RAPHAEL ABRAMOVITSH (RAFAEL ABRAMOWICZ) (July 21, 1880-April 11, 1963)
Pseudonym (from 1905) of Raphael Rein. Born in Dvinsk (Daugavpils) into a family of timber merchants of modest means. He attended religious school, and at age fourteen he was sent off to a secondary school in Ponevezh (Panevezys [Lithuania]), and at grade seven to Libave. From there he arrived (1899) at the Riga Polytechnic where he studied mechanical engineering. In Riga he joined the revolutionary student movement, and somewhat later (under the influence of Herts Burgin) he took part in illegal Jewish workers’ circles. In 1901 he became active in the Bund. He made his first attempt to write in Yiddish (a leaflet for no. 25 of Arbayter-shtime [Workers’ voice]). Expelled from the Polytechnic in 1902 for taking part in a student demonstration, he threw himself completely into Bundist work and an illegal life. He first set off in a conspiratorial manner for St. Petersburg where his parents lived, and from there illegally he fled abroad across the Russian-German border. He lived for a short time in Berlin and in Liège (Belgium); in 1903 he arrived in Zürich, Switzerland where at the time the Bundists were largely concentrated in Geneva, as well as was the general Russian leadership of the revolutionary movement abroad. Like many other Jewish revolutionaries, the Kishinev pogrom thrust him into a national search, and in June 1903 he gave the keynote lecture on the national question at the Geneva conference of the Bund. During that first Zürich period, he was known for a short time by the pseudonym “Dimant” (his earlier pseudonyms were “Abram” and “Malkiel”); later, he was given the pseudonym “Baron” (in addition to the party names of the other two of the leading Bundist threesome of 1903 in Zürich: “Graf” for Medem and “Markiz” for Liber). In 1904 he returned to Russia, worked for the Warsaw committee of the Bund, was nonetheless soon arrested, thrown in prison (November 1904) in Riga, and soon thereafter freed. He then moved to St. Petersburg, took part in running the sixth conference of the Bund in Dvinsk (February 1905), was coopted onto the central committee of the Bund, and was sent to guide revolutionary propaganda in various cities. In August of that year, he returned to Zürich to prepare for the sixth conference of the Bund; in October he went back to Dvinsk and St. Petersburg. Just after the 1905 Revolution, he became the representative of the Bund to the first St. Petersburg Council of Workers and Deputies and to the negotiations between the Bund and other revolutionary organizations, published and edited the magazine Yevreyskiy rabochiy (Jewish labor) in St. Petersburg, and founded and led (together with Medem, D. Zaslavski, and others) the Bundist magazine Nashe slovo (Our word) in Vilna (staring in 1906). He then went abroad again to prepare for the seventh conference of the Bund in Bern (Switzerland), as well as serving as an envoy to the united convention of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party in Stockholm—in order to carry out (together with Liber and Yonah Koyge) the further entrance of the Bund into R. S.-D. W. P. He was selected to the general central committee of the party. In September (1906), he participated in the seventh conference of the Bund in Lemberg (Lvov, Lviv). He was a Bundist candidate for the second Duma and carried out an election campaign in the Jewish residential areas in the Pale of Settlement. In May and June 1907, he took part in the convention of the R.S.-D. W. P. in London, and at the end of the year and early 1908 he made his first trip across the United States on assignment from the Bund. He then returned to Russia and, involuntarily detained for a time in Finland due to his wife’s illness, he devoted himself during this period to research on Jewish history. He lived in Vilna over the years 1908-1909, where he was employed as a teacher of Jewish history, physics, and mathematics in the high school of P. P. Antokolski and S. M. Gurevitch. Simultaneously, he carried on illegal party work. In March 1910, he was arrested and administratively sent to the Vologda region (southern Russia); in January 1911 he escaped from exile, remained en route for a time in Heidelberg (Germany) where he wrote a treatise of Bible criticism and Tanakh research (printed under the title “Di antshtaung fun tanakh” [The emergence of Tanakh], Tsukunft [Future, New York], June-July-August 1911); he then moved to Vienna (Austria) where he stayed until 1916, taking part in foreign work for the Bund, playing an active role in the editorship of legal Bundist newspapers (in Yiddish and Russian) which between 1910 to 1914 went by a number of names (Lebenfragn [Vital questions], Di tsayt [The times], and the like) and which were published in Warsaw and St. Petersburg. During the internal party discussions, he represented the standpoint of the so-called “Liquidators”—meaning those who called for emphasis to be placed more on legal work than on underground activities. In the years 1913-1915, he published articles in Tsukunft and Forverts (Forward, New York); in 1916 he moved back to Zürich where he stood politically next to the Zimmerwaldists (the socialist anti-war group which held its meetings in Zimmerwald and later in Kienthal).
