1922: List of young Jewish communist propagandists

Jewish Heritage Research Group in Belarus - www.JHRGBelarus.org

Following the 1917 Revolution, the Communists needed Jewish propagandists for their philosophy who would travel to shtetls (Jewish villages and hamlets) and explain the events of the Revolution and what it meant for the country.

They had to explain this to the residents, many of whom were illiterate and couldn’t even speak Russian.

дер эмесJews in collective farm reading jewish communist newspaper “Der Emes” – 1920’s

These young people were prepared over a course of three months. Following their graduation, they received a good salary and traveled from shtetl to shtetl to spread the idea of communism.

The young people, who became proponents of the new idea, were literate Jews, and the main requirement for the job was that they both read and spoke Russian and Yiddish.

In Belarus, the school for the agitators was in Minsk, and it opened on January 1, 1922; 35 new Jewish agitators graduated on April…

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Brest Fortress Complex

Here I visit the Fortress Complex with my guide Anton.  The fortress, as the name implies, is in Brest, Belarus, formerly the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic.

The fortress was attacked by the wehrmacht on June 22, 1941.  The last defender did not surrender until a month later.  The fortress is a symbol of the resolve, the heroism and the tenacity of the Red Army and the NKVD.

The fortress was secured in about a week after fierce fighting.  The Soviet forces were outnumbered, 9,000 to 17,000.

My guide Anton grew up in the fortress complex in a military garrison on the Polish border.

For more on the defense of the fortress, you can read _Brest Fortress_ by Sergei Smirnov and watch the films “Immortal Garrison” and “Fortress of War”.

Of course, there is also wikipedia:


If anyone would like to pay the fortress a visit, which I do recommend, the Belarusski government has a website with more information.  The visitors center at the Brest Intourist Hotel also can set you up with guides.


I’ll be publishing more videos of the fortress this week.  Watch this space.

Hanukkah — bah, humbug

Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

An innocent toy connected to a not so innocent holiday

In the same way I used to organize sales for the Socialist Workers Party in Houston in the 1970s, directing people to various grocery stores or college campuses with bundles of the Militant, the Chabad sends its young missionaries to what they regard as fruitful opportunities for converting lost souls. But this Hasidic outreach group is not interested in saving Christians or Muslims. It is people like me, secular Jews, that they are trying to reach, based on their presence in front of my building during Jewish holidays throughout the year.

Yesterday as I was on the sidewalk in front of my high-rise, one of these young men, clad in a dark suit and wearing a wide-brimmed fedora made by Borsalino, approached me to ask if I’d like to have a donut in honor of Hanukkah. (My building is ecumenical…

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Some Songs of the Jewish Workers Movement

My great-grandmother used to sing Mayn Rue Plats to my grandmother at her home in Nyesviz.

I like Daniel Kahn’s interpretation but di Klezmorim’s arrangement is more in keeping with the religious and traditional influences in the song.

The next song di Shuve or “The Oath” is the anthem of the Jewish Bund/Arbeter Ring/Workman’s Circle

Mayn Rue Plats

Nit zukh mikh vu di mirtn grinen.
Gefinst mikh dortn nit, mayn shats.
Vu lebns velkn bay mashinen,
Dortn iz mayn rue plats.

Nit zukh mikh vu di feygl zingen.
Gefinst mikh dortn nit, mayn shats.
A shklaf bin ikh vu keytn klingen,
Dortn iz mayn rue plats.

Nit zukh mikh vu fontanen shpritsn.
Gefinst mikh dortn nit, mayn shats.
Vu trern rinen, tseyner kritsn,
Dortn iz mayn rue plats.

Un libstu mikh mit varer libe,
To kum tsu mir, mayn guter shats,
Un hayter oyf mayn harts di tribe
Un makh mir zis mayn rue plats.

Don’t look for me where myrtles are green.
You will not find me there, my beloved.
Where lives wither at the machines,
There is my resting place.

Don’t look for me where birds sing.
You will not find me there, my beloved.
I am a slave where chains ring,
There is my resting place.

Don’t look for me where fountains spray.
You will not find me there, my beloved.
Where tears flow and teeth gnash,
There is my resting place.

And if you love me with true love,
So come to me, my good beloved,
And cheer my gloomy heart
And make sweet my resting place.

