Beinish Michalevich


From the pioneer “intelligentsia” who lived in Vilna at the time, we must note Iulii Tsederbaum-Martov (people called him “Aleksey with the limp”), Arkadii Kremer (Aleksandr), Pati Srednitskaia (she later married Kremer), Polye Gordon, Shmul Gozhansky (Lonu), Tsemakh Kopelzon (Timofei), Lyuba Levinson (married Isai Aizenshtat-Yudin), Shmuel Pieskin, and Yoysef Mil (John). From later years we should mention Levinson (Vladimir Kossovskii) and Avrom Mutnik (Glieb). There was also a fairly large circle of so called “half-intelligentsia.”

In 1893 this group came up with the idea that instead of spreading propaganda through circles they should employ the new “agitation” tactics. From the above-mentioned, Iulii Tsederbaum-Martov, Arkadii Kremer, and Shmul Gozhansky distinguished themselves.

Iulii Osipovich Tsederbaum (a grandson of Alek-sander Tsederbaum, the editor of Ha-Melits and [Dos yudishes] folks-blat), who was a student at the time, was banished from St. Petersburg on account of some sin. He was one of the first and the most luminous representatives of early Marxism in Russia. A man with a sharp mind and great talent, he was the first to apply the general Marxist method to Russian politics and created social democratic tactics for Russia in general. Later, already abroad, he and Lenin together founded the Iskra [Spark], an organ of social democratic ideas and practice.

He occupied one of the most prestigious places in the social democratic movement and has remained to this day the leader and theoretician of the Russian Social Democratic Party (Mensheviks). Early on, he exhibited excellent theoretical understanding; he was the main “theoretician” of the group and was accepted widely both among the intelligentsia and the agitators.

Arkadii Kremer was a student at the Riga Polytechnic Institute. He was expelled for creating “unrest.” He had an iron will and great organizational skills, and was very active. He was very embarrassed at assemblies and larger circle meetings—always blushing like a bride, and not able to utter a single word.

Many years later, when Arkadii Kremer was the chairman of the Central Committee of the Bund, he would still keep quiet at large meetings. One time it was his official duty to give the first speech at a Bund conference—as its chairman, he had to open the conference officially. Aleksandr turned red up to his ears, mumbled something regarding what number conference this was, and concluded his speech.

Nevertheless, his contribution was not to be discounted at smaller meetings, in personal conversation with individual people, and in his practical work. In these settings his energy, initiatives, and practical sense literally bubbled forth.

In the 1890s he was the most energetic organizer of the social democratic group in Vilna and the most enthusiastic supporter of the “new” tactics. He wrote a booklet in Russian, “About Agitation,” which was later published abroad. This is the only work he wrote in his whole life, but this brochure had a strong impact on social democratic tactics all over Russia. In it Kremer illuminates the importance of agitation for improving the economic situation of the working class from a political and socialist viewpoint, and he sheds light on how the agitator should approach the masses, how he can attract attention and win their approval.

In this work he also dissects phases of workers’ enlightenment. First comes the economic phase, then the professional-political phase, and only then the socialist phase. This was a simplistic view of agitation, but it was where most socialists stood at the time. Later (in 1901), [Georgii] Plekhanov criticized this brochure in his work Zaria, exactly because of this deficiency. But Ple-khanov knew who had written this brochure and held Kremer in high respect, as did all the other socialists of that time. He responded mildly to the brochure, with no trace of the venomous sarcasm that characterized all of his critical treatises.

Arkadii Kremer was the leader of the social democratic group in Vilna until the Bund was founded, and he later was the most active member of the Central Committee of the Bund and of the editorial board of the Arbeter shtime [The Workers’ Voice]. He was arrested by [Sergei] Zubatov during the first round of arrests of Bund members and was imprisoned in Butyrki for a long time. Later he immigrated to London and then moved to Geneva. In Geneva a printing press was set up for the Bund where they printed brochures such as Der yidisher arbeter [The Jewish Worker], the organ of the Bund’s committee abroad, and the Letste nakhrikhtn [Latest News] (in Russian and Yiddish). The financial resources of the organization were very meager; Kremer himself typeset the articles and did not let anything get in the way of publishing. In 1904 he came back to Russia and served as chairman of the Central Committee and was very active until 1908–1909. Later he went to France, completed his studies at the Polytechnic Institute of Bordeaux, and remained in France, working as an engineer.

Another person who distinguished himself in that period was Shmul Gozhansky. He was the only one in the group who knew Yiddish well and was thus able to adjust to the new ways of working with the masses. He completed his studies at the Teachers’ Seminary in Vilna in 1888. Coming from a prominent Jewish bourgeois family in Grodno, he was very familiar with Jewish life. In fact, he was the author of brochures published by the group in 1895 and 1896: Vegn skhires [About Wages], Der shtot-magid [The Town Preacher], A rede oyf Purim [A Speech about Purim]. He also wrote “A Letter to the Agitators,” in which he applies Arkadii Kremer’s general ideas about agitation to the specific environment of Vilna and in which he polemicizes with those agitators who did not want to accept the new “tactics” and saw in them a reduction of their rights to education and a deterioration of the work in general.

Gozhansky had a fierce temper, excellent rhetorical talent, and a good pen. He did not pay much attention to economic-theoretical problems and was not particularly “picky” when it came to theories. For him, action, facts, and revolutionary work were more important than anything else. His constant enthusiasm and passionate concern for questions had a strong impact on his surroundings.

Translated by


Beinish Michalevich [Yosef Izbicki], “Erev Bund” [Pioneers], from Roiter pinkes (Warsaw: Kultur–lige, 1921), pp. 35–37.

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

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