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My family is originally from the Odessa, Russia area and my whole life I've been fed the following story about my great grandfather:

My great grandfather, a man named Isaac Wasserman, who apparently was Russian Orthodox Jewish, was a socialist and was a ranking member to a political reform party that was a precursor to the Bolshevik Party. So, he was not a Bolshevik, but according to my family, this was a party similar to the Bolsheviks that preceded them and failed miserably to overthrow the czar/monarchy.

Apparently my great grandfather was some form of leader in this party, and when their coupe failed sometime in the early 20th century (1905-ish is the year I've been told a few times), he was sentenced to some Siberian gulag...from which he escaped, returned to Odessa, grabbed his wife (my great grandmother) and the two of them fled to America. They changed their name when they came to America so as to sever ties with their Russian roots, and thats how I got my surname. That's the story I've been fed for the last 30 years at least.

I'm interested in trying to vet out this story's accuracy and figured I'd start here trying to figure out what this "Bolshevik precursor" party might have been. Anybody have any idea what party this might have been?

  • Welcome to History:SE. What has your research shown you so far? You might find it helpful to review the site tour and Help Centre and, in particular, How to Ask. – sempaiscuba Dec 16 '17 at 12:24
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    In particular, the Wikipedia page for the Bolshevik Party states that they were a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, which might be the organisation you're looking for. – sempaiscuba Dec 16 '17 at 12:26
  • "Bolsheviks", like "Tories", is not really a name of the party. Between 1898-1918 the only official party name was РСДРП (Russian Social Democratic Labour Party). – Matt Dec 16 '17 at 13:28
  • The Bolsheviks and Mensheviks were two factions in the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party that arose in 1904 and vied for control in the early 20th Century. – Pieter Geerkens Dec 16 '17 at 14:00
  • The word "gulag" did not exist in the Imperial Russia. Neither a similar institution existed. Your great grandfather was probably exiled to Siberia. – Alex Dec 17 '17 at 3:31
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It is very probable that your great grandfather was a member of Bund. Bund was a Jewish socialist party. They split from the rest of social democrats in 1903. After the revolution (November 1917) they were disbanded and many of them joined Bolsheviks.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Jewish_Labour_Bund_in_Lithuania,_Poland_and_Russia

I make this conjecture only because you are saying about Jewish background of your great grandfather. In general there were many socialist parties in Russia at that time, and they all wanted to overthrow the monarchy. Some of the most popular were Socialist-Revolutioners (SR) and several varieties of Anarchists. Social democrats (Bolsheviks and Mensheviks) did not play an important role in the revolutions of 1905 or March 1917. There were many people of Jewish descent in all these parties, but my best bet is for the Bund.

Remark. Your expression "Russian Orthodox Jewish" sounds very strange and ambiguous. Does this mean an orthodox Jew who lived in Russia, or a Jew converted to Russian orthodoxy (a variety of Christianity)? The last thing would be very unusual: those Jews who wanted to convert to Christianity usually converted to Lutheranism, not to the Russian orthodoxy.

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You should first read the Wikipedia account of the Revolution of 1905 for the general background of your ancestor's story, and try to see the movie Battleship Potemkin for a dramatic presentation of the events in Odessa. (This movie is a prime example of victors' history, but is a good watch.)

It is not an oversimplification to say that there were many political parties in Russia in 1905 with a variety of subtly different reformist and revolutionary positions, and from your description alone it would be hard to pinpoint which particular faction your great great grandfather adhered to.

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