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Building on Errors

December 31, 1934
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The first conference of Soviets in the Jewish autonomous region of Biro-Bidjan, which recently concluded there, has attracted wide comment in the Soviet press and much discussion of the methods employed in settling Jews there.

Criticism of the measures taken in the past to attract Jewish settlers to the Far Eastern area and of the functioning of the agencies involved in the work is freely voiced.

The Emes, organ of the Yiddish Communists, devoted two full pages in a recent four-page issue to a discussion on Biro-Bidjan. It contains articles by M. Chavkin, secretary of the organization bureau of the Jewish autonomous region; Tadgieff, secretary of the nationalities council of the all-Union Central Executive Committee; P. Sprach, assistant editor of the Emes, who has spent some time in Bureya, and Hersch Brill, Comzet representative in Biro-Bidjan, all dealing with questions under discussion at the conference.

Chavkin deals mainly with the mistakes made in the work in Bureya in the past, and new methods to be applied. Describing the plan of operation for the coming year, he points out that the absorption and consolidation of the new settlers is one of the chief tasks involved, presenting many problems to be dealt with. As evidence of the unsatisfactory state of this phase of the work, he declares there has been tremendous re-emigration from Bureya.

During the last four years, from October 1930, 20,000 people emigrated to Bureya and 10,000 re-emigrated. In 1932, 6,000 out of 9,000 arrivals re-emigrated, and in 1933, the number of re-emigrants was larger than the number of arrivals.

“This huge re – emigration movement,” he states, “is entirely due to the inadequate manner in which preparations were made for the reception of the arrivals. This is proved by the fact that it is not the old settlers who go back, but the new arrivals who leave generally within a few days of their arrival. It is only to be expected that after a journey of some thousands of kilometres, the new settler expects to be received decently and provided with accommodations and with essential needs. If he sees that there is not even an attempt made to do this, he goes into a panic and runs back.

“The Regional Party organization has now taken the question of settlement in its own hands, and has given the secretaries of the party committees personal responsibility for dealing with the settlement of each emigrant family and each single new arrival.


“A definite plan has been worked out for settling the trans-migrants in 1935, at specific points and in specific enterprises in the region,” he declared. “The time has also been definitely fixed for the arrival of each group of emigrants in order to arrange for their reception and settlement, accommodations, work and food. Strict measures will be taken to see that the selection of the emigrants is carried out properly.”

Chavkin also stresses the importance of having industrial construction work completed on schedule so that settlement of the new arrivals may be linked up with the realization of the industrialization plans.

There will be a great deal of attention paid to artisan cooperatives which are to produce goods to the value of eleven million rubles, during 1935,” the writer revealed. “The area under cultivation will also be increased during the year, and there will be considerable development in the sphere of cattle breeding.

“There are still considerable difficulties to be faced in the work in the Jewish autonomous region, he concludes, but the fact that the entire country is interested in this work and helping to promote it, that the Soviet government and the Central Executive Committee are giving a great deal of attention to its development, and that the leader of the Far Eastern Party Organization, Lavrentieff, is personally engaging in the work, is a guarantee that the Jewish autonomous region will, in the shortest possible time, be in a position to absorb masses of Jewish workers who will build up a strong Socialist economic life of powerfully developed international culture, and will convert the region into one of the most flourishing areas in the Far East.”


Hersch Brill complains of the hasty emigration carried on until recently and the insignificant number of settlers despite the most grandiose plans. According to the schedule for the past six years in which the work of settlement has been going on, there should now be at least 50,000 settlers in Bureya. There are hardly 10,000 now, he points out.

“It is not enough to want to settle Bureya with Jews,” he declares. “In addition to the desire, there must also be provision for houses and food, enterprises in which to work and machinery. There must be conditions for settling the region. Also there must be more attention paid to settling the immigrants. It must not be thought that so long as the immigrant is on the spot that he will settle himself. There was a network of various fantastic plans from Moscow to Bureya. There was a line of emigrants hurrying to and from Bureya.

“These unreal, inflated projects, the gigantomania on the one side, and the irresponsibility of putting plans into effect and the negligence of bureau-cratism in the settlement of new arrivals, drove thousands of settlers back from Biro-Bidjan and did tremendous harm to the whole project.

Our plan must be less sweeping but well carried out. We must do better than prepare plans for tens of thousands, and absorb actually only two or three thousand; to choose settlers with discrimination, to receive them under good conditions, prepare homes and proper living conditions for them, to foresee things and to prepare for them—this is the most important part of the work now.


Sprach deals with the political aspects of the question, cautioning against an exaggerated Jewish nationalism.

“We must not allow the Jewish nationalist region to color the relations of the Jewish masses with the national coloring which the Jewish national bourgeois abroad and also in the Soviet countries will certainly attempt to do,” he warns. “There have already been such who have described Bureya as the Soviet Palestine, an idea which is organically foreign to us.”


Tadgieff says in his article that establishment of the Jewish autonomous region was no accident, and does not represent merely a declaration on the part of the Soviet government. It is a definite part of Soviet nationalist policy, he declares. He enumerates a number of the republics in Central Asia created in the last ten years. The Jewish nation belongs to those peoples who were most oppressed under Czarism, and therefore the liquidation of their economic and cultural unequality, the legacy of the old regime, has been one of the prime objects of the Soviet Government, he asserts.

The Soviet government, he writes, devoted itself from the beginning to questions of economic and cultural construction among the Jewish masses. As far back as 1918, it established a Jewish commissariat. Special land reserves in the Crimea, Ukraine and White Russia have been settled with 75,000 Jewish collective farmers; tens of thousands of Jewish youths work in industry there. The position of the Jewish workers in the small towns has been vastly improved. The writer also stresses the growth of Jewish schools, higher teaching institutions, theatres, clubs press and literature—all the result of the national policy of the government party. The intention of the Soviet government in designating Bureya as a Jewish autonomous region is to concentrate on a large area under favorable conditions compact Jewish masses, he declares.

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