George Woodcock, Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements, 1962, Postscript 1975.

13 Anarchism in Russia

At first the history of Russian anarchism seems puzzlingly slight. In the writings and lives of Bakunin, Kropotkin, and Tolstoy, Russia probably contributed more than any other country to anarchist theory and even to the creation of an international anarchist movement. Yet in Russia itself a specifically anarchist movement did not appear until the middle of the 1890s, and throughout the quarter of a century of its existence it remained the smallest of the revolutionary groupings, dwarfed in the rural districts by the Social Revolutionary Party, in the cities by the Menshevik and Bolshevik halves of the Social Democratic Party, in Poland by the Bund. Only at the very end of its life, between 1918 and 1921, did Russian anarchists gain a brief and sudden glory when the peasants of the southern Ukraine flocked in their tens of thousands to the black banners of the anarchist guerrilla leader Nestor Makhno. With the final destruction of Makhno's Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army in 1921, Russian anarchism declined rapidly to extinction under the relentless persecution of the Cheka.

Yet parallel to this meagre history of a definable anarchist movement there runs a much deeper history of the anarchist idea. It was not until the foundation of the earliest Marxist group in 1883 by Plekhanov, Axelrod, and Vera Zasulich that revolutionaries within Russia began to divide along the rigid party lines which had parted anarchists from authoritarian socialists in western Europe since the schism within the International. The sectarian forms of anarchist organization which Bakunin had already created in Europe did not attract the Russian activists of the 1870s, yet the whole of the populist movement down to 1881 was permeated with libertarian attitudes and ideals. As Isaiah Berlin remarks in his introduction to Franco Venturi's monumental work on the populists, 'violent disputes took place about means and methods, about timing, but not about ultimate purposes. Anarchism, equality, a full life for all, these were universally accepted.' [377]

In so far as the anarchistic elements in Russian revolutionary thought of the 1860s and 1870s came from western Europe, they were transmitted through the writings of individual theoreticians rather than through the organized anarchist movement, which until the end of the century had few and tenuous contacts with revolutionaries inside Russia. Professor Venturi has justly remarked of Bakunin that 'he was able to inspire a revolutionary spirit within Russia but not an organization'. Indeed, even when an avowedly anarchist movement did appear in Russia toward the end of the 1890s, it grew in its own independent way, largely ignoring the exhortations of respected expatriate leaders like Kropotkin, and it ended by producing in the Makhnovist movement of 1918-21 a fruit of prodigious Russianness.

Indeed, students of Russian revolutionary movements have at times been inclined to minimize the influence of teachings from abroad, and to attribute the wide appeal of libertarian ideas during the greater part of the nineteenth century to an anarchistic tradition native to Russian society. Like Bakunin, they have pointed particularly to the great peasant revolts led by Stenka Razin and Pugachev, and to the resistance to centralized authority shown in the struggles for independence of the early Cossacks, and in the tendency of Russian dissenting sects to reject all mundane authority and live by the Inner Light.

What most significantly united all the native Russian movements of rebellion was not so much their thirst for liberty as their hatred of distant power; they were the rebellions -- either through insurrection or withdrawal -- of peasants who wished to live according to their own customs and in their own communities. They fought against serfdom and against domination by alien rulers. But they did not fight as anarchists. The peasant revolts produced their own autocratic leaders and pretended Tsars, and even such religious sects as the Doukhobors merely rejected a Romanov autocrat so as to accept the domination of a prophet or 'living Christ' of their own breed, who wielded both temporal and spiritual authority within the community.

All these movements stressed the autonomy of the mir or obshchina, the natural peasant community, and the idealized [378] image of this institution became a kind of Platonic myth that united a wide variety of Russian thinkers during the nineteenth century. Men who in other ways seemed each other's natural opposites -- Aksakov and Bakunin, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy -- made it the cornerstone of their visionary Russia. For both anarchists and Slavophils it seemed the magic link between a lost age of gold and a future of idyllic promise.

Indeed, their tendency to oppose to the centralized Western state an organic society based on natural peasant institutions brought the Slavophils at certain points so near to the libertarian position that some of their early leaders -- particularly Konstantin Aksakov -- have been counted among the ancestors of Russian anarchism. Even Bakunin remarked, at the height of his anarchist period in 1867, that as early as the 1830s 'Konstantin Sergeevich and his friends were enemies of the Petersburg State and of statism in general, and in this attitude he even anticipated us'. Here again, however, it is necessary to approach the claims of a putative ancestor with scepticism.

It is true that Aksakov, like Dostoyevsky, posed the contrast between the way of conscience and the way of law and compulsion. This led him to a discussion of the political state as developed in western Europe and imported into Russia by Peter the Great:

However widely and liberally the state may develop, were it even to reach the extreme form of democracy, it will none the less remain a principle of constraint, of external pressure -- a given binding form, an institution. The more the state evolves the more forcefully it turns into a substitute for the inward world of man, and the deeper, the more closely man is confined by society, even if society should seem to satisfy all his needs. If the liberal state were to reach the extreme form of democracy, and every man to become an officer of the state, a policeman over himself, the state would have finally destroyed the living soul in man. . . . The falsehood resides not in this or that form of the state, but in the state itself, as an idea, as a principle; we must concern ourselves, not with the good or evil of a particular form of state, but with the state as false in itself.

Thus Aksakov, like the rest of the great Slavophils down to Dostoyevsky, rejected the modern state -- autocratic or [379] democratic -- in terms that are deceptively similar to those used by by anarchists. As Herzen, his ideological enemy, said of him:

His whole life was an uncompromising protest against the Russia of officialdom, against the Petersburg period, in the name of the unrecognized, oppressed Russian people. ... He was ready to go into the market place for his faith: he would have gone to the stake, and when that is felt behind a man's words, they become terribly convincing.

