Anarchists in the Gulag (and prison and exile)

Bolshevik repression of anarchists after 1917

Posts Tagged ‘Russian socialists

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

Revolutionary thought in Russia, 19th-early 20th century: An encyclopaedia [Book review]

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Revolutionary thought in Russia, 19th-early 20th century: An encyclopaedia [Revolyutsionnaya mysl v Rossii XIX-nachala XX veka: Entsiklopediya]. Editor in chief V.V. Zhuravlyov. Politicheskaya Entsiklopediya, Moscow, 2013, 613 pgs. In Russian.

This book, a massive, large-format hardcover volume, is the last in a series of reference guides that Moscow-based publisher Politicheskaya Entsiklopediya (or RossPEn) has over the last decade dedicated to the development of Russia’s pre-1917 political ideologies. These included books on conservative and liberal thinking.

As diverse the revolutionary movements in the Russian Empire were, and as turbulent the last century or so of its history were, there was a wealth of these movements. Soviet-era histories of the revolution were obviously biased, presenting pretty much everything as a progression towards the great united party, focusing on obscure Marxist circles to a much greater extent than some of the movements that had larger following and more influence on the non-stop litany of strikes, riots or political violence that is the Russian history of the era – and Bolsheviks’ opponents and rivals were usually vilified. Now, some years after the fall of the USSR, with some of the ideological strangleholds lifted, some (but not all) archives opened to researchers, and foreign and emigre sources more easily available, the time is probably right to sum up and to uncover some of these hitherto hidden histories.

In his preface, the encyclopaedia’s editor in chief Dr Valeriy Vasilyevich Zhuravlyov noted that “objective circumstances, combined with subjective factors, made ripening of revolutionary ideas within society natural and ultimately inevitable, which, in their turn, became a powerful mobilising factor for growth of these ideas into revolutionary practice” (pp. 6-7). The post-Soviet historians’ interest in liberal and conservative ideologies has been almost as one-sided as the Soviet communist slant, and this encyclopaedia is a contribution to redress it.

As the title suggests, the book is focusing not so much on the minutiae of the tide of events but as much or more on the ideas, on ideological constructs and on the analyses of social situations and political events.

As Zhuravlyov’s foreword notes, it is “intended to reproduce in systematised manner a kaleidoscope of socially important ideas of radical part of Russian society within boundaries of revolutionary socio-political thought” (p. 6).

The three major groups of articles include entries on general topics such as Anarchism (pp. 32-35) or the People – these are usually lengthy and suggest ways to explore the wealth of information therein; biographies of everyone who was anyone from Alexander Radishchev and the Decembrists through to Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky, with questions of “what these people thought” or “what their ideological trajectories or alliances were” usually answered in more detail than questions such as “what happened to them”, and often in their own words, with key passages quoted; and entries on influential publications, legal, emigre and clandestine.

Dozens of entries are dedicated to Russia’s many proponents of stateless socialism, starting from Alexander Herzen and the early Proudhonists like Nozhin or Sokolov. The perception of Russian anarchism only having been formulated by three great bearded men – Bakunin, Kropotkin and Leo Tolstoy (the latter has no entry, perhaps owing to his political ideas being but a fraction of his personality, or rather more likely because he was not prone to revolutionism – he is namechecked in the entry on anarchism though, p. 33) – is far from the truth. There were numerous creeds, anarcho-communist, anarcho-individualist, anarcho-syndicalist, anarcho-mystical, anarcho-universalist, as well as related trends (like the “workers’ conspiracy” of proto-Maoist, anti-intelligentsia revolutionary Jan Waclaw Machajski). Some of these had little following and less lasting effects, some, like Kropotkinite anarcho-communism, attracted many adherents in Russia and are still quoted and discussed.

As an example, here’s what Dmitry Rublyov’s entry on Daniil Novomirsky (1882 – after 1936, real name Yankel Kirillovsky) contains (pp. 363-366). One paragraph sums up his biography, which included stints with the social democrats (1900-1905) and the Bolsheviks (1919-1921), with an anarchist period squeezed in between, hard labour between 1908 and 1915, escape from Siberian exile to the USA, return to Russia after the 1917 revolution, and a 10-year labour camp sentence in 1936 after which Novomirsky vanished. The following paragraphs are outlining his early, Marxist-influenced version of anarcho-communism which emphasized class struggle over mutual aid; his move away from Marxist philosophy; Novomirsky’s ideas of how militant anarcho-syndicalist trade unions should overthrow the capitalist state; organisation of communist society after the revolution; his turn towards anarcho-individualism and his formulation of the concept of “affinity group” circa 1907; similarities between the theories of Novomirsky and Borovoi; his criticism of social-democratic reform programme, and Machajski’s influence on his views concerning the intelligentsia; his analysis of the reasons for the anarchist movement’s failure in the 1905-1907 revolution; Novomirsky’s activities during said revolution and anarchist organisations which his ideas influenced at the time; and the influence of Novomirsky on revival of the anarchist movement in Russia in the 1980s, as well as rise in popularity of his idea of affinity group in the modern anarchist movement. There is also a photo of Novomirskiy, and a bibliography.

