Anarchists in the Gulag (and prison and exile)

Bolshevik repression of anarchists after 1917

Posts Tagged ‘anarchist history

“an anarchist in the fog” New book on Francesco Ghezzi from Zero in Condotta

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Carlo Ghezzi
Dalla Milano del teatro Diana al lager in Siberia [Francesco Ghezzi, an anarchist in the fog. From the Diana theatre to a camp in Siberia]
pp. 124 EUR 10,00
ISBN 978-88-95950-34-1

Information is available on the Zero in Condotta website:

A Rivista Anarchica have reprinted the intro: (scroll down, it’s the second article)


Written by gulaganarchists

14, November 2013 at 10:54 am

Book Review – The Tragic Procession: Alexander Berkman and Russian Prisoner Aid, 1923-1931 (KSL/ABSC, 2010) by Philip Ruff

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Every recruit to the SWP (if they still get recruits) should read this book before they pay their membership fees. It demolishes the illusion that the “Bolshevist Leninism” advocated in exile by Trotsky was somehow different from the murderous totalitarianism practised by Stalin.

Aptly titled, The Tragic Procession is a fascinating and heartbreaking chronicle of the repression meted out to revolutionaries in Russia by the Bolshevik government, refracted through the pages of the Bulletin edited in exile by Alexander Berkman – issued first by his own Joint Committee for the Defense of Revolutionists Imprisoned in Russia, and from 1926 by the IWMA’s Relief Fund for Anarchists and Anarcho-Syndicalists Imprisoned or Exiled in Russia.

Between February 1917 and the spring of 1918, Russian Anarchism enjoyed a legal existence for the first, and only, time in its history (prior to the collapse of the USSR). Though split on the question of support for the Bolsheviks, anarchists of all tendencies had taken part in the overthrow of Kerensky. They worked enthusiastically in the Soviets, and were represented in the All Russian Central Executive Committee (VTsIK). Many of them were captivated by Lenin’s writings after April, 1917, particularly his famous work “The State and Revolution”, which had re-examined Marx’s theory of the state and concluded that the existing bourgeois state must be abolished (along with the standing army, police and courts) and replaced with a society modelled on the Paris Commune. Believing the Bolsheviks to be sincerely dedicated to this task, Soviet Anarchists were even prepared to temporarily bend their anti-statist principles, in the cause of seeing the revolution triumph, by supporting the dictatorship of the proletariat.

As the Soviet state grew stronger, the contradictions between Bolshevik and anarchist aims became more irreconcilable. On the night of 12 April, 1918, Lenin’s Cheka supported by Latvian riflemen, launched an offensive against the Moscow anarchists, with raids against twenty-six anarchist centres in the city, and closed down the printing presses of the Moscow Anarchist Federation and its paper “Anarkhiya”. Caught by surprise, some of the anarchists were captured without a shot being fired, or put up only a token resistance. Elsewhere, the well armed Black Guard detachments were only overcome by full-scale military assault. Those who still dreamed of seeing Anarchy in their lifetime pinned their hopes on a “third revolution” against Communist dictatorship, based on the Makhnovist insurgency in Ukraine and the Kronstadt revolt of 1921, but by the end of the 1920s the anarchist movement in Russia was completely outlawed.

Alexander Berkman arrived in Russia with Emma Goldman in 1919, after being deported from the USA. At first they were inclined to give Lenin the benefit of the doubt. But the massacre at Kronstadt finally convinced them of the true nature of Lenin’s new autocracy. They were expelled to Germany in 1922, among the last of the Russian anarchists allowed to leave. From then on anarchists in Russia were subject to a continual cycle of repression, imprisonment and exile to remote provinces, where they were forced to survive as best they could. Berkman dedicated the remainder of his life to bringing practical aid and solidarity to the comrades he left behind. This book stands as testimony to his efforts.

