Anarchists in the Gulag (and prison and exile)

Bolshevik repression of anarchists after 1917

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A Letter of Aron Baron from Biysk [1925]

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Translator’s introduction: Aron Baron finished a two-year term of imprisonment in the camps of northern European Russia in January 1925, but was then exiled to Biysk in Siberia. An industrial city with a population of 40,000 in 1925, Biysk was located in the remote Altai region. Aron was to spend three years there before moving on to further terms of exile and prison. This letter was written to his old friend Mark Mrachny, who was working for the Joint Committee for the Defense of Revolutionists Imprisoned in Russia, based in Berlin.


April 12, 1925

Dear Mark,

It’s likely that I’m not without blame in the fact that there are such large gaps between my letters. In addition to a multitude of circumstances “beyond my control”, there are also circumstances which I can control; concerning which it is not convenient to speak of in a letter and the story of which I shall postpone until I meet with you in person. And this is how I imagine it to myself: you and I must get together to talk about everything and of course we won’t be satisfied with just conversations. I don’t know when our get-together will take place (possibly not for a few years), but it really must take place. Then, among other things, I shall explain some of the causes of my current lack of punctuality in correspondence. Until then, I’ll let it go.

The present letter is the fifth I’ve sent you since my arrival in Biysk. The first letter-postcard was sent on February 15, the second was sent ten days later. During March I sent two letters: one at the beginning of the month, the second (if I’m not mistaken) on March 22. I received two of your postcards dated March 2 and March 27, and a letter dated March 15. I promise from now on to write not less than three letters a month with all the regularity possible under the circumstances.

I have to tell you that up to now it’s generally been difficult to write anything about my needs, as I didn’t wish to give material to the enemy; it’s a given that my correspondence is perlustrated. Some letters (from Vera Kevriki, Rubinchikii) arrive in such a mutilated state, so clumsily re-sealed, that no doubt remains… Indeed it would be strange, given the flawlessness of the intelligence apparatus, if our letters were left untouched. Of course everyone knows this, which is why only in rare cases do I allow myself to write on serious topics. So I was rather amazed that Rubinchik re-sent to me your letter to him of March 16. Yes, friends, you discussed quite enough.

Never mind. From now on I shall follow your example and allow myself to write on a topic which up to now I’ve avoided: the state of our ranks, which, no matter what you say in your letter, is really dismal. Things are bad in Russia, still worse in America; spinelessness of some, apathy of others, and a lack of energy everywhere. Rubinchik, in forwarding your letter, delivered a ferocious tirade aimed at the disorganizers, whom he would like to get rid of and even consign to “rat row”iii. In my opinion, this is too presumptuous, even bombastic, for if Rubinchik were to find himself abroad, of course he wouldn’t be any more effective than the rest; despite all his ranting, he wouldn’t get rid of anyone or consign them anywhere. I’m convinced that the whole affair would be limited to one, or at most a few, articles written by him in which he would threaten and fulminate, etc., but with no resulting improvement in the situation. His articles would give rise to new counter-articles and counter-accusations, and generally the whole affair would amount to an increase in the literature of abuse, which we cannot afford when we are trying to measure our strength with the enemy’s. No, I don’t want anything to do with this – let’s leave the wrangling and the abusive quarrelling to those types who specialize in such things.iv

If, back in the old days, despite all the authority of the Union of Russian Workers and its leaders, it was still possible for the libelous Ermando-Dvigomirovsky Zarya to appearv, then what can we expect in today’s era of reaction? To engage in squabbles with these gentlemen – means to lower yourself to their level. Of course it’s impossible to tolerate these people, it’s necessary to struggle with them mercilessly, but this must be a struggle that’s effective, real, productive of results. These gentlemen must be isolated, they must be separated from any contact with the workers, and they must be left to the higher-ups along with their Russian role models to stew in their own juices. But this won’t be accomplished through abuse. To go about this in a serious manner means to turn the project over to a couple of intelligent people who will learn how to act organizationally: not by raging into the void, not by dashing off half-cocked, but by preparing a reliable, strong, compact force which will penetrate to the very heart of the enemy and, at the most propitious moment, attack with all its strength. Take as much time as necessary for preparation, but when it’s time to act, then strike zealously, from right and from left, blow after blow, without respite, harder and harder; that’s the only way to win these days. The Bolsheviks proved this brilliantly – this is something we can learn from them. If in the beginning we had had half the organizational skill of the Bolsheviks, our cause would have advanced much farther.

