“To dare write a letter”: the multi-lingual correspondence of exiled anarcho-Esperantist Sergei Gaidovsky
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)
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/.
Translated by: Malcolm Archibald.
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
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:
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:
3. The photograph – quite uplifting – of our comrade TUBISMAN, current living in Orel. Her gaunt, emaciated appearance speaks volumes about the situation “out there”. . .
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
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?
Signed: Zora GANDLEVSKAYA
14 February 1933
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
Emma Goldman Papers. International Institute of Social History. Folder 22, pp. 26-29.
Translation: Malcolm Archibald
See also ‘Protest to the GPU’ for a different version of Gandlevskaya & Andreyev’s protest http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/msbdsv
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.
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.
Ona Šimaitė (pronounced Shim-ay-teh) was a Lithuanian librarian, best known for smuggling food, messages and other contraband into the Vilna ghetto during the Holocaust. She also smuggled people, news and books out. She was tortured by the Gestapo after her arrest. Vilnius University raised a bribe to save her from execution; she was deported to Dachau and ended up in a POW camp.
Šimaitė was frequently asked to write her autobiography. On one level, she was willing to write it. But it never happened, postponed by the daily grind of work and task of regular correspondence. She wrote a short account to I.N. Steinberg, and made other passing references, but it was too painful to examine at length. I also suspect it went against the grain to say too much. If preserving information is the task of librarians and archivists, anyone involved in clandestine activities should know how to forget things. Šimaitė certainly did: when she was being deported, she had forgetten so much she was unable to pass word to friends and family when the chance arose. Even after the war, she frequently talked about not getting people in trouble – understandably, given post-war Stalinist repression. Šimaitė was always modest (and reticent) about what she’d done, not referring to saving lives but to ‘my errands’.
Which is where Julija Šukys comes in. Šukys is a Lithuanian-Canadian writer, so has the language skills to tell Šimaitė’s story: “this only makes me wonder if Šimaitė had been born in Germany or France, and if her name had been Anna Strauss or Anne Simard, and if she’d written her diaries and journals in a major Western European language, perhaps someone would have written about her decades ago.”  Instead, Šukys wrote Epistolophilia which contains two stories – the life of Ona Šimaitė, and her own journey of uncovering it, from a name in a card catalogue, to the point where her bundle of photocopied letters can’t go as hand luggage any more. These letters give the book its title: ‘epistolophilia’ can mean either a love of writing them or a letter-writing sickness.
These two women live very different lives. Librarianship is ‘the beloved profession’ to Šimaitė, but Šukys (in a moment of doubt) gets ‘a sinking feeling when I realize… she was a cataloger, the lowest of the low.’  Šukys meditates on women’s writing – how it happens and doesn’t happen – partly from her own experience: ‘Only after making a series of unilateral decisions about childcare, home care, and food supply did I begin to claw back writing time and relocate a sense of my former identity.’ 
Politically, Šimaitė started out as a Left Socialist Revolutionary. She regarded I.N. Steinberg as her intellectual mentor and engaged with solidarity work for prisoners before the second world war. So, she was a revolutionary and no Stalinist. Her political and personal connections with Jewish comrades (the Lichtensteins, Faivush Trupianski, Gershon Malakiewicz, Mikhail Shur) drew her into her ‘errands’. On the eve of the establishment of the ghetto, Left Socialist Revolutionaries and anarchists held a meeting to consider their response: ‘an insignificant minority among whose voices my own could be counted.’  Šimaitė moved ever-closer to the anarchists. Nine months before she died in Paris, Šimaitė described herself as ‘still becoming an anarchist’. She also wrote to Chicago anarchist Boris Yelensky, addressing him as comrade. 
We owe Julija Šukys a debt of gratitude for retrieving Šimaitė’s story. Šimaitė knew how to keep silent, and of course part of that silence comes from trauma. I also think she knew, as a working class female radical, the value of being overlooked, of hiding in plain sight. She recounts one ‘errand’, when she ransoms Gershon Malakiewicz: ‘how dare I pay the ransom of a Jew? […] They hurl insults. […] I play stupid, pretending to be a woman who knows nothing.’  Hopefully this account of Šimaitė’s life will encourage people to think of all the unknowns who did the right thing and never spoke, or never could speak, of it.
