Anarchists in the Gulag (and prison and exile)

Bolshevik repression of anarchists after 1917

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Emma Goldman on Heroic women of the Russian Revolution

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Pre-revolutionary Russia stood unique in the world’s history for the host of remarkable and heroic women she contributed to the movement for liberation. Beginning with the “Decembrists”, the first political rebels against autocratic Tsardom, almost a century ago, whose wives voluntarily followed them into Siberian exile, down to the last day of the Romanov regime, Russian women have participated in every form of revolutionary activity and went to their death or to prison with a smile upon their lips.

In his vivid and powerful poem, “Russian Women”, the poet Nekrassov [1] paid a high tribute to the fortitude and valour of the women who had sacrificed wealth, social station, and culture to wend their weary way across the frozen Northern plains in order to share the cruel fate of their  imprisoned and exiled husbands. Later it was Ivan Turgenev who with fine feeling and sympathetic appreciation painted the picture of the Russian women revolutionists of his time. In his superb prose poem “On the Threshold” he immortalised the exalted idealists of the Sophie Perovskaia [2] type of Russian women whose passionate faith and selfless devotion to liberty beacon-like illuminated the dark horizon of Russia in the early eighties.

The February Revolution of 1917 opened the prison doors to the survivors of the torture, the  dungeon, and Siberian exile meted out by Tsarism to its political opponents. In triumph they were brought back to Moscow and Petrograd, scores of the revolutionists of the younger generation, among them such revered names as Maria Spiridonova, her intimate friend Alexandra Izmailovitch, Irena Kakhovskaya, Evgenia Ratner, Olga Taratuta [3] – representing various political tendencies, but all inspired by a common love of the people and devotion to its cause.

Olga Taratuta, the daughter of intellectual parents, though of slight physique, possessed a powerful mentality and was in a certain sense a pioneer. When barely twenty she organised, together with several friends, the first Anarchist group in Southern Russia. It was a dangerous undertaking, and her activities soon attracted the attention of the political police. Arrested at the beginning of the revolution of 1905, Olga was doomed to 30 years’ katorga (hard labour prison) in Odessa. Ingenious and daring, she succeeded in escaping, again taking up her former work, this time under an assumed name. For a considerable time all the efforts of the gendarmerie to find her were fruitless, but in 1906 her disguise was discovered, she was re-arrested, and sentenced once more to 30 years’ prison. On her return to freedom, in 1917, Olga devoted herself to the political Red Cross work, aiding the victims of the Hetman Skoropadsky regime in the Ukraine, and subsequently giving relief and cheer to the new groups of political prisoners created by the Communist State.

In the latter part of 1920 an All-Russian Conference of Anarchists was to take place at Kharkov. Though the gathering was to be held with the knowledge and consent of the Soviet Government, all the delegates were placed under arrest on the very eve of the Conference, without warning or explanation. Among the several hundred prisoners was also Olga Taratuta. She was sent to the Butyrki Prison, in Moscow, the very place where so many of her comrades had suffered and died in the days of the Romanov regime. There Olga underwent the most harrowing experience of her eventful life. On the night of April 25th the political wing of the prison was raided by the Tcheka, the  prisoners were attacked in their sleep and badly maltreated, and then rushed to the railroad station – some of them with nothing on save their night clothes – and transferred to other prisons.

Olga found herself in the dreaded Orlov prison, which served as a central point of “distribution” under Nikolas II. The character of the administration and of the regimen of that prison were such as to drive the politicals quickly to a hunger strike in protest against their treatment. Olga was again removed to another prison, thence being sent out to exile in the dismal region of the Veliky Ustiug, and finally ordered to Kiev, where she had formerly ministered so devotedly to the Communist prisoners of the Hetman reaction. A recent letter of Olga to a friend abroad contains the significant remark that persecution by the Soviet Government has robbed her of more vitality than all the years of incarceration she had suffered at the hands of the Romanov autocracy.

