Posts Tagged ‘Russian anarchists’
Anonymous letters of exiled (or imprisoned) Russian anarchists, published outside Russia.
Questions regarding the letters:
A, who are they by and where were they written?
B, can other people/ places they mention be identified?
C, what was left out when they were translated or printed?
Read the file of letters: AnarchistLetters2015
http://senyafleshinpapers.wordpress.com/ should help in identifying the originals from which these published texts were translated. There is an index to these letters at: http://katesharpleylibrary.pbworks.com/w/page/90841686/Russian%20Anarchist%20letters
Viktor 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.”
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.
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.
The following unique letter by Belash was written from Tashkent to Mark Mrachny in Berlin. 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
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 or Yefim received the Bulletin, and Izya (Shkolnikov) 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, 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 (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) have long since settled down at home and are living, one assumes, not too badly. Levka and Danka 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) 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. (…) I send my own friendly greetings to all, with wishes for health and success. Greetings from the boys.
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.
Belash 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:
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. 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), 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 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”.
 This declaration was recently gleaned from the archives by Ukrainian researcher Yury Kravetz.
 A. V. Belash and V. F. Belash, Dorogi Nestora Makhno : istoricheskoe povestvovanie [The Odyssey of Nestor Makhno: an historical narrative], (Kiev, 1993).
 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.
 From the Senya Flèchine Papers, folder 46, at the International Institute of Social History.
 Boris Klichevsky.
 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.
 Isaak (Iza, Izya, Ilya) Abramovich Shkolnikov. Anarchist.
 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.
 “Gavrilo” was in fact the pen name of Mark Mrachny.
 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.)
 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).
 Revekka Yakovlevna Yaroshevskaya (1887–?). Anarcho-communist.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 “Italian strikes” = sabotage.
 Lipovetsky and Dolinsky were Belash’s fellow-exiles from Kharkov.
Muksolma, [Solovetsky Islands] October 27, 1924
What’s the matter, friend, that you don’t answer? Back in early August I received a postcard from you which I immediately answered. And since then I haven’t heard a thing from you. This just won’t do. Or maybe my letter just didn’t reach you? Really there wasn’t anything in it which would cause our censors to hold it up. In any case, I expected you to let me know about yourself in more detail. In my last letter I asked you a whole bunch of questions about what life is like in Chicago nowadays and about the new people there. I also asked how you returned, what sort of adventures you had. And regarding Klara, I wanted to find out how she got out of Japan – when and under what circumstances. When you get around to answering, don’t forget to write about all this.
Concerning myself, I can mention that on January 5 my current term will end; accordingly, by the end of November I am to be transferred to finish the rest of my sentence in the town of Kem, where there is a branch of our camp. This letter of mine, if it travels at a normal speed, will reach you in the middle or latter half of November. Taking this into consideration, I want to propose to the following. You wrote that you and Klara wanted to send me a parcel or money. It’s not a good idea to send parcels here, friends, because there’s duty to be paid on every little thing. It’s best to send money. The more the better, because there’s a few of us here. My proposal is this: collect as much money as you can and send it soon enough that it will arrive in Kem not later than the end of January or beginning of February. The address is: Kem, Karelia oblast, camp, political prisoner Vera Kevrik. Don’t forget, Boris, and if I’m no longer in Kem by the time the money arrives, it doesn’t matter: it’s still very necessary.
I’ve had some correspondence with Vanya – the poor fellow is getting worse. It’s possible I’ll soon end up in his situation. Your namesake Boris, who also used to live in Chicago and was a fanatical IWW, together with Yefim were settled not long ago in Turkestan. Some other acquaintances have been settled even farther away in Siberia. I was sick recently, but am better now. I heard that Erman has been spreading all sorts of filth in your circles. What a swine! This is taking a toll on Mark’s health.
Well, good-bye friends. Don’t forget. Greetings to all my Russian, Jewish and American friends. Keep your spirits up.
Answer promptly. Klara, write me about yourself and also about Wilma.
Translator’s Notes: The letter was written to Boris Yelensky. Mentioned in the letter are fellow prisoners/exiles Vanya Charin, Boris Klichevsky, Yefim Dolinsky, and Vera Kevrik. “Klara” may refer to Klara Chornaya, a colleague of Yelensky’s in the Odessa group he belonged to. They left the USSR together in 1922. Don’t know about “Wilma” (Yelensky’s wife’s name was Bessie and their son was Leon). “Erman” may refer to the “anarcho-bolshevik” Herman Sandomirsky. He was sent abroad in 1922 to convince anarchists to support the USSR and created quite a stir in Germany and Italy, with Voline and Malatesta attacking him in the anarchist press.
From: IISG, Boris Yelensky Papers, folder 61. Translated by: Malcolm Archibald.
Stepan Semenovich Dybets (1887 – 1937) was born in the village of Novy Bug, Odessa district, Kherson province. An ethnic Ukrainian, he became the first director of the Nizhny-Novgorod automobile plant (1929-1932), later – GAZ . His oral memories of events in Berdyansk in the first half of 1919 became known to us through their preservation by the well known Soviet writer Aleksandr Bek. The latter, at the beginning of the 1930s, worked on the “Cabinet of Memoirs” started by Maxim Gorky and had many conversations with Dybets, which were stenographed for the book of memoirs People of the Two Five Year Plans . Incidentally, Bek himself also visited Berdyansk, but not until May 1951. As a result of this visit Bek wrote the fictional story Noviy Profil [New Profile], which was published in Moscow in the same year.
