The first episode of our series on the Jewish Labour Bund, a secular Jewish socialist movement founded in the late 1890s! We spoke to Elissa Bemporad and Josh Meyers about the Bund’s Russian period. We talked about the founding of the Bund, its underground revolutionary activities, and it’s complicated relationship with the Bolsheviks. Special thanks to JB Brager for the art we’re using for the series and to Brivele for calling in a rendition of ‘FTP in der Gasn.’
[This episode was recorded prior to the inspiring Black-led resistance following the white supremacist police killings of George Floyd, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others.]
Show Notes: Episode 46 – The General Jewish Labour Bund Pt 1
- Wikipedia – Bundism
- ‘Doikayt’ in Jewish Currents
- Wikipedia – Russian Social Democratic Labour Party
- Wikipedia – Russian Revolution of 1905
- Wikipedia – Russian Revolution (1917)
Joshua Meyers Interview
- Wikipedia – The Vilna Group
- Shmuel Gozhansky
- Wikipedia- 1st Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party
- JWA – Esther Frumkin
- Wikipedia- Esther Frumkin
- Twenty Years with the Jewish Labour Bund – Bernard Goldstein
- The Bund by the Numbers: The Ebbs and Flows of a Jewish Radical Party – Joshua Meyers
- Wikipedia – Raphael Abramovitch
Brivele – Voice Memo
Elissa Bemporad Interview
- Becoming Soviet Jews: The Bolshevik Experiment in Minsk
- Wikipedia – The Kombund
- Wikipedia – Yevsektsiya
- Moisei (Moishe) Grigorevich Rafes
- Doyres̀ Bundisṭn
- Solidarity Across Borders
- Jon Milton – COVID-19 is raging through Quebec prisons
- Prairie Province Prisoner Support Fund
- Treyf Podcast – In the Streets: #FreeThemAllCaravan
Sam: I’m Sam.
David: I’m David.
Sam: And this is Treyf.
David: Welcome back to Treyf, the only Jewish podcast that’s currently doing a multipart series on the Jewish Labour Bund.
Sam: That is correct. (Laughs)
David: Nothing but the facts here at Treyf podcast…
Sam: Well shout out to us and to all the people who were interested in the Bund that kind of convinced us to put this piece together.
David: Yes! How are you doing, Sam?
Sam: Got a good stretch in this morning, very happy that when we started recording there was no buzzing. And hopefully there is some kind of crisp audio on my end.
David: (Laughs) Yeah, so this is the first episode where we have a new home recording situation set up. It took a lot of troubleshooting so hopefully the quality’s a bit better than our previous attempts at home recording.
Sam: Yeah, I mean, it feels weird that we’re not in the same room together, that we can’t judge body language and point at each other (Laughs). But we’re going to try to put out an episode of this podcast.
David: Yeah. I mean, these are really wild times right now. Very busy times, very urgent times, and in a lot of ways very dark times. And people are doing really inspiring work to support each other right now, to work toward the new world that we really urgently need. And so in the midst of all this, we were thinking to ourselves: Why don’t we talk about a Jewish organization that was started over a hundred years ago? (Laughs) What could be more topical in this current context?
Sam: (Laughs) Well, I mean, to provide some backstory, we’ve been working on this for about a year and we were trying to get it out around the time that the pandemic hit North America. And so it’s taken us a little bit of time to kind of put the finishing touches on it. But yes, it is definitely somewhat strange to be talking about something that happened a hundred years ago. But that’s what we do on here sometimes.
David: Yeah, I think in a lot of ways we already are talking about things that happened a hundred years ago. When we’re talking about the rise of Fascism around the world, we’re always sort of reaching back to this period. Even when we’re talking about the pandemic, we’re often talking about the pandemic of 1918, the Spanish Flu. So in some ways, it kind of is intuitive to reach back to this time and and to get more of a grounding in it as we get used to the particular way that history is rhyming right now.
Sam: So David, we’re about 30 to 45 seconds into this podcast and we’ve mentioned the Bund a few times, but haven’t really described what it is. So would you like to do the honours?
David: It would be my honour Sam. So, the General Jewish Labour Bund, sometimes also called the General Union of Jewish Workers, was a revolutionary socialist organization that was founded in Vilnius in 1897. Today Vilnius is in Lithuania but at that time, it was part of the Russian Empire. And a majority of the world’s Jews lived in the Russian Empire at that time, mostly isolated to an area called the Pale of Settlement or sometimes talked about as the provinces.
Sam: All right. Well, obviously, we’re going to go into this in much greater detail in the following minutes and episodes. But it’s a little challenging to think of the Bund as one thing. But there were some ideas that persisted. The Bund was a socialist organization, folks organized against capitalism. There was a sense of Doiykayt, or hereness, which led folks to oppose Zionism. And there was also a pillar of secularism, organizing against religion and clerical authority that kind of animated a lot of the Bundists’ work.
David: Yeah and in addition to being a secular Marxist party, it was also committed to fostering Yiddish culture, supporting Jewish workers while also advancing Jewish cultural life.
Sam: So we’ve noticed that there’s been a tremendous resurgence of interest in the Bund in the last couple of years, particularly among younger leftist Jews. And sometimes when talking about the Bund, it’s fairly easy to fall into the dynamic of talking about the Bund, capital B, as one group, rather than thinking about the different periods and iterations of the Bund. And so David and I really wanted to put together a series to ground our understanding of the Bund in these different histories and politics.
David: Yeah, we’ve been been working on this for about a year now I think, and we’ve interviewed a handful of people. And we’re going to try to roll this out in a series of episodes, with each one focusing on a different period of the Bund. And for the purposes of the series, we’re talking about the Bund as having three main periods. There’s the Russian period, which starts at its founding and it goes up until the Russian Revolution in 1917. Then you have the Polish period, which starts right after the revolution and ends at the start of World War 2. And then you have what we’re talking about as the third period of the Bund, which follows the Holocaust.
Sam: So for this first episode, we’re going to be focusing on the initial period that David mentioned, the Russian period. But before we start, we need to provide some quick background about this time period. In the two interviews that follow, you’re going to hear some references to the Russian Social Democratic Party, to Lenin, to the Bolsheviks, and to the Mensheviks.
David: Yeah. So the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, it was a Socialist Party formed in the 1890s in Russia to unite all the different revolutionary groups that were popping up at that time. And within the party, there were different factions. So the Bolsheviks were one faction that were led by Lenin. They’re called Bolsheviks from the Russian word for majority. The Mensheviks were the opposing faction to the Bolsheviks in that party, and they were called Mensheviks after the Russian word for minority. And when the party splits in two, between the two factions, the Bolshevik faction eventually becomes known as the Communist Party.
