Anarchists in the Gulag (and prison and exile)

Bolshevik repression of anarchists after 1917

A Letter of Yelena Mikhailovna Chekmasova to Vera Grigorevna Man

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The letter below was originally published by the Russian “Memorial” society, which specializes in publicizing the Soviet Union’s totalitarian past. It was found in the archival fond labelled “E. P. Peshkova. Help to political prisoners (1922-1938)” in the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF). Yekaterina Peshkova was the director of “Aid to Political Prisoners,” an unofficial, but tolerated, humanitarian organization based in Moscow; Vera Grigorevna Man was one of her assistants. The introduction, postscript, and most of the annotations were supplied by “Memorial.” Annotations with the initials MA were written by the translator.

The anarchist Yelena Mikhailovna Chekmasova was born in 1895 in the village of Polozovo, Tulskaya governate. She received a secondary education. She lived in Moscow and worked as a schoolteacher. On August 17 1921 she was arrested and sentenced for “membership in the anarchist underground” to one year of exile and sent to Arkhangelsk. In early January 1922 she was arrested there, and on January 14 sentenced to the VMN [highest measure of punishment, i.e. death], which was commuted to five years in a concentration camp. She was sent to the Solovki Special Purpose Camp. On May 25 1925, she was released from the camp with a residential restriction of “minus 6” [not allowed to live in six major cities]. She settled first in the village of Mikhailovka in Stalingradskaya oblast, but by August 1925 was living in the city of Irbit, Uralskaya oblast.ii

 

October 31 1925

Irbit.

Dear Vera Grigorevna!

I’m sending you a receipt for the money you sent, and also taking the opportunity to say something about myself.

It’s true that previously I’ve written to Fanya Grigorevna [Elshtein] and Chembareva, but I haven’t received any letters from Moscow for a whole month. From Leningrad I have received a postcard from Dina Yerukhimovich,iv where she writes that she sent a parcel for my baby to Moscow, but since I wasn’t there, she asked that it be forwarded to the Red Cross. Did you get it?

Our journey, which lasted eight days, went fairly smoothly (except for when we were stuck in Sverdlovsk for two and a half days). En route the baby came down with bronchitis as well as an upset stomach. The doctor prescribed a mixture which she drank willingly from a spoon. Now she’s much better and her cough is almost gone. She laughs, loves singing, and won’t tolerate being wrapped up in swaddling clothes. So now Natalya Grigorevna no longer has the right to call her “my little package.” She turns from her back to her side and back again, and bends her legs.

It’s just the two of us living together, but occasionally we have visits from the other comrades living here: Vlasenko and his wife, Skachkovvi (also with his wife), A. S. Miagkovavii and Gerasimov.viii Vlasenko is an anarchist, Skachkov is a sympathizer, and the rest in fact are also anarchists.

A room with firewood, lighting, and water costs about 10-12 rubles a month. The water supply here is awful: there’s one basin for two blocks, so there’s always a long lineup; or else there’s the river, which is ½ verst [about ½ km] distant. Delivery is 3 rubles a month.

I went to some institutions to look for a job, but it seems there won’t be any openings before next summer.

There’s a library in the city which I still haven’t had a chance to visit. The library is prohibited by the GPU from circulating Byloye, since it’s harmful, illegal literature. Well, fine. It’s true, isn’t it?

Beynarovich requests that you send, either to me or to Baykalskoye, the collective works of Lavrovxi (complete, if possible) and Krayevich’s course in physics.xii Let Fanya Grigorevna know about this.

My darling Vera Grigorevna. Once more let me remind you: find out the addresses of the Solovki prisoners M. K. Leontyevaya and the anarchist Vasiliy Dmitriyevich Makhov,xiv and send them to me.

Heartfelt greetings to everyone.

Thanks for your concern about my little one.

