M. OLGIN (MOISSAYE JOSEPH) (March 24, 1878-November 22, 1939)
Pen name of Moyshe-Yoysef Novomiski, born in town in the former district of Kiev, near Uman. His father was a Jewish scholar, but was already attracted to the Haskole; he educated his son in the Hebrew Bible and Talmud, but did not impede his learning Russian and gave him access to books of the Hebrew Enlightenment and even to Yiddish literature. When he was fifteen, he left home and taught for a couple of years in villages among the locals. Later he settled in Rogatshov (Volhynia), where he gave “lessons” and, at the same time, prepared to devote himself to take the examinations in a high school course. In 1900 he arrived in the juridical faculty of Kiev University and soon became involved in the revolutionary movement. In January 1901 he, together with several hundred other students, was turned over to soldiers for taking part in university unrest. He was amnestied in August 1901, and soon thereafter he was chosen to serve as director of the students’ central committee. He was at the time a member of the Jewish revolutionary student group known as Frayhayt (Freedom). From this group there evolved the Kiev organization of the Bund. He left the university in 1904, and moved to Vilna where he was a member of the Vilna Committee of the Bund. In May 1904 he was arrested, but he soon freed on bail. He moved on to Dvinsk (Daugavpils), seat of the central committee of the Bund. He contributed to the editing of Arbeter-shtime (Workers’ voice), and he wrote many of the proclamations that the central committee published in 1905 and other sorts of illegal agitation literature. In 1906 he became a contributor to the legal Vilna Bundist newspaper, Veker (Alarm), later known as Folks-tsaytung (People’s newspaper), in which he wrote about literature (using the pseudonym “Yoysef”), as well as stories and images of revolutionary life. He later became the literary editor of the newspaper. At the end of 1906 he left Russia and studied social science and philosophy in Heidelberg in 1907. He also participated in various Bundist collections. He returned to Russia in 1909, held lectures in Vilna for workers’ organizations and in evening schools, and composed the first modern literary reader, Dos yidishe vort (The Jewish word). That same year he published a collection of fictional works with the title Ven dos lebn ruft (When life calls). The Tsarist authorities confiscated this book. At the start of 1913, he settled in Vienna where he edited, together with other comrades, the Bundist weekly Di tsayt (The times) which came out in St. Petersburg. At the same time he revised his dissertation, Der oyfkum fun marksizm in rusland (The origins of Marxism in Russia). Finding himself in Germany when WWI broke out and not knowing how to return to Russia because of the war, Olgin left for the United States where he became a contributor to Forverts (Forward) for which he had been a correspondent since 1907. He also continued contributions to Tsukunft (Future). In 1915 he was on the editorial board of Di naye velt (The new world), organ of the socialist federation. In 1918 he received his PhD degree from Columbia University for the work, “A Guide to Russian Literature” (see sources below). In 1919 he was appointed a lecturer in Russian history at the New School for Social Research. He made a trip across Germany, France, and Soviet Russia in 1920. In the spring of 1921, he returned and published a series of articles in Forverts about Russia. Following the split in the socialist federation (September 1921), Olgin began a member of the Workers’ Party, and he quickly became one of the most visible leaders in the Jewish section of the party, and together with Sh. Epshteyn, editor of Frayhayt, later renamed Morgn-frayhayt (Morning freedom), which commenced publication on April 2, 1922. He wrote summaries for the newspaper and the first editorials. In March 1926 he became the editor of the monthly journal Der hamer (The hammer). For a number of years, he was also editor of Tribune, organ of the International Workers Order (IWO), as well as on the editorial board of New Masses, and a contributor to the Daily Worker and the journal Communist. From 1932, he was working as the New York correspondent for Pravda in Moscow. He was also one of the founders of Proletpen (1929) and the author of its program, also a cofounder of IKUF (Jewish Cultural Association) in 1937 and on the editorial board of its journal, Yidishe kultur (Jewish culture). Among the pseudonyms he used, aside from M. Olgin, were the following: Der eybik yunger (The eternally young), Yoysef Nayman, Ot-o, and A. Glin. He wrote a number of poems which were included in D. Kurland’s anthology of contemporary proletarian poetry in the United States (Minsk, 1933). In addition to his own and translated books, he wrote approximately fifty brochures and 6,000 articles and essays. He was a popular lecturer and took part in open debates with the most esteemed writers and community leaders. For many years he ran courses in the teachers seminary, teachers courses in Workmen’s Circle, the Bronx Folks University, Workers University, party schools, union schools, and all manner of workers schools, where he was often also a teacher of Yiddish (composition) and Yiddish literature. A number of left-wing workers clubs, children’s schools, libraries, and branches of fraternal organizations in the United States and elsewhere bear his name.
