Anarchists in the Gulag (and prison and exile)

Bolshevik repression of anarchists after 1917

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“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

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

The Many Lives of Max Chernyak by Malcolm Archibald

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Maxim Matveyevich Chernyak belongs to the generation of Russian anarchists who took part in the revolutions of 1905 and 1917, defended the new revolutionary society against its reactionary enemies, and then were crushed by their erstwhile allies the Communists. It is not easy to piece together his life story because he spent most of his life underground, in a state of illegality. In Chernyak’s case an exacerbating factor is that in the historical literature he is often confounded with people with similar names.

He was born in 1883 in Grodno, a city located in the Russian “Pale of Settlement”, into a poor Jewish family. Chernyak was trained as a barber, a trade which seems to have been a family tradition. Throughout his life he practiced this trade, when not otherwise engaged as a terrorist, secret agent, or military commander.

Chernyak first became active in the anarchist movement in the nearby city of Bialystok in 1904-1905, joining the Chernoe Znamia [Black Banner] group which carried out “motiveless” terrorist attacks on the bourgeoisie. Chernyak worked closely with one of the leaders of the group, Vladimir Striga. The group was composed mainly of young people and its membership reached the hundreds. The charismatic Striga would on occasion address crowds as large as 3,000 to 5,000. The Bialystok anarchists established close contacts with similar groups in Ukraine, especially in Odessa and Yekaterinoslav. In the subsequent tsarist repression, most of the militants of the group were martyred. Striga fled abroad to Paris, but stumbled while carrying a homemade bomb and blew himself up.

Chernyak also found shelter in France in 1907, but soon moved on to the U.S.A. where he took part in organizing the Russian section of the Industrial Workers of the World (the IWW published newspapers in a dozen languages aimed at immigrant workers). During his time in the U.S. Chernyak resumed his trade as a barber and lived with his wife Rosa and two children in New York and, later, Chicago. In the latter city the whole family would attend events organized by the Russian anarchist emigrant community.

But Chernyak was not ready to settle down. In 1917 he returned to Russia with his family and immediately threw himself into revolutionary work. He went to the Donbas industrial region of Ukraine and organized a detachment of the Black Guard based in the city of Makeyevka. In the first part of 1918 many Black Guard detachments sprang up all over the former Russian Empire to defend the Revolution against its enemies. In the case of the Makeyevka detachment the enemies were the nearby Cossacks of the White Don. While not denying the military effectiveness of this unit, the Communist authorities repeatedly accused it of engaging in banditry and harbouring criminal elements. In May 1918 they disarmed the detachment but then quickly had to re-arm it again to throw it into battle against the menacing White Guards.

Later in 1918 Chernyak’s detachment was re-organized as a regiment of the Red Army, just being formed. Chernyak caught on with a unit led by the anarchist sailor Anatoly Zheleznyakov, famous for dismissing the Constituent Assembly in January 1918. Chernyak organized the kontrrazvedka (counter-intelligence section) of this detachment and it was here that he first formed an association with the Donbas anarchist Lev Zadov, a huge man of unusual strength acquired hauling slag for blast furnaces.

Zheleznyakov was in constant conflict with the Communist authorities, and in September 1918 Chernyak left his post in good standing to engage in underground work in the Donbas against the German occupying forces and the puppet Hetman regime. When German power in Ukraine collapsed, Chernyak’s partisans helped the Communists to capture Kharkov in December. The anarchist Boris Yelensky, also a returnee from the USA, described an encounter with Chernyak at this time:

“I noticed one man who was draped with weapons from head to foot and who hurled commands to the partisans. He looked so familiar that I was certain I had met him previously. … he approached us, called out my name and threw his arms around me. I had to peer through his long beard for a moment before I recognized him as Max Cherniak, the barber from Chicago.… None of us could have dreamed that he possessed the capacity to lead a partisan band and wage battles against well-organized units of the White Army. I asked him how all this had come about and he replied simply that, in revolutionary times all kinds of miracles occur.”

Around the same time he joined the Confederation of Anarchists of Ukraine, generally referred to as the Nabat confederation after the name of its printed organ (“nabat” means “alarm” or “tocsin”). This urban-based organization was created at a conference in the Russian city of Kursk in November 1918 and has been little studied in comparison to the mainly rural Makhnovist movement. It aimed to unite all Ukrainian anarchists: anarcho-communists, anarcho-syndicalists, and individualists. Eventually branches were established in a number of Ukrainian cities, most of which issued their own editions of Nabat (for a time there was a Gulai-Polye Nabat, which was distinct from the Makhnovist press). The organization had as many as 2,500 members at the height of its influence, but for most of its existence had to operate under illegal, or quasi-legal conditions, under the Whites, Reds, or Nationalists. Unlike the Makhnovshchina, it never carved out any territory in which to carry out social experiments and concentrated on propaganda work.

