Anarchists in the Gulag (and prison and exile)

Bolshevik repression of anarchists after 1917

Posts Tagged ‘Russian anarchists

Leah Feldman (on leaving Russia)

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“Thanks to a good friend of Albert Meltzer we can share with you a scan of the original image of Leah Feldman (on leaving Russia) as used in her obituary in KSL: Bulletin of the Kate Sharpley Library.”  See

Leah Feldman, on leaving Russia

Leah Feldman, on leaving Russia

Written by gulaganarchists

10, October 2014 at 10:49 am

Hikaru TANAKA articles on the Anarchist Red Cross…

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… but they are in Japanese.

“The Anarchist Relief Organizations for the Prisoners and Exiles in Russia -Focusing on the Activity of New York Anarchist Red Cross from 1905 to 1920s” (English title, not in English but you can at least check out the footnotes)

[ロシアで投獄されたアナーキストを救援するための組織とその活動について ~ニューヨークのアナーキスト赤十字を中心に 1905~1920年代~]

is available at:

Also, see the abstract for another (seminar paper):

Hikaru TANAKA: Activity of the Anarchist Red Cross from 1905 to 1920: Jewish anarchists crossing borders
We can note that in many cases, people often became anarchists through their migration experiences. Adopting this viewpoint, we analyzed the participating members and actual activities of a certain organization called the Anarchist Red Cross, founded during the Russian Revolution, by the Russian immigrant anarchists in the United States attempting to rescue their fellow countrymen jailed as political prisoners back home.
Consequently, we have come to a conclusion that the general understanding of American anarchists being the uprooted—those who lead a rootless lifestyle—did not necessarily apply to them. In fact, they aspired to maintain a network with the people in their home country, after they were settled.

Written by gulaganarchists

20, August 2014 at 9:25 am

Aron Baron letter to Boris Yelensky October 27 1924

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Muksolma, [Solovetsky Islands] October 27, 1924

What’s the matter, friend, that you don’t answer? Back in early August I received a postcard from you which I immediately answered. And since then I haven’t heard a thing from you. This just won’t do. Or maybe my letter just didn’t reach you? Really there wasn’t anything in it which would cause our censors to hold it up. In any case, I expected you to let me know about yourself in more detail. In my last letter I asked you a whole bunch of questions about what life is like in Chicago nowadays and about the new people there. I also asked how you returned, what sort of adventures you had. And regarding Klara, I wanted to find out how she got out of Japan – when and under what circumstances. When you get around to answering, don’t forget to write about all this.

Concerning myself, I can mention that on January 5 my current term will end; accordingly, by the end of November I am to be transferred to finish the rest of my sentence in the town of Kem, where there is a branch of our camp. This letter of mine, if it travels at a normal speed, will reach you in the middle or latter half of November. Taking this into consideration, I want to propose to the following. You wrote that you and Klara wanted to send me a parcel or money. It’s not a good idea to send parcels here, friends, because there’s duty to be paid on every little thing. It’s best to send money. The more the better, because there’s a few of us here. My proposal is this: collect as much money as you can and send it soon enough that it will arrive in Kem not later than the end of January or beginning of February. The address is: Kem, Karelia oblast, camp, political prisoner Vera Kevrik. Don’t forget, Boris, and if I’m no longer in Kem by the time the money arrives, it doesn’t matter: it’s still very necessary.

I’ve had some correspondence with Vanya – the poor fellow is getting worse. It’s possible I’ll soon end up in his situation. Your namesake Boris, who also used to live in Chicago and was a fanatical IWW, together with Yefim were settled not long ago in Turkestan. Some other acquaintances have been settled even farther away in Siberia. I was sick recently, but am better now. I heard that Erman has been spreading all sorts of filth in your circles. What a swine! This is taking a toll on Mark’s health.

Well, good-bye friends. Don’t forget. Greetings to all my Russian, Jewish and American friends. Keep your spirits up.

Your Aron

Answer promptly. Klara, write me about yourself and also about Wilma.


Translator’s Notes: The letter was written to Boris Yelensky. Mentioned in the letter are fellow prisoners/exiles Vanya Charin, Boris Klichevsky, Yefim Dolinsky, and Vera Kevrik. “Klara” may refer to Klara Chornaya, a colleague of Yelensky’s in the Odessa group he belonged to. They left the USSR together in 1922. Don’t know about “Wilma” (Yelensky’s wife’s name was Bessie and their son was Leon). “Erman” may refer to the “anarcho-bolshevik” Herman Sandomirsky. He was sent abroad in 1922 to convince anarchists to support the USSR and created quite a stir in Germany and Italy, with Voline and Malatesta attacking him in the anarchist press.