E. Chekmasova

 

In 1928 Yelena Mikhailovna Chekmasova was arrested, sentenced to three years of exile, and sent to Siberia; her term of exile was extended by three years on two more occasions (in 1931 and 1934).xvii

i Gosudarstvennyi arkhiv Rossiyskoy Federatsii (GARF) f. P-8409. op. 1, d. 17, l. 11.

ii GARF f. P-8409, op. 1, d. 76, ll. 255-235; d. 80, ll. 13, 31.

iii The anarchist Rosa Chembareva lived in Moscow. On August 29 1929 she was arrested and charged with “engaging in counterrevolutionary anarchist activity.” In 1930 she was sentenced to three years of exile and sent to the Urals.

iv Dina Zalmanovna Yerukhimovich was born in 1890 in Dvinsk. She received a secondary education and joined the Left SR Party. In 1923 she was arrested and sentenced to two years in an ITL [political isolator] and sent to the Solovetsky Special Purpose Camp. In the spring of 1925 she was released and returned to Leningrad. In the early 1930s, she was living in exile in Sverdlovsk, working as the manager of a warehouse. On May 5 1935, she was arrested, and sentenced on the following July 28 to three years in exile, to be served in the village of Novoselovo, Krasnoyarsky krai. On March 15 1938, she was arrested and on the following April 15 sentenced to the VMN (highest measure of punishment). She was shot on April 27 1938.

v The anarcho-communist Boris Mikhaylovich Vlasenko was born in 1896 and received a higher education. He lived in Moscow and lectured at the Land Management Institute. He was arrested in April 3 1925, sentenced on the following June 23 to a three-year term of exile, and sent to Irbit, later moving to Komi-Permyatsky okrug. After his release, he lived in the Moscow region, working as a manager in the planning department of the Ramensky Instrument Engineering Plant. On December 14 1934, he was arrested, sentenced on the following February 27 to five years of ITL, and sent to a camp.

vi The social democrat Vladimir Skachkov was arrested in June 1924 as part of a case involving anarchists. He was sentenced to three years of exile and sent to Irbit. He was released in the spring of 1928 with limitations on his place of residence (minus 6) for a further three years.

vii The anarchist Anna Sergeyevna Myagkova was a student. In October 1925 she was serving a term of exile in Irbit. In the spring of 1928 she was released with limitations on place of residence, and settled in Vologda.

viii The anarchist Yefim Ivanovich Gerasimov was born in 1901 in Vladimirsky gubernia, and served as a marine in the Baltic fleet. In 1925 he was arrested in Kronstadt, sentenced to three years of exile, and sent to Irbit. On April 27 1927 he was arrested, sentenced on October 21 to three years of prison, and sent to the Verkhne-Uralsk ITL in December. In 1930 he was released and exiled for three years to Narym, Siberia.

ix Byloye [The Past] was an independent (non-government) monthly magazine specializing in the history of Russia’s revolutionary movements (mainly from the 19th century), and subjected to censorship or outright suppression under both the tsarist and Soviet regimes. In 1925 it had a circulation of about 6,000. In the following year, it disappeared after its last two numbers were completely suppressed. These issues were finally published in 1991. – MA

x The Left SR Aleksandr Yakovlevich Beynarovich was arrested in 1923 along with other members of a Left SR group. On March 30 1923 he was sentenced to two years in an ITL and sent to the Solovetsky Special Purpose Camp. On May 10 1925 he was sentenced to three years of exile and sent to Irbit, but soon escaped from exile.

xi The Narodnik Peter Lavrov (1823–1900) competed with Mikhail Bakunin for the hearts and minds of Russia’s revolutionary youth. An edition of his collected works was published in Petrograd in 1917–1920, but was far from complete: only 11 of the projected 54 volumes were published – Lavrov was a prolific writer. – MA

xii The physicist Konstantin Dmitriyevich Konstantin (1833–1892) was the author of a famous course in physics which was considered the best in Russia until 1930. – MA

xiii The SR Maria Klementyevna Leontyevaya was born in 1889. On October 10 1922, she was arrested in Odessa, and on March 30 1923 sentenced to two years in an ITL and sent to the Solovetsky Special Purpose Camp. On May 10 1925, she was sentenced to three years of exile in Central Asia and sent to Tashkent; in November 1926 she moved to Frunze [now known as Bishkek].

