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Bragin, Abram Grigor’evich

(1893–?), agronomist and Soviet Jewish activist. Abram Bragin was a key figure in the movement to establish an official Jewish territory in the Soviet Union. Born in Krasnopole, Ukraine, Bragin studied law at Kiev University and belonged for a time to the socialist Zionist party Tse‘ire Tsiyon. His connection with Tse‘ire Tsiyon’s form of labor Zionism got Bragin interested in movements to the land as “solutions” to the “Jewish question.” Bragin therefore became more interested in agronomy and eventually became a leading agronomist who combined his training in agricultural production with principles of socialist Zionism to devise a program for settling Jews in farming colonies within the USSR.

In the early 1920s, Bragin drafted several proposals to establish a Belorussian Jewish homeland in which high productivity levels could be achieved; however, these plans never materialized. With other socialist Jewish activists, he explored the Black Sea areas and Crimea as possible regions to settle Jews who had been displaced by a decade of war and revolution. They sought a site fertile enough for agriculture, close enough to sections in which significant numbers of Soviet Jews lived, and an area less populated by other ethnic groups. From 1924 to 1926, a Crimean Jewish republic was the main topic on the agenda of activists interested in Jewish territory.

Bragin promulgated his ideas about a Crimean territorial solution in a pamphlet, Sud’ba evreiskoi massy v SSSR (The Fate of the Jewish Masses in the Soviet Union; 1924), which he wrote with Mikhail Kol’tsov, a colleague at the Soviet Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, founder of the journal Ogonek, and one of the most important Soviet journalists. As they saw it, northern Crimea was a more favorable location than Ukraine or Belorussia, as its residents were less nationalist and would potentially create fewer problems for Jewish farmers. Bragin and Kol’tsov argued that agricultural resettlement, especially in Crimea, would solve Jews’ economic and social crises. They were careful not to use words like republic and autonomy and never overtly suggested that Soviet Jewish Crimea was to substitute for socialist Zion, but emphasized instead its socioeconomic benefits and, particularly, its expected positive effect on Jewish productive labor.

In 1926, a powerful section of Soviet Jewish activists in Evsektsiia (the Jewish sections of the Communist Party) rejected the Crimea plan when complaints emerged from non-Jews in the region. Instead, a plan to establish a Soviet Jewish territory in the Far East, in Birobidzhan, was proposed. Bragin’s persistent pro-Crimea stance in the face of this policy shift earned him the wrath of many Soviet activists who tarred him a Jewish nationalist. By the 1930s, Bragin’s history of supporting Crimea over the officially sponsored Birobidzhan earned him the title of “Jewish imperialist” from some of the most powerful Jewish activists in the Soviet Union. The remainder of his life, as with many others, remains shrouded in mystery.

Suggested Reading

Abram Bragin and Mikhail Kol’tsov, Sud’ba evreiskikh mass v Sovetskom Soiuze (Moscow, 1924); Zvi Gitelman, Jewish Nationality and Soviet Politics: The Jewish Sections of the CPSU, 1917–1930 (Princeton, 1972); Allan Kagedan, Soviet Zion: The Quest for a Russian Jewish Homeland (New York, 1994).