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March 24: Moissaye Olgin and the Frayhayt

March 23, 2015

moyshe_olginImage: Photo restored and retouched by Yiddishkayt in Los Angeles.

Moissaye Olgin, editor of the communist Yiddish daily Morgn Frayhayt (“Morning Freedom”) from its founding in 1922 until his death in 1939, was born in a Ukrainian shtetl on this date in 1878. An admired revolutionary agitator and writer in the Russian underground, he wrote the proclamations of the Jewish Labor Bund during the abortive Revolution of 1905 and helped to organize Jewish self-defense groups against pogroms. Olgin came to the U.S. in 1915 and became a regular contributor to the Jewish daily Forverts and a leader within the Jewish wing of the Socialist Party of America. When the Jewish left split into pro-Bolshevik and anti-Bolshevik factions after the Russian Revolution, Olgin became editor of the fledgling Frayhayt, launched as a communist alternative to the Forverts, and a special correspondent for Pravda, the Soviet daily. Olgin ran for Congress several times on the Communist ticket. He translated many of Lenin’s writings from Russian into English; Jack London’s Call of the Wild and John Reed’s Ten Days that Shook the World from English into Yiddish; and Friedrich Engels’ The Peasant War in Germany from German into Yiddish, among other feats of translation. Olgin’s own books, The Soul of the Russian Revolution and A Guide to Russian Literature, were translated into several languages and widely distributed. He was an unreconstructed Stalinist whose foreshortened career was subject to all of the errors and biases of American communism; he was also a highly respected and beloved figure among readers of the Frayhayt and Jewish revolutionary idealists.

“It is not natural that men should go hungry while the means to produce food are close at hand. It is not natural that a government should order the destruction of three and a half million bales of cotton by plowing under the year’s harvest on ten million acres of land in the South the way it was done by the government of the U. S. A., while so many are badly dressed.... It is not natural that milk should be dumped into rivers while babies are starving. It is not natural that the most ingenious means of production and transportation should be rusting away while those who produce them and can operate them are being wasted away by starvation and disease. All this is most unnatural. It is insane.” --Moissaye Olgin, “Why Communism? Plain Talk on Vital Problems,” 1933