Anarchists in the Gulag (and prison and exile)

Bolshevik repression of anarchists after 1917

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Anarchist Renegade: Viktor Belash in Tashkent by Malcolm Archibald

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Viktor Belash as a young manViktor Belash (1893–1938) is a controversial figure in the history of anarchism in Ukraine. After heroic service as a military leader in the Makhnovist movement, he spent the last 14 years of his life on a mission to eradicate the last traces of the movement for which he had sacrificed so much.

Belash was an anarcho-communist from 1908, a native of the town of Novospasovka, near the Sea of Azov, which contributed several notable commanders to the Makhnovist armed forces. As Makhno’s chief of staff for two years (1919–1921), Belash was widely regarded as equal or superior to the Batko in military talent, and was known for his efforts to introduce strict discipline into the ranks of the insurgent forces and eliminate drunkenness and looting.

When Makhno escaped to Romania in August 1921, Belash remained to carry on the fight. On September 23 1921, he was captured by the secret police (GPU) after an exchange of gunfire in which he was heavily wounded. Held in prison in Kharkov, he seemed destined to be shot. His state of mind at this time is exposed in the following declaration made by a cellmate, Marko Kitaysky, to the GPU in May 1922:

I draw your attention to the fact that comrade Belash, who is sharing a cell with me, has not eaten for three days already. . . To my question as to why he is not taking food, comrade Belash replied: “There’s no hook in the cell which I could use to quickly and easily end my life . . . so I must die slowly, since it’s so hard to go on living in such an uncertain state.”[1]

Kitaysky, a former chief-of-staff of the nationalist ataman Zabolotny, was soon shot, but Belash survived. He survived by writing a detailed account of the Makhnovist movement, an account which was not published in full until 1993.[2]

Belash’s bulky memoir, which covers the period 1919–1921, is often used by researchers without an understanding of the conditions under which it was written. Belash’s captors, the Ukrainian GPU, hoped to get their hands on Makhno and hold a public trial at which he would be smeared as a bloodthirsty bandit. Belash’s role was to provide material which would bolster this version of Makhno’s role in the Russian Revolution and Civil War.

Makhno spent several years in prisons and concentration camps in Eastern Europe and only reached comparative safety when he escaped to France in 1925. Meanwhile, anarchists in Kharkov tried to help Belash by petitioning the GPU for his release in 1924. Surprisingly, the GPU was willing to oblige. Belash emerged from prison and was soon involved in organizing an underground conference of the “Nabat” Confederation of Anarchists of Ukraine, a conference to which former Makhnovists were also invited. But before the conference could convene, the GPU arrested 70 anarchists, including Belash. Most of those arrested were soon released, but six were sent into exile, three to the Narym region of Siberia, and three (including Belash) to the city of Tashkent in Central Asia.[3]

The following unique letter by Belash was written from Tashkent to Mark Mrachny in Berlin.[4] Mrachny, a former leader of the “Nabat” Confederation who was also briefly active in the Makhnovist movement, was engaged in support work for anarchists imprisoned or exiled in the USSR.

Tashkent        April 17, 1925

Dear Mark,

On February 4 I received your postcard, which mentioned sending me the Bulletin in the English language. Imagine that ever since I’ve been looking out the window for the postman with the Bulletin, but so far there’s no sign of it. Boris[5] or Yefim[6] received the Bulletin, and Izya (Shkolnikov)[7] is working on translating it. It’s also strange that I haven’t received the two newspapers you send: “Rote Fahne” (with the supplement)… and “Golos Truzhennika” – this surprises me. The only publications I have received were two newspapers which came from America, sent by B. Yelensky: “Russky Golos” and “Novy Mir” – enough of that petty-bourgeois garbage. Concerning addresses for you, I spoke with Boris. As starosta[8], he knows a bit about the others, who are scattered around in different places: Krasnovodsk, Pishpek and Chimkent. He promised to send them to you right away; I told him for the fifth time to send you his own address, so that I don’t have to write to you about them. Today I received from Gavrilo[9] (probably a pseudonym) a postcard postmarked with the date April 3. I’m very glad to learn that N. Makhno has to some degree gained his freedom. His old pals (Van’ka, Gurima[10]) have long since settled down at home and are living, one assumes, not too badly. Levka and Danka[11] are also living in freedom and have already gotten married. And I really don’t know why Volin hasn’t bothered to write so far.

You ask me to tell the comrades to write to you. Believe me, I’m doing this without being asked. I give them postcards and assume that they are writing to you. Reveka (Yeroshevskaya)[12] is busy working – she sews, and considers herself very well off. Yefim is also working – he’s pretty handy with a hammer. His sister (the wife of Boris) does needle work; it’s Easter now and there’s lots to do. Boris, Klara (Yefim’s wife) and Izya Shkolnikov live together and farm together. Izya chops wood and Klara cooks. (…)

I’m working in an artel. The artel includes 17 Bulgarian families with up to 70 persons in total, half of them children; we’re on our own here, so we often have to fend off attacks from powerful outside forces. We have 49 desyatins of land on which cabbages, tomatoes and other market garden crops have already sprouted. We currently have three stalls at the bazaar, where we’re selling sorrel, radishes, cucumbers, onions. We’re thinking about setting up a “factory” and processing our own products. These Bulgarians are fine fellows, but they’re heavy drinkers. They’re inviting me to the Balkan valleys where, so they tell me, they drink red wine and listen to a symphony of gunfire in the mountains. (…) In the valleys hereabouts this is sometimes also heard.[13] (…) I send my own friendly greetings to all, with wishes for health and success. Greetings from the boys.

Your Viktor.

Mrachny wrote the following annotation on the letter:

Note: as you see, Belash is not at all in need of material support. The other guys don’t get along with him.

At the end of 1925 Belash was granted early release and returned to Kharkov, where he continued to be active not only as an informer, but also as a provocateur trying to push his old associates into suicidal projects. His activities were aimed at both the “Nabat” organization (urban anarchists) and former Makhnovists (peasant anarchists). It was only in 1934 that Belash announced that “Nabat” had finally been destroyed; the remnants of the Makhnovists were physically destroyed in 1937–1938.

Viktor Belash in the 1930sBelash was arrested himself in December 1937 in the North Caucasus city of Krasnodar and again tried to write his way out of trouble. His “confession”, which runs to 60 typewritten pages, describes his services for the secret police in the period 1924-1937 and includes the following passage about his sojourn in Tashkent:[14]

While exiled in Tashkent, I received a piddling amount of assistance from New York, from anarcho-syndicalists. I carried on a trifling correspondence with them, in particular with Mark Mrachny, who was in Berlin at the time. I received a postcard from Paris early in 1925. Its contents were roughly – “Happy New Year, Viktor, to you and the others”. The whole postcard was covered with names: VOLIN, ARSHINOV, NESTOR, GALINA, MRACHNY and a number of others. I don’t recall what sort of reply I may have sent to this postcard. Any responses would have been quite mundane in nature, since letters travelled by open post.

Objecting to using the postal service was REVEKA (today in Kharkov). She was in favour of sending letters illegally through Kharkov to a secret address on the Polish border set up by Olga Taratuta[15]. But objecting to this were DOLINSKY, LIPOVETSKY and myself. I objected because such correspondence could easily by-pass me. However, in spite of this, REVEKA was in contact with Warsaw directly, as I heard from Izya Shkol’nikov. This REVEKA stirred up suspicions against me, namely that I was a renegade. At that moment, in the autumn of 1924, there arrived in Tashkent from Moscow the anarcho-individualists Mark Nakhamkis (brother of Steklov[16]), ­Nikolai and Izya Shkol’nikov. At the same time, the “Nabat” organization in Tashkent was arrested and awaited being shipped elsewhere.

The active organizers of the Tashkent “Nabat” were Reveka, her friend from Moscow (I don’t recall his last name) who was working as an assistant to the editor-in-chief of the Tashkent newspaper, and a third Muscovite (who had already left Tashkent when we got there) who was a writer (I don’t remember his last name). They published a journal called “Nabat”, tried to publish a newspaper, carried on agitation against Soviet power and the NEP, and organized Italian strikes[17 ] – especially on the railroad and at the streetcar depot. After arriving, Shkol’nikov, Nakhamkis and Nikolai began to pester us to begin underground work by escaping from exile. Reveka had no particular problem with this, but Lipovetsky and Dolinsky[18] categorically refused. The discussion dragged on for a whole month without getting anywhere. Then they left – first Nikolai, and 2 or 3 weeks later Nakhamkis. Skol’nikov stayed in Tashkent with us. After being in Tashkent for a year, I made contact with a veteran anarchist whose last name I don’t remember. Reveka was strongly opposed to him. However, he especially wanted to meet with me, which caused Reveka to regard me with suspicion. From this time (March–April 1925) she began actively to warn Lipovetsky, Dolinsky, their wives, and also the assistant editor of the Tashkent newspaper [about me]. From that moment, I got a hostile reaction from everyone. They still had dealings with me and engaged me in conversation, but were unwilling to maintain connections abroad through me, thanks to Reveka’s opposition. When I visited her apartment, she left me with her husband while she went outside and sulked. No explanations were given, and it was evident that my rehabilitation was not to be.

Near the end of Belash’s “confession”, his narrative becomes disjointed, as he expresses regret for not betraying an old anarchist, apologizes for not turning in casual acquaintances who “spoke disparagingly about Soviet power”, berates himself for not reporting subversive conversations accidently overheard, etc. It is with horror that one reads his final words:

“I want to exculpate my guilt before Soviet power, and so I beg you to grant me the possibility of being useful either here or in Ukraine.”