Sam: And I’m expressing deep remorse of the fact that we’ve turned into an explainer podcast.
Sam: All right, so to keep this ball rolling, we also have to mention the 1905 revolution, which was a failed revolution that took place in Russia. There was a right-wing backlash that blamed Jews for the opposition to the regime, it resulted in many pogroms and thousands of Jews being killed.
David: Yeah. And we’re going to finish off this list of things you need to know with the Russian revolutions that took place in 1917. In February of 1917, there was a popular uprising in Russia. The Tsar was overthrown in February and a provisional government was put in its place. And then in October, the Bolsheviks led a second uprising. They overthrew the provisional government and they effectively took power. And this leads to an extended period of civil war in Russia. There was a wave of violent pogroms that took place during this time, it went on for years, and eventually the Bolsheviks won.
Sam: Well, I can’t believe that everyone just listened to this. If you liked what you heard, you can sign up to our new podcast, Sam and David explain things in history.
David: (Laughs) Oh dear God, no.
Sam: Well, we’re sorry for doing that but it seemed important to contextualize some of the discussions that we’re going to have. So with that out of the way, we interviewed two people for the first episode on the Russian period of the Bund. The first is Elissa Bemporad, who’s a professor at the City University of New York and the author of Becoming Soviet Jews: The Bolshevik Experiment in Minsk.
David: Yeah and we also spoke with Josh Meyers, who’s a [historian] with a specialization in modern Jewish political history. Right now, he’s actually writing a book about the Jewish Labour Bund in Russia.
Sam: So we hope that you enjoy this first episode in the series. I know that I had a great time researching and talking to folks about it. And stay tuned, we’re hopefully going to be putting out an episode once a month.
David: So without further ado, here’s your episode for the 8th of Sivan 5780.
Josh Meyers: My name is Josh Meyers and I’m a historian of modern Jewish politics, with particular emphasis in the General Jewish Labour Bund in Russia. And I’m currently a Harry Starr fellow in Judaica at Harvard University.
Sam: Thanks so much for coming on the show. David and I have a ton of questions about the Bund and we want to start really at the beginning. So before we get into the founding of the Bund, can you talk about what was going on for Jews in Russia in the late 1800s that would produce something like the Bund?
Josh Meyers: So in the 1860s Tsar Alexander the Second decides to emancipate the serfs, which is in almost every way a wonderful thing, except that it is going to completely upend the Jewish economic system. This is a population that until then has been, pardon the gender specific language, middlemen and craftsmen. The middlemen role was about to be completely destroyed. They’d been middlemen between the aristocracy and the serfs. Simultaneously, the other big economic space that Jews are involved with is that of craftsmanship. They’re being displaced from that through industrialization. Who needs a village blacksmith to make a horse shoe when you have a factory pushing them out twice as fast and at half the price? This means that the Jewish community in Russia is downwardly mobile, they are increasingly poor, they are increasingly desperate, and Tsarist policy is making this even worse. They are banned from living in the countryside, they’re banned from living near the border. They are often facing very strict limitations in their pursuit of education, which is just crushing the community. The result is that we’re seeing more and more throughout the decades leading up to the founding of the Bund, we’re seeing more and more local organization by Jewish workers who just can’t take it anymore. Most of this is very local and very short lived. It’s the workers in one specific factory or one specific town or one specific industry, starting to form self-supporting groups. They form particularly what they call Kasse, which were really just a sort of a cashbox for assistance. You know, if your kid gets sick, you can take out from the Kasse. If the workers go on strike, they have the Kasse to support them through the strike. That sort of thing.
David: So was the Bund the first attempt at something bigger, or were there other attempts before this?
Josh Meyers: So out of this comes the first big effort to form a Jewish worker’s movement. This will happen in Vilna, around 1890, 1891. Officially, it was called the Jewish Social Democratic Group in Russia. It is much better known as the Vilna Group. This was founded by members of the middle middle class, people who were wealthy enough to get some sort of higher education, but who were at the same time not so far removed from the reality on the Jewish street, they weren’t part of the ultra rich. The Vilna group is the predecessor organization for the Bund. They began sending out emissaries to other towns and other cities in the Pale of Settlement to build similar organizations there. Initially, they’re pretty modest in their goal. They’re from the middle class, they don’t see it as their job to stage a revolution. It’s their job just to educate the workers, expose them to radical politics, and then let the workers figure it out on their own. Then there’s a famine in Russia, 1891 to 1892. There are food shortages, high prices, which for a Jewish community that’s already living really on the margin, is a real problem. And this is where the Vilna Group decides that it’s not enough to just educate the workers, it’s time for us to become leaders in our own right. Which is the beginning of what will become the Jewish Labour Bund, which is founded in 1897 in Vilnius, in Vilna. Oddly, it’ll actually be on Yom Kippur when the Bund is founded, because that was the time of the year when it was easy for Jews to travel without arousing suspicion. The impetus for them to form a single, officially unified party is not so much a changing ideology as a growing awareness that the Russian labor movement as a whole is about to form its own unified party. And they think it’s important that Jews enter that unified, as one single organization and not split up into these geographically limited groups.
David: So I’m really curious about the politics of the Bund at its founding. You know, obviously it was a revolutionary organization, they were socialists who wanted to overthrow the Tsar. But what was their platform? How big was their political tent?
Josh Meyers: So the Bund’s politics were Marxist, they were historical materialists. What separated them from most of their contemporaries, though, is that the Bund was not a very theoretically inclined organization. It’s not that they weren’t capable of doing serious, high minded intellectual work, they were. They chose not to. They chose very much to emphasize the active day to day life, which meant that they were often a little more flexible on ideology than most other parties were. So the tent was a little bit bigger than you usually find in a Russian Marxist party, which I think reflects that sort of disinterest in high minded theoretical questions, which could often come down to counting the angels on the head of a pin. And to focus instead on what do we do to help the Jewish worker?
Sam: Something that the Bund comes to be known for later on is its insistence on national or collective rights for Jews in Russia. Was this position there from the beginning, or was it something that developed later on?
Josh Meyers: So if we go back all the way to the early Vilna Group, that Bund’s predecessor organization, what’s effectively their founding manifesto in 1892, it’s a document written by a Vilna Group member named Shmuel Gozhansky. He makes the argument that for minorities, civil rights aren’t good enough. That even when civil rights are guaranteed, the result can still be pretty bad for national minorities. He looks, for example, to Romania, right across the border from the Russian Empire, which was at the time a constitutional regime. And yet the Jews were facing even more repression than in autocratic Russia. And he starts floating the idea that we need something more. We need some kind of national rights as well. This was accepted by the group in 1893 and remains part of the Bund’s platform from the very beginning. This idea that if we don’t liberate Jewish workers as Jews and as workers, if we allow them to continue to be subject to anti-Semitic repression even while liberating them from class-based repression, we haven’t truly liberated them. And this is part of their platform really from the absolute beginning. What we do see is around 1897, they never disavowed this, they never move away from it, but they do sort of step back. They become a little more cautious, which I think reflects their effort to build a coalition. You have enough Jews in Russia that you could have your own Jewish Labour Party, but you don’t have so many Jews that you can have your own revolution. You need the Russians. You need the Ukrainians. You need the Poles. Which means you need to be able to build an alliance with these organizations. And they’re concerned that if they’re overly assertive on this national question, they’re going to frighten away their allies.
