The final episode in our series on the Jewish Labour Bund! We first spoke with David Slucki about the ways the organization was reimagined after the Holocaust, with Bund chapters scattered around the world. We then spoke with Molly Crabapple about the Bund’s different legacies & what the symbol of the Jewish Labour Bund can mean for different people today.
Special thanks to JB Brager for the art we’re using for the series!
Episode 49 – The General Jewish Labour Bund Pt 3: Show Notes
- Treyf, ‘Ep 46: The General Jewish Labour Bund Pt 1’
- Treyf, ‘Ep 48: The General Jewish Labour Bund Pt 2’
- David Slucki Bio
- David Slucki, ‘The International Jewish Labor Bund after 1945: Toward a Global History’
- Molly Crabapple Bio
- Molly Crabapple, ‘My Great-Grandfather the Bundist’
- Molly Crabapple & Marwan Hisham, ‘Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian War’
- Jose Cha Cha Jimenez
- The Young Lords
- Pedro Caban
- YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, ‘History of YIVO’
- YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, ‘Bundism’s Influence Today‘
- Baruch Charney Vladeck
- Henryk Ehrlich
- Victor Alter
- Sophia Dubnow
- Irena Klepfisz
- Pati Kremer
- Arkadi Kremer
- Mikhail Liber
- Mahmoud Darwish, ‘Eleven Stars over Andalusia’
- Call for Nov 2020 Anti-Colonial Week of Action
- Treyf, ‘In the Streets: Shut Down Canada’
- Treyf, ‘In the Streets: 1492 Land Back Lane’
- 1492 Land Back Lane Legal Fund
- Gidimt’en Yintah Access Point Fundraiser
- ‘Secwepemc Say No TMX Solidarity’ Fundraiser
- Tiny House Warriors
- Tyendinaga Legal Fund
- ‘Ways to Support Mi’kmaq Treaty Rights and Livelihood Fisheries’
- Kitigan Zibi & Barriere Lake erect blockades to stop settler hunting
- Kanien’kehá:ka struggle against land theft in Kanehsatà:ke
- The Ransom Economy: What #ShutDownCanada Reveals About Indigenous Land Rights
Episode 49 – The General Jewish Labour Bund Pt 3: Transcript
Sam: I’m Sam.
David: I’m David.
Sam: And this is Treyf.
Sam: Welcome back to Treyf, the only Jewish podcast that aspires, and consistently fails, to maintain a balance of thoroughness and zaniness.
David: [Laughing] I guess that’s true, yeah. We’ve certainly been neglecting the wackiness for a while.
Sam: We have… I think it’s an important part of the show and kind of an important part of life sometimes.
David: Yeah, it’s true. I think it’s just, you know, it’s not a very wacky time in the world right now.
Sam: You’re a hundred percent right. And I think, I don’t want to box us in here, we’re not just thorough and wacky, we’re other things as well.
David: Many, many ways you could describe Treyf podcast.
David: So I guess with that said, buckle your seatbelts for what is sure to be a very non zany ride.
Sam: Not zany, but hopefully pretty thorough?
David: Yeah here’s hoping, because this is our third episode in our series on the Jewish Labour Bund.
Sam: Yeah, we’ve put in many many hours into this project, so I hope that at least some people will consider it thorough.
Sam: I wanted to mention that this is the third episode, [and] if you haven’t listened to the first two, those are episodes forty six and forty eight, check them out first. It’s probably smart if you don’t know what the Bund is or you just kind of accidentally happened upon this episode. And if people have made it past my introduction about the different parts, what does this episode focus on itself?
David: [Laughing] So for this episode we’re focusing on the Bund after World War Two, after the Holocaust, the postwar Bund. But also trying to talk about the legacy of the Bund and how it’s relevant today.
Sam: Exactly. And we kind of got an all star cast to meet both of those two needs. So we have Molly Crabapple on the one hand and David Slucki on the other, to kind of help talk about the Bund and what it means after the Second World War.
David: Yeah and for people who don’t know David Slucki, he’s a writer and an historian, he’s now written multiple books about the Bund, including his book, The [International] Jewish Labor Bund after 1945.
Sam: And Molly is an artist and activist based in New York City. She’s written multiple books, including a forthcoming one about the Jewish Labour Bund.
David: And without further ado, here’s your episode of Treyf for the 25th of Kislev, 5781.
David Slucki: I’m David Slucki or Slutski, depending on the context. Either is good. I’ve been a historian of the Bund for over a decade. I wrote a book about the Bund after World War Two, and the ways in which the Bund tried to kind of reimagine its role in the new postwar world. In 2019, I released my latest book, which was a multigenerational family memoir called Sing This At My Funeral: A Memoir of Fathers and Sons. And you know, one of the reasons I write about the Bund specifically is there is a kind of deep personal investment in telling the story of that movement, and trying to understand it because I am from three or four generations, depending which side of my family, of Bundists. So I’m sort of as well as like trying to come to terms with the question intellectually, I’m sort of investigating it in a personal sense. So that’s a kind of ham fisted version of me. [Laughing]
Sam: [Laughing] Well, thank you so much for coming on the show, David.
David Slucki: Thanks so much for having me. It’s a real thrill to be here.
Sam: We have you on because we wanted to talk about the version of the Bund that emerged after the Second World War. But before we talk about the post-war Bund, I wanted to ask you about how the Holocaust impacted Bundists and the Bund as an organization.
David Slucki: The first thing to say is that the Holocaust affected Bundists like everyone else. Bundists were targeted just like everyone else, murdered just like everyone else, put into ghettos. And so the Bund fared similarly to other Jewish organizations, Jewish movements within Europe under Nazi rule. I mean there’s something almost obvious about that, I think. But there are particular ways that we can understand the Holocaust affecting the Bund particularly. One is that the Bund was predominantly a Polish based organization. So although there were Bundists in other countries and Bund satellite chapters, its centre was in Poland, its most dynamic activities were in Poland, and 90 percent of Polish Jews were murdered, over three million. So the Bund’s base was murdered. And that sort of left the movement on its knees after the war. You know, this idea of responding to the needs of the Jewish masses, and representing the Jewish masses in Poland, that no longer existed. You couldn’t talk about the Jewish masses in Poland after World War Two. And so it had a kind of existential crisis because its centre had been wiped out. You know, not totally wiped out, that is not to discount the history of Jews in Poland after World War two. But, you know, the idea of rebuilding a Bund as it was, was not really feasible as they found out. So this is, I guess, the difference between the Bund and some other Jewish political movements, is that the Bund didn’t really have a base elsewhere. If it was going to rebuild, it had to start mainly from scratch, whereas other movements were kind of spread out in other ways. So like different Zionist Jewish movements had bases elsewhere that they could, you know, particularly in the Yishuv in Palestine, which already was its major centre. But yeah, when your centre is wiped out, it’s kind of difficult to then just carry on.
David Z: Right. And so where did Bundists mostly go after the Holocaust?