Yet, if Aksakov rejected the state in its modern form, he did not reject the idea of government. On the contrary, he dreamed of an ideal autocracy, an autocracy returning to a primitive form that had never really existed except in the Slavophil imagination as part of the myth of Holy Russia. In such an autocracy the Tsar would become a kind of sacrificial king on whom the people would place the burden of authority so that they might be liberated from its moral evil and set free to concentrate on the real, non-political business of living good lives. Aksakov hated authority, but he could not convince himself that it was unnecessary, so he chose to imagine its transference rather than its abolition. His real contribution to the Russian libertarian tradition sprang from his insistence on the value of the basic units of social cooperation: the peasant community and the traditional cooperative association of artisans.

A truer bond links anarchism with Alexander Herzen, who stands at the beginning of the whole Russian tradition of rebellion that began to emerge in the decades after the defeat of the Decembrists. Herzen was the first Russian to realize the importance of Proudhon's objections to authoritarian communism, and in the 1840s he began to spread the French anarchist's ideas among the radical discussion groups of Moscow. Later, exiled in Europe, disillusioned by the Revolutions of 1848 and 1849, he found in Proudhon the man who most eloquently expressed his own misgivings about the failures of Jacobin politics and socialist Utopianism. It was for this reason that he financed Proudhon in publishing La Voix du peuple. He recognized at that early time what one now sees in the perspective of history: that the strength of thinkers like Proudhon lies in their denials rather than in their affirmations. [380]

It is in the denial, the destruction of the old social tradition, that the great power of Proudhon lies; he is as much the poet of dialectics as Hegel is, with the difference that the one rests on the calm heights of the philosophic movement, while the other is thrust into the turmoil of popular passions and the hand-to-hand struggle of parties.

Herzen himself was a gentle sceptic, tenacious in his purposes, as was shown by his years of almost single-handed effort to stimulate Russian radical thought through his expatriate journal, The Bell, yet perpetually doubtful of them. He longed for peaceful and constructive change, but he felt that the world in which he lived would make any change stormy and destructive. There is a true ring of negative anarchism in the message to his son which in 1855 he prefaced to his book, From the Other Shore:

We do not build, we destroy; we do not proclaim a new revelation, we eliminate the old lie. Modern man, that melancholy Pontifex Maximus, only builds a bridge -- it will be for the unknown man of the future to pass over it. You may be there to see him. ... But do not, I beg, remain on this shore. ... Better to perish with the revolution than to seek refuge in the alms-house of reaction.

Like Proudhon, Herzen did not create systems and he was reluctant to assume labels. Yet he did at times speak of anarchy in the Proudhonian sense as an ideal for society, and placed his hopes of Russia in the 'anarchism' of the nobles and the 'communism' of the peasants. By 'communism' he meant voluntary economic arrangement quite unlike anything Marx contemplated; communism as conceived by the political thinkers of western Europe he dismissed with the remark that it was 'Russian autocracy turned upside down'.

In his disillusionment with the West after 1848, he turned toward Russia once again, yet the point of view from which he now saw it was inevitably shaped by the very events and tendencies he rejected, and so the attitude he bequeathed to the populist tradition was a mixture of Russian and Western elements in which Proudhonism was curiously reconciled with Slavophilism.

Herzen remained a socialist in the Proudhonian sense, rejecting governmental socialism as an ideal in favour of a society [381] based on modifications of the peasant mir and the workmen's artel. He was always anti-bourgeois and looked with distrust on conventional democracy which, like Tocqueville, he feared might end in the reign of universal mediocrity. He disliked industrialism as he saw it developing in England and France, but he did not dismiss the idea of applying science to production, provided it was based on 'the relation of man to the soil', which he considered 'a primordial fact, a natural fact'. Above all, he regarded the monolithic state as inimical to freedom and also as un-Russian.

Centralization is alien to the Slav spirit -- freedom is far more natural to it. Only when grouped in a league of free and independent peoples will the Slav world at last enter upon its genuine historical existence.
The primitive communal forms of rural Russia, it seemed to him, provided the settings in which the people learned to be responsible and socially active.
The life of the Russian peasantry has hitherto been confined to the commune. It is only in relation to the commune and its members that the peasant recognizes that he has rights and duties.
And in the extraordinary durability of the communal system he saw, like others of his fellow countrymen, a means by which Russia could achieve a free society without going through the stages of capitalism and socialist revolution to which western Europe seemed committed.
The communal system, though it has suffered violent shocks, has stood firm against the interference of the authorities; it had successfully survived up to the development of socialism in Europe. This circumstance is of infinite consequence for Russia.

The thought that the world's future lay in the untried countries haunted Herzen's imagination, and behind all the writings of his later years there stood the vision -- how prophetic one is now uneasily aware -- of Russia and America facing each other over a dispirited Europe. In all this he saw the complete elimination of the state as a desirable but almost infinitely receding possibility. Like Thomas Paine, he was never enough of an optimist to let his natural anarchism run its full course. Almost [382] alone, except for his friend, the poet Ogarev, he awoke the youth of his country to a sense of responsibility for the liberation of the Russian people, but like Moses he had no more than a glimpse of the promised land, and by the end of his career he had retreated into a caution that made constitutional liberalism the effective goal of his efforts.

Yet even if Herzen's anarchism was never fully developed and even if he deliberately used his influence in the direction of moderation, his evident distrust of the state and his faith in the social potentialities of the people prepared the way not only for the great populist movement that began to emerge in the early 1860s, but also for its essentially anarchistic attitude toward the political organization of society.

