In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The General Jewish Workers’ Bund

  • Introduction
  • Bundists Beyond the Borders of Tsarist Russia and Poland Before the Second World War

Jewish Studies The General Jewish Workers’ Bund
by
Jack Jacobs, Gertrud Pickhan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 July 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0199

Introduction

The General Jewish Workers’ Bund, founded illegally, in Vilna, in 1897, ultimately became a significant political movement among Jews living in the tsarist empire. The Bund played a major role in organizing the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party, created self-defense groups to combat antisemitic violence, and was heavily involved in combating tsarism. It was characterized by its sympathy for Marxism, its advocacy of national cultural autonomy for Russian Jewry, and its critique of Zionism. The Bund opposed Lenin’s ideas on party organization from the beginning of the 20th century onward. This opposition presaged the bitter disagreements between leading Bundists on the one hand and the Bolshevik Party on the other following the overthrow of the Provisional Revolutionary government in October 1917. But the Bund ultimately split over its relationship to Bolshevism into two, opposing, organizations—the Kombund (eventually absorbed into the Communist Party) and the Social Democratic Bund (which was later hounded out of the Soviet Union). In the Second Polish Republic, the Bund succeeded in attracting considerable support, despite obstacles, in many major cities (and in specific, smaller, communities with significant Jewish populations). It published numerous periodicals, organized trade unions, fostered a constellation of organizations devoted to children, youth, women, physical education, and education, supported secular, Yiddish language, cultural institutions, and ran electoral campaigns. By the late 1930s, the Bund was regularly winning seats on municipal councils and in Jewish communal elections in important Jewish communities in Poland, including Warsaw, Lodz, Vilna, Bialystok, and Lublin. The invasion of Poland, in 1939, by both Germany and the USSR, put an end to the Bund’s heyday. In the eastern portions of what had been the Polish Republic, Bundist leaders were arrested by the Soviet secret police. Some died or were executed while being held prisoner in the USSR. In Nazi-occupied Poland, Bundists generally suffered the same fate as did the rest of the Jewish population. Many Bundists in Nazi-occupied Poland were murdered. Others died of hunger or disease. A modest number of Bundists survived the Second World War, and attempted to reestablish the Bund in postwar Poland. Once, however, Poland became a Communist state, the Polish Bund was liquidated. Bundist organizations, made up all but exclusively of emigres and refugees, operated in the decades following the end of the Second World War in many countries around the world. Few of these organizations, however, survived the passing of the immigrant generation.

The Bund in the Tsarist Era and in the Era of the Bolshevik Revolution

The political party formally known in the first decade and a half of the 20th century as the General Jewish Workers’ Bund in Lithuania, Poland, and Russia, but usually referred to, quite simply, as the Bund, was the most important Jewish socialist movement in eastern Europe. The Bund did not at first make any national demands on behalf of Jews per se. The founders of the Bund saw themselves as part and parcel of a worldwide social democratic movement, and as having a distinctive role only in that they were organizing among Jewish workers, who tended to speak Yiddish as their native tongue. However, from 1901 onward, the Bundists argued that the russian empire ought to be transformed into a federation in which each nation that lived within it would have full autonomy to deal with its own concerns, regardless of where within the empire individual members of the nation might happen to live. Moreover, the Bund also demanded that the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party, the RSDWP, be reorganized as a federation, and that the Bund be recognized within that federation as the representative of the Jewish proletariat. The Bund’s positions on the national question and on the appropriate organization of the RSDWP sparked sharp disputes, particularly with other components of the RSDWP. Disputes around these and other major matters came to a head several times, including in 1917. The Bund was extremely enthusiastic about the revolution that took place in the tsarist empire in February of that year. Several prominent Bundists played roles in the Congress of Soviets held in July. On the other hand, the Bund’s leaders were, initially, deeply opposed to the Bolshevik uprising, which was described by some Bundists as a putsch rather than as a social revolution. But, like many socialist parties around the world, the Bund ultimately split over the question of its relationship to Bolshevism. Those Bundists who objected most strongly to Bolshevik policies formed an organization of their own, the Social Democratic Bund. This organization was ultimately declared illegal by the Soviet regime, and some of those associated with it were imprisoned or executed. Other Bundists who remained in the Soviet Union either joined the Communist Party, or withdrew from political affairs.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.

Article

Up

Down