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Kremer, Arkadii

(1865–1935), socialist political leader; known as “Father of the Bund.” Alternately called Aleksandr or Solomon, Arkadii Kremer was born in Sventsian (now Švenčionys, Lith.), Vilna guberniia, to a religious maskilic family. At age 12 he moved to Vilna, where he attended Realschule, later studying at the Technological Institute in Saint Petersburg. His studies were interrupted in 1889 when he was jailed for revolutionary activity. Upon his release in 1890, Kremer was banned from Saint Petersburg.

Back in Vilna, Kremer joined circles of revolutionary Jewish workers and soon became their acknowledged leader. Together with Shmul Gozhansky, Kremer was responsible for the change in the Vilna circles’ tactics in the mid-1890s, from “propaganda” (organizing small study groups of politically conscious workers) to “agitation” (mass politics). In line with classical Marxism, Kremer argued in his pamphlet Ob agitatsii (On Agitation; written and published with the aid of L. Martov in 1893) that the workers’ movement was born out of the specific needs and requirements of the masses of workers and that the activists’ function was to organize the practical struggle for higher salaries, shorter working days, and better working conditions. Thus the workers would become conscious of the contradictions between the working class and the bourgeoisie, and would eventually seize political power and create a socialist society. On Agitation was intended as a strategy paper not only for the Jewish circles but also for the Russian social democratic (Marxist) movement as a whole. In the last decade of the nineteenth century, this pamphlet—known as the “Vilna Program”—was indeed widely influential in Russian social democratic circles and served as a general guide for mobilizing the masses.

Despite the growing popularity of the Jewish revolutionary circles in Vilna, Minsk, Warsaw, and other major Jewish communities in the mid-1890s, Kremer delayed creating a unified Jewish social democratic party due to his belief in the spontaneous development of economically determined processes. His plan was to let the movement evolve as an informal association of workers bound by common interests until the agitation program came to embrace the majority of Jewish workers. Many fellow Jewish revolutionary leaders tried to convince Kremer of the need to create a Jewish workers’ party, but he was persuaded only by Georgi Plekhanov’s argument that in order for Russian Jewish workers’ circles to get representation in international organizations such as the Socialist International they needed a formal party organization. At the Bund’s Founding Congress (in Vilna, September 1897), Kremer nevertheless insisted on the adoption of a name that would imply not so much a cohesive party as a coalition of like-minded individuals and local organizations. Hence the name Bund (Federation). Kremer was chosen as one of three members of the Bund’s first Central Committee.

In the Bund’s early years, there was no formal demarcation between it and other (all-Russian) social democratic groups, and Jewish social democrats were active in both movements simultaneously. Just a few months after the Bund’s foundation, Kremer was one of the main organizers of the Founding Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP), which would later (in 1903) split into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. Kremer was elected one of the three members of the first Central Committee of the RSDLP as well.

Kremer was arrested again in July 1898; he spent two years in jail in Moscow and was freed in March 1900. Later that year, he went into exile in order to organize the Bund’s Foreign Committee. His first destination was Geneva, but he was soon expelled and forced to move to London. In 1902, he returned illegally to Russia for a short time to participate as the Bund’s representative at a conference of the RSDLP in Białystok. During the debate on the “national question,” Kremer supported national cultural autonomy as one of the Bund’s main demands. He returned to Saint Petersburg at the time of the 1905 Revolution and was arrested for a third time in 1907. After his release in 1908, he ceased to serve as a party professional, but worked for the Bund in other capacities.

With the decline of revolutionary activity in Russia in the years immediately before and during World War I, Kremer distanced himself from party politics. He lived in France from 1912 to 1921 and in Poland from 1921 until his death, which was commemorated with massive marches and heroic obituaries in the party press. His wife, Pati Kremer (née Matle Srednitskaia; 1867–1943)—a socialist leader and Bundist pioneer in her own right before meeting Arkadii—survived him, but she was murdered during the liquidation of the Vilna ghetto.

Suggested Reading

Arkadi: Zamlbukh tsum ondenk fun grinder fun “Bund” Arkadi Kremer, 1865–1935 (New York, 1942), pp. 293–321; Jonathan Frankel, Prophecy and Politics: Socialism, Nationalism, and the Russian Jews, 1862–1917 (Cambridge, 1981); Arkadi Kremer, On Agitation [1893], in Marxism in Russia: Key Documents, 1879–1906, ed. Neil Harding, pp. 192–205 (Cambridge and New York, 1983); Vladimir Medem, The Life and Soul of a Legendary Jewish Socialist: The Memoirs of Vladimir Medem, trans. and ed. Samuel A. Portnoy (New York, 1979); Ezra Mendelsohn, Class Struggle in the Pale: The Formative Years of the Jewish Workers’ Movement in Tsarist Russia (Cambridge, 1970); Moshe Mishkinsky, “Mekoroteha ha-ra‘ayoniim shel tenu‘at ha-po‘alim ha-yehudit be-Rusyah be-re’shitah,” Tsiyon 31 (1966): 87–115.