It would be difficult to do justice to the wealth of detailed information which the Bulletin published about persecuted Russian revolutionists (not only anarchists) – please, read the book yourself – while fellow-travelling intellectuals outside Russia were so besotted with the fatal attraction of Leninism. But a few gems beg to be mentioned in passing, if only because they are news to me. I didn’t know for instance (despite having written a book about Latvian anarchists) that the Latvian anarchist group in New York remained active, sending contributions to Berkman, as late as the end of 1930. Or that the London branch of the Anarchist Red Cross (Secretary E. Michaels) was still supporting Berkman’s work until at least 1931. An honourable mention (page 77) as another contributor, also in 1931, goes to Leah Feldman – a veteran of the anarchist underground in Russia and the Makhno movement in Ukraine, who in 1936 passed on the flame to our own Albert Meltzer (co-founder of the Anarchist Black Cross), and was still supporting anarchist action groups (First of May Group, Murray Defence Campaign) well into the 1960s and 70s. And it’s interesting to note that Nestor Makhno himself is listed (page 27) as receiving financial support ($76) from Berkman’s fund in 1926.

In November and December 1930 the Bulletin printed reports of a new generation of “politicals” appearing in the prisons: ‘mostly young persons… who we, the “old guard”, do not know. Many of them call themselves Anarchists, and one wonders in what manner they have learned of our ideas. For you must consider that there is no Anarchist literature in Russia, none that the average person can get hold of. And there are but few organizations or groups of our comrades, and all underground, at that. Often this new element is merely a rebellious contingent, whom the GPU simply designates as Anarchists. In prison, fortunately, some of them actually become enlightened Anarchists, with a clear and intelligent conception of our ideals. Thus at a certain transfer point I came upon a young man who belonged to a student organization of Anarchists-Syndicalists. He seemed a man of an entirely new type that is growing in Russia. Not an Anarchist by temperament, but one whom actual conditions and an independent and critical mind have led to new conceptions of life and society. […] their militant spirit was not the determining factor in their Anarchist viewpoint. On the contrary… social conditions of dictatorship have developed in them a clear and logical tendency to seek for other, more practical and rational ways of making and living the Revolution.’ (p. 62)

Thus it was, inside and outside of the Gulag system, that against all odds anarchists survived in Russia until emerging in 1989 – not just despite, but in part precisely because of the repression of all who questioned the moral authority of a dictatorial state. The Tragic Procession of Russian Anarchism after 1918 was ultimately vindicated (thanks in no small part to people like Alexander Berkman) by outliving the dictatorship which sought to consign it, as Trotsky claimed, to the “dustbin of history”.

Philip Ruff

[Philip Ruff is the author of Pa stavu liesmu debesis : Nenotverama latviešu anarhista Petera Maldera laiks un dzive [A towering flame : the life & times of ‘Peter the painter’] which was reviewed in our last issue.

The Tragic Procession: Alexander Berkman and Russian Prisoner Aid. Published by The Alexander Berkman Social Club and Kate Sharpley Library: 2010. 9781873605905 $12/£8

In KSL: Bulletin of the Kate Sharpley Library No. 73, February 2013


Written by gulaganarchists

23, February 2013 at 2:34 pm

The Role of the Anarchists in the Russian Revolution and Civil War, 1917-1921: A Case Study in Conspiratorial Party Behavior during Revolution. John W. Copp. Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1992.

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Copp’s work on the activities (and ultimate defeat) of anarchists during the Russian revolution throws up some interesting ideas. Examining who the anarchists were, he concludes that they weren’t very different from rank-and-file Bolsheviks: ‘the anarchists themselves, like the Bolsheviks, were largely products of the urban working class. […] There is strong evidence that anarchism was popular among the working class and some evidence that it appealed to the peasantry. […] [T]he largely urban background of the anarchists’ activists would suggest that they most probably were concerned with urban issues and urban problems and therefore would concentrate their efforts in the large cities until forced to turn more towards the peasants by high levels of government suppression.’ (p87-8)

Ultimately, he blames division among the anarchists for their failure to organise successfully: ‘While their individual responses were nearly always principled and often even heroic, the failure of their attempt to develop a national umbrella organisation and the contradictory responses of the anarcho-communists and the anarcho-syndicalists to the establishment of class institutions demonstrate the futility of the anarchists’ efforts to band together to produce their dream of revolution. Instead of seizing the revolutionary initiative or even responding to Bolshevik designs as a whole they were forced to battle piecemeal against whichever Bolshevik policies struck the members of a particular faction as wrong.’ (p212) This criticism was certainly repeated by some anarchists – Makhno for example.