1, Vilna (the Yiddish name for it) is at the same time Vilnius (Lithuanian) which was previously Wilno (Polish). In the same way Ona is known as Anna, Anya and Ana.
2, ‘And I burned with shame’: the testimony of Ona Šimaitė, Righteous among the Nations; a letter to Isaac Nachman Steinberg by Julija Šukys. Published by Yad Veshem in 2007.
3, Epistolophilia: writing the life of Ona Šimaitė by Julija Šukys. Published by the University of Nebraska Press, p19.
4, Epistolophilia, p14.
5, Epistolophilia, p8; p164.
6, Epistolophilia, p167.
7, See ‘And I burned with shame’, p.23, p.25.
8, ‘And I burned with shame’, p.53-4.
9, Epistolophilia, p.77, quoting diary 28, April 10, 1969.
10, See Folder 62 of the Yelensky papers in Amsterdam. Copies online at https://senyafleshinpapers.wordpress.com/2015/06/25/boris-yelensky-papers-folder-62/
11, ‘And I burned with shame’, p.35.
Translator’s introduction: Aron Baron finished a two-year term of imprisonment in the camps of northern European Russia in January 1925, but was then exiled to Biysk in Siberia. An industrial city with a population of 40,000 in 1925, Biysk was located in the remote Altai region. Aron was to spend three years there before moving on to further terms of exile and prison. This letter was written to his old friend Mark Mrachny, who was working for the Joint Committee for the Defense of Revolutionists Imprisoned in Russia, based in Berlin.
April 12, 1925
It’s likely that I’m not without blame in the fact that there are such large gaps between my letters. In addition to a multitude of circumstances “beyond my control”, there are also circumstances which I can control; concerning which it is not convenient to speak of in a letter and the story of which I shall postpone until I meet with you in person. And this is how I imagine it to myself: you and I must get together to talk about everything and of course we won’t be satisfied with just conversations. I don’t know when our get-together will take place (possibly not for a few years), but it really must take place. Then, among other things, I shall explain some of the causes of my current lack of punctuality in correspondence. Until then, I’ll let it go.
The present letter is the fifth I’ve sent you since my arrival in Biysk. The first letter-postcard was sent on February 15, the second was sent ten days later. During March I sent two letters: one at the beginning of the month, the second (if I’m not mistaken) on March 22. I received two of your postcards dated March 2 and March 27, and a letter dated March 15. I promise from now on to write not less than three letters a month with all the regularity possible under the circumstances.
I have to tell you that up to now it’s generally been difficult to write anything about my needs, as I didn’t wish to give material to the enemy; it’s a given that my correspondence is perlustrated. Some letters (from Vera Kevriki, Rubinchikii) arrive in such a mutilated state, so clumsily re-sealed, that no doubt remains… Indeed it would be strange, given the flawlessness of the intelligence apparatus, if our letters were left untouched. Of course everyone knows this, which is why only in rare cases do I allow myself to write on serious topics. So I was rather amazed that Rubinchik re-sent to me your letter to him of March 16. Yes, friends, you discussed quite enough.
Never mind. From now on I shall follow your example and allow myself to write on a topic which up to now I’ve avoided: the state of our ranks, which, no matter what you say in your letter, is really dismal. Things are bad in Russia, still worse in America; spinelessness of some, apathy of others, and a lack of energy everywhere. Rubinchik, in forwarding your letter, delivered a ferocious tirade aimed at the disorganizers, whom he would like to get rid of and even consign to “rat row”iii. In my opinion, this is too presumptuous, even bombastic, for if Rubinchik were to find himself abroad, of course he wouldn’t be any more effective than the rest; despite all his ranting, he wouldn’t get rid of anyone or consign them anywhere. I’m convinced that the whole affair would be limited to one, or at most a few, articles written by him in which he would threaten and fulminate, etc., but with no resulting improvement in the situation. His articles would give rise to new counter-articles and counter-accusations, and generally the whole affair would amount to an increase in the literature of abuse, which we cannot afford when we are trying to measure our strength with the enemy’s. No, I don’t want anything to do with this – let’s leave the wrangling and the abusive quarrelling to those types who specialize in such things.iv
If, back in the old days, despite all the authority of the Union of Russian Workers and its leaders, it was still possible for the libelous Ermando-Dvigomirovsky Zarya to appearv, then what can we expect in today’s era of reaction? To engage in squabbles with these gentlemen – means to lower yourself to their level. Of course it’s impossible to tolerate these people, it’s necessary to struggle with them mercilessly, but this must be a struggle that’s effective, real, productive of results. These gentlemen must be isolated, they must be separated from any contact with the workers, and they must be left to the higher-ups along with their Russian role models to stew in their own juices. But this won’t be accomplished through abuse. To go about this in a serious manner means to turn the project over to a couple of intelligent people who will learn how to act organizationally: not by raging into the void, not by dashing off half-cocked, but by preparing a reliable, strong, compact force which will penetrate to the very heart of the enemy and, at the most propitious moment, attack with all its strength. Take as much time as necessary for preparation, but when it’s time to act, then strike zealously, from right and from left, blow after blow, without respite, harder and harder; that’s the only way to win these days. The Bolsheviks proved this brilliantly – this is something we can learn from them. If in the beginning we had had half the organizational skill of the Bolsheviks, our cause would have advanced much farther.
