Notes of a Social Democrat

Julius Martov


The time has come for me to touch upon the people of the Vilna leadership. When Iosif Mil was away and I joined it, the acknowledged leader was my acquaintance A[rkady] Kremer (“Aleksandr”). His balanced, somewhat phlegmatic personality and great clarity of mind, his clandestine restraint and other qualities of a capable organizer of underground work lent him the essential authority for his role as leader. At meetings, he spoke little but with gravitas. He did not possess an agitator’s gifts, nor do I think his personal inclinations attracted him to the agitator role. An engineering student in the past, in the late 1880s he was implicated in some political affair in Riga, served time in Kresty [prison], and since then had been under surveillance in Vilna. Finding himself in the same position was I. L. Aizenshtat (Yudin), who was the best-educated Marxist theoretician in our circle. A former student at the Yaroslavl lyceum, back in 1887 he landed in prison and after serving his sentence settled in Vilna. Having been subsequently in prison and exile several times, I. L. to this day remains one of the Bund’s leaders. His wife, Liubov Levenson, who passed away in America in the late 1890s, was a very capable propagandist, enjoyed great popularity among the workers, and brought a seething energy to her relentless work. She served one of the longest and hardest prison terms. A former student at a Swiss university, she was arrested at the border while crossing into Russia because they found on her clandestine letters from Vera Ivanovna Zasulich. She was sent to a remote prison where for a year and a half she was subjected to extremely harsh treatment that undermined her health and shattered her nerves. After this, she was also given, by way of punishment, another year and a half of prison. Distinguished by no less activism but a less nervous and more joyful personality was M. D. Srednitskaia, known as “Pati.” She was made of the kind of stuff from which female organizers of the Red Cross and committee secretaries at all stages of our revolutionary movement have been shaped, i.e., individuals who had to maintain practical relations with dozens of people, be able to deal with them and to hold permanently in their head hundreds of clandestine details and do ten different jobs at once. Frail, always ailing, but always lively and for the most part cheerful, M. D. Srednitskaia during her daily hours at her dentist’s office dealt with many clandestine matters involving passing, receiving, and arranging for the safekeeping of illegal literature, organizing new circles, and seeking out leaders for them, and in the evenings she would run to meetings of circles or cashier representatives. If Kremer was the organization’s head, then “Pati” was its soul.

Kopelzon the dentist (“Timofei,” subsequently known in the Swiss emigration as “Grishin”),1 who was also under surveillance and had been exiled from Warsaw, was engaged primarily in clandestine organizational affairs—relations with other organizations, relations which were fairly regular, especially in the towns of Lithuania and Poland, as was the transport of people and literature. Refugees from Russia usually sought out the “border” through the Vilna group, and Vilna received what were then the very few shipments of foreign literature organized with the help of Vilna natives living in Warsaw and Lódz who had maintained ties with the mother country.

The outstanding force in the actual propaganda and organizational work was S. Gozhansky, called “Teacher.” His nickname was not terribly clandestine, for Gozhansky actually was a teacher in an official Jewish institute. A legal man compared with us and an official in the civil service as well, on the outside he had to be extremely secretive in order not to attract attention from his superiors, coworkers, and the parents of his pupils, who, for the most part, were those very same petty bourgeois in whose shops and workshops we “engaged in sedition.” Capable and with major interests in general questions of theory, although with a highly paradoxical frame of mind that often led him to contradictory constructs, Gozhansky was greatly concerned with making the circle’s propaganda systematic. The professional pedagogue in him was always manifest. Later, during the period of intensive economic agitation, he played a leading role in that internal organizational struggle of the Vilna movement over new methods of work. Subsequently he, together with L. Levenson and several workers, moved to Belostok [Bialystok] and in that major proletarian center of “Liteh” laid the foundations of broad agitational work; soon after, he was arrested and exiled to Yakutia with L. Levenson. There, at one time, he wavered toward “Makhaevshchina,” which was fashionable among exiles in the late 1880s; later he worked for a long time in the Bund (I met him at the party’s London congress in 1907, when he was one of the congress secretaries); during the war he was a defensist; and after the October coup he suddenly turned into a communist and was a commissar in Tula.