To no avail. On December 30 1937 Belash was sentenced to be shot as a “counter-revolutionary”. His date of death is registered as January 24 1938, but apparently he was not shot so he may have died as a result of maltreatment in prison. He left a wife and two young sons with no means of support in accordance with Soviet law, since Belash had been branded an “enemy of the people”.


[1] This declaration was recently gleaned from the archives by Ukrainian researcher Yury Kravetz.

[2] A. V. Belash and V. F. Belash, Dorogi Nestora Makhno : istoricheskoe povestvovanie [The Odyssey of Nestor Makhno: an historical narrative], (Kiev, 1993).

[3] The Narym region was a huge, mosquito-ridden swamp in summer, while in winter temperatures dropped as low as -50° C. Its charms were well known to Stalin, who was exiled there himself in 1912. Tashkent, on the other hand, was a relatively modern city with a mild climate.

[4] From the Senya Flèchine Papers, folder 46, at the International Institute of Social History.

[5] Boris Klichevsky.

[6] Yefim O. Dolinsky (? – ?) Anarchist. Worker. Arrested in 1924, in June-August 1924 incarcerated in Taganka Prison (Moscow). In the same year he was exiled to Turkestan, where he was again arrested and incarcerated in the Verkhneural’sk political isolator. In 1929 he was exiled to Parabel (Narymsky district). In August 1932 was living in Belgrade. His subsequent fate is unknown.

[7] Isaak (Iza, Izya, Ilya) Abramovich Shkolnikov. Anarchist.

[8] A starosta in this context was a senior member of a group of political prisoners or exiles chosen to represent the group in dealings with the authorities. This was a tradition inherited from tsarist times.

[9] “Gavrilo” was in fact the pen name of Mark Mrachny.

[10] Ivan Lepetchenko and Yefim Buryma. Lepetchenko was an adjutant and body guard of Nestor Makhno. Buryma was the leader of the Makhno’s assault demolition squad. Both men fled to Romania with Makhno in 1921, but returned to the USSR in the autumn of 1924 under the terms of an amnesty. (The author is indebted to Yury Kravetz for making these identifications.)

[11] Lev Zinkovsky (Zadov) and his younger brother Daniil worked mainly in the kontrrazvedka (counter-intelligence) units of the Makhnovist army. In 1921 Lev was the head of Makhno’s personal body guard unit. Both brothers fled to Romania with Makhno in August 1921, but returned to the USSR illegally in 1924 and surrendered voluntarily to the OGPU (secret police).

[12] Revekka Yakovlevna Yaroshevskaya (1887–?). Anarcho-communist.

[13] Possibly a reference to the Basmachi movement, a popular revolt against Soviet power was persisted as a guerilla movement in the mountains of Turkestan even after the movement had been destroyed as a military and political force.

[14] L. D. Yarutsky, Makhno i makhnovtsy [Makhno and the Makhnovists], (Mariupol, 1995). Lev Yarutsky, a local historian living in the city of Mariupol near Belash’s home town, published Belash’s “confession” as an appendix to a volume of essays about the Makhnovists. This document seems scarcely known in the West, and generally one finds no mention of Belash’s misdeeds in books and articles published in English.

[15] In 1924 Olga Taratuta (1876–1938), the legendary “grandmother” of Ukrainian and Russian anarchism, set up an illegal “corridor” near the city of Rovno, used for smuggling literature – and people – across the Soviet-Polish border.

[16] Yury Steklov (1873–1941), whose original name was Ovshy Nakhamkis, was a Bolshevik historian-activist who wrote numerous scholarly books and articles on anarchist themes.

[17] “Italian strikes” = sabotage.

[18] Lipovetsky and Dolinsky were Belash’s fellow-exiles from Kharkov.


Written by gulaganarchists

27, November 2014 at 10:34 am

Non Varshavskiy: Postcards from a ship-wrecked anarchist in East Siberian exile

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Anarchist Non (Noi) Ilyich Varshavskiy was imprisoned in 1927 for producing a leaflet protesting against then-imminent execution of Italian-American anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, which also called on proletarians to protest against persecution of anarchists in the USSR. ( After serving a three-year sentence at the Suzdal political isolator, Varshavskiy was internally exiled to a remote village in sub-Arctic East Siberia, Komsa, from which he reported on his ordeals to the Relief Fund of the International Working Men’s Association (IWMA) for Anarchists and Anarcho-Syndicalists Imprisoned or Exiled in Russia in a series of postcards in 1932-1933. He was sentenced to three more years in Siberian exile in July 1933 (, arrested again in 1949, and sentenced to 10 more years of exile in East Siberia as a “socially dangerous element”. Non Varshavskiy was only cleared of charges in 1955.

Komsa village, March 11, 1932

Dear David! Only now did I receive your postcard from the postman, and I am immensely glad. As the postman would be leaving soon (you should be familiar with the postal conditions in Turukhansky Krai), I hurry to fill this little postcard, seeing that I would write in more detail later. For now I only inform you that I received the parcel, and it made me extremely glad as a greeting from friends so distant and at the same time so near. My address: Podkamennaya Tunguska post office, Turukhansky Krai, stanok Komsa. Warm greetings to all. Well, so more details with next post. I strongly shake all hands.


[postal stamp: Yeniseysk]

From: N.I. Varshavskiy, Turukhansky Krai, Podkamennaya Tunguska post office, stanok Komsa

To: France, Paris 4, 11 rue Geoffroy L’Angevin, J. Doubinsky *

notes: replied (in pen)

Komsa, March 11, 1932

Only a few hours have passed since I sent a little postcard, and although I do not know when I would be able to send this one (the postman promised to return not earlier than March 20), I still could not resist spoiling another one. I will start from myself. I am feeling really great, no health problems either; I’m not doing anything. For now, I am collecting joiner’s and carpenter’s tools little by little and I think of retraining. As you know, my regular profession is stereotypography. Obviously, I had to say goodbye to it “seriously and for a long time”; I got tired of working menial jobs – it is both hard, and very badly paid.

The encampment where I live is located 600 km downriver from Yeniseysk – there are 23 houses here, no books, no newspapers. Unfortunately, I have to survive on what gets sent to me.

From late [19]30, I lived in Kansk – worked as a chimney-sweeper, and started training as a stove-setter. From sping [19]31 I ended up in Yeniseysk, where a small co-operative of unskilled workers was formed by comrades, then it fell apart and everyone went their own separate ways. It fell apart because it was hard to procure work as a co-operative. I have briefly got a job as a cart-man at the communal services department, but even this idyll was broken by the transfer to Turukhansk.

Perspectives: in the spring perhaps it would be possible to take up fishing (the village stands on the Yenisei River).

Btw., I have heard of the latest events in Spain – in spirit I am there. In the moments of weakness, I also wish to transfer this lump of clay there [i.e., to go to Spain] but [indicipherable] neither in weak nor in resolute.

I study Italian, I walk in the forest which surrounds the village. Like many, in the times of forced idleness I feel that I could have worked with some use, that a lot has accumulated, but nothing would work out without books. [Presumably ‘that many thoughts and feelings have accumulated in my mind, but without books for reference, I cannot really work as a writer.’] Generally, that is all. And now, allow me to strongly hug and kiss you, according to our custom (I’ve become quite sentimental here). Hello to friends.


[Paris postal stamp, 1932]

To: France, Paris 4, 11 rue Geoffroy L’Angevin, Doubinsky

notes: Varshavskiy (in pencil), replied (in pen)

postal stamp: Tunguska, 15.03.1932

Komsa, August 8

Dear David! Yesterday I received your postcard dated June 17. I am immensely content that my little postcards also get to you. I am now in the position of Robinson Crusoe who saw sails on the horizon: I am just as feral, and just as unaware of whether the ship would notice my call for help. On August 22 it would be six years since the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, and August 22 is also six years since I got ship-wrecked. According to our law, I should be moving southwards. Some signs indicate that it would be so, but it is likely that my ship would be forced to take a course to the Nord. Due to these considerations, I am deprived of an opportunity to write anything definite. Linchevskiy David** and Barmash*** have informed me from Yeniseysk that 7 roubles for me were received, and promised to send a parcel for these money as soon as I write to them what I need. I wrote to them about a month ago, or a little more than that, but there was no response from them yet. As I wait for the future, I am fishing, picking berries, and cheekily ask for a newspaper from all those passing through. The latter, however, usually without luck. I want to believe that I will write the next one from a place more southern, for now I strongly shake all of your hands.


[St Gervais postal stamp, 5.09.1933]

To: France, av. Jean Jaures 25, Pre St Gervais (Seine), J. Doubinsky

notes: N. Varshavskiy, replied (in pencil)

postal stamp: 27.08.1933

* Doubinsky, Jacques, see

** Linchevskiy, David Moiseyevich, see Guillotine at Work by GP Maximoff, p. 600.

*** Barmash, Vladimir, see

[Folder 76, Fléchine (Senya Fleshin) papers, International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam]

Translated by Szarapow

On related note: Memoirs by mountain climber Irina Korzun (1914-2007) say that in the second half of 1950s Non Varshavskiy’s daughter Liya Varshavskaya worked as a physics teacher at Moscow school No 613. During World War II, she was taken by the Germans to Poland, and saved by the Red Army. No mention of her father. [in Russian]

Source: Folder 76, Fléchine (Senya Fleshin) papers, International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam. Translated by: – Szarapow.


Written by gulaganarchists

18, April 2014 at 9:18 am

A Letter of Aron Baron from the Solovetsky Islands

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Translator’s Introduction

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.