xiv The anarchist Vasiliy Dmitriyevich Makhov was born in 1889. On August 17 1921, he was arrested in Moscow, and on January 14 1922, he was sentenced to the VMN, later commuted to two years of exile in Arkhangelsky governate. In 1923 he was arrested and sentenced to five years in an ITL and sent to the Solovetsky Special Purpose Camp. In 1925 he was released, but sentenced to three years of exile in Siberia and sent to Parabel [a village 400 km northwest of Tomsk in central Siberia]. He was still there in 1928.

xv GARF f. P-8409, op. 1, d. 76, ll. 153-154. Signed.

xvi GARF f. P-8409, op. 1, d. 76, l. 28.

xvii GARF f. P-8409, op. 1, d. 76, l. 84.

Translated by: Malcolm Archibald.

Posted at: http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/2fr068

Written by gulaganarchists

6, September 2016 at 9:06 am

The Last Testament of the Left Communist Gavriil Miasnikov

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New on the KSL site: the translated and annotated text of the Left communist Gavriil Miasnikov’s interrogation by the People’s Commissariat for State Security after his return to Russia in 1945, giving an outline of his life and ideas.

“Among the activists agitating within the Bolshevik Party for proletarian democracy in the early Soviet Union was the left communist Gavriil Miasnikov (1889-1945). When Miasnikov was expelled from the Party in 1922, he refused to capitulate like other oppositionists. Instead he set about organizing the Workers’ Group, an illegal organization which aimed initially at reforming the Bolshevik Party, a project which Miasnikov eventually decided was hopeless. While serving a term of exile, Miasnikov escaped abroad and lived in France for almost 15 years.

“Miasnikov’s life was rescued from obscurity by Paul Avrich in a 1982 article which remains the standard biography in English. But Avrich did not have access to the sources necessary to establish the final phase of Miasnikov’s life, and had to rely on rumour and conjecture. Miasnikov made an impulsive decision to return to the USSR towards the end of World War II, and his friends in France only gradually became aware of his disappearance. Relying on a note in Lenin’s collected works, Avrich stated that Miasnikov died in 1946, but in fact he was executed on November 16 1945. […]”

From the introduction by Malcolm Archibald. read the whole file at: http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/gqnmpt

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21, August 2016 at 5:18 pm

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“To dare write a letter”: the multi-lingual correspondence of exiled anarcho-Esperantist Sergei Gaidovsky

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Gaidovsky was born in St Petersburg in 1893. He was a major figure in the anarchist current of the Russian and Soviet Esperanto movement. His letters “allow an insight into the struggles faced by anarchists in the USSR – censorship, unemployment, regular arrests and banishment. Whilst the more clandestine matters of organising are kept out of correspondence, for obvious reasons, the postcards help us figure to what extent exiles were aware of the movement’s progress abroad, as well as some of the everyday difficulties they faced.”

You can read his letters at: http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/rfj89z

(You can see a photo of his friend Nathan Futerfas who’s mentioned in these letters at http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/1zcsk6)

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7, June 2016 at 10:28 am

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A Letter of Aron Baron from Tashkent [1929]

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In 1929 Aron Baron was serving a term of exile in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. He wrote the following letter to Yakov [/Jacques/Yanya] Doubinsky in Paris. The original is found in the International Institute of Social History, Senya Fléchine papers, Folder 50b, p. 17.

Translated from the Russian original and annotated by Malcolm Archibald, who would like to thank Elijah Bukreev for help in transcribing Aron’s handwriting.

