"Listen to the sound of the word Bund. It comes from 'binden', to bind. Binden – to bind – to combine – to tie – to make a whole out of plurality, to turn weak particles into strength.
Lean down to the heart of a Jewish worker: listen to its peaceful and strong beat. Look in the eyes of your companion: they are open and bold. Take his hand: it is strong and hard. Where does it come from?
Where does it come from that the man, a speck of dust in the great desert of the world, a small drop in the foaming sea of life, erupting, stormy, full of thousands of dangerous threats, breaking up the whole worlds, turning countries and nations to dust, destroying and drowning in its waves countless numbers of human lives – where does it come from that amid this great turmoil there stands a man with glowing eyes and a loud voice, who is not afraid of the storm?
Look, Comrade, into your heart, and you shall find the answer there" (W. Medem, "Bund", [in:] Głos Bundu, 1 January 1914, No. 1(15), p. 15).
Arkady Kremer is one of the most famous party founders. The Bund was established as the first workers' party in the Russian Empire. For its activists, being a Jew was not only a matter of religion, but also of belonging to the Jewish nation. Since the very beginning, the party was based on three pillars: dojkajt (hereness), miszpochedikajt (familyness), and jidyszkajt (Jewishness, things connected with Yiddish culture and language). They opposed the construction of a separate Jewish state, therefore the Bund from the very beginning opposed Zionists organisations and parties. It did not support mass emigration to the Land of Israel, either. It believed that the homeland was the country of birth, any place on earth where the proletariat existed, on behalf of which struggle for a better future should be taken up.
During the revolution of 1905, the Bund played a significant role, organising strikes in Warsaw, Vilnius and a number of Belarusian cities. The Jewish workers' postulates included not only demands to shorten the working day and legalise trade unions, but also to introduce national and cultural autonomy for Jews. A crisis struck the organisation after the revolution. A great number of Bund members were arrested by the Tsarist authorities while others decided to emigrate. Party leaders of that time included Arkady Kremer, Władimir Medem, Henryk Erlich, Wiktor Alter, Nojach Portnoj, Władimir Kossowski and John (Josef) Mill. A break-up took place in the Bund in 1915, with the party splitting into a Polish and a Russian one. The latter supported the February Revolution, but did not back the October Revolution, or the Bolsheviks' rise to power. In 1922, the Russian Bund ended its activity as an independent organisation. In the 1930s, a number of former Bund activists in the USSR fell victim of Stalinist purges.
When the Bund was shut down in Russia, the key party centre was located in independent Poland. Against the Zionists, it supported the development of Yiddish culture and language, including education conducted in this language. Many members of Bund organisations were teachers in the party-inspired Centrale Jidisze Szul Organizacje (CISzO, Central Jewish School Organisation) which created a network of secular coeducational schools with Yiddish as the language of instruction. Apart from those mentioned above, the key Bund activists in inter-war Poland included Maurycy Orzech, Szmul Zygielbojm and Szlomo Mendelsohn. The Bund's hymn "Di Szwue" (The Oath) was written by Szymon An-sky.
The Bund took part, as a party, in the first parliamentary election in independent Poland, held in 1919. In the first local elections in inter-war Poland, 160 Bund representatives were elected to city councils. In Warsaw and Łódź, the Bund attracted over 20% of Jewish voters. It was a relatively good result. In the 1922 parliamentary election, the Bund won 87,000 votes. However, the votes were scattered across a number of constituencies, so ultimately no Bund activist entered parliament. The party's influence started to increase after Józef Piłsudski seized power on 14 May 1926 (the May Coup). In subsequent years, the party continued its activity, strengthening its regional structures. It grew to become a significant player on the political stage. In 1936, the Bund was successful in the kahal elections in Warsaw, Grodno, Lublin and Piotrków. During the election to the Łódź city council, the party decided to form a coalition for the first time. More than 23,000 voters supported the joint list of the Bund, Poale Zion the Left and Trade Unions. This secured city council seats for 6 coalition members. The 1938 election to the Warsaw city council, where the Bund formed a coalition with the Polish Socialist Party, also proved successful for the Bund. Representatives of the party acquired 17 of 20 seats, while members of other Jewish organisations got only 3. Bund members were also elected to the councils of 102 other Polish towns and cities.
