Anarchism in Russia

Anarchism in Russia

Russian anarchism is anarchism in Russia or among Russians.

Bakunin and the anarchists' exile

In 1848, on his return to Paris, Michel Bakunin published a fiery tirade against Russia, which caused his expulsion from France. The revolutionary movement of 1848 gave him the opportunity to join a radical campaign of democratic agitation, and for his participation in the May Uprising in Dresden of 1849 he was arrested and condemned to death. The death sentence, however, was commuted to life imprisonment, and he was eventually handed over to the Russian authorities, by whom he was imprisoned and finally sent to Eastern Siberia in 1857.

Bakunin received permission to move to the Amur region, where he started collaborating with his relative General Count Nikolay Muravyov-Amursky, who had been Governor of Eastern Siberia for ten years. When Muravyov was removed from his position, Bakunin lost his stipend. He succeeded in escaping, probably with the collusion of the authorities and made his way through Japan and the United States to England in 1861. He spent the rest of his life in exile in Western Europe, principally in Switzerland.

In January of 1869, Sergey Nechayev spread false rumors of his arrest in Saint Petersburg, then left for Moscow before heading abroad. In Geneva, Switzerland, he pretended to be a representative of a revolutionary committee who had fled from the Peter and Paul Fortress, and he won the confidence of revolutionary-in-exile Michel Bakunin and his friend Nikolai Ogarev.

Michel Bakunin undoubtedly played a prominent part in developing and elaborating the theory of anarchism and in leading the anarchist movement. He left a deep imprint on the movement of the Russian "revolutionary commoners" of the 1870s.

In 1873, Peter Kropotkin was arrested and imprisoned, but escaped in 1876 and went to England, moving after a short stay to Switzerland, where he joined the Jura Federation. In 1877 he went to Paris, where he helped to start the anarchist movement there. He returned to Switzerland in 1878, where he edited a revolutionary newspaper for the Jura Federation called Le Révolté, subsequently also publishing various revolutionary pamphlets.

Nihilist movement

After an assassination attempt, Count Mikhail Tarielovich Loris-Melikov was appointed the head of the Supreme Executive Commission and given extraordinary powers to fight the revolutionaries. Loris-Melikov's proposals called for some form of parliamentary body, and the Emperor Alexander II seemed to agree; these plans were never realized as on March 13 (March 1 Old Style), 1881, Alexander was assassinated: while driving on one of the central streets of St. Petersburg, near the Winter Palace, he was mortally wounded by hand-made grenades and died a few hours afterwards. The conspirators Nikolai Kibalchich, Sophia Perovskaya, Nikolai Rysakov, Timofei Mikhailov, and Andrei Zhelyabov were all arrested and sentenced to death. Gesya Gelfman was sent to Siberia. The assassin was identified as Ignacy Hryniewiecki (Ignatei Grinevitski), who died during the attack. It has been theorized that the assassination was the result of the Russification process, which constituted a complete ban on the Polish language in public areas, schools, and offices.

The Doukhobors

The origin of the Doukhobors dates back to 16th century and 17th century Muscovy. The Doukhobors ("Spirit Wrestlers") are a radical Christian sect who maintained a belief in pacifism and a communal lifestyle while rejecting secular government. In 1899, the Doukhobors fled repression in Imperial Russia and migrated to Canada, mostly in the provinces of Saskatchewan and British Columbia. The funds for the trip were paid for by the Religious Society of Friends and the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. Peter Kropotkin suggested Canada to Tolstoy as a safe-haven for the Doukhobors because while on a speaking tour across Canada, Kropotkin observed the religious tolerance experienced by the Mennonites.