So, my friends, that’s my assessment of the situation. It would be rather strange if, among the amorphous whole which constitutes the anarchist movement, there were not found, even among the middle ranks, some despicable people. The fact of the presence of such gentlemen is quite deplorable, but that isn’t the whole story. The slanderous bunch of American and Russian Kareliniansvi wouldn’t matter much if they were confronted by a strong and healthy body, vigorous and unified. The problem isn’t with these thugs, the problem is with ourselves – with the lack of discipline, spinelessness, and slackness of those who are ideologically opposed to the pole which Karelin represents. We could certainly use some fresh blood in our own reduced ranks. I’ve had enough of the windbags, and the dilettantes can go do their own thing, but those who are left, even though small in number, can be used rationally, with the goal of getting the greatest results. For in the final account, only the results are important. Groups may exist for decades, they may mount a semblance of some kind of activity, but results – tangible, long-term results – are not forthcoming.

The history of the French movement is instructive: there we’ve been around for 50 years, the anarchists have been active in the unions for 30 years, and the result was that after two or three years of struggle, the Bolsheviks succeeded in leaving us with a handful of autonomists, some of whom will soon be withdrawing to the Unitary Confederation of Labourvii. Of course I understand that my information is one-sided, gleaned almost exclusively from “Vie Ouvrière” and other Profintern sourcesviii. But even after discounting half of what is written by these far-from-objective hacks, one must assume that what’s left isn’t entirely fiction. And by what means did they achieve their success? How is it that more than once they’ve left us on the sidelines of the labour movement? Exclusively due to our lack of organization.

Recently I received a postcard from Amsterdam: it’s an invitation to the 2nd Congress of Revolutionary Syndicalists, and is signed by Schapiro, Souchy, Kater, Borghi, etc.ix Of course I’m touched that they remembered me, and very glad that comrades from various countries are able to get together and find a common language. But I say to you openly, my old friend, there is not available to me a language in which I could reply to them properly, using solemn, pretentious figures of speech. I fear that this congress, like so many previous ones, will adopt fine, well-drafted resolutions, but that it will undertake little in the way of actions, that the increase in activity level will be slight.

I would love to be mistaken about this. It would be so nice to be there, to speak personally with everyone, both collectively and on an individual basis, and arrange matters with each person with complete clarity: this person will do this thing, and that person will do that thing, etc., and each person must carry out their assignments, achieving results in whatever has been decided upon, deliberately and thoughtfully, as part of the common goal. And get to work immediately…. To have the possibility of not being limited to stating general positions, but rather to be able to act decisively everywhere at the local level with due consideration for real circumstances – to get out of the quagmire in which the movement is wallowing – oh, my thoughts often fly to friends over there, to you and a few other isolated individuals…. But about this there’s nothing to say now. Concerning the congress of the International Workers’ Association, up to now I’ve read only one note in “Trud” [“Labour”] (organ of the VTsSPS)x for March 25. The agenda was set out and the titles of the reports by Rocker and Lansinkxi are mentioned. I expect that something will also be said in “Vie Ouvrière”.

One of these days I’m going to send you some Siberian newspapers. But beforehand I can tell you that they are an accurate reflection – not of reality, mind you – but rather a reflection of what is being written in Moscow and from Moscow. In general, we can keep up with things just well as in the centre; the difference is a question of scale, rather than substance. As at the centre, so also here, not a single conference takes place without the appropriate demonstrations (with banners and orchestras) – whether of “unaffiliated” peasants, teachers, or physicians – depending on the season and done in the Moscow style. Without fail an “unaffiliated”xii worker or peasant will urge the study of Leninism and the “consolidation of unity” under the banner of the Comintern. Also without fail there will appear a female worker with a toy model, for example, of a railway signal … . well, it varies according to whether there are teachers, teamsters, or agronomists. The welcoming speeches are followed by a long ceremony with singing, with the orchestra playing the Internationale, with applauding, more noisy applause, stormy applause, more stormy applause, rising up for a standing ovation, reaching a climax – never mind, don’t even think about it. All this clapping-while-standing and clapping-while-not-standing is calibrated according to rank, reaching a crescendo when a representative of the higher-ups makes an appearance or leaves, e.g. a visitor from the Gubkomxiii arrives at the district congress of soviets, or a visitor from the okrugxiv arrives at the gubernia party conference. We are by no means lagging in having “obshchestvennosti”xv: we have MOPRxvi, DVF (Friends of the Air Fleet), and many others; and if tomorrow there should be “voluntarily” formed a society called “Hands Off Abyssinia” or a society called “Friends of Worldwide Bolshevization”, you can be sure they will have branches here as soon as the corresponding directive arrives. There will be members – whole factories will join collectively – and there will be badges and dues – in a word, everything will be arranged. We’re used to thinking of Siberia as the boondocks. Yes, it used to be, but not now in Soviet times. If it’s required, within a day or two from various parts of the most distant provinces “unaffiliated” peasants of the most remote circles will simultaneously send to the Rumanian government (or to the Polish or English, depending on requirements) telegrams of indignation and protest against … well, against whatever is required in each case. For the millions of clueless Siberian peasants know perfectly well when and where to send their greetings or their protest, when to demonstrate, and what slogans to use. So as you see, Siberia is far from backward … well, it would be nice to say that about “us”.