That anarchistic attitude was sharpened and given form by Bakunin. Bakunin's influence in Russia was necessarily indirect and intermittent. He himself did not become a completely convinced anarchist until at least three years after his escape from Russian soil in 1861. He influenced a number of young populists while he was in Siberia, but there is little evidence that they played any part in spreading his ideas, with the possible exception of Ivan Yakovlevich Orlov, who became the first Russian revolutionary to 'go to the people' by preaching the populist doctrine on an 'apostolic journey' through the Russian countryside and who later became involved in the Kazan conspiracy of students and officers to incite a peasant rebellion in conjunction with the Polish uprising of 1863. Orlov's actions suggest that he may have been influenced at least by the emphasis on peasant insurrections which was a feature of Bakunin's teaching in all his revolutionary phases.

In his last, anarchist period Bakunin spread his doctrine in Russia both orally, through returning emigres, and by means of his writings, which were smuggled into the country and distributed by the network of revolutionary groups. His direct contacts with activists within Russia were few and brief, owing to an inevitable difficulty of carrying on secret correspondence, complicated by lack of discretion on his own part which led more than one of his associates to a Tsarist dungeon. Like ail the Russian leaders in exile, he knew little of the quickly changing situation within the country whose political fate he [383] was trying to influence, and this led to differences of opinion and interpretation between him and the militants actually involved in the struggle against Tsarism. By the very nature of the situation, he had no influence at all on the specific actions of the revolutionaries, but his influence on their attitudes was strong enough for a recognized Bakuninist trend to flourish throughout the 1870s, particularly in the Ukraine.

Bakunin's anarchism gained its first substantial influence within Russia in 1869. It is true that shortly after his escape from Siberia he established tenuous contacts with the leaders of the first Zemlya i Volya (Land and Liberty) movement, and that in September 1862, after a strongly political manifesto had been issued by a group calling itself Young Russia, he published with Herzen's Free Russian Press a pamphlet entitled The People's Cause: Romanov, Pugachev, or Pestel? But this was little more than a call for unity among the various forces that were working toward a full emancipation of the people. After 1863 and the fiasco of his Polish adventure, Bakunin's attention turned away from Russian affairs to those of the socialist movement in western Europe. While he was building up his succession of Brotherhoods in Italy he seems to have made little effort to establish contact with his own countrymen. Russians passing through Italy would often visit him, but the young scientist L. Mechnikov was the only one of them who became closely associated with him. And Mechnikov, who was probably a member of the Florentine Brotherhood, had fought under Garibaldi and, like Bakunin himself, was something of an international revolutionary.

It was Bakunin's return to Geneva in 1867 that brought him back to the world of Russian exiles. Many had settled in Geneva itself and along the shore of Lake Leman at Vevey. Among them was Nicholas Zhukovsky, whom Bakunin had met in 1862, and who now served with him on the Committee of the League for Peace and Freedom, later becoming a founding member of the Alliance. At Vevey Bakunin formed a small Russian section of the International Brotherhood; this was the first Russian anarchist organization; but it was neither active nor large, since most of the exiles, led by Nicholas Utin and Alexander Serno-Soloveich, joined the Marxist-oriented [384] Russian section of the International which was founded at Geneva in 1869.

Bakunin's sole real achievement in the field of Russian affairs at this time was the foundation, in collaboration with Zhukovsky, of Narodnoe Delo (the People's Cause). The first number of this journal, written entirely by Bakunin and Zhukovsky was successfully smuggled into Russia by Ivan Bochkarev, later a close associate of Tolstoy, and distributed in St Petersburg by Stepniak. To the students who read it, Narodnoe Delo seemed to give the guidance for which they had been waiting anxiously in a stage of transitional indecision, and its stimulative influence within Russia was very great.

In Narodnoe Delo Bakunin declared that the time had now come for the intellectuals to abandon their detachment from the people and to arouse in them the revolutionary spirit. The revolution, the 'socio-economic' liberation of the peasants, should have first place; after that, their mental chains would fall away. They must be weaned of their ancient faith in the Tsar, and in their minds must be awakened 'an awareness of their own strength, which has slept ever since Pugachev'. The aims of the revolution must be collectivist and anarchist; the return of the land to those who worked it and the complete destruction of the state, to be replaced by 'a future political organization made up exclusively of a free federation of free workmen's artels, agricultural and industrial'. In Narodnoe Delo Bakunin sought to adapt to Russian circumstances the programme he was about to defend among the western European revolutionaries of the International, and he declared that any view of Russia's messianic destiny must be abandoned, for 'the cause of the revolution is the same everywhere'.

From this comprehensive exposition of the anarchist viewpoint as it had been developed in the International Brotherhood, the Bakunist trend in the Russian revolutionary movement really began. So far as Bakunin himself was concerned it remained for some years an isolated effort, since the anti-Bakuninist refugees, led by Utin, managed to win over to their side the rich Olga Levashov, who was financing Narodnoe Delo, and the journal passed from Bakunin and Zhukovsky to the Russian section of the International. [385]

Apart from his disastrous association with Nechayev, his involvement in the International and the Lyons Commune drew Bakunin away from Russian affairs in the years immediately following the loss of Narodnoe Delo. In 1872, however, he was attracted by the great concentration of Russian students and radicals of all kinds who had settled in Zurich. Here at last he gathered around him a circle of young men who absorbed his ideas with enthusiasm and created an organization to disseminate them. They came to him by various paths. Some had been associates of Nechayev; these included the two men who were possibly most influential in transmitting Bakunin's ideas to the clandestine groups of Russia -- Z. K. Ralli and Michael Sazhin, better known by the name Armand Ross, which he had adopted during a brief visit to the United States. Others, like Varfomeley Zaytsev and Nicholas Sokolov, had been members of the loose nihilist group which gathered around Pisarev and his magazine Russkoe Slovo in the early 1860s. An even younger group of medical students had come straight from agitation and expulsion at the University of St Petersburg; of these the most active were V. Holstein and A. Oelsnitz.