So, my friends, that’s my assessment of the situation. It would be rather strange if, among the amorphous whole which constitutes the anarchist movement, there were not found, even among the middle ranks, some despicable people. The fact of the presence of such gentlemen is quite deplorable, but that isn’t the whole story. The slanderous bunch of American and Russian Kareliniansvi wouldn’t matter much if they were confronted by a strong and healthy body, vigorous and unified. The problem isn’t with these thugs, the problem is with ourselves – with the lack of discipline, spinelessness, and slackness of those who are ideologically opposed to the pole which Karelin represents. We could certainly use some fresh blood in our own reduced ranks. I’ve had enough of the windbags, and the dilettantes can go do their own thing, but those who are left, even though small in number, can be used rationally, with the goal of getting the greatest results. For in the final account, only the results are important. Groups may exist for decades, they may mount a semblance of some kind of activity, but results – tangible, long-term results – are not forthcoming.
The history of the French movement is instructive: there we’ve been around for 50 years, the anarchists have been active in the unions for 30 years, and the result was that after two or three years of struggle, the Bolsheviks succeeded in leaving us with a handful of autonomists, some of whom will soon be withdrawing to the Unitary Confederation of Labourvii. Of course I understand that my information is one-sided, gleaned almost exclusively from “Vie Ouvrière” and other Profintern sourcesviii. But even after discounting half of what is written by these far-from-objective hacks, one must assume that what’s left isn’t entirely fiction. And by what means did they achieve their success? How is it that more than once they’ve left us on the sidelines of the labour movement? Exclusively due to our lack of organization.
Recently I received a postcard from Amsterdam: it’s an invitation to the 2nd Congress of Revolutionary Syndicalists, and is signed by Schapiro, Souchy, Kater, Borghi, etc.ix Of course I’m touched that they remembered me, and very glad that comrades from various countries are able to get together and find a common language. But I say to you openly, my old friend, there is not available to me a language in which I could reply to them properly, using solemn, pretentious figures of speech. I fear that this congress, like so many previous ones, will adopt fine, well-drafted resolutions, but that it will undertake little in the way of actions, that the increase in activity level will be slight.
I would love to be mistaken about this. It would be so nice to be there, to speak personally with everyone, both collectively and on an individual basis, and arrange matters with each person with complete clarity: this person will do this thing, and that person will do that thing, etc., and each person must carry out their assignments, achieving results in whatever has been decided upon, deliberately and thoughtfully, as part of the common goal. And get to work immediately…. To have the possibility of not being limited to stating general positions, but rather to be able to act decisively everywhere at the local level with due consideration for real circumstances – to get out of the quagmire in which the movement is wallowing – oh, my thoughts often fly to friends over there, to you and a few other isolated individuals…. But about this there’s nothing to say now. Concerning the congress of the International Workers’ Association, up to now I’ve read only one note in “Trud” [“Labour”] (organ of the VTsSPS)x for March 25. The agenda was set out and the titles of the reports by Rocker and Lansinkxi are mentioned. I expect that something will also be said in “Vie Ouvrière”.