The young Stepan Dybets emigrated to America, where he lived for more than ten years. Beyond the ocean he worked as a instrument maker in a motion picture camera factory. In 1911 Dybets became an anarcho-syndicalist and joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Later he became one of the organizers of the newspaper Golos Truda, organ of the Russian anarcho-syndicalists in the U.S.A.  In 1917 Dybets returned to Russia. At first he worked in anarchist organizations in Kronstadt and Kolpino . After their collapse he moved to Berdyansk, where he worked as a bookkeeper in the Russian-American engineering works . Dybets changed his political orientation, transferring from the Anarchists to the Bolsheviks. Apostasy was not easy for Dybets, and he suffered terribly. It reached the point where he began to exhibit symptoms of mental illness. He completely clammed up and didn’t say anything for almost a month. He himself claimed that all this took place in the fall of 1918, but Lukyan Romanov  cruelly wrote that in March 1919 Dybets was still an Anarchist. It is in fact likely that Dybets became a Communist in March 1919, after the Communists took control of the city from the Makhnovists. Working to earn his daily bread, as least as a bookkeeper or routine worker, was clearly not to his liking. Subsequently he made a brilliant career among the Communists and then was pitilessly annihilated once he had exhausted his potential.
Dybets recalled that from the end of March 1919 he himself was the head of the Berdyansk Revkom [Revolutionary Committee]. While still in the USA he had become acquainted with Vsevolod Volin, who had become the leading figure in the Kharkhov-based Confederation of Anarchists of Ukraine (the “Nabat” confederation), which was on the point of moving to Gulai-Polye to carry on its work. This gave Dybets a certain degree of prestige in the eyes of the Makhnovists. Dybets had numerous conversations with Nestor Makhno during the latter’s visits to Berdyansk, which he later recounted to Bek in detail .
In the 1920s a group of workers from America, led by Big Bill Haywood and John Rutgers, travelled to the USSR and founded the “American Industrial Colony” in the Kuzbass . Then Dybets was asked by Lenin to provide his services to them as a guide. In 1932-1934 he was already a deputy manager, and from 1935 he was in charge of the Central Board of the Soviet automobile and tractor industry, the “Soviet Ford”. Later he was repressed as a wrecker and an American spy. He was shot on November 26 1937. His widow – Rosa Adamovna  – survived her husband for a long time, and during the Khrushchev era she had several meetings with Bek.
In the 1950’s, Bek wanted to write an entire novel about Dybets, collecting a significant quantity of material, but death prevented him from realizing his dream. His related story “Such a job…” appeared in the magazine Novy svit (1967, no. 7). The complete version was published posthumously in the publication Sovietsky pisatel in 1973.
Excerpted from V. M. ChopandI. I. Liman, Free Berdyansk: the life of a city under an anarchist social experiment (1918–1921) . (Zaporozhye, 2007), 478 pp.
Translated from the Ukrainian and edited by Malcolm Archibald
 The Gorky Automobile Plant (GAZ) is still the leading manufacturer of commercial vehicles in Russia.
 This work was never published as a result of Gorky’s sudden death in 1936.
 Golos Truda [The Voice of Labour] was the main newspaper of the Union of Russian Workers in the United States and Canada, an explicitly anarchist organization. Dybets told Bek that the whole staff of Golos Truda joined the IWW, and that he received his red membership card from Big Bill Hayward in person.
 Dybets attended a Russian trade union conference in 1917 as an anarcho-syndicalist delegate.
 This was a plant established as a worker co-operative by Russian workers who had returned from North America after the Revolution. It was probably run on anarcho-syndicalist principles which would explain Dybets’s presence there.
 Lukyan Romanov (? – 1960), a toolmaker by trade, emigrated from the Russian empire to the USA, and then returned in 1917 with the group of workers who organized the Russian-American plant in Berdyansk as a co-operative. Unlike Dybets, Romanov almost immediately joined the Bolshevik Party; after the Civil War he made a career in the Soviet secret police. His memoirs of Berdyansk during the revolutionary period were written for the 40 th anniversary of the October Revolution, when there was a massive effort to preserve the recollections of Old Bolsheviks, i.e. Bolsheviks who had joined the party before October 1917.
 Makhno once intervened to save Dybets, who had been condemned to be shot by a revolutionary tribunal. Dybets attributed Makhno’s leniency (Dybets had admitted to killing Makhnovists) to a fear of reprisals.
 The Kuznetsk Basin (Kuzbass) in southwestern Siberia is one of the largest coal-mining regions in the world.
 The Jewish Anarchist Rosa Adamovna Dybets (1882 – ?) did not convert to Bolshevism like her husband. She met Stepan Dybets only after she emigrated to the USA following imprisonment in Ukraine for anarchist activities. At one time she had been in the same prison as Nestor Makhno in Yekaterinoslav. Shortly after her husband was shot, Rosa was sentenced to eight years in the camps; she survived and was released in 1945.
From: Excerpted from V. M. Chop and I. I. Liman, Free Berdyansk: the life of a city under an anarchist social experiment (1918–1921). (Zaporozhye, 2007), 478 pp. . Translated by: Malcolm Archibald.