Tashkent July 5 1929

Greetings, old friend!

I’m replying to you with a slight delay because I want to share with you excerpts from an interesting book which I have just finished. This book was printed for the third time in 1928. It’s called Adjutant of Gen. Mai-Maevsky by P. V. Makarov, the chief of a partisan unit in Crimea.i He describes how he taken prisoner by the Whites, fooled them, and became an adjutant of the General. And when they exposed him, he escaped and became a partisan. Remarkably interesting memories! Among other things, he mentions some of our mutual friends. He tells about Lugovik’s group in Simferopol, about Alyosha Bulanov, about Safian Spiro-Berg and his wife Lisa, and other activists of the anti-Denikin underground.ii You can’t help laughing when you read how the Whites arrested 40 “redheads,” but missed their intended target, Safian, because he had dyed his hair brown. Meanwhile, Lisa had bleached her jet-black hair with peroxide and become a blonde. If you can manage it, get this book and read it. Is there a branch of the State Publishing House where you are?iii

Do I still need a subscription to l’Humanité? No, I don’t really need it. But if you can, please order me a subscription to the London Daily Herald .iv

So, my friend, you’re going to the old place in Chicago? Of course, I would have liked to see the old place, but I’m not thrilled about the idea of living there. Not that I’m happy with my role as an involuntary spectator, which it’s my lot to bear. And yet emigration doesn’t tempt me in the least – I’m telling you this quite sincerely.

You asked for Luba’s address, here it is: M. Fagin, 11903 Imperial Ave., Cleveland, Ohio. Luba has a teenage daughter Sophie – a splendid person! She and I are great friends; she writes poetry, and she was active in supporting Sacco and Vanzetti along with her mother and father. When you get there, be sure to give her a kiss from me.v

Greetings from Fanny to you, Yanya, and the rest of our friends. Let’s nourish ourselves with hopes for the future. Greetings, Aron.

i. Pavel Makarov’s Adjutant of Gen. Mai-Maevsky, was published in 1927 and went through five printings in the next two years. His book belonged to a genre, civil war memoirs, which came under increasing attack in the late 1920s in the USSR due to alleged exaggerations and outright falsifications. There were numerous complaints about Makarov’s book in particular. A commission was set up to investigate these complaints and Makarov ended up losing his pension, while his book soon became a bibliographical rarity. During World War II Makarov recouped his fortunes by putting his partisan experience to good use behind enemy lines. His book was back in print in the 1960s and he lived to see it made into a miniseries shown on Soviet television in 1969.

ii. The underground group led by the veteran revolutionary Luka Lugovik included both anarchists and communists. The anarchist Alyosha Bulanov (1891-1970) is known to history by many names, but was born Izrail Khaykelevich Ulanovsky in Kishinev, Bessarabia. After fighting as an anarchist in the Russian civil war, he joined the Soviet intelligence services and held postings all over the world, including the USA (1931-1934). Although he survived Stalin’s purges initially, he and his family were arrested in 1948 and sentenced to long terms in the gulags. Safian Spiro-Berg was a prominent member of the Nabat Anarchist Confederation in 1919-1920 and wrote for its press. Jewish with red hair, his nickname in the movement was in fact “The Redhead.” His wife Lisa was a Polish Jew. Safian perished in August 1920 while on a mission to Nestor Makhno.

iii. Baron is referring to Communist Party bookstores which distributed Soviet literature.

iv. L’Humanité was the daily organ of the French Communist Party and readily available in the Soviet Union. The Daily Herald was owned by the British Trade Union Congress (TUC) in the 1920s, but took a consistently pro-Soviet line and so may have been allowed to circulate freely in the USSR.

v. Sophie Fagin (born 1916) was Aron’s niece through his first wife Fanny Grefenson Baron, Luba Fagin’s sister. As a teen, she wrote articles and poems for the Industrial Worker and other left-wing periodicals, and even spoke at mass labour rallies. Later she earned a doctorate in sociology from the University of Chicago and became an academic researcher who was also active in a housing co-operative. A brief account of here life can be found at https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1993/02/18/sociologist-and-therapist-sophia-mcdowell-77-dies/df0a2424-c561-4623-b872-0e30ac0b733e/.

