Anarchists in the Gulag (and prison and exile)

Bolshevik repression of anarchists after 1917

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Otello Gaggi [report]

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OTELLO GAGGI, an Anarchist, has lived for 13 years in Russia, having gone in exile from Italy. Has been in prison since January 4, 1935. Has still to undergo 30 years of imprisonment in Italy for revolutionary activities. He was sentenced without any trial whatsoever, to deportation for three years to Yarensk. Afterwards his wife was also sentenced, but not to Yarensk. Yarensk, situated 140 miles from the nearest railway, is buried under snow for 6 months of the year!

(Press Service International Anti-Militarist Commission; reprinted by “Man!” Nos. 7-8, July-August, 1935, San Francisco, Cal.)

From: The Guillotine at work p621.


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7, June 2014 at 3:50 pm

Nicolai Rogdayev: A Letter from Russia

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Dear Comrades:

We feel deeply hurt ourselves by learning from your paper of the death of our good old Comrade Nicolai Rogdayev.

I, as his close friend and co-worker in the foregone days of the Russian Revolution, want to say a fewwords in the form of an obituary. To our great sorrow we cannot do it here, in this land where Comrade Rogdayev gave his best years of revolutionary activity. On the contrary, this very land, which is considered by many nowadays as Socialistic, kills in its prisons and exiles revolutionists like Rogdayev. The mere fact that Rogdayev died of hunger in the far Turkestan exile shows the real face of Russian Bolshevism. Rogdayev is put in prison; luckily he escaped from the jail and migrated out of revolutionists. [typo]

Being yet a student in the beginning of this century, Rogdayev joined the Russian Anarchist movement where from the very beginning he has been most active. In 1907 he was sent as a delegate to the Anarchist Congress that took place in Amsterdam. After his return back to Russia he was arrested by the Tzar’s gendarmes and put in prison: luckily he escaped from the jail and migrated out of the country

Many years of his emigration Rogdayev lived in Spain and was active in the Spanish Anarchist movement and only in the time of the World War he went to Paris where he stayed till the outbreak of the Russian Revolution.

In the beginning of 1918 I met him first in Saratov. He was full of energy then.

As an experienced conscientious revolutionist his views were definite and uncompromising. In regard to the results of the victory of Bolshevism in Russia he was much less optimistic than many of his comrades; nevertheless, he propagated the necessity of fighting Denikin and other counter-revolutionists.

Being an eloquent orator he was an excellent agitator. All his life and activity were a natural expression of a genuine revolutionist.

In 1919 he was in Samara (Central Volga) and owing to his energy and colossal mental power we had there a nice club and a good cultural centre. His lectures always attracted hugs crowds of workers. At the end of 1919 the Bolshevik reactionaries closed our club and almost all of the Samaran Anarchists were jailed. At that time the Bolsheviks didn’t yet dare to put their claws upon comrade Rogdayev. But he was aware of the fact that the reaction in Russia had a tendency to strengthen and that he would also be thrown into the Socialistic dungeon for not being in agreement with the Bolshevik executioners.

In 1920 I met Rogdayev again at Tashkent. Here he worked in an “Hindustan Revolutionary Committee” where he had great influence. But the Bolsheviks fearing competition disbanded the committee and Rogdayev was sent out of Tashkent.

Being deprived for a long time of communicating with anyone on this plane naturally I lost sight of Rogdayev and only in 1930 being in exile I was informed that he was being kept in the political prison of the Suzdal convent.

In the name of all comrades in Russia we energetically protest against torturing Anarchists in the Bolshevik prisons and exiles. We also urge our comrades outside of Russia to unite their protest.

We mourn the death of our dear comrade Nicolai Rogdayev, as also the death of all other revolutionists-victims of the Bolshevik regime.

Applebaum and Comrades.

Russia, 2-VII-1934.

P. S.-Dear Comrades: I beg of you to translate these lines for your paper and to forward the original or translation to other Anarchistic publications.

With Comradely regards: Applebaum.

(“Man!” A Journalof the Anarchist Ideal and Movement, No. 8, August, 1934. San Francisco, Cal.)

From: Guillotine at work 617-18.


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7, June 2014 at 3:44 pm

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[Protest to the GPU]

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To the Presidium o f the G. P. U.

We protest.

Ten years have passed since the final smash-up of the legal Anarchist organizations has taken place in the U.S.S.R. A long time ago the Bolsheviks cast off the mask behind which they were hiding in the first years of the revolution.

When the Anarchists were in the van of the bloody struggle, when they were coolies of the revolution, when they were still needed, the Bolsheviks tolerated them with a “comradely” smile.