Unlike Olga Taratuta, most of the other heroines of the Russian Revolution are of proletarian origin. Among them LEAH GOTMAN and FANYA BARON [4] are two anarchist women of outstanding personality. In their teens they left Russia for America, where they were employed in factories and took active part in the labor movement. I knew the girls well, splendid specimens of independent womanhood, of attractive appearance, fine feeling, and strong mentality. At the first call of the February Revolution these two girls, together with scores of other Russian refugees, hurried to their native land. It was just such as they that had helped to make the October Revolution. Leah and Fanya felt their place to be in the midst of the proletariat, preferring particularly to work with the Southern muzhik, among the agricultural elements of the Ukraine, to whom they gave all the love and devotion of their rich natures. Subsequently both girls carried on cultural activities among the rebel peasantry led by their famous Bat’ka (“Little Father”) Nestor Makhno.

The hand of Kremlin, lifted against Makhno, fell heavily also upon Leah Gotman and Fanya Baron. Both were arrested on the eve of the Kharkov Conference, referred to above, and were sent to Butyrki Prison, where they fell victims to the Tcheka raid, on the night of April 25th, 1920. Torn out of her bed in the dead of night, Leah was dragged by her hair down a flight of stairs, and forced to remain for hours, half-dressed as she was, in the prison yard together with the other politicals, waiting to be transferred to some unknown destination. She has remained in prison ever since, being now one of the hapless inmates of the terrible Solovetsky Monastery, situated in the Arctic zone.

FANYA BARON, who always impressed me with her unbounded courage and exceptionally generous spirit, belongs to the rare type of woman who can perform the most difficult tasks of revolutionary ardor with calm grace and utter selflessness. Following the Butyrki raid she was transferred to Riazan Prison, whence she soon escaped, making her unaided way back to Moscow on foot. Arriving penniless and almost without clothes, her desperate condition compelled her to seek refuge with her husband’s brother, at whose home she was discovered by the Tcheka. This big-hearted woman who had served the cause of the Revolution all her life was done to death by the Party that pretends to be the advance guard of the Revolution. Not content with murdering Fanya Baron (in September, 1921) the Communists put the stigma of “banditism” on the memory of their dead victim.

Not Anarchists only, but members of every other political group have had to pay heavy toll to the juggernaut of the Communist autocracy, including the Social-Revolutionists of the Right and of the Left, the Mensheviki, the Maximalists, and even the Communist[s] of the Left wing. I shall name but some of the most outstanding personalities.

EVGENIA RATNER, a young woman of keen mind and forceful character, joined the Social-Revolutionist Party soon after completing her medical studies in Switzerland. Her activities, after she returned to Russia, repeatedly involved her in difficulties with the authorities, who finally condemned her to a long prison term. Freed by the February Revolution of 1917, her exceptional ability and energy caused her to be elected as a member of the Central Committee of her Party, while she at the same time was chosen by the peasantry as one of their representatives in the Moscow Soviet. Her Party having been outlawed by the Bolsheviki, Evgenia was arrested in 1919, and placed on trial in 1922 together with eleven of he comrades, all of whom were condemned to death.

The intercession of the Western world, which aroused an emphatic international protest against the execution of the sentence – signed by such men as Anatole France, Romain Rolland and others – saved the lives of the twelve Social-Revolutionists, Evgenia Ratner among them. She is now dragging out a miserable existence in the Butyrki Prison.

Of the Left Social-Revolutionists, Irena Kakhovskaia, Alexandra Izmailovitch, and Maria Spiridonova have suffered the greatest martyrdom. Kahkovskaya, grand-daughter of General Kakhovsky, the famous “Decembrist” rebel against Nikolas I. is a woman of recognised literary ability and revolutionary idealism. She began her work in the liberation movement of Russia when a very young girl, in 1904. Subsequently she was arrested and sentenced to 20 years’ katorga, from where she was later transferred to Akatuy, one of the most feared places of Tsarist exile. In 1914 she was permitted to settle in the Trans-Baikal territory, whence she was freed by the February, 1917, Revolution.

Upon her return from exile, Irena Kakhovskaia became on of the most valuable workers in the Left Social-Revolutionary Party, much esteemed for her understanding of the peasant psychology and the needs of the proletariat. After the Brest Litovsk peace and the German occupation of the Ukraine, the German authorities arrested Irena as a participant in the conspiracy against the life of General Eichorn, the Prussian Field Marshal in the Ukraine, who was killed by the Left Social-Revolutionist, A. Donskoy. [5] Kakhovskaia was subjected to torture and sentenced to death. Fortunately for her, the outbreak of the revolution in Germany prevented her execution, and she was saved.