Already, in the spring of 1872, Bakunin had reformed his Russian Brotherhood as a branch of the Alliance, with Ralli, Holstein, and Oelsnitz as founding members. In Zurich the Brotherhood increased its numbers and came into sharp conflict with the followers of Peter Lavrov, who represented the gradualist trend in the populist movement. The Brotherhood set up its own press in Zurich and began early in 1873 to print a series of pamphlets, including Bakunin's The State and Anarchism. But internal disputes quickly destroyed this effort. Michael Sazhin was a man of proud and explosive character, and he soon quarrelled with Ralli and other members of the group. Bakunin tactlessly took sides with Sazhin; as a result he lost the majority of his Russian followers. Ralli, Holstein, and Oelsnitz departed for Geneva, where, in collaboration with Nicholas Zhukovsky, they set up their own Revolutionary Community of Russian Anarchists and established a new press, which went into operation in September 1873 with the publication of a pamphlet entitled To the Russian Revolutionaries.

The personal conflict did not become a conflict of principles, [386] for the Revolutionary Community continued to propagate Bakunin's ideas and fit them to Russian problems. Bakunin withdrew into semi-retirement, concerning himself almost exclusively with Italian affairs until his death in 1876; he seems to have found the Italians temperamentally more sympathetic than his own fellow countrymen. But the 'young Bakuninists' continued, and for some years the press they operated was one of the most important centres in western Europe for the production of literature distributed clandestinely in Russia.

In 1875, in collaboration with the Pan-Russian Social Revolutionary Organization, a group in Moscow led by Vera Figner, they began to publish a monthly journal called Rabotnik (the Worker). This was the first Russian periodical deliberately aimed at the workers in both towns and rural areas; thanks to the close contacts its writers maintained with the group in Moscow, they were able to devote considerable attention to actual working conditions in Russia itself, though they never lost sight of the Bakuninist emphasis on the unity of the international revolutionary struggle. Rabotnik continued into the early months of 1876; it was followed in 1878 by Obshchina (Community), in which the members of the Revolutionary Community collaborated with Stepniak, Axelrod, and other Bakuninists recently fled from Russia. The tone of Obshchina was cautious and conciliatory, but it remained Bakuninist in its rejection of the liberal idea of constitutional government and in its insistence that the peasants and workers must win their freedom for themselves.

The Revolutionary Community and the press it operated were openly and frankly anarchist, responding to the situation in western Europe, where Ralli and Zhukovsky maintained close links with the Saint-Imier International and particularly with Elisee Reclus and the group connected with the Geneva anarchist paper, Le Travailleur. Curiously enough, they had little to do with Kropotkin, who adhered at this time to Brousse's rival paper, L'Avant-garde, and whose contacts with the Russian movement after his escape in 1876 were to remain scanty for almost twenty years during which he gave himself to the cause of international anarchism.

Though the publications of the Revolutionary Community [387] circulated widely and influentially in Moscow, St Petersburg, and the cities of the Ukraine, no corresponding anarchist group arose during the 1870s on Russian soil. Rather there appeared a Bakuninist tendency within the larger Zemlya i Volya movement; its adherents were usually called Buntars, from their emphasis on bunt, or insurrection. The situation in Russia rapidly became the reverse of that among the refugees in Switzerland, where the Lavrovists were in the majority. During 1875 and 1876 strong Buntar movements grew up in Kiev and Odessa, living in communities, surreptitiously gathering arms, and endlessly plotting rural insurrection.

In one area, the district of Chigirin near Kiev, three Bakuninist agitators succeeded in organizing a considerable conspiracy, and their oddly Machiavellian methods -- if somewhat inconsistent with anarchist orthodoxy -- at least showed a certain realism in their grasp of peasant psychology. Relying on the widespread rural belief that the Tsar loved his people and was unaware of the atrocities committed in his name, the conspirators prepared two documents for circulation among the peasants of Chigirin. One was a Secret Imperial Charter, in which 'the Tsar' recognized the right of the peasants to the land, complained that he was not strong enough to force the noblemen to give up their estates, and instructed the land-workers to create their own secret militia organizations so as to be ready to revolt at the appropriate moment. The other document -- the Statutes of the Secret Militia -- laid down the plan for organizing the rebels; it included complicated oaths and gave the revolutionary organization an elaborate hierarchical structure that would have delighted Bakunin in his conspiratorial days. This bizarre plot appealed to the peasants. They believed implicitly all the fictions that were presented to them, and more than a thousand of them joined the militia. They kept the secret so well that it was almost a year before a chance indiscretion put the police on the track of the plot. Hundreds of peasants were arrested and sent to Siberia. The three Bakuninists responsible for it all were also imprisoned, but they escaped through a device almost as strange as their original plot; one of their comrades became a warder in the prison where they were held and worked faithfully for months until [388] the opportunity came for him to free his friends and escape in their company.

Other Bakuninists devoted themselves to attempts to organize the urban workers. They were particularly active in the various ephemeral Unions of Southern Workers which were organized in Odessa (1875) and Kiev (1879 and 1880). Even the Northern Union of Russian Workers, founded in 1878, adopted a basically anarchistic programme calling for the abolition of the state and its replacement by a federation of peasant communes and industrial artels.

