Anarchists in the Gulag (and prison and exile)

Bolshevik repression of anarchists after 1917

Posts Tagged ‘Russian anarchists

A Letter of Yelena Mikhailovna Chekmasova to Vera Grigorevna Man

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The letter below was originally published by the Russian “Memorial” society, which specializes in publicizing the Soviet Union’s totalitarian past. It was found in the archival fond labelled “E. P. Peshkova. Help to political prisoners (1922-1938)” in the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF). Yekaterina Peshkova was the director of “Aid to Political Prisoners,” an unofficial, but tolerated, humanitarian organization based in Moscow; Vera Grigorevna Man was one of her assistants. The introduction, postscript, and most of the annotations were supplied by “Memorial.” Annotations with the initials MA were written by the translator.

The anarchist Yelena Mikhailovna Chekmasova was born in 1895 in the village of Polozovo, Tulskaya governate. She received a secondary education. She lived in Moscow and worked as a schoolteacher. On August 17 1921 she was arrested and sentenced for “membership in the anarchist underground” to one year of exile and sent to Arkhangelsk. In early January 1922 she was arrested there, and on January 14 sentenced to the VMN [highest measure of punishment, i.e. death], which was commuted to five years in a concentration camp. She was sent to the Solovki Special Purpose Camp. On May 25 1925, she was released from the camp with a residential restriction of “minus 6” [not allowed to live in six major cities]. She settled first in the village of Mikhailovka in Stalingradskaya oblast, but by August 1925 was living in the city of Irbit, Uralskaya oblast.ii


October 31 1925


Dear Vera Grigorevna!

I’m sending you a receipt for the money you sent, and also taking the opportunity to say something about myself.

It’s true that previously I’ve written to Fanya Grigorevna [Elshtein] and Chembareva, but I haven’t received any letters from Moscow for a whole month. From Leningrad I have received a postcard from Dina Yerukhimovich,iv where she writes that she sent a parcel for my baby to Moscow, but since I wasn’t there, she asked that it be forwarded to the Red Cross. Did you get it?

Our journey, which lasted eight days, went fairly smoothly (except for when we were stuck in Sverdlovsk for two and a half days). En route the baby came down with bronchitis as well as an upset stomach. The doctor prescribed a mixture which she drank willingly from a spoon. Now she’s much better and her cough is almost gone. She laughs, loves singing, and won’t tolerate being wrapped up in swaddling clothes. So now Natalya Grigorevna no longer has the right to call her “my little package.” She turns from her back to her side and back again, and bends her legs.

It’s just the two of us living together, but occasionally we have visits from the other comrades living here: Vlasenko and his wife, Skachkovvi (also with his wife), A. S. Miagkovavii and Gerasimov.viii Vlasenko is an anarchist, Skachkov is a sympathizer, and the rest in fact are also anarchists.

A room with firewood, lighting, and water costs about 10-12 rubles a month. The water supply here is awful: there’s one basin for two blocks, so there’s always a long lineup; or else there’s the river, which is ½ verst [about ½ km] distant. Delivery is 3 rubles a month.

I went to some institutions to look for a job, but it seems there won’t be any openings before next summer.

There’s a library in the city which I still haven’t had a chance to visit. The library is prohibited by the GPU from circulating Byloye, since it’s harmful, illegal literature. Well, fine. It’s true, isn’t it?

Beynarovich requests that you send, either to me or to Baykalskoye, the collective works of Lavrovxi (complete, if possible) and Krayevich’s course in physics.xii Let Fanya Grigorevna know about this.

My darling Vera Grigorevna. Once more let me remind you: find out the addresses of the Solovki prisoners M. K. Leontyevaya and the anarchist Vasiliy Dmitriyevich Makhov,xiv and send them to me.

Heartfelt greetings to everyone.

Thanks for your concern about my little one.