David Slucki: So the answer is everywhere. I mean, not everywhere, but in lots of places around the world. And they look different in different places. So what they claimed was that there were Bund chapters or branches or organizations in 13 countries, in something like 30 cities. And so that ranges from sort of more substantial organizations in Melbourne or Paris or New York or Buenos Aires, to kind of small little groups of Bundist families or friends in Montevideo or, you know, small cities throughout the United States and Canada. You know, obviously, Montreal was another centre of Bundist life. So like Holocaust survivors do, the Bundists kind of spread all around the world and set up lives wherever they are. And part of that is trying to reestablish something of what they lost through the war. They try and create some sense of home and family. And, you know, for many of these people, they had lost their families. So they didn’t really have, they didn’t often bring families with them. They had to create that anew wherever they went. And so what was familiar to them, these people often in their 20s, who had been reared in interwar Poland? And that is the population I’m talking about specifically. You know, they had this sense of family that had emerged as part of growing up in the Bund in Poland. If that was in the Bundist children’s organization, SKIF, if that was in the Yiddish schools, Tsysho, which were administered by the Bund and the left Poale Zion. If that was in the Medem Sanatorium, a kind of convalescent home for children in the countryside. You know, they had these kind of senses of familiarity that they wanted to recreate. And so they do that to a greater or lesser extent in different places. And part of that is recreating the Bund. And many of them, I should say, also were idealistic still, despite what they had experienced. So they, you know, many people still maintained an ideological commitment to Bundist values and ideas. And particularly the kind that they had grown up around in Poland. The Holocaust did not shake their idealism. And for some people, it kind of strengthened their commitment to the Bund. You know, they didn’t have this sense, well the Holocaust proved that the Bund was wrong. The Holocaust for many, proved actually that they needed to fight harder for Bundist values. So, you know, there’s kind of two poles of why they reemerge in new places. One is kind of familial identity, community, and the sort of need to belong. And one is ideology. They’re not ready to give up on what they had known before.
David Z: And did any of these places that the Bundists were scattered to get close to becoming a new Bundist centre?
David Slucki: So, I mean, New York became the kind of global centre. And that made sense because the most important leaders that made it out of Poland, they managed to make it to New York, many of them. And they sort of had established in 1941 a kind of American representation of the Bund. And their role was to basically advocate for Jews in Europe during World War Two, to bring information that had been filtering out from Nazi occupied Europe to the world. And so when the war finishes, there’s this kind of natural centre because the Bund leaders, many of the Bund’s most dynamic intellectuals, are already settled in New York. That’s where ultimately the World Coordinating Committee is based. That’s where some of its most celebrated intellectuals are based. But other people also go elsewhere. So Melbourne becomes a major centre. And not for the same reason where the major intellectuals go, but just because there’s this core group who really managed to recreate a sense of what was lost. There’s a reason why the Melbourne Bund is still really the only one that exists in a continuous way. I mean, there are Bundist groups in Paris and Tel Aviv, but the kind of continuity that the Melbourne Bund has is unique, I think.
Sam: Okay, so we have Bundists and Bundist chapters scattered around the world. And then in 1947 there’s this special world meeting that gathers them all together. I know I’m asking for a big thing here, but what did the Bundists talk about at this meeting?
David Slucki: So there’s kind of two aspects to this. The first is should the Bund even, should we even continue to maintain a Bund? And what does it mean to maintain a Bund? You know, does that make sense in the new post-war circumstances, in the sort of new world order? And the second part of the debate is if we do agree that there should be something like the Bund, what does it look like? How do you turn this organization that was really grounded in a place and reconstitute it to accommodate the new circumstance in which people are living? So that’s kind of two sides of the debate. So on that first one, I mean people are saying from as early as 1942, the world is going to be different and the Bund is not going to be the same as it was, and we need to shift our attention. So there’s this writer, YY Trunk, who’s a Bundist intellectual and a historian and and a wonderful author. And he says as early as 1942, we need to shift our focus now. And we can’t be so strictly focused on Marxism and Marxist ideas. We need to think a bit more broadly about what it means, given the Holocaust, to be part of this thing called the Jewish people. And so he says we need to actually come up with a new way of thinking and refocus our attention. And at the time, the Bundist intellectuals that are sort of dominating the public sphere, like the journals, are saying that’s fine, but like we’re materialists. We’re not interested in these like cosmic ideas of peoplehood, what we’re interested in is how to make poor Jews’ lives better. And yeah, maintain a sense of Jewish culture and Yiddishkayt, but the core thing is to apply a materialist analysis to the situation on the ground. And so by 1947, at the first international conference of the Bund, this is really like the core theme that they’re debating. And mostly people want to continue to operate in some way. Most people don’t want to see the end of the Bund altogether. And so they agree that there needs to be some way of continuing and supporting Bundist life in the new circumstances. One of the tensions is between those who remained in Poland, who were trying to rebuild the Bund and who still saw the Bund as a Polish Jewish movement. And they worried that creating a world Bund movement would undermine their efforts, would kind of take focus away from their efforts and dilute the meaning of what Bundism meant if you decentre it from Poland.
Sam: Right. And so what exactly comes out of that meeting?
David Slucki: So they basically create this kind of loose federation structure, where you have a world coordinating committee that oversees a kind of broad ideological program and helps provide support to those local organizations. But they also encourage groups in all the places the promised land to establish their own Bund organizations, and to operate with independence, to operate within the local framework, so to respond as appropriate to local issues. So the World Coordinating Committee isn’t interested in, you know, answering questions about the Australian Labour Party, for example. That’s up to the Melbourne branch of the Bund to deal with. But when it comes to questions of, is there a Bundist approach to Zionism, Israel, Jewish statehood? Is there a Bundist approach to the Cold War and the Soviet Union? Is there a Bundist approach to, you know, questions of ideology and Marxism? Sure, that is the purview of the World Coordinating Committee. Now it doesn’t always work out. Like when the Vietnam War broke out, the World Coordinating Committee, as you probably would expect, opposed US intervention in Vietnam. Surprisingly, the Bund in Melbourne supported Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Because so many of them were anti-communists, who had witnessed Bolshevism or Stalinism or whatever, so they wanted to contain the spread of Communism. So, you know, there are tensions occasionally that boil over. But for the most part, I think that structure works to help at least continue the movement for another generation or two. And to help create a new sense of possibility for what the Bund can be beyond interwar Poland.
David Z: Right. And so so that’s the beginning of the Bund’s World Coordinating Committee. How important was the World Coordinating Committee to what the Bund became during this time?
David Slucki: Generally, I think what the World Bund became was a kind of forum for Bundists to connect with each other. So I think one of the things about the Bund that kind of gets lost in some of the early scholarship on the Bund is there’s this idea that one the reason the Bund ultimately declines, and this is one of the things that I refute in my work, is because they were too ideologically rigid and they weren’t willing to adapt to the times. And, you know, I don’t think that’s true. In fact, I think the Bundists firstly grapple very deeply with the changing world around them, they grapple deeply with what it means to live in a post Holocaust world, what it means to live in the Cold War world, and what it means to adapt to dozens of new locations where they live. And they’re not monolithic. And so if you read the pages of the Bundists’ journals, there’s the one that is administered by the World Coordinating Committee, Unzer Tsayt, or Our Times, they have a lot of debate and diversity within the pages. So, you know, there are resolutions that they pass at each of their world conferences, roughly every decade. But I don’t think that the World Bund weighed heavily on Bundists around the world. Like if you’re a Bundist in Melbourne or Paris, mainly you were just engaged in your local movement. You might have subscribed to Unzer Tsayt or you would have seen it in a local Yiddish or Jewish library, but, you know, your investment in being a Bundist was because you sent your kids to the local Bundist summer camp or you participated in local activities. And so that world structure was really a support structure, I think. And it created this sense of like, you’re part of something bigger. So what they would do is they would send emissaries from the coordinating committee to local organizations. And I think this had some effect in energizing people and creating a sense of buzz. Some of these people were kind of like local celebrities within that world. You know, like it’s hard to imagine Avreml Kahan or Emanuel Scherer being celebrities, if you haven’t studied this stuff deeply, you probably don’t know those names. But if you’re a Bundist in the 1950s and 60s, maybe you knew them in Warsaw or Vilna or maybe you’ve read stuff that they wrote or, you know, maybe you were influenced by their ideas. But these visits, these emissaries, are really significant in making people feel connected. And it created this sense of like you’re part of something bigger. You know, they talked a lot about mispocha, family, you know, being part of a family, and that sense of mispochadikayt, like kinship was very strong. But I don’t know that they sort of operated in this like big ideological way where they had a big bearing on the ways in which those local communities operated.