David: So I want to talk a bit about those alliances. You know, who are the main groups that the Bund was working with in that broader labour movement?
Josh Meyers: So the Bund was in a very close relationship, for the most part, with the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party, this was the party that the Bund was founded sort of to pre-empt, that they wanted to make sure that they entered as a unified group. And the Bund actually played a crucial role in founding this party. The RSDLP was founded in Minsk, which is a city which wasn’t heavily industrialized and didn’t have a lot of workers, but it did have a lot of Jews. And it was a place where the Bund had a strong enough organization that it could make the arrangements for the opening Congress. And the Bund would actually be larger than any other group in the RSDLP, likely larger than the rest of the RSDLP combined. It wasn’t always a perfect alliance, they actually leave the RSDLP in 1903 only to return in 1906. They leave because the RSDLP refuses to acknowledge the Bund’s nationality platform. But for the most part, their relationship is fairly close and fairly tight with this organization.
Sam: And how was the Bund relating to the Jewish community at this time? Did they have alliances there as well?
Josh Meyers: So this was a moment of extraordinary political awakening within the Jewish community. One that’s usually understood as happening within four sort of streams. We have the Zionists, the Liberals, the Orthodox and the Socialists. The Zionists were probably the largest movement, specifically the World Zionist Organization, which has as its big strength the fact that it can pull in people, whether you’re secular or religious, whether you’re socialist or liberal, they have a seat for you at the table. At the same time, that’s also a bit of a weakness for them, because they’re getting pulled in these various religious, secular, socialist, liberal directions, it often leaves them somewhat rudderless. You have the Orthodox, whose argument is effectively we want to be autonomous, we want to run our own show. But unlike the Bund which wants an autonomous community under control of the workers, the Orthodox would like an autonomous community under control of the rabbis. The liberals are liberals, much as you find them throughout the liberal experience, generally confined to a small group of very wealthy Jews disproportionately in St. Petersburg. They want civil rights, probably a constitutional monarchy, and they encourage Jews to assimilate, to become Russians of the Jewish faith, to give up speaking Yiddish and to take up speaking Russian. That’s their sort of direction. Within the Socialist flank, the Bund is the largest group, but it’s not the only one. And you have some Zionist groups who are socialist enough that they often end up caucusing with the other socialists. The idea that the Bund was anti-Zionist, I think exaggerates both the degree and the centrality of the Bund’s disagreements with Zionism. The Bund was not a Zionist organization but they weren’t founded to fight against Zionism. They were founded to fight against imperialism and capitalism. Had Tsar Nicholas woken up one morning and said: Empire is a bad idea, Capital is a bad idea, I’m using my authority as the Tsar to get rid of both, from tomorrow onward, the Russian Empire will be a Socialist republic, the Bund would have been left without what to fight for. Had the Zionists pulled a similar move and said: You know what, we’re giving it up, this was a mistake, that would not have been the case. And if we look at the Bund’s relationship with Zionist organizations, we see a lot more flexibility than I think we often give credit for. It’s true that the Bund has a pretty nasty relationship with the World Zionist Organization. But when we look at, say, groups like Poale Zion, who were pushing for Zionism within a revolutionary framework, the Bund was willing to compromise. It didn’t like the Zionism, it didn’t agree with Zionism, but it was often willing to work with these movements, with these organizations, in pursuit of Jewish revolutionary activities. Does the Bund oppose the idea of Jews moving to the Land of Zion? No. What it opposes is the effort to do so in an imperialist capitalist way.
David: So I also want to ask about the question of secularism. One of the Bund’s main positions was its emphasis on secularism.
Josh Meyers: Yeah.
David: But how how did that play out in its relationship with other Jewish groups?
Josh Meyers: There’s this myth that people often buy into that Eastern European Jews were these pious shtetl folk, Fiddler on the Roof types. That’s absolute narishkeit. But it was a community where tradition, specifically religious tradition, continued to play a fairly strong role in people’s lives. The fact that the Bund was anti-religious often put them at a bit of a disadvantage. In later years they would try to thread the needle, arguing that they weren’t anti-religious, but anti-clerical. That it was specifically the institution of the Russian Jewish rabbinate that they opposed. Again, I don’t know if it’s necessarily that clear. They may have claimed there was that distinction. If you look at their propaganda, it’s not always so clear that it’s there. You know, there’s one point in 1917, for example, Esther Frumkin, one of the Bund’s leading figures, writes an editorial that’s reprinted in multiple Bundist newspapers criticizing, of all things, Yiddish lullabies because she thinks that they are too religious in content. So, I mean, they’re pretty hostile. And I think that does limit their ability to appeal to the broad masses in the Jewish community.
Sam: So on the subject of appealing to the masses, do we have a sense historically of what the membership of the Bund was? And was this something that changed over time?
Josh Meyers: It changes dramatically. In the early years in particular the numbers are really bad. This was a secret organization that was actively trying to avoid leaving a paper trail. So it’s hard to say in the 1890s how many members they really had. We know that beginning particularly around 1903, in part in response to a wave of pogroms that is sweeping through Russia, the Bund was often first in line to defend the Jewish community during times of violence. And the Bund starts undergoing this really dramatic growth. By 1905, in the middle of Russia’s first revolution, the Bund’s membership was somewhere between 30 and 40,000 members. But then within a few years, they plummeted down to only a few thousand, we don’t know exactly, in response to the horrifying oppression that happens after that revolution is quashed. But then by 1912 to 1914, they’re back up to around 20 to 30,000. So it swings dramatically. And that’s just speaking about members in terms of their sort of popular on the street support. The Bund was often able to, even if they weren’t necessarily the largest group, they were often able to have the greatest impact on the street. The Zionists were probably the largest movement, but because of that Bundist singularity and unity, they were often able to do a better job mobilizing their members, to get them to attend the strike, to attend the protest, march down the street, and may have been larger than any single Zionist faction, and certainly more impactful. That that was the Bund’s real strength.
David: So if I was a member of the Bund in Russia during this time, what would that have meant for me day to day? Like would I be organizing demonstrations? Would I be going to meetings? What would it have looked like?
