<h3> <h3>Esther Vilenska
Jews, Marxism and the Worker's Movement

Sid Resnick

Esther Vilenska

First Published: Morning Freiheit, November 30, 1975.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The sad news reached us from Israel that Esther Vilenska died on November 9th. She had been suffering from a heart ailment for the last several years. She was 57 years old. Esther Vilenska was one of the outstanding leaders of the Communist movement in Israel and in her political life combined a strong commitment to Marxism and internationalism with a firm devotion to Israel, its people and especially its working class. She served on the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Israel (MAKI) for over three decades until she parted company with it in the summer of 1973 and formed the Israel Communist Opposition (AKI). She had also been an elected Communist representative in the executive council of the Histadrut, the Israel Trade Union Federation, where she espoused a policy of militant defense for the worker’s economic demands.

She also served as an elected Communist member of the Knesset for 12 years.

Ever since the June 1967 Arab-Israel war she participated in many of the peace movements in Israel where she advocated the united action of all the anti-annexation forces to oppose the right-wing chauvinist and annexationist movements and the Israeli government’s capitulation to them. She urged the Israeli government to publicly commit itself to withdraw from the occupied territories within the framework of a general peace agreement. This position brought her into conflict with the leadership of MAKI which toward the end of its existence consisted mainly of followers of the late Dr. Moshe Sneh who had advocated a more conciliatory attitude to the Israeli government. (Maki dissolved itself earlier this year and joined forces with another Socialist-Zionist group to form Moked).

Esther Vilenska also opposed the policies of the other Communist party, RAKACH, which she regarded as dogmatic and sectarian, though she cooperated with their members and other forces on specific issues.

Vilenska was the author of two books in the past five years which were highly praised in Jewish left-wing circles in various countries. In 1972 she published the Hebrew text of her doctoral thesis, “The Great Peasants’ Insurrection in Germany: Forerunner of Social Revolutions.” The Yiddish translation of this work appeared in 1972. This book deals with the peasants’ uprising against the feudal landowners in Germany in the 16th century, the role of Thomas Meunzer and Martin Luther and the attitude of peasant leaders to the Jewish population.

In April 1974 the Histadrut publishing house Am Oved issued her book, “The Socialist International and the Comintern” in Hebrew. The Yiddish translation of this work was published earlier this year. It is noteworthy that when the directors of the Histadrut publishing house were considering this book they became equally divided between those who favored publishing it and those who opposed its publication. As a last resort the directors turned to the president of the Histadrut, at that time Yitzhak Ben Aharon, to break the tie which he did in favor of its publication.

Since October 1973 Esther Vilenska was the editor of the monthly Yiddish publication, Undzer Shtimmeh (Our Voice) and of a Hebrew publication which reflected the AKI viewpoint. In what was probably one or her last articles she denounced the United Nations Resolution which termed Zionism a form of “racism.” She was a frequent contributor to the Morning Freiheit.

The progressive Jewish movement has lost an outstanding Marxist leader and writer and a consistent fighter for Arab-Israel reconciliation and peace. The Morning Freiheit extended its condolences to Esther Vilenska’s husband, Zvi Breitshtein, her family and her co-workers.