A few words about myself. I’m still getting work (obviously on orders from Moscow). I have to register every week. Last time they asked me if I intended to turn over a new leaf soon.xvii After work I study shorthand, Idoxviii, Italian and Spanish. So what about my finances? It’s impossible to exist on my earnings; we were saved by what Nastenkaxix sent – out of which we sent 25 rubles to Kevrik. She’s sick, needs shoes and clothes, and if you can, please send her money. I’m still healthy, but my eyes hurt a lot. Fanyaxx is sick, it’s her feet again. If we had the money, she would be going to the mud baths. She’s going to write to you herself. I received your newspapers and the American “Nation”. I also received a postcard from Berkman. The boys from Narymxxi are very upset about your splits. I wrote to them not long ago. Well, that’s enough for now. I shake your hand, old chap. Soon the younger generation will be consigning us to the archives, will they not?xxii No, it’s too soon to put us in the archives – right, my fine, young friend?

Until we meet again, your Aron.

i Vera Evgenevna Kevrik (1893 – ?), an anarchist worker from Saratov, was arrested in September 1922 and sentenced in February 1923 to three years in the northern camps. In the north, she contracted malaria, endemic to the region due to the high density of mosquitos in the summer months. In March 1925 she was released from custody and sent, like Baron, on the long journey into exile in Biysk.


ii Efrem Borisovish Rubinchik-Meyer (1892–1938) was born in Minsk, and joined the revolutionary movement at the age of 13 as a social-democratic Bundist. After the defeat of the Revolution of 1905–1907, he emigrated to France, where he joined the anarchists. In 1917 he began working for the anarcho-syndicalist journal Golos Tuda as a typesetter. In 1918 he fought German armed forces as part of the anarchist detachment of V. M. Voline. Arrested by the OGPU in 1923, he was sentenced to three years in a political isolator. In June 1924 this sentence was changed to exile in Tomsk for the same term.


iii “Rat row” was the section of a prison reserved for informers – “stool pigeons” – to segregate them from the general prison population.


iv Baron’s annoyance with Rubinchik received a certain justification in 1927 when the latter succumbed to pressure from the authorities, announced his break with anarchism, and was released from exile.


v Baron has mangled some names here. Robert Erdman (1897–1938) and Grigoriy Dvigomirov (?–1921) were co-editors of the Russian-language anarchist journal Vostochnaya Zarya [Eastern Dawn] published in Pittsburgh (PA) in 1916. This publishing effort was the result of a split in the anarcho-syndicalist Union of Russian Workers of the United States and Canada, of which Baron was an active member before returning to Russia in 1917.


vi Karelinians: followers of A. A. Karelin (1863–1926), a divisive figure in the history of Russian anarchism. Active in the Russian revolutionary movement from the age of 18, Karelin did not become an anarchist until he was 46. He then applied his considerable talents to organizational and ideological work, causing a rift among anarcho-commmunists because of his attempt to introduce religious (mystical) concepts into anarchist doctrine. Following the 1917 Revolution, he caused further havoc by trying to reach an accommodation with the Soviet authorities, essentially by depoliticizing anarchism. Karelin enjoyed widespread respect in the movement, but after his death his tendency was attacked mercilessly by more orthodox ideologues of anarchism. His doctrines were influential with a substantial component of the Russian emigré community in North America, where some of his followers eventually made the transition to fascism.


vii The Confédération générale du travail unitaire (CGTU) was a federation of radical unions founded in 1922 as a split from the socialist CGT, and included communists, anarcho-syndicalists, and revolutionary syndicalists. The “autonomists” were revolutionary syndicalists who rejected party involvement in union affairs but who otherwise supported the communist line.


