Facing the Bolshevik judges: Speech of the anarchist Fedor Mochanovsky before the Petrograd Revolutionary Court on 13 December 1922
Let me defer for a second my response to the questions you put to me and give you a little information about the ‘Bezvlastiya’ group and the way in which that group looks upon governments generally and the soviet government in particular. For openers and as a member of the Bezvlastiya group, let me state that neither Til, Tomson nor Koziarsky, charged with banditry, ever have or had anything to do with our group and that Koziarsky has never been a member of that group nor had any sort of connection with it. On that basis, I protest at the nonsensical and lying articles carried by Red Gazette of 13 December 1922 which alleges: “Ivan Til is a member of the Bezvlastiya group.”And let me also take exception in advance to any other slander that might pop up in the official socialist press in the future. I shall not talk at length about the Bezvlastiya group and its activities. I shall confine myself to a few words.
It was, I think, at the beginning of March 1921 that the first edition of Bezvlastiya newspaper was published. Publication ceased that August, not because of lack of resources, but for other reasons. The group ceased to exist at the same time as the paper. So it was impossible for Koziarsky to have passed expropriated money on to the group. (The expropriations occurred in December 1922, by which time the group was no longer in existence.)
As for my insubordination and actions directed against the power of the soviets, those I do not deny. The real antagonism between the anarchists and the Bolshevists is nothing new as far as anarchists are concerned. That antagonism has existed since the days when Karl Marx and Mikhail Bakunin set out their ideas. The former embraced the State and government whereas the latter rejected them, even in embryo. That antagonism became very clear at the congress of Marxists chaired by Engels and Liebknecht and held in The Hague, at which they pledged to string up anarchists as soon as they came power.
In which all they were doing was talking in the same terms as the Bolshevists talk in Russia today.
For a start, back in 1918 the Bolshevists organised an anti-anarchist front to seek the destruction of the anarchists in Russia. Throughout the land and in every sphere of life across the territory of the soviet republic, they took up arms against the anarchists. They shut down their presses and their literature. They shut down anarchist clubs and bookshops. They resorted to all sorts of means in order to undo the organisation of their congresses and they arrested the anarchists. And when the opportunity presented itself, they shot them down on one pretext or another.
All of which was done in a vile and cruel fashion. At the time when the Bolshevists came into power, most anarchists enlisted on the various fronts as reinforcements against the onslaught of the counter-revolutionaries and the White Guards. Most perished. The ones who returned found their organisations smashed by the Bolsheviks. And even now, throughout the soviet republic, many anarchists are suffering the cruellest conditions in various prisons. Many of them have been banished; many others have been or are going to be killed.
Mindful of the war on the outside since the October revolution and up until 1920, anarchists adopted a wait-and-see approach. But from 1920 onwards anarchists have been posing this question to the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party:
“Are you willing to change your way of dealing with anarchists or are you sticking to it?”
To which the Communist Party replied:
“That will depend on whatever the Party’s Central Committee decides!”
Since when most anarchists have had to give up on public activity, having no illusions about changes to the Bolsheviks’ tactics.
In the “liberated” republic of the soviets, there is no anarchist press, whereas it publishes legally and can be distributed without let in bourgeois regions like France, Italy, Spain, England and America.
From the days of Socrates through to the nineteenth century, thanks to the ideas of the finest thinkers and modern philosophers, the human mind has been shrugging off the yoke of church power and temporal authority and searching out for itself some path by which humanity might arrive at freedom, justice, equality and universal happiness. From which it follows that, for the sake of social progress, freedom of speech is indispensable, so that every endeavour, every opinion, every idea, whether from an individual or a group of individuals, are screened – filtered we might even say – by criticism. In his theory, Darwin demonstrates how an unused organ atrophies and perishes. We say that the same goes for the human being who, in the absence of effort, backslides. Human beings may think whatsoever they please; but if they cannot swap impressions with other human beings they cannot grow ..
The Bolshevik government, like every other government, horrified at the criticisms voiced against its dishonest conduct, denies human beings the right of free expression of opinion and, by trying to cram everybody’s head with Marx’s ideas, thwarts the unfettered growth of the individual.
Rather than raising them higher with Karl Marx’s ideas, the Bolsheviks have trampled upon their own colours. They have set about the founding of the State and wrought their own destruction. (Every government is an agency of decomposition.) They have concocted a religion out of their doctrine and have spilled blood in order to spread it, the very same as the Christians who also regard themselves as the most enlightened men of all time have done.
In primitive times, the savages were idolaters of nature, the prophets and other idols. The human mind has battled against such tendencies for thousands of years. Today, it is the ideas of the great minds and of course the minds themselves that are being turned into idols before which their disciples prostrate themselves. Thanks to this new approach they are turning humanity back into slaves. That is the pitch to which the Bolsheviks have brought us and their fetishism knows no bounds.
