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|Jews and Judaism
Bundism was a secular Jewish socialist movement whose organizational manifestation was the General Jewish Labour Bund in Lithuania, Belarus, Poland, and Russia (Yiddish: אַלגעמײַנער ייִדישער אַרבעטער־בונד אין ליטע, פוילין און רוסלאַנד, romanized: Algemeyner yidisher arbeter-bund in Lite, Poyln un Rusland), founded in the Russian Empire in 1897.
The Jewish Labour Bund was an important component of the social democratic movement in the Russian empire until the 1917 Russian Revolution; the Bundists initially opposed the October Revolution, but ended up supporting it due to pogroms committed by the Volunteer Army of the anti-communist White movement during the Russian Civil War. Split along communist and social democratic lines throughout the Civil War, a faction supported the Soviet government and eventually was absorbed by the Communist Party.
Bundist movement continued to exist as a political party in independent Poland in the interwar period as the General Jewish Labour Bund in Poland, becoming a major, if not the major, political force within Polish Jewry. Bundists were active in the anti-Nazi struggle, and many of its members were murdered during the Holocaust.
After the war, the International Jewish Labor Bund, more properly the "World Coordinating Council of the Jewish Labor Bund", was founded in New York, with affiliated groups in Argentina, Australia, Canada, France, Israel, Mexico, the United Kingdom, the United States, and other countries.
Though extant after the war and undergoing a revival in the 21st century, according to David Kranzler, the movement and its relatives (e.g. the Gordonia youth movement) were relatively unsuccessful in accomplishing their goals in Europe, though they were popular.
While the Jewish Labour Bund was a trade union as well as a political party, its initial purpose was the organisation of the Jewish proletariat in Belarus, Russia, Poland and Lithuania. It was criticised however by individuals like Julius Martov and Vladimir Lenin for "Economism"; a claim rejected by Bundist leaders like Arkadi Kremer and Vladimir Medem. Many modern iterations of the Bund have divested from explicit Marxism but retain a public stance of advocating for socialism and/or social justice.
A staunchly secular party, the Jewish Labour Bund took part in kehillot elections in the Second Polish Republic. The Bundists reviled the religious Jews of the time; even going so far as to refer to Yeshiva students, who would live in poverty off of charity and learn Torah instead of work, as "parasites." With the rise of Jewish secularism, this stance has mostly receded from the priorities of modern Bundist organisations.
The Jewish Labour Bund, while not initially interested in Yiddish per se as anything more than a vehicle to exhort the masses of Jewish workers in Eastern Europe, soon saw the language and the larger Yiddish culture as valuable and promoted the use of Yiddish as a Jewish national language in its own right; to some extent, the promotion of Yiddish was part and parcel of the Bund's opposition to the Zionist movement and its project of reviving Hebrew. This preference for Yiddish over Hebrew also had an aspect of class struggle: Hebrew (prior to its successful revival) was mostly spoken by educated Jewish men; Yiddish was a nearly universal language of Ashkenazi Jews. It was also promoted in opposition to the Russification policies of the Russian Empire; once again with a class element as upwardly-mobile, middle class Jews adopted Russian as their main language. With the decline of Yiddish as a spoken language, many Bundists now support the revitalisation of Yiddish as an explicit project (e.g., Bundist organisations in Australia sponsoring non-political Yiddish cultural centres for this purpose).
The concept of Doikayt (Yiddish: דאָיִקייט, lit. 'hereness', from דאָ do 'here' plus ־יק -ik adjectival suffix plus ־קייט -kayt '-ness' suffix), was central to the Bundist ideology, expressing its focus on solving the challenges confronting Jews in the country in which they lived, versus the "thereness" of the Zionist movement, which posited the necessity of an independent Jewish polity in its ancestral homeland, i.e., the Land of Israel, to secure Jewish life. Today this often manifests in the form of Non-Zionism or Anti-Zionism and a focus on local politics.
The Jewish Labour Bund did not advocate ethnic or religious separatism, but focused on culture, not a state or a place, as the glue of Jewish nationhood, within the context of a world of multi-cultural and multi-ethnic countries. In this the Bundists borrowed extensively from the Austro-Marxist concept of national personal autonomy; this approach alienated the Bolsheviks and Lenin, who was derisive of and politically opposed to Bundism.