viii La Vie Ouvrière was an organ of the French Communist Party; the Red International of Trade Unions, based in Moscow, was commonly known as the Profintern, from the Russian form of its name: Krasnyi internatsional profsoyuzov.


ix The 2nd Congress of the anarcho-syndicalist International Workers’ Association (IWA) was held in Amsterdam on March 25 1925. Leading figures of the IWA included Alexander Schapiro (1882-1946), Augustin Souchy (1892-1984), Fritz Kater (1861-1945), and Armando Borghi (1882-1968).


x The newspaper Trud [Labour] was published by the Vsesoiuznyi tsentralnyi sovet professionalnykh soiuzov [All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions] (VTsSPS).


xi Rudolf Rocker (1873-1958) and Bernard Lansink jr. (1884-1945) were also leading figures of the IWA.


xii “Unaffiliated” in this context means “not a member of the communist party”.


xiii Gubkom = Guberniia [Provincial] Party Committee.


xiv okrug = district


xv Non-governmental societies.


xvi MOPR = Mezhdunarodnaia Organizatsiia Pomoshchi Revoliutsioneram [International Organization for Aid to Revolutionaries], created by the Comintern in 1922.


xvii Up until 1930, anarchists in the USSR who renounced their beliefs (publicly, if they were well known) could expect to be released from prison or exile and not be subject to further persecution by the authorities (at least for a while).


xviii Ido is a universal language which made its debut in 1907 as an improved version of Esperanto.


xix This may be reference to Anastasia Ivanovna Galaeva (1885 – 27.10.1925), active in the anarchist movement since 1904 and known for her prisoner support work. She had been in exile herself in northern Russia in 1922-24, but was released early due to illness (TB). She was living in Kiev in 1924-25.


xx Aron’s partner, Fanya Avrutskaya, suffered from chronic pain in her legs, which immobilized her for extended periods (Aron refers to this condition as rheumatism). Aron himself complained frequently of eye pain. Medical treatment for these ailments was virtually unobtainable.


xxi The Narym region of central Siberia was a major destination for exiles banished by the Russian state (since 1638!). It’s not clear what “splits” Baron is referring to. By 1925 three currents in the Russian anarchist diaspora could be discerned: (1) anarcho-syndicalists, who identified with the International Workers’ Association (Mrachny, Maximoff, Schapiro); (2) the Group of Russian Anarchists Abroad, which drew on the experience of the Makhnovist movement (Makhno, Arshinov, Voline); and (3) the Federation of Anarchist-Communists of the USA and Canada, with a libertarian (svobodnik) orientation. Each of these tendencies had their own press organs and were still on relatively good terms in 1925, but that state of affairs was soon to take a turn for the worse.


xxii While Baron and Mrachny were still comparatively young men, they belonged to the generation which had become revolutionaries prior to 1917. This may be a subtle reference to the new generation of anarchists which appeared in the USSR in the 1920s only to be physically destroyed in the 1930s.


From: (IISH: Flèchine folder 46: 78–84) See Translated by Malcolm Archibald.


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2, October 2015 at 8:50 am

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Facing the Bolshevik judges: Speech of the anarchist Fedor Mochanovsky before the Petrograd Revolutionary Court on 13 December 1922

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Let me defer for a second my response to the questions you put to me and give you a little information about the ‘Bezvlastiya’ group and the way in which that group looks upon governments generally and the soviet government in particular. For openers and as a member of the Bezvlastiya group, let me state that neither Til, Tomson nor Koziarsky, charged with banditry, ever have or had anything to do with our group and that Koziarsky has never been a member of that group nor had any sort of connection with it. On that basis, I protest at the nonsensical and lying articles carried by Red Gazette of 13 December 1922 which alleges: “Ivan Til is a member of the Bezvlastiya group.”And let me also take exception in advance to any other slander that might pop up in the official socialist press in the future. I shall not talk at length about the Bezvlastiya group and its activities. I shall confine myself to a few words.

It was, I think, at the beginning of March 1921 that the first edition of Bezvlastiya newspaper was published. Publication ceased that August, not because of lack of resources, but for other reasons. The group ceased to exist at the same time as the paper. So it was impossible for Koziarsky to have passed expropriated money on to the group. (The expropriations occurred in December 1922, by which time the group was no longer in existence.)

