Posts Tagged ‘Aron Baron’
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.
Exiled to Siberia by the Tzar, Baron had escaped to America and was active there for several years in the labor and revolutionary movement. In 1917 he returned to Russia to help “build Socialism”.
He became one of the most popular writers and lecturers in the Ukraine. In 1920 Baron was arrested by the Bolsheviks together with a large number of other delegates to the Kharkov Anarchist Congress which, by the way, was to be held with the knowledge of the authorities.
Since then Baron, like his comrades Ivan Charin, Leah Gottman, Michail Biriulin, L. Lebedov, etc., arrested on the same occasion, has been dragged about from prison to prison, without any definite charge-ever having been made against him or the others. His imprisonment in Moscow, Orel, Kharkov and other places has involved for Baron hunger strikes totaling 50 days.
Now, his sentence of two years in the Solovietzki Islands having expired, Baron hoped to be at liberty at least long enough to recuperate his shattered health. But a recent letter informs us that the Government has now brought the charge against him of having “aroused public sentiment abroad against his imprisonment in the Solovietzki and having induced revolutionists visiting Russia to seek his release.”
This charge is no doubt due to the friendly efforts of John Turner, member of the British Labor Delegation to Russia to intercede-at the request of the Joint Committee-in behalf of Aaron Baron. The latter has now been sent by etape (travel by slow stages, often on foot), to the distributing prison of Novo-Nikolaevsk and thence to Altai, Siberia.
A similar fate has been meted out to several other politicals whose terms in the Solovietzki have expired. This policy is now being applied throughout the country.
(Ibid). (“Bulletin of the Joint Committee for the Defense of Revolutionists in Russia,” March-April, 1925).
From: The Guillotine at work p542-3.
In January 1923 Aron Baron was sentenced to two years in prison, to be served in camps of northern Russia. After passing through two camps on the mainland, he eventually arrived in Solovetsky, an archipelago of six islands in an arm of the White Sea, where hermitages built for monks had been converted into concentration camps. The Soviet regime had first used Solovetsky for common criminals and counterrevolutionaries, but in 1923 two hermitages, Muksol’ma and Savvat’yev, on different islands, were reserved for political prisoners. The exact date of Baron’s arrival at the Muksol’ma hermitage is unknown, but he was evidently there when a horrific event took place at the Savvat’yev camp in December 1923. Several prisoners were gunned down while making a peaceful protest. News of this event soon spread abroad, but it was only a harbinger of worse things to come during Stalin’s regime.
Baron’s letter was written ostensibly to a former sweetheart in Berlin named Julia. But annotations on the letter indicate that Julia was actually Mark Mrachniy, an old comrade who was helping Alexander Berkman in Berlin with support work for anarchists in Soviet prisons. Baron and Mrachniy had been leading members of the Confederation of Anarchists of Ukraine (Nabat) and both had taken part in the Makhnovist movement (although at different times). The other personages mentioned in the letter are identified in endnotes.
Aron Baron was released from Solovetsky in January 1925, but not to freedom. He was sent to serve a further term as an exile in Siberia.
Muksol’ma August 8 1924
My dear beloved. Immediately upon receiving your letter of the 11th of July, I sent a reply to you by return post about the state of my health, affirming that I am still your same Aron as you knew me earlier and that the years of sorrowful separation could alter nothing in my relationship to you. By my reckoning, I should have already received an answering letter from you by now, but there is none and that is beginning to worry me. It’s true you mentioned that you lost your job, and I know from the newspapers what kind of unemployment and terrible starvation you have now in Germany. So now I’m worried, and I’m writing a second time, by registered mail, in case my earlier letter, for whatever reason, did not reach you. They say the postal service is functioning normally in Russia now, but I don’t know anything about the reliability of the German post office.
It would be nice to talk with you about lots of things, and I know that epistolary conversations are satisfying neither to me, nor to you. Hopefully we’ll meet again sooner or later in freedom, and then we’ll make up for lost time. There are some quarrels and squabbles happening here, which it’s embarrassing to write about (and resulted in 15 people being transferred here from Savvat’yev). But, in spite of everything, I remain in good spirits and healthy, and am looking after myself. 
I am receiving from America the central communist organ – the newspaper Daily Worker – and am able to follow the course of American life on a day-to-day basis. I must confess that I would be very, very grateful if one of my acquaintances, or one of your acquaintances – someone sufficiently kind-hearted and well-off – bought me a subscription to the French communist newspaper Humanité for two or three months. This newspaper is most likely permitted; it’s necessary only to pay for a subscription in my name, and I will then derive great satisfaction in gleaning information from a primary source about life abroad. I’m not suggesting, my dear, that you pay for this yourself, but I implore you to arrange this with some “rich uncle” who’s willing to relieve himself of a couple of francs on my behalf.
As for Germany, its newspaper is of less interest to me; however, if you happen to get back to work and accumulate some money, then send me, when you can, any kind of interesting book, journal or brochure in the German language – something fit for Soviet Russia.
Write, my dear, more about yourself and about Ksima . How is she getting along, poor woman. I heard that your old man [starik]  doesn’t want to know us and has even left you completely. Admittedly, I would want to know more about all this. Well, that’s it for this time. I can’t pass along any pleasant news about our life. Alesha  arrived not long ago, but I haven’t caught up with him yet. Everyone here who knows you sends greetings and asks that you don’t forget to write often and more about yourself. Good-bye, beloved, don’t be sad. Thousands of greetings to you and Ksima.
Forever yours, Aron
Translated by Malcolm Archibald
1 In the first half of the 1920s Aron Baron was imprisoned most of the time, took part in several hunger strikes, and even attempted self-immolation in protest of prison conditions.
2 Grigori Maksimov, well-known anarcho-syndicalist, was living in Berlin in 1924, after having been expelled from the USSR in 1922.
3 Vsevolod Volin, who had been living in Berlin after being expelled from the USSR, moved to Paris in 1924.
4 Aleksey Olonetskiy was one of the seven anarchists released from prison to attend Kropotkin’s funeral in Moscow in 1921. Aron Baron was also one of the seven, as was Mark Mrachniy, to whom this letter was written.
From: IISH, Amsterdam, Flechine archive, Folder 46.. Translated by: Malcolm Archibald.
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.  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.  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 (IWA–AIT) 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.