Our first volume is available now! Oppositions: some anarchist writing of Ida Mett

Oppositions is back from the printer and out now!!!

Ida Mett (1901-1973) is perhaps best known today for her groundbreaking history of the Kronstadt uprising. She was active in anarchist circles in several countries throughout her turbulent life, and wrote consistently for various anarchist and leftist publications.

The articles collected here – some printed in English for the first time – span from 1930 to 1954; including personal accounts of well-known revolutionaries, real time appraisals of the struggle against fascism, insightful analysis of the political scene in the (then) USSR, prescient warnings about the “politics of the lesser evil”, and much more…

These are lessons of lived history from a militantly internationalist and working class anarchist perspective.

60+ pages of living anarchist history!

If you’d like a copy (or several) send a donation of $7/copy (includes domestic shipping) to our good comrades at the Kate Sharpley Library and let them know what it’s for, and we’ll ship ’em off asap!

‘Memories of Makhno’ (by Ida Mett)

In honor of our new pamphlet of Ida Mett writings, we are hosting some exciting artcles relevant to her life and work that didn’t make it into Oppositions. First up is a controversial (to our minds anyway) essay about Mett’s dealing with the famed Ukrainian anarchist guerilla Nestor Makhno. Enjoy!

(Ida Mett, 1948; footnotes by Steimer Press, 2021)
In the run-up to the war I set down on paper my personal recollections of the Makhno I knew during his time in Paris. Those memories went astray during the war. Now, having read what Voline has said about him in his book on the Russian revolution, I have made up my mind to rewrite these brief recollections for the sake of historical truth.(1) Plainly, in order to offer a comprehensive portrait, one would have needed to know Makhno during his “glory” days over yonder in Ukraine. But actually, how are we to know when he appeared in his true light – was it during his pan-Ukrainian heyday or when living in Paris as a poor immigrant in a strange land? My belief is that what history needs above all else is truth and I shall attempt to set out that truth regarding one period in his life.  Back in the day, during the civil war, when Ukraine was awash with all manner of legends about Makhno and the ‘Makhnovschina’, back when the ‘Rosta’ telegraph agency was reporting every few days that he had been captured by the Reds, I, a young student dreaming of heroic deeds and a life of the utmost freedom, used to imagine Makhno as a sort of a bogatyr (Russian epic hero) – tall, strong, courageous, fearless and without ulterior motives – a battler for the people’s truth.(2) I also remember that the word in the Ukraine was that Makhno was a former primary school-teacher. And lo and behold, in the autumn of 1925 I came up to Paris and discovered that Makhno was in Paris too and I was itching for a chance to see him. Shortly after that I had the opportunity to meet him, in the tiny hotel room where he was living with his wife and child. I came away with an impression that was the complete opposite of what I had previously imagined; he was short, sickly looking, the sort one might walk past without even noticing. I later had occasion to have frequent encounters with him. And the better one got to know him the more readily understood he and his part in the civil war became