One of Copp’s most interesting points is about how anarchists came to cooperate with the Bolsheviks: ‘The key philosophical element which made it possible for many anarchists to alter their perception of the Bolsheviks seems to have been the centrality of the concept of revolution in the anarchist belief system. […] [T]he need for cooperation between the two if the anarchists’ fundamental goal of a social revolution was to be accomplished, allowed the anarchists to focus on the Bolsheviks’ “good” side and work together with their “revolutionary brethren” and ignore the rivalry of the past.’ (p136)

As we know (with hindsight) this cooperation led to both revolution and the Bolshevik seizure of power. Anarchists thereafter were divided on how to respond. Despite (because of?) their popularity the anarchist movement was eventually absorbed or repressed and sidelined. Copp’s account of the conflict anarchists had to face (loyalty to anarchism or to the revolution) is not just of historical interest. How do we stop revolution turning into its opposite? If there isn’t a single key to success, what combination of popularity, organisation, principle, ferocity and luck do we need?


In KSL: Bulletin of the Kate Sharpley Library No. 73, February 2013


Written by gulaganarchists

23, February 2013 at 2:32 pm

Confronting Dostoevsky’s Demons : Anarchism and the Specter of Bakunin in Twentieth-century Russia by James Goodwin [Book Review]

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Goodwin examines different responses to Bakunin after the Russian revolution: celebration as revolutionary precursor; demonisation as the Anti-Marx; studied as the only way to even mention anarchist ideas. Chapter four (In defense of Bakunin: Aleksei Borovoi and the anarchist conception of Demons) covers the manoeuvres of anarchists in 1920s Russia. It disproves the idea that they simply disappeared, and provides information on exactly what they did do.

‘Arguably the highest point in the anarchists’ transition from anti-Soviet agitation to more subtle propaganda , Voice of Labor [Golos Truda] became the most significant and enduring producer of anarchist literature in the 1920s, publishing more than sixty titles between 1919 and 1926. One of its first and most important achievements was a five-volume publication of Bakunin’s works from 1919 to 1922 that featured some of Bakunin’s sharpest criticism of “state socialism,” most of which were not printed in Russia again before the perestroika period of the late 1980s.’ (p103)

The 50th anniversary of Bakunin’s death (the Bakunin jubilee of 1926) sparked new anarchist plans.

‘Borovoi’s elaborate plans for the Bakunin Committee reflect the great hopes and ambition which the Bakunin jubilee inspired in the minds of some surviving anarchists. With its provisions for a Bakunin museum, permanent commissions, and regular publishing activity, it is likely that Borovoi envisioned the Bakunin Committee as a genuine institution within Soviet culture, one that provided a more purely “anarchist” alternative to the Kropotkin Museum, from which the original anarchist contingent had become all but completely estranged by 1926.’ (p120-1) ‘[T]he anarchists’ subtle but obvious strategy of self-vindication … was deployed most extensively in a collection of anarchist writings edited by Borovoi and published by Voice of Labor in honour of Bakunin that summer. Consisting of eighteen articles by fourteen different authors, the collection represented by far the largest and most diverse compilation of anarchist texts to emerge throughout the entire Soviet period. Its format reflected the need to subordinate its principal aim of outlining a history of anarchism, as acknowledge in the preface, to the purpose of commemoration. Its title, Sketches on the History of the Anarchist Movement in Russia, therefore included the dedication To Mikhail Bakunin, 1876-1926.’ (p123)

