policy succeeds, it is a tremendous evil for the proletariat and a serious obstacle to the cause of uniting the workers of all the nationalities in the state.”

J.V.Stalin Works, Moscow; 1956; Vol 2; Marxism and the National Question; p. 321

In part, the work “Marxism and the National Question”, was written in order to refute the shallow reasoning of the Austrian revisionist Marxist, Otto Bauer. Otto Bauer had proposed a programme of so-called “Cultural-national autonomy” for groups of workers of one national background within a single state. Stalin explained what the programme actually meant:

“Let us now examine the essence of the programme itself. What is the national programme of the Austrian social-democrats? It is expressed into words: Cultural-national autonomy. This means firstly that autonomy would be granted let us say, not to Bohemia or Poland, which are inhabited mainly by Czechs and Poles, but to Czechs and Poles generally, irrespective of territory, no matter what part of Austria they inhabit. That is why this autonomy is called national and not territorial. It means secondly that the Czechs, Poles, Germans and so on, scattered over various parts of Austria, taken personally as individuals are to be organized into integral nations, and are as such to form part of the Austrian state. In this way Austria would represent not a union of autonomous nationalities, but a union of autonomous nationalities, constituted irrespective of territory.”

J.V.Stalin Works, Moscow; 1956; Vol 2; Marxism and the National Question; p. 331-332

The fact that Otto Bauer was a socialist leader, made such theories especially dangerous for the working class, as they dressed up bourgeois ideology in a more palatable dress, to mask it. This made it more likely for the workers movements to be fooled into adopting the theories:

“There is no need to mention the kind of ‘socialist principle of nationality’ glorified by Bauer…. True such nationalism is not so transparent, for it is skillfully masked by socialist phrases, but it is all the more harmful to the proletariat for that reason… But this does not exhaust the harm caused by national autonomy; it prepares the ground not only for the segregation of nations, but also for breaking up the united labour movements. The idea of national autonomy creates the psychological conditions for the division of the united workers’ party into separate parties built on national lines. The break-up of the party is followed by the break-up of the trade unions and complete segregation is the result. In this way, the united class movement is broken up into separate national rivulets.”

J.V.Stalin Works, Moscow; 1956; Vol 2; Marxism and the National Question; p. 342-343.

In specific reference to the Jews, Stalin explains that Otto Bauer, despite his praise for “cultural autonomy” in general, is against autonomy for the Jews. Why? In part on the basis of the historical background of assimilation:

“In brief the Jewish Nation is coming to an end, and hence there is nobody to demand national autonomy for. The Jews are being assimilated. This view of the fate of the Jews as a nation is not a new one. It was expressed by Marx as early as the forties, in reference chiefly to the German Jews.”

J.V.Stalin Works, Moscow; 1956; Vol 2; Marxism and the National Question; p.344

Stalin does not disagree with Otto Bauer’s view that the Jews cannot be preserved as a nation. But Stalin does question Bauer’s grounds for rejecting, Bauer’s own “cultural autonomy,” to the Jews. After all points out Stalin, while Bauer allows Pole, Germans etc this mythical “cultural autonomy,” he denies it to the Jews! But Stalin says, he does so on partial grounds. The reason Bauer offers is “That the Jews have no closed territory or settlement.” Stalin says: “This explanation in the main a correct one, does not however express the whole truth.” We may ask what is this “whole truth?” Stalin goes on to raise the issue of the absence of a national market:

“The fact of the matter is that there is no large and stable stratum connected with the land, which would naturally rivet the nation together, serving not only as its framework But also as a ‘national market.’ Of the five or six million Russian Jews only 3-4% are employed in trade industry, in urban institutions and in general are town dwellers; moreover they are spread all over Russia and do not constitute a majority in a single gubernia.”

J.V.Stalin Works, Moscow; 1956; Vol 2; Marxism and the National Question; p. 345

In conclusion, Stalin in Marxism And The National Question thought there was no stable geographical territory within which a Jewish nation could feasibly be “riveted” together. These views certainly influenced Stalin, or at least were indistinguishable on the whole from those of Stalin.

Lenin’s Remarks On The National Question: On Jews And The Bund

How did Lenin regard the Jewish minority, some of who saw themselves as a nation? Jews certainly wanted liberation from oppressions, and this wish frequently took the form of national aspirations. This was the explicit view of the socialists of the Jewish Bund. The Bund is discussed in more detail below. Lenin first discusses the Jews in a more general vein, in “Critical Remarks on the National Question,” written in 1913.