I would have said that the essence of the man was that he was and had remained a Ukrainian peasant. Not that he was by any means a happy-go-lucky sort; on the contrary, in the depths of his soul he was a thrifty peasant perfectly familiar with life in the countryside and with the hopes of the inhabitants.In his early youth he had become a revolutionary and terrorist, in which he encapsulated the prevailing spirit of the age and of his background – he was the son of a large and greatly impoverished family of a farm labourer. Along with a few friends he had set about manufacturing bombs in the very same crockpot in which his mother used to knead her dough. Imagine his mother’s horror when she saw that crockpot explode and catapulted out of the main oven. Shortly after that tragic-comic incident the young Makhno attempted the life of a local police official and was sentenced to death. But he was only seventeen years old and overtures made by his mother resulted in the sentence’s being commuted to life imprisonment. And so here mained in the Butyrki prison up until the revolution in 1917.  Now the Butyrki back then was a sort of a revolutionary university.  Quite young men would often go inside knowing nothing about just about any revolutionary theory and it was inside the prison that they acquired from older comrades and intellectuals the grounding that they lacked. Makhno too learnt a lot in prison, but being an inflexible sort, he was forever at loggerheads with the prison authorities and that often led to his being placed in solitary and just made him all the more bitter. It strikes me that he came away from the Butyrki prison also with a measure of animosity towards intellectuals, of whom he was to some extent jealous. But within him there was a genuine, healthy thirst for learning and a regard for it. He would often recount the old chestnut widely told about him in Ukraine; it seems that once upon a time, receiving a delegation of railwaymen, Makhno had told them that he had no further use for them as he was planning to replace the railways with tatchankis (carts in wide use in Ukraine). Look at this rabble! What have they come up with? he spluttered. He entered the Butyrki in 1908 or 1909 and by around 1914 had had time enough to absorb many things and plenty to mull over. When the ’14 war broke out, the bulk of the political prisoners held in the prisonturned into supporters of the defense of the nation; at the time Makhno, acting on his own, drafted a defeatist leaflet and scattered it around the prison. That leaflet opened with these words: “Comrades, when are you going to stop being scoundrels?” The leaflet created a bit of a stir and some veterans of the revolution such as the Social Revolutionary Minor launched a bit of an investigation to trace whoever had dared issue it.(3) I had this account from Makhno himself and it was confirmed by his prison comrade, Piotr Arshinov.(4)  The February 1917 revolution also opened the gates for this inmate who was at large again at the age of twenty-five. Carrying some intellectual baggage that he had picked up in the Butyrki revolutionary university. He only stayed in Moscow a very short time and hurried home to his village, Gulyai-Polye, where his entire family was living and the young revolutionary was soon diving headlong into the radiant abyss of revolutionary Ukraine.Among the peasants in his village he enjoyed great authority and he organized anarchist groups among the local peasants, so that later, when he tried to write a history of the Makhnovist movement, he credited those groups with having been the instigators of the partisan movement and he denied that any outside anarchists had exercised any sway over the movement. He referred to the latter as “touring players” and accused them of having brought nothing to the movement. And if, according to him, the movement had been anarchist in character even so, that was a cachet bestowed upon it by Makhno himself and by the peasant groups organized by him.