Josh Meyers: So it depends on time. During the more heavy periods of repression, it would often mean not doing very much at all and just sort of trying to lay low, just trying to outlast, outwait the oppression. During periods of greater activity, though, which I’m sure you’re more interested in, it would mean going to meetings. It would mean attending rallies. It would mean attending protests. It would mean electing the local authority who would then send people to vote on the central committee. It would often mean taking part in various activities that the Bund was part of. The Bund maintained its own militia that would be responsible for manning the barricades. They would go out there and build barricades around the Jewish community and they would send out members armed with homemade explosives, with pistols, primitive firebombs, axe handles, whatever they could get their hands on to defend their Jewish community. You might end up being pulled into that. On the other hand, if you’re a particularly good speaker, you’re going to be organizing workers. If you are a good writer, you’ll be writing propaganda and agitation materials. This is all part of the revolutionary program with the Bund. They decided that the best way to radicalize the Jewish worker was by looking after the day to day needs of the Jewish proletariat. And this was all part of that. And that’s what you would be doing as a member of the party.
David: And what was the the structure of the Bund? Was there a clear leadership? How did how did decisions get made?
Josh Meyers: So the structure of the Bund is remarkably consistent through this period, in part because the party, unlike many other organizations, never developed that kind of charismatic, definitive leadership that we so often see. There was no Bundist equivalent to someone like, for example, Lenin, who’s the definitive leader of his movement. The Bund was absolutely obsessed with secrecy. Remember, they’re both Jewish and revolutionary, which sort of puts them doubly on the regime’s list of enemies. And they are obsessively secretive as an organization, which means that most of the power sits in the hands of the institutions, as opposed to the individuals. The party is founded with a central committee which will oversee the party as a whole. They have local organizations in each city who oversee in that particular area. And often the local organizations will enjoy a huge amount of autonomy. Even when they know who is on the Central Committee, they’re not always in touch with them. Everybody uses fake names, often multiple fake names. Whenever you read a biography of a Bundist, the name that they use is often not the name that they actually had. Even when they try to shed their pseudonyms, many of them are so well known by their fake names that they often can’t escape it. This system of organization remains pretty consistent, which gives the Bund a strong amount of flexibility. They also introduce something very unusual again, in response to persecution, where they have what’s called a foreign committee. This is a separate central committee that’s located outside of Russia, either in Austria or Switzerland, where they can’t be arrested. In 1898, there was a huge wave of arrests that nearly destroyed the revolutionary movement in Russia, including the Bund. And the Bund decided they were never going to let that happen again. So they made sure to keep the second separate central committee outside of the reach of the Russian authorities where they could keep organizing and should there be another mass repression, they could serve as sort of a reservoir that could restart the party, a sort of insurance policy, if you will.
David: So you mentioned Esther Frumkin before as being a fairly central figure to the Bund. And I’m wondering what the membership of women was like during the Russian period – if this is something that shifted over time and how it related to other socialist movements, was it fairly similar?
Josh Meyers: My sense is that the Bund did better than your average revolutionary movement. They make an effort to give women a seat at the table. They make an effort to bring women into the leadership structure. But it was not 50-50. It was still a disproportionately male organization, you did still have a lot of the patriarchal assumptions even though they were trying to push back against them. That said, you do see many women joining the party. And you see a number of them making it into the higher ranks of the party. It’s not an equal distribution, but they are there and they do play central roles. And I should probably say something about Esther Frumkin. She was this extraordinary figure, incredibly charismatic, commanding, and it’s been suspected that had she not been a woman, she might have turned into that type of iconic figure that the Bund never had otherwise.
Sam: So you’ve already mentioned a lot of things that the Bund was doing during the Russian period. Did those focuses changes as time went on?
Josh Meyers: It shifts, it shifts in part on what’s available. In the early years it’s about organizing workers. The strike movement is absolutely central to them. During the 1905 revolution, that sort of segues into actively trying to overthrow the Tsar. In the years that follow, after the revolution has been quashed, the Bund shifts its focus to cultural work, trying to encourage the use of proletarian Yiddish culture throughout the Jewish community. The Bund was not primarily a cultural organization, they were mainly focused on the revolutionary side. But culture did figure very prominently in that. The Bund was publishing Yiddish newspapers. They were trying to make Yiddish, by doing so, the language of the revolution. They were turning Yiddish into a language of politics that no one had done before. The idea that Yiddish was not just a necessary language, but the proper language for people to talk about highbrow political issues, it’s something that can really be traced back to the Bund’s work in this moment. You know, the Zionists will use Yiddish but it’s always with an apology that they’d rather be using Hebrew. The liberals will use Yiddish but again, they prefer Russian, Polish in some cases, German. For the Bund to use Yiddish in a serious conversation about Russian politics without any apology, that this is the language of proper political discourse is something that is completely innovative and truly remarkable that had not been done before in modern politics. They also do a lot of promoting the work of a lot of Yiddish writers. For example, Ansky was not a member of the Bund but he does like the Bund and he actually wrote the Bund’s anthem for them, or rewrote the Bund’s anthem for them, rather. And they promote his work. They promote the work of Sholem Aleichem and of Mendele Mocher Sforim and other Yiddish writers who they see as bringing dignity and sensitivity to the lives of poor Jews. Whether they’re members of the Bund or not, they still promote their work as something that’s important in and of itself. It’s nothing as sophisticated as what you will see later in the Polish period but this is where the seeds of it lie. And then again, in the years leading up to World War 1, they’ll come back to their efforts to organize workers.
David: Okay so as we get closer to 1917 and the Russian Revolution, the Bund’s relationship with the Communists, the Bolsheviks, becomes more important. What was that relationship like and what was happening for the Bund in the lead up to 1917?
Josh Meyers: The Bund and the Bolsheviks had a particularly toxic relationship within the revolutionary movement. I mentioned that the Bund had left the RSDLP, the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, in 1903. That was because of Lenin. Lenin had really stacked the table against the Bund. He forced them to either accept his authority or leave the party. And they chose to leave the party. In the years since, Lenin had continued writing some really terrible things about the Bund. Stalin, who was already a significant Bolshevik figure, had joined him. If you read up their writings on the Jewish question, on the nationality question, its attitude toward the Jews and toward the Bund is pretty nasty. So they don’t enter the revolution in a very good place. From a structural perspective, the revolution catches the Bund really in a moment of weakness. The wartime repression had absolutely shattered the Bund’s organization, they were back down to that really low membership of only a few thousand of the truest members. Everyone else had left the party. Many of their top leaders were in exile. Many of them were in prison. The few who were active were very limited in their ability to do anything. So when in February 1917, a bunch of crowds, really a bread riot in Petrograd overthrows the Tsar, the Bund is not in a very strong position. But they’re surprisingly optimistic. They seem to think that they’re going to pull this off. That turns out not to be the case. The Zionist movement has a banner year in 1917. Everything is going right for them. And the Bund is struggling to convince the Jews that they have a future in Russia. The Revolution had happened and it hadn’t delivered what was promised. It had been assumed that once the workers overthrew the Tsar, that Russia would begin this process toward a socialist utopia. And it didn’t seem like any of that was happening. Although the legal prohibitions on the Jews had all been lifted, the economy was in tatters, law and order was disappearing, anti-Semitic violence was on the rise. And the Bund’s argument that there was a future for Jews in Russia was ringing surprisingly shallow. The result is that not only did the Bund not become the biggest Jewish party in Russia, which they thought they might be, they end up losing to their arch rivals the Zionists, who absolutely sweep the table.