Interestingly, it was not only inside Russia that Bakunin was being invoked: ‘[A]s anarchists and Bolsheviks observed Bakunin’s 1926 jubilee in Moscow, Maksimov prepared four installments of Bakunin’s “teachings,” as he called them, in the form of fictitious “conversations” between a modern enquirer – represented by Maksimov himself – and the revived Bakunin, whom Maksimov returned to the living after a fifty-year slumber. Eliciting classic utterances by Bakunin on the need for a sweeping, anarchist revolution and the way to realize it, Maksimov offered a creative and original alternative to the scholarly paraphrase of Soviet Marxist studies.’ (p127)

Confronting Dostoevsky’s Demons is a specialised but intelligent and valuable contribution to the history of anarchism in Russia.

Confronting Dostoevsky’s Demons : Anarchism and the Specter of Bakunin in Twentieth-century Russia by James Goodwin Peter Lang, 2010. ISBN: 9781433108839 £55/ $90.

In KSL: Bulletin of the Kate Sharpley Library No. 73, February 2013


Written by gulaganarchists

23, February 2013 at 2:30 pm

Vicente Monclús Guallar, Spanish Libertarian victimised in the USSR

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Abiego, in the foothills of Barbastro, a CNT stronghold, was represented at the CNT’s congress in Zaragoza in May 1936 by the 80-member Abiego CNT Union, part of the powerful Barbastro comarcal (county) organisation. Also represented there were nearby villages such as Castillazuelo (70 members), Pozán del Vero (47), Costeán (320 and Naval (13) which also sent delegates to the congress, whilst attendance proved impossible for the comrades from Salas Altas. The Abiego CNT also contributed volunteer militians to man the frontlines and was the driving force behind the collectivisation in the town, the collective being headed by Ramón Sanz Almudévar who as arrested on the Guadalajara front at the end of the civil war and jailed for 4 years before leaving for exile in France in 1948; his brother Manuel, a former volunter with the Barbastro militias who had seen action on the Huesca and Teruel fronts before being forced to flee by the communists and enlisting in Alcubierre with the 26th ‘Durruti’ Division was already living there. Manuel served as company commissar and was wounded in Tremp before fleeing to France where he was interned in the Bourg-Madame and Le Vernet concentration camps from which he escaped to join the resistance (in the Pointe Grave maquis). Another promoter of the collective was Santiago Guallar, a refugee since February 1939, who died in 1990 in exile in France at the age of 86. The fascists came down hard on Abiego: 9 residents were investigated by the Aragon Political Accountability Court, among them the CNT’s Manuel Salas Durán (delegate of the collective’s cafe and cooperative) and Mariano Jordan Ballabriga, both of whom became fugitives, and Julián Bierge Claver. Upwards of 60 Abiego residents passed through the jail in Huesca, including 6 women and at least 8 Abiego residents were jailed, then shot: Joaquín Monclús Guallar (Vicente’s brother) on 30-8-1936 in Huesca, five people (Santiago Barón Tornil 10-11-1939, Martín Bull Arilla and José Naya Allué on 27-3-1940, Melchor Oliveros Barón on 31-10-1940 and Agustín Nasarre Gros on 13-7-1943) in Barbastro, and Vicente Arín Panzano on 23-6-1944 and Justo Panzano Encuentro on 14-3-1945, in Zaragoza. They were all young men, farmers, shepherds and shearers and most likely members of the CNT and the collective.

Vicente Monclús Guallar: his only crime? Thinking for himself.

Vicente was born in Abiego (Huesca province) and spent 18 years living in the USSR, 16 years and 51 one days of that in prisons and labour camps. His was not an isolated case for he suffered the foulest slavery alongside 50 million people from a range of nationalities under soviet butchers who displated a placard over the camp entrance: “With a mailed fist we shall lead humanity to happiness.”