The group’s youngest member was Revekka Liass, who had graduated from the local grammar school. As a propagandist, she enjoyed the love of the workers.

Later, in my time, the group took in Tobias (“Maks”) and the teacher Minna Volk, and later also two people under surveillance: A. Mutnikovich (“Gleb”), who had been exiled from Germany back in 1889 for his ties to German social democracy under the “exception law,” and his friend V. Levenson (Kossovsky). Both, particularly the latter, played a guiding role in the Bund’s activities. Kossovsky was one of that party’s principal theoretical and literary forces.

Grouped around this tight circle were dozens more intellectuals closely linked to it, although not all of them participated regularly in our work. First and foremost among the young people from secondary educational institutions were some who were so trained in the party way that, except for individual assignments of an illegal nature, we entrusted them sometimes with conducting workers’ circles. Such were the Realgymnasia students Eliashberg, A. Tropovsky (later a well-known translator and correspondent for major newspapers), M. Lurie (who for a long time played a prominent role in the Bolshevik Party, which he later left), Seliber, the grammar school students V. Goldman (now known as Gorev) and A. Shtessel, L. Bernshtein (translator and journalist under the pseudonym L. Borisovich),2 Tsemakhovich, I. Rozenberg, Zeldov (subsequently, in the late 1890s, a member of the Bund CC [Central Committee]), Paikes, a prominent worker in the Iskra [Spark] organization and the Menshevik faction up until the October coup, when he became a communist and something like a state inspector. [ . . . ] Later, and down to the present day, Portnoy (“Noiech”) honorably discharged his position as a member of the Bund CC, living for a long time as an illegal, while Goldevsky and P. O. Gordon in the early 1900s did a lot of work in the Iskra and Menshevik organizations of Southern Russia [Ukraine].

In my time, the governing group did not include a single worker. According to our views at the time, participation in this group assumed a certain rather high level of theoretical development and significant clandestine experience. In essence, the few workers who more or less satisfied this requirement were the most senior members of the self-development circles, who had spent eight years and more in these circles. However, as indicated above, these most senior members of the circles either came out of the apprentice “estate” and, having set themselves up as independent masters, had moved away from the general mass of workers, or else, not wishing to undergo this evolution, settled abroad (mostly in America). Of the rest, the most politically mature “senior” workers were organized by us later, in 1894, into a central workers’ group, which included A. Kremer as the representative from our center and which was supposed to play a role with lesser rights in the organizational hierarchy, more of a consultative “Second Chamber.” The most influential members of this workers’ center were the most senior member of the workers’ circles: the elderly butcher Solomon (I don’t know his surname), a sullen and extremely powerful person; the female glove-maker Ts. Gurvich, later a member of the Bund CC and to this day in the RSDWP [Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party]; the tailor Tsilia Volk; and a few other workers. With her decisive and direct personality and political sense, Tsivia Gurvich stood out in this group and, besides the above-mentioned Solomon, was the most influential figure in the workers milieu after its more “intellectualized” proletariat, who had agitated back in the early part of the decade, [ . . . ] had left the stage.

Translated by


Plekhanov used his letters, as a defender of “economism,” in a famous polemical pamphlet, “Vademekum” [Vademecum], aimed against the editors of Rabochee Delo [Worker’s Cause].

Who now, as I have learned, has sold out to Wrangel and is a comrade-in-arms to Bursev in Common Cause.


Julius Martov, from Zapiski sotsial–demokrata [Notes of a Social Democrat] (Berlin, St. Petersburg, and Moscow: Z. I. Grzhebin, 1922), pp. 196–201.

Published in: The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, vol. 8.

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