The First Russian Revolution

The first Anarchist groups to attract a significant following of Russian workers or peasants, were the Anarcho-Communist Chernoe-Znamia groups, founded in Bialystock in 1903. They drew their support mainly from the impoverished and persecuted working-class Jews of the "Pale"-the places on the Western borders of the Russian Empire where Jews were "allowed" to live. The Chernoe Znamia made their first attack in 1904, when Nisan Farber, a devoted member of the group, stabbed a strike-breaking industrialist on the Jewish Day of Atonement. The Chernoe Znamia, Left SRs and Zionists of Bialystock congregated inside a forest to decide their next action. At the end of the meeting the shouts of "Long Live the Social Revolution" and "Hail Anarchy" attracted the police to the secret meeting. Violence ensued, leaving many revolutionaries arrested or wounded. In vengeance, Nisan Farber threw a homemade bomb at a police station, killing himself and injuring many. He quickly became a Revolutionary Martyr to the Anarchists, and when Bloody Sunday broke out in ST Petersburg his actions began to be imitated by the rest of the Chernoe Znamias. Obtaining weapons was the first objective. Police stations, gun shops and arsenals were raided and their stock stolen. Bomb labs were set up and money gleaned from expropriations went to buying more weapons from Vienna. Bialystock became a warzone, virtually everyday an Anarchist attack or a Police repression. Ekaterinoslav, Odessa, Warsaw and Baku all became witnesses to more and more gunpoint hold-ups and tense shootouts. Sticks of dynamite were thrown into factories or mansions of the most loathed capitalists. Workers were encouraged to overthrow their bosses and manage the factory for themselves. Workers and peasants throughout the Empire took this advice to heart and sporadic uprisings in the remote countryside became a common sight. The Western borderlands in particular - the cities of Russian Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania flared up in anger and hatred. The Revolution in the Pale reached a bloody climax in November and December 1905 with the bombing of the Hotel Bristol in Warsaw and the Cafe Libman in Odessa. After the suppression of the Moscow December Uprising, the Anarchists retreated for a while, but soon returned to the Revolution. Even the small towns and villages of the countryside had their own Anarchist fighting groups. But the tide was turning against the revolutionaries. In 1907, the Tsarist Minister Stolypin set about his new "pacification" program. Police received more arms, orders and reinforcements to raid Anarchist centres. The police would track the Anarchists to their headquarters and then strike swiftly and brutally. The Anarchists were tried by court martial in which preliminary investigation was waived, verdicts delivered within 2 days and sentences executed immediately. Rather than succumb to the ignominy of arrest, many Anarchists preferred suicide when cornered. Those that were caught would usually deliver a rousing speech on Justice and Anarchy before they were executed, in the manner of Ravachol and Émile Henry. By 1909 most of the Anarchists were either dead, exiled or in jail. Anarchism was not to resurface in Russia until 1917

February Revolution

In 1917, Peter Kropotkin returned to Petrograd, where he helped Alexander Kerensky's Russian Provisional Government to formulate policies. He curtailed his activity when the Bolsheviks came to power.

Bolsheviks and anarchists in the October Revolution

The Russian Anarchists despised Kerensky and his "bourgeois" Constituent Assembly, even more than the Bolsheviks did. Although the Bolsheviks agreed with some anarchist slogans it quickly became clear to the anarchists that the Bolsheviks favoured party power over workers' control, were interested in creating state capitalism instead of stateless communism. At first it seemed to some Anarchists the revolution could inaugurate the stateless utopia they had long dreamed of. On these terms, some Bolshevik-Anarchist alliances were made. In Moscow, the most perilous and critical tasks during the October Revolution fell upon the Anarchist Dvinsk Regiment, led by the old libertarians Gratchov and Fedotov. It was they who dislodged the Whites from the Kremlin, the Metropole and other important defenses. and it was the Anarchist sailor Zhelezniakov who led the attack on the Constituent Assembly in October 1917. For a while, the Anarchists rejoiced, elated at the thought of the new age that Russia had won. But it wasn't long before the anarchists say increasing reason to criticize the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks, who treated free speech as some sort of petit bourgeois obsession and who feared loss of power, could not tolerate the ideas, suggestions and criticisms anarchists offered in their press. They also could not tolerate any actions taken independent of them.

On the night of April 12, 1918 the "Cheka" (secret police) raided the 26 anarchist centres in Moscow, including The House of Anarchy, the Moscow Federation of Anarchist Groups building. The Black Guards offered armed resistance. A fierce battle raged on Malaia Dimitrovka Street. About 40 anarchists were killed or wounded, and approximately 500 were imprisoned. A dozen Cheka agents had also been killed in the fighting.