Vicente, a libertarian, volunteered for front line service with some other Abiego residents and fought in the Huesca, Zaragoza and Levante sectors. In 1938 he entered the air force training school in La Ribera (Murcia), one of 250 trainees: after political questioning by Russian agents, some 60 of the students were awarded bursaries by the republican government under Negrín and Álvarez del Vayo (puppets of the Kremlin) and travelled up to Rouen (France) to board the ‘Coperacia’. That was the beginning of his via dolorosa, for they were banned from going ashore. When they reached Leningrad the police searched their luggage, seizing banned books and their passports and they were shipped as prisoners all the way to Kizobabad [presumably Kirovabad] (Azerbaijan) by train – a journey of 4500 kilometers. At the air force school, they were inducted as Red Army soldiers and after six months locked up, they were informed that the war in Spain was over. In June 1939, they were tricked into believing that their wish to leave for France or Mexico was about to be granted and five of the group agreed to act as spies for the Russians. The others had a visit from Cartón from the Spanish Communist Party politburo (a Popular Font deputy) who urged them enter the service of the USSR, telling him that he regarded everbody not in the Party as a traitor. They were moved to the Comintern’s political school in Moscow where they were harangued by Enrique Líster. A further 15 of the group then entered the service of the USSR. The remaining 40 were then informed of the signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact and the subsequent invasion of Poland and with the outbreak of World War Two, their desire to leave evaporated. They were expelled from the school and taken to Monimo where they were greeted, beneath a placard reading “All power to José Diaz and Santiago Carrillo”, by Arturo Petrel, the former communist deputy for Granada, by Cabo Giorla, former governor of Murcia (both politburo members) and by Balaguer (leader of the Spanish communists in Russia during the 1950s). When the group refused to be talked into the service of the USSR rather than the Spanish Republic, threats and bullying were used and following a visit from Santiago Castro (another politburo member) acting for José Díaz and Dolores Ibarruri ‘La Pasionaria’, they were given the ultimatum of entering the service of the USSR or being deemed traitors to the Spanish people. Two of the group of 40 pilots, Rafael Estrella and Lloret (both Valencians) were ‘sleepers’ and so on 25-1-1940, the group was denounced by a secret tribunal made up of their ‘visitors’ and 8 of the pilots, including Vicente Monclús, were removed to the prison in Butiskaya [Butyrskaya] where they were virtually buried alive in that among Spanish communists in Russia there was a wall of silence. For years relatives lobbied from France through the Red Cross, sending hundreds of letters and telegrammes to the Russian authorities and the Spanish CP, but none was answered. The rest then vanished into the slave labour camps (they were inmates in Kasafia in 1943). After eight months of torture, they were sentenced to 8 years’ penal servitude, accused of being Trotskyists and fifth columnists, and in September 1940 they were sent to work on the construction of the Vorkuta railway in the Arctic. They were dying off. Together with Juan Salas from Barcelona and José Jirones from Reus, Vicente escaped and for three months subsisted in the forests until, recaptured, he was the only one left. During the world war the numbers of slave labourers were swollen by the influx of inhabitants from Besarabia, Romania, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Poland. In September 1941, Vicente was sent to a death camp where a female doctor took him under her wing and rescued him on account of his being a Spaniard. In 1942 he worked felling trees and in the coalmines and, his weight now down to 37 kilos, he collapsed and was sent to another death camp where he survived thanks to the help of doctor inmates sympathetic to the Spanish republican cause. From 1944 he was working in a vulcanisation plant until, on 29-1-1948, after 8 awful years in the Arctic and as the sole survivor of the 38-strong team of Spanish pilots, he was pardoned and banished to Samarkand (Uzbekistan). During his latter years as a prisoner he bumped into 18 year old Ramón Hernández, a ‘war baby’ from Gijón who had been setenced to penal servitude; he discovered that Valentín González ‘El Campesino’, was being held in Butiskaya [Butyrskaya] and he was able to chat with deported Russian pilots and sailors, survivors from the ship ‘Juventudes’ which had called to Spain, and with lots of International Brigaders – Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, Germans and Italians – who had been dispatched to Russia by Red Aid right after crossing into France, only to face trial with thousands of Red Army troops captured by the Nazis who, when freed by the Allies in 1945, found themselves being deported and exterminated in the forests and mines in Siberia. Vicente spent two hungry, wretched years in the Caucasian republic, was thwarted in his bid to escape to Iran in January 1950 and was brought back to Moscow … and pardoned. He was watched day and night. Andrés Guanter, another soviet spy originally from Valencia, tailed him and on 20-4-1950 Vicente was held by the Justice Ministry in the notorious Lubyanka where he was stripped and beaten and denied sleep for six days before being jailed in Sukhanovska where, after 34 days of torture, he signed a phony confession to being a spy, with 246 pages of charges listed against him. Sent back to Butiskaya [Butyrskaya] again on 2-1-1951, he was sentenced to 10 years’ penal servitude in a ‘secret location’ where he served a further five years locked up with 300 other inmates, including academics and teachers from Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Austria and Hungary. It was there that he ran into the Spaniards Francisco Ramón Molina and Juan Blasco Cobo who had been given 10 years for spying, simply for having applied for permission to leave to go to Mexico and having written a letter to the republican government-in-exile. In April 1955, he was taken to Lefortovo prison where he met a batch of German POWS awaiting repatriation. Which was how his friend Heinz Kregts came to make the requisite overtures to get in touch with Vicente’s family through the Red Cross, whereupon the family, discovering that he was still alive, lobbied on his behalf. On 6-1-1956 Vicente was moved to the Lubyanka; his sentence was overturned and he was pronounced innocent after 16 years and 51 days as a prisoner of the USSR. Reunited with his family in France, he has left us a book – 10 Años en la URSS (Editorial Claridad, Buenos Aires 1959) – an impressive indictment of Stalinist rule in the USSR and of the complicity of the Spanish CP and its (these days feted) leadership in such genocide, comparable only to Nazism.