David: And so how did they respond to that loss?
Josh Meyers: What follows is not the Bund’s best moment. The Bund, they believe in democracy, they believe in pluralism. When they see the Jewish masses flocking to the Zionists, they begin to lose their faith in democracy. They begin to lose their faith in pluralism. And this is when they decide to overcome their earlier hatred of the Communists, of Lenin. And they begin to join the Communists. By March 1919, they vote to support Soviet power and they end up involved in some of the nastier moments of the earlier Soviet regime. Not all Bundists go along with this. A substantial minority do continue opposing Communist rule. They think that it is too authoritarian. They look at how other left wing groups are being persecuted by the Soviet Union and they themselves find themselves being persecuted by the Soviet Union. For example, Sara Fuks, who is one of the leaders of the anti-communist Bund in Ukraine, one of the rising stars in the Bund at one point, would be arrested over and over again by the Russian secret police, including by many individuals who she had once been comrades with in the Bund, until she eventually committed suicide. Elsewhere, Raphael Abramovich, another anti-communist Bundist, would be arrested repeatedly. He would survive, he would go into exile. But the majority of the Bund does come to support Soviet power. And while I wouldn’t argue that they were by any means the instigators of Soviet repression, they do participate. In the meantime, you do have a minority who oppose the Soviet Union, this group will come together as the Bund SD and many of them will end up in Poland. I know you’re doing another interview on the Polish Bund…
David: Does SD stand for Social Democrat?
Josh Meyers: Yes. Lenin had chosen to distance himself from the Social Democrat term. He actually brings back the term Communist, which had been largely discarded. But he brings it back as a way of sort of being the authentic Marxist.
Sam: So just to wrap things up, because I know we’ve taken a lot of your time, when you reflect on this spirit of the Bund’s history, what do you think its legacies should be?
Josh Meyers: Yeah. The thing I would like to, that I think we need to push back on is the idea that the Bund is necessarily this pure path in Jewish politics. I’ve already mentioned that the Bund does have its own skeletons in its closet, if we look at the Russian Revolution. You know, it’s easy to be good when you don’t hold political power. But if we look at what the Bund does when it does hold power, we have some questions for concern. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t learn from the Bund, it’s possible that their ideas were still right. But we do need to recognize that their hands were not entirely clean either. It also brings up how the legacy of the Bund is important to the current day, which I see as really hinging on two particular issues. First of all, that the diaspora is not an accident or a shortcoming of Jewish existence, but that it’s a vital, vibrant part of Jewish life and has been for thousands of years. Secondly, that Jewish identity and progressive politics, it’s not only that they’re able to coexist in the same sphere but that they’re best when directly intertwined with one another. You know, the idea that Bund is willing from the very start to put [forward] Jewish concerns specifically, to recognize that these are as central to liberation movements as class based concerns, that we cannot separate the two. I think it’s absolutely vital as a lesson for people today.
David: Well I think I think that’s a great note to end this conversation. Josh, thanks again so much for taking us through this part of the Bund’s history.
Josh Meyers: Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. It was a lot of fun talking to you today.
Brivele: Hi Treyf, it’s Brivele! See you later.
Elissa Bemporad: Okay, My name is Elissa Bemporad and I teach East European Jewish History at Queens College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York. I work primarily on the history of Jews in Russia and the Soviet Union, focusing primarily on social history. I consider myself a social historian. My new project will actually take me to investigating the history of women in the Bund and what I intend to do is write the biography of Esther Frumkin, who was one of the major leaders of the Bund before the revolution of 1917.
Sam: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us and for helping us on our journey to better understand the Bund.
Elissa Bemporad: My pleasure.
David: So we have a lot of questions. We just spoke with Josh Meyers about the Bund in Russia and we left things off right at the revolution in 1917. And so what do you think we need to know about the Bund going into that period of the revolution?
Elissa Bemporad: Well, I want to focus primarily on the relationship between the Bund and the Russian Social Democratic Party, which had an irreconcilable tension. Meaning that from the very beginning, even when the Bund’s founders, their main goal was for Jewish workers to fully integrate into the Russian proletariat, even then, Lenin perceived it as a Jewish national party. Meaning that the Bund represents separatism for Lenin, embodies separatism. So much so that his relationship with the Bund really helped him define his idea of the party, his idea of the Bolshevik Party, which has to be a monolithic organization, which should never be organized along federal lines, right? It should not be a federative party organization. So the Bund argued in favour of a federative party structure, meaning there is the umbrella organization, the umbrella party, the Russian Social Democratic Party. But that should be divided according to national claims that are made by workers of different nationalities. So in other words, the Bund is arguing that it is possible to have an allegiance, a national allegiance to the Jewish workers, the Jewish working class, to be fighting on behalf of the national rights of the Jewish proletariat. But at the same time, to have an allegiance to fighting for Marxism, fighting for the establishment of a new social and political order, that there is no tension between these two. That a party can be strong even when it is organized according to a federative structure. But Lenin saw this as a threat because he saw it as a dividing force within the proletariat, but also to the party, as opposed to a unifying one. For the Bund it could be a unifying one. I think that this is the irreconcilable tension that lies at the heart of the relationship between the Bund and the Bolsheviks.
David: And so how does this tension manifest between the Bund and the Bolsheviks leading up to 1917?
