Anarchism in Russia

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Russian anarchism is anarchism in Russia or among Russians. The three categories of Russian anarchism were anarchist communism, anarcho-syndicalism and anarchist individualism. The ranks of all three were predominantly drawn from the intelligentsia and the working class, though the anarchist communists – the most numerous group – made appeals to soldiers and peasants also.[1]


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 1869, Sergey Nechayev spread false rumors of his arrest in Saint Petersburg, then left for Moscow before heading abroad. In Geneva, 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.

Bakunin 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 of 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.

Tolstoyan movement

Although he did not call himself an anarchist, Leo Tolstoy in his later writings formulated a philosophy that amounted to advocating resistance to the state, and influenced the worldwide development of anarchism as well as pacifism worldwide. In a series of books and articles, including What I Believe (1884) and Christianity and Patriotism (1894), Tolstoy used the Christian gospels as a starting point for an ideology that held violence as the ultimate evil.[2] Tolstoy professed contempt for the private ownership of land, but his anarchism lay primarily in his view that the state exists essentially as an instrument of compulsory force, which he considered the antithesis of all religious teachings. He once wrote, “A man who unconditionally promises in advance to submit to laws which are made and will be made by men, by this very promise renounces Christianity.”[2] In the 1880s Tolstoy’s pacifist anarchism gained a following in Russia. In the following decades the Tolstoyan movement, which Tolstoy himself had not expected or encouraged, spread through Russia and to other countries. Resistance to war had particular meaning in Russia since Tsar Alexander II had implemented compulsory military service in 1874. From the 1880s into the early 20th century, an increasing number of young men refused military service on the basis of a Tolstoyan moral objection to war. Such actions moved Tolstoy, and he often participated in the defense of peaceful objectors in court.[2] Many people inspired by Tolstoy’s version of Christian morality also set up agricultural communes in various parts of Russia, pooling their income and producing their own food, shelter and goods. Tolstoy appreciated such efforts but sometimes criticized these groups for isolating themselves from the rest of the country, feeling that the communes did little to contribute to a worldwide peace movement.[2] Although Tolstoy frequently strayed from the ideals he set for himself (for example, he owned a large estate), his followers continued to promote the Tolstoyan vision of world peace well after his death in 1910.[2]

Individualist anarchism

Individualist anarchism was one of the three categories of anarchism in Russia, along with the more prominent anarchist communism and anarcho-syndicalism.[3] The ranks of the Russian individualist anarchists were predominantly drawn from the intelligentsia and the working class.[3] For anarchist historian Paul Avrich "The two leading exponents of individualist anarchism, both based in Moscow, were Aleksei Alekseevich Borovoi and Lev Chernyi (Pavel Dmitrievich Turchaninov). From Nietzsche, they inherited the desire for a complete overturn of all values accepted by bourgeois societypolitical, moral, and cultural. Furthermore, strongly influenced by Max Stirner and Benjamin Tucker, the German and American theorists of individualist anarchism, they demanded the total liberation of the human personality from the fetters of organized society."[3]

Some Russian individualists anarchists "found the ultimate expression of their social alienation in violence and crime, others attached themselves to avant-garde literary and artistic circles, but the majority remained "philosophical" anarchists who conducted animated parlor discussions and elaborated their individualist theories in ponderous journals and books."[3] Lev Chernyi was an important individualist anarchist involved in resistance against the rise to power of the Bolshevik Party. He adhered mainly to Stirner and the ideas of Benjamin Tucker. In 1907, he published a book entitled Associational Anarchism, in which he advocated the "free association of independent individuals.".[4] On his return from Siberia in 1917 he enjoyed great popularity among Moscow workers as a lecturer. Chernyi was also Secretary of the Moscow Federation of Anarchist Groups, which was formed in March 1917.[4] He was an advocate "for the seizure of private homes",[4] which was an activity seen by the anarchists after the October revolution as direct expropriation on the bourgoise. He died after being accused of participation in an episode in which this group bombed the headquarters of the Moscow Committee of the Communist Party. Although most likely not being really involved in the bombing, he might have died of torture.[4]

Chernyi advocated a Nietzschean overthrow of the values of bourgeois Russian society, and rejected the voluntary communes of anarcho-communist Peter Kropotkin as a threat to the freedom of the individual.[5][6][7] Scholars including Avrich and Allan Antliff have interpreted this vision of society to have been greatly influenced by the individualist anarchists Max Stirner, and Benjamin Tucker.[8] Subsequent to the book's publication, Chernyi was imprisoned in Siberia under the Russian Czarist regime for his revolutionary activities.[9]

On the other hand, Aleksei Borovoi (1876?-1936),[10] was a professor of philosophy at Moscow University, "a gifted orator and the author of numerous books, pamphlets, and articles which attempted to reconcile individualist anarchism with the doctrines of syndicallism".[4] He wrote among other theoretical works, Anarkhizm in 1918 just after the October revolution[4] and Anarchism and Law.[10]

The Doukhobors

The origin of the Doukhobors dates back to 16th- 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 most zealous third (about 7,400) 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.