But no sooner were the military fronts liquidated, no sooner was the internal counter-revolution crushed, than the Bolshevik authorities found it no more necessary to work together with the Anarchists.

The Anarchist printing shops were confiscated, their press was strangled, their publications seized and hundreds of comrades were locked up in prisons without the benefit of trial, banished to places of exile and even executed. Old men, youths, women have been driven about from one place to another.

We shall not dwell here at any length upon such known facts as the pogrom carried out in the Butirky prison, the shootings in Solovki, the beatings administered to the prisoners of the Verkhne-Uralsk prison. Hunger strikes became common, every-day events, reminiscent of the most ferocious years of the Tzar’s regime.

The sentences meted out by the G. P. U. are nothing but Jesuitic lies, since the terms of those sentences are invariably lengthened in quite an arbitrary manner; this is done under the guise of applying the so-called “minus-system”, and at times it is just put into effect with no embellishments at all.

Political isolation” means at least nine years of trials and tribulations with the G. P. U. In prison and exile – nine years of slow methodical beatings, with no visible traces left on the body.

Apart from the gradual murders by starvation, the exiled Anarchists are also subjected to the humiliation of treatment as common criminals, prostitutes and wreckers.

Those that are released with the “minus” marked on their papers, must show those documents whenever they register or apply for work; they become an easy prey to any one with a bent for persecution, who can lynch them at will.

They are deprived of the right to work and are only suffered to earn a livelihood by some special grace of the authorities. Black listing is frequently applied, and we both can testify to it in our capacity of unemployed. Proscription lists exist not as a matter of chance, but as part of a system.

As a result of the long confinement in prison, an illness which could not be attended under the conditions of life in exile, of semi-starvation and moral tortures – there perished one of the most active figures of the three revolutions and the European revolutionary movement – the Anarchist Nicolai Rogdayev, who was picked up on Sacco and Vanzetti street.

His premature death was predetermined by the “monkey trial” of 1929, at which also our lynching took place.

Such a fate threatened all of us, and especially the old comrades among us.

We cannot wait in silence until the noose draws tightly around our necks.

We openly declare our defiance of the “minuses” tacked on after we had unwarrantedly served our time in exile, and of the arrests or detentions later. We shall declare a five-day hunger strike in sign of protest against the death of Nicolai Rogdayev and the flouting of the rights of the Anarchists. We shall continue our hunger strike until we are freed, and if compelled, we shall hold out unto our death.

The Bolsheviks can crush us, but the idea of Anarchism will triumph; it will yet lead to their downfall and the destruction of prisons; for the blood of the Anarchists is the kind of ink which Nechayev used when writing upon the walls of his casement.

How long will this brutality against Anarchists continue?

We Protest!


February 14,1933.

(“Dielo Trouda,” No. 80, June-July, 1934. Chicago, Ill.).


From: The guillotine at work p. 614-15.



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7, June 2014 at 3:39 pm

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Alexander Naumov

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He was 26 years old when he died. But he seems to have lived longer than 26 years…. And he went through a whole lot more than most people of his age. Yet he was not enabled to live in the very real sense… To work, struggle, create, to live the well-rounded existence of a young fighter, idealist and revolutionist – alas – that was denied him.

For he was snatched away while only a stripling, who was only groping his way; for it was in prison only, where he had met people whose way of thinking was so near to him, that he came to see his way clear…. And how intensely he regretted that he had not known all that! How strongly he wished that he had the opportunity to live the life of a man who has found himself after having wandered long in the dark. That realization came to him now that he came to feel with every fiber of his emaciated body that he would not last long, that he was sinking from day to day, that neither his indomitable will, nor his passionate desire to live, neither his youth nor his ardent blood – nothing would halt the approaching end….

Naumov died. … A young, steadfast, devoted comrade died, one whose life was devoted to our ideas with his soul and body – he died from tuberculosis which he had contracted during his exile to the Solovky Islands. And the only thing I have to remember him by is a postal card sent from the clinic, with the address written by him, while the notification itself was already pinned [penned] by someone else: … “Died April 18 in Tomsk, in the clinic.”

That is what one of the exiled comrades writes us about Naumov.
We here, abroad, received the same kind of postal card: the address shows his handwriting and on the reverse side – a notification of his death…. And now I have before me his letters written to his friends abroad during the last two years of his life.

There are only a few of them – but what letters! … Every line breathes such youthful ardor, such simple and winning sincerity! In reading those letters one forgets that the author is a doomed man, that the dried-up flower to be put on the grave of the Communards – was sent by one who himself, a month later, was to sink into the grave….