Irena continued in the work of her political convictions and in 1921 she was arrested again, this time by the Bolsheviki, by whom she was exiled to Kaluga, in Siberia.

While in prison, Irena Kakhovskaia wrote her most interesting memoirs, an unusual story of a very unique personality. Romain Rolland, after perusing the work said: “I am opposed to the ideas of Kakhovskaia, but her narrative has a captivating human, or rather superhuman, quality. It is a psychological document of the highest value. The absolute simplicity of the narrator, her truly Russian ability of objective vision, her incredible energy devoted entirely to the cause she has at heart – all this aroused admiration in the reader, no matter what his attitude may be towards the value of the action accomplished or contemplated. What heroism, patience, utter self-abnegation, what treasures of the soul does not humanity waste on terrible and shameless purposes”.

Alexandra Izmailovitch, the daughter of a Russian Army General, is another instance of Russia’s young womanhood whom the Romanov autocracy has driven to individual acts of violence as the sole form of protest possible under the despotic regime. In 1906 she attempted the life of Governor Kurlov, of Minsk Province, who was responsible for most fiendish pogroms against Jews. Sentenced to Siberia for life, she was liberated with the other politicals in 1917. As a member of the Left Social-Revolutionary Party, she became a leading figure in the All-Russian Soviet of Peasant Deputies. When the Bolsheviki decided to “liquidate” her Party “for good”, in 1919, she was arrested together with a number of her comrades, remaining almost continuously in prison ever since.

The most characteristic feature of this exceedingly able and energetic woman is her life-long devotion to her friend and comrade Maria Spiridonova. They spent together eleven years in Siberia, together they returned to Russia to join their efforts in behalf of the people, and together they were arrested by the Bolshevik Government and are sharing their imprisonment these many years. It is no exaggeration to say that the tender care and devotion which Alexandra Izmailovitch has given to her friend are the main cause that Maria Spiridonova is still among the living.

MARIA SPIRIDONOVA is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable and heroic figures in the Russian revolutionary movement during the last twenty years. Of aristocratic family, beautiful and cultured, young Maria left luxury and social position to devote herself to the cause of the oppressed. Fine-feeling and sympathetic, she could not bear without protest the injustice and tyranny she witnessed on every hand. At the age of 18 she committed an attentat [on] General Lukhanovsky, the Governor of Tambov Province, who was universally execrated for his truly Asiatic savagery toward the peasantry.

The Russian Tsars were never partial in their treatment of women politicals: they were equally relentless to all their opponents, be they men or women. But in the case of Maria Spiridonova the henchmen of Nikolas II. surpassed even the methods of Ivan the Terrible. Upon her arrest, Maria was beaten into insensibility, her clothes literally torn from her body, and the young girl then turned over to the drunken guard who amused themselves with burning her naked flesh with lighted cigarettes. After weeks on the verge of death, Maria was finally condemned to death.

The torture of Spiridonova aroused the entire Western world, whose protests saved her from the scaffold. She was “pardoned” to Siberia for life. The effects of her ghastly experience left her with [6] injured lungs, a crippled hand, and the loss of the sight of one eye. But though physically marred and broken, her spirit remained aflame.

Few of the returned politicals received such popular ovation all the way from Siberia to Petrograd and Moscow as Maria Spiridonova upon her release from prison in 1917. But she would waste no time in the mere enjoyment of her newly won liberty. She threw herself into work with the whole ardour of her intense personality, organising the peasants, inspiring and directing the awakened energies of the Russian people. She became the adored leader of the great agrarian millions of Russia, the soul of all their age-long aspirations, and the spokesman of their needs and hopes. As the most outstanding figure of the Left Social-Revolutionist Party, Maria wielded tremendous influence in the All-Russian Soviet of the peasantry, where she elaborated a comprehensive plan for the socialisation of the land, then the most vital problem of Russian life.

Already in 1918 Maria Spiridonova became aware that the Revolution was in greater danger from some of its alleged friends than from its enemies. She saw the growing autocracy of the Communist State and set herself sternly against it. The final break between her Party and the Bolsheviki came over the Brest Litovsk peace, which Spiridonova condemned for reasons of principle as well as practical grounds. Shortly after that she was arrested together with 500 delegates to the Peasant Congress.