Was Makhno an honest man seeking the welfare of the people or was he a lucky one dropped into the melée by sheer fluke? I think that his goodwill towards society was sincere and beyond all question. He was a politician with an innate gift and dabbled in stratagems that were often out of all proportion with his limited political expertise.  However, I believe that he was perfectly at home in the role of people’s avenger. As to the matter of knowing what he and his class wanted and hoped for, that was actually the Makhnovist movement’s weak point. But that weak point was shared by the whole of peasant Russia, no matter which the camp. They wanted freedom, and land but what purpose they would turn those two to was harder to define.The same weakness partly accounts for the fact that the Russian peasantry later failed to put up determined opposition to the new serfdom introduced by Stalin.  I can recall Nestor Makhno once mentioning in my presence a dream that he would have liked to see realized. It was in the autumn of 1927 in the course of a stroll around the Bois de Vincennes.(5)  It was asplendid day. The rural setting doubtless stirred the poet in his souland he improvised his dream story: the young Mikhnienko (being Makhno’s real name) arrives back in his native Gulyai-Polye village and begins working the land and leading a normal, peaceable existence. He remarries, a young girl from the village. He has a good horse and a good harness. One evening he makes his way quietly home with his wife from the fair they went to to market their harvest. And are now in the throes of fetching some presents back fromtown. He was so carried away with his story that he had completely forgotten that he was not in Gulyai-Polye but in Paris, that he was without land, house or young wife. In actual fact, he was not living with his wife at the time, or to be more precise, was no longer living with her as they had separated on several occasions and were just starting life together again, for God knows what reason. They were psychologically and quite possibly physically strangers to each other.At the time she certainly did not love him and who knows if she ever had. She was a Ukrainian schoolteacher, rather sympathetic to the Petliurist movement and had never had anything in common with the revolutionary movement.(6)  I read somewhere that Makhno had become a revolutionary due to the influence of a female schoolteacher who later went on to become hiswife. That is an absolute crock. By the time he met his wife, Galina Kuzmienko, he was already Batko Makhno; she had been seduced by the role of wife to the all-powerful ataman of Ukraine.(7)  Besides, she was not the only woman to have courted Makhno. While in Paris he told me about that period in his life when folk were groveling to him and when he could have had any woman he wanted, such was his glory, but in actual fact he did not have any free time to spend on his personal life. He was telling me this in order to rebut the legend of the orgies that had supposedly been organized by and for him.(8)  In his book, Voline peddles the same claptrap. In actual fact, Makhno was a male virgin or a bit of a puritan. As to his dealings with women, I would have said that he was a combination of a sort of a peasant simplicity and respect for womanhood, typical in Russian revolutionary circles at the beginning of the century. From time totime he would reminisce, genuinely wistfully, about his first wife, apeasant woman fromthe village of his birth, whom he had married on his release in 1917. He even had a child by that marriage, but under the German occupation he had gone into hiding elsewhere and his wife, tipped off by somebody that he had been killed, had remarried.  Their child had died and they never did meet again.  On his right cheek Makhno had a huge scar sweeping right down tohis mouth. His second wife, Galina Kuzmienko, had tried to kill him in his sleep. That was in Poland and it seems it had something to do with an affair that she had had with a Petliurist officer. What the immediate trigger for her action was, I do not know. She would very often do her damnedest to compromise him or slight him psychologically in the presence of others. Thus on one occasion when I was present she said of someone: He was a real general, unlike Nestor here, her intention being to stress that she did thought him no general. Now she was aware that during Makhno’s time in Romania the Romanian government had rendered him all the honors attendanton that rank.  In Paris, Galina Kuzmienko worked sometimes as a housekeeper and sometimes as a cook and she reckoned that nature had her marked out for something better. In 1926-27 she had written to Moscow to ask the government if she might return to Russia.(9)  As far as I know, Moscow had rejected her application. It seems to me that after that she was back living with Makhno as husband and wife. I do not think that he had forgiven her for having made that application and I reckon rather that they had both been prompted by moral weakness. After Makhno’s death, she became Voline’s wife and together with him she had committed the lousiest moral offense: they had both stolen Makhno’s private journal from his deathbed and spirited it away.(10)  Now Makhno had been keeping that diary throughout his entire time as an émigré and in it he had set down his opinions of his co-religionists and their activities; I can state that because in 1932 Makhno made it known to me that he would have liked my opinion on an incident to which I was a witness, in order to check the accuracy of what he had jotted down in his private journal. It appears that during the German occupation of France, Galina Kuzmienko had become intimate with a German officer and had then moved with her daughter to Berlin where she had been killed during an air raid. It may well be that this is not true either and that she is still alive somewhere, maybe even inside Russia.  Makhno was besotted with his daughter. How their relationship stood by the end of his life I cannot say but when the girl was little and was under his supervision he granted her every whim; but on occasion, he snapped and beat her, after which he was almost ill at the very thought that he had lifted his hand to her. His dream was for her to become an intellectual. I had occasion to see her after Makhno’s death: she was seventeen and closely resembled her father physically, but she did not know much about him and I cannot say whether she had any great curiosity about him.  As for Makhno’s dealings with Voline, I can certify that not only did he not like Voline but that he had no regard for him, looking upon him as a worthless creature with no character. He told me several times that in Ukraine Voline had been in a hurry to play up to him and never ventured to express an independent opinion in thebatko’s presence. Thus a Red envoy, one Polonski, was executed by the Makhnovist general staff. Certain members of the staff were unhappy about that. And lo and behold Voline showed up from somewhere.  He was briefed on the matter but in response merely asked: And Batko was happy with that? If the answer is yes, I refuse to even discuss the matter.  It so happened that Makhno was in an adjoining room and in a half-drunken state. On overhearing the conversation,  he strode into the room where Voline was and asked him:  So, you are in agreement with a man having been shot without even asking the reason why he was executed? And even if the Batko had been in agreement, could he not have been mistaken, and if drunk when he had had him shot, then what?Voline did not dare utter another word. On the other hand, in Paris, when Makhno was living in poverty and neglect, everybody was critical of his past record and activity in Ukraine, whereas over there the very same people had not had the gumption to express any opinion. Makhno was clever enough to realize that and he repaid the sources of the criticisms with an implacable hatred. Moreover, when candidly told the truth he appeared to take umbrage, but I amsure that in his heart of hearts Makhno looked up to such folk as he had it in him to observe a modicum of objectivity. However, I would have been in a position to deduce the opposite from my own experience; on one occasion it fell to me to type up a copy of his memoirs. In the course of that effort I noted that some facts of authentic historical interest had been jumbled up with citations from speeches from meetings, delivered during the early months of the revolution, citations containing nothing that was original and therefore not worthy of being cited. By whom and how had they been recorded back in 1917 for verbatimq uotation? Backthen, thousands of such speeches had been delivered. I made a point of telling Makhno that, although his memoirs were very interesting, that was no way to write a book and that the most important facts and documentation had to be picked out and marshaled into a single book, whereas he had written two books and even then had yet to come to the Makhnovist movement proper and was still on the lead-up to it.  He listened to me attentively but never took my advice. True, I was no great diplomat myself and I said to him– You may be a great soldier, but you are not a great writer. Just ask one of your friends –Maria Goldsmith say – to collate your memoirs.(11) Not only did he not act on my advice but he never forgave me for offering it. During the last years of his life, though, he may well have remembered my advice as unfortunately what I had foreseen came to pass and his book on the Makhnovist movement was never written. Indeed, a French friend had offered Makhno some material assistance with the writingof his memoirs, but given that there was no sign of the work’s being completed, that friend had resiled from that assistance. So Makhno was obliged to earn a living and apparently the memoirs were never finished. Later on he was living in such dire poverty that he had no inclination to write.