E. Chekmasova


In 1928 Yelena Mikhailovna Chekmasova was arrested, sentenced to three years of exile, and sent to Siberia; her term of exile was extended by three years on two more occasions (in 1931 and 1934).xvii

i Gosudarstvennyi arkhiv Rossiyskoy Federatsii (GARF) f. P-8409. op. 1, d. 17, l. 11.

ii GARF f. P-8409, op. 1, d. 76, ll. 255-235; d. 80, ll. 13, 31.

iii The anarchist Rosa Chembareva lived in Moscow. On August 29 1929 she was arrested and charged with “engaging in counterrevolutionary anarchist activity.” In 1930 she was sentenced to three years of exile and sent to the Urals.

iv Dina Zalmanovna Yerukhimovich was born in 1890 in Dvinsk. She received a secondary education and joined the Left SR Party. In 1923 she was arrested and sentenced to two years in an ITL [political isolator] and sent to the Solovetsky Special Purpose Camp. In the spring of 1925 she was released and returned to Leningrad. In the early 1930s, she was living in exile in Sverdlovsk, working as the manager of a warehouse. On May 5 1935, she was arrested, and sentenced on the following July 28 to three years in exile, to be served in the village of Novoselovo, Krasnoyarsky krai. On March 15 1938, she was arrested and on the following April 15 sentenced to the VMN (highest measure of punishment). She was shot on April 27 1938.

v The anarcho-communist Boris Mikhaylovich Vlasenko was born in 1896 and received a higher education. He lived in Moscow and lectured at the Land Management Institute. He was arrested in April 3 1925, sentenced on the following June 23 to a three-year term of exile, and sent to Irbit, later moving to Komi-Permyatsky okrug. After his release, he lived in the Moscow region, working as a manager in the planning department of the Ramensky Instrument Engineering Plant. On December 14 1934, he was arrested, sentenced on the following February 27 to five years of ITL, and sent to a camp.

vi The social democrat Vladimir Skachkov was arrested in June 1924 as part of a case involving anarchists. He was sentenced to three years of exile and sent to Irbit. He was released in the spring of 1928 with limitations on his place of residence (minus 6) for a further three years.

vii The anarchist Anna Sergeyevna Myagkova was a student. In October 1925 she was serving a term of exile in Irbit. In the spring of 1928 she was released with limitations on place of residence, and settled in Vologda.

viii The anarchist Yefim Ivanovich Gerasimov was born in 1901 in Vladimirsky gubernia, and served as a marine in the Baltic fleet. In 1925 he was arrested in Kronstadt, sentenced to three years of exile, and sent to Irbit. On April 27 1927 he was arrested, sentenced on October 21 to three years of prison, and sent to the Verkhne-Uralsk ITL in December. In 1930 he was released and exiled for three years to Narym, Siberia.

ix Byloye [The Past] was an independent (non-government) monthly magazine specializing in the history of Russia’s revolutionary movements (mainly from the 19th century), and subjected to censorship or outright suppression under both the tsarist and Soviet regimes. In 1925 it had a circulation of about 6,000. In the following year, it disappeared after its last two numbers were completely suppressed. These issues were finally published in 1991. – MA

x The Left SR Aleksandr Yakovlevich Beynarovich was arrested in 1923 along with other members of a Left SR group. On March 30 1923 he was sentenced to two years in an ITL and sent to the Solovetsky Special Purpose Camp. On May 10 1925 he was sentenced to three years of exile and sent to Irbit, but soon escaped from exile.

xi The Narodnik Peter Lavrov (1823–1900) competed with Mikhail Bakunin for the hearts and minds of Russia’s revolutionary youth. An edition of his collected works was published in Petrograd in 1917–1920, but was far from complete: only 11 of the projected 54 volumes were published – Lavrov was a prolific writer. – MA

xii The physicist Konstantin Dmitriyevich Konstantin (1833–1892) was the author of a famous course in physics which was considered the best in Russia until 1930. – MA

xiii The SR Maria Klementyevna Leontyevaya was born in 1889. On October 10 1922, she was arrested in Odessa, and on March 30 1923 sentenced to two years in an ITL and sent to the Solovetsky Special Purpose Camp. On May 10 1925, she was sentenced to three years of exile in Central Asia and sent to Tashkent; in November 1926 she moved to Frunze [now known as Bishkek].