Sam: Right. And and so did that structure create any tension between the World Coordinating Committee and the local chapters?
David Slucki: You know, I think partly there’s this divide between grassroots activism and the kind of more I would say highbrow intellectual leadership of the Bund that are really thinking deeply through these questions of Marxist theory and how it applies to Jews today. And, you know, and then you have these local organizations which are like, Okay how do we campaign for the local candidate in the city council election? You know, those things can coexist but I think there’s also some tensions between attitudes, in terms of what do we prioritize. So I think that exists to an extent. You know, these are people in really different circumstances. And the coordinating committee incorporates people from around the world, it had members from Europe and Australia and Latin America, but mainly it was centred in New York and the United States. And so if you live in Paris, versus if you live in New York, the kinds of ways you understand decolonization for example, are going to be different because they affect you really differently. The way you understand the Cold War is going to be different depending on where you live. So I think these tensions exist. But I don’t think they come too much to bear on why the Bund ultimately goes into free fall by the 80s and 90s as a world movement.
David Z: Right. And I want to talk about that free fall. But first, I want to talk a bit more about what you just said about decolonization. You wrote a bit in your book about this failure of business in France to oppose French colonial violence in Algeria. And it made me wonder whether the Bund were ever really able to grapple with the realities of French colonialism?
David Slucki: I mean, what was so tough about the situation in France for the Bundists is, you know, in 1956, when the government escalates the war in Algeria, it’s a socialist government. And the Bundists were aligned with the Socialist Party in France. And so they have this, it’s almost an existential crisis. You know, can they consider themselves relevant if they separate themselves from the sort of local socialist party? Some people argued at the time, one activist in particular who ultimately left Paris in the aftermath of it, argued that they failed to fulfill their obligations to oppose colonial violence. At the same time, the World Bund Coordinating Committee is criticizing the actions of France in Algeria, and they’re critical in the Suez crisis in ’56. And there’s all these sort of things going on where it’s kind of hard for French Bundists to navigate their feelings of obligation to ideology or ideas with what they see as their civic duties as French socialists. And I don’t think that they come out of it very well. And in some ways, it creates rifts within the French Bund. You know, France is also interesting because the French Jewish community is changing so rapidly as a result of decolonization, so there’s this major influx of Algerian, Tunisian and Moroccan Jews into France. That means that the sort of natural base of the Bund, that is Yiddish speaking East European Jews, are less and less representative of what French Jews are than they had been in the past. And so that’s a really interesting period in the French Bund and it all comes to a head over the Algerian war, I think.
Sam: You’ve also written about a cultural shift that took place among Bundists on the issue of colonialism in Palestine during this period. Do you see this as a similar dynamic?
David Slucki: No, I don’t think so. I mean, I think that as a sort of global movement, I mean, it wasn’t the same everywhere, I should say that. They didn’t approach it the same. But in 1955 at the Third World conference, so this is seven years after the establishment of Israel and seven years since the Second World Conference. So they had a period to kind of mull this over. They conclude, for the first time, the Bundists conclude that they are part of a world people, and they use the term world people. Previously they had had this, what I would say are kind of racist attitudes towards Jews in the Middle East and North Africa, sort of typical European attitudes, sort of an Orientalist view of Jews in those places. But in 1955, because of the changing world and changing circumstances, they sort of recognize that they are part of a world people. And part of that conversation is also Israel, they come to recognize is an important Jewish centre, is not the singular Jewish centre, and they have to come to terms with that, that it’s a reality. In 1948 at their world conference, you know, things were so fresh that it wasn’t the same kind of reality. But by 1955, they’re kind of coming to terms with that reality. So early on they were calling for a binational democratic state. And they sort of continued that idea, that okay Israel exists, but maybe it ought not be Zionist. And again, these terms are kind of porous, like what it means to say Zionist in 1955 is different to 48, is different to 2020. But what they meant was, it should be open to all the citizens that live there, that it should not consider itself a representative or a spokesperson of the Jewish world, and that it shouldn’t privilege Hebrew as the national Jewish language, and that was very important to them. So they really didn’t, I don’t think, view it through a colonial lens. They don’t see it through the terms of Israel as a settler colony in the way that they would look at Algeria. They’re not using that sort of theoretical framework to understand what’s going on in Israel. They’re sort of thinking about this dynamic situation in which Israel is increasingly a major Jewish centre, both in terms of culturally and politically and in terms of just sheer numbers of Jews that live there. So Bundist communities in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, especially by the end of the century, are extremely supportive of Israel and incorporate it as part of their Jewishness and Jewish identity. You know, like real life Bundists in the 1980s and 90s, were not anti-Zionist in the ways that people in 2020 imagine what anti-Zionism is.
David Z: Huh. I mean, do you think the Bund then was just generally unable to grapple effectively with colonialism?
David Slucki: I mean, possibly. Because I think they did have this, like I said before, these kind of typical in some ways European attitudes towards the colonized world. I cite things in my book where they talk in this debate about whether or not they’re part of a world people where they say, like, who do you really identify with? Do you identify with Pushkin and Mickiewicz and Dostoyevsky, or do you identify with some tribe of Abyssinian Jews? Right. There’s clearly this attitude that they have towards the colonized world that just reflects the attitudes around them. That is not to let them off the hook and say, well, it was just its era. I think, broadly speaking, Bundism, if we’re going to like talk about it birds eye, supported decolonization in the 1950s and 60s. But I think France is this example of where the kind of ideological imperative comes up against the desire to be relevant. Partly there is this sort of background of like maybe an ambivalence to colonialism. Although that would be an interesting project for someone to go back to the first half of the Bund’s life and like look at what they wrote about colonization. I haven’t done it and I don’t think it’s work that’s been done in any depth. But certainly after the war, I think broadly speaking, they supported decolonization. It just wasn’t maybe a priority in terms of their thinking. They were much more concerned about what was happening in Poland and Eastern Europe. They are much more concerned with the decline of the left in the United States and McCarthyism. They were concerned about Peronism in Argentina. Like colonialism, they had this big picture view of, but it wasn’t like a day to day thing that occupied them, except where it affected them directly, like in France.
Sam: So I wanted to get back to that free fall you were talking about earlier, that that the Bund really experienced during the 80s and 90s. Could you explain some of the factors that led to that decline?