From: IISG, Boris Yelensky Papers, folder 61. Translated by: Malcolm Archibald.

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Written by gulaganarchists

20, August 2014 at 9:13 am

Stepan Semenovich Dybets by V. M. Chop and I. I. Liman

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Stepan Semenovich Dybets

Stepan Semenovich Dybets

Stepan Semenovich Dybets (1887 – 1937) was born in the village of Novy Bug, Odessa district, Kherson province. An ethnic Ukrainian, he became the first director of the Nizhny-Novgorod automobile plant (1929-1932), later – GAZ [1]. His oral memories of events in Berdyansk in the first half of 1919 became known to us through their preservation by the well known Soviet writer Aleksandr Bek. The latter, at the beginning of the 1930s, worked on the “Cabinet of Memoirs” started by Maxim Gorky and had many conversations with Dybets, which were stenographed for the book of memoirs People of the Two Five Year Plans [2]. Incidentally, Bek himself also visited Berdyansk, but not until May 1951. As a result of this visit Bek wrote the fictional story Noviy Profil [New Profile], which was published in Moscow in the same year.

The young Stepan Dybets emigrated to America, where he lived for more than ten years. Beyond the ocean he worked as a instrument maker in a motion picture camera factory. In 1911 Dybets became an anarcho-syndicalist and joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Later he became one of the organizers of the newspaper Golos Truda, organ of the Russian anarcho-syndicalists in the U.S.A. [3] In 1917 Dybets returned to Russia. At first he worked in anarchist organizations in Kronstadt and Kolpino [4]. After their collapse he moved to Berdyansk, where he worked as a bookkeeper in the Russian-American engineering works [5]. Dybets changed his political orientation, transferring from the Anarchists to the Bolsheviks. Apostasy was not easy for Dybets, and he suffered terribly. It reached the point where he began to exhibit symptoms of mental illness. He completely clammed up and didn’t say anything for almost a month. He himself claimed that all this took place in the fall of 1918, but Lukyan Romanov [6] cruelly wrote that in March 1919 Dybets was still an Anarchist. It is in fact likely that Dybets became a Communist in March 1919, after the Communists took control of the city from the Makhnovists. Working to earn his daily bread, as least as a bookkeeper or routine worker, was clearly not to his liking. Subsequently he made a brilliant career among the Communists and then was pitilessly annihilated once he had exhausted his potential.

Dybets recalled that from the end of March 1919 he himself was the head of the Berdyansk Revkom [Revolutionary Committee]. While still in the USA he had become acquainted with Vsevolod Volin, who had become the leading figure in the Kharkhov-based Confederation of Anarchists of Ukraine (the “Nabat” confederation), which was on the point of moving to Gulai-Polye to carry on its work. This gave Dybets a certain degree of prestige in the eyes of the Makhnovists. Dybets had numerous conversations with Nestor Makhno during the latter’s visits to Berdyansk, which he later recounted to Bek in detail [7].

In the 1920s a group of workers from America, led by Big Bill Haywood and John Rutgers, travelled to the USSR and founded the “American Industrial Colony” in the Kuzbass [8]. Then Dybets was asked by Lenin to provide his services to them as a guide. In 1932-1934 he was already a deputy manager, and from 1935 he was in charge of the Central Board of the Soviet automobile and tractor industry, the “Soviet Ford”. Later he was repressed as a wrecker and an American spy. He was shot on November 26 1937. His widow – Rosa Adamovna [9] – survived her husband for a long time, and during the Khrushchev era she had several meetings with Bek.

In the 1950’s, Bek wanted to write an entire novel about Dybets, collecting a significant quantity of material, but death prevented him from realizing his dream. His related story “Such a job…” appeared in the magazine Novy svit (1967, no. 7). The complete version was published posthumously in the publication Sovietsky pisatel in 1973.

Excerpted from V. M. ChopandI. I. Liman, Free Berdyansk: the life of a city under an anarchist social experiment (1918–1921) . (Zaporozhye, 2007), 478 pp.

Translated from the Ukrainian and edited by Malcolm Archibald

[1] The Gorky Automobile Plant (GAZ) is still the leading manufacturer of commercial vehicles in Russia.

[2] This work was never published as a result of Gorky’s sudden death in 1936.

[3] Golos Truda [The Voice of Labour] was the main newspaper of the Union of Russian Workers in the United States and Canada, an explicitly anarchist organization. Dybets told Bek that the whole staff of Golos Truda joined the IWW, and that he received his red membership card from Big Bill Hayward in person.

[4] Dybets attended a Russian trade union conference in 1917 as an anarcho-syndicalist delegate.

