Does the Jewish Proletariat Need an “Independent Political Party”?
|Written||15 February 1903|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 6, pages 330-336.
No. 105 of Posledniye Izvestia (January 28/15, 1903), published by the Foreign Committee of the General Jewish Workers’ Union of Lithuania, Poland, and Russia, carries a brief article entitled “Concerning a Certain Manifesto” (viz., the manifesto issued by the Ekaterinoslav Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party) containing the following statement, which is as extraordinary as it is significant and indeed “fraught with consequences”: “The Jewish proletariat has formed itself (sic!) into an independent (sic!) political party, the Bund.”
We did not know this before. This is something new.
Hitherto the Bund has been a constituent part of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, and in No. 106 of Posledniye Izvestia we still (still!) find a statement of the Central Committee of the Bund, bearing the heading “Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party.” It is true that at its latest congress, the Fourth, the Bund decided to change its name (without stipulating that it would like to hear the Russian comrades’ opinion on the name a section of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party should bear) and to “introduce” new federal relations into the Rules of the Russian Party. The Bund’s Foreign Committee has even “introduced” these relations, if that word can be used to describe the fact that it has withdrawn from the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad and has concluded a federal agreement with the latter.
On the other hand, when Iskra polemised with the decisions of the Bund’s Fourth Congress, the Bund itself stated very definitely that it only wanted to secure the acceptance of its wishes and decisions by the RSDLP; in other words, it flatly and categorically acknowledged ·that until the RSDLP adopted new Rules and settled new forms of its attitude towards the Bund, the latter would remain a section of the RSDLP
But now, suddenly, we are told that the Jewish proletariat has already formed itself into an independent political party! We repeat—this is something new.
Equally new is the furious and foolish onslaught of the Bund’s Foreign Committee upon the Ekaterinoslav Commit tee. We have at last (though unfortunately after much delay) received a copy of this manifesto, and we do not hesitate to say that in attacking a manifesto like this the Bund has undoubtedly taken a serious political step. This step fully accords with the Bund’s proclamation as an independent political party and throws much light on the physiognomy and behaviour of this new party.
We regret that lack of space prevents us from reprinting the Ekaterinoslav manifesto in full (it would take up about two columns in Iskra ), and shall confine ourselves to remarking that this admirable manifesto excellently ex plains to the Jewish workers of the city of Ekaterinoslav (we shall presently explain why we have emphasised these words) the Social-Democratic attitude towards Zionism and anti-Semitism. Moreover, the manifesto treats the sentiments, moods, and desires of the Jewish workers so considerately, with such comradely consideration, that it specially refers to and emphasises the necessity of fighting under the banner of the RSDLP “even for the preservation and further development of your [the manifesto addresses the Jewish workers] national culture,” “even from the standpoint of purely national interests” (underlined and italicised in the manifesto itself).
Nevertheless, the Bund’s Foreign Committee (we almost said the new party’s Central Committee) has fallen upon the manifesto for making no mention of the Bund. That is the manifesto’s only crime, but one that is terrible and unpardonable. It is for this that the Ekaterinoslav Committee is accused of lacking in “political sense.” The Ekaterinoslav comrades are chastised for not “yet having digested the idea of the necessity for a separate organisation [a profound and significant idea!] of the forces [!!] of the Jewish proletariat,” for “still harbouring the absurd hope of somehow getting rid of it” (the Bund), for spreading the “no less dangerous fable” (no less dangerous than the Zionist fable) that anti-Semitism is connected with the bourgeois strata and with their interests, and not with those of the working class. That is why the Ekaterinoslav Committee is advised to “abandon the harmful habit of keeping silent about the independent Jewish working-class movement” and to “reconcile itself to the fact that the Bund exists.”
Now, let us consider whether the Ekaterinoslav Committee is actually guilty of a crime, and whether it really should have mentioned the Bund without fail. Both questions can be answered only in the negative, for the simple reason that the manifesto is not addressed to the “Jewish workers” in general (as the Bund’s Foreign Committee quite wrongly stated), but to “the Jewish workers of the city of Ekaterinoslav” (the Bund’s Foreign Committee forgot to quote these last words!). The Bund has no organisation in Ekaterinoslav. (And, in general, regarding the south of Russia the Fourth Congress of the Bund passed a resolution not to organise separate committees of the Bund in cities where the Jewish organisations are included in the Party committees and where their needs can be fully satisfied without separation from the committees.) Since the Jewish workers in Ekaterinoslav are not organised in a separate committee, it follows that their movement (inseparably from the entire working-class movement in that area) is wholly guided by the Ekaterinoslav Committee, which subordinates them directly to the RSDLP, which must call upon them to work for the whole Party, and not for its individual sections. It is clear that under these circumstances the Ekaterinoslav Committee was not obliged to mention the Bund; on the contrary, if it had presumed to advocate “the necessity for a separate organisation of the forces [it would rather and more probably have been an organisation of impotence ] of the Jewish proletariat” (which is what the Bundists want), It would have made a very grave error and committed a direct breach, not only of the Party Rules, but of the unity of the proletarian class struggle.