David Slucki: Sure. I mean, I think that’s just like bigger historical process that they can’t fight. The decline of Yiddish as a vernacular is a major factor. And each movement, particularly the ones with youth movements, grapple with this. What is the role of Yiddish for children who don’t speak Yiddish as much anymore? Or for whom Yiddish might not be their first language, but something they learn in Sunday school? What is the role of Yiddish when it’s kind of a symbolic language rather than a daily spoken vernacular? So that becomes an issue for the Bund. And the question of how do you stay relevant as a kind of grassroots working class movement when your constituency is no longer working class becomes something that the Bund in many places just can’t adapt to. So the very first public talk I gave on this as a grad student in 2007 in Germany was called, and this is when I was a fan of alliteration, was called Marxist Millionaires in Melbourne. So I’ve been thinking about this a long time. About how, you know, what do you do when you’re a socialist who makes a lot of money because you own schmata factories? There’s some kind of cognitive dissonance I think that takes hold. The places where Bundists survive the most, like Melbourne, like Paris, is not because they stay Marxist. It’s because they kind of shift their attention to Yiddish language and culture. And they kind of reframe, I think, ideology in more social justice terms, rather than the kind of Marxian terms that the leaders of the World Coordinating Committee, you know the leaders of the World Coordinating Committee are still writing articles about Engels and Marx and Lasalle in their journals at a time when their members were not part of the working class Jewish masses anymore. So I think those are two big things. And also the decline of the left in certain places. Like if there’s no meaningful socialist movement in the major centre of Jewish life, in New York, what hope does the Bund have? At one point, the Bund was bigger than the Socialist Party in America. And there were discussions about the Bund absorbing the Socialist Party. It makes it difficult when you’re trying to fill this niche and the nation no longer exists in the way that it did before. And I don’t think it was because, as other historians have argued, that they were ideologically purist. I think the opposite, actually. They weren’t ideologically purist and that’s the thing that allowed them to progress longer than they might otherwise have progressed, because they were willing to adapt. Basically, to put it bluntly, they were just pushing shit up a hill in many places. And they got tired. And their kids didn’t want to continue pushing that shit up the hill. And so in lots of places, there just wasn’t that generational renewal. You know, in Melbourne, the Bund today is run by what I would call second generation and now third generation Bundists, people whose parents and grandparents founded the Melbourne Bund 70 years ago in 1950. And now it’s like the children and grandchildren of those people who run the organization. And that’s a story of success, where they could pass on that baton. But like, they all still live around the corner from their parents. If you’re in America and you go and take a residency as a doctor in, I don’t know, Cincinnati and your parents are in the Bronx, then what sort of Bund movement are you part of? I think there’s just like these cultural historical factors that make it really hard to establish continuity.
David Z: And to some extent, I imagine you’re also talking from experience. You know, not just as an historian, but as someone who was raised by Bundists. What did it mean for you to grow up in that context?
David Slucki: So, you know, I grew up in a Bundist family. That is my, I thought everyone kind of knew who Tobcie Dawidowicz was (laughter) and of course they didn’t. And I was probably an adult before I realized how weird that was, to grow up in a Yiddish socialist summer camp and youth movement in Melbourne, Australia. I learned Yiddish at school, my grandparents spoke Yiddish to me, you know, when I saw them several times a week. In some ways, it’s something I’m kind of passionate about and in some ways I’m ambivalent about. You know, passionate about it because I do see the project of the Bund as having contemporary relevance. And I think like anyone, we’re all looking for a usable past. This is this term historians use, a usable past. That is like some historical precedent that we can learn from, that we can cling onto, that we can adapt. That makes us feel like we’re part of something that stretches back deeper time than today. And, you know, I’m lucky, like I have this directly. But many people don’t have, or at least they don’t feel like they have it, and they haven’t been told they have it. You know, I was told a lot about being part of that link, being part of that, in Yiddish you call it a goldene keyt, the golden chain. But what does it mean to be a Bundist in a world in which the kind of circumstances that the Bund developed, thankfully don’t exist for me. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist for anyone. Right, that just means I don’t, and the people around me don’t, live in the same kind of poverty, among the same kind of anti-semitism that my grandparents lived with in their lives. And this is, I think, where this question gets real for me. What is the role of Yiddish and socialism and Bundism for my son, for whom this is going to be even more diluted? Like I still grew up in a world where people spoke Yiddish to each other every day. But he’s not growing up in that world, at least not the people around us. That’s kind of where my ambivalence lies, is I don’t know what that looks like in the future. So I try and live according to those values as best I can and teach my son and let them kind of infuse the work I do, both as a writer and as a university lecturer or professor in the US.
David Z: Right. But, you know, I’m also curious, coming from this background, how do you think about the legacy of the Bund today? And what you make of this renewed interest in the Bund right now?
David Slucki: I have no, like, illusions that um.. And I don’t think we ought to see like a big revival of the Bund as it was in Poland in the 1930s. But I do think there’s things that are relevant, like I think the Bund is a sort of forerunner, Bundist ideas are a forerunner of what we talk about as multiculturalism today and kind of cultural diversity. Like that is built in into Bundist ideas in the 1920s and 30s and in their cultural praxis, like that stuff is part of what they did. And the ways in which they imagine multilayered identities, the way you can be thickly Jewish and thickly whatever else you are at the same time, I think those provide great models for us. You know, I’ve recently moved back to Melbourne from South Carolina where, needless to say, there was no Bund movement except in my house. But I’m sort of glad to be back in a community in which these ideas still exist and still permeate daily life. You know, I’m empathetic to people who are dipping back into the past and looking to the Bund as a usable past. But I also have this kind of, in a way, ambivalence to it because I’m sort of relating to that history in a different way, being third generation Bundist or whatever, like I never used that term before. But I’m glad people talk about the Bund still. And I’m glad that, like on Twitter, I occasionally see these threads and debates about the significance of the Bund. And I usually stay silent and just watch them because I’m kind of interested in it sociologically. But yeah, I think it actually is kind of a complicated legacy because one of the things about the Bund is that you can map whatever you want onto their past because they were diverse, a more diverse movement than people give them credit for. They were more of a broad church, they had more political, ideological, cultural debate than the kind of caricatures might suggest. And so you can pick different points in the history and say, yes, this is the Bund that I identify with. This kind of anti-Zionism is what I identify with. This kind of Yiddishkayt is what I identify with, and what I learn from. And I think one of the challenges for someone like me as a historian is to say yes and, that is a part of the Bund or an interpretation of the Bund. And why are you invested in that in that way? And what is that telling us about the world in which we live in today, rather than the world of the 1920s and 1930s? So I have this personal investment, but I also have this moral and even professional obligation, I think, to take a step back and ask questions about this legacy and not just kind of roll with it.
Sam: Well, David, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us about the Bund.
David Slucki: Terrific. Thank you so much for having me. I was a lot of fun to talk about.
Molly Crabapple: Hey, my name is Molly Crabapple, I’m an artist and a writer living in New York City. I’ve written two books before, one a memoir and one a book about the Syrian war with the impossibly brave journalist Marwan Hisham. And right now, I am working on a book about the Jewish labor Bund and my great grandfather.
David: Well Molly, thanks so much for coming on the show, it’s really great to be talking with you.
Molly Crabapple: Oh, man. My absolute pleasure.
Sam: So David and I really appreciated the essay that you wrote about the Bund for the New York Review of Books, I think it was two years ago now. And I know that it came out of years of research and you’ve continued to research the Bund. To kind of start things off, how do you think your relationship to the Bund has changed during all of this research?