Deeply agitated” – he writes in that letter – “I viewed the snapshot of the wall of Communards which you sent me recently. Space and. … prevent me from carrying out my ardent wish: to bow reverently before the ashes of those who sacrificed their lives for Freedom. Nothing, however, will prevent my heart from beating in unison with the hearts of the children and grandchildren of the Communards, nothing will prevent me from loving with all my heart the great Truth of the Communards and hate their executioners,

and no one will be able to shake my faith in the near triumph, of this truth.

….I am inserting here two modest little flowers which grew up here upon the Russian land, upon the land swept with the blood of the Russian workers and peasants…. Place those flowers upon the the blood-soaked grave of the Communards…. The day is drawing near when the blood of the Russian workers and of the French Communards will blossom forth into the gorgeous flower of freedom and Commune…”

He writes simply, unaffectedly and with reserve. Of himself, of his brief life he writes reluctantly: he had to be asked several times before he had sent in a brief story of his life; told in a matter of fact manner, giving only a dry record of events.

He is the son of a peasant from the province of Tula. His father was an inveterate drunkard. “In my young days,” he writes, “my parents were driven by their poverty to move to Moscow.” There his mother worked as a cook and her only son “until eight years of age breathed the heavy air of the kitchen.” Then the family went back to the village and the young Naumov entered the local school. His passion for reading earned him the nickname “the learned one.” For five years after his graduation from the local village school the young lad was deprived of the chance to study. In 1920 he entered the “agricultural technicum.” In 1921 he joined the Communist cell of the school: “This joining was an impulsive and not a conscious act on my part.” In 1922 “he left the technicum, aiming to enter the Rabfac (college prep schools for workers) and through the latter the university (social science faculty). “The Komsomol awakened within me a deep interest toward social sciences, which brought about a more conscious reaction toward life and the gradual breaking away from the Komsomol and its ideas.”

I did not have much luck with the Rabfac – I was too late for it. I drifted into the second training school for infantry officers. … It was with difficulty that I bore those two months of barrack life…. In 1923 I began clerking in one of the Moscow offices. I drifted further and further away from the Komsomol. Although ignorant of Anarchism and lacking any contacts with Anarchists, I was constantly reprimanded for my ‘Anarchist deviations.’ Whence those deviations came to me – I do not know.

In March 1924 I withdrew my membership card from the Komsomol, having submitted a written declaration to that effect. In May of the same year I was arrested, and charged with ‘keeping and spreading of anti-Soviet literature’ which they found on me, and also my writings in which I attempted to get my bearings in the chaos of ideas and impressions overwhelming me at that time.

But I was not a Menshevik, nor did I even sympathize with the Mensheviks. Nor was I an Anarchist. I was just a seeker, groping my way through.

I was exiled for three years to Ural region. In the city of Tobolsk I had my first chance to meet Anarchists and obtain Anarchist literature from them. I plunged into the study of the latter and in 1925 I came to feel myself organically linked up with the doctrine of Anarchism-Communism. In the same year as a result of a tiff which I had with the G.: P. U. authorities I was transferred to Obdorsk. There, another conflict took place which landed me in prison for ten months. In the spring of 1926 I was transferred to the Tobolsk prison. Altogether this year of prison told heavily upon my mental and physical state.

In January 1927 I was arrested in Tobolsk, and in July of the same year I was banned for three years to the Solovky islands.

After having served my term in Solovky I was exiled to Siberia for additional three years. I left Solovky on February 1930, already stricken with pulmonary tuberculosis, throat ailment and many other ailments – all of which became aggravated as a result of a typhus contracted in 1930.

On May 20, 1930, I landed upon the shores of Karga; I was ragged, half alive and only had 3 roubles and 40 kopeks in my pocket ($1.20). And then the trials and tribulations of the Siberian exile began. The room – a veritable bed-bug breeder…. One could fall asleep only at five o’clock in the morning. It was even worse with food. During the two and a half months that I spent in Kargarsk I ate potatoes only three or four times, and as to butter, milk, meat, eggs – I forgot how they looked….”

He did little complaining , but he could not altogether hide the real situation. “The material and spiritual conditions of life,” he wrote during that period, “are conducive towards the progressive development of tuberculosis. I am carried away very often in my thoughts to your active life and I feel deeply pained that I cannot take part in the struggle which needs people so badly Every line that I receive from you, comrades, is like a breath of fresh air for one that is being stifled….”

