Most Russian Jews did not support the October Revolution. Those most integrated into Russian society supported the Kadets or Russian socialist parties. Traditional Jews sympathized with Jewish socialist organizations or Zionists. Jews took active part in anti-Bolshevik actions together with socialists; but when military dictatorship was established in Siberia and in the South, Jews were forced out of the White Movement because of the anti-semitism of a substantial part of Russian military officers. Jewish Bolsheviks were mainly de-nationalized Jews. They were semi-intelligentsia who had completed neither a secular nor traditional Jewish education. It was they who became commissars and Chekists, creating the impression that Jews took active part in the Revolution. Nevertheless, despite common opinion, Jews did not make up a majority Cheka.
Jews took part in terrorist actions against Bolshevik leaders; they were motivated by a desire to counter the charge that all Jews were Bolshevik supporters. This was the motive of Leonid Kanegisser, who killed a fellow Jew, M.S. Uritsky, the head of the Petrograd Cheka.
To spread Bolshevik ideas among Jews, in the autumn of 1918, the Jewish Sections of RKP(B) were organized with a Central Bureau in Moscow. The leaders of the Jewish Sections did not consider Jews a nation, but a specific group united by the Yiddish language. They used that language to influence "Jewish workers who did not speak any other language" and they considered those workers themselves a "specific object". People who worked in the Jewish Sections ("yevseks") had a traditional Jewish education; however, the "yevseks" were a committed and sophisticated enemy of the Jewish religion, Jewish traditions and Jewish culture.
The Revolution and Civil War provoked by the Bolsheviks caused anti-Semitism and mass pogroms. Although all Jewish parties condemned the October Revolution, Soviet Power proved to be the only faction that not only condemned the pogroms, but really fought against them. Some divisions of the Red Army were disbanded for committing pogroms and the instigators were shot. The haydamaks committed the cruelest pogroms. Denikin's men were cruel as well. Various gangs killed Jews, too. All in all, during the Civil War, more than 1,500 pogroms took place. 700 towns suffered pogroms; 300,000 children became orphans because of pogroms. Jewish cemeteries expanded to accommodate new graves. In some places, defense groups resisted pogromists. For instance, in Odessa, the Jewish community paid a salary to 600 fighters and machine-gunners.
Survivors of pogroms were traumatized and angry. EKOPO, Yevobshchestkom and foreign charitable organizations, especially Joint, helped those people. The first two were controlled by the Bolsheviks; Joint was independent, although it had to tolerate the interference of Soviet bodies in its activity. These organizations were especially active during the first years after the Civil War, during the famine. Joint partially financed the activity of ARA to help those who were starving; at the end of 1922, it began to act independently. When the famine was over, Joint helped Jews suffering economic crisis in small towns; it also supported agricultural colonies.
By the end of 1917, there were 1200 branches of Zionist organizations in Russia. Their influence was so strong that there were 6 Zionists among 7 representatives of Jewish parties in the Constituent Assembly. In the summer of 1919, the Bolsheviks began their struggle with the Zionists. The Moscow Conference of Jewish Sections adopted a resolution on the "counter-revolutionary role" of Zionism. Although VTsIK replied to an appeal from the Zionist organization, writing that Zionists were not declared a counter-revolutionary party and that their activity was not forbidden, the Cheka carried out mass arrests of Zionists in Moscow, Petrograd, and other cities. In April, 1920, in Moscow, 109 participants in the Russian Zionist Conference were arrested. Even the intervention of international organizations did not save Russian Zionists from suppression. In 1924, the Moscow head-quarters of the Zionist Organization was destroyed. After that, the Zionists began to operate illegally.
The Civil War caused total devastation; and Jews suffered most of all. The former Pale of Settlement became a battle ground. Because of numerous gangs, Jews could not go to the country-side to exchange their belongings for food; then again, they had few belongings after the pogroms. Private trading and manufacturing, which consisted the economic base for many Jews, were forbidden. Although NEP permitted private business, trading and handicraft enterprises had to pay excessive taxes; besides, Jews lost their tools, goods, raw materials and current capital during the war. Large enterprises were restored chiefly to the East of the Pale of Settlement. Hence, there was mass unemployment in Jewish towns. 30% of the Jewish working population was qualified as "lacking"; 500,000 Jews were forced to leave their homes.
The authorities tried to solve the problem of unemployment in towns by creating Jewish agricultural colonies. In 1924, the Committee of Land-utilization of Jewish Workers (KOMZET) was established (as a branch of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR). To help it, the Society of Land-utilization of Jewish Workers (OZET) was established as a voluntary society. At the same time, Joint organized the special Jewish agricultural corporation Agro-Joint, which reached an agreement with the Soviet Government. New agricultural settlements were settled in the Crimea and in Kherson Province. Jews left their towns for the bare steppe; they lived in dug-outs or in the houses of local peasants. However, neither hard conditions nor an absence of experience stopped Jews in their attempts to develop a new base for their existence and to began new life. Within 2 years, the colonies had stabilized.
A leaflet of Zionist Committee of Odessa District. 1918