Participants at a conference of the Commissariat for Jewish National Affairs (EVKOM), Moscow, 1919. This may have been the June 1919 convention that marked the beginning of the weakening of EVKOM’s status in favor of the Evsektsiia (the Jewish section of the Bolshevik Party). (YIVO)

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Commissariat for Jewish National Affairs

Established in January 1918, the Commissariat for Jewish National Affairs (Evreiskii Komissariat; EVKOM) was affiliated with the People’s Commissariat for Nationality Affairs (Narodnyi Komissariat po delam Natsionalnostei; Narkomnats). EVKOM’s purpose was to win Jewish support for the Bolshevik regime both within Soviet Russia and abroad by disseminating Communist and Soviet materials in Yiddish. In contrast to the other ethnic commissariats established slightly earlier, EVKOM was considered temporary. Semen Dimanshtein was appointed commissar. During the first months of EVKOM’s existence, its central body included delegates representing Left Social Revolutionaries or SRs (Il’ia Dobkovskii) as well as Po‘ale Tsiyon (Tsevi Fridlender; 1897–1936). EVKOM’s Yiddish newspaper Di varhayt appeared from 8 March to 1 September 1918.

EVKOM endeavored to bring about the cultural, political, and economic transformation of the Jewish population and to render aid to Jewish refugees in border areas. EVKOM considered itself the defender of the interests of the Jewish population and in the spring of 1918 succeeded in convincing the Soviet government to issue a decree calling for a fight against antisemitism. At first, too, EVKOM sought the return of illegally confiscated synagogues to worshipers. As a government body able to bring local Jewish problems to the attention of higher authorities, EVKOM wished to fulfill the task of the former community. Its original platform included the establishment of Jewish sections in local soviets to serve as supraparty organizations of proletarian elements “supporting the policy of the Soviet government.” During 1918, such sections of EVKOM were opened in Vitebsk, Orel, Voronezh, and other locations. EVKOM, however, faced resistance from Jewish political parties and organizations; it also had to overcome the opposition of Bolshevik functionaries who viewed it as a manifestation of Jewish nationalism. After the Bolsheviks broke with the Left SRs and Po‘ale Tsiyon in summer 1918, instead of establishing Jewish sections in local soviets, all EVKOM officials had to be party members or supporters and Jewish sections (Evsektsiias) were established within the Bolshevik Party.

Initially, as was demonstrated at the first joint conference of EVKOM and the Evsektsiia in October 1918, both organizations exhibited autonomist trends at the central as well as the local level. In Vitebsk and Orel, EVKOM had jurisdiction over Jewish schools, cemeteries, poorhouses, societies to aid the poor, and soup kitchens. In Voronezh, EVKOM closed down the Jewish community organization even before the June 1919 decree liquidating such communities was published.

The scope of EVKOM activity began to be limited as of late 1918. The resolution of issues relating to Jewish culture and education was transferred to the jurisdiction of the Jewish bureau (Evbiuro) of the People’s Commissariat of Education; EVKOM’s administrative and economic functions were given to the corresponding commissariats and local executive committees. In January 1919 local EVKOMs were redesignated as the Jewish sections of local departments of nationality affairs. The second conference of Evsektsiias and EVKOMs in June 1919 determined the supremacy of the Evsektsiia vis-à-vis EVKOM, leading to the weakening of EVKOM. In early 1920, central EVKOM became a department of Narkomnats. The lower status of EVKOM was demonstrated by the fact that no republic-level Ukrainian or Belorussian EVKOMs were established.

As government bodies, EVKOMs became instruments for implementing the Evsektsiia’s policies (as a party but nongovernment organ, the Evsketsiia lacked the authority either to liquidate or intensify control over non-Bolshevik institutions). In the early 1920s EVKOM became the mechanism through which the Evsektsiia carried out its antireligious policy. At the same time, in 1922 EVKOM initiated the establishment of Yiddish-language courts. EVKOM was disbanded in April 1924, along with the rest of Narkomnats.

Suggested Reading

Samuel Agursky (Samuil Agurskii), comp. and ed., Di yidishe komisaryatn un di yidishe komunistishe sektsyes (Minsk, 1928); Mordechai Altshuler, Ha-Yevsektsyah bi-Verit ha-Mo‘atsot, 1918–1930: Ben le’umiyut le-komunizm (Tel Aviv, 1980); Zvi Gitelman, Jewish Nationality and Soviet Politics: The Jewish Sections of the CPSU, 1917–1930 (Princeton, 1972).



Translated from Russian by Yisrael Cohen