Anarchists during the Third Russian Revolution

The attempted Third Russian Revolution began on July 1918 with the assassination of the German Ambassador to the Soviet Union in order to prevent the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. This was immediately followed by an artillery attack on the Kremlin and the occupation of the telegraph and telephone buildings by the Left SR's who sent out several manifestos appealing to the people to rise up against their oppressors and destroy the Bolshevik regime. But whilst this order was not followed by the people of Moscow, the peasants of South Russia responded vigorously to this call to arms. Bands of Chernoe Znamia and Beznachaly Anarchist terrorists flared up as rapidly and violently as they had done in 1905. Anarchists in Rostov, Ekaterinoslav and Briansk broke into prisons to liberate the prisoners and issued fiery proclamations calling on the people to revolt against the Bolshevik regime. The Anarchist Battle Detachments attacked the Whites, Reds and Germans alike. Many peasants joined the Revolution, attacking their enemies with pitchforks and sickles. Meanwhile in Moscow, the Underground Anarchists were formed by Kazimir Kovalevich and Piotr Sobalev to be the shock troops of the Revolution, infiltrating Bolshevik ranks and striking when least expected. On 25 September 1919, the Underground Anarchists struck the Bolsheviks with the heaviest blow of the Revolution. The headquarters of the Moscow Committee of the Communist Party was blown up, killing 12 and injuring 55 Party members, including Nikolai Bukharin and Emilian Iaroslavskii. Spurred on by their apparent success, the Underground Anarchists proclaimed a new "era of dynamite" that would finally wipe away capitalism and the State. The Bolsheviks responded by initiating a new wave of mass arrests in which Kovalevich and Sobalev were the first to be shot. With their leaders dead and much of their organization in tatters, the remaining Underground Anarchists blew themselves up in their last battle with the Cheka, taking much of their safe house with them. Numerous attacks and assassinations occurred frequently until the Revolution finally petered out in 1922. Although the Revolution was mainly a Left SR initiative, it was the Anarchists who had the support of a greater number of the population and they participated in almost all of the attacks the Left SR's organized, and also many on completely their own initiative. The most celebrated figures of the Third Russian Revolution, Lev Chernyi and Fanya Baron were both Anarchists.

Soviet Union

In 1923 Victor Serge became associated with the Left Opposition group that included Leon Trotsky, Karl Radek, and Adolf Joffe. Later Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev joined in the struggle against Joseph Stalin. Serge was an outspoken critic of the authoritarian way that Stalin governed the country and is believed to be the first writer to describe the Soviet government as "totalitarian".

In 1926, joining other Russian exiles in Paris as part of the group "Dielo Trouda" ("Дело Труда", "The Сause of Labour"), Batko Makhno co-wrote and co-published "The Organizational Platform of the Libertarian Communists", which put forward ideas on how anarchists should organize based on the experiences of revolutionary Ukraine and the defeat at the hand of the Bolsheviks.

Tolstoyans had had problems with the Tsarist regimes, and even more so with the Bolshevik ones. By 1930, many Tolstoyans had to relocate to Siberia to avoid being liquidated as kulaks, but Stalinist police nevertheless arrested them, disbanded their settlements (such as the Life and Labor Commune which was converted into a state owned collective farm in 1937) and sent them to labor camps between 1936 and 1939.

The World War of 1939 - 1945

The Russian anarchist Voline was living in the Marseille area during the Vichy France period. Even though he was under police surveillance, he was able to evade the authorities in order to participate in the work of the group. He helped to put together and distribute the pamphlet The Guilty Ones, among other things.

In 1953, upon the death of Stalin, a vast insurrection took place in the labor camps of the Gulag. The prisoners of the Norilsk camp, after seizing control, hoisted the black flag of Makhnovist movement to the top of the mast.


Several anarchist federations exist in Russia. Among the most important are KRAS (the Russian section of the IWA) which espouses anarchocommunism and anarchosyndicalism, Autonomous Action (a leftist anarchist federation with anarchocommunist and platformist tendencies) and the Association of Anarchist Movements.


Further reading

*cite book |last=Dolgoff |first=Sam |title=Bakunin on Anarchism |publisher=Black Rose Books |location=Montréal |year=1980 |isbn=0919619061
*cite book |last=Bakunin |first=Mikhail |title=Statism and Anarchy |publisher=Cambridge University Press |location=Cambridge |year=1990 |isbn=0521369738

ee also

* List of Russian anarchists

External links

* [ Николай Носов. Незнайка в Солнечном городе] (Russian)
* [ "Andrei "Svinya" Panov, described as "Russian Punk's Godfather,"..."]
* [ НИК РОК-Н-РОЛЛ: К сожаленью, День Рожденья только раз в году. Или два...] (Russian)
* [ Ник Рок-н-Ролл (Николай Францевич Кунцевич)] (Russian)
*anarchives|worldwidemovements/russiahis.html|Russian anarchism
*spunk|places/russia/|Russian anarchism
* [ Anarchism in the Russian Revolution]
* [ October 1917 : A lost opportunity for socialism?]
* [ Sergei Nechayev]
* [ Catechism of the Revolutionist by Sergei Nechayev]

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