His books would include: Ven dos lebn ruft (Warsaw-New York, 1911), novellas, and images, 203 pp. (reissued in 1918 as Ven kaytn klingen [When the chains ring out]); Dos yidishe vort, a literarishe khrestomatye tsum lezn in di eltere grupn fun ovnt-shuln un in der heym (The Yiddish word, a literary reader for reading in older groups at evening schools and in the home) (Vilna, 1919) (five printings); In der velt fun gezangen (In the world of songs), concerning poetry and poets (New York, 1919), 311 pp.; Mayn shtetl in Ukraine (My shtetl in Ukraine) (New York, 1921), 80 pp.; Di neshome fun der rusisher revolutsye (The soul of the Russian Revolution), translated into Yiddish from English by M. Oberovitsh (New York, 1921), 2 vols.; Fun mayn tog-bukh, geshtaltn un stsenes (From my diary, images and scenes) (New York, 1926), 399 pp.; Havrile un yoel, dertseylung (Havrile and Joel, a story) (New York, 1927), 282 pp.; Ir farbrekhn, drame in 4 aktn (Her crime, a drama in four acts), staged in New York by Maurice Schwartz’s Arts Theater in 1927 (Olgin also translated a number of plays from Russian and English); Tsen royte yor, tsum yubiley fun der bolshevistisher revolutsye in rusland (Ten red years, to the jubilee of the Bolshevik Revolution) (New York, 1927), 96 pp.; Komunizm, tsulib vos un far vemen? (Communism, why and for whom?) (New York, 1934), 96 pp.; Trotskizm, teorye un praktik (Trotskyism, theory and practice) (New York, 1937), 233 pp.; Tsebrokhene grates (Broken bars) (New York, 1937), 234 pp.; Folk un kultur, artiklen un redes (People and culture, articles and speeches) (New York, 1939), 96 pp.; 1905 artiklen (1905 articles) (New York, 1940), 224 pp.; Amerike (America) (New York, 1941), 238 pp.; Sovetn-farband (The Soviet Union) (New York, 1944), 275 pp.; Kultur un folk, ophandlungen un eseyen vegn kultur and shrayber (Culture and people, treatises and essays about culture and writers) (New York, 1949), 360 pp. Among many others, his translations would include: Semyon Yushkevitsh, Der hunger (Hunger, Rus. Golod), a drama in four acts (Warsaw, 1906), 1911 pp.; Andrzej Niemojewski, Frayhayts-kemfer (Freedom fighter, Pol. Ludzie rewolucji) (Vilna, 1907), 23 pp.; Ekiza Ozheshko (Orzeskowska), Geklibene shrift (Collected writings), with detailed introductions by Olgin and Bal-Makhshoves (Vilna, 1910), 189 pp.; Leonid Andreyev, Kenig hunger (King hunger, Rus. Tsar golod), five images with a prologue (New York, 1911), 118 pp.; Andreyev, Der gedank (The thought, Rus. Mysl’); Andreyev, Ertseylung vegn zibn gehangene (Story of seven who were hanged, Rus. Rasskaz o semi poveshennykh) (Warsaw, 1923), 95 pp.; Jack London, Di shtime fun blut (Call of the wild), with an introduction by Olgin and Hillel Rogoff (New York, 1919), 196 pp.; John Reed, Tsen teg vos hobn oyfgerudert di velt (Ten days that shook the world) (New York, 1920); Adelheid Popp, Di yugnt-geshikhte fun an arbeterin (The autobiography of a working woman, Ger. Die Jugendgeschichte einer Arbeiterin) (Chicago), 102 pp. He also translated from Russian to English eight volumes of Lenin’s writings for “International Publishers” (New York); from German to English: Friedrich Engels’ The Peasant War in Germany (New York: International Publishers, 1926), 191 pp. His books in English include: The Soul of the Russian Revolution (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1917), 423 pp.; A Guide to Russian Literature (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Howe, 1920), 323 pp.; Maxim Gorky: Writer and Revolutionist (New York: International Publishers, 1933), 64 pp.; and Trotskyism: Counter-revolution in Disguise (New York: Workers Library Publishers, 1935), 160 pp., among others.
Sources: Tsum ondenk fun m. olgin (To the memory of M. Olgin) (New York, 1939), 32 pp.; M. olgin-album (M. Olgin album) (New York, 1941), 48 pp.; Ershter altveltlekher yidisher kultur-kongres (First world Jewish culture congress), report, pp. 30-32, 105-30, 201, 285, 290, 300-5, 362; R. Abramovitsh, In tsvey revolutsyes, di geshikhte fun a dor (In two revolutions, the history of a generation) (New York, 1944), vol., pp. 198-200, 220, vol. 2, pp. 348, 349; Y. Sh. Herts, Di yidishe sotsyalistishe bavegung in amerike (The Jewish socialist movement in America) (New York, 1954), see index; Daniel Tsharni, A yortsendlik aza (A decade like that) (New York, 1943), pp. 291-93; N. Kharin, “A briv tsu M. Olgin” (A letter to M. Olgin), Der veker (New York) (November 1, 1939); Gina Medem, A lebnsveg (A life) (New York, 1950), pp. 185, 213, 215, 216; Kalmen Marmor, “Di yugntlekher Olgin” (The youthful Olgin), Yidishe kultur (New York) (January 1940); Moyshe Nadir, “Di vos blaybn mit der frayhayt” (What remains of freedom), Hofenung (New York) (December 1939); Shmuel Niger, “M. Olgin, der shrayber” (M. Olgin, the writer), Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) (November 11, 1937); “Arbeter-literatur un arbeter-kritik” (Workers’ literature and workers’ criticism), Tog (New York) (August 28, 1932); “Briv vegn der alter un der nayer yidisher literatur” (Letter concerning the old and the new Yiddish literature), Tsukunft (New York) (January 1938); “Unzer lebn un unzer literatur” (Our lives and our literature), Tsukunft (New York) (January 1939); “M. Olgin un dos yidishe vort” (M. Olgin and the Yiddish word), Tog (New York) (December 17, 1939); A. Pomerants, Proletpen (Kiev, 1935), pp. 35, 62-65, 72, 194-96; Tserisene kaytn (Broken chains) (New York, 1943), pp. 90-94; Herman Frank, A. sh. zakhs, kemfer far folks-oyflebung (A. Sh. Sachs, fighter for people’s renaissance) (New York, 1945), see index; L. Faynberg, “Mayn letste bagegenish mit olginen” (My last meeting with Olgin), Hofenung (New York) (April 1940); M. Kats, Literaturnaya entsiklopediya (Literary encyclopedia) (Moscow, 1934), pp. 286-87; Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1; Yivo-bleter, no. 35, pp. 199-221.