Jewish socialist party, formed in Russia in May 1917 after the February Revolution. The Fareynikte Yidishe Sotsyalistishe Arbeter Partey (United Jewish Socialist Workers Party; the party’s complete name) resulted from the amalgamation of two Jewish socialist parties that had emerged during the Revolution of 1905. The parties had come into being when a number of Po‘ale Tsiyon (Zionist socialist) groups distanced themselves from the authority of the Zionist Organization and adopted a separatist program in response to the Kishinev pogroms of April 1903 and the political furor over the Uganda Plan.
The first of the two parties was the Tsionistish-Sotsialistishe Arbeter Partey (Zionist Socialist Workers Party), convened at a founding assembly in December 1904. Philosophically, it tended toward Georgii Plekhanov’s version of Marxism. Its manifesto emphasized involvement in the political struggle for democracy in Russia and support for the Uganda Plan or any other territorial solution that could provide immediate relief for Jewish distress. It proposed that Jews emigrate forthwith to such a territory, holding that once a sizable settlement had been established, Jewish political autonomy would follow.
The second party of which the Fareynikte was composed emerged from an intellectual circle that took the name Vozrozhdenye (Rebirth). During Passover 1906, the group formed itself into the Jewish Socialist Workers Party, an organization that considered Jewish autonomy to be the precondition for solving Jews’ political problems. However, autonomy could not be achieved until Jews were legally recognized as a people and had acquired political power. The Jewish Socialist Workers Party believed that any chance of success was also bound up with the Russian fight for democracy, which would guarantee “national personal autonomy” for minority peoples. The authority for Jewish autonomy would be located in a sejm (parliament), and territory would be acquired with the approval of the Russian national Duma. The issue of territorialism would not be explored before autonomy had been achieved, and thus the debate over Palestine versus Uganda became irrelevant. Philosophically and strategically, the Jewish Socialist Workers Party allied itself with the Russian Partiia Sotsialistov Revoliutsionerov (Social Revolutionaries; PSR).
Until World War I, all political parties were persecuted by the Okhrana (the tsarist secret police) and went underground. Their leaders often fled Russia. With the February Revolution, parties resurfaced and quickly reconstituted themselves. The Zionist Socialist Workers Party and the Jewish Socialist Workers Party began negotiations toward unification. The Zionist Socialist Workers Party proved more flexible, as its members relinquished the belief that their territorial program offered an immediate solution to the issue of Jewish suffering. Thanks to waves of mass emigration to the United States, the situation had become somewhat less acute. At this time, it seemed that the democratization of Russia and constitutional change were on the horizon. Moreover, the struggle for national minority rights had made the political arena more amenable to the idea of autonomy. The Zionist Socialist Workers Party accepted the analysis of the Jewish Socialist Workers Party about conditions necessary for Jewish autonomy.
Thus the United Jewish Socialist Workers Party, Fareynikte, was founded in May 1917. Its organ was the daily Di naye tsayt, published in Kiev. Its members were involved in negotiations with other Jewish parties to formulate a platform for an all-Russian Jewish congress to unite the entire political spectrum in a call for autonomy. The leaders of Fareynikte were based in Kiev, which the party predicted would be the new center of Jewish politics. Within the context of discussions on limited Ukrainian autonomy that were being conducted with the provisional Russian government, the leaders of Fareynikte negotiated with Ukrainian leaders for instituting Jewish autonomy in Ukraine. Moyshe Zil’berfarb was appointed vice secretary in charge of Jewish national affairs. Later, after the October Revolution, he served as minister for Jewish affairs in the government of independent Ukraine. Fareynikte also developed a plan for mass Jewish agricultural settlement in southern Russia, in effect drawing up the proposal for a compact Jewish territory that would eventually form the program of the KOMZET (Commission for Jewish Settlement).
As the Soviet regime began to stabilize in 1919, the left wing of Fareynikte inclined toward joining the ruling Bolshevik party. At the conference of 25 February 1919, the Fareynikte Yidishe Komunistishe Partey (United Jewish Communist Party) was born. After the revolution, the new party found it immediately necessary to negotiate its merging with the Communist Bund (Kombund). May 1919 saw the emergence of the Jewish Communist Union (Komfarband) in Ukraine. And in July 1919, the Jewish Communist Union announced its willingness to join the Ukrainian Communist Party. The latter refused the collective affiliation of the Jewish Communist Union, demanding that it disband, and simultaneously sternly controlled the access to membership of individual applicants.
Arye Gelbard, Sofo she-lo ki-teḥilato: Kitso shel ha-‘Bund’ ha-Rusi (Tel Aviv, 1995); Zvi Y. Gitelman, Jewish Nationality and Soviet Politics: The Jewish Sections of the CPSU, 1917–1930 (Princeton, 1972).
Translated from Hebrew by Anna Barber