Revolution of 1905

Members of Chernoe Znamia

The first Anarchist groups to attract a significant following of Russian workers or peasants, were the Anarcho-Communist Chernoe-Znamia groups, founded in Białystok 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 December Uprising in Moscow, 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.

Following the abdication of Czar Nicholas II in February 1917 and the subsequent creation of a Provisional Government, many Russian anarchists joined the Bolsheviks in campaigning for further revolution. Since the repression after the Revolution of 1905, new anarchist organizations had been slowly and quietly growing in Russia, and in 1917 saw a new opportunity to end state power.[11] Though within the next year they would come to consider the Bolsheviks traitors to the socialist cause, urban anarchist groups initially saw Lenin and his comrades as allies in the fight against capitalist oppression. Understanding the need for widespread support in his quest for Communism, Lenin often deliberately appealed to anarchist sentiments in the eight months between the February and October Revolutions.[11] Many optimistic anarchists interpreted Lenin’s slogan of “All Power to the Soviets!” as the potential for a Russia run by autonomous collectives without the burden of central authority.[11] Lenin also described the triumph of Communism as the eventual “withering away of the state.”[12] All this time, however, anarchists remained wary of the Bolsheviks. Mikhail Bakunin, the hero of Russian anarchism, had expressed skepticism toward the scientific, excessively rational nature of Marxism. He and his followers preferred a more instinctive form of revolution. One of them, Bill Shatov, described the anarchists as “the romanticists of the Revolution.”[13][14] Their eagerness to get the ball rolling became apparent during the July Days, in which Petrograd soldiers, sailors and workers revolted in an attempt to claim power for the Petrograd Soviet. While this was not a strictly anarchist-driven event, the anarchists of Petrograd played a large role in inciting the people of the city to action. In any case, Lenin was not amused by the revolt and instructed those involved to quiet down until he told them otherwise.[12] In spite of some tension between the groups, the anarchists remained largely supportive of Lenin right up to the October Revolution. Several anarchists participated in the overthrow of the Provisional Government, and even the Military Revolutionary Committee that orchestrated the coup.[11]

October Revolution

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.

Bolshevik-anarchist relations soon turned sour as the various anarchist groups realized that the Bolsheviks were not interested in pluralism, but rather a centralized one-party rule. A few prominent anarchist figures such as Bill Shatov and Yuda Roshchin, despite their disappointment, encouraged anarchists to cooperate with the Bolsheviks in the present conflict with the hope that there would be time to negotiate. But most anarchists became disillusioned quite quickly with their supposed Bolshevik allies, who took over the soviets and placed them under Communist control.[14] The sense of betrayal came to a head in March 1918, when Lenin signed the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty with Germany. Though the Bolshevik leaders claimed that the treaty was necessary to allow the revolution to progress, anarchists widely saw it as an excessive compromise which counteracted the idea of international revolution.[12] After months of increasing anarchist resistance and dwindling Bolshevik patience, the Communist government decisively split with their libertarian agitators in the spring of 1918. In Moscow and Petrograd the newly formed Cheka was sent in to disband all anarchist organizations, and largely succeeded.[11] On the night of April 12, 1918 the Cheka (secret police) raided 26 anarchist centres in Moscow, including the House of Anarchy, the headquarters of the Moscow Federation of Anarchist Groups. 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 joined Mensheviks and Left Socialist revolutionaries in boycotting the 1918 May Day celebrations. By this time some belligerent anarchist dissenters armed themselves and formed groups of so-called “Black Guards” that continued to fight Communist power on a small scale as the Civil War began.[12] The urban anarchist movement, however, was dead.

