August Grabski on the Anti-Zionism of the Bund (1947-1972)

Submitted by AWL on 10 August, 2005 - 2:37

The Bund in Poland dissolved itself 16 January 1949. The activists assembled at the congress in Wroclaw called the bundists to join the Polish United Workers Party (the Communist party). But the activity of the Bund was continued in about twenty countries in Western Europe, the USA, Canada, Israel, Latin America countries, Australia. The purpose of this text is to show the attitude of the Bund towards the state of Israel and the Zionism during 25 years since the UNO decision on the partition of Palestine until the situation shaped by the six days war. The article is devoted much more to the programmatic – propaganda questions than organisational ones. The text will treat mainly on the Israeli Bund and the world congresses of the party.

1. The re-definition of the Jewish nation and the role of the party by the Bund

The Bund was launched at the end of XIX century as a main party of Jewish workers in the Russian Empire. Its definition of Jewish nation, like many other Marxist approaches, denied the existence of one world Jewish nation. According such an attitude the Bund aspired to participate in the activity of the Second International as a part of the Russian delegation and rejected the attempts of other Jewish workers parties (Zionists and the Sejmists) to launch an extra-territorial Jewish section of the International.
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The slaughter of Jews at the WWII, their dispersing, the triumph of Zionists as a dominant political movement among the Jews led to the fundamental revision of the definition of Jewish nation by the Bund. It was done at the first world congress of bundist organisations from different countries, which took place in Brussels in May 1947. During the conference the World Coordination Committee of the Bund was launched. (The existence of such world committees was normal for different Zionist political currents but not for Jewish Communists, Trotskyists and until that moment for the Bund). The conference accepted the existence of the world Jewish nation among its Yiddish speaking part the Bund wanted to be active. The World Coordination Committee was led by Emanuel Novogrodzki (until 1961) and later by Emanuel Scherer (until 1977).

The conference did one more ideological change. The ideology of the Bund had had two rules. The struggle for cultural survival of Jewish nation everywhere Jews live and to combine this struggle with the universal class struggle for the social emancipation and the socialism. From one side such an approach differed the Bund from these Jewish socialists which were in favour of the assimilation of Jews. From another side from Jewish bourgeois parties.
The first rule was the cause of big quarrels between the Bund and Russian Social democrats and Polish Social democrats and led the Bund to break with the Russian Social democrats in 1903. As regards the second rule it was dominant over the first one, as put it e.g. Vladimir Medem in its famous work: “Natsionale frage un di sotsial demokratsie” (1904). The struggle against the Jewish bourgeois led the Bund was so important also because the Jewish workers were to a beg degree closed in the Jewish labour ghetto – they were employed mainly by Jewish capitalists.
The national dogma caused that the Bund was one of the most active promoters of modern and secular culture in Yiddish, the language spoken by Jewish working masses in Eastern Europe. At the same time the socialist dogma caused that the Bund hesitated for many years as regards the question of participation in all national Jewish institutions, esp. Jewish communities, and the World Jewish Congress (launched in 1936). At last the Bund begun to participate in elections to the Jewish communities in 1924 and in the Jewish World Congress in 1948 (although the Bund still considered the Congress as dominated by the Zionists and bourgeois elements).

The slaughter of Jews committed by the Nazis, the liquidation and the dispersing of centers of Jewish proletariat, which stopped to be closed in the Jewish labour ghetto, caused the change of hierarchy between two dogmas in political visions of the Bund. The national dogma begun to dominate over the class dogma. Nevertheless the Bund still declared a solidarity with the forces of democratic socialism. As a result the Bund joined the Socialist International at its launching congress in 1951 in Frankfurt am Main. A part of bundist activists regretted that the Socialist International was short of a full political unity. The Socialist International would gather all socialists regardless ideological differences. At the same time there were in the Bund activists preferring the International would accept the Marxism, historical materialism, struggle class as “only road towards the socialist rebuilding of society”.

Of course the Bund rejected the choice between the capitalism and “the Soviet imperialism” declaring its support for a democratic socialism. In the conflict between two superpowers the Bund declared no neutrality but support for the USA, because in Western countries with few exceptions (like Spain under Franco) the workers movement enjoyed basic rights.

2. Facing the creation of state of Israel

The creation of state of Israel was in a contradiction with a bundist ideology. The Bund has never tended to a territorial solution of a Jewish question but in opposition to such a solution proposed a national cultural autonomy for Jews in Eastern Europe. The Bundists rejected the idea of a mass emigration to Palestine as a nationalist utopia isolating the Jews from the gentile societies, deflecting their attention to the struggle for national and social rights. The bundist have never considered the Jewish state as a solution of the Jewish question. They show that the Jewish state gather only a minority of world Jewry and it is not a safer place for Jews than many other countries. Contrary to the efforts of Zionists tending to increase the number of immigrants to Israel the bundists have always defended the right of Jews (especially from Eastern Europe) to emigrate everywhere. Even in 1980s they protested against the Israeli influence on the White House to limit the emigration possibilities for Soviet Jews.
The Bund was an only Jewish party in Diaspora, which was against the UNO decision on the partition of Palestine and after this decision still supported the slogan of two nations state. (Such a state would guarantee equal national rights for Jews and Arabs and would be under the control of superpowers and the UNO.) After the proclamation of the Jewish state the Bund in Poland supported a new state but declaring its hope that the state would fight with Jewish chauvinism, tend to a dialogue with Arabic masses, fight for socialism, against imperialism. But the Bund in the USA criticised the proclamation of the Jewish state, criticised the moods of national enthusiasm, afraid that a weak community of Jews in Palestine might be defeated by the Arabs.