Elissa Bemporad: Well, the Bund in 1905 reaches its golden age. It strengthens its constituency, the number of its followers, it is outstanding in its performance thanks to the illegal activities that it carries out, bringing to the streets thousands and thousands of Jewish workers and students. But most importantly, because it presents itself as the defender of the Jewish masses in the context of the pogroms, establishing the self-defense units. So after 1905, Lenin realizes that he needs, in some way, he needs the Bund. He needs the Bund because in terms of the ability to spread the revolution in the provinces – the most important demographic centres of the Jewish pale of settlement – in order to spread the revolution to these areas, the Bolsheviks need the Bund. They need the Bund to bring the message of the revolution. They need the Bund to encourage students and workers to take to the streets. Yes, there is this irreconcilable tension, but he needs to reach out to the Bund. And we see this happening, you know of course in 1903, the Bund walk out, will leave the Russian Social Democratic Party. It will play out after the Russian revolution of 1905. And it will play out actually throughout the 1910s. The Russian Social Democratic Party splits between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks. The Bund remains within the Menshevik’s Social Democratic Party. So there is this break, there is this division that is based on this core issue of national cultural autonomy and national education that the Bund is fighting for, and that the Mensheviks accept. The Bolsheviks don’t accept it. But the lines of communications are not entirely cut off between the Bund and the Bolsheviks. Although the Bund remains anti-Bolshevik, the Bolsheviks need to know that they can rely on the Bund in spreading the revolution.
Sam: So with this background, I wanted to fast forward a bit to 1917 and the Russian Revolution. What was the Bund doing as the revolution was taking place?
Elissa Bemporad: Well, I want to focus a little bit on the February revolution of 1917, which had so much support from below, it really led to the sense of messianic expectations for everyone. For everyone, regardless of their political allegiance. But the point is that the Bund faced the future with great confidence. It has very charismatic and successful leaders. Yes, it is true that on the Jewish street, the Zionists have been the dominant political party, so the Bund is not very successful on the Jewish street. But on the general street, the Bund plays a major role. First of all, as strong allies of the Mensheviks. But you have many leading Bundists who come to hold important positions in various workers and soldiers councils, the Soviets, from the summer of 1917. So you have members of the Bund, Bund leaders who have important roles in local Soviets and Soviet executive committees. So you have hundreds of Bundists who are serving in positions of power, political power. I mean, it has to do with local politics, but they serve in city Dumas throughout the pale. So these Bundist leaders get a taste of political power, of what it means to be in charge. From being on the sideline of history. And this taste of political power made, I think, the idea of making a compromise with Lenin more tolerable, something that is amenable in a way.
Sam: And so that brings us to October 1917, the Bolsheviks have taken power. What does this mean for the Bund?
Elissa Bemporad: October for the Bund was a coup. The Bundist leadership is opposed to the storming of the Winter Palace, to the events of October. But you see how torn the leadership is between the wish to remain committed to the Menshevik camp that is opposed to Lenin, and on the other hand, to be part of the new government that is in the process of establishing itself, the Soviet government. So there is this appeal of power, of being in charge. This is when the split happens. You have many Jewish workers who were connected to the Bund who, in light of the events that follow October 1917, push for the Bund to realign itself closer to the Bolsheviks. So it’s pushing for a rapprochement between the Bund and the Bolsheviks. Yes, October represented for many Bundists a violent end to their political activities. Many flee to Poland. Many are exiled to Siberia. Many are not willing to make the compromise in any way with the Bolsheviks. And they are arrested and some of them commit suicide. But what we see is that the success of the Red Army, the revolutionary events in Germany in 1918, when it seemed that even Germany was turning red, unleash the hopes in a world revolution. Which before seemed to be so outrageous even to think about this from the vantage point of Mensheviks and Bundists. But in 1918, it seemed like things were changing. So maybe the Bolsheviks were right. It helps many Bundists to rethink their position vis a vis the Bolsheviks.
David: I’ve also read about many Bundists aligning with the Bolsheviks at least partially because of the protection that they received from the Red Army, during the pogroms that followed the revolution. Do you think that’s a relevant factor here too?
Elissa Bemporad: Yes. Just like the revolution of 1905 that unleashed this kind of anti-Jewish violence, the events of October 1917 will also unleash anti-Jewish violence, pogroms of the period that is known as the Civil War that goes from 1917 until 1921, that follows the Bolshevik Revolution of October, will unleash unprecedented anti-Jewish violence. Perhaps as many as 200,000 Jews were killed in different areas, primarily of Ukraine. The civil war is a chaotic war like all civil wars, but many Bundists agree that they have to choose the lesser of two evils. And actually as one Bundist leader put it in Ukraine: We are opposed to the Bolsheviks, but the Red Army offers protection to Jews from the pogroms carried out by Petlyura and the White forces. Of course, in parenthesis, we have to remember that the Red Army did also carry out a number of programs, but this was the minority of instances of anti-Jewish violence. And also the Red Army leadership did punish those who carried out these programs. So what is important to remember here is that for Jewish workers in particular, but also for the Bund, many leaders of the Bund including Esther Frumkin for example, the pogroms came to obscure this kind of theoretical difference between the Bund and the Bolsheviks that had always existed historically.
Sam: Right. And and so the October revolution is successful. The Bolsheviks are in power and the Bund decides to hold a conference in Moscow to try to determine how to move forward. What exactly happens at this conference?
Elissa Bemporad: So the 12th conference of the Bund takes place in Moscow in 1920, and that’s when the Bund splits. So what you have is you have a minority of Bundists and they establish a kind of short lived ‘social democratic’ Bund, which is not willing to make any compromise with Lenin and the Bolsheviks. It rejects Lenin’s rule as undemocratic, as a rule that will not accept ever the claim that Jews have national rights. But this is a minority, the truth is that this is a minority. On the other hand, you have the majority group of Bundists who join the Communists and establish the Kombund, the Communist Bund. What is interesting is that they hope that the Kombund can have the status of an autonomous organization. In parenthesis, we might assume a naiveté on their part because Lenin has been very clear since 1903 that he will not tolerate any kind of autonomy in the party, and now that he is in charge how could they have imagined that he would have tolerated an autonomous organization? And in fact the Kombund is basically liquidated in 1921 and most members of the Kombund decide to join the Communist Party. They are given the choice and it’s very dramatic actually. It takes place in a public space and the members of the Bund who had joined the Kombund march towards the red flag, you know, the Bolshevik flag, and accept the membership in the Communist Party.
David: So what happens to these now ex-Bundists, after they’re absorbed into the Communist Party?
Elissa Bemporad: What is interesting is that on the one hand, as we know, the Bolsheviks rejected entirely even the idea of Jewish national cultural autonomy. But on the other hand, they make what seems to be a compromise, and the idea of a Jewish nationality that can express itself through the Yiddish language and through a secular proletarian Yiddish culture is absorbed into Soviet thinking, at least during the 1920s. And to some degree, this satisfied, at least for some, the Bundist commitment to Yiddish education. You have the establishment of the Yevsektsiya, the Jewish section of the Communist Party, which is established in order to spread communism in Yiddish among the Jewish masses. It’s established in 1918, so a few years before the Bund is entirely liquidated together with every other Socialist Party. And there are some opposing positions in the Bolshevik camp who are very much not in favour of establishing the Yevsektsiya because they say this is like establishing a new Bund. So why are we establishing the Yevsektsiya? It’s a new Bund! So the fear of national autonomy. What I’m interested in is those Bundists who stayed and tried to make things work. Meaning that they tried to retain their allegiance to Bundism while forging this new allegiance to Communism.