Molly Crabapple: Well unlike, I’m sure, everyone else that you’ve had on to talk about the Bund, I’m not an academic. I’m not a specialist in Eastern European history. As I studied the Bund more, I did learn to read Yiddish because you have to. But I came to the Bund looking for the story of my great grandfather and looking for the story of what it was like to be a Jewish broke-ass teenager who joins a revolutionary movement and finds himself sort of spun up in history. My great grandfather was a painter, he was someone who was almost like a father to my mom. He taught her how to paint and thus by proxy taught me how to paint. I grew up spending a lot of time in my great aunt’s house, surrounded by the thousands and thousands and thousands of portraits that he had done of himself. His carvings, his self published writing. He painted hundreds and hundreds of water-colour paintings about daily life in his hometown Vawkavysk, which is now in Belarus. And he had one water-colour that fascinated me. It’s this young woman and she has like a Gibson girl hairdo and she’s wearing a purple dress with a bustle and a corset. And she is walking down the street at night, throwing a rock through a window. And a guy, maybe her boyfriend, is standing next to her and he has a bag and he’s holding more rocks for her to throw so that she doesn’t have to get tired hauling her rocks along herself. And this water-colour was titled “Itka the Bundist Breaking Windows”. And I remember I looked at it when I was 19 and it was so different from anything that I thought a young Jewish woman in the shtetl would be doing, that I was like, what is this? What is the context of this? And what the hell is a Bundist? And that was how I got sent on this rabbit hole of studying the revolutionary movement that my great grandfather was part of. And of course when you study any real revolutionary movement or when you participate in any real activist movement, you find out that it is impossibly more fraught, compromised, complicated, beautiful, and terrible than you ever possibly could have imagined, that it’s never one thing, right? And I suppose that as I studied the Bund in all of its many incarnations, from underground Russian speaking anti-tsarist movement, to something that had participated in the Russian Revolution, to what it what it later was, which was a combination trade union, political party and cultural and paramilitary group in Poland to, you know, what it became in America, I suppose that yeah, I guess my relationship to it did change. And I started to see it as a far more, many coloured and varied thing.
David: Right. And you know, for us, after doing a lot less research for this series [laughing] and having all these conversations, we’ve been noticing a lot of parallels between the Bund’s approach and more contemporary revolutionary groups like the Black Panther Party or the Young Lords. Are these parallels that you are also noticing during your reading?
Molly Crabapple: Well, I’m half Puerto Rican. My father Pedro Cabán was one of the scholars who helped found Puerto Rican studies as a discipline. And when Puerto Rican studies was founded, it was a way of saying, like, we Puerto Ricans, we have history, we have culture, we are our own people, and we’re something valuable and worth studying. And, you know, Puerto Rican studies, it was not just launched with conferences, right, it was also launched with the occupation of university buildings. So it was something that came out of the self affirmation of some pretty oppressed people who were taking on power. And my father, of course, knew people who were in the Young Lords, though he was not himself in the Young Lords. And he always told me that the Young Lords influenced him to study Puerto Rico as opposed to, you know, anything else you could have studied as a young political economist. And when I read about the Young Lords, it reminds me so much of the Bund as it was in interwar Poland. When I would look at what the Young Lords was doing in Chicago and in New York, and what I would look at what the Bund was doing in Poland, I saw so many pretty direct parallels. You know, the Young Lords in Chicago, it came out of this moment when a lot of Puerto Rican and Mexican families were being displaced by Mayor Daley from Lincoln Park so that he could move in white suburban families who could pay more property taxes. And some of the first actions by people like Cha Cha Jimenez, who was the Young Lords founder, were actions to fight against displacement and against eviction. And this reminds me of when I was talking to this guy, he must be in his 90s, named Zenon Neumark, who ran guns for the Bund in Warsaw after the ghetto had fallen. And I asked him what he had known about the Bund before the war. And he tells me the Bund were who you would call when a Jewish worker’s family was being kicked out by the landlord. Because the Bund would send some of their guys from the militia to surround the building and put the furniture right back into the apartment and eventually, you know, quote unquote, persuade the landlord not to kick these people out. And another site that I saw tons of overlap was between Puerto Rican studies itself and what YIVO did in its founding days. These were both cultural disciplines that were launched by working class activist scholars, who came from minority groups that were constantly told that they were stupid and inferior and defective and inadequate, and that the very best thing they could do was assimilate into the majority culture, change their names and forget where they came from. And both YIVO and Puerto Rican studies were founded to say fuck that. By these working people from minority backgrounds, to preserve their own damn histories with rigour and with dignity, even at a time when the academy did not want to let them do that. The other pretty easy parallel is the emphasis on programs that the State wasn’t providing. Both the Bund and the Young Lords did daycare programs, for instance. They were both very devoted to this idea of community organizing for themselves, even if majority society had completely failed them. They also both liked to dress up in semi-military uniforms with jaunty jackets and maybe some headgear and to march around holding banners. I feel like that’s an important part of, you know, leftist youth culture in its early stages. [Laughing] And they also both are groups who are at least as relevant as symbols as they were political actors in the world. Like the Young Lords, in addition to what they actually did in the world, which was incredibly impressive, these people are also icons who, you know, even like a photo of them will stir feelings in a Puerto Rican who might not know the exact specifics of what they did in Humboldt Park or how they took over the United Spanish Methodist Church in East Harlem.
Sam: Yeah, I mean, one thing that’s become clear while researching for this podcast series is that the Bund’s value as a symbol is pretty significant. Do you think that when people do the remembering of the Bund today that they’re mostly engaging with this, like, romanticized symbol or fantasy of the Bund?
Molly Crabapple: I want to start off just sort of spelling out what I think the fantasy of the Bund is. This is my guess, maybe people have other fantasies about the Bund, but the fantasy about the Bund that I see is a muscly Jewish guy in a newsboy cap who is saying fuck the Zionists with one middle finger while the other hand punches a Nazi. Which is actually a good symbol. I think I’m going to probably diverge from most academics here, in saying that I think that there’s actually a great value to simplified and aesthetic symbols in politics. There are all sorts of people in the world who function primarily as icons, even if the people who are looking at them don’t agree with their actual politics. I don’t think that you have to agree or even know about every single complexity and ideological turn of a 70 year old political movement in order to make a really neat aesthetic symbol that you can bring to your life today. That being said, yes, there was more to the Bund than a sexy Jewish guy saying fuck the Zionists and punching a Nazi. Shockingly, right? [laughing]
David: Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting, though, because I also think about who is doing the remembering and who is really engaging with that symbol. And today, at least, the Jewish left tends to be made up of people with generally liberal politics. And the tension between those politics and the revolutionary nature of this symbol of the Bund is pretty stark. Like is that a tension that you’ve noticed?
Molly Crabapple: Oh, certainly. And it also is something that struck me about Bundists who came to America before the Holocaust. An example that I like to look at is Baruch Charney Vladeck. He was a major Bundist orator who had a scar on his face because he had been he had been fucked up by a Cossack. He had multiple prison terms, he lived under false papers. Vladeck wasn’t even his real name, Vladeck was his nom de guerre, right. And he flees to America after the failure of the 1905 revolution. And what does he become in America? He remains a committed socialist but eventually he becomes a member of LaGuardia’s housing administration. And in New York, the Vladeck houses, which are I think extremely nice public housing, I’ve canvased there, are named after him. And they were done in his honour because of his commitment to creating nice housing for poor sweatshop workers, like where he came from. And there are a few reasons for this but I think one of the biggest reasons is that while, of course, there was a lot of anti-Semitism in America, America was not created specifically to fuck with Jewish people. America was built on murdering Indigenous people and enslaving Black people. So the constraints and the violent racism that Jews faced in America has never been parallel to what Indigenous or Black people faced here. However, if you were a Jew in Russia, that was not the case. Jews in Eastern Europe faced murderous violence all the time. Jews occupied a very different space in Russia and Poland. And so what they needed to do to live with dignity and what they needed to do to protect their lives and themselves was very different than what they needed to do in America. And I think that that’s one of the primary reasons that a lot of Jews have become like nice liberals. It’s that you actually can live a pretty decent life as a Jew in America, whereas I think that that option was not available for young Black people that came out of the milieu of the Panthers. And so their answers were much more revolutionary in America. That’s not to say that if those same young Black people were able to move to a country where they did not experience racism, they wouldn’t become nice liberals there too, right. When groups are able to organize openly, they often kind of mellow because you can organize legal trade unions, you can get bent out of shape about where you’re going to rent an office and what’s going to be on your banner. Whereas if your group is strictly illegal, like it was in the milieu that the Bund came out, you lived at every moment with arrest and even execution hanging over your head. I think it leads to a very different way of thinking.