Was Makhno an anti-semite? In my view, not at all. He believed that the Jews were a capable and clever people and he may well have been somewhat envious of them, but there was no animosity towards the Jews of his acquaintance. It did not cost him a thought to befriend a Jew. When accused of anti-semitism, he took grievous offense and was saddened by it, as he was too closely connected in his past with internationalist ideology not to be sensible of the significance of such a charge. He was proud of having had the ataman Grigoriev shot and reckoned that all the rumors of pogroms supposedly carried out by the Makhnovists were just odious inventions.(12)

When I wondered why a man like Makhno had suddenly assumed such power in his day, I explained it primarily in terms of the fact that he himself was the flesh of the flesh of the Ukrainian peasantry and also because he was a great actor and, in front of a crowd, he was transformed and became unrecognizable. In small gatherings he found it hard to make himself understood, which is to say, his po-faced way of speaking was laughable in a setting of intimacy. But had only to appear in front of a larger audience for the man to turn into a great public speaker, eloquent and self-confident. Thus, I had occasion to see him at a public meeting organized in Paris by the Club du Faubourg at which the issue of anti-semitism within the Makhnovist movement was up for discussion.(13)  From listening to himand above all from seeing him I understood this Ukrainian peasant’s capacity for transfiguration.  However, there was another character trait of his that no doubt accounted for his sway over the crowd and that was his physical bravery. Despite being a bit hostile to him, Arshinov, while in Paris, insisted that Makhno would stroll through a hail of gunfire the way other people would through rain; Arshinov regarded such courage as a sort of a physical anomaly.  During his years abroad, Makhno was stricken by an ailment typical of former luminaries, who normally struggle to revert to simple living and run-of-the-mill conditions. He seemed to resent the fact that no one was talking about him, and he would grant interviews to all manner of journalists, even though he knew that most parties and people were inimical to him. On one occasion some Ukrainian journalist had asked him for an interview, with myself as go-between. I advised him against granting that interview, anticipating that the journalist was about to twist everything and that Makhno would not be given any chance to put his case. My advice, of course, was ignored and the journalist had published whatever suited his purposes and which was not at all what the former batko had told him.  Makhno was incandescent, but I do not think he learnt anything from it. Could he have reverted to being some little non-entity? It was certainly his dream to become an ordinary Ukrainian peasant again, but I reckon that that sort of life had been shut off to him for good.  I remember that one day we chatted with him about the careers of the soviet generals Budyenny and Voroshilov.(14)  Makhno had a high opinion of them as a fellow professional; it struck me that he may well even have been somewhat envious of their careers. It cannot be ruled out that he was reluctantly niggled by thoughts that he too might have made a Red Army general. Not that he ever said as much to me, though. Instead, in conversation he used to tell me that if he were to go back to Russia, he would have to start learning the rudiments of regular military skills from scratch. That conversation should be thought of as his daydreaming out loud. I am certain, though, that had he gone back to Russia, he would not have been able to sit still for two days without falling out with and challenging the rulers there, because, in his heart of hearts he was an honest man and would not have been able to stomach the hierarchical authorities, nor the lying society.  Makhno lived long enough to learn about the collectivization in Russia, but I have no idea what he thought of it.