Di shvue

Brider un shvester fun arbet un neyt
Ale vus zaynen tsezeyt un tseshpreyt,
Tsuzamen, tsuzamen, di fon iz greyt,
Zi flatert fun tsorn, fun blut iz zi reyt!
A shvue, a shvue, af lebn un teyt.

Himl un erd veln undz oyshern
Eydes veln zayn di likhtike shtern
A shvue fun blut un a shvue fun trern,
Mir shvern, mir shvern, mir shvern!

Mir shvern a trayhayt on grenetsn tsum bund.
Nor er ken di shklafn bafrayen atsind.
Di fon di reyte iz heykh un breyt.
Zi flatert fun tsorn, fun blut iz zi reyt!
A shvue, a shvue, af lebn un teyt.

The Oath

Brothers and sisters in toil and struggle
All who are dispersed far and wide
Come together, the flag is ready
It waves in anger, it is red with blood!
Swear an oath of life and death!

Heaven and earth will hear us,
The light stars will bear witness.
An oath of blood, an oath of tears,
We swear, we swear, we swear!

We swear an endless loyalty to the Bund.
Only it can free the slaves now.
The red flag is high and wide.
It waves in anger, it is red with blood!
Swear an oath of life and death!

Chris Ford’s introduction to Ivan Maistrenko’s “Borot’bism”

A more readable version of the last reblog.

Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

Screen shot 2014-05-12 at 4.52.42 PM

This is the introduction to Ivan Maistrenko’s “Borot’bism: A Chapter in the History of the Ukrainian Revolution”. Maistrenko was a veteran of the Ukrainian Revolution of 1919-1920 who eventually joined the Trotskyist movement. In referring to the Ukrainian revolution, I choose my words carefully. Although it occurred around the same time as the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks did not lead it. In fact they mostly functioned as a bureaucratic obstacle, sadly anticipating the Kremlin’s repeated miscues in Germany a few years later. The more I read about this period, the more I am convinced that there were no “heroic days” of the Comintern. When I joined the Trotskyist movement, I was indoctrinated into believing that the rise of Stalin was a kind of fall from paradise. In reality, the world would have been much better off it there had been no Comintern and that revolutionary parties had been allowed to…

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Lenin’s party, Great Russian chauvinism, and the betrayal of Ukrainian national aspirations

Okay, very jargoney, leniney for the layman but gambare! Interesting essay about Russia, Ukraine, working-class/peasant self-determination and the cluster-fuck that became the Russian-Ukranian relationship. Gotta give overall credit to western imperialism and their lackeys though for creating the environment for bureaucracy to take over the Russian Revolution, through isolation of the first workers’ revolution.

Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

Nestor Makhno, anarchist leader of Ukrainian peasants
Lenin more than once considered the possibility of allotting to the anarchists certain territories where, with the consent of the local population, they would carry out their stateless experiment. (Trotsky, Writings 1936-1937, Pathfinder, pp. 426-427)

Thanks to Andrew Pollack, we were able to scan in and reproduce an article that appeared in the Autumn 1989 International Marxist Review by Zbigniew Kowalewski titled “For the independence of Soviet Ukraine” that details the tragic failure of the Bolsheviks to understand the need for Ukrainian self-determination. To give you an idea of how Great Russian chauvinism persists in the Kremlin and among those self-proclaimed Marxists who repeat Putin’s talking points, the article states:

The national aspiration to sobornist’, the unity of the country, was thus openly flouted. It was with the “Katerynoslavian” right wing of the party that there was the most serious confrontation. It…

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Mah Boy Anton and I go to the Movies

Okay after all that heavy, depressing stuff about the social revolution and genocide, a little less seriousness as my guide Anton and I go to the movies in Brest, Belarus.

Okay, the theater used to be a synagogue, so there’s a tragic undertone, but nevertheless, we happen upon Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore and I kid Adam about growing up in New Hampshire, so the video turns out to be somewhat more light-hearted.

Vulitsa Pervoe Maya




34 years later Grandma

 I stand before your house

 Vulitsa Pervoe Maya

 Your house is no more


There it is

A parking lot


The orchard you told me about

The historian knew where from your description

I carried it with me all these years



I came in May

The trees were in bloom

It was quite pretty


The shul and your stone house were no more

all that remained a marker of the uprising

the first one in Europe

if Cholawski is to be believed


it started at your house

next to the shul with the machinegun

fun Ezrat Nashim


did you know?

did it make you proud?