By the end of the decade a new trend toward organized terrorism entered the Russian revolutionary movement. The Bakuninists were not opposed to terrorism in itself, but they were opposed to the concept of a disciplined organization that now accompanied it in the minds of the group who called themselves the Executive Committee, led by Zhelyabov and Sofya Perovskaya. These organized terrorists, who sought by selective assassination to bring about a political and constitutional solution to Russia's difficulties, formed themselves into the party of Narodnaya Volya (the People's Will). The Bakuninists, who wished to continue their work among the peasants and factory workers and to aim at a general revolt leading to a social-economic solution through a federation of communes, split away from them and formed the organization known as Cherny Peredel (Black Partition).

But the period of Bakuninist ascendancy, when a strong libertarian trend existed within the Russian revolutionary movement without accepting the name of anarchism, was now drawing to a close. The assassination of Alexander II in 1881 by Narodnaya Volya led to a relentless persecution of all revolutionaries operating on Russian soil, until almost every militant of any shade of opinion was in prison, in exile, or dead. For almost a decade the revolutionary movement existed in the most tenuous form, except among the many expatriates of western Europe. And even there the anarchist tendency was reversed when the leaders of Cherny Peredel, Plekhanov, Axelrod, and Vera Zasulich, became converted to Marxism and formed the earliest organization of Russian Social Democrats.

Only in the later 1890s was the initiative of Ralli, Zhukovsky, [389] and the Revolutionary Commune of Russian Anarchists resumed in western Europe; from the same period date the first avowedly anarchist groups in Russia itself. Their very presence was an indication of the changed character of the revolutionary movement that re-formed itself in Russia during the last years of the nineteenth century. The persecutions after 1881 had virtually destroyed both Narodnaya Volya and Cherny Peredel. The heirs of Narodnaya Volya transformed themselves into the Russian Social Revolutionary Party, which inherited the terrorism of its predecessors, became even more constitutionalist in its aims, and developed a considerable following among the peasants. The leaders of Cherny Peredel formed themselves in 1883 into a Marxist group called Liberation of Labour, and were henceforth lost to Bakuninism; in 1898 their organization developed into the Russian Social Democratic Party, out of which, by schism, eventually emerged the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks.

In this changed situation the influence of libertarian ideas was much slighter than it had been in the 1870s. In aims and in organization the major groups tended to become more rather than less authoritarian. The urge to create an anarchist movement on Russian soil now came from outside and mainly from Kropotkin's disciples in western Europe. In 1893 an Armenian doctor, Alexander Atabekian, visited Kropotkin in England with plans for the clandestine distribution of anarchist literature in Russia, and shortly afterward he founded the Anarchist Library in Geneva. His group did not have enough funds to print a periodical, but they did produce pamphlets by Bakunin and Kropotkin which were used by the first anarchist groups to spring up in southern Russia during the 1890s. By a natural process, the appearance of a movement in Russia gradually increased the number of anarchist exiles in Switzerland, France, and England, and from 1903 onward a succession of expatriate groups appeared in Paris, Geneva, London, and Zurich, dedicated to producing material for propaganda. At least ten expatriate papers were published from these centres between 1903 and 1914; some lasted only for a few issues, but three of them were journals which deeply stimulated the development of anarchism within Russia. These were Hleb i Volya [390] (Geneva, 1903-5), Burevestnik (Paris, 1906-10), and Rabotchi Mir (Paris, 1911-14).1

Hleb i Volya was the first Russian-language anarchist periodical to appear since Obshchina in 1878. It was under the direct inspiration of Kropotkin, who contributed regular articles to its pages. The editor, and virtual leader of the group in Geneva, was a Georgian who went under the noms de guerre of K. Orgheiana and K. Illiashvili; his real name was G. Goghelia.

The time was indeed opportune for starting a paper under the prestigious shadow of Kropotkin's name, for the situation in Russia during 1903 was one of growing unrest; industrial strikes, peasant riots, and student demonstrations succeeded each other with mounting impetus, and there was disaffection in the army and even among the Cossacks. Hleb i Volya aimed deliberately to influence this situation in a libertarian direction, and from the time of its appearance the number of anarchist groups in Russia increased steadily.

It is hard to estimate how far these groups helped to bring about the 1905 Revolution, which was largely an outburst of popular indignation and took many of the professional revolutionaries by surprise. 'It is not Social Democrats, or Revolutionary Socialists, or anarchists, who take the lead in the present revolution,' said Kropotkin. 'It is labour -- the working man.' The anarchist theories about spontaneous revolution seemed to be confirmed, and the events of October 1905 appeared also to vindicate the anarchist advocacy of the general strike. Moreover, when the Revolution had failed, there was a revulsion of feeling against the Social Democrats, who had attempted to assume its leadership, and the anarchists gained from this. By 1906 they had formed groups in all the larger towns, and the movement was particularly strong in the Urals, [391] among the Jewish population of Poland, and above all in the Ukraine, the old stronghold of the Buntars and Cherny Peredel, where anarchism appeared as a rural movement in the market towns and even in the villages.