Toward the end of May, Naumov was taken away to the hospital in Tomsk. The disease was rapidly destroying his organism. “On the whole,” he confessed at that time, “I am a first-rate invalid…. But this is only bodily so – I still feel buoyant in spirit. …” He even wanted to sign out of the hospital, being eager to obtain work, But in vain! … The disease has done its work. On April 18 Naumov breathed his last….

That is the entire “life story!” And what is so unique about it? – the reader may ask not without justification perhaps. Who really wants that story about an anonymous youth whose fate seems to differ so little from the fate of many others like him?

And who will believe that story? Who, among the “revolutionists” abroad, among those who are vociferous about equality and freedom, who will believe that “in the first and only socialist country of the world” young and self-denying revolutionists, workers and peasants are doomed only because they refuse to let themselves be indoctrinated and because they make an attempt to think their own thoughts?

Who will believe that among the hundreds and thousands of such “heterodox” people, who now rot away in the prisons and exile places of Soviet Russia, there is not one who could be indicted – even by the Soviet court, which lacks any guarantees of fair trial – on charges of a criminal nature?

Who will believe that people who are sentenced for a number of years to hard prison labor or exile by a mere administrative “prikaze” (order) of the G. P. U. can easily save themselves all those horrible tortures just by signing a small piece of paper stating that they have retracted their convictions?

Who will believe that it is because of this firmness of conviction, the refusal to traffic with their conscience that the best fighters for freedom are doomed in “The land of Socialism?”

Who among the tourists and “workers’ delegations” making their yearly pilgrimage to the Holy Mecca will believe it?

Whoever among them took the trouble of looking into the political prisons and of talking to the political prisoners, who are the only group of Soviet citizens who speak their minds freely, fearless of consequences?

Who among those “delegates,” instead of regarding the visit to Russia as a “joy ride” along the officially mapped out itinerary, set himself the aim to see things for himself, to get away to the far off, forsaken corners of Ural, Siberia, Turkestan, all those places of exile and to find out even sketchily, but from first hand, how those people live and why they were punished by the “workers’ and peasants’ government?”

And if they wish to do so but are prevented by the all-seeing eye of the G. P. U., what keeps them from raising their voice of protest upon their return from Soviet Russia? What accounts for the almost universal “conspiracy of silence” on this matter?

(“The Bulletin of the Russian Relief Fund of the International Workingmen’s Association, No. 26, November 1932).

From: The guillotine at work p602-7.


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7, June 2014 at 3:22 pm

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Raya Shulman

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One of the most tragic cases is that of RAYA SHULMAN. In February, 1925, she was arrested as a participant in the memorial meeting held in Leningrad on the anniversary of the death of Peter Kropotkin. Administratively, without hearing or trial, she was sent away to Upper-Uralsk and there imprisoned in the polit-isolator.

The following year, in 1926, there took place fearful beatings and physical tortures of the Upper-Uralsk political prisoners. Raya Shulman was one of the victims, and before long she began to show symptoms of mental aberration.

The efforts of her well-connected relatives succeeded in having Raya transferred for treatment in a Moscow hospital the prisoner remaining under guard of the G. P. U. But before Raya completely recovered, she was again returned to prison.

In May, 1929, her term being completed, Raya Shulman, instead of being liberated, was doomed to exile in the Kansk District, Siberia, and thence she was transferred, in March 1930 to Narim.

The method of frequent changes of prisons and places of exile, involving different environment and climatic conditions, served to aggravate the condition of Raya Shulman. Moreover, she took seriously ill and was almost paralyzed by acute rheumatism.

Her only hope was that, at the expiration of her exile term, she might be placed by her relatives in the care of proper physicians. She patiently waited for that day, but when her official “release” time came, she was again condemned to exile in Orel; where medical attention and treatment are entirely excluded.

This new order of the G. P. U. against Raya Shulman is virtually equivalent to a sentence of death. Raya is on the point of entire physical and mental collapse. The only chance of saving her life is in enabling her to come to Moscow for serious medical treatment. But the G. P. U. has refused the demand.

(Ibid). [Bulletin of the Reflief Fund… April 1932]

From: The guillotine at work p598.


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7, June 2014 at 2:46 pm

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Alexey Borovoy

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The last of the Mohicans! The systematic uprooting of independent thought has finally reached Borovoy. To think otherwise than the Bolshevik state ordains has become an ever greater crime during the twelve years of Communist rule. The struggle against political offenders, which began immediately after the Bolsheviks assumed the reins of government, continues to be waged most ruthlessly. Some have been shot; all the others are paying with imprisonment and exile. Some time ago the news came that the handful of Anarchists still at large in Moscow had been arrested and exiled to various parts of the Bolshevist empire. Borovoy alone remained. Now he, too, suffers a similar fate, having been doomed to exile for three years.