As for my insubordination and actions directed against the power of the soviets, those I do not deny. The real antagonism between the anarchists and the Bolshevists is nothing new as far as anarchists are concerned. That antagonism has existed since the days when Karl Marx and Mikhail Bakunin set out their ideas. The former embraced the State and government whereas the latter rejected them, even in embryo. That antagonism became very clear at the congress of Marxists chaired by Engels and Liebknecht and held in The Hague, at which they pledged to string up anarchists as soon as they came power.

In which all they were doing was talking in the same terms as the Bolshevists talk in Russia today.

For a start, back in 1918 the Bolshevists organised an anti-anarchist front to seek the destruction of the anarchists in Russia. Throughout the land and in every sphere of life across the territory of the soviet republic, they took up arms against the anarchists. They shut down their presses and their literature. They shut down anarchist clubs and bookshops. They resorted to all sorts of means in order to undo the organisation of their congresses and they arrested the anarchists. And when the opportunity presented itself, they shot them down on one pretext or another.

All of which was done in a vile and cruel fashion. At the time when the Bolshevists came into power, most anarchists enlisted on the various fronts as reinforcements against the onslaught of the counter-revolutionaries and the White Guards. Most perished. The ones who returned found their organisations smashed by the Bolsheviks. And even now, throughout the soviet republic, many anarchists are suffering the cruellest conditions in various prisons. Many of them have been banished; many others have been or are going to be killed.

Mindful of the war on the outside since the October revolution and up until 1920, anarchists adopted a wait-and-see approach. But from 1920 onwards anarchists have been posing this question to the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party:

Are you willing to change your way of dealing with anarchists or are you sticking to it?”

To which the Communist Party replied:

That will depend on whatever the Party’s Central Committee decides!”

Since when most anarchists have had to give up on public activity, having no illusions about changes to the Bolsheviks’ tactics.

In the “liberated” republic of the soviets, there is no anarchist press, whereas it publishes legally and can be distributed without let in bourgeois regions like France, Italy, Spain, England and America.

From the days of Socrates through to the nineteenth century, thanks to the ideas of the finest thinkers and modern philosophers, the human mind has been shrugging off the yoke of church power and temporal authority and searching out for itself some path by which humanity might arrive at freedom, justice, equality and universal happiness. From which it follows that, for the sake of social progress, freedom of speech is indispensable, so that every endeavour, every opinion, every idea, whether from an individual or a group of individuals, are screened – filtered we might even say – by criticism. In his theory, Darwin demonstrates how an unused organ atrophies and perishes. We say that the same goes for the human being who, in the absence of effort, backslides. Human beings may think whatsoever they please; but if they cannot swap impressions with other human beings they cannot grow ..

The Bolshevik government, like every other government, horrified at the criticisms voiced against its dishonest conduct, denies human beings the right of free expression of opinion and, by trying to cram everybody’s head with Marx’s ideas, thwarts the unfettered growth of the individual.

Rather than raising them higher with Karl Marx’s ideas, the Bolsheviks have trampled upon their own colours. They have set about the founding of the State and wrought their own destruction. (Every government is an agency of decomposition.) They have concocted a religion out of their doctrine and have spilled blood in order to spread it, the very same as the Christians who also regard themselves as the most enlightened men of all time have done.

In primitive times, the savages were idolaters of nature, the prophets and other idols. The human mind has battled against such tendencies for thousands of years. Today, it is the ideas of the great minds and of course the minds themselves that are being turned into idols before which their disciples prostrate themselves. Thanks to this new approach they are turning humanity back into slaves. That is the pitch to which the Bolsheviks have brought us and their fetishism knows no bounds.

There you have my view of all governments and should there some day be produced, even by anarchists, I know not what semblance of “free soviet” government, I will, on behalf of Anarchy, make my stand against any such construction of society.

[No source mentioned: See Manuscript in Flechine papers, Folder 80]

From: La Antorcha (Argentina) 23 September 1923. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.

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4, September 2015 at 8:33 am

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Russian Anarchist letters in Amsterdam – biographies updated

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The details of Russian anarchist whose letters are preserved in the Senya Fleshin (Fléchine) archive at the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam has been expanded, with information from the researches of A. V. Dubovik primarily, but also V. A. Savchenko, A. L. Nikitin and CIRA. Thanks goes to Malcolm from Black Cat Press for passing them on. See

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9, August 2015 at 11:38 am

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Letter from Max Chernyak, Buenos Aires, March 15 1931

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Buenos Aires, March 15 1931


Dear Com[rade] D[ubinsky].