Was Makhno a true believer in anarchism, having claimed to be a subscriber to it? I think not. His was more of a loyalty to the memories of his youth when anarchism meant a belief that everything on earth might be altered and that the poor deserved their place in thesun. The anarchists that Makhno got to know in Russia during the revolution he had no great regard for, because they struck him as inept and also because they parachuted into the Makhnovshchina as theoreticians and, when it came to courage, were no match for those simple Ukrainian peasants who could have taught anyone a thing or two about physical bravery. He was bitterly critical of Kropotkin’s patriotism in 1914. I could sum this up by saying that he had a flawless grasp of anarchist thinking’s being a poor fit for the practicalities of social life.Was Makhno the drunkard as which Voline depicts him? I think not. Over a three-year period in Paris I never saw him drunk and I was seeing him very often at that time. I had occasion to accompany him as his interpreter to dinners organized in his honor by some foreign anarchists. A single drink made him tipsy, with his eyes twinkling and his tongue loosening, but I never saw him properly drunk. They tell me that in his final years he went hungry, let himself go and maybe he started drinking then; I cannot rule that out. But as a rule, what with his ailing and weakened physique, he got drunk on just a few drops of alcohol. Being an ataman, he had had to match the drinking habits of the ordinary Ukrainian peasant in his everyday life.  In terms of character flaws, I might have pointed to his being extremely incredulous and diffident, albeit that I could not argue that these traits were not pathological consequences of his civil war-time military activity. On occasion he could be suspicious even of his closest friends. Which explains why, in his personal relations, hefound it hard to distinguish between what mattered and the trivial.  Could he tell his friends from his enemies? I reckon that somewhere inside himself he could tell the difference between them, but, given his prickly character, he was quite capable of squabbling with people who wished him well. After his death, his private journal fell into thehands of two of his enemies, his wife and Voline. For all his suspiciousness, he could scarcely have anticipated such a catastrophe.

Paris, February 1948

*First English publications as “Makhno in Paris” trans. by Nestor McNab at the Nestor Makhno Archive: nestormakhno.info/index.htm, also can be found in French here:http://antimythes.fr/individus/mett_ida/mett_ida.html

(1) Vsevolod Mikhailovich Eikenbaum, known as Voline (1882-1945) was an exiled Russian anarchist writer living in Paris who had taken part in the Ukrainian revolution. There appears to have been personal and political differences between himself and Makhno, not least Voline’s fundamental disagreement with the ideas on anarchist organization expressed in the Anarchist Platformof 1926. In his book The Unknown Revolution: Kronstadt 1921,Ukraine 1918-21 (London: FreedomPress, 1955) Voline describes Makhno and others during their time in the Ukraine as “remiss in certain moral duties” (p224), “never strong enough to resist certain temptations” (p225) and makes clear mention of Makhno’s heavy drinking (p226). Finally Voline suggests that Makhno and others’ behavior towards women after they had been drinking led him to engage in “shameful and odious activities.” (p 226)

(2) There is no evidence that Makhno was ever a school teacher (unlike his wife). There is record of him having various other jobs-house painter, foundry man etc.

(3) Records suggest that Makhno was sentenced to death for taking part in a number of expropriations as a member of the “Peasants’ Group of Anarchist-Communists” based in Guliaipole.

(4)Mett’s perception of Butyrka prison is shared by fellow anarchist and future comrade Piotr Arshinov who met Makhno there and helped him with his studies in the prison.

(5) The Bois de Vincennes is a large public park in Paris.

(6) Makhno’s father was Ivan Mikhnenko.

(7) Makhno did live with Anastasia Vasetskaia and together they had a child. There is, however, no extant evidence that they were married.

(8) Makhno’s wife was Galina Kuz’menko (1892 or 1896-1978). An anarchist and schoolteacher she married Makhno in early 1919.

(9) Makhno and Kuz’menko had apparently divorced sometime in 1927.

(10) Voline was married twice. First to Tatiana Solopava who died in 1915 and then to Anna Grigoriev. There is no evidence whatsoever that he and Kuz’menko married. Indeed Kuz’menko, in a 1974 letter, clearly rejects the idea.

(11) Maria Goldsmith (aliases M.Isidine, M.Korn) (1873-1933) was a Russian anarchist and scientist living in Paris.