A Letter of Aron Baron from the Solovetsky Islands

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. [1]

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 [2]. How is she getting along, poor woman. I heard that your old man [starik] [3] 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 [4] 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.


Written by gulaganarchists

10, April 2014 at 10:11 am

Participation of Priazov’ye Greek Colonists in the Makhnovist Movement (1918-1921) by V. M. Chop

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The topic examined by us in the current article is located at the intersection of two separate problems. On one side is a still poorly-studied page in the history of the insurgent movement, on the other a practically unknown and un-researched phenomenon in the history of the Greek community of Ukraine. Despite the fact that over the last decade Ukrainian researchers have devoted great efforts in studying both these phenomena, their histories still contain awkward gaps which need to be filled in. We should also note that this investigation continues a series of articles by the author, devoted to the interactions of the Makhnovist insurgents with the ethnic communities of Southern Ukraine and the attitude of the latter to the struggle for the birth of an anarchistic, “stateless” society.

The author has set himself the goal of discovering the degree of participation of the Priazov’ye Greeks in the Makhnovist movement and to shed light on the mutual relations of the pro-anarchist peasant movement and the Greek colonists.

We shall begin with the fact that the problem of the mutual relations of the Makhnovists with the Priazov’ye Greeks has its own historiography. As early as 1924, in Kharkov, the publishing house “Molodoy rabochiy” [“The Young Worker”] issued one of the first books on the Makhnovshchina. Its author was a former member of the Cultural-Educational Section of the Insurgent Army, Isaak Teper (real surname – Gordeyev), a member of the secretariat of the Anarchist confederation “Nabat” who betrayed his own comrades in 1921 and started working for the Extraordinary Commission (Cheka). In the beginning he worked as a secret agent among the Makhnovists, and then, after the suppression of the insurgent movement, took on the job of propagandist, exposing the loathsomeness of the internal life of the anarchist forces to the reading public of Soviet Ukraine. Although his book was a striking example of paid hack work, it even today enjoys a high level of respect from researchers as an unusually rich source of information issued directly from the core of the Makhnovist community. In our specific case the book is valuable because the author, posing himself the question – “where did the Makhnovshchina come from?” – provides an answer which many will find astounding: “… from a whole string of rich Greek settlements, such as Komar, Bogatir, Velikiy and Maliy Yanisol, etc.” [1. – p. 24].

Teper’s point of view has not taken root in historiography. In the course of the next 65 years Makhno scholars studiously ignored this fantastic theory about the Greek origins of the Makhnovshchina until the well known Mariupol local historian Lev Yarutsky took an enthusiastic interest in it. In 1993 he became the author of the first published investigation of the participation of the “Mariupol Greeks” in the Makhnovist movement, which was dealt with in one of the chapters of his book. Somewhat softening the “Teperist” formula, Yarutsky nevertheless agrees with him in principle, declaring that “in 1918 when Nestor Makhno issued his call for an uprising, the first to respond were the villagers of the Greek settlements in the Mariupol region.” [2. – p. 178]. However, every professional historian is quite familiar with the axiom that local historians, even the very best of them, often get carried away and see their wishes as reality, and therefore one must subject the results of their research to the most careful verification. In general this topic requires wide-ranging research, detailed study, and a broadening of interpretation through the introduction of new sources.

The first question which requires a pressing answer can be formulated as follows: why did the “Mariupol Greeks” act in an organized way against the “Denikinist” regime in 1918-1919? Why didn’t they support that regime like, for example, their next door neighbours, the German colonists? Certainly the Russian government had positioned itself, beginning from the end of the 18th century, as a defender of the interests, first of the Crimean Orthodox Greeks, and then of the Priazov’ye Orthodox Greeks. It was thanks to the efforts of Russian diplomats and State ministers that the Crimean Greeks were liberated from under the yoke of the Muslim Tatars in the Crimean Khanate and re-settled in the Priazov’ye steppe. During the 19th century the Greeks villages were subject neither to panshchina [compulsory service for a landlord], nor serfdom, nor military conscription. And here’s the surprise. When the Russian autocratic throne tottered and fell in 1917, the Greeks of Priazov’ye went to war not on the side of the “White Guards”, who wanted to revive imperial grandeur, but on the side of the Whites’ enemies, who were making great efforts to suppress the counterrevolutionary movement.

The roots of this “treason” are hidden in the depths of centuries. The Crimean Greeks were re-settled on the territory of present-day Zaporizhia and Donets oblasts [provinces] in the 70’s and 80’s of the 18th century. An order of Prince Grigoriy Potemkin, governor of Novorosiysky province, recognized the borders of their new domain. The boundaries of the “Priazov’ye Ellada” ran from the Sea of Azov to the mouth of the Berda River, and then along the left bank of the Berda to the mouth of the Karatish River. Then the boundary went up the left bank of the Karatish as far as its twists, and from there to the upper reaches of the famous Kobilnoi ravine (now part of Kuibishev raion, Zaporizhia oblast – V. Ch.). Here the Greek boundary followed the right bank of the ravine, which leads to Mokriy Yal Creek. The territory marked out by the “most high prince” was settled exclusively by Greeks over a period of decades. Those who had previously dwelled on these lands, lands belonging to the Kalmyk panlanquin of the Lower Zaporizhian Host, had the right to remain there only until the end of the harvest of 1780. Then they had to settle somewhere else. Actually the prince indicated that if after ten years there was still free land in this district, then the possibility existed that different settlers would be allowed in. But G. Potemkin wasn’t counting on this happening, for the land was portioned out to the colonists at 60 desyatins per household on the average [3. – p. 21]. This was truly a generous chunk of land for agriculture and the prince anticipated a steady stream of settlers. But things didn’t turn out that way. There was no rush of settlers. The resettlement took place forcibly with the accompaniment of female weeping and wailing. In total 31,000 Greeks were resettled in 20 villages and the town of Mariupol [4. – p. 11]. The Greeks had no desire to move from the coast of southern Crimea to the steppe, to exchange the Black Sea for the Azov, a subtropical climate for the dry plains. But they submitted to the forces of the State and many Greek villages sprouted along the banks of Mokriy Yal Creek and along the shores of the Azov but none of the Greeks were in a hurry to thank the Russians for this. On the fringes of Zaporozhia a miniature Greece sprang up with an extent of 100 km from north to south and close to 50 km in width. In this territory of “Priazov’ye Greece” there still remained vacant land and its population ended up mixed with Ukrainian and Jewish elements, although the Greeks nevertheless predominated. The Greeks enjoyed a reputation among their neighbours of being crafty, unscrupulous farmers who had their wits about them, and were reluctant to associate with or form alliances with Ukrainians, although at the same time they were relatively harmless. Most of them were of the Orthodox faith.

To be precise, in the beginning the Greek communities supported the Makhnovists not in its anti-Denikinist, but in its anti-Hetmanate insurgency, at the end of 1918. The Austro-Hungarian occupation troops confiscated provisions from the Greek villages no less than from the Ukrainian ones; therefore the reasons for supporting the insurgents were similar. The first raid through the lands of “Priazov’ye Greece” was carried out by the Makhnovists in October 1918 and was successful to some degree. Immediately after the battle at Dibrivka on October 1 1918 which, properly speaking, marked the beginning of “Batko Makhno” and the “Makhnovshchina”, Makhno launched a raid following the route Berdiansk – Mariupol – Yuzovka with the goal of raising the population in revolt. Passing through the villages of Gavrilovka and Ivanovka, the Makhnovist detachment headed for the “Greek town” of Komar. Here the Makhnovists dispersed the Hetman’s militia and summoned the population to a meeting which was addressed by Nestor Makhno and Alexei Marchenko. They told the Greeks about the outright brigandage of the German occupiers at Velikomikhailovka [Dibrivki] and called upon the population to arm themselves and rise up against the bourgeoisie and its protectors – the Austro-German troops.

In the village of Komar,” Makhno recalled, “several Greek youths immediately joined our detachment with their own horses.” From Komar the Makhnovists went to the neighbouring village of Bogatir, inhabited by colourful Urum-Greeks who spoke a Crimean-Tatar dialect among themselves. A large meeting was also convened in Bogatir. Afterwards the Makhnovists visited still another Greek village – Velikiy Yanisol [5. – p. 109] after which they turned to the west. Just the casual mentioning of these villages has led to the notion that they were places where the “Makhnovshchina” was born. Makhno himself makes no further mention of any connections with the Greek colonists in 1918 in his memoirs or other writings. So why did Teper advance his theory of a Greek provenance of the “Makhnovshchina”? This theory, in our opinion, belongs to the same category as other “discoveries” of this renegade anarchist which, in contrast to the “Greek theory” of Makhnovist origins, have somehow taken root in the historiography of the movement. Teper echoed much of what the Makhnovists told him when, as a newly arrived anarchist from Kharkov in 1920, he uncritically accepted as the truth the tales he was told. For example, about the decisive influence on Makhno of the opinions of P. Arshinov, his supposed ideological mentor. Or about the practice in the Insurgent Army of secret political murders. The Greek version of the origins of the Makhnovshchina belongs to this category of unverified phenomena which are not supported by any other data.

After ridding themselves of the Hetman’s rule with the help of the Makhnovists, from the beginning of 1919 the Greek community tried to take up a strictly neutral position and not get involved in the Civil War between the Russian “Reds” and “Whites”. But time and circumstances soon made this neutrality impossible. In the first place, a third force – the Makhnovists – was present: it was clearly not Russian and established itself just to the west of the Greek settlements. Secondly, the “White Guards” categorically rejected Greek neutrality and began to exploit them in every way possible to benefit the “White” cause. The final straw for the long-suffering Greeks was the Denikinist mobilization at the beginning of 1919. Officers of the Volunteer Army conducted themselves in an extremely brutal fashion, acting not as liberators of their native land but more like pillagers in a conquered country. But at the beginning of 1919 there were still very few of these bullies. So people thought that if they organized themselves and found some allies, they could simply “stomp on these vipers”.

