It's fascinating the courage of people who, during an age when just making a joke about Stalin would see you sent to the gulag and die, your family condemning you in order to save themselves, would nonetheless declare themselves loyal to the flag of anarchism and its uncompromising ideal.
But in a way, I found the more recent stories of anarchism in Russia the most upsetting of all. The notes which follow come from a book published in 1991, and it features optimistic voices from within the USSR, hoping for a new dawn of soldarity and freedom that reality just wasn't going to bear out.
Instead of a grassroots anarchist rebirth, post-perestroika Russia was taken over by nationalism and capitalism, and the anarchists in Russia are under ongoing and lethal attack by the fascists who so outnumber them.
MOSCOWp5 On 28 May, 1989, 20,000 people marched through Moscow, demonstrating against the Congress of People's Deputies. The Guardian's Jonathan Steele noticed amongst the banners, "a black flag with a red star carried by the recently formed Anarcho-Syndicalist Club. The slogan read: 'No confidence in the Supreme Soviet - form a left-wing faction.'"
This was the first open display of anarchists in the Soviet capital since 13 February, 1921, when a crowd of the same size joined the funeral cortege of Peter Kropotkin. Then came Kronstadt, the rout of Makhno and the outlawing of open anarchist organisation. Trotsky boasted: "At last the Soviet government, with an iron broom, has rid Russia of anarchism".
p41 In 1921, Lenin wrote: 'All this syndicalist nonsense must go in the wastepaper basket. To proceed on those lines would mean thrusting the Party aside and making the dictatorship of the Proletariat impossible.' And he was right. Anarchism will thrust the Party and all parties aside, for anarcho-syndicalism empowers people with the means to seize control of their own lives.
(Black Flag no.200)
p78 Golos Truda's publishing house and bookshops in Leningrad and Moscow, finally closed down in June 1929. Its final work was called 'the Bolshevik Dictatorship and the Anarchist Viewpoint'. An underground anarchist press was uncovered by the OGPU in Cheliabinsk in 1930.
p76 Moscow metro station [and volcano and towns] named after Kropotkin, statue of him with cat near the never-reopened Kropotkin museum, and even a Kropotkin rouble was minted! Despite Lenin's admiration, and the offer for deluxe state editions of his Mutual Aid and the Great French Revolution (which Kropotkin politely declined), his political works were banned until Glasnost, and were circulated only in illicit samizdat versions. His scientific-geographical works, however, always were admired.
p8 1950, underground student group formed in Moscow, avowedly Marxist but with the slogan 'Soviets, not Party'. Its manifesto opposed all political parties, and advocated government based in trade unions & worker & peasant soviets.
'Predictably, its members were all arrested and shipped-of to the Gulag.'
p15 First Congress of the Confederation of Anarcho-Syndicalists (KAS), Moscow 1 May 1989
[Met 2 kilometers from the official state parade, knowing they were watched by the KGB.]
"Alexei told how he had been listening to the BBC's Russian language service when they quoted from the anarchist paper Obschina. He then realised he was not alone, "and now I am at this Congress." He had also taken part in a strike over dangerous working conditions. He was fired and now alone. ...
The Congress agreed on a minimal programme and decided that their principle motto would be 'all power to the people, not the party', the slogan of the Kronstadt workers and sailors during the uprising of 1921."
[outlined a federalist model of organisation, and changed the symbol from the red star on a black flag to the red and black banner of the international anarcho-syndicalist movement.]
(reported in Black Flag no.197)
p27 In November 1989, KAS adopted a pacifist stance, seeing 'political terrorism' as leading to the strengthening of totalitarian structures and thus as counter-productive.
p19 "Our motto remains the words of Bakunin: 'Freedom without socialism is privilege and injustice, socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality'." Andrei Isaev
p23 Obschina no.43
"We do not want to impose our views on you, even less to call upon you to sacrifice your lives for them on the barricades. We can see perfectly well that time has killed the old, stubborn, terrorist, war anarchism. Anarchism is dead ... so long live anarchism, the great ideal of liberty, mutual respect and solidarity among people!"
p55 Moscow Union of Anarchists, declaration of principles, February 1991
"Replacement of the 'barracks' type of army and of the State-employed police forces by full access to arms for all the people, on a voluntary basis and with professional branches in the 'scientific' sectors of the army (chemical weapons, anti-missile technology...).
Freedom and self-determination for all peoples and nations."
p56 "Free movement of people within the country, as well as in and out of it (the enslaving system in which registration of the dwelling place, passports and identity cards are compulsory, is abolished)."
p41 1990 May Day in Moscow saw the red and black flags of anarchy being paraded through the streets of Moscow bearing the slogans 'Power to the people, not the parties' and 'Tell us, Communists when is your state going to whither away?'. And in May Day demonstrations from Leningrad to Kharkov, Kaluga to Angarsk in Siberia, the anarchists marched.
p58 SMOT Council of representatives, Moscow February 1991
"When you are a worker, you have nothing to do in everyday life with Yeltsin, Landsbergis or Gorbachev, but rather with the cashier at work who pays you little, and with the cashier at the shop who takes a lot from you, and even peeps in your passport. We worry much more about changing those relationships, than about the relationships between Yeltsin, and Gorbachev and Landsbergis."