(12) In a time of rapidly changing allegiances Makhno had been allied with Grigoriev for a time in their fight against the whites. On July 27th 1919 both armies met at Sentovo. At a public meeting Alexei Chubenko, one of Makhno’s staff officers accused Grigoriev of being responsible for a vicious pogrom against Jews in Elisavetgrad in May of 1919, amongst other things. When the two staff officers met to try and sort matters out shots were fired and Chubenko killed Grigoriev. “Ataman” was a title adopted by Cossack leaders.

(13) Club de Faubourg was created by the socialist Leo Poldes (1891-1970) in 1918 as avenue for political meetings and discussions.

(14) Senyon Budyonny (1883-1973) was the founder of the Red Cavalry during the Russian Civil War in the struggle against the Whites. He fought with Kliment Voroshilev (1881-1939) on the Polish front in 1919. Voroshilev had led troops against Grigoriev in 1919 and, in June 1939 was part of a failed ploy to arrest Makhno.

Ida Mett: “Russia’s Third Revolution” Order Form

La Commune de Cronstadt; crepsicule sanglant des soviets (Ida Mett)

Paris: Editions Spartacus, 1948
This had been written in 1938 with a view to serialization in La Revolution proletariene. In an introduction to a 1970 reprint Ida states that Pierre Monatte an old and respected member of the group around the paper argued against printing it.He had known Trotsky well during World War One and felt this was a direct attack on Trotsky.Interestingly the book was slated to be printed in English by Freedom Press in1949 with the title Russia’s Third Revolution: The Inside Story of the Kronstadt Rising. Announcements were made in Freedom and other papers and a pre-order form was circulated (see following pages). For whatever reasons the book was not published in English until 1967 as The Kronstadt Commune published by Solidarity.

The Spanish Socialists’ “Blackguard” Law (Ida Mett)