The results of the mobilization were much too paltry for the “White Guards”. By February 17 1919 at the assembly points in the city of Mariupol and the two Greek regions closest not more than 500 of the at least 8,000 expected had appeared. Those summoned were restricted to men who had come of age in 1917 and 1918 and had not yet put in army service. In response the “White Guards” decided to launch a forced mobilization, which immediately provoked confrontations with village self-defense detachments. For example, on February 1 1919 the Whites sent a punitive squadron to the Greek village of Mangush, which lay on the road between Berdiansk and Mariupol. Upon arrival in the village, the White Guards called a general assembly, but attendance, especially by former frontovik-deserters, was sparse. Then the “Volunteers” began to demand soldiers from the Greeks, but those present told them: “We are not giving any soldiers.” After this the Greeks were given some time to think about their situation, because the “Whites” intended to visit a nearby Greek village, Yalta, on the same day. The warning was given that if the Mangush villagers did not rethink their position, the “White Guards” would seize their men by force and, as a measure of punishment, would take the 1915 and 1916 levies as well. But the Mangushans anticipated the “White Guards”. Their messengers got to Yalta before the Whites and warned their neighbours of the danger they were in. The Yalta men subject to the call-up fled the village before the “White Guards” arrived and went underground in another Greek village – Urzufa. In Yalta the infuriated “White Guards” acted with great cruelty. The village assembly was surrounded with armed soldiers and when the Denikinists learned that their recruits had escaped in an unknown direction, they began to plunder the property of the “deserters” – both livestock and other goods. The wives and fathers of the fugitives were interrogated vigorously and beaten with shampols [cleaning rods for rifles]. Many of the White soldiers refused to take part in these excesses so this unpopular task was taken on by the officers of the detachment themselves. Close to 25 women from Yalta fainted from the beatings on this day. At this time the Greeks from Mangush, Yalta, and Urzuf got together and entrenched themselves in the Mangush region. Help arrived in the form of a Makhnovist detachment from Novospasovka Station and a partisan detachment from the village of Derevetsk. Taking stock of their own strength, the numerically weak Greek insurgents sought protectors wherever they could find them, starting with the Mariupol party committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine (Bolsheviks), to which they declared themselves subordinate. [2. – p. 265] But in time the Greeks recognized the value of their Makhnovist allies, noting that they were stronger than the Whites, having smashed a column of “Volunteers” which advanced on Mangush from Yalta.

M. Davidov, the commander of an insurgent detachment from the village of Stary Ihnativok, which later became the 11th Hnativsky Regiment of the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Ukrainian Insurgent Batko Makhno Division, also referred to the Denikinist methods of mobilization in the Greek villages. At the end of April 1919 he received two delegates from the village councils of the Greek villages of Beshevo and Lapsi. They sought immediate relief from the units of the Volunteer Army which were invading the villages looking for provisions and forage. “The delegate from Lapsi said: — ‘Believe me, Mark Timofiyovich, they won’t let us live. Every day we are subject to raids – they take anything that suits them, they even take the girls. Help us!’” On the next page of Davidov’s memoirs the Greek theme is continued. In a battle near the village of Veliko-Anadolem, the insurgents captured a slightly-wounded non-commissioned officer of Greek origin. Under interrogation, the latter said he had lain down on the field of battle deliberately in order to switch sides to the insurgents. Then he began to explain to the regimental commander the specifics of the behaviour of the Greek communities and their soldiers who had been mobilized into the Volunteer Army. “Two hundred men, all Greeks, were forcibly mobilized into a regiment and sent to the Front to make up for the losses of the White Army… During a night march almost half of them ran away. We [i.e., the non-commissioned officers – V. Ch.] also agreed to run away, only we were afraid of our own officers. There is no way we will fight with you [i.e., the Makhnovists – V. Ch.]. If you attack we will run away for sure. We will fire our guns for form, but only towards the sky.” “Why didn’t you kill your officers?” “We Greeks,” he declared, “don’t want to meddle in the affairs of Russians. Whatever you decide, that’s the way it’s going to be. We’re afraid to kill the officers: they’re Russians. But it would be great if you killed them.” [6.—p. 155]

At the beginning of 1919 the Greek community was faced with a difficult choice. Which of the revolutionary camps should they support: the Communist or the Makhnovist? But the military alliance of the Makhnovists with the Bolsheviks in the first half of 1919 decided this dilemma for the time being. When the Front sector of the 3rd Zadniprovsky (Makhnovist) Brigade passed through the territory of “Priazov’ye Ellada”, the Greek revolutionary partisan detachments became Makhnovist. A significant role in establishing good relations was played by the fact that the Makhnovists formally endorsed internationalism and regarded themselves as fighting primarily not for national, but for social liberation.

The local historian L. Yarutsky notes that he preserved for many years a paper by I. Chubarov on “The Partisan Movement in the Mariupol Region”, written in 1966. Referring to the crisis of 1918/1919, Chubarov mentions the partisan detachment of V. Tokhtamish, which operated near the villages of Stary Kermenchuk, Novo-Petrikivik, Novo-Karakub, and Belikiy Yanisol. In the region of the villages of Maliy Yanisol, Cherkala, Kellerovik, Makedonivik, and Sartan, the partisan units of Sprutsko, Tsololo, and Bogaditzy were active. There was also mention of partisan units from the southern Priazov’ye villages of Mangush and Yalta. Let us note that the Greek colonists liked to name the villages founded by them in Priazov’ye after the towns where their forefathers previously lived in Crimea. The largest of the local insurgent groups was M. Davidov’s regiment which counted as many as 3,000 men and had cavalry. There were many Greeks in it from the town of Stary Ignativits, although this was not a Greek but rather a Georgian village. In Davidov’s regiment a separate Greek battalion was formed, under the command of Ivan Chuarov, whose name has already been mentioned [2. – p. 190].

But soon the situation changed. In February 1919, in accordance with the Makhnovist command, most of the Greek detachments were amalgamated. The newly created formation already had as many as 1,500 partisans. On February 21 1919 the commander of the army group oriented towards Kharkov (later the 2nd Ukrainian Army), A. Skachko, issued an order for the creation of the three-brigade First Zadniprovsky Division, made up of nine regiments [7. – p. 150]. The Third Brigade in this division was made up of Batko Makhno’s units, and the 9th Regiment (the third in the Third Brigade) was the Greek Regiment under the command of V. Tokhtamish, who was introduced as the regimental commander by P. Dybenko at Pologi Station [8. – p. 90]. Volodimir Feofanovich Tokhtamish was an Urum-Greek, a native of Velikiy Yanisol. The latter circumstance explains his Tatar surname. He began using the name “Tokhtamish” only when he was issued new documents by the Soviet government. During the revolt against the Hetman he organized a small partisan band at the village of Stary Kermenchuk (Staromlinovka). And in April 1919 P. Dybenko presented V. Tokhtamish with the Order of the Red Banner for the capture of Mariupol and proposed to the Council of People’s Commissars of the Ukrainian SSR that they express official gratitude to him [7. – p. 292]. Although he belonged to the Makhnovist formation, it was not surprising that Tokhtamish received the award because he had been gravitating to the Bolsheviks for some time. He parted ways with the Makhnovists in the summer of 1919. Becoming a Communist, Tokhtamish in the 1920’s was in charge of building a fish cannery of which he became the first director. In 1935 he died of a congenital disease [9. – p. 917].

The regiment he led covered itself with glory on the field of battle at Mariupol, Velikiy Yanisol, and Velikiy Tokmak in March – June 1919. Mariupol was regarded as the unofficial capital of “Priazov’ye Ellada” and the Greek Makhnovists considered it a matter of honour to drive the Denikinists out of it. The first attack of the Makhnovists on Mariupol took place on March 19 1919 and was directly connected with the ongoing Mangush saga. After their initial failure to subdue Mangush, the White Guards returned with new forces [2. – p. 268] and a half-battery of large guns in order to teach a lesson to the recalcitrant Greeks. But by this time the village was already occupied by the Makhnovist units which had captured Berdiansk. The Whites had to return to Berdiansk again, for the insurgents Greeks repelled them again and captured their artillery. The Greeks and Makhnovists pursued the Whites back from Mangush and got very close to the city, but they were afraid to storm it right away. In the port of Mariupol a squadron of French vessels was standing with gunboats and minesweepers which were equipped with not less than 60 guns. Therefore the attack of the Makhnovists on Mariupol on March 19 was put on hold as not sufficiently prepared. In order to guarantee success additional forces needed to be drawn in.

For the storming of Mariupol there was created a special group of two Makhnovists regiments: the 8th (“Novospasovsky”) and the 9th (“Greek”). The two regiments shared an artillery unit (12 guns), 21 machine guns, and a “Farman 30” airplane equipped with several bombs. From the division’s reserve the divisional commander P. Dybenko allocated the armoured train “Spartak” for the storming of Mariupol. The defensive line of the opponent began in the suburbs of Mariupol at Sartan Station, which was defended by 1,000 White infantry with four light guns, armoured trains, and a squadron of cavalry. On March 28 1919, at 4 o’clock in the morning, the Makhnovist Greeks launched an attack on the city from the west.