David: Right. And I think there’s a thing that happens too, where, you know, the post-war Bund politically drifts in directions that often then clashes with the revolutionary symbol that we’re talking about. You know, we could look at this a lot different areas. But I was wondering if you think specifically the Bund’s post-war positions on Palestine eventually became at odds with the anti-Zionist symbol of the Bund that so often invoked today?
Molly Crabapple: Well I mean I think it was very different, right? Because it’s one thing if you’re saying, should hundreds of thousands of Jews move to Palestine, ethnically cleanse it and create a Jewish state? That’s one question, right. And the Bund was like, no. Absolutely not. But another question is, there are hundreds of thousands of Jews in the land that was Palestine and some of them are our family and they had to go there because the only alternative was rotting in a DP camp. What should we do now? And they instead lobbied for the right of return for Palestinian refugees and for legal equality between Palestinians and Jews. And if you read about the demands that the World Organizing Committee of the Bund made in 1948, they’re not actually essentially dissimilar from the demands of BDS. They demanded the immediate right of return of Palestinian refugees that had been driven out during the Nakba, and they fiercely denounced the Zionist militias for driving Palestinians out. They demanded a secular non-clerical state in Israel and full equality between Jews and Palestinians. After 1967, they called for an immediate withdrawal from the land that Israel had occupied then. These positions are not dissimilar from, I think, the correct positions now. They were just simply positions that no one wanted to listen to. And the Bund was a small, materially impoverished organization in Israel. It didn’t have enough money at one point to even get on the ballot.
Sam: Yeah. Um, so then when you think about the legacy of the Bund, what complicates it the most for you?
Molly Crabapple: The deeper question that I puzzle with a lot myself with the Bund, and this is something I don’t have answers with, is I think the great tragedy of the Bund is the Bund was an organization that truly, truly believed in the decency and the goodness and the fighting potential of the non Jewish working classes. I remember an essay by Henryk Ehrlich where he I think, well he was writing it after the Nazis came to power but I forget if he was writing it in Poland before the invasion, but he’s telling Jews, don’t think you’re the only victims of this, what about the German working classes who are being crushed under the boot of Hitler? And I’m just reading this and I’m like, man, you thought too good of the German working classes, Henryk Ehrlich. Like, I don’t think they had the solidarity, by and large [that] you thought they did. I mean, to me it’s not a failing of the Bund, but it’s a problem with anyone from a persecuted minority group who is trying to take part in a universal struggle. Like what do you do when the majority is just too fucking racist and leaves you to die? It’s something that I struggle with because the Bund, even though they were people who were very, very devoted to the Jewish working classes and they were very, very devoted to Yiddish, they were also people who were devoted to the global struggle of workers. Bundists fought in Spain, right. Victor Alter set up an illegal radio station to broadcast news into Germany so German workers could listen to it. Former Bundists like Vladeck, when they formed the Jewish Labor Committee, which was devoted to helping get people out of Nazi Germany, the first people they were getting out of Nazi Germany were not Jews. The first people they were getting out of Nazi Germany were German Aryan trade union organizers who were being persecuted by Hitler. They spent tons of time, I mean I went through their archives, not just rescuing Jews from the war, though they saved a lot of Jews, but also rescuing Spanish anti-fascists and Italian anti-fascists who were in danger. This was a group with profoundly universal values but they ultimately came up against the fact that as a minority party, they could not save themselves in Poland. No minority group could save itself from the Nazis.
Sam: Yeah… But then what part of that echoes the most into today for you?
Molly Crabapple: For me, the reason that I continue to be so inspired by the Bund and the reason I’m devoting so many years to writing about them is their vision of political activism is one that is incredibly relevant today. It’s basically that you can be an internationalist, you can fight for freedom and for dignity and for socialism all over the world without subsuming yourself, without forgetting where you came from, without forgetting your community and abandoning it, without changing your name or changing your language. That we can all be ourselves while also fighting for everyone. I mean, to me, that’s something that’s incredibly, incredibly resonant. And I think it’s something that the left is trying to work with now. I mean, just the fact that there would be like, you know, a Latino caucus in the DSA. Right, or like an Afro Socialist caucus. I mean, that’s something that is not dissimilar to what the Bund was trying to do at its founding, right, which is that we can be part of a larger socialist group that’s for everyone but without forgetting ourselves and our own interests. And when the Bund was trying to do that at its formation, that was something that was incredibly looked down on. Plekhanov called them Zionist’s with sea sickness. And the idea that you would focus on Jewish issues was seen as stupid and ghettoizing and dividing the working class and, you know, something really pretty much beneath contempt. Whereas now I think that most people would acknowledge that you can both fight for socialism in the general sense, but also fight for your own community.
David: Yeah. And I mean, you know, I don’t generally agree with that characterization of the Bund, but I do have to say that Zionists with seasickness is a pretty terrific insult.
Molly Crabapple: It’s a good burn. I mean, they were all such assholes. Like you should, it’s really pretty amazing if you read these things. There’s this point where Trotsky says to Mark Liber, the Bundist, he says, well, I’m a Jew and I don’t consider you my representative. And Mark Liber says, well, that’s because we’re the representatives of Jews who work. Because Trotsky, you know, came from a wealthy family [Laughing]
David: [Laughing] Right. And you know, something that I’ve noticed is that so many of these stories about the Bund, or at least the ones that we’re hearing about, they generally tend to revolve around men. Which is a bit surprising to me, just given how much we’ve heard about how central women were to the Bund. And so it’s just making me think about how Bundist women are remembered.
Molly Crabapple: Yeah, this is an issue that’s very tied in with Yiddish. Almost everyone who speaks Yiddish now as a mother tongue comes from, you know, the Haredi or Hasidic communities. And in general, those communities are not very interested in the Bund because the Bund were militant atheists, right. So that leaves a very small amount of people in this world that speak Yiddish and would have any interest in reading about the Bund. Almost all the writing that the Bund produced about itself is in Yiddish. All of the biographical dictionaries, their like memorial album that they put out at the Russian Revolution, their five volume history set, their newspapers. They did some stuff in Russian and Polish, and when they came to America, they did some stuff in English, and they did some stuff in French, and even Spanish when they were in Argentina. But in general, this was a Yiddish speaking org. And that means that you have these books that have the most fabulous stories of women in them, stories of women who led self-defense brigades on the streets of Odessa to battle Cossacks, stories of women who ran guns, stories of women who snuck onto the decks of the Battleship Potemkin during the 1905 revolution and agitated soldiers. Stories of more brave, exciting, sometimes martyred, brilliant, daring, rebellious feminist women than you can possibly count. And all those stories, by and large, with a few exceptions, are in Yiddish. And they’re locked up in out of print Yiddish books that you can pretty much only get from like the Yiddish Book Center. And this leaves someone who has casual interest, who isn’t going to spend years learning Yiddish, it leaves them with the stuff that’s written in living languages. There’s one book on the women of the Bund that’s written in German, there is one book that’s in English by a woman who was a Bundist courier in the Warsaw Ghetto, and another book that was written by Sophia Dubnow, who is the wife of the Bund’s leader in Poland that was put out by her family, but it’s long out of print. But other than that, if you’re an English speaker, pretty much your only encounter with Bundist women is going to be through the works of feminists like Irena Klepfisz, who wrote a beautiful essay about Yiddish speaking women, Bundist women amongst them. However, if you were just reading books about the leaders, all of those books that are in English are about male leaders. And women factor into them incredibly, incredibly peripherally, if at all. And so one of the reasons that I determined that I was going to learn to be able to speak Yiddish is I was just so frustrated with the idea that I would write something about the Bund and I would essentially, because of my linguistic inability, have left out the stories of all these amazing women, right.