xiv The anarchist Vasiliy Dmitriyevich Makhov was born in 1889. On August 17 1921, he was arrested in Moscow, and on January 14 1922, he was sentenced to the VMN, later commuted to two years of exile in Arkhangelsky governate. In 1923 he was arrested and sentenced to five years in an ITL and sent to the Solovetsky Special Purpose Camp. In 1925 he was released, but sentenced to three years of exile in Siberia and sent to Parabel [a village 400 km northwest of Tomsk in central Siberia]. He was still there in 1928.

xv GARF f. P-8409, op. 1, d. 76, ll. 153-154. Signed.

xvi GARF f. P-8409, op. 1, d. 76, l. 28.

xvii GARF f. P-8409, op. 1, d. 76, l. 84.

Translated by: Malcolm Archibald.

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Written by gulaganarchists

6, September 2016 at 9:06 am

“To dare write a letter”: the multi-lingual correspondence of exiled anarcho-Esperantist Sergei Gaidovsky

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Gaidovsky was born in St Petersburg in 1893. He was a major figure in the anarchist current of the Russian and Soviet Esperanto movement. His letters “allow an insight into the struggles faced by anarchists in the USSR – censorship, unemployment, regular arrests and banishment. Whilst the more clandestine matters of organising are kept out of correspondence, for obvious reasons, the postcards help us figure to what extent exiles were aware of the movement’s progress abroad, as well as some of the everyday difficulties they faced.”

You can read his letters at:

(You can see a photo of his friend Nathan Futerfas who’s mentioned in these letters at

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7, June 2016 at 10:28 am

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A Letter of Aron Baron from Tashkent [1929]

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In 1929 Aron Baron was serving a term of exile in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. He wrote the following letter to Yakov [/Jacques/Yanya] Doubinsky in Paris. The original is found in the International Institute of Social History, Senya Fléchine papers, Folder 50b, p. 17.

Translated from the Russian original and annotated by Malcolm Archibald, who would like to thank Elijah Bukreev for help in transcribing Aron’s handwriting.

Tashkent July 5 1929

Greetings, old friend!

I’m replying to you with a slight delay because I want to share with you excerpts from an interesting book which I have just finished. This book was printed for the third time in 1928. It’s called Adjutant of Gen. Mai-Maevsky by P. V. Makarov, the chief of a partisan unit in Crimea.i He describes how he taken prisoner by the Whites, fooled them, and became an adjutant of the General. And when they exposed him, he escaped and became a partisan. Remarkably interesting memories! Among other things, he mentions some of our mutual friends. He tells about Lugovik’s group in Simferopol, about Alyosha Bulanov, about Safian Spiro-Berg and his wife Lisa, and other activists of the anti-Denikin underground.ii You can’t help laughing when you read how the Whites arrested 40 “redheads,” but missed their intended target, Safian, because he had dyed his hair brown. Meanwhile, Lisa had bleached her jet-black hair with peroxide and become a blonde. If you can manage it, get this book and read it. Is there a branch of the State Publishing House where you are?iii

Do I still need a subscription to l’Humanité? No, I don’t really need it. But if you can, please order me a subscription to the London Daily Herald .iv

So, my friend, you’re going to the old place in Chicago? Of course, I would have liked to see the old place, but I’m not thrilled about the idea of living there. Not that I’m happy with my role as an involuntary spectator, which it’s my lot to bear. And yet emigration doesn’t tempt me in the least – I’m telling you this quite sincerely.