The Nabat confederation provided the Makhnovist movement with valuable resources in terms of cultural- educational workers and propagandists. It also supplied hardened veterans of the anarchist underground like Chernyak, who found a natural home in the Makhnovist secret service.

In January 1919 Chernyak ran into Makhno’s adjutant Viktor Belash in Kharkov, where Belash had been sent to negotiate with the Bolsheviks. When Belash returned to Gulai-Polye, he brought along Chernyak, as well as Lev Zadov and the latter’s younger brother Danilo. Chernyak proceeded to organize the Makhnovist kontrrazvedka making use of the Zadov brothers and other experienced anarchist militants. He also took on other responsibilities, being elected to the Military-Revolutionary Council for the Gulai-Polye region, and a delegate to the 2nd Congress of Soviets in Gulai-Polye in February 1919. At this Congress he expressed his view of the Communist dictatorship as follows:

“A handful of people seized power and oppressed an entire nation.”

Drawing on his experiences of fighting the White Cossacks in 1918, Chernyak exercised duties as a military commander of units which reached the brigade size.

In the first months of 1919, the Makhnovist armed forces became part of the Red Army as the result of the alliance with the Communists. The two parties to this alliance did not trust one another in the least and only the common threat from the Whites armies approaching from the south and east held them together. In March – April 1919 the Makhnovists broke through to the Azov coast in the south, seizing the important ports of Berdyansk and Mariupol. Chernyak set up shop (literally, it turns out) in Berdyansk from where he directed the Makhnovist kontrrazvedka .

When the German-Austrian armies occupied Ukraine in 1918, the landowners and other bourgeois elements who had fled in 1917 were restored to their former properties. But with the collapse of German-Austrian power in the region later in the year, these people had to flee again. For many in Left Bank Ukraine, the only escape route was to the south, to the sea ports where they could catch a steamer that would take them to safety. But the Makhnovists captured the Azov coast so swiftly that many of these wealthy refugees were left cowering in their hotel rooms. A White survivor left a lurid description of Chernyak:

“… he was a person of slight build with a perpetually smiling face, a scruffy little beard, and crafty-looking eyes. Despite his mild-appearing demeanour, he was ruthless towards merchants and officers. Since he was a barber, he loved… to shave and clip. This love for his trade he was able to put into practice in these port cities… He set up his own barber shops in the first class hotels where, disdaining his shaving instruments, he pulled out beards with his stubby fingers. Instead of applying soap, he lathered his victims with a shompol [flexible rod used for cleaning rifle bores].… Those who visited his shops did not return. After torture these people were transported to the harbour and put under the cold waves.… As a barber he was a hero to the workers and a terror to the bourgeoisie and officers.”

But Chernyak had more to worry about than tracking down counter-revolutionaries. Berdyansk had a system of dual power, for although the Makhnovists had captured the city, the Bolsheviks set up their own Revkom (revolutionary council) with a branch of the Cheka (secret police) in competition with the Makhnovist kontrrazvedka. In April 1918 1919 Chernyak went to Gulai-Polye to complain to Makhno in person (the conversation is reported in detail by Belash):

“I don’t know what to do about the Bolsheviks,” said Chernyak. “The Cheka is operating alongside my kontrrazvedka. The worst thing is, they have recruited some of our old staff! They carry on like hooligans and they try to interfere with our work in every possible way. They’re arresting our own people who disappear without a trace. The Bolshevik cell in the city is ruling by this means.”

“What swine! I told you – don’t mess around with those people. Get rid of them – for good!” responded an exasperated Makhno.

Makhno’s superior in the Red Army was the Bolshevik Pavel Dybenko, whom Makhno was in the habit of referring to as “that damned sailor”. Dybenko left memoirs of the Civil War which have never been published and even today are not readily accessible. The Ukrainian historian Victor Savchenko was able to consult these memoirs and discovered that in March-April 1918 1919 Dybenko was constantly scheming to murder Makhno and his commanders. Thanks to his kontrrazvedka, Makhno was well aware of Dybenko’s intentions and countered this menace by forming a secret army headed by Chernyak. This unit, not mentioned in official documents, included as many as 1400 Makhnovists and protected the anarchist “liberated zone” from Bolshevik intrusions from the north.