From: Taken from: O Crabero. Huesca-Info. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.

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Written by gulaganarchists

20, October 2012 at 2:32 pm

New Phil Ruff Peter the Painter Interview

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Phil Ruff discussing Peter the Painter and his researches into the history of Latvian anarchism. (Over an hour: in English with Latvian subtitles):

Written by gulaganarchists

1, September 2012 at 6:35 pm

Mere Barking Wont Do

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by Aron Baron

Petitions, protests, resolutions, hundreds of thousands of them – all in vain! The masters are triumphant: Joe Hill is shot, murdered, dead.

What now? What next? Not only what, but who is next? You and I, who are striving for a better world, we may be next tomorrow. You who have a vision of a society without masters, and are spreading your ideal, among the oppressed and exploited, tomorrow you may be led to the scaffold. Why not? You say you have committed no crime? You don’t have to! If you are known as a man of deep devotion to the Cause of the Workers, never mind about a charge: any shrewd attorney will find one against you, just as they did for Joe Hill. That’s what they have done 28 years ago to Parsons and his comrades, that’s what they have tried to do to Haywood, Moyer and Pettibone, to Ettor and Giovanitti, to Ford and Suhr in California, Rangel and Clines in Texas, that’s what they are trying to do right now to Schmidt and Caplan in Los Angeles.

And what are you going to do? Again protest? O, yes, in this “free” democratic country you have freedom of speech: talk! Talk your head off – who cares? A lot you care when you hear a hungry dog barking? That’s just the attitude of the masters towards us: Bark! a lot they care!

Fellow-workers and comrades! All of you to whom the existing conditions are repugnant, and all of you who find a Free Society worth fighting for, – let us profit by the death and torture of our martyrs in realizing once for all that

Mere barking won’t do!

We must learn to bite, and bite effectively!

A. Barron. [Baron returned to Russia in 1917 and was active until he was shot in 1937.]

From: The Alarm, Chicago. Vol. 1, no. 3 December 1915.

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Written by gulaganarchists

20, July 2012 at 10:13 am

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