Although I still havenʼt received any reply from you, [Iʼm writing] because of the rising chorus of abuse directed against me by the Montevideo group. Their sec[retary] Lisitsa has sent out letters to organizations claiming that I am a Bolshevik and a provocateur, and in order to force them to put an end to these nasty pranks, Iʼm demanding to be put before a court [of honour].

I wrote to com[rade] A. Berkman and asked him to commission a com[rade] in Montevideo to investigate this sordid affair.i

Also I sent a declaration to “Delo Truda” in Chicago, “Freedom” in London, “Freie Arbeiter Stimme” and to other anarchist editors, [asking them] to publish my request to all organizations and c[omrades] to cease any contact with me until the resolution [of the issue] by a com[radely] tribunal. Thatʼs why I need to have everything in order with the groups.

I wrote to you that our group sent 20.00 pesos to com[rade] R. Rocker to the address you sent to us in correspondence. R. R[ocker] has not replied to us. And although I have a postal receipt, it would be desirable for our records to have either a receipt or a letter about receiving [the money]. Itʼs possible the money was lost.

And since you correspond with him, I beg you to ask him about this money. By the way, I want to know if you know David Elak-Berman? A member of our group was looking for work in Montevideo and visited the group there. They didnʼt want to talk to him. D. Elak-Berman insisted vehemently that A. Chernyakov is an honourable anar[chist] and that these protocolsii are worthless. He insisted that I be told that if I write an apology admitting that I made a mistake not recognizing the Arshinov platform and the An[archist] party, [then] they will work with me. They wonʼt deal with other An[archists] except on this basis. He spoke for the whole group.

The comrade made a reference to your opinion about the protocols. He [i.e., Elak-Berman] began to scream! “Why is Chernyak dealing with D[ubinsky]? I donʼt want anything to do with Chernyak!”

I donʼt know you personally. Itʼs enough for me that you replaced com[rade] A. B[erkman]. But Iʼd sure like to know who D. E[lak]-B[erman] represents. In his letters to me concerning A. Ch[ernyakov] he swears like a trooper.

Further, I beg you to inquire of com[rade] Yudiniii why he doesnʼt ask me what kind of people I hang around with. I would reply to him that I hang around with people I met through Chernyakov, thanks to letters of introduction provided by com[rade] P. Arshinov. Iʼve already fingered Chernyakov and some of his henchmen; the rest Iʼll go after when the hearing is over. I can pick them out better by working with them. But P. A[rshinov] is not writing to me and doesnʼt respond to letters from the group.

Com[rade] Yudinʼs letter to B[uenos]-A[ires] gives Chernyakov the possibility of boasting that I donʼt deserve the trust of the Anarchist movement. Since he knew Chernyakov through work in Russia, c[omrade] Yudin can vouch for his activity. And this is good enough for Arshinov. As for the rest … .

Nevertheless, I doubt if anyone from Russia knows about his an[archist] work. More than a few of the protocols are at variance with such activity. No one has personal knowledge of his work or knows the places where he might have worked.

And when he told his story to people who know something about the Rus[sian] An[archist] movement, they caught him bluffing, and even outsiders could tell he was lying.

But what will be, will be.

Please excuse me for using the wrong stationeryiv; the fact is Iʼm writing to you while sitting at my place of work.

After 11 months of unemployment, I found myself a job as a janitor in a hairdressing salon. I work 7 days a week, 16 hours a day. The boss gave me the keys. Itʼs dark when I come to work and I donʼt leave until 12 or 1 am. Today after finishing cleaning up I couldnʼt find the keys. It looks like theyʼre lost.

Iʼm worried that theyʼre not getting enough good customers into the shop and pretty soon thereʼll be nothing for me to do. Right now Iʼm writing this letter to keep from going to sleep. I have my fill of grief, so I may be a little off my rocker.

Send my home address to com[rade] R. Rocker.

With com[radely] greetings, M. Chernyak

IISH, Flechine archive, Folder 85. Translated from the Russian by Malcolm Archibald. Thanks to Yuriy Kravetz for help with reading this handwritten letter, which contains numerous errors of orthography and grammar.

i Letter of M. Chernyak to A. Berkman of 6–7 March 1931 (in English), see IISH, Alexander Berkman Papers, Folder 17.

ii The “protocols” refers to a dossier of evidence put together by Chernyak purporting to prove that Chernyakov was a Soviet agent.

iii Ivan Yudin, leader of a group of anarchist students in Moscow, was arrested on March 18 1921 and expelled from the USSR in January 1922.

iv Chernyak was writing on the stationery of Casa Ner, the hair salon where he worked.

