Anarchists in the Gulag (and prison and exile)

Bolshevik repression of anarchists after 1917

Archive for April 2010

Documents on Bolshevik repression of anarchists after 1917

Bolsheviks shooting anarchists by Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman (a protest against the shooting of Fanya Baron and Lev Chernyi).

In the Prisons of Russia by Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman, and A. Schapiro. “Having but recently left Russia, we feel that our
first and most urgent words must be spoken in behalf of our political
prisoners in Russia….”

In Russia’s Prisons “For a long time past hundreds and thousands of
revolutionists have been suffering in the prisons and penitentiaries of
Russia. Since the beginning of this year the Bolshevik Government has
strengthened once again the system by which it brutally persecutes
those who think differently from itself – whether they be members of
Socialist parties or working-men and revolutionary peasants belonging
to no party.”

Lifting the veil “We think that very few students of the Russian
Revolution are now under any illusions as to the situation in Russia.
The Bolsheviks and their supporters at home and abroad raised a smoke
screen so dense that for some time it was almost impossible to get any
really reliable news of happenings in that country; but the drastic
change in the economic policy of the Bolsheviks, and the necessity of
explaining the reason for the change, have thrown a flood of light on
the situation. We can now see that the phrases “Dictatorship of the
Proletariat,” “Workers’ and Peasants’ Republic,” and “Soviet Republic”
had no real meaning in fact. It was a Dictatorship of the Communist
Party, pure and simple. The workers and peasants had no more influence
on the Bolshevik Government than they have on the Government in any
other country. They may have voted for the Communists, but that is
explained by the fact that the Communist Party controlled the few
papers in existence and thereby controlled the political education of
the people; the principal reason, however, was that owing to the
persecution of political opponents, very few dared to stand against
members of the Communist Party. The compulsory labour in industry, the
compulsory service in the army, and the compulsory food levies from the
peasants are sufficient proof that the support of the workers and
peasants was obtained by force.” (from Freedom)

Two articles on Alfonso Petrini (Italian anarchist handed over to Mussolini)
A letter from Petrini
Italian comrade deported from Russia to Italy! [1936]

Other articles are now gathered on the Kate Sharpley Library website at: Bolshevik repression of anarchists after 1917

William C. Owen’s International Notes from 1922 also have some reflections on the effects of the Russian experience.

Written by gulaganarchists

14, April 2010 at 10:06 am

Red Emmas Review “The tragic procession”

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“We’re starting to get in the multiple boxes of books we shipped back from California… But perhaps most exciting is the brand new book The Tragic Procession: Alexander Berkman and Russian Prisoner Aid.”

Read the rest of the review:

Written by gulaganarchists

4, April 2010 at 10:31 am

Posted in Sources / Links

Wisdom earned the hard way – “The Tragic Procession: Alexander Berkman and Russian Prisoner Aid” [Review]

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It is not news to report that the Bolsheviks destroyed the anarchist movement in the Soviet Union. But how, and what were the consequences? These reprinted bulletins from the Joint Committee for the Defense of Revolutionists Imprisoned in Russia and the Relief Fund of the International Working Men’s Association for Anarchists and Anarcho-Syndicalists Imprisoned or Exiled in Russia show it as it happened. They ‘shed a little light on the struggles of our comrades and keep their names alive’ (p.x)

So, who were the anarchists? If you have already read up on Russian anarchist you’ll recognise some of the veterans like Aron Baron, Olga Taratuta and Lea Gutman, or foreigners like Francisco Ghezzi. But the bulletins also report on unknown anarchists and comrades who only came to anarchism in the 1920s: Polya Kurganskaya, F.G Mikhailov-Garin (a blacksmith), Kira Sturmer, Maria Polyakova. Alongside the anarchists the bulletins contain the stories and voices of Socialist Revolutionaries, Social Democrats, Zionists and peasants.

These bulletins are also part of wider anarchist history, showing solidarity in action: a pound from Leah Feldman; a pound and fourteen shillings collected by S. Mainwaring in South Wales; donations from Carl Nold in Detroit, L. Antolini (of Chicago), Chaim Weinberg of Philadephia. It’s hard to tell which is more striking: what small resources they had, or what they managed to achieve with them.

Much of this is down to the tenacity of Alexander Berkman: ‘Obtaining verifiable information on prisoners and their whereabouts filled Berkman’s daily life. Rumours, counter-rumours, hopes, fears, and confusions distinguished each day.’ (p.ix) It’s apt that the Alexander Berkman Social Club have both co-published this work and provided the excellent introductory essay.

It is very easy to talk about ‘ends and means’ but coming from Alexander Berkman we should recognise wisdom earned the hard way. Berkman was loyal to the idea of revolutionary social change but critical of the totalitarian path. He did not merely criticise the Bolsheviks but organised support for anarchists and socialists suppressed by the Communist Party. This book reminds us that history is about people, as well as historical forces. A stateless person (having displeased the ‘democratic’ rulers of the USA and the ‘proletarian’ rulers of the USSR) Berkman’s efforts for Russian anarchists got him expelled from France in May 1930. As Henry Alsberg said ‘he has spent his whole life lavishly in active rebellion’ (1).

The introduction ends with suggested further reading where more on Bolshevik repression and the anarchist (and socialist) response can be found. This list will grow if researchers examine the IWMA Bulletins (where Russian anarchist prisoner news was published from 1932 onwards) and the archives of the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam which ‘bulge with letters and dossiers of incarcerated anarchists, their names followed by such grim annotations as “beaten in Butyrki,” “repeated hunger strikes,” “killed in prison,” “shot by Kiev Cheka,” “beaten for resisting forced feeding,” and “fate unknown.”’ (2)

This is a fascinating work of remembrance and a valuable primary source for recovering the history of the anarchist movement in Russia, and of the broader Russian revolutionary movement.

1, in Alexander Berkman 60th Birthday Celebration pamphlet (1930).
2, Paul Avrich, The Russian Anarchists, p.235

Berkman, Alexander.
The Tragic Procession: Alexander Berkman and Russian Prisoner Aid.
Alexander Berkman Social Club and Kate Sharpley Library: 2010. 96 pages.
ISBN: 9781873605905
$12/£8 Available from the Kate Sharpley Library or AK Press.


Written by gulaganarchists

3, April 2010 at 10:28 am