[5] This was a plant established as a worker co-operative by Russian workers who had returned from North America after the Revolution. It was probably run on anarcho-syndicalist principles which would explain Dybets’s presence there.

[6] Lukyan Romanov (? – 1960), a toolmaker by trade, emigrated from the Russian empire to the USA, and then returned in 1917 with the group of workers who organized the Russian-American plant in Berdyansk as a co-operative. Unlike Dybets, Romanov almost immediately joined the Bolshevik Party; after the Civil War he made a career in the Soviet secret police. His memoirs of Berdyansk during the revolutionary period were written for the 40 th anniversary of the October Revolution, when there was a massive effort to preserve the recollections of Old Bolsheviks, i.e. Bolsheviks who had joined the party before October 1917.

[7] Makhno once intervened to save Dybets, who had been condemned to be shot by a revolutionary tribunal. Dybets attributed Makhno’s leniency (Dybets had admitted to killing Makhnovists) to a fear of reprisals.

[8] The Kuznetsk Basin (Kuzbass) in southwestern Siberia is one of the largest coal-mining regions in the world.

[9] The Jewish Anarchist Rosa Adamovna Dybets (1882 – ?) did not convert to Bolshevism like her husband. She met Stepan Dybets only after she emigrated to the USA following imprisonment in Ukraine for anarchist activities. At one time she had been in the same prison as Nestor Makhno in Yekaterinoslav. Shortly after her husband was shot, Rosa was sentenced to eight years in the camps; she survived and was released in 1945.

From: Excerpted from V. M. Chop and I. I. Liman, Free Berdyansk: the life of a city under an anarchist social experiment (1918–1921). (Zaporozhye, 2007), 478 pp. . Translated by: Malcolm Archibald.


Written by gulaganarchists

11, July 2014 at 10:10 am

Otello Gaggi [report]

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OTELLO GAGGI, an Anarchist, has lived for 13 years in Russia, having gone in exile from Italy. Has been in prison since January 4, 1935. Has still to undergo 30 years of imprisonment in Italy for revolutionary activities. He was sentenced without any trial whatsoever, to deportation for three years to Yarensk. Afterwards his wife was also sentenced, but not to Yarensk. Yarensk, situated 140 miles from the nearest railway, is buried under snow for 6 months of the year!

(Press Service International Anti-Militarist Commission; reprinted by “Man!” Nos. 7-8, July-August, 1935, San Francisco, Cal.)

From: The Guillotine at work p621.


Written by gulaganarchists

7, June 2014 at 3:50 pm

Nicolai Rogdayev: A Letter from Russia

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Dear Comrades:

We feel deeply hurt ourselves by learning from your paper of the death of our good old Comrade Nicolai Rogdayev.

I, as his close friend and co-worker in the foregone days of the Russian Revolution, want to say a fewwords in the form of an obituary. To our great sorrow we cannot do it here, in this land where Comrade Rogdayev gave his best years of revolutionary activity. On the contrary, this very land, which is considered by many nowadays as Socialistic, kills in its prisons and exiles revolutionists like Rogdayev. The mere fact that Rogdayev died of hunger in the far Turkestan exile shows the real face of Russian Bolshevism. Rogdayev is put in prison; luckily he escaped from the jail and migrated out of revolutionists. [typo]

Being yet a student in the beginning of this century, Rogdayev joined the Russian Anarchist movement where from the very beginning he has been most active. In 1907 he was sent as a delegate to the Anarchist Congress that took place in Amsterdam. After his return back to Russia he was arrested by the Tzar’s gendarmes and put in prison: luckily he escaped from the jail and migrated out of the country

Many years of his emigration Rogdayev lived in Spain and was active in the Spanish Anarchist movement and only in the time of the World War he went to Paris where he stayed till the outbreak of the Russian Revolution.

In the beginning of 1918 I met him first in Saratov. He was full of energy then.

As an experienced conscientious revolutionist his views were definite and uncompromising. In regard to the results of the victory of Bolshevism in Russia he was much less optimistic than many of his comrades; nevertheless, he propagated the necessity of fighting Denikin and other counter-revolutionists.

Being an eloquent orator he was an excellent agitator. All his life and activity were a natural expression of a genuine revolutionist.

In 1919 he was in Samara (Central Volga) and owing to his energy and colossal mental power we had there a nice club and a good cultural centre. His lectures always attracted hugs crowds of workers. At the end of 1919 the Bolshevik reactionaries closed our club and almost all of the Samaran Anarchists were jailed. At that time the Bolsheviks didn’t yet dare to put their claws upon comrade Rogdayev. But he was aware of the fact that the reaction in Russia had a tendency to strengthen and that he would also be thrown into the Socialistic dungeon for not being in agreement with the Bolshevik executioners.