You asked for Luba’s address, here it is: M. Fagin, 11903 Imperial Ave., Cleveland, Ohio. Luba has a teenage daughter Sophie – a splendid person! She and I are great friends; she writes poetry, and she was active in supporting Sacco and Vanzetti along with her mother and father. When you get there, be sure to give her a kiss from me.v

Greetings from Fanny to you, Yanya, and the rest of our friends. Let’s nourish ourselves with hopes for the future. Greetings, Aron.

i. Pavel Makarov’s Adjutant of Gen. Mai-Maevsky, was published in 1927 and went through five printings in the next two years. His book belonged to a genre, civil war memoirs, which came under increasing attack in the late 1920s in the USSR due to alleged exaggerations and outright falsifications. There were numerous complaints about Makarov’s book in particular. A commission was set up to investigate these complaints and Makarov ended up losing his pension, while his book soon became a bibliographical rarity. During World War II Makarov recouped his fortunes by putting his partisan experience to good use behind enemy lines. His book was back in print in the 1960s and he lived to see it made into a miniseries shown on Soviet television in 1969.

ii. The underground group led by the veteran revolutionary Luka Lugovik included both anarchists and communists. The anarchist Alyosha Bulanov (1891-1970) is known to history by many names, but was born Izrail Khaykelevich Ulanovsky in Kishinev, Bessarabia. After fighting as an anarchist in the Russian civil war, he joined the Soviet intelligence services and held postings all over the world, including the USA (1931-1934). Although he survived Stalin’s purges initially, he and his family were arrested in 1948 and sentenced to long terms in the gulags. Safian Spiro-Berg was a prominent member of the Nabat Anarchist Confederation in 1919-1920 and wrote for its press. Jewish with red hair, his nickname in the movement was in fact “The Redhead.” His wife Lisa was a Polish Jew. Safian perished in August 1920 while on a mission to Nestor Makhno.

iii. Baron is referring to Communist Party bookstores which distributed Soviet literature.

iv. L’Humanité was the daily organ of the French Communist Party and readily available in the Soviet Union. The Daily Herald was owned by the British Trade Union Congress (TUC) in the 1920s, but took a consistently pro-Soviet line and so may have been allowed to circulate freely in the USSR.

v. Sophie Fagin (born 1916) was Aron’s niece through his first wife Fanny Grefenson Baron, Luba Fagin’s sister. As a teen, she wrote articles and poems for the Industrial Worker and other left-wing periodicals, and even spoke at mass labour rallies. Later she earned a doctorate in sociology from the University of Chicago and became an academic researcher who was also active in a housing co-operative. A brief account of here life can be found at


Translated by: Malcolm Archibald.


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2, May 2016 at 1:25 pm

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Attention, Anarchists from Byalistok! [Aron Dovid]

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Cde. Aron Dovid from Byalistok is seeking to make contact with the comrades in America. He recently ended a three-year term of internal exile and has been sent into exile again, to a different place. He has been blind in one eye for some years now. Last winter, he lost the fingers of both hands through frostbite. Being a lishenets [disenfranchised], he cannot even find regular work in the Russian paradise. His address is available from the office of the “F.A.S.” [Fraye Arbeter Shtime]

The full text with notes is at

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28, March 2016 at 8:44 am

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In the USSR [1934]

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In the USSR

We have just received from the USSR several interesting documents, notably:

1. The last photograph of our lamented comrade ROGDAFEFF, who passed away recently in exile from illnesses contracted in prison. We had published the news of his death some time ago, along with a brief biography. Now we have printed his portrait on a postcard which we are selling to aid our Relief Fund [Fonds de Secours]. We are publishing here his last photograph:


2. The photograph, quite recent, of our comrade Andrey ANDREYEV, known as a militant anarchist, arrested by the GPU in 1929 in Moscow, and found since either in prison (where heengaged in several “hunger strikes”) or in exile:


3. The photograph – quite uplifting – of our comrade TUBISMAN, current living in Orel. Her gaunt, emaciated appearance speaks volumes about the situation “out there”. . .

[photography missing]

4. An interesting document, signed by comrade Andrey ANDREYEV and his partner Zora GANDLEVSKAYA. This document – an impassioned protest by our comrades against the arbitrary and ferocious repression exercised by the GPU – was sent by the signatories to the Bolshevik authorities. A copy of this document having reached us, we are submitting it to the attention and reflection of our readers:

Kremlin. Political Bureau.