From: / / / Translated by: Malcolm Archibald.

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18, June 2015 at 9:59 am

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“A charming, cultured old man”: anarchist Non Varshavskiy in 1950s 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. ( He spent much of the rest of his life in prisons and Siberian exile, and did not betray his convictions. In the early 1930s, he corresponded with the Relief Fund of the International Working Men’s Association (IWMA) for Anarchists and Anarcho-Syndicalists Imprisoned or Exiled in Russia ( In 1949, he was arrested again and sentenced to 10 more years of exile in East Siberia as a “socially dangerous element”. There he met the members of the Levin family, who held fond memories of Varshavskiy.

Theatre actress and director Sarra Mikhailovna Levina-Kulneva (1920 – not before 2004) was sentenced to eight years in exile in Siberia in November 1950 as a socially undesirable element. Her husband Naum (Nokhem, Nokhim) Yakovlevich Levin (1908-1950) was a secretary of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. He was arrested in September 1949, sentenced to death on November 22, 1950, and executed the next day (

In her autobiography “Sorele” (; written down by Anna Mass and first published in Zvezda magazine in 1991), Sarra Levina-Kulneva recounted meeting Non Varshavskiy when she served her exile term. In Spring 1951, she started working on a construction site in the Krasnoyarsk Territory village of Taseyevo:

Our works foreman was Non Ilyich Varshavskiy. He was 64 years old, of that he spent 33 years in prison and exile*. For 33 years he could not be forgiven for being an anarchist. A Jew anarchist! His wife Anna Lvovna [Varshavskaya] and daughter [Liya Nonovna Varshavskaya], both of them medics**, came from Moscow to visit him each time they had holidays.

A charming, cultured old man. We made very good friends with him. He saw how hard it was for me, living with two children, and he offered me monthly assistance, but I refused. I said: “Non Ilyich, you are given help yourself by your relatives – they save their own money and send them to you. By what right would I use that?”

When Levina-Kulneva was called to the local NKVD office in 1952 to get a response to her query concerning Naum Levin’s fate (she was not given a confirmation of his execution), Varshavskiy met her in the street: “He suggested that they want to recruit me as an informer, and as we walked there, he taught me how to respond so they wouldn’t catch me”.

The memoirs of her daughter Miriam Levina, “Stories not for children”, about her life as a child exile, were published in Golosa Sibiri (“Voices of Siberia”) almanac by Kuzbassvuzizdat publisher in Kemerovo in 2007 ( She also mentioned Non Varshavskiy: “I heard how mum told someone that Non Ilyich was first imprisoned even before the revolution. As a kid he joined the anarchists and was jailed for the first time when he was 15 years old, for revolutionary activity. And from 1922 he was imprisoned all the time, as an anarchist***.”

Levina also described how the various exiles drank vodka and danced to mournful music as the death of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was announced in 1953: “Non Ilyich lifted me up to his arms and started spinning as he traversed amongst the people who gathered here for some unconceivable reason. My step-father [Vladimir Kulnev] turned a button on the radio, and heavy mournful music started to sound louder, which made the bright smiles of the guests seem even more absurd to me.”

After Stalin’s death, Varshavskiy was rehabilitated in July 1955 ( Levina-Kulneva wrote: “Non Ilyich Varshavskiy died from throat cancer, he did not even live one full year after returning. A near and dear man! When I felt really bad, I ran to him, he would always find me a glass of strong tea and a ship biscuit, he would sit me down, he told me something, I told him something.”

[Translated by Szarapow]

* Varshavskiy was born in 1892 or 1895 and first arrested in 1927, so these numbers may be incorrect (

** Apparently, Varshavskiy’s daughter worked as a school teacher (

*** I presume that the numbers may have been borrowed from her mother’s book.



Written by gulaganarchists

28, May 2015 at 7:53 pm

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Exhibition on Russian anarchism and Disussion of the Spanish Civil War: Cultural activities of the Russian section of the International Workers’ Association (IWA-AIT)

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Activists of the Federation of Workers in Education, Science and Technology (FRONT), an affiliate of the Russian section (KRAS) of the International Workers Association (IWA-AIT), participated in the organization of a series of cultural events in Moscow, the purpose of which was to familiarize the public with the history, experience and practice of anarchism and the anarcho-syndicalist movement.