When Makhno was declared an outlaw by the Red authorities in June 1919 most of the outsiders left the movement, at least temporarily. Chernyak joined a commando squad organized by the inveterate anarchist Marusya Nikiforova. Experienced at underground work herself, Nikiforova divided the squad into three groups of about 15 each: one group was to go to Kharkov and try to free the Makhnovist commanders imprisoned there by the Reds; one group was to go to Rostov and assassinate Denikin; the third group was to go to Siberia and assassinate Kolchak. Nikiforova, like Chernyak, had graduating from being an underground anarchist terrorist to commanding military units. Rather than abandoning the Makhnovist movement, it is more likely they decided to pursue its goals by other means. None of their schemes were successful. Chernyak was part of the group which took off for Siberia and may have taken part in the partisan movement there; the Reds shot Kolchak themselves without any help from him.

According to one source, Chernyak returned to the Makhnovist movement and resumed his post as head of the kontrrazvedka in early 1921. In any case Chernyak was arrested by the Bolsheviks in Petrograd in the same year, the first of a series of arrests. On May 11 1923 he was sentenced to two years exile in the Narym region of Siberia (near Tomsk) which he considered virtually a death sentence. In protest he went on a 28-day hunger strike and gained a release of a few months. Suffering from ill health due to mistreatment in prison, he and his family were finally permitted to go abroad. But Chernyak was still not willing to give up revolutionary work. He opened a barber shop in Warsaw in 1924 and established contact with the revived Nabat confederation, now functioning underground in Ukraine. Chernyak made trips into the Soviet Union as a courier for the anarchist movement there, but his last trip ended prematurely when he was arrested by the Polish police near the border. By this time the anarchist underground was thoroughly infiltrated by Soviet (and probably Polish) spies but Chernyak himself seems to have been incorruptible.

Despite facing serious charges in Poland, Chernyak managed to extricate himself again and made his way to Paris, to the Russian anarchist émigrés grouped around the journal Delo Truda who included, notably, Makhno and Peter Arshinov. Chernyak did not agree with the controversial “Platform” developed by this group and soon fingered one member of its members as a GPU (Soviet secret police) agent. By 1930 Chernyak had emigrated to Buenos Aires with his family. At this point he disappears from the historical record, although there is evidence his children eventually returned to the U.S.A., where they born.

Chernyak may have outlived all his known associates in the Makhnovist kontrrazvedka, who either perished in the Civil War or, if they survived that long, in Stalin’s purges. As a result of his sentence in 1923, Max Chernyak, who waged an implacable war of terror against several different regimes, enjoys the official status in Russia today of a “victim of political terror in the USSR”.

Malcolm Archibald


V. Azarov. Kontrrazvedka. Edmonton, 2008.
V. M. Chop and I. I. Liman. Больний Вердянськ. [Free Berdyansk]. Zaporozhye, 2007.
V. Danilov and T. Shanin, eds. Нестор Махно. Крестьянское движение на Украине. 1918-1921: Документы и материалы. [Nestor Makhno. Peasant movement in Ukraine. 1918-1921: Documents and materials]. Moscow, 2006.
R. Drinnon and A. M. Drinnon, ed. Nowhere at Home. Letters from Exile of Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman. New York, 1975.
V. Savchenko. Авантюристы Гражданской Войни. [Adventurers of the Сivil War]. Moscow, 2000.
V. Savchenko, Махно [Makhno]. Kharkov, 2005.
L. D. Yarutsky. Махно и махновцы. [Makhno and the Makhnovists]. Maryupol, 1995.
B. Yelensky, In the Social Storm: Memoirs of the Russian Revolution, accessed at < >

KSL note on names

Chernyak is the transliteration from Russian. Max Tcherniak or Max Cherniak is transliterated from Yiddish. Czerniak is the Polish spelling. Charnik appears to be an Americanization of the name; possibly from an immigration official mangling it on paperwork (which was common).

Taken from KSL: Bulletin of the Kate Sharpley Library No. 66, April 2011

See more articles at Chernyak’s page on the KSL website

Written by gulaganarchists

23, April 2011 at 9:11 am

Looking for Max Chernyak

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Anarchist, barber, exile, wobbly, partisan, and number one secret agent of the Makhnovist movement… Who was Max Chernyak [aka Maxim Cherniak] and what happened to him?

“In short, the founder of the Makhnovist Kontrrazvedka [counter-intelligence], as a real kontrrazvednik, has up to now not yielded his secrets to researchers” Kontrrazvedka by V. Azarov

“It is unclear what became of him.”

The next issue of KSL: Bulletin of the Kate Sharpley Library will have an article pulling together various sources to tell the story of this extraordinary life in extraordinary times.

Watch this space and!

[Edit] Up now on the KSL website: Speech of Comrade Chernyak (1919)

Written by gulaganarchists

13, April 2011 at 9:38 am