Sam: So one person who seems to be emblematic of these experiences is Esther Frumkin, who was a prominent Bundist leader and revolutionary. Now, once the Bolsheviks had come to power and the Bund had been absorbed, how did Bundists like Frumkin fare in this new climate?
Elissa Bemporad: The Bund offered a very important springboard that led to upward mobility, that led to the potential of success, political success in the newly established Soviet society. So that we have many Bundists who actually leave entirely the work on the Jewish street. They’re not concerned so much with what will happen to the Jewish working class, which was one of the major commitments of the Bund. So think about Moisei Rafes, the leader of the Kombund in Ukraine. He moves to Moscow, he works in the Moscow Soviet, the city council, then in the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs. He will work for the news agency foreign department, the so-called TASS, and he will even work for the Sovkino, which is a Soviet film agency. So really, he has no connection whatsoever, he’s not involved with Jewish activities, affairs. So, you know, he became very successful. He was eventually arrested and purged in 1938 because of his Bundist past. Because even for those who Sovietized, those Bundists who Sovietized entirely and chose not to involve themselves in any way with Jewish work, and even became true believers in the system, their past caught up with them eventually. And many of them were purged. What I think is so interesting about Esther Frumkin is, yes, she is emblematic of the experience of Bundists, but she’s also extraordinary if we think about the experience of Bundists. First of all, extraordinary, because she’s the only woman who was a member of the central committee of the Bund who reached such a level of importance in terms of Soviet administrative work, political work. I mean she was appointed rector of the Communist University of the National Minorities of the West. She was in contact with the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Moscow. She was in contact, corresponding with communist leaders of different Communist Parties throughout Europe. So this is a very important position. But what is so interesting is that she remains committed to Jewish work, to working on the Jewish street, that many Bundists did not. I mean, they tried in the beginning, but then they moved away from Jewish work. She is editor of different publications in Yiddish, Soviet Yiddish publications. She plays such an important role in the Yevsektsiya, publishes extensively about Lenin in Yiddish, a biography of Lenin. Her work on Lenin was branded as ‘full of Bundist chit chat.’ Although she did move much closer to Leninism, especially at the end of the 1920s, she became closer to what we could refer to as a true believer in Leninism.
Sam: So for Bundists like Frumkin, who essentially converted to Leninism and then ended up in these significant positions in the Soviet government, were they protected from the purges of the 1930s? And then I guess more specifically, how did Frumkin’s story end?
Elissa Bemporad: So, Esther Frumkin is, first of all, she’s dismissed from her position as head, as rector of the University in 1936. She is dismissed from another position that she is given as head of Foreign Language Institute in Moscow in 1938. And then she is arrested. Of the leaders of the Yevsektsiya, every single one was arrested and purged. So it must have been very hard to think of the possibility of escaping arrest. So she must have revisited her choices of ravaging what she had helped to build. She must have realized the tragedy, and this must have been a tragedy for her, that Yiddish and Yiddishism, even this kind of secular proletariat Yiddish culture had become treyf for the Yevsektsiya and for the Soviet policies about nationalities. Yiddish was only temporary. And this must have been for her, a tragedy. So she is sentenced to eight years imprisonment and she dies in the camps, in the gulag, in Karaganda. She had diabetes and this is most likely why she died.
David: And something that we noticed is that she isn’t often memorialized by the Bund. But that the Soviet Union, you know the state apparatus that killed her, actually started memorializing her in the 50s. For Bundists like Frumkin, who renounced their Bundism and became part of the Soviet government, what do you make of the way that they’re remembered?
Elissa Bemporad: Yes, so as as you rightly pointed out, Esther Frumkin is rehabilitated by the Soviet Union in 1956. She’s not rehabilitated by the Bund so her name doesn’t even appear in Doyres Bundistn, Generations of Bundists, this very important collection of biographies of the Bund. So I want to start by saying that on the one hand, memory is shaped by geopolitics. So if we think about, you know, from the perception of a Bundist who fled the Soviet Union after October 1917, before 1921, who suffered, was sent to Siberia, who lost a fellow Bundist, and who then either reached the US or was in Poland, interwar Poland. From their vantage point, she is a traitor, right? Esther Frumkin, like Weinstein and other Bundists who stayed and worked with the system are traitors. So from that vantage point, one can understand why she was not included in Doyres Bundistn, which came out in three volumes, if I remember correctly the last volume comes out in 1968. So you know, this memory is very recent. Of course, I don’t agree with the fact that she does not appear. Especially you know, she was so active, this should be part of the history of the Bund, right? Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any memoirs by women about Esther Frumkin. Of course, there is this very well known Yiddish novel or fictionalized biography of Esther Frumkin by Lili Berger. What we have in terms of memoirs, it’s only by men. And in most of these recollections, she does not appear as a charismatic figure. She appears more as, you know its very gendered this memory, as hysterical, as very emotional. You know, Lenin himself referred to her as ‘the hysterical woman.’ So one of my goals in moving away from this kind of memory, this false memory of Esther Frumkin, is trying to give her back the charismatic role that she played before the revolution of 1917, as a committed Bundist. And after the revolution of 1917, as a beneficiary of the Soviet Union and Soviet society.
David: So I wanted to talk a bit more about this question of memorialization and memory. When when we think more broadly about how the Bund is remembered during this period, what do you think it’s legacy should be? What lessons do you think we ought to be drawing from this period?
Elissa Bemporad: So first of all, when we try to revisit this period, and move away from the politics of memory, I think that we have to try to analyze the choices made by members of the Bund and by leaders of the Bund in their complexity. I think that the Revolution did give former Bundists the chance to redeem themselves from the Bund, to really become actors in Soviet society. But this redemption could only be temporary. Anyone who stayed and decided to work or was forced to work with the system could be branded as an enemy of the system, especially if he or she had played a role in the Bund. And in the context of the Great Terror from 1936 to 1938, and actually the two years that lead up to the Great Terror, Bundism comes to serve the role of a code word for Jewish nationalism, even more than Zionism, I think. And this has to do with how close former Bundists could become, and in fact became, to Bolshevism. And in some cities, in some places, no former Bundists survived the purges of the great terror. Zooming in on the lives of these Bundists who decided to stay or were forced to stay, and decided to compromise or were forced to compromise, will give us some good material to take a step back from the choices and better assess.