By 1907, when governmental reaction grew strong again, the impetus of anarchism began to weaken, and the libertarian movement never grew out of its numerical inferiority to the Social Democrats and the Social Revolutionaries. This was probably due largely to the fact that it was a movement of isolated groups which were often very loosely linked and differed considerably in philosophy and tactics. Only the refugees in the West seriously attempted to create federal organizations, holding conferences for this purpose in Geneva in 1906 and in Paris in 1913, but even their efforts came to nothing. The anarchist groups within Russia could be divided roughly into three trends: the anarchist communists, the individualists (who were given to 'terror without motive' and much feared by the police), and the anarcho-syndicalists. Anarcho-syndicalism did not appear until the time of the 1905 Revolution, but it quickly gathered a strong following; among the exiles in the United States alone the anarcho-syndicalist Union of Russian Workers recruited 10,000 members, and the clandestine movement in Russia was correspondingly strong. From the Tolstoyans, who might be regarded as a fourth anarchist trend of the time, all these tendencies were distinguished by their emphasis on the use of violence, which by now had become a standard practice of every Russian revolutionary party, including the Social Democrats. Leaders outside Russia were often distressed by this situation, and at a secret conclave held in London during December 1904, and attended by delegates of groups within Russia, Kropotkin pleaded with them to give up at least the practice of 'expropriation' which they and members of other movements used to obtain funds. (It will be remembered that Joseph Stalin was an adept bank robber for the Bolsheviks.) 'Bourgeois money is not necessary for us,' Kropotkin argued, 'either as donations or as thefts.' But the revolutionaries within Russia insisted on going their own way in spite of his appeals. However, as anarcho-syndicalism grew stronger, there was a perceptible shift from assassinations and [392] banditry to the incitement of strikes as a means of undermining the Tsarist state.

Activity both in Russia and among the expatriates fell away during the years of the First World War, and the anarchists played a surprisingly small part in the February Revolution of 1917. Indeed, it was not until the expatriates began to return from abroad during the summer that the libertarian movement in Russia took on more than the semblance of renewed life. The poet Voline, the most important Russian anarchist intellectual of this period,2 recollected that, when he reached St Petersburg from America in July 1917, he did not see a single anarchist newspaper or poster, nor did he encounter any evidence of oral propaganda by 'the few very primitive libertarian groups there'. In Moscow the situation was somewhat better, since there a local federation had been established and a daily newspaper, Anarchy, was being published. A few army units in Moscow and many of the sailors at Kronstadt had anarchist sympathies, while there was a strong anarcho-syndicalist influence in the factory committees which opposed the centralizing efforts of the Menshevik-dominated trade unions. Finally, far in the south, in the sprawling Ukrainian 'village' of Gulyai-Polye (it actually had 30,000 inhabitants), a young labourer named Nestor Makhno, recently released from the Butirky prison in Moscow, had been elected president of the local Soviet. Already, in August 1917, he and the handful of local anarchists who supported him had gained the confidence of the poor peasants and had begun to divide the local estates among the landless and to hand over the small industries of the district to the workers.

The October Revolution, in which many of the anarchists took part under the illusion that it would really lead to their kind of millennium, gave a temporary impetus to libertarian activities. An Anarcho-syndicalist Propaganda Union was created in St Petersburg and began to publish a daily paper, Golos Truda (the Voice of Labour), which was later transferred to Moscow. The Federation of Anarchist Groups in Moscow began to spread its propaganda into the rural districts of central Russia, and Kropotkin's old lieutenant, Atabekian, [393] started a theoretical review. Finally, toward the end of 1918, the anarchists of the south came together in the Nabat (Tocsin) Confederation of Anarchist Organizations of the Ukraine. The Nabat movement, whose activities centred on the cities of Kharkov and Kursk, attracted the most energetic of Russian anarchists during the period of the Revolution and the Civil War, including Voline, Yarchuk, Peter Arshinov, Olga Taratuta, Senya Fleshin, and Aaron and Fanya Baron. Its members sought to unite the various Kropotkinist, individualist, and syndicalist trends into one vigorous movement, and it maintained a close relationship with Makhno when his movement in the far south entered its militant phase.

The anarchists in Russia were at first divided in their attitudes toward the Bolshevik government and also toward the Soviets. Some of them became communists. Others, like the idealistic Alexander Schapiro, hoped to bring about an amelioration of conditions through working with the new regime, and briefly and unhappily collaborated. But the majority accurately assessed the Bolshevik government as a party dictatorship alien to all their libertarian values and set out to oppose it. Toward the Soviets their attitude changed more slowly. At first they regarded these councils as genuine expressions of the will of the workers and peasants who composed them, but later they decided that the Bolsheviks were turning them into instruments of their own policy. The general anarchist attitude was expressed in a resolution of the Nabat Congress of April 1919; it opposed 'all participation in the Soviets, which have become purely political organs, organized on an authoritarian, centralist, statist basis'.

Such an attitude inevitably provoked the hostility of the Bolsheviks, and it is one of the more curious historical ironies of the time that Leon Trotsky, a later martyr of communist intolerance, should have been the most violent in his justification not merely of the political suppression but also of the physical liquidation of his anarchist opponents, whom he habitually described as 'bandits'. Little more than six months after the October Revolution the persecutions began with a Cheka raid on the offices of Anarchy in Moscow. At the same time, anarchist activities in Petrograd were suppressed. The [394] Nabat Federation was left alone for a while, and even in the northern cities the repression was not immediately complete. A restricted activity was still allowed, particularly to the anarcho-syndicalists, until the beginning of 1921, though unduly active militants were always liable to be imprisoned by the Cheka. Then, in February, came the funeral of Kropotkin, with its great public expression of support for the libertarian criticisms of the regime, and, in March, the rising of the Kronstadt sailors against what they regarded as the communist betrayals of the Revolution. The men of Kronstadt had certainly been influenced by anarchist arguments, and the Bolsheviks decided that the time had come for a final reckoning. The remnants of the anarchist movement were quickly eliminated in Petrograd, Moscow, Kharkov, and Odessa. Hundreds of anarchists were arrested. Fanya Baron and eight of her comrades were shot in the cellars of the Cheka prison in Moscow during September 1921. Other executions followed, and soon the Tolstoyans also were being killed in the dungeons; since they could hardly be accused of banditry, they were shot for refusing to serve in the Red Army. The clock of history had turned more than full circle in a brief four years, for never were the Tsarist authorities so ruthless in their persecution of opponents as the Bolsheviks in those days when the great purges of Stalin were still a mere shadow on the horizon. By the end of 1922 the anarchists in Russia were either dead, imprisoned, banished, or silent. For those in exile there remained the bitterness of having seen the Revolution turn into the very opposite of all their hopes; at most there could be the melancholy consolation that their ancestor Bakunin, looking at Marxist socialism half a century before, had prophesied it all.