The 9th Zadniprovsky Regiment during the attack on Mariupol came under fire by the French warships and the White artillery concentrated in the port. But they continued to push forward. The regiment, without firing, saving their ammunition until they had closed with the enemy, hurled themselves in a bayonet attack on the enemy’s defense-works. The deputy commander of the 9th Regiment was killed, but the assault continued. For its conduct in this battle the regiment was later awarded a coveted Red Banner [10. – Arc. 183]. Then came the night after the victory. During the night, looting and arbitrary searches began in Mariupol. It’s possible the looting was not done by the Greeks, but by other Makhnovist and Red Army units present in the city. The secretary of the Mariupol Regional Committee L. Gorokhov a little later complained to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine (Bolsheviks): “The entry of the Red troops was met with great enthusiasm… The looting, drunkenness, killings, persecution of Jews, and, chiefly, the normal politics of the staff and command personnel, which consisted of unsavory anti-government agitation, had a great influence in undermining the authority of Soviet power.” [11. – Arc. 3.] On the next day the Makhnovists in Mariupol routed the Cheka, which had been immediately set up by the Communists who had emerged from the underground [7. – p. 292]. The Greeks from the 9th Regiment remained in the city during these events and were later assigned to the defense of Mariupol. In April 1919 this function was fulfilled by one of the Greek battalions of the 9th Regiment with a complement of 500 men [12. – Arc. 11].

In April 1919, at the peak of the Makhnovist successes in Priazov’ye another Greek regiment made its appearance, referred to by the Makhnovist commander V. Belash simply as “the second”, since apparently the 9th Regiment was considered “the first” Greek regiment. This new regiment took part in battles with the cavalry general A. Shkuro near Maliy Yanisol [8. – p. 148]. Beginning in April 1919, “Priazov’ye Ellada” became a war zone through which the front line moved back and forth over a period of two months. In April 1919 this territory was lost by the Makhnovists, but by the end of the month they won it back again.

According to the memoirs of the secretary of the Berdiansk Revkom [Revolutionary Committee] S. Dibets, the Greek regiments of Batko Makhno “were distinguished by correct discipline, organization, and perseverance.” L. Yarutsky, in particular, writes that he has not found any proof of their participation in the outrages and lootings characteristic of the Makhnovist poor peasants. We must note, however, that there is no evidence that they tried to put a stop to this looting, for example in Mariupol itself. An evaluation report written in pencil for the political section of the 1st Zadniprovsky Division informed the headquarters command at the beginning of April 1919 about the state of the 9th Zadniprovsky Regiment. “1) The mood is satisfactory. 2) There is a core of sympathizers [for the Bolsheviks – V. Ch.]. 3) They have a club, schools, and libraries in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th companies; and a choir and an orchestra (organized at the beginning of April). There is a shortage of literature, and there are mobile literacy schools. 4) The regiment is battle worthy, but Left SR and Anarchist elements predominate.” [13. – Arc. 9] As we see the Greek-Makhnovists in a brief period of time had created a rather solid military infrastructure.

At the end of April 1919 S. Dibets, together with the chief of the field staff of the Makhnovist brigade Ya. Ozerov, departed on an inspection trip to the Front. “Close to Mariupol we found the Greek unit. In the Greek villages the officer-punishers perpetrated merciless retaliation for any kind of revolutionary acts. The Greeks hate the Whites. They hate them so much they need only the slightest encouragement to engage them in battle. Iron discipline has been introduced in the Greek units.” S. Dibets, although sympathetic to the Bolsheviks, devotes a virtual panegyric to V. Tokhtamish as commander of the Greek Regiment. He called his regiment the best in the Makhnovist formations: “The Greek units were the most reliable part of the Batko’s troops, and at critical moments he would throw them into the most dangerous sectors.” [14. – p. 205]

And critical moments indeed were at hand. In the middle of May 1919 the Kuban Corps of General Shkuro broke through into the Makhnovist rear from the north by smashing units of the 9th Division of the Red Army which were adjacent to the Makhnovists. The Kuban Cossacks occupied the Grishinskiy region and Shkuro was now able to attack from the north to the south with impunity – into the rear of the Makhnovist Front and “Priazov’ye Ellada”. It was necessary to check the Kuban cavalry at any cost. And then the staff of the 2nd Brigade of the Ukrainian Insurgent Batko Makhno Division (brigade commander V. Belash, chief-of-staff M. Davidov) started in motion the Greek 9th Regiment at the village of Beshevo and the 12th (Don) Cavalry in the direction of the White Guard forces. On May 21 1919 these two formations came together. Before them in the valley of Mokriy Yaliv lay Shkuro’s troops in the village of the Velikiy Yanisol which they had captured. The fate of the whole Makhnovist Front depended on the outcome of this battle. V. Belash mentions that the 9th Regiment was made up predominately of Greeks from the Velikiy Yanisol region, where Shkuro’s troops had already had time to initiate reprisals against their families and members of the village councils. Possessed by a thirst for revenge, the Greeks “like lions threw themselves on Velikiy Yanisol, dragging the Cossacks out of the huts into the street and shooting them.” [8. – p. 207] But the thirst for revenge is not of much help in war. Although V. Belash stresses that “our commanders paid special attention to the manoeuvres and firing of the regiment”, the attack on the settlement was made prematurely, without accurate intelligence about the environs. At the height of the battle, the main forces of Shkuro unexpectedly fell on the Makhnovist positions from the side of the villages of Komar, Constantinople, and Bogatir. Because of their on-going conflict with the Communists, the Makhnovist forces had deliberately not been supplied with ammunition for a month and the Greeks keenly felt this deficiency at the climax of the battle. Finally the Greeks could no longer endure the pressure from the Cossacks and began to retreat. Shkuro’s forces attacked unremittingly, but the Makhnovist cavalry of Don Cossacks launched a counterattack, allowing the Greeks to fall back to Stary Kermenchuk. The Greeks units were composed of people from the same villages; “There were no cowards. The saber slashing was terrible. There were no wounded or prisoners… The insurgents defended their own families and huts.” [8. – p. 207] The commander of the 12th Cavalry Regiment Morozov was cut down on the field of battle, and together with him perished 600 Makhnovist cavalrymen. The Greeks, fighting their way out of the village, used up all their cartridges and fought with bayonets against the Kuban Cossacks’ sabers. Near the village of Kermenchuk the regiment was finally surrounded by the enemy and completely cut to pieces. Only its commander V. Tokhtamish with a detachment of 400 men was able to escape to a safe place – all the other companies were wiped out to the last man. Shkuro’s troops also sustained heavy losses in this battle and had to stop for rest. But Belash somewhat exaggerates the pitiless nature of the battle. There were in fact Greek prisoners. General Andriy Shkuro decided to use one of them to deliver a letter to Nestor Makhno in person. The letter contained a proposition for switching his division to the side of the Whites. The Greek prisoner from the 9th Regiment brought the letter to the Batko on May 21 1919 in the village of Svyatodukhovka. For good measure Shkuro even had the Greek dressed in a new English uniform in order to show his goodwill towards the Makhnovists. However Makhno answered the general in a brutal fashion. At the end of May 1919 the Makhnovists again drove Shkuro’s forces out of the majority of the Greek villages, but again not for long.

On June 3-4 1919 the First Caucasian Division of A. Shkuro, 3,000 sabers strong, with four light guns and a large quantity of machine guns of the “Lewis” type, launched a counterattack from the north on “Priazov’ye Ellada”, seizing the village of Bogatir. [15. – June 3rd] Simultaneously, from the Mariupol sector on a front from Stary Kermenchuk to Urzufa the regiments of the Volunteer Army and the 3,000-strong detachment of General Mikhail Vinogradov launched an attack. According to an operations report to the intelligence section of the 14th Red Army, on this sector of the Front the enemy is pressuring our units, forcing them to retreat along the whole Front.” [16. – Arc. 45] On June 5 1919 Shkuro’s troops attacked the positions of the Makhnovists from the flank and the rear near the Greek villages of Kermenchuk and Karakub, gaining a victory and penetrating as far as the village of Rozovka to the west of the Greek settlements. [15. – 6 June] At this time the Greeks became the first refugees from the Makhnovist region. Some of them travelled with the Insurgent Army as far as Uman. Brigade Commander Belash notes: “It was impossible to hold the Front. Over a swathe of 100 versts the civilian population, afraid of falling captive to the Whites, retreated with the troops. An enormous wagon train wound its way to the west: herds of sheep and heifers mingled with carts piled with the villagers’ belongings. The women, in leaving their homes, took with them on the road a handful of their native soil. But where would they go? – this mass of civilians who were not necessary to anyone! Where would they find their saviour? These people were terrified of the Whites. In the hope of receiving support from the north, they retreated in that direction. But there was no help, for the north had its own problems.” [8. – p. 242]

On June 6 1919 Makhno submitted his resignation as commander to the division in a futile attempt to extinguish the conflict between the Anarcho-Makhnovists and the Bolsheviks. Belash took command of the insurgent troops and whatever war supplies were to be found in the rear area. At this time the replenishment of the 9th Greek Regiment was completed, and this restored formation was again ready to be thrown into the fray. [8. – p. 248]

