Poale Zion

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Poale Zion group in Europe

Poale Zion (also spelled Poalei Tziyon or Poaley Syjon, meaning "Workers of Zion") was a movement of MarxistZionist Jewish workers founded in various cities of Poland, Europe and the Russian Empire in about the turn of the 20th century after the Bund rejected Zionism in 1901.

Formation and early years

Poalei Zion members in Warsaw, Congress Poland, 1905

Poale Zion parties and organisations were started across the Jewish diaspora in the early 20th century. A branch of Poale Zion came into existence in New York City in 1903.[1] Branches were formed in London and Leeds in 1903/04 and 1905 respectively.[2] In November 1905 the Poale Zion (Workers of Zion) Party was founded in Palestine and a month later the Socialist Jewish Labour Party (Poale Zion) was formed in the United States and Canada.[3] In March 1906 the Jewish Social Democratic Labour Party (Poale Zion) was created in Russia.[3] In 1906 a formal Poale Zion party was formed in Poltava, Ukraine, under the leadership of Ber Borochov, and other groups were soon formed elsewhere in Europe, including in Poland, Austria and the UK.[citation needed]

The key features of the ideology of early Poale Zion were acceptance of the Marxist view of history with the addition of the role of nationalism, which Borochov believed could not be ignored as a factor in historical development. A Jewish proletariat would come into being in the land of Israel, according to Poale Zion, and would then take part in the class struggle. These views were set out in Borochov's Our Platform, published in 1906.

A World Union of Poale Zion was formed. The first World Congress took place in August 1907 in The Hague. Its second congress in 1909 in Kraków emphasised practical socialist projects in Palestine, further congresses followed in Vienna (1911 and 1920) and Stockholm (1919). In Ottoman Palestine, Poale Zion founded the Hashomer guard organization that guarded settlements of the Yishuv, and took up the ideology of "conquest of labor" (Kibbush Ha'avoda) and Avoda Ivrit ("Hebrew labor"). Poale Zion set up employment offices, kitchens and health services for members. These eventually evolved into the institutions of labor Zionism in Israel. During World War I, Poale Zion was instrumental in recruiting members to the Jewish Legion.

Poale Zion was active in Britain during World War I, under the leadership of J Pomeranz and Morris Meyer, and influential on the British labour movement, including on the drafting (by Sidney Webb and Arthur Henderson) of the Labour Party’s War Aims Memorandum, recognising the 'right of return' of Jews to Palestine, a document which preceded the Balfour Declaration by three months.[4]


Poale Zion split into Left and Right factions in 1919-1920, following a similar division that occurred in the Second International and at least partially resulting from some activists' concern with the ongoing chaos and violence occurring in Bolshevik-controlled Russia.

The right wing was less Marxist and more nationalist, and favoured a more moderate socialist program and strongly affiliated itself with the Second International, essentially becoming a social-democratic party and was committed to the world Zionist Organization. Since their immigration to Palestine in 1906 and 1907, the major leaders of Poale Zion had been David Ben-Gurion, who joined a local Poalei Tziyon group in 1904 as a student at the University of Warsaw, and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, a close friend of Borochov's and early member of the Poltava group. After the split the two Benim ("the Bens") continued to control and direct Poale Zion Right in Palestine, eventually merging it with other movements to form larger constituencies.

The left wing faction of Poale Zion did not consider the Second International radical enough and some accused its members of betraying Borochov's revolutionary principles (although Borochov had begun to modify his ideology as early as 1914, and publicly identified as a social-democrat the year before his death). Poale Zion Left opposed the decision by Poale Zion to rejoin the (World) Zionist Organization, viewing it as essentially bourgeois in character, and viewed the Histadrut as reformist and non-socialist. Poale Zion Left, which supported the Bolshevik revolution, continued to be sympathetic to Marxism and Communism, and lobbied the Soviet Union for membership in the Communist International. Their attempts were unsuccessful, as the Soviets (particularly non-Zionist Jewish members) were suspicious of Zionism nationalism and some party leaders held personal grudges against the group's members.

Poale Zion in Palestine split into right and left wings at its February 1919 conference. In October 1919, a faction of the Left Poale Zion founded Mifleget Poalim Sozialistiim (Socialist Workers Party) which became the Jewish Communist Party in 1921, split in 1922 over the Zionist issues, with one faction taking the name Palestine Communist Party and the more anti-Zionist faction becoming the Communist Party of Palestine. The former retained its links to Poale Zion left. These two factions reunited as the Palestine Communist Party in 1923 and become an official section of the Communist International. Another faction of Poale Zion Left, aligned with the kibbutz movement Hashomer Hatzair,founded in Europe in 1919, became the Mapam party. Poale Zion Right under Ben Gurion's leadership formed Ahdut HaAvoda in March 1919. In January 1930 it merged with another party to become Mapai, predecessor of the modern Israeli Labor Party.