Sam: So I think we’re going to end on this note of critical assessment. I want to thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us and helping David and I, as well as hopefully people listening to the show, to better understand this this complicated period in the Bund’s history.
Elissa Bemporad: My pleasure. Thank you. And you owe me some Montreal bagels!
Sam: (Laughs) My pleasure.
David: (Laughs) Most definitely! if you’re ever in town, please let us know.
Elissa Bemporad: Okay, good talking to you!
David: Wash your hands, put on your mask.
Sam: It’s time for Shkoyakh
David: Welcome to Shkoyakh, the segment on the show where we each give a thumbs up to something that we just really like, that we want to share with the world. And sometimes give a thumbs down.
Sam: Well that is a beautiful rendition of the Shkoyakh intro David.
David: Thank you.
Sam: Because you did such a good job would you like to start?
David: (Laughs) Sure. I want to give my Shkoyakh on this episode to an organization that I’m actually a part of, which is a group called Solidarity Across Borders.
Sam: Yeah it’s a wonderful organization in and around Montreal, it does terrific work. Most people know it as SAB or in the less flow off your tongue French acronym SSF.
David: (Laughs) Yeah. So Solidarity Across Borders, it’s a migrant justice network, it’s been active here for almost 20 years now. And the network is made up of migrants and those working in solidarity with migrants, and we organize together to support people confronting Canada’s border infrastructure and its immigration system. Committees engage in support work or popular education, and also political mobilization. So things like demonstrations, direct actions, things like that.
Sam: Well, I guess my question David, is kind of like, a ‘why is this night different from other nights?’
Sam: Which is that SAB is terrific, but but why exactly do you want to give a Shkoyakh today?
David: Right. Okay so obviously COVID-19 has had serious consequences for everybody but people who are forced into structurally vulnerable positions are obviously being hurt the most. And people with precarious status are forced to work in the lowest paid jobs, being highly exploited in really difficult conditions. They don’t have access to government services or social programs or any of these economic relief measures. And so for years, Solidarity Across Borders has maintained a mutual aid fund as part of its direct support work but also part of its efforts to build what we talk about as a Solidarity City. And since the start of the pandemic, the amount of need and urgency has been growing faster than what we’ve been able to fundraise. And if you’re in the area, there’s always work that needs to be done and ways for people to get involved. But if you have the means, it would go a long way to contribute to the fund right now, which is just in a moment of real urgency.
Sam: Well, you’ve answered my question very well, David. How could folks support if they’re interested?
David: So you can just go to Solidarity Across Borders dot org. You can learn more about the network and ways to get involved. And again, if you have the means, it’ll be very clear about how you can contribute financially.
Sam: Well, I’d like to double shkoyakh that and even give it a triple Treyf Shkoyakh.
David: What’s a triple Treyf shkoyakh?
Sam: Well, there’s your Shkoyakh, and there’s my Shkoyakh, and I feel like it’s time to bring out the collective Treyf Shkoyakh.
David: This brings up a lot of organizational questions. (Laughs)
Sam: Listen, trying times, we need to figure out new solutions. (Laughs)
David: But Sam.
Sam: Yes, David?
David: What is your Shkoyakh for this episode?
Sam: My Shkoyakh goes directly to everyone resisting inside of prisons across so-called Canada and Quebec.
David: Of course.
Sam: And to all the folks who are doing work outside of prisons to help release people inside.
David: Ah look at us, just plugging organizing today!
Sam: (Laughs) That’s just the kind of day, week, and month that it’s been.
David: Yeah, no for real.
Sam: It feels like this has been a similar script around the world but as the threat of COVID-19 became clearer in different parts of the world, most people in prisoner solidarity work realized the tremendous risk that that COVID posed inside. And people tried to warn those in power that this was going to happen and it mostly went unheeded. So in the last month or so, we’ve seen some pretty terrible effects. Across so-called Quebec and Canada, we’ve seen people die in certain institutions. Someone passed away at a prison about ten or fifteen minutes away from David and I, a couple days ago. And it’s been pretty intense inside.
David: Yeah. I mean, there’s been a lot of resistance inside. There was a hunger strike that happens in the migrant detention centre just outside of Montreal. And there was a hunger strike that just ended a few days ago in a provincial prison in Montreal.
Sam: Yeah, there’s been super inspiring actions across so-called Canada and Quebec inside. And people outside have been doing these caravans where people drive around the prisons, honk, make noise to kind of express solidarity with folks inside. So I want to give a massive Shkoyakh to the people who are resisting inside and people doing the solidarity work on the outside. If you’re living within so-called Canada, check out this new website, noprisons.ca, for more information about different kinds of organizing. There are a bunch of hashtags as well: #FreeThemAll, #FreeThemAllCaravan, #SoutienAuxDetenus. I’ll put a bunch of references in the show notes. So if people are more interested, they can check it out. But a huge Shkoyakh once again. These are such terrible times and I’m inspired and given hope by the work that people are doing.
David: Yeah. I mean, if you want to get a sense of what these solidarity caravans sort of feel like, our last episode is actually a broadcast of a live show that was going on during one of the first multi-city caravans that were coordinated to be at the same time.
Sam: Oh yeah, that’s a great point, David. Plugging our episode, yeah, go check out our last episode if you haven’t listened to it already.
David: So that’s two Shoyakhs for I guess the price of two Shoyakhs? Because that’s the regular way of doing it.
David: Is there anything else that we forgot to talk about?
Sam: No, nothing else for me. I feel like that’s pretty thorough for this month’s episode. And let’s end things on on a positive note.
David: That sounds good.
David: So that’s our show for today.
Sam: Yes. The first episode of the Bund series, really excited about it! Hope you enjoyed as well.
Sam: Treyf podcast is Sam Bick and David Zinman. A huge thanks to CKUT 90.3FM, where we usually record this podcast under the shadow of the giant cross of secularism on occupied Kanien’kehá:ka Territory.
David: Thanks as always to Saxsyndrum and Socalled for the music you heard in the episode, as well as JB Brager, who designed the art that we’re using for the Bund series.
Sam: You can follow us on all the social media at Treyf, T-R-E-Y-F. That’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
David: And you can send comments, suggestions or hate mail to treyfpodcast at gmail dot com.
Sam: More episodes soon.
David: People put bumper stickers on their cars? As a non car driver I don’t know how real that is.
Sam: It’s 1000 percent real. And I guarantee you that if you actually include this in the episode, people respond in the affirmative.
David: Wait, do you have a bumper sticker on your car?
Sam: I did when I was- I’m actually too embarrassed to mention it on the on live broadcast right now.
David: Wait, what did it say?
Sam: It was an I heart Bob Dylan sticker.
David: (Laughs) Oh, that’s cute!
Sam: Yeah, pretty beautiful story.