I can’t remember you mentioning it

I have to think you didn’t know


did you know that your people deported and shot the iniquitous

before they were killed?


Maybe our communist cousins knew?

There is only one surviving, I’ll have to ask


But years later, years before this year

Four years before you died

I came to know you


Twisted, gnarled from the years

of poverty

of dragging a half-dead husband

and two boys

through the Great Depression

always one step ahead of the landlord

refusing to give up your status as a boss

of a shitty little candy store

that always went under


even when the rebbe offered to clout you into an ILGWU shop

you were too proud, too vain, too stupid

the daughter of a furrier

in a prosperous little town

owned by the Radziwills

your older sister, The rich lady of Nesvizh


The death of your family back home

The death of your civilization back home


I knew you

leyenung di Forverts

You and your language not much longer

died 1983

I was a youth


You were twisted by the slow death of your husband, your poverty, the endless days and nights of work and worry

the genocide

the end of your family

the end of your civilization

your life ended at 51

what more was there to live for?


by 83 you were crazy, twisted, gnarled

like an old tree

It did not seem you understood what came after

Could anyone?


you were full of hate

even towards those close to you

I used to dread coming home

to have to listen to you


But now

knowing that the rebellions started from your house

knowing that the comrades renamed your street for the First of May

and the cross-street for Comrade Liebknecht, the German martyr

to our cause

brings me a sort of happiness


Lenin stands around the corner

The marq empty now


Would you be happy if you knew?

Would Dad?



Questions for my Ancestors

Who were you?  Tradesmen? Capitalists? Rabbis, Priests, Cantors long ago?

When the Red Army came did you throw flowers?  Did you turn in the policeman?  Did the policeman abuse you?

Did you cheer when the Polish Governor and his family were deported?

Were you deported Great Uncle Chachmed?  Or did you give your department store to the new workers and peasants state?  Did your children join the Reds?  Did your cousins?  If you were deported, what did they think?

What happened to the workers in Nieswies for twenty years?  Were the Reds thrown in prison?  Tortured, blacklisted, exiled?  Who was beaten, who was raped, who was killed, who was tortured, on behalf of the Pani?

Or did you look fondly back at the Poles?  Some of you made money.  Most of you had no power.

When the Reds came, who deserved to be deported?  Who deserved to die?  Who deserved to be shot and who deserved to be beaten to death?  Who were the real exploiters, the torturers, the killers?


Were you glad when the Radziwills fled?  Where you glad when the Governor and his family were deported?

How many of you rounded up the wicked for deportation?  Who among you shot the oppressors?  Who among you beat them to death?  Did you kill the wrong person?  On purpose?

Nevertheless, your actions, I can only infer from the enemies’ accounts, make me glad that you did your part, right for the most part, maybe wrong at times, but

Did you know that you and your brothers, your sisters, your aunts, your uncles, your cousins, your friends, your children would be shot in two years?  Were you racing the clock before it all ended?

Before your civilization, from Israel, from Palestine, through Spain and Italy and Bavaria, then 800 years in Belarus, the talmud, the shul, di tsaddikim, the usury, the tax farming, narodna volya, anarchism, the bund, the second international, zionism, the third international,


Before your civilization, before it all came to an end for you


In the Radziwill’s park, shot.

First the children, shot dead and half-dead

While their parents watched

and were shot in turn.


But I guess you were not just murdered you were not just an innocent

lamb led to the slaughter

like a thousand liberal fantasy nightmares

but you killed and deported the enemy before your death


maybe you even committed murder


but you died Red soldiers

for a cause

a cause that still lives today

after the fall


The people above ground

a short century later

in the towns and cities where you fought and died

have not accepted that there is no alternative

have not accepted the murderers’ friends




not yet


it is thanks to you

your civilization vanished

you and your people no more


Some years after your death

the great deformed savior came back

smote the iniquitous again

reburied you


We are sorry but the people needed your tombstones to build houses

For the murderers and their friends had laid waste to your former land

I hope you might be happy to know that they called your resting place

Park Slavy Komsomola

in your honor

Park Slavy Komsomola

Is the name of the place where my ancestors are buried.  In English the name translates to Glory to the Young Communists Park.  It lies off of Vulitsa Revolutsiya or Revolution Road.  The park was a Jewish cemetery with headstones but after the war with 25 million homeless thanks to the second imperialist assault on the Soviet Union in a generation, the surviving townspeople had to use the Jewish and Christian gravestones to re-build their homes.  They also had to tear down the town church and use the bricks.