Professor Alexey Alexeyevich Borovoy belongs to the older generation that was active in our movement long before the World War. With marked individualist tendencies in his writings of the pre-war period, Borovoy joined the Anarchist Communist movement soon after the October Revolution. Intellectual to the tips of his fingers, he could not at once make up his mind as to direct participation in the labor movement which, in 1917, was opening great new propagandistic vistas to the Anarchists. Together with several other intellectuals he organized the “Union of the Idealist Propaganda of Anarchism.” Of that group only two members refused to bow before the omnipotence of Bolshevism. One of them was Borovoy.

As soon as the Anarcho-Syndicalist movement became organized in Moscow, Borovoy joined it and remained true to it to the last. Ever since then he participated in all the manifestations of Anarchist thought – few and far between as they necessarily were -events regularly followed by merciless persecution of those who dared take part in them. Thus Borovoy’s voice was heard at the annual gatherings in memory of Peter Kropotkin, at the Bakunin commemoration meeting, and lately in connection with the exposure of the so-called “mystical Anarchists” in the Anarchist press abroad.

A lecturer at the Moscow University before the war, he lost his Chair upon the accusation of the Bolsheviks who would not allow a non-Marxist to lecture on economics and philosophy. Unfit for physical labor, he was compelled to join the terrifying army of Soviet bureaucracy, to save himself from starvation. But he never hid his opinions and he always gave vent to them whenever and wherever he could. He is an excellent speaker and his melodious voice carried the argument to the very soul of his listeners.

Bolshevism has certainly managed to imprison and exile all the active Anarchists. But it must fail where all the other states and Che-Kas have failed; it cannot destroy Anarchist thought and work.

A. S. (Ibid). [“Bulletin, of the Relief Fund,” November-December 1929]

Professor Alexey Borovoy died in 1936 in Wiatka [Viatka] exile.

From: The Guillotine at Work, p. 594-595.


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7, June 2014 at 2:41 pm

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The case of Francesco Ghezzi

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On June 24, 1929, the Secretariat of the International Working Men’s Association sent a registered letter to the Soviet of Peoples Commissars, asking the reason for the arrest of the Italian Anarchist Francesco Ghezzi and urging his release. Up to now no answer has been received. We hereby call public attention to his case and at the same time repeat our demand for his liberation.

Francesco Ghezzi was prosecuted by the Italian courts on the charge of alleged participation in the Mailand explosions, in 1920. He was sentenced-in his absence-to 20 years servitude. In 1921 Ghezzi was arrested in Germany, and Italy demanded his extradition. The German Ministry of Justice refused to extradite him, on the ground that the prisoner was a political refugee and the charges against him of a political nature. Ghezzi was freed by the Berlin authorities, but was ordered to leave the country within three days.

As the Soviet Government had repeatedly declared that it would give refuge to all proletarians persecuted in capitalist countries, Ghezzi decided to go to Russia. There, he felt, he would be safe from persecution. The Russian embassy in Berlin issued to him official documents of a Russian citizen.

In Russia Ghezzi lived and worked as one of the proletariat. But he remained true to his Anarchist convictions and that proved his undoing, because in Soviet Russia there is no liberty of thought and free expression of opinion is not tolerated. Like numerous other Anarchists and revolutionists before him, Ghezzi was arrested by the G. P. U. and condemned administratively (without hearing or trial) to three years prison in Suzdal.

The imprisonment of Francesco Ghezzi is more than an ordinary outrage against the freedom of speech and thought; it is a direct demonstration that the Russian Government has betrayed its solemn promise to give asylum to the proletarian victims of political persecution in bourgeois countries.

We hereby again voice our demand that the Bolshevik authorities make known the reasons for the arrest of Ghezzi, and that he be liberated at once.

At the same time we call attention to the fact that the belief of revolutionary workers who are hounded in capitalist countries that they will find refuge in Russia, has been fundamentally shaken by the fate of Ghezzi.

On this occasion we also repeat our oft-made demand that the Soviet Government cease its persecution of the revolutionary elements and free the thousands of politicals imprisoned and exiled in Russia.

The International Workingmen’s Association

This letter of the I. W. M. A. was forwarded to Russia signed by internationally known names, among them ERNST TOLLER, HEINRICH MANN, KATE KOLLWITZ, Professor OPPENHEIM, OSCAR MARIA GRAF, G. FYSOLD, ALEXANDER GRANACH, and others.

(Ibid). [“Bulletin, of the Relief Fund,” November-December 1929]

From: The guillotine at work, p593-4.


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7, June 2014 at 2:34 pm