Just in case, another famous anarchist born in the Russian Empire, Nestor Makhno, does not have an entry to his name – I presume because his major importance was not so much to the theory, and along with his theoretical contribution (The Platform) were made after October 1917, the cutoff date. Volin, who edited Makhno’s memoirs and whose ashes are at the same Parisian cemetery, is featured – he was seen as a major anarcho-communist thinker in the pre-revolutionary emigre circles, and played a spectacular role in the anarcho-syndicalist propaganda after the February 1917 revolution.

Ideological hair-splitting, crucial though it was to find the way for the social revolution to succeed, resulted in a diversity of tactics and approaches, many of which are still relevant for understanding the world, and ways to change it. The encyclopaedia’s many authors not only manage to grasp the fundamental ideological concerns but also summarise them in a concise and neutral manner.

Limited space means, however, not only a plethora of abbreviations (which are helpfully deciphered on pp. 609-612) but also some narrative getting streamlined. I.e., this encyclopaedia’s contributor Yevgeniya Rudnitskaya’s biography of Nozhin [Shestidesyatnik Nikolay Nozhin. Nauka, Moscow, 1975] suggests suicide (provoked by his helplessness to prevent Dmitry Karakozov’s attempt on Alexander II, which despite failure unleashed “white terror” against radicals) as the most likely albeit not perfectly certain cause of Nozhin’s death; entry (pp. 368-371) by Rublyov (who wrote about many of the anarchists herein) states that as an undisputed fact.

The shortcomings are few, and statistically negligible; the book is a crucial resource for those with any interest in Russia’s history, or the history of anarchist, or wider radical movement therein.

Some of the entries likely to be of interest to researches of anarchist histories include those on Bakunin, Mikhail; Borovoi, Alexei; Cherkezishvili, Varlam; Chernyi, Lev; Daynov, Mendel; Engelson, Vladimir; Ge, Alexander; Gogelia, Georgy; Goldsmith, Maria; Golos Truda (newspaper); Grossman, Iuda; Karelin, Apollon; Knizhnik-Vetrov, Ivan; Kropotkin, Peter; Metchnikoff, Leon; Novomirsky, Daniil; Nozhin, Nikolay; Posse, Vladimir; Rabotnik [1] (newspaper); Rayevsky, Maxim; Romanov, Stepan; Sokolov, Nikolay; Volin; Zaytsev, Varfolomey. There are also quite a few borderline cases, various proponents of non-statist but not necessarily anarchist socialism, revolutionaries who went through, say, a Bakuninist phase or shared some positions with anarchists, and entries on general issues (Agrarian Question, State, etc.) which reflect anarchist positions.

by Szarapow

Written by gulaganarchists

3, June 2014 at 10:09 am

Commemoration of Socialist and Anarchist prisoners on the Solovetsky Isles (Solovki), 2013

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The ex-monastery on the Solovestsky Islands, just south of the arctic circle in the White Sea was used as a prison by the Bolshevik regime.

A message from the Association of Anarchist Movements:

“This year is the 90th anniversary of transfer of anarchist political prisoners to Solovki. Members of the Association of Anarchist Movements (ADA), at the best of their abilities, assisted in installing two memorial signs. One was installed in the village, on the Memory Alley, and is dedicated to socialist and anarchist prisoners at Solovki. The other was installed at Savvatyevo, where the anarchists were actually kept, and is dedicated to the Socialist-Revolutionaries who were shot dead by the guards on December 19, 1923 (one of the wounded was an anarchist)”.

Some photos of the memorials:

A monument to the socialist and anarchist prisoners was unveiled on August 7, 2013, at the Memory Alley, which is a memorial space at the site of the former monastery and prison camp cemetery (Arkhangelsk Region, Bolshoy Solovetsky Island, Solovetsky village, Pavel Florensky Street). The monuments were installed by participants in the annual Memorial Days at Solovki, representing St Petersburg and Ryazan Memorial Societies, Memorial Scientific Research and Education Centre’s programme “Socialist and anarchist participants in the resistance to Bolshevik regime”, and St Petersburg group of the Association of Anarchist Movements.

A granite slab was produced in St Petersburg and taken to the Solovetsky Islands by the delegation. A stone serving at the foundation for the monument was discovered at Solovki. The inscription says:

“To the memory of socialist and anarchist prisoners of the Solovki political Sketes of Savvatyevo, Muksalma, Anzer”.

A second monument has been opened at the Savvatyevo Skete (located some 14 km Northwest of the Solovki Kremlin) on August 8, 2013. It was produced in St Petersburg of granite and diabase. The inscription says:

“Here, at the Savvatyevsky political Skete, on December 19, 1923, during a protest demonstration imprisoned socialists were killed by guards’ bullets.

Natalya Bauer, 32 years
Gavriil Bilima-Postrenakov, 26 years
Meyer Gorelik, 26 years
Yelizaveta Kotova, 23 years
Georgiy Kachorovsky, 27 years
Vsevolod Popov, 27 years

They fought for the people’s freedom, for honour and dignity of the individual.”

These are Russia’s first monuments to socialists and anarchists who fought against the Bolshevik regime.


More photos of installation and opening of the memorials

Translated by: – Szarapow.


Written by gulaganarchists

22, August 2013 at 8:43 am