The Spanish Socialists’ “Blackguard” Law
Are the socialists still democrats?
I recall a piece of graffiti that I read some years back on the wall of the Butyrki [prison] in Moscow, an inscription made a young female Russian Menshevik who had passed that way before me. It read: “Worker, democracy is the path for you.”
That was during the icy winter of 1924. Right after Lenin died. The echoes of the recent Party discussions still hung in the air in Moscow. We were still young and the matter troubled us …
That young Menshevik woman must, no doubt, have been banished to Siberia; would she still have been able to credit that one day her counterparts in other socialist parties would poke fun at “the path of democracy”?
Even as Russian socialists are still preaching the need for democracy, their counterparts in Spain have, without a word of objection or amendment, voted through the “Law for the Defence of the Republic” which, at the stroke of a pen, cancels all the most elementary democratic provisions to be found in any republic or bourgeois monarchy.
Here is the text of it, complete and verbatim:
The following are to be deemed acts of aggression against the Republic and, as such, subject to the present law:
Incitement to disobedience of the laws and legitimate dispositions of the authorities.
Incitement to indiscipline or provocation of antagonism between different parts of the army, or between the latter and civilian organizations;
The spreading of reports which might threaten the credibility or disrupt the peace or public order.
Direct or indirect provocation or incitement to commit acts of violence against persons, things or properties on religious, political or social grounds.
Any word or act indicative of contempt for the institutions or organizations of the State.
Advocacy on behalf of monarchist rule or persons representing it, the displaying of emblems, insignia or distinguishing signs alluding to said regime or persons.
Unlawful carrying of firearms and possession of banned explosive substances.
The suspension or shut-down of industries or any sort of works without adequate reasons.
Unjustified variations in crop prices.
Lack of enthusiasm or negligence on the part of public officials in the performance of their duties.
Those directly responsible for the actions listed in paragraphs 1 to 10 of the foregoing article, as well as any who may have incited them, shall be liable to DEPORTATION or BANISHMENT for a period not greater than the lifespan of this law, or hit with fines up to a maximum of 10,000 pesetas. Furthermore, depending on the circumstances, whatever may have been used in the commission of these things shall be confiscated or impounded. Those found guilty of the actions outlined in paragraph 11 shall be suspended from or deprived of their posts, or be downgraded.
The Interior minister is authorized to:
Scrutinize the accounts and look into the origin and distribution of funds belonging to any organization listed under the law on associations.
Order the confiscation of weapons of any sort and of explosive substances, even those lawfully held.
Implementation of the present law is entrusted to the MINISTER OF THE INTERIOR.
In the implementation of it, the government may appoint special delegates whose jurisdiction will cover two or more provinces.
If, come the dissolution of the Constituent Cortes, the latter fails to prorogue this law, the understanding shall be that it thereby done away with.
The administrative arrangements set out in this law are no impediment to enforcement of the sanctions laid down in the criminal law.
Individuals liable to one of the sanctions cited above shall be granted the right to appear in their own defence before the Interior minister within the space of 24 hours, and associations that of appearing before the Council of ministers within 5 days.
Could not be any clearer. Such are the “full powers” accorded to the police. Such is a full-blooded regimen of “administrative justice”. No trials, no publicity, just a post facto appearance behind closed doors in front of the Interior minister, the supreme chief of police and any citizen is liable to be “deported”, meaning shipped off to some island or faraway colony, or banished. And all of it for an indefinite period, for however long the law remains in force.
And for what offences? The law could have skipped the listing of them since the absence of all notification, all grounded findings, relieves those who will be determining the sentence from having to furnish the slightest justification. In fact, all whom the minister might feel like deporting or banishing are to be liable to deportation. The list in Article 1, however, does have this going for it: that it shows against whom in particular, this law is intended to be enforced: against strikers (Articles 1 and 9). Against workers who may not have been willing to deliver their strike up in advance to defeat, by giving the employers eight hours’ prior notification; against those who may have refused to surrender their demands to the whims of some arbitration panel; against those who may have seen a strike as their response to acts of government violence. Strikers are to be deported (Article II) and their unions disbanded (Article III, item 2).
Freedom of assembly itself is abolished entirely. Indeed, it will take only “reasons of circumstance” for the minister to “expect that …etc.” and for the gathering to be banned from taking place (Article III, item 1).
This is what the Spanish socialists have voted through!
The Spanish Socialist Party had its entire parliamentary party vote for this law, a law under which any workers’ organization at odds with the government can be outlawed immediately.
How come?
The Spanish Socialist Party claims that it is out to defend itself against monarchist and clericalist personnel.
Let us for the moment accept that that is its sole purpose.
Now let us ask ourselves whether real democrats are allowed to resort to emergency laws and carry out arrests on the say-so of the administration, without trials, without witnesses, without open and regular defence, and all for the protection of …what? Democracy!
In which case, how come the Russian Mensheviks have been so vigorous in their protests against the Cheka and the GPU when the latter assuredly started out with protection against the right as their purpose? True, there has come to pass the queer circumstance that “defence against the anti-soviet parties” was a phrase devised by the Menshevik Dan before October and was employed by the Cheka after October. It did indeed start out by sweeping aside the right, only for the GPU to finish up pouncing on the left.
But the Spanish socialists do not have the Cheka alibi to plead for the law that they have just passed is, as of right now and as its wording demonstrates, directed primarily – if not exclusively – against the left, which is to say, in the current circumstances in Spain, against the National Confederation of Labour (CNT).
Bedazzled by this slick way of destroying the CNT’s unions, these wretched Spanish socialists forget that, tomorrow, if not this very day, that law is liable to be turned on their own unions, as indeed is already the case in the more backward provinces.
But what part is played in all this by the poor democracy that is talked about everywhere but implemented nowhere?
How have the socialist parties elsewhere reacted to this “democratic” act?
Peuple, the mouthpiece of the Belgian Workers’ Party, has had the effrontery to be less than fulsome in its disapproval of the law. This is what it has had to say of Azaña, the [ Spanish] prime minister: “In his haste to protect the Republic, he has gone a step too far and any socialist will be reluctant to admit a ban on any political strike as well as any demonstration of hostility towards the institutions of the State”, but Peuple fails to mention that its brothers-in-ideas have, without exception, voted for this law. Furthermore, when a conference on the Spanish revolution was held in Brussels recently, the rapporteur Piérard, one of the leaders of the Belgian Workers’ Party, was fulsome in his praises of “Spanish democracy”, without saying a word about the “defence law”. True, he was critical of the young republic, but that was with regard to its “unduly radical” policy towards the Church!
Nor have we seen any vigorous objections raised by the French socialists; are they in agreement with their Spanish counterparts?
Finally, what will the Italian socialists say when they have particular grounds for being sensitive on that front! Whilst they may not have protested at the voting through of this law by the parliamentary Socialist party in the Cortes, are they not at least going to react once they learn the latest reports to the effect that three Italian antifascists, Bidoli, Cuffini and Delanté, having gone to Spain after they had been expelled from everywhere else, were dumped on the Portuguese border pending extradition to Italy and are presently, courtesy of Señor de los Ríos, the socialist Justice minister, in Mussolini’s clutches?
Is this the sort of democracy for which Matteotti died? And that young female Russian Menshevik, why should she be growing old in the wastes of Siberia or Turkestan?
Do socialists hold democracy as a principle, or is it merely a slogan for reeling in simpletons?
That question we pose to the leaders of the II International, but we should primarily like socialist workers to ponder it.
PS – This article had just been completed when we found out that this “emergency” law which initially had been meant to live no longer than the Constituent Cortes, has just been written into the Constitution! This is such an enormity that in the absence of the socialists, those eager champions of arbitrary rule and administrative “justice”, some bourgeois jurists have spoken out. The Procurator of the Republic, no less, has cast his vote against the Constitution for this very reason and therefore been obliged to resign his post.