Now the park lies by the river and is dotted with trees.  There are several Jewish gravestones that some townspeople brought back and laid on the edge of the park.


Most liberal accounts of the “Holocaust” end here, or perhaps recall the traditional life of the shtetl before the genocide.  Or point one in the direction of Jewish rebirth in Israel.


However, as a communist I have no nostalgia for the feudal life of the shtetl nor do I look to zionism as the savior of the Jewish people.  I do not think stalinism was a solution either, as that system tended towards anti-semitism and other national repressions.  However, the Soviet Union, including the Bielorussian SSR was an advance over capitalism, let alone feudalism.  The problem was, the Soviet Union lacked political democracy even though it was a real advance in social democracy.  With a stunted political democracy, eventually the bureaucracy ruling the USSR degenerated, the citizens became demoralized and the bureaucracy ended up selling out to the worst kind of western capitalism, a la the Friedman school of the University of Chicago.


Except for the Bielorussian SSR, now renamed Belarus.  After a short period of laissez faire capitalist chaos, the people elected the former chair of a collective farm and the government and people set about reversing the privatizations in favor of a populist/Soviet direction.  Belarus is now probably the most social state in the former USSR and one of the most social states in the world.


Taxes are a flat 15%, education, healthcare, recreation is free, most people do not pay rent nor mortgage, the subway in Minsk is 40 cents, food is cheaper than the U.S. and is organic.  Up to 80 percent of the workforce is in the public sector.  There are troubling reports that the government is going to force people back on to collective farms a la the 1930s, but compared with the rest of the former USSR and even many countries in the west, Belarus is doing well.


In part, my people played a role in making Belarus what it is today.


In 1939, when the Soviet Union took back the territory they had lost under Brest-Litovsk, western Belarus was liberated from the yoke of Polish semi-feudal oppression.  The Polish petit-bourgeoisie had rejected the October Revolution and chose Pilsudski, the Polish General, instead.  Pilsudski and his supporters colonized the territories east of Poland, ie western Belarus and western Ukraine.


The Poles dominated Nyesviz and the other towns and the countryside of western Belarus, excluding Jewish townspeople from proportional representation and appointing colonial governors to safeguard the interests of Polish colonists, Belarusski and Polish nobility and landlords and Jewish capitalists.


Repression of Jewish workers was a chronic feature of life under Polish occupation along with the imprisonment of the Left.  Pogroms were encouraged by the Christian clergy as a way of keeping Jewish workers in check.


Poland occupied western Belarus until they were kicked out by the Red Army.  One could say that the stalinists/Great Russians now occupied western Belarus and that would be accurate to a point, but only to a point.


For along with the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact and the division of Poland between the two powers, came the destruction of the old order in western Belarus, which was for the good.


From 1939 to 1941, young Jews in particular were galvanized in support of the new order and went to the aid of the NKVD.




I am grateful to this Polish reactionary in providing evidence of the Jewish role in overthrowing the old order.


One can see that in general, my ancestors were in the forefront of liberating Belarus from capitalism.


I’m sure that there were excesses and crimes, but on the whole, the Jews worked to remove the worst elements of this region, laying the ground for the social gains and progressive attitudes of the population of this region today.


It is a testament to my ancestors work in their last hours that Belarus remains the most social state in the former USSR and one of the most social states in the world today, despite being a poor, small, landlocked country.  Despite being dominated by oligarchs from oil and gas interests to their east.


For, although my ancestors were exterminated, wiped off the face of the earth, the communist vision that most of them stood for still remains in the social conquests that remain in Belarus to this day.  I would like to think that their values live on in the hearts of the people of Belarus and in their refusal to follow the rest of the world down the path of capitalist degradation and alienation.


Today my ancestors lie under the earth of Park Slavy Komsomola, a fitting tribute to the flower of the Jewish nation that overthrew capitalism and were then destroyed by the capitalist system, but whose bequest still lives on.