See https://senyafleshinpapers.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/flechine50b-17.jpg

Translated by: Malcolm Archibald.

From http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/31zdqb

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2, May 2016 at 1:25 pm

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Attention, Anarchists from Byalistok! [Aron Dovid]

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Cde. Aron Dovid from Byalistok is seeking to make contact with the comrades in America. He recently ended a three-year term of internal exile and has been sent into exile again, to a different place. He has been blind in one eye for some years now. Last winter, he lost the fingers of both hands through frostbite. Being a lishenets [disenfranchised], he cannot even find regular work in the Russian paradise. His address is available from the office of the “F.A.S.” [Fraye Arbeter Shtime]

The full text with notes is at http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/51c6ff

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28, March 2016 at 8:44 am

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In the USSR [1934]

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In the USSR

We have just received from the USSR several interesting documents, notably:

1. The last photograph of our lamented comrade ROGDAFEFF, who passed away recently in exile from illnesses contracted in prison. We had published the news of his death some time ago, along with a brief biography. Now we have printed his portrait on a postcard which we are selling to aid our Relief Fund [Fonds de Secours]. We are publishing here his last photograph:

RogdayevSmall

2. The photograph, quite recent, of our comrade Andrey ANDREYEV, known as a militant anarchist, arrested by the GPU in 1929 in Moscow, and found since either in prison (where heengaged in several “hunger strikes”) or in exile:

AndreyevSmall

3. The photograph – quite uplifting – of our comrade TUBISMAN, current living in Orel. Her gaunt, emaciated appearance speaks volumes about the situation “out there”. . .

[photography missing]

4. An interesting document, signed by comrade Andrey ANDREYEV and his partner Zora GANDLEVSKAYA. This document – an impassioned protest by our comrades against the arbitrary and ferocious repression exercised by the GPU – was sent by the signatories to the Bolshevik authorities. A copy of this document having reached us, we are submitting it to the attention and reflection of our readers:

Kremlin. Political Bureau.

Copy to the Administration of the GPU, Moscow

We protest.

Ten year have gone by since the final crushing of the libertarian groups in the USSR.

For a long time now, all the masses which the Bolsheviks felt it necessary to use during the first years of the revolution have been cast down. So long as the anarchists could be used as an advance guard to be sacrificed, so long as they were the cannon fodder of the revolution, they were tolerated and treated as “comrades”. But as soon as the exterior fronts were liquidated, and the interior counter-revolution crushed, the grounds for a political symbiosis disappeared, and the statists dug their claws into the sides of the anti-authoritarians.

The print shops are forbidden to us; our idea is completely suppressed, it cannot be spread through the medium of the press; former anarchist publications are confiscated . . . Without being tried, our comrades are locked up by the dozens in political isolators; by the hundreds, they go into exile. Quite often, they are executed . . . Women, the elderly, teenagers, they are all liable to be transferred at any time from places designated by the political authorities to other places designated by the same authorities, only to be again evicted and sent elsewhere. Thousands of people are forced to circulate through this immense country until they find their grave in some unhealthy neck of the woods.

Needless to say, facts known by all, such as the massacre at the Butyrki Prison, remain unpunished; the shooting at Solovki, the massacre at Verkne Uralsk. . . The hunger strikes in the prisons become routine, just as in tsarist times.

And how many cases of this kind remain in the shadows?

The verdicts of the GPU are only jesuitical lies. The terms of exile are constantly extended in one way or another . . . The so-called “political isolation” means at least nine years of terrible suffering in the prisons of the GPU and elsewhere, nine years of deprivation, of physical and moral torture, representing a sort of slow and methodical assassination which leaves no traces on the body. Throughout this suppression, the anarchists are treated as criminals, prostitutes, saboteurs . . .