Poale Zion Left in Russia participated in the Bolshevik Revolution and organized a brigade of Poale Zion activists [5] nicknamed the "Borochov Brigade" to fight in the Red Army. The party remained legal until 1928 when it was liquidated by the NKVD. Most other Zionist organizations had been closed down in 1919, but Poale Zion Left remained untouched because it was recognized as a Communist party. In 1919, the Communists of Poale Zion Left split to form the Jewish Communist Party which ultimately joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, leading to a sharp loss of membership in Russia. The left faction enjoyed popularity in Britain and Poland until World War II.

The World Union of Poalei Zion (i.e. the PZ rightwing) was a member of the Labour and Socialist International between 1923 and 1930 (as its Palestine section).[6]

As of 1928, the World Union of Poalei Zion (i.e. the PZ rightwing) claimed to have 22,500 members in branches around the world; 5,000 in Poland and the United States, 4,000 in Palestine, 3,000 in Russia, 1,000 in Lithuania, Romania, Argentina and the United Kingdom, 500 in Latvia and another 1,000 scattered across countries such as Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, France and Brazil. The general secretary of the World Union of Poalei Zion at the time was B. Locker. The World Union had a women's wing, the Women's Organization for the Pioneer Women in Palestine.[7]

Aside from differing attitudes towards Stalinism, the two wings of Poale Zion parted ways over Yiddish and Yiddish culture. The Left was more supportive of Yiddish culture, similar to the members of the Jewish Bund, while the Right bloc identified strongly with the emerging modern Hebrew movement in the early 20th century.

For a brief period following the war, both factions of Poale Zion were reported as legal and functioning political parties in Poland. As part of the large-scale ban on Jewish political parties in post-war Poland by the Communist leadership, both Poale Zion groups were disbanded in February 1950.

The Holocaust

The Holocaust-era Jewish resistance group ŻOB was formed from a coalition including Hashomer Hatzair, Dror, Bnei Akiva, the Jewish Bund, various Jewish Communist groups, and both factions of Poale Zion.

Several notable Jewish resistance fighters during the Holocaust, particularly those involved in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, were members of Poale Zion. They include:

  • Adolf Berman, Warsaw ŻOB fighter; Secretary of Zegota. (Poale Zion Left)
  • Hersz Berlinski, member of Warsaw ŻOB Command (Poale Zion Left)
  • Yochanan Morgenstern, member of Warsaw ŻOB Command (Poale Zion Right)
  • Emanuel Ringelblum, member of Warsaw ŻOB; chronicler of the Warsaw Ghetto. (Poale Zion Left)

Additionally, several well-known Zionist leaders and politicians were members of Poale Zion, including Ben-Gurion, Ben-Zvi, kibbutz movement leader Yitzhak Tabenkin and Jewish Agency Executive member Shlomo Kaplansky.

Poale Zion's legacy

After World War I, David Ben-Gurion integrated most of Poale Zion Right in Palestine into his Ahdut HaAvoda party, which became Mapai by the 1930s. The Poale Zion Left merged with the kibbutz-based Hashomer Hatzair Workers Party of Palestine and the urban-based Socialist League of Palestine to form Mapam in 1948, which in the 1990s merged with two smaller parties, Ratz and Shinui to form Meretz. In 1946, a split in Mapai led to the creation of another small party, Ahdut HaAvoda - Zion Workers, which united with Mapam in 1948. In 1954, a small group of Mapam dissidents left the party, again assuming the Ahdut HaAvoda - Zion Workers name. That party eventually became part of the Alignment in a 1965 merger with Mapai (and later included Rafi and Mapam). In 1992, the Alignment became the Israeli Labour Party.

In North America, Poale Zion founded the HeHalutz movement, the Farband and Habonim Dror, and later the Labor Zionist Organization of America, which merged with other groups into the Labor Zionist Alliance, which rebranded itself in 2007 as Ameinu. In Britain, Poale Zion rebranded itself in 2004 as the Jewish Labour Movement.

Internationally, the Poale Zion right is represented within the World Zionist Organization by World Labour Zionist Movement; the group "to the left" of the WLZM within the WZO is Mapam's successor, the World Union of Meretz.

See also


  1. Martin J Raffel “History of Israel Advocacy” in Alan Mittleman, Jonathan D Sarna and Robert Licht, eds, Jewish Polity and American Civil Society: Communal Agencies and Religious Movements in the American Public Sphere Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, p.106
  2. Stuart A Cohen English Zionists and British Jews: The Communal Politics of Anglo-Jewry, 1895-1920 Princeton University Press, p.59-60; William Fishman East End Jewish Radicals London: Duckworth 1975 p.306
  3. 3.0 3.1 Jewish Labour Movement
  4. Joseph Gorny The British Labour Movement and Zionism: 1917-1948 London: Frank Cass, ch.1
  5. [1]
  6. Kowalski, Werner. Geschichte der sozialistischen arbeiter-internationale: 1923 - 19. Berlin: Dt. Verl. d. Wissenschaften, 1985. p. 314
  7. Labour and Socialist International. Kongress-Protokolle der Sozialistischen Arbeiter-Internationale - B. 3.1 Brüssel 1928. Glashütten im Taunus: D. Auvermann, 1974. p. IV. 100

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