David: And so are there are there any stories of Bundist women that you’ve come across in your research that that comes to mind?
Molly Crabapple: Oh God, yeah. I mean, I just finished reading the memoirs of Pati Kremer, who’s the wife of the Bund founder, Arkadi, and also reading all the stuff about her and her biographical dictionary. And one of the things I loved about it was just all of the nitty gritty conspiracy of revolutionary life. Like Pati was a dentist and she had become a dentist because being a dentist was one of the few jobs that let you get a residency permit to live in St. Petersburg if you were Jewish. And she had this little dental shop and revolutionaries from out of town would come in and she’d put them in the dental chair and then she’d blindfold them. And then all the other people would come out of the back room and they’d have a meeting while this guy is blindfolded. [laughing] Oh, she has this one hilarious story about, this is before her and Arkadi were Bundists, this is just when they’re like hipster students in St. Petersburg. And they have like a discussion circle and they decide that they’re going to discuss the ‘problem’ of sex workers. It’s always a bad road when, you know, young intellectuals go on this road. And they decide that they’re going to educate sex workers about socialism. And so Arkadi goes out into the street at night and he’s going to approach a sex worker and like, bring her back so that the girls can talk to this woman about socialism. But he’s too socially awkward and fails to approach anyone. And his friend does eventually bring back two girls who Patti mentions, listen to their lectures with disgust, and then ask them for some money to survive and said they’re going to bring back more of their friends to listen to further socialist lectures. But then the girls just take all their money and disappear. So that that was a promising, a promising start to proto Bundist activism was happening there.
Sam: [Laughing] Yeah, there’s a whole lot to unpack here, but I think we’re going to kind of move on to the ‘bigger reflections on the Bund’ portion of this podcast. Um with all of the research and conversations that you’ve had, what do you think the major lessons are that you’ve taken from reading all of these stories and these histories?
Molly Crabapple: I think one of the first lessons is how they provided a complete culture for people in Poland. And it was a culture that people wanted to take part in. Like it wasn’t just that you attended lectures on Marxism, you also went to really cool dances where there were like really hot, liberated girls that were there. It wasn’t just that you marched at demonstrations, There were also choirs and camping trips and, you know, all sorts of like fun things to do. So for me, that’s one of the first things, that a political movement needs to create a complete world that people can dip into, that’s natural and organic and is not pretentious and that’s accessible, and that meets people where they are and what they’re interested in. I mean, they had one of the most popular sports clubs in Poland. They were really into gymnastics and boxing and bike riding and stuff. Another lesson is that I do definitely believe that people should organize within their communities, but that that will ultimately be futile unless you have really strong links with what, for lack of a better word, I would call like universal groups, groups that aren’t confined to any one community in particular. I mean, one of the reasons that the Bund was so instrumental in the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt was that they had serious links with Polish comrades on the outside, you know, people who could get them weapons and smuggle out their newspapers. So you can’t be entirely insular and be successful, but you also shouldn’t actually just forget and abandon the community that you come from. A third lesson, I would say that this was a lesson for for people in the majority culture, which is that if you don’t want people to join violent separatist movements, which is what I consider Zionism to be, you actually have to act in solidarity with them and not just abandon them. And I think that there’s been historically a great deal of abandonment by people from privileged groups. And I think that solidarity is the best way to inoculate all of us against violent and supremacist movements.
David: And, you know, just to sort of wrap up this question about the symbol of the Bund versus the history of the Bund, what do you see as the main relevance of the Bund’s different legacies today?
Molly Crabapple: I guess one of the things that I would say is [that] very often when I see people now discussing the Bund, they’re very literalist about it. They’re either, we should exactly resurrect the Bund 100 percent as it was then, with newsboy caps and Yiddish. Or else it’s, the Bund’s entirely irrelevant and why would we even look at that? The material conditions are totally different and you’re not getting the complexities of the things that happened in Chernov in 1908 and blah, blah, blah. And perhaps because I’m an artist, I take a slightly different view on it, which is that movements, they can rest for a while and then be taken up by new people and their meanings can be transformed and they can inspire people in new struggles. And you never know exactly what those struggles or what those uses will be. And in my book, I start my book off with a quote, not by any particular Bundist, but by Mahmoud Darwish and his poem, Eleven Stars over Andalusia. And I’m paraphrasing here because I’m forgetting the exact lines. But my paraphrase is, we will search for our history in the margins of your history. And for me, that’s what studying the Bund is like. It’s like studying this movement that was at one point incredibly powerful, that was crushed by two of the most violent forces in history, right, Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany. And then was deliberately erased by Zionism. And yet it still exists and still haunts the present and it’s still laced everywhere. And I think that those ghosts have all sorts of value that’s far beyond the literal. And we don’t know what struggles they will inspire.
Sam: Well, I think that’s a perfect note to end on, Molly. Thank you so much for taking this time to talk with us about the Bund and and your reflections on its legacy.
Molly Crabapple: Oh man, it was my absolute pleasure. There’s nothing that I enjoy more than riffing on the victories and foibles of this particular group of people.
Sam: Put on your earmuffs, strap on some long johns.
David: It’s time for Shkoyakh.
Sam: Welcome, everyone and all listeners to the Shkoyakh segment of our program.
David: Thank you, Sam.
Sam: [Laughing] No problem.
David: I feel very welcomed right now.
David: What do people need to know about this segment?
Sam: Well, I think the two key things that people need to bear in mind when entering the Shkoyakh segment is that it is both thorough and zany.
David: It’s all about that balance of zaniness and thoroughness [laughing].
Sam: [laughing] It might just be a theme of the episode, I don’t know.
David: Yeah, I think unfortunately, again, this is going to be a very un-zany segment.
Sam: Yeah. I mean, for true Treyf heads, those who’ve listened for many years, it’s very clear that Shkoyakh is a place that holds a lot of zaniness normally, so even if we’re thorough today David, there’s a long memory of zaniness that persists through the segment.
David: Yeah, rest in power.
David: So, Sam.
Sam: Yes, David.
David: What is your shkoyakh for this episode?
Sam: I have a two parter. One is more on the emotional register and one is more on the kind of like weirdo Sam register.
David: [Laughing] Okay well, let’s start off on the emotional register.
Sam: All right. I want to give a shkoyakh to the people in my life, like my partner Miatta, but a bunch of other people. You’re definitely on the list, the person you live with is on the list. There’s a long, long list David, of people who have kind of like helped me figure out that emotional register.
Sam: I think I spent a good chunk of time in my life thinking I knew about emotions because I was thinking about them, but not really feeling and understanding them. And so I want to give a big shkoyakh to everyone who’s kind of helped me start to even understand that the register exists. [Laughing]
David: Well that’s a really nice shkoyakh.
David: Is there anything that you want to share about what that journey has been like? I imagine there are many people probably listening who are probably on similar journeys themselves.