Further, the Ekaterinoslav Committee is accused of lack of “orientation” in the question of anti-Semitism. The Bund’s Foreign Committee betrays truly infantile views on important social movements. The Ekaterinoslav Committee speaks of the international anti-Semitic movement of the last decades and remarks that “from Germany this movement spread to other countries and everywhere found adherents among the bourgeois, and not among the working-class sections of the population.” “This is a no less dangerous fable” (than the Zionist fables), cries the thoroughly aroused Bund’s Foreign Committee. Anti-Semitism “has struck roots in the mass of the workers,” and to prove this the “well-oriented” Bund cites two facts: 1) workers’ participation in a pogrom in Częstochowa and 2) the behaviour of 12 (twelve!) Christian workers in Zhitomir, who scabbed on the strikers and threatened to “kill off all the Yids.” Very weighty proofs indeed, especially the latter! The editors of Posledniye Izvestia are so accustomed to dealing with big strikes involving five or ten workers that the behaviour of twelve ignorant Zhitomir workers is dragged out as evidence of the link between international anti-Semitism and one “section” or another “of the population.” This is, indeed, magnificent! If, instead of flying into a foolish and comical rage at the Ekaterinoslav Committee, the Bundists had pondered a bit over this question and had consulted, let us say, Kautsky’s pamphlet on the social revolution, a Yiddish edition of which they themselves published recently, they would have understood the link that undoubtedly exists between anti-Semitism and the interests of the bourgeois, and not of the working-class sections of the population. If they had given it a little more thought they might have realised that the social character of anti-Semitism today is not changed by the fact that dozens or even hundreds of unorganised workers, nine-tenths of whom are still quite ignorant, take part in a pogrom.
The Ekaterinoslav Committee has risen up (and rightly so) against the Zionist fable about anti-Semitism being eternal; by making its angry comment the Bund has only confused the issue and planted in the minds of the Jewish workers ideas which tend to blunt their class-consciousness.
From the viewpoint of the struggle for political liberty and for socialism being waged by the whole working class of Russia, the Bund’s attack on the Ekaterinoslav Committee is the height of folly. From the viewpoint of the Bund as “an independent political party,” this attack becomes understandable: don’t dare anywhere organise “Jewish” workers together with, and inseparably from, “Christian” workers! If you would address the Jewish workers in the name of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party or its committees, don’t dare do so directly, over our heads, ignoring the Bund or making no mention of it I
And this profoundly regrettable fact is not accidental. Having once demanded “federation” instead of autonomy in matters concerning the Jewish proletariat, you were compelled to proclaim the Bund an “independent political party” in order to carry out this principle of federation at all costs. However, your declaring the Bund an independent political party is just that reduction to an absurdity of your fundamental error in the national question which will inescapably and inevitably be the starting-point of a change in the views of the Jewish proletariat and of the Jewish Social-Democrats in general. “Autonomy” under the Rules adopted in 1898 provides the Jewish working-class movement with all it needs: propaganda and agitation in Yiddish, its own literature and congresses, the right to advance separate demands to supplement a single general Social-Democratic programme and to satisfy local needs and requirements arising out of the special features of Jewish life. In everything else there must be complete fusion with the Russian proletariat, in the interests of the struggle waged by the entire proletariat of Russia. As for the fear of being “steam-rollered” in the event of such fusion, the very nature of the case makes it groundless, since it is autonomy that is a guarantee against all “steam-rollering” in matters pertaining specifically to the Jewish movement, while in matters pertaining to the struggle against the autocracy, the struggle against the bourgeoisie of Russia as a whole, we must act as a single and centralised militant organisation, have behind us the whole of the proletariat, without distinction of language or nationality, a proletariat whose unity is cemented by the continual joint solution of problems of theory and practice, of tactics and organisation; and we must not set up organisations that would march separately, each along its own track; we must not weaken the force of our offensive by breaking up into numerous independent political parties; we must not introduce estrangement and isolation and then have to heal an artificially implanted disease with the aid of these notorious “federation” plasters.
- That is, of course, if the Bund’s Foreign Committee expresses the views of the Bund as a whole on this question. —Lenin
- We intend to reprint in full the manifesto and the attack of the Bund’s Foreign Committee in a pamphlet which we are preparing for the press. —Lenin
- It is this task of “organising impotence” that the Bund serves when, for example, it uses such a phrase as “our comrades of the ’Christian working-class organisation.’" The phrase is as preposterous as is the whole attack on the Ekaterinoslav Committee. We have no knowledge of any “Christian” working-class organisations. Organisations belonging to the RSDLP have never distinguished their members according to religion, never asked them about their religion and never will—even when the Bund will in actual fact “have formed itself into an independent political party.” —Lenin
- The reference is to a Yiddish translation of Karl Kautsky’s pamphlet, Social Revolution.