The Bund owed its electoral success to a few factors. Ezra Mendelsohn maintained that the Bund's increased popularity resulted from the gradual weakening of the Zionist concept. When the British halted the emigration of Jewish people to Palestine, dojkajt became the only alternative ideology. Daniel Blatman, on the other hand, stressed the Bund's leading role in fighting anti-Semitism. In 1936, Bund activists organised a general strike in response to a pogrom in Przytyk. And this won them supporters. The development of trade unions, in which the Bund was very active, was also hugely important. Jack Jacobs in his book Bundist Counterculture in Interwar Poland (Syracuse, 2009) said that the increased popularity of the Bund had resulted from the growth of organisations associated with the party, such as the Cukunft (Jugnt Bund "Cukunft" – Youth Workers' Union "The Future"; Cukunft), Skif (Socjalistiszer Kinder-Farband – Socialist Children's Union) or Morgensztern (The Dawn). These institutions promoted socialism and secular Yiddish culture among young people. They also learnt about the Bund's ideology and programme.
The Cukunft was the successor of an illegal youth group set up in the early 20th century to fight the Tsarist system. In independent Poland, the organisation was subordinated to the Bund. Its key goal was to educate youth in the spirit of socialism. The young people not only learnt the principles of socialism, but also received sexual education. A female Bund member recalled years later, "We learnt about Marx and men-women relations". Additionally, the Cukunft organised summer and winter camps, theatre workshops and evening classes for young workers. There were also Cukunft paramilitary groups (Cukunft-Szturem), which fended off anti-Semitic attacks from hooligans. The organisation's popularity grew year after year. In 1924, the Cukunft had about 5,500 members, and in 1939 close to 12,000. The Skif, established in 1926, associated children aged 10-14. Similarly to the Cukunft, it organised arts workshops, trips, sports classes as well as summer and winter camps. It tried to reach not only pupils, but also children not attending schools as well as "street children". In 1931, the Skif had nearly 3,500 members, and in 1939 the number of people belonging to this organisation reached 10,000. Young people regularly moved from the Skif to the Cukunft, and then to the Bund. Of the Union's representatives elected to the Warsaw City Council in 1938, five used to be Cukunft members.
Morgensztern, an organisation affiliated with the Bund, was officially established in 1926. At its peak, it had 8,000 members (in 160 cities) and was the biggest sports organisation in Poland. The club focused on team sports and exercises not requiring high financial input. All forms of competing were rejected. This line was determined by the socialist viewpoint according to which physical activity was to serve workers' masses, while striving to break records was harmful as it undermined the principle of equality. Gymnastics, running and swimming became popular disciplines. Initially, football was not played as it was considered a bourgeois sport, and there was no boxing, either, as the latter was seen as too brutal. However, as time passed, the club managers changed their minds as they noticed the popularity of those sports. What is important, women played an important role in Morgensztern clubs, particularly in the gymnastics sections. A survey run in Vilnius in 1927 shows that a local branch of the club had 152 members, including 50 men and 100 women. Although members of the club rarely joined the Bund, they certainly supported the party with their votes.
The co-financing of the 1926-established Władimir Medem Sanatorium for children suffering from tuberculosis in Miedzeszyn near Warsaw was a manifestation of the social activity aimed to raise society's awareness of issues related to living conditions, hygiene and health. It could simultaneously treat up to 350 children. In 1936, Aleksander Ford made a documentary about this institution, Mir kumen on (Here we come), whose official premiere in Poland took place as late as 31 August 2017.
The Bund also had its women's organisation Jidisze Arbeter-Frojen Organizacje (The Organisation of Jewish Women Workers; JAF). It was headed by Dina Blond. JAF aimed not only to raise "class awareness" among Jewish women workers and workers' wives, but also to help women bring up their children. It set up kindergartens, creches and organised camps for children. JAF activists also promoted conscious motherhood. However, the organisation was not as popular as the Cukunft, Skif or Morgensztern. Women working at and out of home simply did not have time to attend the union's meetings. Many women were also Bund members. Their husbands generally did not support their public activity.
The Bund's student association Ringen (The Link) was not particularly successful, either. Jews who studied at universities usually came from the intelligentsia, not workers' families, and were usually not interested in socialism. So the Bund counterculture had its limitations.
However, the fact remains that the development of youth and sports organisations associated with the Bund contributed to the party's popularity. Members and supporters of these institutions tended to vote for the Bund in elections. They often joined the party as well. The Bund counterculture, which focused not only on promoting the Yiddish culture and Marxism, but primarily on the universal values of helping the weak, won a great number of supporters for the party. The Bund was primarily a party of poor people, of the Jewish proletariat, simple craftsmen and hard-working labourers who saw their future in Poland.
The Bund continued its activity in Poland also in ghettos and camps after the outbreak of World War II. The combatants in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising included members of Bund organisations. There were also unsuccessful attempts to restore the Bund in Poland after 1945, in the post-war reality. On 16 January 1949, the party officially ceased its existence in Poland, but it has continued to operate in such countries as Australia, Israel, France and the United States – in the new homelands for Bund activists who had survived the Holocaust.
The article was corrected and complemented by Martyna Rusiniak-Karwat
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