Civil War

The anthropologist Eric Wolf asserts that peasants in rebellion are natural anarchists.[15] After initially looking favorably upon the Bolsheviks for their proposed land reforms, by 1918 peasants largely came to despise the new government as it became increasingly centralized and exploitative in its dealings with the rural population. Marxist-Leninists had never given the peasants great credit, and with the Civil War against the White Armies underway, the Red Army primarily used peasant villages as suppliers of grain, which it “requisitioned,” or in other words, seized by force.[16]

Abused equally by the Red and invading White armies, large groups of peasants, as well as Red Army deserters, formed “Green” armies that resisted the Reds and Whites alike. These forces had no grand political agenda like their enemies, for the most part they simply wanted to stop being harassed and be allowed to govern themselves. Though the Green Armies have largely been ignored by history (and by Soviet historians in particular), they constituted a formidable force and a major threat to Red victory in the Civil War. Even after the party declared the Civil War over in 1920, the Red-Green war persisted for some time.[16]

Red Army generals noted that in many regions peasant rebellions were heavily influenced by anarchist leaders and ideas.[16][17] In Ukraine, the most notorious peasant rebel leader was an anarchist general named Nestor Makhno. Makhno had originally led his forces in collaboration with the Red Army against the Whites. In the region of Ukraine where his forces were stationed, Makhno oversaw the development of an autonomous system of government based on the productive coordination of communes. According to Peter Marshall, a historian of anarchism, “For more than a year, anarchists were in charge of a large territory, one of the few examples of anarchy in action on a large scale in modern history.[11]

Unsurprisingly, the Bolsheviks came to see Makhno’s experiment in self-government as a threat in need of elimination, and in 1920 the Red Army sought to take control of Makhno’s forces. They resisted, but the officers (not including Makhno himself) were arrested and executed by the end of 1920. Makhno continued to fight before going into exile in Paris the next year.[11]

Third Russian Revolution

Red Army troops attack Kronstadt.

The attempted Third Russian Revolution began in 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 SRs 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 anarchist 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 SRs 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, after changing from anarchism to Bolshevism 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 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 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 the Makhnovist movement to the top of the flag pole.

Russian Federation

Several anarchist federations exist in Russia. Among the most important are KRAS (the Russian section of the IWA) which espouses anarchist communism and anarcho-syndicalism, Autonomous Action (a leftist anarchist federation with communist and platformist tendencies) and the Association of Anarchist Movements which unites the majority of anarchist movements all around the post-soviet space.

Related pages


  1. Avrich 2006, p. 56
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Brock, Peter. Freedom From War: Nonsectarian Pacifism 1814-1914. Toronto, 1991, p. 185-220.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Avrich, Paul (2006). The Russian Anarchists. Stirling: AK Press. p. 56. ISBN 1-904859-48-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 "Prominent Anarchists and Left-Libertarians"
  5. Avrich 2006, p. 180
  6. Avrich 2006, p. 254
  7. Chernyi, Lev (1923) [1907]. Novoe Napravlenie v Anarkhizme: Asosiatsionnii Anarkhism (Moscow; 2nd ed.). New York.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Antliff, Allan (2007). "Anarchy, Power, and Poststructuralism" (PDF). SubStance. 36 (113): 56–66. doi:10.1353/sub.2007.0026. Retrieved 2008-03-10.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Phillips, Terry (Fall 1984). "Lev Chernyi". The Match! (79). Retrieved 2008-03-10.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1;cc=labadie;view=toc;idno=2917084.0001.001 "Anarchism and Law." on Anarchism Pamphlets in the Labadie Collection
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 Marshall, Peter. Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism. London, 1992, p. 470-75.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Paul Avrich, "The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution," Russian Review, Vol. 26, No. 4 (1967), p. 341-350. JSTOR 4/11.
  13. Paul Avrich, "Anarchism and Anti-Intellectualism in Russia," Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 27, No. 3 (1966), p. 381-90. JSTOR 4/11.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Paul Avrich, “Russian Anarchists and the Civil War,” Russian Review, Vol. 27, No. 3 (1968), p. 296-306. JSTOR 5/11.
  15. Wolf, Eric. “Peasants and Revolution,” Revolutions: Theoretical, Comparative, and Historical Studies. Jack Goldstone, ed. 2002.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Vladimir N. Brovkin, Behind the Front Lines of the Civil War: Political Parties and Social Movements in Russia, 1918-1922. Princeton, 1994, p. 127-62, 300.
  17. Orlando Figes, "The Red Army and Mass Mobilization during the Russian Civil War 1918-1920," Past & Present, No. 129 (1990), p. 168-211. JSTOR 4/11.


Further reading

  • Bakunin, Mikhail (1990). Statism and Anarchy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-36973-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Berkman, Alexander (2010). The Tragic Procession: Alexander Berkman and Russian Prisoner Aid. London and Berkeley: Kate Sharpley Library and Alexander Berkman Social Club. ISBN 1-873605-90-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Dolgoff, Sam (1980). Bakunin on Anarchism. Montréal: Black Rose Books. ISBN 0-919619-06-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Voline, The Unknown Revolution, 1917-1921, 1947.

External links