In June 1919 the fate of Zaporozhia was decided in battles near Velikiy Tokmak. The strongest Makhnovist formations, including the Greeks, that were “distinguished by their discipline and hatred for the Whites” carried on a stubborn battle over the course of an entire week. “Makhno could not hold out any longer. He threw all the Greek units into the fray. The Whites smashed the Makhnovists, although their best regiments also suffered heavy losses. But the Whites prevailed because they were better armed and their military training showed itself to good effect.” [14. – p. 217] The Makhnovists were forces to fall back beyond the Dnieper. But S. Dibets errs by exaggerating the losses of the Greek units. On July 6 1919 the 9th Zadnipovsky Regiment was still in existence. Again it was not entirely destroyed by Shkuro’s troops. A situation report to the political section of the 14th Army describes its state after the regiment was transferred to the Reserve Brigade. “In the regiment one senses a partisan kind of atmosphere. The soldiers and their commanders are partial to Makhno. Among the soldiers there are some who are landlords [the Greek villages were regarded as prosperous – V. Ch.]. The regiment is battle-worthy… Nationalist [i.e. Greek – V. Ch.] sentiments are making their appearance along with antisemitism. The commissar and commanders are not taking steps to eradicate these phenomena. Political and cultural work is not being pursued. The leadership of the unit is dysfunctional…” [17. – Arc. 27]

Despite these characteristics, in the middle of June 1919 the commander of the 14th Army K. Voroshilov ordered M. Davidov to form a brigade from the Priazov’ye youth who had retreated to the west. Davidov recommended to his superiors four candidates as regimental commanders, among whom was V. Tokhtamish. The new brigade had to be put together in the rear in the environs of the town of Kremenchug, where it had to be sent rifles and where training facilities were set up. But three of the four regimental commanders (the exception was Tokhtamish) mutinied and refused to leave their positions [8. – p. 266] hoping to continue to battle the Whites on their native soil. Under such conditions the Greek insurgents ended up “Makhno-fied”, with the exception of their leader Tokhtamish. When in the mid-1960’s L. Yarutsky interviewed the former head of the Mariupol Party Centre in 1919-1920 V. Varganov about the participation of the Mariupol Greeks in the Civil War, he only hissed through this teeth: “Kulaks, Makhnovists…” [2. – p. 188]

In October 1919 the Makhnovists returned to Zaporozhia and again, for a couple of weeks, conquered “Priazov’ye Ellada”. But at the start of 1920 a new stage began in the relations of the Greeks with the Makhnovists, a stage which might be called the “supply-base period” (1920-1921). During this “supply-base period” the Greeks no longer formed ethnic units for the RPAU(m) [Revolutionary Insurgent Army of Ukraine (makhnovist)] at the level of a regiment, but gave the Makhnovists all kinds of support, becoming one of the components of their “partisan supply-base”. Thus, for example, if we look at the diary of Makhno’s wife, Galina Kuzmenko, we read that on March 18 1920 the Makhnovists left the anarchist Ogarkov in the Greek village of Bogatir in order to organize a local partisan detachment. [9. – p. 833] Stories in the Greek villages about the Makhnovists at times seem straight out of an adventure novel. Thus from January to the middle of March 1920, A. Lashkevich, commander of the 13th Regiment of the RPAU(m), was hiding in the hut of an old Greek in the village of Velikiy Yanisol. In January 1920 he miraculously avoided a Red pursuit and was able to escape from an encircled Gulai-Polye with the 4,500,000 karbovanets Army treasury. [9. – p. 384] This was the fund expropriated by the Makhnovists from the Yekaterinoslav bank in November 1919. After the main group of the RPAU(m) arrived in Velikiy Yanisol, its staff was visited by Greek partisans who began to tell stories about the dissolute life of Lashkevich. The latter had evidently lost his self-control after learning that he was infected with syphilis. Lashkevich spent money for anything he felt like, holding dances and parties, making generous gifts to mistresses, paying them as much as 200,000 Kb “per visit”, etc. “The Greeks are saying that this money, which cost the blood, lives, and health of many insurgents, is being so easily and shamelessly squandered by their commanders, that now they don’t want to fight for such commanders and intend to liquidate all those who get rich and live in luxury behind the backs of honourable insurgents, and only then go to the Front.” An investigation proved that Lashkevich only had 105,000 karbovanets left. This commander, who had previously been lionized for the capture of Yekaterinoslav, had to be shot according to all the conceptions of anarchist honour. But Lashkevich was not at all dispirited. While making his report about the money situation, he invited members of the Makhnovist elite to a soirée featuring a delicacy which was new to the Makhnovists – chebureki (chir-chiri to the Greeks). Makhno himself, having advanced knowledge of the fate of the commander declined to spend the evening eating chir-chiri, but his wife, the 23-year old teacher of the Ukrainian language G. Kuzmenko went, together with her best friend and a Makhnovist ataman, the Bulgarian Abram Budanov. Everyone enjoyed the chebureki and Lashkevich brought some on a plate for the Batko, when he escorted the women home from the party late in the evening. In the hut where Makhno was staying Lashkevich amused Makhno’s young wife for some time with silly card tricks. However, establishing good relations with Makhno’s kin did not help. On the following day Lashkevich was tried in public and shot in the main square of Velikiy Yanisol. Immediately after the execution of Lashkevich, the Makhnovists produced another thief, a Greek partisan, “who had made himself rich in a hurry,” and executed him as well. After this a meeting was held where the executions of these two people was explained. The villagers were satisfied. One of them announced: “It seems we have law and order here – you can’t just help yourself to what belongs to someone else…” [8. – p. 836]

Nevertheless, in 1920, sensing the might of the Communist government and fearing repression, a section of the Greeks began to distance themselves from Makhno. On February 24 1920 the Makhnovists again arrived in Komar and held a meeting there. But in contrast to 1918, the Greeks did not contribute volunteers to the detachment. In consequence, Makhno even refused to meet privately with delegates from the villagers and would not come out of the hut where he was staying to meet them. On February 25 1920, according to the diary of L. Golik, the Makhnovist detachment visited Velikiy Yanisol. In spite of holding a meeting, sounding the alarm bell, and killing some Communist food requisitioners, the Greeks refused to fight. [18. – p. 168] But the beefed up food requisitioning system and the merciless repression of former Makhnovists very soon improved the situation. In March 1920 the 22nd Soviet punitive regiment shot seven men in Komar, 10 in Bogatir, and 12 in Constantinople, burning down huts as well. [2. – p. 182]

Already by the summer of 1920, a report to the intelligence section of the South-Western Front stated that in Komar alone agents had detected Makhnovist reserves of up to 1,000 infantry, “definitely of local inhabitants”. [19. – Arc. 6] These were so-called Makhnovist-podenniki [day-labourers]. “Makhnovist-podenniki” is an appropriate name for those villagers who supported the Makhnovists and Makhnovist politics, but who, for reasons of age or family obligations, could not serve continuously in the RPAU(m). And yet when large-scale, simultaneous operations were being mounted, which required a large supporting cast, these people would be invited to help out by Makhno or other commanders. Arming themselves as best they could, these partisan units took part in military operations and, in the event those operations were successful, the Makhnovist command rewarded them with a share of the military trophies. Afterwards the “podenniki” returned to their homes, hid their war gains, and carried on their lives as peaceful peasants until a new invitation from the Batko. It is hardly surprising that battles in the vicinity of the Greek villages invariably ended in triumphs for the Makhnovists.

Evidence that the Makhnovists considered the Greek villages their most reliable supply-base is the fact that in November 1920 the Rada (Council) of the Insurgent Army, together with the command staff, decided that in case of a treacherous attack by Red troops on Gulyai-Polye, their troops would withdraw towards the Velikiy Yanisol region, 60 versts to the east of Gulyai-Polye. In the event, after the main Makhnovist group broke out of the Gulai-Polye encirclement, it stopped for several days in Velikiy Yanisol itself. It was here, in the Greek region, that the Gulai-Polye contingent linked up with the Crimean group of the RPAU(m), or least the remnants of it. The two Makhnovist formations had their rendezvous on December 6 1920 near Stary Kermenchuk. In December 1920 near the Greek village of Constantinople Makhno’s three-thousand strong group was surrounded by the much larger forces of R. Eideman’s Southern Group, but was able to break out of the encirclement and gain operational freedom. [20. – p. 182]

Being a dependable, secret supply-base for the Makhnovists became more and more difficult for the Greeks. In the autumn of 1920 an epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease rolled through the Greek villages, destroying horses. Then it affected birds, pigs, and cattle. The majority of households had to get through the winter of 1920-1921 with practically no provisions. And in the spring of 1921 a debilitating drought occurred. Aleksandr Agafonivna Delieva from Nova Karakuba recalled: “… everything dried up, all the crops failed, and there was a terrible harvest. For us and for many others terrible days began, the famine was awful.” Famine prevented the Priazov’ye Greeks from providing active assistance to the Makhnovist insurgents. The Insurgent Army moved to other regions of Ukraine that were not so noticeably affected by famine, and then completely collapsed under the blows of the superior forces of the enemy. It is also interesting that in 1921 a number of Makhnovist commanders seriously considered a campaign by the Insurgent Army in Turkey, in support of the revolutionary army of Mustapha Kemal. The Kemalists, for their part, were known for their fanatical anti-Hellenist convictions. Modern Greek historians have accused them of genocide with respect to the Greek population of Pontus. And yet there was a plan to take the Makhnovist Army through the Caucasus to the aid of the Kemalist Turks. Such intentions of the Makhnovists would undoubtedly have been condemned by the Priazov’ye Greeks.