Those who are released with limited right of residence must everywhere submit their papers identifying them as “outside-the-law”. This way they are exposed to being harassed by anyone, to be lynched in a manner slow but sure.

Exiles and those limited in their right of residence are arbitrarily deprived of any right to work. It’s only through pity that they can get some work here and there. We’re both unemployed, so we can furnish formal proof of this. Blacklists, lists of outcasts sentenced to the dry guillotine, these are the embodiment of an entire system.

Exhausted by prisons, by diseases untreatable under the conditions of exile, by physical privations and moral tortures, the anarchist Nicolai ROGDAEV, a militant of the Russian revolutions and the European revolutionary movement, dropped dead and was picked up . . . on Sacco-Vanzetti Street. His untimely death is the inevitable result of his “conviction” in 1929; we find ourselves in the same position and are exposed to the same fate. Indeed, many of us, especially among the “old-timers”, are doomed to come to the same end.

But we cannot wait in silence for the day when the blade will fall.

We will not submit to the restrictions on residence imposed on us after years of arbitrary exile. And, as soon as we are arrested, we will protest by a five-day hunger strike, both against the assassination of N. ROGDAEV as well as against the persecution of the anarchists. We shall continue this strike until we are given our freedom. And, if necessary, we shall not hesitate to carry our strike to the death. You can crush us with weapons, but the day will come when the idea of anarchism will topple all the authorities with all their weapons.

How long are you gong to continue harassing the anarchists?

We protest!

Signed: Zora GANDLEVSKAYA

Andrey ANDREYEV

14 February 1933

Moscow

We can add that a copy of a new protest written by the same comrades in Astrakhan in June 1933, a copy which we have in our possession, indicates that the comrades were indeed arrested. When they began a hunger strike, they were transported to Astrakhan where they were subjected to forced feeding after 18 days of their strike. The comrades ended their strike, declaring that if they continued to be harassed and tortured, they would have recourse to the only means of protest remaining to them: suicide.

Relief Fund of the A.I.T.

for anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists

imprisoned and exiled in Russia

March 1934.

Emma Goldman Papers. International Institute of Social History. Folder 22, pp. 26-29.

https://search.socialhistory.org/Record/ARCH00520/ArchiveContentList#

Translation: Malcolm Archibald

See also ‘Protest to the GPU’ for a different version of Gandlevskaya & Andreyev’s protest http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/msbdsv

 

from http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/280hbd

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23, March 2016 at 11:01 am

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Letter concerning Russian anarchist prisoner news in Voix Libertaire

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[flechine86-1g-6.jpg

handwritten on the letterhead of the “Association des Fédéralistes Anarchistes (A. F. A.) / Sécretariat”]

 

9 May 1929

My dear comrade,

This morning I received the copy of “En U.R.S.S.” to which was attached a note by Voline.

No, the reason for the non-appearance of the previous chronicle [la chronique] is not its publication in “Libertaire”.

Rather it is entirely due to the lack of space.

For more or less the last two months, we had on the back burner the articles of Spielman (on Tunisia), and Souchy (on Germany).

At the moment, only Spielman’s article remains to be published.

The first part of “En U.R.S.S.” (first sent on March 29 1929) will probably appear next week.

We’re glad to make all your collaborators happy, not to mention all our readers!

I hope that you will not be too hard on us because of this long delay given the limited format of “Voix Libertaire”.

Fraternal greetings to everyone.

R. Darsouze

P. S. To save time, don’t send your mailings by registered post.

 

René Darsouze (1876-1962), a typesetter by trade, was the editor-in-chief of “Voix Libertaire”, the organ of the AFA.

Translated by: Malcolm Archibald.

from http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/k6dkw2

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23, March 2016 at 10:31 am

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