In 1920 I met Rogdayev again at Tashkent. Here he worked in an “Hindustan Revolutionary Committee” where he had great influence. But the Bolsheviks fearing competition disbanded the committee and Rogdayev was sent out of Tashkent.

Being deprived for a long time of communicating with anyone on this plane naturally I lost sight of Rogdayev and only in 1930 being in exile I was informed that he was being kept in the political prison of the Suzdal convent.

In the name of all comrades in Russia we energetically protest against torturing Anarchists in the Bolshevik prisons and exiles. We also urge our comrades outside of Russia to unite their protest.

We mourn the death of our dear comrade Nicolai Rogdayev, as also the death of all other revolutionists-victims of the Bolshevik regime.

Applebaum and Comrades.

Russia, 2-VII-1934.

P. S.-Dear Comrades: I beg of you to translate these lines for your paper and to forward the original or translation to other Anarchistic publications.

With Comradely regards: Applebaum.

(“Man!” A Journalof the Anarchist Ideal and Movement, No. 8, August, 1934. San Francisco, Cal.)

From: Guillotine at work 617-18.


Written by gulaganarchists

7, June 2014 at 3:44 pm

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[Protest to the GPU]

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To the Presidium o f the G. P. U.

We protest.

Ten years have passed since the final smash-up of the legal Anarchist organizations has taken place in the U.S.S.R. A long time ago the Bolsheviks cast off the mask behind which they were hiding in the first years of the revolution.

When the Anarchists were in the van of the bloody struggle, when they were coolies of the revolution, when they were still needed, the Bolsheviks tolerated them with a “comradely” smile.

But no sooner were the military fronts liquidated, no sooner was the internal counter-revolution crushed, than the Bolshevik authorities found it no more necessary to work together with the Anarchists.

The Anarchist printing shops were confiscated, their press was strangled, their publications seized and hundreds of comrades were locked up in prisons without the benefit of trial, banished to places of exile and even executed. Old men, youths, women have been driven about from one place to another.

We shall not dwell here at any length upon such known facts as the pogrom carried out in the Butirky prison, the shootings in Solovki, the beatings administered to the prisoners of the Verkhne-Uralsk prison. Hunger strikes became common, every-day events, reminiscent of the most ferocious years of the Tzar’s regime.

The sentences meted out by the G. P. U. are nothing but Jesuitic lies, since the terms of those sentences are invariably lengthened in quite an arbitrary manner; this is done under the guise of applying the so-called “minus-system”, and at times it is just put into effect with no embellishments at all.

Political isolation” means at least nine years of trials and tribulations with the G. P. U. In prison and exile – nine years of slow methodical beatings, with no visible traces left on the body.

Apart from the gradual murders by starvation, the exiled Anarchists are also subjected to the humiliation of treatment as common criminals, prostitutes and wreckers.

Those that are released with the “minus” marked on their papers, must show those documents whenever they register or apply for work; they become an easy prey to any one with a bent for persecution, who can lynch them at will.

They are deprived of the right to work and are only suffered to earn a livelihood by some special grace of the authorities. Black listing is frequently applied, and we both can testify to it in our capacity of unemployed. Proscription lists exist not as a matter of chance, but as part of a system.

As a result of the long confinement in prison, an illness which could not be attended under the conditions of life in exile, of semi-starvation and moral tortures – there perished one of the most active figures of the three revolutions and the European revolutionary movement – the Anarchist Nicolai Rogdayev, who was picked up on Sacco and Vanzetti street.

His premature death was predetermined by the “monkey trial” of 1929, at which also our lynching took place.

Such a fate threatened all of us, and especially the old comrades among us.

We cannot wait in silence until the noose draws tightly around our necks.

We openly declare our defiance of the “minuses” tacked on after we had unwarrantedly served our time in exile, and of the arrests or detentions later. We shall declare a five-day hunger strike in sign of protest against the death of Nicolai Rogdayev and the flouting of the rights of the Anarchists. We shall continue our hunger strike until we are freed, and if compelled, we shall hold out unto our death.

The Bolsheviks can crush us, but the idea of Anarchism will triumph; it will yet lead to their downfall and the destruction of prisons; for the blood of the Anarchists is the kind of ink which Nechayev used when writing upon the walls of his casement.

How long will this brutality against Anarchists continue?

We Protest!


February 14,1933.

(“Dielo Trouda,” No. 80, June-July, 1934. Chicago, Ill.).


From: The guillotine at work p. 614-15.



Written by gulaganarchists

7, June 2014 at 3:39 pm

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