Yet it was during those last disillusioning years that Russian anarchism made its one dramatic appearance on the stage of history, with the movement centred around the dynamic and Dostoyevskian personality of Nestor Makhno. We left Makhno in August 1917, as a rural anarchist leader organizing his countryside on the principles of free communism. It was the Treaty of Brest Litovsk that brought about his metamorphosis from the political boss of an overgrown village to the most formidable of all anarchist guerrilla warriors. [395]

As a result of the treaty, the German and Austrian armies marched into the Ukraine and set up the puppet regime of the Hetman Skoropadsky. Makhno fled eastward to the relative safety of Taganrog and then went on to Moscow to seek for help and advice from the anarchist leaders there. The persecution of the movement had already begun when he arrived, and he decided to return to his own territory and rely on the loyalty and the natural anarchy of his peasant neighbours.

He was not mistaken in his decision. The Hetman's regime and the invading armies had aroused bitter resentment by returning the land to its former owners, and Makhno quickly recruited a band of peasant partisans. He began to attack large estates in the region between the Dnieper and the Sea of Azov; the tales of his exploits at this period present him as an anarchist Robin Hood, for he and his men would often disguise themselves as officers in the Hetman's army, call on landlords, enjoy their hospitality, and then at a dramatic moment unmask themselves and wreak the justice of the vendetta on the enemies of the people. Every raid brought arms, supplies, and horses, and the recruits came in by the hundred to Makhno's headquarters, which seems to have been unknown only to the authorities. In September 1918 he was strong enough to capture Gulyai-Polye; he was driven out again, but shortly afterward defeated a whole German division that had been sent in pursuit of him. By the time the Central Powers began to withdraw from Russian territory after the armistice of November 1918, Makhno was already a legend throughout the southern Ukraine; the peasants thought of him as another Pugachev sent to realize their ancient dream of land and liberty, and his band had grown into an insurgent army so large that by January 1919, when he encountered the Red Army at Alexandrovsk, the Bolshevik authorities were glad to reach an agreement with him for common action against the White Army advancing northward under General Denikin.

For seven months, from November 1918 to June 1919, Makhno's region east of the Dnieper was untouched by either the White or the Red Armies. During the brief period of peace an attempt was made to create a free communist society, and, if one can accept the rather naive description of the peasant [396] communities which Makhno gave in his own account of the rebellion in the South, their efforts rather resembled those of the anarchist peasants in Andalusia:

In every one of these communes there were a few anarchist peasants but the majority of their members were not anarchist. Nevertheless, in their communal life they behaved with that anarchist solidarity of which, in ordinary life, only toilers are capable whose natural simplicity has not yet been affected by the political poison of the cities. For the cities always give out a smell of lying and betrayal from which many, even among the comrades who call themselves anarchists, are not exempt.

Every commune comprised ten families of peasants and workers i.e., a total of 100, 200, or 300 members. By decision of the regional Congress of agrarian communes every commune received a normal amount of land, i.e., as much as its members could cultivate, situated in the immediate vicinity of the commune and composed of land formerly belonging to the pomeschiki. They also received cattle and farm equipment from these former estates. . . .

The absolute majority of the labourers . . . saw in the agrarian communes the happy germ of a new social life, which would continue as the revolution approached the climax of its triumphal and creative march, to develop and grow, and to stimulate the organization of an analogous society in the country as a whole, or at least in the villages and hamlets of our region.3

The last phrase reveals the whole secret of Makhno and his movement, their strength and their weakness. At heart he was both a countryman and a regionalist; he hated the cities and urban civilization, and he longed for 'natural simplicity', for the return to an age when, as in the past of peasant legends, 'the free toilers' would 'set to work to the tune of free and joyous songs'. This explains why, in a later phase, when the Makhnovists captured a number of fairly large towns in the Dnieper valley, they never really faced the problem of organizing industry and never gained the loyalties of more than a few urban workers.

But there was another factor in the situation -- the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army. Theoretically, this was under the control of the Congress of Peasants, Workers, and Insurgents, but in practice it was ruled by Makhno and his [397] commanders, and, like all armies, was libertarian only in name. It used its own form of conscription, and a rough-and-ready discipline was observed which left no doubt that Makhno was master and often involved swift and violent punishments. The character of the army was in fact largely a projection of Makhno's own character. He was very courageous, and extremely resourceful in the arts of guerrilla warfare. His army at times contained as many as 50,000 men, but it never ceased to be swift in its operations; even the infantry never marched, but rode in light peasant carts, and it was Makhno's extraordinary mobility that brought him most of his victories and preserved him so long from final annihilation. But he had the faults that often accompany reckless skills. His debaucheries were on a Karamazovian scale; even his admirer Voline admitted them and added graver accusations:

Under the influence of alcohol, Makhno became irresponsible in his actions; he lost control of himself. Then it was personal caprice, often supported by violence, that suddenly replaced his sense of revolutionary duty; it was the despotism, the absurd pranks, the dictatorial antics, of a warrior chief that were strangely substituted for the calm reflection, perspicacity, personal dignity, and self-control in his attitude to others and to the cause which a man like Makhno should never have abandoned.