On April 17 2015, in the Centre for Social-Political History of the State Public Historical Library (GPIB), an exhibition entitled “The History of Anarchism: Sources” had its official opening. On display were a sampling of the books and periodicals of the most valuable collections of the former State Public Historical Library (GOLB), devoted to the prehistory of anarchism, to Russian anarchism in the 19th and 20th centuries, to the international anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist movements of the 20th century, and also to the contemporary Russian libertarian movement. Included were works by William Godwin, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Joseph Déjacque, Ernest Coeurderoy, Max Stirner, Mikhail Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin, Errico Malatesta, Jean Grave, Sébastien Faure, Benjamin Tucker, Anselmo Lorenzo, John Henry Mackay, Vsevolod Voline, Alexei Borovoy, Nestor Makhno, Peter Arshinov, Apollon Karelin, Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Émile Armand, Federica Montseny, Rudolf Rocker, Karl Roche, Abel Paz, and many other famous libertarians, published at various times in various languages. There were also issues of the newspapers Obshchina [Commune] and Chernyy peredel [Black distribution – a revolutionary slogan referring to the radical redistribution of land to the peasants]; anarchist publications from the Russian revolutions of 1905–1907 and 1917–1921; newspapers of the global anarcho-syndicalist movement – Der Syndikalist (Germany), La Protesta (Argentina) and Solidaridad Obrera (Spain); and libertarian Samizdat publications of the period of Perestroika and the 1990s.

Members of FRONT assisted Library workers in assembling and annotating the materials for the exhibition.

The scholars, library employees and libertarian activists (including members of FRONT) who spoke at the official opening not only commented on the materials on display, but also briefed those present on relevant examples from the rich history of the movement and its practice in various fields of endeavour, such as anarcho-syndicalism/labour movement, anti-militarism, the struggle against repression and prisons, equal rights for women, “free love”, literature, art, etc. The speakers called upon researchers to expand the study of anarchism, both its ideas and its practice. Splendid opportunities for this exist thanks to the availability of the necessary research materials.

* * * *


On April 19 2015 a round table on the history of the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939 was held at the Dostoevsky Library in Moscow. Comrades from the Russian section of the IWA-AIT acted as co-organizers of the event, along with the administration of the Vkontakte [Russian social network] group “Guerra Civil Española / Grazhd. voyna v Ispanii” [Civil War in Spain]. Addressing the meeting, researchers told about the role and actions of the anarcho-syndicalists in the Spanish revolution, about the May events of 1937, about the radical wing of Spanish anarcho-syndicalism (which led the struggle against concessions to bourgeois-Stalinist “antifascism” by the leadership of the movement, about the Russian anarchists who fought in Spain, about cultural aspects of the Spanish drama and civil war. . . During the round table, as one would expect, a debate developed among the participants. On one side were those who defended the line of the radical wing of the Spanish libertarian movement; on the other side, the proponents of “antifascist unity”, who tried to justify the concessions of the steering committees of the CNT and FAI . . . The audience had the opportunity to ask questions and convince themselves of the compelling nature of the arguments of the supporters of anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian communism.

The Russian section of the IWA-AIT attaches great importance to such events, which not only contribute to the spread of knowledge about the theory and practice of our movement, but also strengthen the position of anarchism in the uphill struggle for “cultural hegemony” that has to be carried on today against reactionary, liberal and authoritarian views.

  • Confederation of Russian Anarcho-Syndicalists (KRAS) [Translation, Malcolm Archibald]

Written by gulaganarchists

8, May 2015 at 10:37 am

Postcard from Aulie-Ata, 1931 – Berta Tubismann

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25/VIII Aulie-Ata* 10/X/1931

I very gratefully acknowledge receipt of the items most kindly sent to me in a bag containing: 1 kg butter, ¼ kg semolina & 4½ kg flour, all the other items listed in the customs declaration disappeared on the way here — where to, I have no idea. They took 15 roubles in customs duty on these few things that are left. The first consignment reached me complete and in good condition; I did acknowledge receipt of same too but I don’t know whether you received what I sent. If all is well, I am thinking of leaving here in January of next year.

Berta Hibes Tubismann

63 Bazaar Street, Aulie-Ata

* Aulie-Ata: town in Kazakhstan, now called Taraz.

From: From Folder 75 of the Flechine Archive at the IISG in Amsterdam: Translated by: Murray Glickman.



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30, March 2015 at 9:44 am

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