The decision on the proclamation of the Jewish state was also be condemned by the second world conference of the Bund which took place in New York in October 1948. According the delegates the decision exposed the Jews in Palestine to a danger. The conference was in favour of a two nations state built on the base of national equality and democratic federalism.

In Palestine where there was no bundist organisation only the Trotskyists of Brith Kommunistim Mahpechanim (Union of Revolutionary Communists) among Jewish leftists were against the UNO decision on the partition of Palestine.
The bundist organisation in Palestine was launched in 1951. Israeli bundists published a monthly „Lebns Fragn”. The secretary of the organisation was Isachar Artuski (a pen name, 1903-1971, a real name Eichenbaum), who at the beginning of 1930 s was one of leaders of the left opposition in the Communist Party of Poland. He joined the Bund in 1935. As a leader of the Israeli Bund he was also a correspondent of an Amercan Trotskyist magazine “Labor Action”.

3. The conception of de-Zionisation of Israel by the Bund

One of the basic questions which had to be answered by the Bund (but also by other anti-Zionist currents of Jewish left) was: Should the state of Israel be identified with the Zionism? In the opinion of the Israeli Bund the Jewish state could not be launched only by Zionists efforts without the superpowers. However there were Jews of different political outlooks in Palestine the state of Israel was hijacked by Zionists.

The Israeli bundists declared their will to undermine the Zionist character of the state of Israel. According the third world conference of the Bund, which took place in 1955 in Montreal, the creation of the Jewish state was an important event in the Jewish history. The state might play a positive role in the Jewish life but a few necessary changes were needed. The participants of the conference demanded:

a) the authorities of Israel should treat the state as a property of the Jews of all the world
b) but it would mean (totally contrary to the Zionists conception) that the affairs of Jewish community in Israel should be subordinate to the affairs of the world Jewry.
c) the policy of the state of Israel would be the same towards all citizens regardless their
nationality (we should remind that until the middle of 1960s the majority of Israeli Arabs lived under a martial law).
d) Israel should tend to peace relationships with Arabs. It required to stop a territorial expansion of Israel and bring a solution of the problem of Palestinian refugees.
e) the Yiddish should be taught at all education institutions and would get all rights in the public life. (All the Zionists parties excluding the Poale Zion Left participated in the persecutions of the Yiddish culture as a Diaspora ‘jargon’). This demand was quite realistic because the Yiddish was still spoken by hundreds thousands people.

Unfortunately the impact of these demands was limited because the Israeli Bund failed to play an independent political role in Israel. The organisation ran only one time in the parliament election in 1959 but gained only 1300 votes and no MP seat. More fruitful were the efforts of the Israeli Bund in favour to develop the culture activity in Yiddish.

4. After the six days war

The Bund like all the Israeli parties excluding the Rakach (one of two Communist parties existed in Israel after the split of 1965) considered the aggression of Israeli against the Arabic countries in 1967 as a defense war. (Also a small revolutionary anti-Zionist organisation - the Matzpen including Trotskyists cherished doubts about the defense character of six days war). Issachar Aruski blamed for the war two superpowers which fought each other by their local allies. Moreover the USA provided weapons both Israel and the Saudi Arabia and Transjordania i.e. two antagonistic sides of the conflict.

In the opinion of the Israeli Bund the victory of Israel brought a chance for a peace between Israel and the Arabs because as a result of the war all territories of the old British mandate were under the control of Israel. Israel should demand the Arab states to recognize the state of Israel, to accept a right of Israel to transit the Straits of Tiran and the Suez canal, to call off the economic boycott, to settle all conflicts in a peace way. Israel and the UNO would have to secure a decent life conditions to Palestinian refugees. The Israeli Bund considered as a realistic solution to execute the ONU of 1947 on the creation two states in Palestine. The Palestinian state should be in a federation together with the Jewish state.
The fifth world conference of the Bund took place in New York in 1972. The conference demanded the withdraw of Israeli troops from the territories occupied as a result of the war of 1967. The conference accepted the right for self-determination for Palestinians both in occupied territories and in Israel and called for a just solution of the problem of Palestinian refugees. In the resolution of the majority the delegates emphasized that the main obstacles on the road to resolve the Jewish – Arab conflict were not real needs of Israeli Jews but militarism, expansion and chauvinism of Zionists. The conference called for the creation Israeli-Arabic federation union in the undetermined future.

5. Conclusions

After the creation of the state of Israel the Bund did not change its anti-Zionist attitude. The Bund like the Communist Party of Israel (Maki, then Rakach) and the Matzpen tried to fight the Zionist movement from the left. The party tended to undermine: the attempts of Jewish state to dominate over the Diaspora, the discrimination of Yiddish, discrimination of Arabs in Israel, the negation of the right of Palestinians for self-determination. Contrary to the Communists the Bund failed to gain a representation in the Israeli parliament. The Israeli Bund remained a small organisation gaining small successes on the field of Yiddish culture. As regards the main political evolution after the war we can observe the growth of classical social democratic wing at the cost of the left social democratic wing. As regards the attitude of the Bund towards the state of Israel, which was presented in the article, the most important seems the change from the support for the bi-national federation state to the support for the federation of two national states.

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