Source: M. J. Olgin: Leader and Teacher
Published: Workers Library Publishers, New York, December 1939.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2006. You can freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive as your source.
BORN March 24, 1878, in a little village near Kiev, Russia, Moissaye J. Olgin received a traditional education in Hebrew, and, after a short period of self-study, he entered the University of Kiev in 1900. It was at Kiev University that he first became active in the underground revolutionary movement.
He studied at the University of Heidelberg from 1907 to 1910, after which he returned to Russia where he became a writer and editor of numerous revolutionary and labor publications.
This work soon won for him a warm spot in the hearts of the Jewish masses, who were the special targets and victims of the ruthless terror of the tsarist regime. In 1901 he was elected chairman of the Students Central Committee, and was at the same time a member of the Jewish revolutionary student group, called “Freiheit.” The tsarist regime ordered his arrest in April of 1903 on a charge of organizing Jewish self-defense groups against anticipated pogroms.
A year later Olgin left the university and went to Vilno as a member of the Vilno Committee of the Jewish Bund. A short while thereafter he was arrested but released on bail, whereupon he became a member of the editorial board of the Arbeiter Stimme (Labor’s Voice).
He was the author of all the proclamations issued by the Central Committee of the Bund during the Revolution of 1905 while at the same time he prepared literary compositions for the illegal Jewish press.
His energy was inexhaustible. While editing newspapers and working with the underground organizations he also wrote books, short stories and numerous literary essays.
The first imperialist World War found him in Germany. Unable to return to Russia, Olgin came to the United States in 1915. Here he was very cordially welcomed by Jewish workers and intellectuals, among whom his writings were already popular. Soon after his arrival in the United States, he became a regular contributor to the Jewish daily Forward. Mastering the English language in an amazingly short time, by 1917 The Soul of the Russian Revolution, one of his outstanding books, was published.
In the meantime, he had continued his studies at Columbia University, and in 1918 received his Ph.D. degree. He lectured at the New School for Social Research in 1919.
Olgin was one of the founders of the Workers (Communist) Party in 1922. When the Jewish Socialist Federation split in 1921, Olgin severed his connections with the Forward. Later when the Federation united with the Communists, he was made one of the organizers of the Jewish section of the Party. He was a member of the National Committee of the Communist Party for many years.
Olgin was one of the founders of the Yiddish Daily Freiheit (now Morning Freiheit) and served as its editor up to the time of his death.
In 1937 Olgin went to Paris as delegation to the International Yiddish Culture Congress which founded the World Alliance for Jewish Culture (Y.C.U.F.). While in Paris he addressed the Writers Congress. Every year he toured the country lecturing on labor, social and cultural problems. He also made several trips to the Soviet Union.
Olgin was the author of a score of books and pamphlets. He was a magnificent linguist, a master of at least half a dozen languages: English, Russian, German, French, Polish, Hebrew and Yiddish. He wrote verse, essays, literary criticism and sociological studies. He would, with equal one of the American effectiveness, write The Soul of the Russian Revolution and A Guide to Russian Literature and compose a pamphlet, Why Communism? which achieved a sale of nearly half a million in several languages.
He translated several volumes of Lenin’s Collected Works from Russian into English; Frederick Engels’ The Peasant War in Germany from German into Yiddish; John Reed’s Ten Days That Shook the World from English into Yiddish; a volume of short stories from Polish into Yiddish; two volumes of tales of Mendele Moischer Sforim, the father of Jewish literature, from Hebrew into Yiddish; and Jack London’s Call of the Wild from English into Yiddish.
At his funeral, on November 26, 1939, more than 100,000 workers took part in the procession, or lined the streets to pay tribute to a beloved leader.