In May 1917, Abramovitsh together with over 250 other political emigrants returned to Russia in the second “sealed train car” which Germany let pass. No sooner had he arrived in St. Petersburg than he threw himself into revolutionary work, and in all questions he worked together with L. Martov and his group of “internationalists.” He was a member of both central committees (the Bund and the Mensheviks), served as editor of the Bundist Arbayter-shtime, was a member of the St. Petersburg Soviet and its national commission as well as a speaker on the Finland question, and a member of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets and later also of the Provisional Council of the Republic. In his political activities, during the first period of the 1917 Revolution, he struggled against the pro-war policy of the Menshevik-Social Revolutionary government coalition. Following the October coup d’état, he was one of the initiators of the “Vikzhel’” (All-Russian Executive Committee of the Railroad Union) negotiations which attempted to reach an agreement between the Bolsheviks and the other socialist parties and to create a socialist coalition government. In early 1918 he moved to Moscow with the central committee of Mensheviks and joined the editorial board of the Menshevik organ Vperyod (Forward), and he appeared with the Moscow Soviet as well as with the All-Russian Conference of Soviets and of Professional Trade Unions. In July 1918 he was arrested by the Cheka for calling for an unaffiliated All-Russian Conference of Workers and was thrown in prison for several months. During the years of the Civil War (1918-1920), he conducted activities with L. Martov and F. Dan for the central committee of the Menshevik party. He also collaborated with publications of the Moscow district committee of the Bund. At the twelfth conference of the Bund in Moscow (April 1920), he led the social democratic minority which left the conference during the rift, and thereafter became chairman of the central committee of the social democratic Bund in Russia.
At the end of 1920 he left Russia on a Russian passport and settled in Berlin. Together with Martov and Dan, he was there one of the founders of Sotsialisticheskii vestnik (Socialist messenger, January 1921) and one of the leaders of the foreign delegation of the party. He was also sent as a representative of the Russian Social Democratic Party to the International Socialist Conference in Vienna which founded what was called the “Vienna International” (February 1921). He took an active part in the union of the “Vienna” with the renewed Second International, and he was a speaker at the international socialist congress in Hamburg for Russia. He served on the executive and in the office of the new Socialist Workers International as a speaker on Russian social democracy. From that period forward, he was active in the international socialist movement as a speaker and writer and as a participant at international congresses. He wrote several brochures concerned with Soviet Russia and Bolshevik terror, which appeared in many European languages. At the famous trial of Mensheviks in Moscow in 1931, Abramovitsh’s “illegal” trip to Russia in the summer of 1928 (although it was demonstrated that this was untrue) was one of the main points in the accusations. In the years 1924-1926 and 1929-1930, he was again in the United States on lecture tours. From 1922, he was a regular correspondent for the Forverts (New York). In 1933 he moved to Paris where he became one of the lead editors of the Algemayne entsiklopedye (General encyclopedia, the first volume of which appeared in Paris in 1934) which the Dubnov Fund had begun to prepare already in 1931 in Berlin. In addition to his editorial work, Abramovitsh also wrote for various publications from Algemayne entsiklopedye concerning the history of socialism and the workers’ movement, as well as popular scholarly topics; in volume “Yidn-d” of the encyclopedia he published a major work on the “History of the Jews in Lithuania, Poland, and Russia.”
In 1940 Abramovitsh moved to New York where he continued his work on the encyclopedia and became a member of the editorial board of the Forverts in which he published a weekly column entitled “Mentshn un politik” (People and politics) as well as editorials. He edited the Sotsialisticheskii vestnik and directed the foreign delegation of the Russian Social-Democratic Party. Between 1947 and 1950, he edited a political magazine in English by the name of Modern Review. His writings in book form include: Leyenbukh tsu der geshikhte fun yisroel (Reader on the history of Israel) with A. Medem, part 1 (Berlin, 1923), 118 pp.; In tsvey revolutsyes, di geshikhte fun a dor (In two revolutions, the history of a generation), vol. 1-2 (New York, 1944), 752 pp.; Di farshvundene velt, bilder un mapes mit derklerungen in yidish un in english (The vanished world, pictures and maps with explanations in Yiddish and English) (New York, 1947), 575 pp.; Die Zukunft Sowjetrusslands (The future of Soviet Russia) (Berlin, 1923); Teror kegn sotsialistn in rusland (Terror against socialists in Russia) (German, French, and Danish editions as well, 1924-1926). His work, The Soviet Revolution (London, 1962), 474 pp., was translated into Hebrew: Hamahpekha hasoyetit (The Soviet revolution), trans. Binyamin Eliav (Tel Aviv, 1966), 403 pp. He died in New York.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzin, Leksikon, vol. 1, pp. 5-8; Algemayne entsiklopedye (General encyclopedia), vol. 1 (Paris, 1934), pp. 58-60; V. Medem, Zikhroynes fun mayn lebn (Memoirs of my life) (New York, 1923), p. 132; A. Liessin, Zikhroynes un bilder (Memoirs and images) (New York, 1954), pp. 220-24 (reprinted from Tsukunft, New York, 1930); Grigori Aronson, in Forverts (November 24-25, 1940), in Der Veker (New York, April 1, 1944), in Tsukunft (New York, September 1944); Hillel Rogoff, Der gayst fun forverts (The spirit of the Forward) (New York, 1954), pp. 202-8; M. Rafes, Kapitlen geshikhte fun Bund (Chapters in the history of the Bund) (Kiev, 1929), pp. 139-40, 170; Frantz Kurski, Gezamlte shriftn (Collected writings) (New York, 1952); Bol’shaya Sovietskaya Entsiklopediya, vol. 1 (1934).