In a 1904 text, Social democracy and the national question, Vladimir Medem exposed his version of this concept:
"Let us consider the case of a country composed of several national groups, e.g. Poles, Lithuanians and Jews. Each national group would create a separate movement. All citizens belonging to a given national group would join a special organisation that would hold cultural assemblies in each region and a general cultural assembly for the whole country. The assemblies would be given financial powers of their own: either each national group would be entitled to raise taxes on its members, or the state would allocate a proportion of its overall budget to each of them. Every citizen of the state would belong to one of the national groups, but the question of which national movement to join would be a matter of personal choice and no authority would have any control over his decision. The national movements would be subject to the general legislation of the state, but in their own areas of responsibility they would be autonomous and none of them would have the right to interfere in the affairs of the others".
The Jewish Labour Bund, as an organization, was formed at the same time as the World Zionist Organization. The Bund eventually came to strongly oppose Zionism, arguing that immigration to Palestine was a form of escapism. After the 1936 Warsaw kehilla elections, Henryk Ehrlich accused Zionist leaders Yitzhak Gruenbaum and Ze'ev Jabotinsky of being responsible for recent anti-Semitic agitation in Poland by their campaign urging Jewish emigration.
The Bund was against the UNGA vote on the partition of Palestine and reaffirmed its support for a country under the control of superpowers and the UN. The 1948 New York Second World Conference of the International Jewish Labor Bund condemned the proclamation of the Zionist state. The conference was in favour of a two nations’ state built on the base of national equality and democratic federalism.
A branch of the Jewish Labour Bund was created in Israel in 1951, the Arbeter-ring in Yisroel – Brith Haavoda, which even took part in the 1959 Knesset elections, with a very low electoral result. Its publication, Lebns Fregyn, remained in publication until June 2014. It was one of the last surviving left-wing Yiddish-language publications.
The 1955 Montreal 3rd World Conference of the International Jewish Labor Bund decided that the creation of the Jewish state was an important event in Jewish history that might play a positive role in Jewish life, but felt that a few necessary changes were needed. The conference participants demanded that:
- a) the authorities of Israel should treat the state as property of the Jews of the world;
- b) but it would mean that the affairs of the Jewish community in Israel should be subordinate to those of world Jewry.
- c) the policy of the state of Israel would be the same toward all citizens regardless of their nationalities.
- d) Israel should foster peace with the Arabs. This required halting territorial expansion and resolving the Palestinian refugee problem.
- e) Yiddish should be taught at all educational institutions and would be promoted in public life.
The World Coordinating Council of the Jewish Labour Bund was quietly disbanded by a number of Bundists and representatives of related organizations, including The Workers Circle and the Congress for Jewish Culture in the early 2000s.
The London-based Jewish Socialists' Group, which publishes the magazine Jewish Socialist, considers itself an heir of the historic Jewish Labour Bund. Furthermore, the early 21st-century has witnessed a revival in the ideas of the Bund (sometimes called "neo-Bundism").
The Melbourne-based Jewish Labour Bund, Inc is considered the largest and most active existent organisation of the Bund. It organises a mix of events highlighting left-wing ideals (especially in Australia), concern for Jewish rights in Australia and abroad, and the preservation of Yiddish culture. It is the largest Non-Zionist Jewish organisation in Australia. The Melbourne Bund also maintains the only existing wing of the Bundist SKIF Youth Organisation.
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Today we are witnessing a revival of the ideas of the Jewish Labor Bund, an organization which had been a powerful force in Russian and Polish Jewish communities during the first half of the 20th century. The Bund focused on doikayt ("hereness"), libertarian socialism, and support for secular Jewish culture and the Yiddish language. The activity of those with this new interest, sometimes called "neo-Bundism," alongside those with unbroken links to prewar Bundists, has led to a new visibility of interest in Bundist ideas in both political and cultural circles. And because Bundism offers an alternate historical vision of Jewish identity to Zionism, this development is sometimes a controversial one.