Now we shall conclude. The Priazov’ye Greeks took the most active part in the Makhnovist movement of all the ethnic minorities in South Ukraine. While the Jewish colonists created their own companies in the ranks of the insurgents, and the Bulgarians did not exceed the squadron level, the Greeks were responsible for putting together two complete battle-worthy regiments. While the Bulgarians and Jews in 1920 tried in any way possible to avoid contacts with the insurgents, the Greek villages became the most reliable bases for the supply of manpower, horses, and food. Therefore it is hardly surprising that in 1937-1938 the Soviet government remembered the Greeks for their participation in the anti-Bolshevik struggle. The Greek community was accused of creating an insurgent counterrevolutionary organization that had as its goal to tear off a piece of the territory of the USSR and join it to Greece. The number of arrests was so great that L. Yarutsky is not without ground in comparing the scale of the repression in the Greek villages with genocide. [2. – p. 189]

List of sources and literature

1. I. Teper, Makhno: from “united anarchism” to the feet of the Rumanian king, (Kharkov, 1924).

2. L. Yarutsky, Makhno and the Makhnovists, (Mariupol, 1996).

3. The Peoples of Southern Priazov’ye, (Mariupol, 1996).

4. P. Lavriv, The Colonization of the Ukrainian and Contiguous Steppes, (Melitopol, 1997).

5. N. Makhno, The Ukrainian Revolution (July – December 1918), (Paris, 1937).

6. M. T. Davidov, “Among the Partisans,” in Zvesda, 1959, no. 2.

7. The Civil War in Ukraine 1918-1920: Collection of Documents and Materials, in 3 Volumes, 4 Books; Vol. 1, Bk. 2, (Kiev, 1967).

8. A. V. Belash and V. F. Belash, The Roads of Nestor Makhno, (Kiev, 1993).

9. Nestor Makhno, The Peasant Movement in Ukraine. 1918-1921: Documents and Materials, (Moscow, 2006).

10. RDVA. F.936. – Op.1. – Spr. 4.

11. TsDAVOVU. F.1. – Op.1. – Spr. 17.

12. RDVA. F.199. – Op.3. – Spr. 371

13. RDVA. F.936. – Op.1. – Spr. 12.

14. A. Bek, “Such were the duties…” (Recollections of Dibets) in Collected Works, (Moscow, 1989).

15. Free Kuban (Yekaterinoslav). – 1919.

16. RDVA. F.199. – Op.3 – Spr. 186.

17. RDVA. F.199 – Op.2 – Spr. 156.

18. “Diary of the Chief of the Makhnovist Intelligence Service L. Golik” in Nestor Ivanovich Makhno. Memoirs, Materials, Documents, (Kiev, 1991), pp. 167-171.

19. TsDAVOVU. F.2. – Op.1. – Spr. 689.

20. P. Arshinov, History of the Makhnovist Movement (1918-1921), (Zaporozhia, 1995).

21. A. A. Delieva, “1848 – 1998, 150 Years of the Delieva Family” in Sources of the History of Southern Ukraine, Vol. 9. Memoirs and Diaries. Ch.2, (Zaporozhia, 2006).

Translated from the Ukrainian by Malcolm Archibald.

V. M. Chop’s original article can be found here:
Чоп В.М. «Участь приазовських грекiв-колонiстiв у Махновському русi (1918 – 1921 рр.)», 2008.

From: Translated by: Malcolm Archibald.

Written by gulaganarchists

7, April 2014 at 9:58 am

The guillotine at work: twenty years of terror in Russia (data and documents), part two (G.P. Maximoff) now online

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Maximoff’s The Guillotine at Work is an essential source for looking at the history of the Russian anarchist movement after 1917. It was originally published by the The Chicago section of the Alexander Berkman Fund in 1940. The first half, which comprises the argument against Leninism, was reprinted by Cienfuegos Press (1979). Now a PDF of the second part of the book (documents about the repression of the anarchist movement) is freely available at You can get this essential primary source on Russian anarchism at:

Read it and remember!

Written by gulaganarchists

6, April 2014 at 10:24 am

Francesco Ghezzi, from antifascism to Stalin’s gulags

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Zero in Condotta publishers has just released a book by Carlo Ghezzi (one-time secretary of Milan’s Camera del Lavoro), entitled Francesco Ghezzi. Un anarchico nella nebbia. Dalla Milano del teatro Diana al lager in Siberia /Francesco Ghezzi. An anarchist ‘mid the fog. From the Milan of the Diana Theatre to the camps in Siberia (126 pp, cost 10 euro). The author reconstructs the life of Francesco, a relative of his, a fine figure of an anarchist who, after living in Exile in Switzerland and Germany to escape the repression unleashed in the wake of the Diana Theatre bomb outrage, settled in the Soviet Union, only to be jailed in the aftermath of the Stalinist purges in the Vorkuta camp in Siberia, where he perished.

Below we reprint Massimo Ortalli’s introduction to the book.

Some have thought to see the end of the Soviet Union, the break-up of communist rule and the establishment of brand new balances in the world as a sort of End of History. The definitive, irreversible conclusion to a process that had grown out of assumptions about progress, social emancipation, freedom from need and from poverty, a process which then took off at a monstrous tangent in the opposite direction in a dramatic contrast between the goals it had set itself and actual concrete outcomes. All but signifying that the great scheme for releasing man from exploitation and material and moral conditioning had now become unfeasible and its definitive defeat marked by the lowering of the red flag over the domes of the Kremlin.

But we cannot actually talk about any End of History. The project to achieve freedom and solidarity, which fuelled the great aspirations of socialist and libertarian thought, cannot be reduced to manifestations that have seen reproduction of the violence of the authorities deployed against the person over the course of the so-called “short” twentieth century. Any more than the hope in a better world and articulation of the ideal means of bringing it about should remain confined once and for all within the strait-jacket of freedom-murdering, totalitarian ventures.

There are others paths that could be taken and despite efforts today to forget them and stamp them out they wait there to be followed again.

The protagonist of this book is testimony to that.

Francesco Ghezzi was a Milanese workman, an anarchist, a subversive who fled Italy to escape fascist “justice” and who wound up, after a long pilgrimage through a number of European countries, in the Soviet Union, confident that he would find a better life there and do his bit, due to the generosity of his ideals, for the great social emancipation process that had won the hearts of proletarians everywhere. His was a story shared with other revolutionaries and other rebels hungering for justice who, albeit coming to it from a range of different experiences, finished up, hearts filled with hope, in the “socialist paradise” and in the land of actually existing socialism. We know that things did not actually work out for them because notwithstanding the undeniable improvements in the living conditions of the wretched Russian proletariat, a very heavy burden of oppression and social control fastened upon the new communist society, eventually draining the great experiment of all meaning through a paranoid fear of any form of dissent, if not, indeed, criticism itself.

Francesco Ghezzi was one of many victims of that monstrous degeneration, but as a victim he was unbroken and never gave up; he was an exemplary victim. Indeed, though conscious of the dangers he was defying through his rebellious behaviour, he never ceased asserting his ideals or proclaiming his solidarity with Stalinism’s victims. For which he was, first, marginalised, vilified and harassed, before being dispatched to die in a gulag under the “handling arrangements” that the Bolshevik regime applied as a way of neutralising dissenters. And as we now, that included even those not disposed to supinely accept the bureaucratic, authoritarian deformation that systematically denied the precepts upon which proletarian revolution had been built.

Carlo Ghezzi, a leading light of the labour movement in Milan, is related to Francesco Ghezzi. He is a relative who has not forgotten and means to bring back into the light a historical memory that exemplifies the contradictions and tragedies of the 20th century. After some admirable digging effort, he has reconstructed the many vicissitudes that marked the life of his forebear, from his early anarchist grounding in the factories of Milan to active opposition to the war, from participation in the campaign for the release of Errico Malatesta and Armando Borghi in 1921 to the Diana Theatre tragedy, from the enforced option of exile to the decision to make for the Soviet Union to begin a new life, from whole-hearted efforts to adapt to the new socialist reality to incessant, courageous criticism of the disfunctionality and contradictions making life wretched for the Russian people, up until Ghezzi’s tragic disappearance into a Siberian gulag where the regime finally managed to still his voice. When tackling a biography, the historian is very often faced by the risk of becoming “complicit” with the subject of his investigation, clouding his own objective, cool judgment. But in this instance the author’s affection gives an edge to his narration of tragic, emotive events, nor does he try to hide this behind the ascetic pursuit of historical research. This is the affection of one who shares the protagonist’s essential idealism, but also, primarily, cherishes his deceased relative, whom he had never known and who had gone far away to his death, but of the closeness of whom he is keenly aware. And the sense of that rediscovered, affectionate intimacy is drawn out particularly by the painstaking, and in many regards, seductive reconstruction of family events, covering the times between when their common forefathers left tiny Cusano sul Seveso to move into the big city. In Milan a whole proletarian generation – Francesco’s generation – was involved in the historical process that was to make an urban proletariat of these peasant masses and reshaped an area given over mostly to artisan trades and still tightly connected to the agricultural economy into one given over to a modern industrial city in step with the new times and the far-reaching social changes imposed by the revolution in methods of production.