There you have my view of all governments and should there some day be produced, even by anarchists, I know not what semblance of “free soviet” government, I will, on behalf of Anarchy, make my stand against any such construction of society.
[No source mentioned: See Manuscript in Flechine papers, Folder 80 https://senyafleshinpapers.wordpress.com/2014/12/29/flechine-folder-80/]
From: La Antorcha (Argentina) 23 September 1923. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.
Some files from the Boris Yelensky Papers have just gone up at The Senya Fleshin Papaers blog. Notes on contents at: https://senyafleshinpapers.wordpress.com/2015/06/26/files-from-the-boris-yelensky-papers-june-2015/
Folder 68. Chicago Aid Fund and Alexander Berkman Aid Fund.
Administrative documents ; Financial statements and reports of the activities. 1926-1965.
Folder 80. Chicago Aid Fund and Alexander Berkman Aid Fund.
Publication initiatives ; Documents concerning the publication of the book of G.P. Maximoff The guillotine at work, including the agreement for publication, reviews and correspondence concerning orders, delivery and receipt. 1939-1957.
Buenos Aires, March 15 1931
Dear Com[rade] D[ubinsky].
Although I still havenʼt received any reply from you, [Iʼm writing] because of the rising chorus of abuse directed against me by the Montevideo group. Their sec[retary] Lisitsa has sent out letters to organizations claiming that I am a Bolshevik and a provocateur, and in order to force them to put an end to these nasty pranks, Iʼm demanding to be put before a court [of honour].
I wrote to com[rade] A. Berkman and asked him to commission a com[rade] in Montevideo to investigate this sordid affair.i
Also I sent a declaration to “Delo Truda” in Chicago, “Freedom” in London, “Freie Arbeiter Stimme” and to other anarchist editors, [asking them] to publish my request to all organizations and c[omrades] to cease any contact with me until the resolution [of the issue] by a com[radely] tribunal. Thatʼs why I need to have everything in order with the groups.
I wrote to you that our group sent 20.00 pesos to com[rade] R. Rocker to the address you sent to us in correspondence. R. R[ocker] has not replied to us. And although I have a postal receipt, it would be desirable for our records to have either a receipt or a letter about receiving [the money]. Itʼs possible the money was lost.
And since you correspond with him, I beg you to ask him about this money. By the way, I want to know if you know David Elak-Berman? A member of our group was looking for work in Montevideo and visited the group there. They didnʼt want to talk to him. D. Elak-Berman insisted vehemently that A. Chernyakov is an honourable anar[chist] and that these protocolsii are worthless. He insisted that I be told that if I write an apology admitting that I made a mistake not recognizing the Arshinov platform and the An[archist] party, [then] they will work with me. They wonʼt deal with other An[archists] except on this basis. He spoke for the whole group.
The comrade made a reference to your opinion about the protocols. He [i.e., Elak-Berman] began to scream! “Why is Chernyak dealing with D[ubinsky]? I donʼt want anything to do with Chernyak!”
I donʼt know you personally. Itʼs enough for me that you replaced com[rade] A. B[erkman]. But Iʼd sure like to know who D. E[lak]-B[erman] represents. In his letters to me concerning A. Ch[ernyakov] he swears like a trooper.
Further, I beg you to inquire of com[rade] Yudiniii why he doesnʼt ask me what kind of people I hang around with. I would reply to him that I hang around with people I met through Chernyakov, thanks to letters of introduction provided by com[rade] P. Arshinov. Iʼve already fingered Chernyakov and some of his henchmen; the rest Iʼll go after when the hearing is over. I can pick them out better by working with them. But P. A[rshinov] is not writing to me and doesnʼt respond to letters from the group.
Com[rade] Yudinʼs letter to B[uenos]-A[ires] gives Chernyakov the possibility of boasting that I donʼt deserve the trust of the Anarchist movement. Since he knew Chernyakov through work in Russia, c[omrade] Yudin can vouch for his activity. And this is good enough for Arshinov. As for the rest … .
Nevertheless, I doubt if anyone from Russia knows about his an[archist] work. More than a few of the protocols are at variance with such activity. No one has personal knowledge of his work or knows the places where he might have worked.
And when he told his story to people who know something about the Rus[sian] An[archist] movement, they caught him bluffing, and even outsiders could tell he was lying.
But what will be, will be.
Please excuse me for using the wrong stationeryiv; the fact is Iʼm writing to you while sitting at my place of work.
After 11 months of unemployment, I found myself a job as a janitor in a hairdressing salon. I work 7 days a week, 16 hours a day. The boss gave me the keys. Itʼs dark when I come to work and I donʼt leave until 12 or 1 am. Today after finishing cleaning up I couldnʼt find the keys. It looks like theyʼre lost.