Copy to the Administration of the GPU, Moscow

We protest.

Ten year have gone by since the final crushing of the libertarian groups in the USSR.

For a long time now, all the masses which the Bolsheviks felt it necessary to use during the first years of the revolution have been cast down. So long as the anarchists could be used as an advance guard to be sacrificed, so long as they were the cannon fodder of the revolution, they were tolerated and treated as “comrades”. But as soon as the exterior fronts were liquidated, and the interior counter-revolution crushed, the grounds for a political symbiosis disappeared, and the statists dug their claws into the sides of the anti-authoritarians.

The print shops are forbidden to us; our idea is completely suppressed, it cannot be spread through the medium of the press; former anarchist publications are confiscated . . . Without being tried, our comrades are locked up by the dozens in political isolators; by the hundreds, they go into exile. Quite often, they are executed . . . Women, the elderly, teenagers, they are all liable to be transferred at any time from places designated by the political authorities to other places designated by the same authorities, only to be again evicted and sent elsewhere. Thousands of people are forced to circulate through this immense country until they find their grave in some unhealthy neck of the woods.

Needless to say, facts known by all, such as the massacre at the Butyrki Prison, remain unpunished; the shooting at Solovki, the massacre at Verkne Uralsk. . . The hunger strikes in the prisons become routine, just as in tsarist times.

And how many cases of this kind remain in the shadows?

The verdicts of the GPU are only jesuitical lies. The terms of exile are constantly extended in one way or another . . . The so-called “political isolation” means at least nine years of terrible suffering in the prisons of the GPU and elsewhere, nine years of deprivation, of physical and moral torture, representing a sort of slow and methodical assassination which leaves no traces on the body. Throughout this suppression, the anarchists are treated as criminals, prostitutes, saboteurs . . .

Those who are released with limited right of residence must everywhere submit their papers identifying them as “outside-the-law”. This way they are exposed to being harassed by anyone, to be lynched in a manner slow but sure.

Exiles and those limited in their right of residence are arbitrarily deprived of any right to work. It’s only through pity that they can get some work here and there. We’re both unemployed, so we can furnish formal proof of this. Blacklists, lists of outcasts sentenced to the dry guillotine, these are the embodiment of an entire system.

Exhausted by prisons, by diseases untreatable under the conditions of exile, by physical privations and moral tortures, the anarchist Nicolai ROGDAEV, a militant of the Russian revolutions and the European revolutionary movement, dropped dead and was picked up . . . on Sacco-Vanzetti Street. His untimely death is the inevitable result of his “conviction” in 1929; we find ourselves in the same position and are exposed to the same fate. Indeed, many of us, especially among the “old-timers”, are doomed to come to the same end.

But we cannot wait in silence for the day when the blade will fall.

We will not submit to the restrictions on residence imposed on us after years of arbitrary exile. And, as soon as we are arrested, we will protest by a five-day hunger strike, both against the assassination of N. ROGDAEV as well as against the persecution of the anarchists. We shall continue this strike until we are given our freedom. And, if necessary, we shall not hesitate to carry our strike to the death. You can crush us with weapons, but the day will come when the idea of anarchism will topple all the authorities with all their weapons.

How long are you gong to continue harassing the anarchists?

We protest!



14 February 1933


We can add that a copy of a new protest written by the same comrades in Astrakhan in June 1933, a copy which we have in our possession, indicates that the comrades were indeed arrested. When they began a hunger strike, they were transported to Astrakhan where they were subjected to forced feeding after 18 days of their strike. The comrades ended their strike, declaring that if they continued to be harassed and tortured, they would have recourse to the only means of protest remaining to them: suicide.

Relief Fund of the A.I.T.

for anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists

imprisoned and exiled in Russia

March 1934.

Emma Goldman Papers. International Institute of Social History. Folder 22, pp. 26-29.

Translation: Malcolm Archibald

See also ‘Protest to the GPU’ for a different version of Gandlevskaya & Andreyev’s protest



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23, March 2016 at 11:01 am

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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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