Francesco Ghezzi was part and parcel of these changes, indeed a paradigmatic face for them, his life story representing a sector-turned-class and actively involved in the incipient social movement (so rich in prospects) into which he poured all of his strength and all of his determination, alongside his like-minded workmates An example of selflessness such as only situations of extreme change are capable of producing. Carlo Ghezzi’s reconstruction is particularly attentive and helps bring alive the total, all-encompassing commitment by Francesco, a commitment that led him (together with his inseparable comrades Ugo Fedeli and Pietro Bruzzi) to some often extreme and dangerous options such as inevitably laying himself open to the attentions of the courts as well as to the rather more heavy-handed attentions of an incipient fascism. The attempt to implicate him unfairly in the horrific Diana Theatre massacre, the reason for his lengthy wanderings around Europe up until he settled in the Soviet Union, was ultimately and actually just a deliberate strategy deployed by political and court authorities, designed to smooth the way for goon-gang violence by neutralising those like Francesco and his comrades who might have been able, otherwise, to make fascism’s advent in power less easy. It is to the credit of Carlo’s protracted and dogged research, as he sought to underline emphatically that his distant relative had had nothing to do with the tragedy at the Diana Theatre, that he also highlights the lack of substance of a sort of “dark legend” which has for years dogged the leading lights of a not insignificant segment of the Milan anarchist movement during the early decades of the 20th century. Thus, in his rewriting of Francesco’s movements – Francesco the innocent victim – he has made a fresh contribution to a more objective and honest reading of those events of long ago.

Massimo Ortalli

From: A Rivista Anarchica, no. 384. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.

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27, November 2013 at 7:30 pm

Not forgotten, then or now. Review: book of [Russian anarchist] prisoner support bulletins keeps their memory alive

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The Tragic Procession – Alexander Berkman and Russian Prisoner Aid, 1923-1931
ISBN: 978-1-873605-90-5
Pub: Kate Sharpley Library & Alexander Berkman Social Club 96pp

The Kate Sharpley Library and Alexander Berkman Social Club collectives have recently produced a beautiful book containing complete facsimile reprints of the Bulletin of the Joint Committee for the Defense of Revolutionists Imprisoned in Russia, and the Bulletin of the Relief Fund of the International Working Men’s Association for Anarchists and Anarcho-Syndicalists Imprisoned or Exiled in Russia, which were originally published from 1923-1931.

These bulletins were produced and edited over the years by Alexander Berkman, Mark Mratchny, Milly Witcop, Rudolf Rocker, and others. They were part of the campaign to record and highlight the plight of a whole generation of anarchists and revolutionists imprisoned, exiled, or executed by the Bolshevik regime in Russia.

The bulletins themselves have also come to illustrate the tireless efforts of those outside Russia who, often living in very difficult circumstances of their own, struggled to maintain contact and provide material aid with their imprisoned and exiled comrades within Russia, and to publicise their fate.

As well as acting as an inspiring memorial to those many countless comrades who struggled and became martyrs under Bolshevism, these reprints help serve as a warning today of the potential dangers if, for example, contemporary “anti-capitalist” struggle and revolt were to fall victim to un-libertarian tendencies.

As the Alexander Berkman Social Club put it in their introduction: “When we talk to any Marxists, these dead should never be forgotten, never mind that the Bolshevik beast ate its own children as well”

Writing together in January 1922 in the English-language anarchist paper Freedom, Alexander Berkman and Emma Golden, probably with Alexander Schapiro, accused the Bolsheviks of putting “the best revolutionary elements of the country” in their prisons. Anarchists, Left Socialist revolutionaries, Maximalists, members of the workers’ opposition, were all rotting in the prisons formerly used by the old Tsarist regime.

In 1917 Berkman had been enthusiastic not just about the Russian Revolution but even about the rise of the Bolsheviks. His deportation to Russia from the United States in 1919 gave him a chance to see and experience the realities of the revolution at first hand. By January 1922 he was in a state of disillusion and anguish at the repressive way the revolution had gone, and he left Russia with Goldman and Schapiro. His pamphlets The Russian Tragedy and The Kronstadt Rebellion were published later that year when he had moved to Berlin.

Soon the focus of his work shifted to publicising the cases of those comrades in Russian prisons or in Russian internal exile, as well as fundraising and material support for those facing hardship as external exiles and refugees. Many international anarchist groups sprang up at this time to support the Russian prisoners, and the Anarchist Black Cross still operated as well as it could inside Russia up to 1925 before being suppressed. The first Bulletin was produced by a joint committee of Anarchists, Anarcho-Syndicalists, and Social Revolutionaries, and came out in Berlin in October 1923. Recording the names of anarchists and revolutionists arrested and exiled in Russia, and their whereabouts, proved to be a huge task.

The Bulletin was primarily the work of Berkman and Mratchny, with I.N. Steinberg contributed material on imprisoned left Socialist Revolutionaries. Other contributors included Rudolf Rocker, Augustin Souchy, and Fritz Kater. Kater published the Bulletin, as well as Berkman’s pamphlets on Russia, through Der Syndicalist printing group. Berkman replied to concerns expressed by some anarchists about the Bulletin’s support for non-anarchists by stating: “Supplying bread to Maria Spiridonova (who is a Left Socialist Revolutionist) is just as imperative as to aid Baron (who is an anarchist).”

The Bulletin was issued in English, French, German, Spanish, and Russian, and also, sometimes in Dutch and Esperanto. It carried constant appeals for money, and printed scrupulous detailed accounts. By the end of 1926 the Bulletin was taken under the wing of the anarcho-syndicalist International Working Men’s Association and became the Bulletin of the Relief Fund for Anarchists and Anarcho-Syndicalists Imprisoned or Exiled in Russia. Prominent figures Mollie Steimer, Senya Fleshin, and Volin took on more prominent roles in the Relief Fund.

As well as being exhausting, obsessive, and time-consuming, Russian Prisoner aid left its activists isolated from the mainstream political movements, and reliant on a dwindling anarchist support base. In a letter to her nephew in December 1924, Emma Goldman complained that the leading English anarchist newspaper Freedom only had eighty-three subscribers. By that time the situation in many countries was just as dire.

In the early 1920s maintaining contact with prisoners in Russia and sending them aid was difficult but still possible. But problems grew with the increasing numbers of those being arrested, and obtaining information became more difficult. Contact with prisoners began to seriously deteriorate around 1935, and by 1939 had ceased altogether.

Political activists today who are concerned by police “kettling” tactics, FIT team harassment, and so on, should consider that nothing is new. The first Bulletin in October 1923 reports that: “On July 9, 1923, 41 anarchists were arrested in Petrograd, and 16 “Zassadas” took place in the city. A “Zassada” means that police surround a house, permit no-one to leave it, for hours or for days, as the case might be, and arrest everyone who visits the place.

Fascinating detailed lists of names of many comrades arrested are accompanied by illuminating brief descriptions of their work or trade, and their political histories, together with reports on their sentences or exiles.

Prison overcrowding is nothing new either. Correspondence reports: “All the prisons and concentration camps in the North are so overfilled that new arrivals are refused admission. In August 1923, the left S.R. Lida Surkova was sent by the Petrograd GPU to the Petcherski Krai for three years. Owing to the overcrowding she failed to be accepted.”

Later, in March 1928, the commentary in Bulletin no.5 reports on the growing irony of Bolshevik repression, as the juggernaut of the dictatorship ends up rolling over its own creators, including the purging of Trotsky and Zinoviev; crushed by their own paranoid Marxist theory.

The November 1927 Bulletin summarises the “achievements” of the first ten years of Bolshevism in comparison to the desires of the Russian Revolution: “The workers wanted the opportunity to use the tools and machinery they had themselves made; they wanted to use them to create more wealth and to enjoy that wealth. The peasant wanted free access to the land and a chance to cultivate it without being robbed of the products of his hard toil.

But “under the cover of the motto, ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’, it [the party] began to build a centralised, bureaucratic state.” And “freedom of thought, of the press, of public assembly, self-determination of the worker and of his unions, the initiative and freedom of labour, all this was declared old rubbish, ‘bourgeois prejudices’. The ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ became the absolutism of a handful of Bolsheviki in the Kremlin.”

This same Bulletin gives a long list, with brief details about them, of just a small part of the known imprisoned and exiled anarchists amongst the thousands of political prisoners. This selected list in small type, almost requiring a magnifying glass to read, already contains nearly a hundred entries. You begin to realise that what you are seeing here is not just the convulsion and wrenching and fragmenting and dispersing of individuals, but of partners, relationships, extended families, friendship networks, and whole communities. The process begins to approach a cultural genocide.

By the way, for today’s romantic ultra-communists, it should be pointed out that the disappearance of the value of all money is not in all circumstances something to be welcomed.

And here we see evidence of a deliberate imposed starvation policy, as a correspondent exiled in Russia’s far north describes (p40): “In the Spring I was transferred to a little hamlet that contains only 60 huts. The hamlet is about 200 versts from the nearest village and more than 1,000 miles from any railroad station. The poverty here is incredible. You can’t buy anything.

“With my woman companion I go every day to the woods to search for any berries left from last year, such as vakcinio and oksikoko (red whortleberry and mossberry). This is our food. Unfortunately, there will soon be none even of that.”

And they continue: “In the novels of Jack London I have read of the gold-seekers in the Canadian primitive forests who some time lose their way and have to subsist on berries, mushrooms and similar things. But I can tell you that it sounds much better in the novel than it is in real life.” Exiles such as these were also often stripped of their Party-controlled union card, depriving them of access to work and income.

For anyone interested in radical history and social history, this book is a mine of many gems, helping tell the story of unfolding political events, struggle, and tragedy, in the 1920s and early 1930s, both in relation to Russia, and to the wider international scene.

But this book isn’t just for the historians. It proclaims loudly for today that we should not forget our martyrs, and we must always stand by our imprisoned comrades around the world, however difficult the circumstances. And it proclaims that the lesson of past revolutions and their sacrifices is that the masses should never again trust their fate to any hands but their own. Only the self-organisation of the workers and their communities, and their organised libertarian solidarity can carry struggle and social revolt to a liberating outcome.

By Paul Petard

From: Black Flag issue 235, mid 2012 p32-33.

Written by gulaganarchists

31, October 2013 at 10:57 am