One of these days I’m going to send you some Siberian newspapers. But beforehand I can tell you that they are an accurate reflection – not of reality, mind you – but rather a reflection of what is being written in Moscow and from Moscow. In general, we can keep up with things just well as in the centre; the difference is a question of scale, rather than substance. As at the centre, so also here, not a single conference takes place without the appropriate demonstrations (with banners and orchestras) – whether of “unaffiliated” peasants, teachers, or physicians – depending on the season and done in the Moscow style. Without fail an “unaffiliated”xii worker or peasant will urge the study of Leninism and the “consolidation of unity” under the banner of the Comintern. Also without fail there will appear a female worker with a toy model, for example, of a railway signal … . well, it varies according to whether there are teachers, teamsters, or agronomists. The welcoming speeches are followed by a long ceremony with singing, with the orchestra playing the Internationale, with applauding, more noisy applause, stormy applause, more stormy applause, rising up for a standing ovation, reaching a climax – never mind, don’t even think about it. All this clapping-while-standing and clapping-while-not-standing is calibrated according to rank, reaching a crescendo when a representative of the higher-ups makes an appearance or leaves, e.g. a visitor from the Gubkomxiii arrives at the district congress of soviets, or a visitor from the okrugxiv arrives at the gubernia party conference. We are by no means lagging in having “obshchestvennosti”xv: we have MOPRxvi, DVF (Friends of the Air Fleet), and many others; and if tomorrow there should be “voluntarily” formed a society called “Hands Off Abyssinia” or a society called “Friends of Worldwide Bolshevization”, you can be sure they will have branches here as soon as the corresponding directive arrives. There will be members – whole factories will join collectively – and there will be badges and dues – in a word, everything will be arranged. We’re used to thinking of Siberia as the boondocks. Yes, it used to be, but not now in Soviet times. If it’s required, within a day or two from various parts of the most distant provinces “unaffiliated” peasants of the most remote circles will simultaneously send to the Rumanian government (or to the Polish or English, depending on requirements) telegrams of indignation and protest against … well, against whatever is required in each case. For the millions of clueless Siberian peasants know perfectly well when and where to send their greetings or their protest, when to demonstrate, and what slogans to use. So as you see, Siberia is far from backward … well, it would be nice to say that about “us”.
A few words about myself. I’m still getting work (obviously on orders from Moscow). I have to register every week. Last time they asked me if I intended to turn over a new leaf soon.xvii After work I study shorthand, Idoxviii, Italian and Spanish. So what about my finances? It’s impossible to exist on my earnings; we were saved by what Nastenkaxix sent – out of which we sent 25 rubles to Kevrik. She’s sick, needs shoes and clothes, and if you can, please send her money. I’m still healthy, but my eyes hurt a lot. Fanyaxx is sick, it’s her feet again. If we had the money, she would be going to the mud baths. She’s going to write to you herself. I received your newspapers and the American “Nation”. I also received a postcard from Berkman. The boys from Narymxxi are very upset about your splits. I wrote to them not long ago. Well, that’s enough for now. I shake your hand, old chap. Soon the younger generation will be consigning us to the archives, will they not?xxii No, it’s too soon to put us in the archives – right, my fine, young friend?
Until we meet again, your Aron.
i Vera Evgenevna Kevrik (1893 – ?), an anarchist worker from Saratov, was arrested in September 1922 and sentenced in February 1923 to three years in the northern camps. In the north, she contracted malaria, endemic to the region due to the high density of mosquitos in the summer months. In March 1925 she was released from custody and sent, like Baron, on the long journey into exile in Biysk.
ii Efrem Borisovish Rubinchik-Meyer (1892–1938) was born in Minsk, and joined the revolutionary movement at the age of 13 as a social-democratic Bundist. After the defeat of the Revolution of 1905–1907, he emigrated to France, where he joined the anarchists. In 1917 he began working for the anarcho-syndicalist journal Golos Tuda as a typesetter. In 1918 he fought German armed forces as part of the anarchist detachment of V. M. Voline. Arrested by the OGPU in 1923, he was sentenced to three years in a political isolator. In June 1924 this sentence was changed to exile in Tomsk for the same term.
iii “Rat row” was the section of a prison reserved for informers – “stool pigeons” – to segregate them from the general prison population.
iv Baron’s annoyance with Rubinchik received a certain justification in 1927 when the latter succumbed to pressure from the authorities, announced his break with anarchism, and was released from exile.
v Baron has mangled some names here. Robert Erdman (1897–1938) and Grigoriy Dvigomirov (?–1921) were co-editors of the Russian-language anarchist journal Vostochnaya Zarya [Eastern Dawn] published in Pittsburgh (PA) in 1916. This publishing effort was the result of a split in the anarcho-syndicalist Union of Russian Workers of the United States and Canada, of which Baron was an active member before returning to Russia in 1917.
