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Yiddish-speaking libertarians in France

category france / belgium / luxemburg | history of anarchism | opinion / analysis author Friday January 12, 2007 18:14author by Jean-Marc Izrine Report this post to the editors

This is a brief extract from the book "Les Libertaires du Yiddishland" by Jean-Marc Izrine, which traces the history of the Yiddish-speaking anarchist movement throughout the world. This section deals with the situation in France in the early 20th century.


Les Libertaires du Yiddishland

Yiddish-speaking libertarians in France


In the pletzl (Marais) and in Montmartre in Paris, Jewish anarchists had a real influence. In 1907, police reports indicated the presence of about 450 anarcho-communists, an enormous figure if one realises that the immigrant Jewish population living in Paris at the time was about 20,000.

As in England, anarcho-syndicalism developed among sub-contracted workers in the clothing trade and spread to other "Jewish trades".

There were several strikes among beret-makers, hatters, tailors and bakers under the influence of the syndicalist movement. The furriers also had a strongly anarchist section.

After 1880, Jewish workers' societies were created on the initiative of socialists and anarchists, with little distinction between the two. But the peculiarity of Jewish syndicalism in France as far as anarcho-syndicalists were concerned, was the creation of immigrant locals attached to the CGT. This was necessary for a number of reasons:

  • Language: Jewish immigrants had great difficulty learning French and needed to communicate between each other in order to understand the social situation they found themselves in or had to endure.
  • Working conditions: The over-exploitation they endured made their trades something of a special case.
  • Class relations: Most of the bosses they worked under were themselves Jews. This therefore led Jewish workers to stand alongside the exploited class, thereby rejecting the false spirit of paternalistic, communitary solidarity of their bosses.
This particularity was not always understood by native French workers, who took a very dim view of the immigration of cheap workers. But real ties nonetheless existed, most notably with the French anarcho-syndicalist militants such as Monatte, followers of a mass current within the CGT. Ideological agreement played a large role in bringing the workers together, though it was not easy, given the fact that part of the workers' movement and its leaders were imbued with a certain anti-Semitism.

The divisions between socialists and anarchists began to appear around 1890. In 1893, the anarchists formed a specific group. On a cultural and political level, there was a Yiddish libertarian theatre group, libraries were set up and meeting places (restaurants) were established by sympathizers or militants. The organization of support for Dreyfus in Jewish circles in Paris was carried on mostly by anarchists. At the only public meeting of Jewish workers in 1899 on this question, Henri Dhorr, who wrote for anarchist newspapers, was one of the speakers.

Anti-Yom Kippur balls were also regularly organized. The desire to maintain links with the Parisian and international libertarian movement was a constant preoccupation. A Yiddish-speaking anarchist federation existed between 1908 and 1910 but though a good many contacts were formed with Italy and Britain, it was unable to grow and finally folded. Many militants prepared to return to Russia in Paris, which was also a magnet for the many political refugees coming from Russia.

Anarchists remained influential in the period between the two world wars. An anarcho-communist group, the "Fraye Socialistes" (Free Socialists), produced a journal called "Arbeter Fraind" (The Worker's Friend) between 1924 and 1926 following the example of the journal produced in England which had ceased publication in 1922. This group also translated into Yiddish the works of libertarian writers. A Jewish anarchist library known as the "Selbst lerner" (Self-taught) also existed during this period. In the 1930s, other produced a magazine known as the "Fraye Tribune" which, in 1936, became the "Fraye Yiddishe Tribune".

After the Second World War, there still existed a group publishing the journal, "Der Frayer Gedank" (Free Thought). One of its members, Jacques Dubinsky, was the prime mover behind an association known as the Friends of Volin. He gave himself the task of publishing "The Unknown Revolution" (one of the best reference books on the Russian Revolution).

Contrary to Britain, the Jewish libertarian movement did not spread to the provinces, though the 1939-45 war did oblige some militants to take refuge in the countryside.


(from "Les Libertaires du Yiddishland" by Jean-Marc Izrine; translated by Nestor McNab)

author by mitchpublication date Sat Jan 13, 2007 10:00author email wsany at hotmail dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

A brief bio (written by Nick Heath) of Jacques Dubinsky who is mentioned in this article can be found at http://libcom.org/history/doubinsky-jacques-1889-1959

As an aside, I wounder if Jacques was related to David Dubinsky? David Dubinsky was the long term president of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) here in the US. He was a social democrat who, in the 1920s, made an alliance with ILGWU anarchists against the communists. This occured during a major international struggle in the largest of the US needle trades unions. This, of course, is a whole other stroy.

I am wondering about another publication issued by the Yiddish CGT syndicalists.

On Oct. 9, 1911 the first issue of "The Jewish Worker" ("Der idesher arbyter") published by the CGT and the organ of of the Yiddish speaking unions affiliated to the CGT. In the 1930s the communist dominated CGT revived this as a monthly. This is all that I know at the moment. Does anyone know anything else?

author by mitchpublication date Sun Jan 14, 2007 09:18author email wsany at hotmail dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

My French is terrible, but for those of you who read French, here's a link to an article written by Voline against anti-semitism:

http://raforum.info/article.php3?id_article=1387

PS: Thanks Nestor for the previous translation!

author by mitchpublication date Sun Sep 16, 2007 20:16author email wsany at hotmail dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

Does anyone know of a digital, free on-line link to this article?

Biagini, Furio. Nati altrove. Il movimento anarchico ebraico tra Mosca e New York. Pref. di Nathan Weinstock. [Biblioteca di storia dell'anarchismo 6.] BFS edizioni, Pisa 1998. 190 pp. Ill. L. 25.000.

"This is the first comprehensive scholarly study published in Italy on the international Yiddish-speaking anarchist movement. The author attributes the support for anarchism among East-European Jewish emigrants in Western Europe and the Americas to Judaism's eschatological tendencies. The extended tradition of fairly autonomous Jewish communities also made the Jewish workers receptive to anarchism's federal and associative nature. After covering the Jewish proletariat in Russia, the author devotes several chapters to Jewish anarchism in the United States, Great Britain, Argentina and France, as well as the trials and tribulations of the Steimer group, which opposed U.S. involvement in World War I."

Source: http://www.iisg.nl/irsh/43-3-bib.php

 
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