Sam: I mean, the one thing that comes to mind, is that yesterday I was walking with our mutual acquaintance, she’s been a friend for a really long time. And I was just kind of saying how one thing that I just need to always remember and kind of want to keep remembering until I’m not alive anymore is just the humility piece of things. Like being humble that at twenty five I thought I knew what was going on and I had no idea what was going on. And so right now I probably think I know what’s going on and I probably don’t know what’s going on. Whereas I am able to dot all my I’s and cross my T’s in the intellectual realm, but I’m like a rookie on the more… in the emotional realm side of things. Or like I didn’t even know what that would mean.
David: Right. Like not assuming that you know about what you’re feeling or how you’re operating.
Sam: Exactly. Yeah, being humble to the fact that I’ve spent thirty plus years living and not being super tapped into the emotional side of it, it feels very humbling, right.
David: Yeah. Well I’m glad you’re there now!
Sam: Me too. And I kind of want to tie it up by saying shkoyakh to everyone in my life, yourself included, who have really helped.
David: That’s a very nice, sincere, heartfelt shkoyakh! So if that’s the emotional register, what is the other register?
Sam: I mean it’s weird because this one hits on the emotional register too a little bit. It’s about seltzer, David.
David: [Laughing] Something dear and close to your heart.
Sam: Exactly, exactly. There is a horrible corporation in Canada that has made the first kind of innovative seltzer that I’m a big fan of. And so I both am frustrated that they are making it and also happy that it is a consumer choice that I am able to make occasionally.
David: What’s the name of the company?
Sam: um -CENSORED- [Laughing]
David: [Laughing] Oh wow, we can’t promote them on here!
Sam: Um in the clearest way that I can describe it to you without cosigning a major corporation, I would say that there is now carbonated water that is soda flavoured, and I am very fond of it and it is accessible to me and I am very happy about that fact.
David: Okay, let’s back up for a second. You are giving your shkoyakh to a company that we are not going to mention, it’s a secret company-
Sam: -Because they’re demons.
David: [laughing] That’s very fair. And the product that they’re making is not soda, it’s seltzer that’s flavour is soda flavour?
Sam: One hundred percent, David. It sounds weird but it is fantastic.
David: And so what are the… what’s so great about it?
Sam: Just imagine like a Coca-Cola flavoured seltzer or maybe a Sprite flavoured seltzer. It’s really tasty, especially when it’s cold. So again, it’s a massive corporation so they don’t really get a shkoyakh. But I am giving a shkoyakh to feeling good about having good seltzer, I guess?
David: [Laughing] Yeah, although it seems like this product might be controversial among seltzer purists.
Sam: That is for an entirely different podcast, David. So to keep the ball rolling, what is your shkoyakh?
David: So to keep this theme of multiple registers, my shkoyakh is on the register of political struggle.
Sam: Shut the front door, David.
Sam: Wait, you’re saying that you’re going to talk about something that’s happening on a political register right now?
David: Who would have thought? On this podcast?
Sam: People who are listening, if you’re shocked you can send us an email, treyf podcast at gmail dot com. This is a first, I know.
David: I know, it’s breaking new ground for the show. But my shkoyakh is to everyone on the frontlines of Indigenous resistance that’s taking place right now, resistance to the ongoing violence of colonialism and genocide, specifically where we live, in so-called Canada. There are all these expanding front lines going on around this right now. And I just wanted to give a shkoyakh to everyone doing the difficult work of keeping this resistance going right now.
Sam: All right well, I mean, obviously Treyf Podcast has very few clear party lines but one of them is pretty strong support for Indigenous resistance across the areas that we’re living. But what is it about what’s going on right now that makes you want to give Indigenous resistance your shkoyakh right now?
David: So for for some brief context for new listeners, in January there was this enormous ‘Shut Down Canada’ mobilization. First in support of the Wet’suwet’en struggle against the invasion of their territory by the RCMP and Coastal Gas Link, but then it started to expand beyond that. You know, police were attacking indigenous communities who were acting in solidarity, which then led to even more actions in response. But then the pandemic hit. And so mass gatherings weren’t as possible and some attention shifted away from the colonial violence which has only been continuing if not escalating since then. And resistance has continued too. And so on the day that we’re recording this, it’s the end of a week of action that was called by multiple Indigenous communities who are on the front lines, in active struggle, and put out a united call for support.
David: So this came from folks at the Gidimt’en checkpoint on Wet’suwet’en territory, the Tiny House Warriors on Secwepemc territory, the 1492 Landback Lane camp on Six Nations territory, Mi’kmaq folks out East fighting for their fishing rights, people from Kitigan Zibi fighting for a moose hunting moratorium, really coming from struggles all over so-called Canada.
Sam: All right, great. So this is your shkoyakh of the month. Are there particular things that you think people who are listening to the show should be doing, should be reading, should be engaging with?
David: Yeah, I mean the week of action will be over by the time this comes out but all of these struggles continue to need support, whether it’s financial support, the ongoing calls for solidarity actions, or just helping bring attention back to what’s going on. And we’ll have links in the show notes with more information about how you can tap in.
Sam: Yeah, and like we say on the show fairly frequently, figure out what’s going on where you’re living and try to get involved in that.
David: But again, I think we have found ourselves out of balance and not very zany.
Sam: [Laughing] Well stay tuned, hopefully in future episodes we are going to bring some more zaniness to the segment.
David: That’s a good intention for the for the future.
David: So that’s our episode for today! Thanks as always for listening to the show.
Sam: Yeah, and I wanted to thank Molly and David for talking to us. And in fact, everyone in the Bund series who has taken time to help David and I better understand and be able to convey some of the histories of the Bund.
David: Yeah, it was it was very educational. And hopefully this is something that’s helpful to other people too.
Sam: God willing [laughing].
David: If you like the show, tell your friends about it! We don’t really advertise the show, I don’t think social media companies even allow us to advertise it anymore.
Sam: No, they do not.
David: [Laughing] So it’s really the only way we can spread the word. So, you know, post about it on Twitter dot com or tell somebody on Friendster…
Sam: Wow David, you dated yourself like thirty two years there. Did you ever use Friendster? What is Friendster?
David: Yeah, I had a friend on Friendster.
Sam: All right, we’ll talk about this off air. But yeah, tell your friends, give us a positive rating on iTunes. Five stars, five stars, five stars. I think it’s called something else now, and that was two or three years ago so we are just, I am just dating myself as well, I apologize. I haven’t been paying attention to the pulse and the current all the time, you know? But anyways, tell your friends and disagree with us if you want by email treyf podcast at gmail dot com.
David: Oh yeah. We love hate mail…
Sam: I don’t think I necessarily want hate mail, that’s never fun. But meaningful critique is something that I think we’re both super open to so send that over. If you’ve been holding back and worried, please send it over, we’d love to chat about it.
Sam: Treyf podcast is Sam Bick and David Zinman. A huuuuge thanks to CKUT 90.3FM, where we traditionally record our podcast under the shadow of the giant cross of secularism on occupied Kanien’kehà:ka territory.
David: Thanks as always to Saxsyndrum and Socalled for the music you heard in the episode, as well as everybody who helps make Treyf Podcast happen.
Sam: You can follow us on all the social medias at Treyf podcast, that would be T-R-E-Y-F. Which means Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And David and I will talk about Friendster after this recording and maybe we will get a Friendster as well.
David: [Laughing] Yeah. And you can send us comments, suggestions or hate mail to treyf podcast at gmail dot com.
Sam: More episodes soon.