vi Karelinians: followers of A. A. Karelin (1863–1926), a divisive figure in the history of Russian anarchism. Active in the Russian revolutionary movement from the age of 18, Karelin did not become an anarchist until he was 46. He then applied his considerable talents to organizational and ideological work, causing a rift among anarcho-commmunists because of his attempt to introduce religious (mystical) concepts into anarchist doctrine. Following the 1917 Revolution, he caused further havoc by trying to reach an accommodation with the Soviet authorities, essentially by depoliticizing anarchism. Karelin enjoyed widespread respect in the movement, but after his death his tendency was attacked mercilessly by more orthodox ideologues of anarchism. His doctrines were influential with a substantial component of the Russian emigré community in North America, where some of his followers eventually made the transition to fascism.
vii The Confédération générale du travail unitaire (CGTU) was a federation of radical unions founded in 1922 as a split from the socialist CGT, and included communists, anarcho-syndicalists, and revolutionary syndicalists. The “autonomists” were revolutionary syndicalists who rejected party involvement in union affairs but who otherwise supported the communist line.
viii La Vie Ouvrière was an organ of the French Communist Party; the Red International of Trade Unions, based in Moscow, was commonly known as the Profintern, from the Russian form of its name: Krasnyi internatsional profsoyuzov.
ix The 2nd Congress of the anarcho-syndicalist International Workers’ Association (IWA) was held in Amsterdam on March 25 1925. Leading figures of the IWA included Alexander Schapiro (1882-1946), Augustin Souchy (1892-1984), Fritz Kater (1861-1945), and Armando Borghi (1882-1968).
x The newspaper Trud [Labour] was published by the Vsesoiuznyi tsentralnyi sovet professionalnykh soiuzov [All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions] (VTsSPS).
xi Rudolf Rocker (1873-1958) and Bernard Lansink jr. (1884-1945) were also leading figures of the IWA.
xii “Unaffiliated” in this context means “not a member of the communist party”.
xiii Gubkom = Guberniia [Provincial] Party Committee.
xiv okrug = district
xv Non-governmental societies.
xvi MOPR = Mezhdunarodnaia Organizatsiia Pomoshchi Revoliutsioneram [International Organization for Aid to Revolutionaries], created by the Comintern in 1922.
xvii Up until 1930, anarchists in the USSR who renounced their beliefs (publicly, if they were well known) could expect to be released from prison or exile and not be subject to further persecution by the authorities (at least for a while).
xviii Ido is a universal language which made its debut in 1907 as an improved version of Esperanto.
xix This may be reference to Anastasia Ivanovna Galaeva (1885 – 27.10.1925), active in the anarchist movement since 1904 and known for her prisoner support work. She had been in exile herself in northern Russia in 1922-24, but was released early due to illness (TB). She was living in Kiev in 1924-25.
xx Aron’s partner, Fanya Avrutskaya, suffered from chronic pain in her legs, which immobilized her for extended periods (Aron refers to this condition as rheumatism). Aron himself complained frequently of eye pain. Medical treatment for these ailments was virtually unobtainable.
xxi The Narym region of central Siberia was a major destination for exiles banished by the Russian state (since 1638!). It’s not clear what “splits” Baron is referring to. By 1925 three currents in the Russian anarchist diaspora could be discerned: (1) anarcho-syndicalists, who identified with the International Workers’ Association (Mrachny, Maximoff, Schapiro); (2) the Group of Russian Anarchists Abroad, which drew on the experience of the Makhnovist movement (Makhno, Arshinov, Voline); and (3) the Federation of Anarchist-Communists of the USA and Canada, with a libertarian (svobodnik) orientation. Each of these tendencies had their own press organs and were still on relatively good terms in 1925, but that state of affairs was soon to take a turn for the worse.
xxii While Baron and Mrachny were still comparatively young men, they belonged to the generation which had become revolutionaries prior to 1917. This may be a subtle reference to the new generation of anarchists which appeared in the USSR in the 1920s only to be physically destroyed in the 1930s.
From: (IISH: Flèchine folder 46: 78–84) See https://senyafleshinpapers.wordpress.com/2014/12/29/flechine-folder-46/. Translated by Malcolm Archibald.