Iʼm worried that theyʼre not getting enough good customers into the shop and pretty soon thereʼll be nothing for me to do. Right now Iʼm writing this letter to keep from going to sleep. I have my fill of grief, so I may be a little off my rocker.
Send my home address to com[rade] R. Rocker.
With com[radely] greetings, M. Chernyak
IISH, Flechine archive, Folder 85. Translated from the Russian by Malcolm Archibald. Thanks to Yuriy Kravetz for help with reading this handwritten letter, which contains numerous errors of orthography and grammar.
i Letter of M. Chernyak to A. Berkman of 6–7 March 1931 (in English), see IISH, Alexander Berkman Papers, Folder 17.
ii The “protocols” refers to a dossier of evidence put together by Chernyak purporting to prove that Chernyakov was a Soviet agent.
iii Ivan Yudin, leader of a group of anarchist students in Moscow, was arrested on March 18 1921 and expelled from the USSR in January 1922.
iv Chernyak was writing on the stationery of Casa Ner, the hair salon where he worked.
From: https://senyafleshinpapers.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/flechine85-135.jpg / https://senyafleshinpapers.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/flechine85-136.jpg / https://senyafleshinpapers.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/flechine85-137.jpg / https://senyafleshinpapers.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/flechine85-138.jpg. Translated by: Malcolm Archibald.
Originally posted at: http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/n8pmg5
Anarchist Non (Noi) Ilyich Varshavskiy was imprisoned in 1927 for producing a leaflet protesting against then-imminent execution of Italian-American anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, which also called on proletarians to protest against persecution of anarchists in the USSR. (http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/v15gb3) He spent much of the rest of his life in prisons and Siberian exile, and did not betray his convictions. In the early 1930s, he corresponded with the Relief Fund of the International Working Men’s Association (IWMA) for Anarchists and Anarcho-Syndicalists Imprisoned or Exiled in Russia (http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/tx97g0). In 1949, he was arrested again and sentenced to 10 more years of exile in East Siberia as a “socially dangerous element”. There he met the members of the Levin family, who held fond memories of Varshavskiy.
Theatre actress and director Sarra Mikhailovna Levina-Kulneva (1920 – not before 2004) was sentenced to eight years in exile in Siberia in November 1950 as a socially undesirable element. Her husband Naum (Nokhem, Nokhim) Yakovlevich Levin (1908-1950) was a secretary of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. He was arrested in September 1949, sentenced to death on November 22, 1950, and executed the next day (http://mishpoha.org/n33/33a11.php).
In her autobiography “Sorele” (http://www.memorial.krsk.ru/memuar/Kulneva.htm; written down by Anna Mass and first published in Zvezda magazine in 1991), Sarra Levina-Kulneva recounted meeting Non Varshavskiy when she served her exile term. In Spring 1951, she started working on a construction site in the Krasnoyarsk Territory village of Taseyevo:
“Our works foreman was Non Ilyich Varshavskiy. He was 64 years old, of that he spent 33 years in prison and exile*. For 33 years he could not be forgiven for being an anarchist. A Jew anarchist! His wife Anna Lvovna [Varshavskaya] and daughter [Liya Nonovna Varshavskaya], both of them medics**, came from Moscow to visit him each time they had holidays.
A charming, cultured old man. We made very good friends with him. He saw how hard it was for me, living with two children, and he offered me monthly assistance, but I refused. I said: “Non Ilyich, you are given help yourself by your relatives – they save their own money and send them to you. By what right would I use that?”
When Levina-Kulneva was called to the local NKVD office in 1952 to get a response to her query concerning Naum Levin’s fate (she was not given a confirmation of his execution), Varshavskiy met her in the street: “He suggested that they want to recruit me as an informer, and as we walked there, he taught me how to respond so they wouldn’t catch me”.
The memoirs of her daughter Miriam Levina, “Stories not for children”, about her life as a child exile, were published in Golosa Sibiri (“Voices of Siberia”) almanac by Kuzbassvuzizdat publisher in Kemerovo in 2007 (http://golosasibiri.ru/almanah/vyp_5/092_025_lev.htm). She also mentioned Non Varshavskiy: “I heard how mum told someone that Non Ilyich was first imprisoned even before the revolution. As a kid he joined the anarchists and was jailed for the first time when he was 15 years old, for revolutionary activity. And from 1922 he was imprisoned all the time, as an anarchist***.”
Levina also described how the various exiles drank vodka and danced to mournful music as the death of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was announced in 1953: “Non Ilyich lifted me up to his arms and started spinning as he traversed amongst the people who gathered here for some unconceivable reason. My step-father [Vladimir Kulnev] turned a button on the radio, and heavy mournful music started to sound louder, which made the bright smiles of the guests seem even more absurd to me.”