RADIOp9 In 1970, a BBC World Service programme about Soviet radio pirates made mention of one which described itself as anarchist.
ST PETERSBURGp10 25th CPSU Congress in Feb 1976, leaflets appeared all over Leningrad declaring the Party compromised, its policies bankrupt, its methods Stalinist and its Congress a bluff. Anonymous authors called for pluralism and humane socialism, ending: "Long live the new revolution! Long live communism!"
2 weeks later, KGB arrested 17yr old Andrei Reznikov, sentenced to a strict regime camp but due to his youth was transferred to Red Army after 2 months.
Reznikov a member of a Leningrad student circle called the Left Opposition. Another member, Alexis Khavine, arrested in 1977 for disseminating works by Kropotkin.
[Summer 1978, they published 3 issues of a magazine, including anarchsit Trotskyist and New Left ideas, eg. Marcuse & Cohn-Bendit, plus reprints of samizdat manifestos, articles about the Kronstadt rebellion etc..]
The Left Opposition planned a conference of leftist groups from across the USSR (Leningrad, Moscow, the Baltics, Ukraine, Byelorussia and the Caucasus) in Sept 1978. It was postponed, and those who did turn up were rounded up by the police. Then police raids, KGB questioning, arrests.
On 5 december, over 200 students staged a demonstration in Leningrad's Our Lady of Kazan Square, in protest at the arrests.
[Reznikov attacked in the street, those arrested sent to hard labour, internal exile, psychiatric hospital etcc. Some forced to emigrate to avoid that fate.]
p11 On 7 October, 1979, Vladimir Mikhailov, Alexei Stasevich and Alevtina Koncheva were arrested in Leningrad, for painting slogans and fly-posting leaflets, which demanded 'democracy not demagogy' and 'down with state capitalism!' The leaflets advocated an 'anti-authoritarian order' and opposed the 'evils' of the family, private property and the state.
[found guilty of 'hooliganism', VM & AS 3 years in a strict regime camp, AK 1year 3months. All were members of the Movement of Revolutionary Communards, about which little is known.]
p12 Formation of SMOT in 1979, the Free General Workers Union, continuing at least till 1982 = the first active advocate of independent working class organisation to appear in the USSR since the elimination of the anarcho-syndicalist organisations of the 1920s.
SIBERIAp5 The full story of the anarchist underground during the Stalin years has not been told (there were 'armed anarchist uprisings' in Siberia, in the late 1920s, of which nothing is known).
p8 The penal colonies of North Russia, Siberia and Central Asia were home to anarchists of every ilk and nation in the years 1946-54: 'religious anarchists' (Tolstoyans and Monashki), Ukrainian Makhnovists, anarcho-syndicalists, Poles, Russians, Latvians.
They participated in a wave of strikes and uprisings (sometimes armed), triggered off in the camps in 1953, by news of Stalin's death and the execution of Beria.
[Spanish CNT members took part in Karaganda insurrection, Kazakhstan]
The most bitter revolts took place in the coal-mining camps at Norilsk and Vorkuta, in the summers of 1953/54, where the banner of the strikers was the black flag.
p76 The Monashki was a libertarian Christian sect started by former Communists in Moscow & Leningrad at the end of the 1930s. It espoused a strict doctrine of civil disobedience to the state, and advocated a stateless, classless society, founded on the gospel of 'from each according to their ability, to all according to their needs', with the commune providing the basic unit of society. The movement seems to have been quite widespread among the peasants of Siberia and Central Asia. Inside the camps, its members distinguished themeslves by their determined refusal (backed up by countless hunger strikes) of any work by which the state might profit. There were some 8000 Monashki in the camps of Vorkuta in 1953.
p9 1973 report by ex-prisoner that she encountered anarchists in all the camps through which she passed. In one, a group of anarchist prisoners included young students and elderly women who had been in detention since before the Stalin era.
Another inmate, from 1957-1965, met anarchists "They had read books by Kropotkin and sometimes by Bakunin (whose works are very hard to find in libraries inside the USSR); they were even conversant with the ideas of Proudhon and with contemporary Western thought".
p38 Sitnikov, anarchist and striking worker from Siberia, murdered by KGB.
p74 Aaron Baron first exiled to Siberia by the Tsar's regime. Escaped to the USA and edited teh anarchist newspaper the Alarm (still in Chicago) until returning to Russia in 1917. One of the organisers of the Nabat (Alarm) Confederation of Anarchist Organisations in Ukraine, in 1918; joined Makhno's army; arrested November 1920, two years in Orel prison, then the notorious Solovetsky islands until 5 Jan 1925. Arrested in Moscow soon after his release and exiled to Altai, Siberia. his wife, Fanny Avrutska, was summarily executed (with the anarchist poet Lev Cherny) by the Cheka in Sept 1921.