The inevitable result of these disorders and aberrations was an excess of 'warrior sentiment' which led to the formation of a kind of military clique or camarilla about Makhno. The clique sometimes made decisions and committed acts without taking account of the opinion of the Council or of other institutions. It lost its sense of proportion, showed contempt toward all those who were outside it, and detached itself more and more from the mass of the combatants and the working population.

The parallel between the Makhnovists and the anarchists in the Spanish Civil War is striking. Both appear to have had some success when they set about creating rural economic institutions which responded both to anarchist ideals and to peasant longings. Both lost the purity of their ideals when they became involved in military activities. But there is the notable difference that, while the Spanish anarchists, with rare exceptions like Cipriano Mera, were military failures even when they had [398] made their compromises with modern war, Makhno was one of the most brilliant tacticians of military history. I will end with a brief account of his achievements.

From January to June 1919, the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army acted as a semi-autonomous unit within the Red Army in its rather inefficient resistance to Denikin. Then, in the middle of June, when the anarchists had called a Congress at Gulyai-Polye and invited the Red Army soldiers to send their delegates, Trotsky high-handedly forbade the Congress and ordered Makhno to surrender his command. Makhno bluffed. He left his units, with instructions to meet him whenever he summoned them, and set off with a cavalry bodyguard to new territory west of the Dnieper. There he carried on guerrilla war against the Whites and in the meantime started ridding the villages of their Bolshevik Commissars and setting up libertarian communes. In August 1919 he called back the men he had left in the Red Army, and started a general campaign against Denikin, whom the Red Army was obviously unable to defeat. At first the campaign seemed to be going badly, and Makhno was driven north-west to Uman, far away from his own country. Then he counter-attacked, inflicted a decisive defeat on the Whites, and drove across their rear to the Sea of Azov and then north to Ekaterinoslav in a ruthless sweeping movement that covered hundreds of miles of territory in barely three weeks. Denikin's supply lines were cut, and he was forced to retreat. An area of many thousands of square miles was now under anarchist control, and in the region where the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army marched and counter-marched no civil authority existed; the peasants conducted their own affairs in a relative freedom marred only by the constant demands of the army for food and men.

In December 1919 the Red Army reached the south again, and at the end of the year -- after acknowledgements for services rendered -- ordered Makhno to take his army to the Polish front, a move clearly intended to leave the Ukraine open to the intensive establishment of communist control. Makhno refused and was outlawed; immediately a bitter guerrilla war began in which Makhno fought back for nine months against numerically superior forces and, while he lost and won territory [399] in bewildering succession, managed to keep intact the organization of the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army.

This phase of the struggle ended when a new White Army, led by Wrangel, began to advance successfully northward from the Crimea. Again the Red Army decided it could not do without Makhno, and a truce, followed by a treaty, was arranged. Among other promises, the Bolsheviks undertook to free all the anarchist prisoners and to allow them complete freedom to propagate their ideas. The undertaking was never carried out. Indeed, only a few weeks later, when Makhno's forces had played an indispensable part in the forcing of the Perekop isthmus and the destruction of Wrangel's army in the Crimea, the Red Army leaders and the Cheka between them carried out one of the most perfidious coups in Communist history. On 26 November 1920, in a concerted series of moves, the Cheka arrested all the known anarchists in the parts of the Ukraine under their control, invited the Makhnovist commanders in the Crimea to a conference at which they were seized and immediately shot, and disarmed all their men except a single cavalry unit which fought its way out and set off to Gulyai-Polye.

There, in the meantime, Makhno was attacked by large Red Army forces. In the first weeks he rallied what remained of his army, and inflicted heavy defeats on the enemy units, many of whose men were themselves Ukrainian peasants and fought reluctantly against him. But he could not fight indefinitely against the whole Red Army, though he did carry on the war nine months longer, until his supplies were exhausted and almost all his followers were killed. He never surrendered. On 28 August 1921 he escaped into Romania, and began a miserable pilgrimage through the prisons of Romania, Poland, and Danzig until he reached the freedom of exile in Paris, where he lived on, tuberculous, alcoholic, a bitter and lonely peasant who hated the city, until 1935. Only the Spanish anarchists remembered his epic years and kept him from starvation.

On the day when Makhno fought his way across the Dniester into exile, anarchism as a vital force ceased to exist in Russia. That the Bolsheviks should have fought it so fiercely and so treacherously suggests that, in the south at least, [400] they regarded it as a real danger to their own ascendancy. From their own viewpoint they were doubtless correct. Only when the anarchists had been expelled from the Ukraine could the Procrustean task of fitting the peasant world into the Marxist state be seriously undertaken.


1 In addition to the Russian-speaking expatriate groups of this period there was the Yiddish-speaking movement of Russian and Polish Jews in the East End of London, who formed a whole federation of their own. This was the largest group of Russian anarchist exiles in western Europe. For many years they published their own paper, the Arbeter Fraint. However, it was written primarily for distribution in England, whereas the Russian-language papers I have mentioned were all prepared for use in Russia, and therefore formed an integral part of the Russian movement.

2 His real name was Vsevolod Mikhailovich Eichenbaum.

3 La Revolution russe en Ukraine, Paris, 1927.