After Stalin’s death, Varshavskiy was rehabilitated in July 1955 (http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/zs7jdj). Levina-Kulneva wrote: “Non Ilyich Varshavskiy died from throat cancer, he did not even live one full year after returning. A near and dear man! When I felt really bad, I ran to him, he would always find me a glass of strong tea and a ship biscuit, he would sit me down, he told me something, I told him something.”
[Translated by Szarapow]
* Varshavskiy was born in 1892 or 1895 and first arrested in 1927, so these numbers may be incorrect (http://gufo.me/content_pol/varshavskij-noj-ilich-2417.html).
** Apparently, Varshavskiy’s daughter worked as a school teacher (http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/tx97g0).
*** I presume that the numbers may have been borrowed from her mother’s book.
The introduction to the scanned Senya Fleshin papers has been updated.
The new files are:
Extra material from Folder 76 – Venger, Rachil’. 1931, 1932.
Folder 86 part one and
Folder 86 part two
Folder 85 and 86 are administrative documents including minutes, letters to the Aid Fund etc)
Exhibition on Russian anarchism and Disussion of the Spanish Civil War: Cultural activities of the Russian section of the International Workers’ Association (IWA-AIT)
Activists of the Federation of Workers in Education, Science and Technology (FRONT), an affiliate of the Russian section (KRAS) of the International Workers Association (IWA-AIT), participated in the organization of a series of cultural events in Moscow, the purpose of which was to familiarize the public with the history, experience and practice of anarchism and the anarcho-syndicalist movement.
On April 17 2015, in the Centre for Social-Political History of the State Public Historical Library (GPIB), an exhibition entitled “The History of Anarchism: Sources” had its official opening. On display were a sampling of the books and periodicals of the most valuable collections of the former State Public Historical Library (GOLB), devoted to the prehistory of anarchism, to Russian anarchism in the 19th and 20th centuries, to the international anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist movements of the 20th century, and also to the contemporary Russian libertarian movement. Included were works by William Godwin, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Joseph Déjacque, Ernest Coeurderoy, Max Stirner, Mikhail Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin, Errico Malatesta, Jean Grave, Sébastien Faure, Benjamin Tucker, Anselmo Lorenzo, John Henry Mackay, Vsevolod Voline, Alexei Borovoy, Nestor Makhno, Peter Arshinov, Apollon Karelin, Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Émile Armand, Federica Montseny, Rudolf Rocker, Karl Roche, Abel Paz, and many other famous libertarians, published at various times in various languages. There were also issues of the newspapers Obshchina [Commune] and Chernyy peredel [Black distribution – a revolutionary slogan referring to the radical redistribution of land to the peasants]; anarchist publications from the Russian revolutions of 1905–1907 and 1917–1921; newspapers of the global anarcho-syndicalist movement – Der Syndikalist (Germany), La Protesta (Argentina) and Solidaridad Obrera (Spain); and libertarian Samizdat publications of the period of Perestroika and the 1990s.
Members of FRONT assisted Library workers in assembling and annotating the materials for the exhibition.
The scholars, library employees and libertarian activists (including members of FRONT) who spoke at the official opening not only commented on the materials on display, but also briefed those present on relevant examples from the rich history of the movement and its practice in various fields of endeavour, such as anarcho-syndicalism/labour movement, anti-militarism, the struggle against repression and prisons, equal rights for women, “free love”, literature, art, etc. The speakers called upon researchers to expand the study of anarchism, both its ideas and its practice. Splendid opportunities for this exist thanks to the availability of the necessary research materials.
* * * *
On April 19 2015 a round table on the history of the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939 was held at the Dostoevsky Library in Moscow. Comrades from the Russian section of the IWA-AIT acted as co-organizers of the event, along with the administration of the Vkontakte [Russian social network] group “Guerra Civil Española / Grazhd. voyna v Ispanii” [Civil War in Spain]. Addressing the meeting, researchers told about the role and actions of the anarcho-syndicalists in the Spanish revolution, about the May events of 1937, about the radical wing of Spanish anarcho-syndicalism (which led the struggle against concessions to bourgeois-Stalinist “antifascism” by the leadership of the movement, about the Russian anarchists who fought in Spain, about cultural aspects of the Spanish drama and civil war. . . During the round table, as one would expect, a debate developed among the participants. On one side were those who defended the line of the radical wing of the Spanish libertarian movement; on the other side, the proponents of “antifascist unity”, who tried to justify the concessions of the steering committees of the CNT and FAI . . . The audience had the opportunity to ask questions and convince themselves of the compelling nature of the arguments of the supporters of anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian communism.
The Russian section of the IWA-AIT attaches great importance to such events, which not only contribute to the spread of knowledge about the theory and practice of our movement, but also strengthen the position of anarchism in the uphill struggle for “cultural hegemony” that has to be carried on today against reactionary, liberal and authoritarian views.
Confederation of Russian Anarcho-Syndicalists (KRAS) [Translation, Malcolm Archibald]