TOMSKp24 1990 On 3 April in Tomsk (Siberia), a new KAS paper Golos Truda (The Voice of Labour) came out.
EASTERN EDGE OF RUSSIA DURING WORLD WAR IIp6 A lot of the old political prisoners [incl left SR leader Maria Spiridovna] were killed by the NKVD in 1941, during the evacuation of territory threatened by the Nazi invasion: to stop them falling into the hands of the Germans (who would have hanged them!).
p75 At the start of WW2 Orel isolation prison for political offenders held 5000 prisoners. When the Germans were about to take Orel, the prisoners were herded into the basement, which was then flooded. All 5000 died.
p6 By 1942, Germans occupied Ukraine, Byelorussia & reached Leningrad & outskirts of Moscow: amongst the partisan groups who resisted, there were some who professed an allegiance to anarchism and the memory of Makhno.
p8 Amongst occupying troops at end of war, a secret organisation called Zavietti Kronstadta (the Kronstadt accords) alleged to be active in the Red Army in East Germany and Austria, including "former Makhnovists or veterans of Kronstadt".
LIBERTY FOR OTHER NATIONSp52 Open Letter handed out in Moscow, 13 January 1991
(echo of 1848 national liberation hopes)
(echo of 1848 national liberation hopes)
"We support the Lithuanian people's determination in their struggle for independence. We hope the government of our country, the Soviet Union, will fail in its attempt to bring Lithuania back into the USSR.
No to the Empire! Yes to a voluntary union of free nations! Long live your freedom and our freedom!
Signed by supporters of the leftist movement 'Self-management by the People'"
[ short list of names, including 3 KAS members]
UKRAINEp7 In 1944-5, the nationalist Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) noted in its war despatches, frequent encounters with "the Ukrainian anarchist partisans". Assuming these were the same people who later appeared as prisoners, in the camps at Karaganda and Vorkuta, they included some old members of Makhno's army; the younger ones having become anarchists under the spell of Makhno's legend.
p7 Nabat youth organisation set up by V.I.Us. [not the same as the earlier Nabat]
A school headmaster who had been badly wounded and captured by the Germans in 1941, Us escaped to his former village and recruited his former pupils as guerrillas. In November 1943, Nabat launched an armed uprising, seized the village and created a bridgehead on the West bank of the Dnieper, which it held until reinforced by a Corp of the Second Ukrainian Front. Nabat was highly commended by the political division of the Fourth Guards Army. After Soviet forces regained control of Ukraine, Us was arrested and sentenced to twenty years, for "voluntarily surrendering and creating a nationalist organisation".
[Set free 4 years later, he and Nabat were finally rehabilitated after Stalin's death.]
p33 Piotr Petrovich Siouda, 53 year old activist of the KAS, was killed in secret on 5 May, 1990. He had been investigating the repression carried out by the KGB in the town of Novocherkassk [in 1962] for the KAS paper Volya, and making the details widely known through the communist press too.
He was one of the survivors of the insurrectionary strike wave of the '60s, in which the workers were shot down in town after town.
"The ethnic unrest and the fascist groups that sprang up in the seventies were a deliberately introduced counter-balance to workers struggles - an exactly parallel situation with the capitalist world."
p35 A few days before he was killed, he told a local reporter that he had come into possession of a secret KGB document whcih gave the order to fire upon the crowd of rioters in Novocherkassk in 1962, constituting 'irrefutable proof' of the KGB's guilt.
Born Rostov-on-Don, founder member of the KAS.
p78 Solzhenitsyn reports on the Novocherkassk massacre that the wounded all disappeared without trace. Their families, and those of the dead, were all deported to Siberia, along with many of the workers. "A whole town rebels - and every trace is licked clean and hidden."
ALEXANDROVSKp39 Never mentioned in the official press, workers uprisings in the 1960s in Alexandrovsk, Murom, Nizhni-Tagil, Temirtau, Odessa, Dneprodzerzhinsk, Lubny, Kuybyshev, Kemerovo, Kirvoy-Rog, Grozny, Donetsk, Yaroslavl etc... over housing and wages.
In Alexandrovsk, summer 1961, a worker beaten to death by the militia. Factory workers struck and went to the Commisariat with banners demanding the prosecution of the murderers. After they had stormed the building and set it on fire, they went to the prison where the soldiers refused to fire on the crowd. Special troops were then sent in and the massacre began. [over 100 killed]
The director of the factory who had supported the strike, the doctor who had exhumed the corpse of the first worker killed and attested to the means of his death, the painter who made the banners, were secretly judged and shot.