Letter from Samuil Khaimovich Agurskii to Kalman Marmor, 1926. From Samuil Khaimovich Agurskii in Minsk, USSR (now in Belarus) to Kalman Marmor in New York, 2 January 1926, about the excellent reception Agurskii's book has received in the USSR, where it is going into a second printing. He thanks Marmor for his offer to distribute the book in America but doubts that "Uncle Sam" will allow such a publication to be imported into the United States in large numbers. His only wish is that the book will help to spread communist ideology among the Jewish working masses. He describes the recent celebrations in the Soviet Union of two important anniversaries: the failed Decemberist revolt of 1825 and the Revolution of 1905. Yiddish. Typed, marked up for excerpting for publication. RG 205, Kalman Marmor Papers, F88/7362. (YIVO)

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Agurskii, Samuil Khaimovich

(1884–1947), Communist Party figure and historian. Born in Grodno, where he had a traditional elementary education, Samuil (also Shmuel or Sam) Agurskii joined the Bund during the revolution of 1905. From 1906 to May 1917 he lived in England and then America, where he was involved with the anarchist movement and wrote for the Yiddish press. Between July 1918 and March 1919 he was Jewish commissar in Vitebsk, where he published the Yiddish Communist newspaper Der frayer arbeter. Viewing EVKOM (the Commissariat for Jewish National Affairs) as an alternative to Jewish community organizations, he brought Vitebsk’s Jewish schools, Jewish charities, and burial society under its jurisdiction. In 1918 he joined the Russian Communist Party. In April 1919, after moving to Moscow, he and Stalin, then People’s Commissar for Nationality Affairs, signed the decree “About the Closure of the Central Bureau of Jewish Communities.” Between 1919 and 1923 he twice visited America, where he helped establish the Communist Party of the USA.


Between 1924 and 1929, Agurskii headed the Belorussian Communist Party’s Commission on the History of the October Revolution and was deputy director of its Institute of Party History. He compiled a number of books and collections of rare documents on the history of the Jewish labor movement and Jews within the Communist movement. The most significant of these are Der yidisher arbeter in der komunistisher bavegung, 1917–1921 (The Jewish Worker in the Communist Movement, 1917–1921; 1925 [Rus., Evreiskii rabochii v kommunisticheskom dvizhenii; 1926]); Di yidishe komisariatn un di yidishe komunistishe sektsyes (protokoln, rezolyutsyes un dokumentn), 1918–1921 (The Jewish Commissariats and the Jewish Communist Sections [Protocols, Decisions, and Documents, 1918–1921]; 1928); and Di sotsyalistishe literatur af yidish in 1875–1897 (Socialist Literature in Yiddish, 1875–1897; 1935).


Agurskii falsified texts to conceal the fact that initially the Evsektsiia (the Jewish section of the Communist Party) viewed itself as an autonomous organization within the framework of the Russian Communist Party. Throughout his tenure as a key member of the Central Committee of the Belorussian Communist Party, he played a major role in discrediting the Bund. As a member of the main bureau of the Evsektsiia of Belorussia he also was involved in the fights in the Yiddish press between the Minsk and Moscow Evsektsiias, insisting particularly that the “Communization” of the Jewish masses had taken place at an early stage of EVKOM and Evsektsiia activity, before the establishment of the Communist wing of the Bund.


Agurskii also compiled several books on the history of the revolutionary movement in the Northwest Region. Addressing problems within the Belorussian national movement, he accused several well-known Belorussian government figures of nationalism, in consequence of which he was compelled to leave Minsk. From 1930 to 1933 he directed the Institute of Party History of the Moscow Communist Party. Beginning in 1934, he served as head of the Institute of Jewish Proletarian Culture in Minsk and simultaneously as deputy director of the Institute of National Minorities of the Belorussian Academy of Sciences. In 1936 he became a corresponding member of the Academy.


In July 1937 the Communist Party press accused Agurskii of having idealized the Bund and in March 1938 he was arrested on charges of belonging to a Jewish counterrevolutionary organization and engaging in subversion within the Belorussian Academy of Sciences. In 1939 he was sentenced to five years exile in Kazakhstan, where he later died. Agurskii was rehabilitated posthumously in 1956.

Suggested Reading

Mikhail Agursky, “My Father and the Great Terror,” Soviet Jewish Affairs 5.2 (1975): 90–93; Mordechai Altshuler, Ha-Yevsektsyah bi-Verit ha-Mo‘atsot, 1918–1930: Ben le’umiut le-komunizm (Jerusalem, 1980); M. V. Bich, “Agurskii,” in Entsyklapedyia historyi Belarusi, ed. M. V. Bich et al., vol. 1, p. 42 (Minsk, 1993); Zvi Gitelman, Jewish Nationality and Soviet Politics: The Jewish Sections of the CPSU, 1917–1930 (Princeton, 1972); Lukasz Hirszowicz, “The Great Terror and the Jews,” Soviet Jewish Affairs 4.2 (1974): 80–86.

Author

Translation

Translated from Russian by Yisrael Cohen