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Vinaver, Maksim Moiseevich

(1862–1926), lawyer, politician, and communal activist. Maksim Vinaver (also Vinawer) was born in Warsaw, and in 1886 he graduated with a law degree from Warsaw University. However, in 1889, the Russian government decided to prohibit Jews from becoming “legally registered” lawyers, which forced Vinaver to work for the next decade and a half as an assistant attorney in Saint Petersburg, where he became involved in the struggle for Jewish emancipation. With Baron Horace Gintsburg acting as a sponsor, Vinaver set up a defense bureau (with Oskar Gruzenberg and the Russian lawyers Vladimir D. Spasovich and Mironov), to represent Jews falsely accused of crimes.

Vinaver and his partners defended Jews in a number of cities. When David Blondes was accused of having committed a ritual murder in Vilna (1900–1902), the defense bureau provided him with legal aid, which was complemented by a press campaign that won public support for the Jewish struggle to attain equal rights or, at the very least, just treatment under the law. Pogroms in Kishinev (1903) and Gomel (1904) catapulted Vinaver and the other lawyers into the spotlight of Russian society. Using the platform of the courtroom, they made themselves and their cause famous.

During the revolution of 1905, Vinaver and his colleagues entered the arena of Russian politics. With Pavel Miliukov, Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov, and others, Vinaver founded the Konstitutsionno-Demokraticheskaia Partiia (Party of the Constitutional Democrats, known as the Kadets). At the same time, along with other Jewish community activists such as Iulii Gessen, Genrikh Sliozberg, Leon Bramson, Iulii Brutskus, and Gintsburg, Vinaver founded the Soiuz Polnopraviia Evreiskago Naroda v Rossii (Union for the Attainment of Full Rights for the Jewish People in Russia), which formed part of the Russian umbrella organization Soiuz Soiuzov (Union of Unions). The latter association eventually organized the general strike that forced Tsar Nicholas II to issue the October Manifesto in 1905.

Vinaver took part in elections to the Duma and was elected as one of 12 Jewish deputies to serve in the first Russian parliament. Within the Duma, he sought to create a Jewish national interest group that would cooperate with the Kadets, the strongest party in the Duma, to lobby for the inclusion of Jewish rights into the overall suggested laws. However, this level of pro-Jewish activity was terminated by the dissolution of the Duma. As a signatory of the Vyborg Appeal, which called upon the Russian people to actively protest the dissolution, Vinaver lost the right to vote, thereby ending his political career.

Vinaver nonetheless continued to fight for equal treatment of Jews. On 17 January 1907, he and 123 Jewish representatives from throughout Russia founded the Evreiskaia Narodnaia Gruppa (Jewish People’s Group; ENG). Tactics changed, then, from political lobbying inside the Duma to organizing self-help activities at the social and economic level. As with his efforts in the Soiuz Polnopraviia Evreiskago Naroda v Rossii, Vinaver still championed a common Jewish effort. Only if they united and worked within the general Russian movement were improvements deemed possible. Within this common effort, Vinaver and such other Jewish liberals as M. L. Goldshtein, M. I. Sheftel, and L. Ia. Shternberg had to compromise on certain issues, such as not accepting Yiddish as a Jewish language. From that point on, Vinaver compromised with Simon Dubnow’s Evreiskaia Demokraticheskaia Gruppa (Jewish Democratic Group), in the sense that the struggle for a democratization of Russia was complemented by the promotion of the development of a Jewish national culture. This new approach was promulgated in the new mouthpiece of Jewish liberals, the Svoboda i ravenstvo (Freedom and Equality).

Following the failure of the Second Duma in 1907, the defense of Jewish rights inside that body became virtually impossible; Jewish representation in the Third Duma (1908–1912) was limited and, given the conservative composition of the latter, futile. Vinaver and the ENG switched to tactics involving organic work, which the Polish minority in Prussia had pursued. This meant lobbying at every opportunity for Jewish rights inside Jewish as well as Russian organizations. The approach met with success at an economic conference held in Saint Petersburg on 8–9 March 1908, at which a marketing organization was proposed to help Jewish artisans survive economic competition. Through two other Jewish organizations—the Society for the Promotion of Artisan and Agricultural Labor (ORT) and the Society for the Promotion of Culture among the Jews of Russia (OPE)—Vinaver and his cofighters championed the establishment of Jewish teachers’ seminars, Jewish secular primary schools, secularly structured community councils, and savings and loan and credit cooperatives. If legal emancipation was not possible, Jewish communities in general and Jewish artisans in particular were to be supported in their struggle to survive economic competition and better the lot of the Jewish shtetl.

In addition to his activity in the defense bureau, Vinaver was a coeditor with Nabokov of the Saint Petersburg journal Vestnik prava (Messenger of the Law). In 1919 Vinaver became the foreign minister of the short-lived Belorussian government in Crimea. That same year he was forced to leave Russia to join fellow Belorussian émigrés in Paris. There, together with other Kadet leaders, Vinaver tried to consolidate the different exiled political groups to fight Bolshevism. To achieve this aim, Vinaver, Miliukov, and Konovalov founded the Respublikanskaia-Demokraticheskaia Gruppa (Republican Democratic Group), in which Vinaver was a member of the central bureau. His activities included the editing of the journal Evreiskaia tribuna (Jewish Tribune) and the newspaper Poslednie novosti (Latest News). In 1922, with Miliukov, Vinaver founded the daily literary journal Zveno and served as president of the Society Russkoe Izdatel’skoe Delo v Parizhe (Russian editorial board in Paris). He died in Menton, France.

Suggested Reading

Christoph Gassenschmidt, Jewish Liberal Politics in Tsarist Russia, 1900–1914: The Modernization of Russian Jewry (London, 1995).