When I came to Russia I was told by the Bolsheviki that Maria Spiridonova has suffered a nervous breakdown and that she was therefore placed in a sanatorium where she as receiving the best of care. But soon I discovered that Maria had escaped from “the best of care” and was living in Moscow disguised as a peasant, as she used to do in the days of the Tsar. Fortune presently favored me with the opportunity of spending several days with this extraordinary woman. I found not a trace of hysteria in her – in fact, her poise and mental balance and the objectivity of her recital of events since her return to Russia were most admirable.

A few months later, in the autumn of 1920, the Tcheka again became busy discovering conspiracies. During the numerous raids thoughout Moscow they came upon Maria Spiridonova who lay ill with typhus. She was arrested and removed to the Ossoby Otdel – the Secret Section of the Tcheka. In 1921, when Maria was almost on the verge of death, the efforts of her friends succeeded in in procuring her temporary release on condition of her returning to prison as soon as her health should improve. The only alternative was to let Maria die in prison of neglect, or give her back – improved in health – to the “best of care”. In fact, no sooner did she begin to recuperate when the Tcheka took charge of her again. Guards with blood-hounds were placed at the house where Spiridonova was being ministered to by her devoted friend Alexandra Izmailovitch. Their every step was watched and existence made so unbearable that the tortured Maria demanded to be taken back to prison. Together with the inseparable Izmailovitch she was then ordered to a furthermost corner of the Moscow Province, whence now the sad news comes that Spiridonova has been driven to the desperate method of hunger-striking in protest against her ceaseless persecution. From reliable sources has just arrived the information that both Izmailovitch and Spiridonova have been exiled to the wilds of Turkestan.

The martyrdom of the heroic women of Russia has become more poignant and intense under the tyranny of Bolshevik dictatorship than in the days of Tsarism. Then their suffering was merely physical, for nothing could affect their spirit. They knew that while they were hated by the autocracy, they enjoyed the respect and love of the vast masses of the Russian people. Indeed, the “simple folk” looked upon them as “holy ones” suffering in their cause, and the moral influence exerted by the politicals in prison, katorga, and exile was very great.
All that is changed now. The new autocrats of Russia have discredited the ideals of socialism and have besmirched the fair name of its exponents. There is no public voice in Russia save that of the ruling Party, and the martyrs – men and women – of revolutionary Russia have become pariahs in the fullest sense. They have no redress and no appeal to the conscience of their country, for the latter has been paralyzed. Alas, not only the conscience of Russia, but even that of the rest of the world seems to be silenced.

What has become of the sense of justice and generosity formerly extended by the Western world to the political victims of the Tsarist regime? Then liberty-loving English men and women were courageously outspoken in their protests against Russian iniquities and helpful in behalf of the persecuted for opinion’s sake. Now in the face of overwhelming evidence of cruellest oppression and persecution in Russia, the world remains silent and callous. The heroic martyrs are left to the tender mercies of the Tcheka, to suffer the Golgotha of the body as well as of the spirit, in the name of an ideal that has long since been betrayed by the Communist State and its Party dictatorship.

1, Nikolai Alekseevich Nekrasov (1821-1878)
2, Sofiia L’vovna Perovskaia (1853-1881) Russian revolutionary, member of Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will).
3, Maria Spiridonova (1884-1941), Alexandra Izmailovich (1878-1941), Irina Kakhovskaya (1887-1960) and Evgenia Ratner (1886-1931) were all members of the Socialist Revolutionary Party. Spiridonova and Izmailovich were killed by the NKVD in a mass execution of political prisoners. Ratner died of cancer in prison in Moscow. Olga Taratuta (1876-1938), anarchist. See
4, Leah Gotman was born in 1896 in Kovel. Her date of death is unknown. Fanya Baron (1887-1921) was executed by the Cheka (or Tcheka), the first Soviet secret police.
5, Boris Mikhailovich Donskoy (1894-1918)
6, handwritten correction to typescript

Emma Goldman Papers at the International Institute of Social History (IISH), folder 221 See Goldman gave a lecture on “Heroic Women of the Russian Revolution” at the Folk House in Bristol on May 4th 1925. A report is in Reel 50 of the Emma Goldman Papers microform edition


Update: this was published in Welfare (Calcutta) in 1925. More details on Emma Goldman’s Indian connections at (Ole Birk Laursen).

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8, November 2017 at 11:23 am

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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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