Anarchists in the Gulag (and prison and exile)

Bolshevik repression of anarchists after 1917

Letter of Aron Baron to Senya Fleshin (Voronezh, 1931)

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Aron Baron, Fanya Avrutskaya and their daughter Voltairina

Voronezh July 29, 1931

Greetings, friends! Senya, I received your note and have started getting Rote Fahne; the little Spanish books you sent also arrived. Well, concerning the Spanish books, I guess you have no notion of the hectic pace of our lives here. I asked for a Spanish newspaper. You sent books of a couple of hundred pages each and you say: “This is for exercises”. Do you really imagine we have time for exercises? No, my friend, normally there’s only time for exercises in school, in prison and sometimes in exile. In freedom there’s never any time for language exercises. You know, of course, about the introduction here of so-called continuous operations: the workers of enterprises and institutions get a day off every fifth day, while the work itself goes on continuously without a break. But now, Senya, instead of making things better, this innovation makes them worse. Previously there was one day of the week when generally everything was closed and everyone – free or unfree – could take it easy and you at least had the possibility of spending your time doing whatever you wanted. The introduction of continuous operations, although it gives you in principle the right to rest every 5th day, nevertheless doesn’t allow you to spend most of the day resting because there are 1001 matters you must take care of, stuff which has piled up on this day, and so the whole day is spent running around or standing in line – this is what rest means. Of course it isn’t like this for everyone. For young people living with their parents or for students and similar types living in dormitories, it’s actually possible to have a real rest every four days. I don’t belong to these categories, and the rest I’m legally entitled to seldom provides any benefit for my mental health. I should mention that to make a half-decent living – around 200 rubles – you need to do fairly responsible work in a relatively high-level job. Specifically, both here and in Tashkent I was employed and am employed (with the appropriate benefits) as an economist for public transit, electric power and water supply (they are combined into a single trust). There’s so much work, so many meetings – both in the daytime and in the evenings – that it very often happens that it’s simply not practical to use one’s days off, and they are lost. The government has actually several times come out in defense of rest days for responsible workers; but so far the real conditions of work are more compelling than any government orders and days are lost and one hardly gets any rest. And on top of it all, I’m bringing up a tiny daughter – Voltairina (named in memory of V. de Cleyre). We don’t have anyone at home who can help Fanya [Avrutskaya] with the child, so that when I get home from work, I have to do my share. Trust me, neither of us has had a good night’s sleep for several months already; Fanya has been getting run-down, and they say I’m not looking so good either. Incidentally, about the child. Did you say that the crisis of your mark and the latest pressure from France have not had an effect on the availability of food products? Specifically, do you have rice, semolina and other such baby food in abundance – or not? In Tashkent you could pay speculators 3 of 4 rubles per pound, but here you normally can’t buy this stuff. What do you say, Senya, would it not be too difficult for you to send me a few pounds of semolina and rice by post? I hope that the duty which would have to be paid would not make these baby products more expensive than the Tashkent prices. In any case, I’d like to try this. If it’s possible, then do it as soon as possible, because we must feed the child, and also Fanya needs to keep up her strength in order to nourish such a demanding creature as a nursing child.

However, I’m digressing. I wanted to explain to you that for me there is never sufficient time for exercises in Spanish. Here’s what I was looking for. In Turukhansk I theoretically studied Spanish. Since then I have, apparently, forgotten what I learned … Imagine to yourself that you’re glancing through a newspaper, and you notice that an acquaintance of yours is being roundly criticized there. Clearly it’s this part of the paper which is so interesting to you that you must try to understand what it’s all about, no matter what language it’s in. That’s the way it is with me. In a newspaper you quickly pick out the interesting part (if there is one), and find time to spend on this interesting part (even though it reduces your sleeping time which is already reduced by your little daughter) and, equipping yourself with a dictionary and whatever you remember from a teach-yourself book, you figure out and you understand. And there’s so much we need to understand. The events taking place in Spain are very exciting, but news from there is scanty. Around 60 years ago the defeat of Spanish revolutionaries provided fodder for Engels to write his well-known malicious satirical pamphlet which is now studied by Soviet youth. [1] I’d like to know whether anything has been learned in the last 60 years, whether they have learned how to consolidate their achievements. I’d like to know what sorts of debates are going on, what sorts of battles with the landlords and the bourgeoisie on the outside of the working class, and with bunglers and disorganizers on the inside. I read that Mundo Obrero, the organ of the Communist Party, is often confiscated. Nevertheless it is possible to receive the issues that are published, or brochures on this topic, or other kinds of imported materials such as publications in other languages about Spanish affairs. Please write what happened at the international congress which took place not long ago, why it was permitted by the Zamora government, and what decisions were arrived at. [2] Meanwhile, in Germany only the voices of fascists and communists are heard. Concerning our Soviet achievements your probably know from Pravda. That’s enough to write this time. Greetings from Fanya to you and Molly [Steimer].



1 The reference is to Frederick Engels, Die Bakunisten an der Arbeit. Denkschrift über den letzten Aufstand in Spanien [The Bakuninists at Work. An Account of the Recent Revolt in Spain] (Leipzig, 1873). An English translation was not published until 1939.

2 The 4th Congress of the International Workers Association (IWAAIT) was held in Madrid on 1–2 June 1931.

[The photograph was not enclosed with this letter, but shows Aron, Fanya and Voltairina around the time it was written.]

From: IISH, Amsterdam, Flechine Archive, Folder 50. Translated by: Malcolm Archibald.



Written by gulaganarchists

9, April 2014 at 10:31 am

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