Here he states that the Jews were not a separate nation. He acknowledges that racist reactionary behaviour forms them into an “unhappy, downtrodden and disfranchised caste.” But rather than separation, Lenin argued that assimilation was the best progressive step:

“It is the Jewish nationalists in Russia in general and the Bundists in particular who vociferate most about Russian orthodox Marxists being ‘assimilators.’ And yet…out of the ten and a half million Jews all over the word, about half that number live in the civilised world, where conditions favouring ‘assimilation’ are strongest, whereas the unhappy downtrodden disfranchised Jews in Russia and Galicia who are crushed under the heel of the Purishkeviches [NB: Lenin uses ‘Purishkevich’, derived from the landowner monarchist, Vladimir Mitrofanovich Purishkevich; who founded the reactionary Black Hundreds in 1905 period to ward off revolution] (Both Russian and Polish), live where conditions for ‘assimilation’ least prevail, where there is most segregation and even a ‘Pale of Settlement’, a numerous clausus and other charming features of the Purishkevich regime. The Jews in the civilised world are not a nation, they have in the main become assimilated, say Karl Kautsky and Otto Bauer. The Jews in Galicia and in Russia are not a nation; unfortunately (through no fault of their own but through that of the Purishkeviches) they are still a caste here…”

Lenin “Critical Remarks on the National Question” In “Lenin On USA”; p. 87; or Collected Works; Vols 20; pp 28-30, and 37; OR:
http://gate.cruzio.com/~marx2mao/Lenin/CRNQ13.html

The Bund argued for “cultural autonomy” and a separate educational system. But Lenin replied that assimilation can work, even under capitalism he argued, pointing to the process at work in the USA:

“A rough idea of the scale which the general process of assimilation is assuming under the present conditions of advanced capitalism may be obtained from the immigration statistics of the United States of America.. The 1900 census in the USA recorded over 10,000,000 foreigners. New York state…grinds down national distinctions.”

Lenin “Critical Remarks National Question” In “Lenin On USA”; p. 87; or: Collected Works; Vols 20; p.28-37;

Lenin concludes that the plans for a non-assimilation is reactionary, and negatively compares it to the introduction of “separate” school systems in the South of the USA:

“In practice the plan for ‘extra-territoriality’ or ‘cultural national’ autonomy could mean only one thing: the division of educational affairs according to nationality i.e., the introduction of national curia in school affairs…How utterly reactionary it is even from the standpoint of democracy let alone from that of the proletarian class struggle for socialism.. A single instance and a single scheme for the ‘nationalisation’ of the school system will make this point abundantly clear. In the USA the division of the States into Northern and Southern, holds to this day in all departments of life: the former possess the greatest traditions of freedom and of struggle against the slaveowners; the latter possess the greatest traditions of slave ownership, survivals of persecution of the Negroes, who are economically oppressed and culturally backward (44% of Negroes are illiterate and 6% of whites), and so forth. In the Northern states Negro children attend the same schools as white children do. In the South there are separate ‘national’, or racial, whichever you please, schools for Negro children. I think this is the sole instance of actual ‘nationalisation’ of schools. In Eastern Europe there exists a country where things like the Beilis case are still possible, and Jews are condemned by the Purishkeviches to a condition worse than that of the Negroes. In that country a scheme for nationalisation Jewish schools was recently mooted in the Ministry. Happily this reactionary utopia is no more likely to realised than the utopia of the Austrian petty bourgeois.”

Lenin “Critical Remarks on the National Question”; Ibid; p. 88-89.

[Note: Beilis Case: An infamous case where a Jew was framed and brutally put to death for crimes he had not committed.]

Related to the issue of whether the Jews formed a nation, was the concept of a multi-national state. In his later polemics of 1914, with Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin wrote “The Right Of Nations To Self-Determination.” Here Lenin firmly upholds the rights of nations to self determination, against Luxemburg’s hesitations. But in this work, Lenin holds that the “typical normal” capitalist state is one inhabited by a single nation:

“The tendency of every national movement is towards the formation of national states, under which…requirements of modern capitalism are best satisfied. The most profound economic factors drive towards this goals and, therefore for the whole of Western Europe, nay, for the entire civilised world, the national state is typical and normal for the capitalist period.”

Lenin; “Right Of Nations Self Determination”; Selected Works; Vol 1; Moscow; 1977; p.569; C W 20; p 393;
OR http://gate.cruzio.com/~marx2mao/Lenin/RNSD14.html

Departures from this are unusual. Lenin goes on to cite the then Marxist, Karl Kautsky, who agreed that multi-national states are formed in territories where the state structure remains “abnormal or underdeveloped” in relation to the needs of capitalist society:

“States of mixed national composition (known as multi-national states, as distinct from national states) are ‘always those whose internal constitution has for some reason remained abnormal or underdeveloped (backward)’. Needless to say, Kautsky speaks of abnormality exclusively in the sense of lack of conformity with what is best adapted to the requirements of a developing capitalism.”

Lenin; “Right Of Nations to Self Determination”; Ibid; p. 569.

Elsewhere Lenin continues to be hostile to any chauvinism, on the part of the Jewish representatives. This naturally came to a head with the Bund.

Source

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