La Révolution prolétarienne, No 122, December 1931

Socialists Killing Socialists (from La Révolution prolétarienne, No 123, January 1932)

The full hatred of the Spanish reactionaries which, with backing from the Socialists, had hitherto been directed at the labour far left of the National Confederation of Labour (CNT) has just, over the past few weeks, been turned on the socialist workers organized within the socialist trade unions of the Workers’ General Union (UGT).
The recent slaughter of socialist workers far exceeds the usual murders of syndicalist workers. Here are a few figures lifted at random from the Spanish press: in Épila near Zaragoza, 2 killed and 7 wounded; in Jereza in Valencia province, 2 killed and 20 wounded; in Zarameo de la Serena, 2 killed; in Arnedo, in the La Rioja region, 10 killed, 3 of them women and one a 4 month-old child, plus 50 wounded, including a 3 year-old child. The dead and the wounded were all farm workers.
On the Civil Guard side there were some slightly wounded and 4 killed in Castilblanco.
And what has the press to say about this?
It explains all this away in terms of these workers, despite their being members of socialist organizations, not being genuine socialists, “disciplined” and possessed of “traditions”. According to the press, these are “savage peasants” who only went over to the UGT after the Republic was proclaimed. Even the socialist press (El Socialista in Madrid, say) contends that they are “savages”. One need only look at how they dealt with those four Civil Guards in Castilblanco, it argues; it looked as if they had been torn to shreds. But how come the socialist press, filled with such pity for the Civil Guards, failed to display the same sympathy for the 16 young workers killed by the Civil Guard and Assault Guard in Barcelona during the general strike, in which most of them had not even participated?
Even the happenings in Arnedo, where there were women and children killed, have not prompted the Socialist Party to re-examine its attitude. The socialist press persists in declaring that the party has no quarrel with the Civil Guard as an institution, but only with certain isolated abuses!
History repeats itself. Today it is the farm workers who are being written off as “savages”; yesterday, one could read from the pen of that well known socialist Araquistain that if the unionized members of the CNT were permanently in revolt, this was because they were not true Spaniards, but descended of Moorish descent! And a few years before that, in the wake of the October revolution. “civilized” men belonging to the widest spectrum of parties were likewise querying the origins of the Russian workers’ “barbarism” and tracing it to the fact that we were “Tartars” and “Asiatics” and semi-savages! Which spawned Alexander Blok’s famous poem The Scythians: “Yes, we are slant-eyes Scythians …”
The Socialist Party refuses to regard socialist workers in revolt as part of its own. And in fact what do a Prieto, a Largo Caballero or a De los Ríos have in common with these illiterate peasants, newcomers to socialism, who imagined that the purpose of joining a socialist organization was to extract some improvements allowing you to, at the very least, avoid starvation. Yes, that is right: starvation. There is no exaggeration in that term when we are talking about the farm worker in Spain; even the very moderate socialist deputy Munio told the Cortes that farm-workers suffer from a “fearful starvation”.
Those starving workers have kept quiet and bided their time thus far because they believed that the Constitution was about to deliver them a decent agrarian reform. Because, since the proclamation of the Republic, no matter what reform was mooted, the answer was always the same: the Cortes will deal with that. Now, the Cortes has finally acted as midwife to an agrarian reform, but such is the latter that it has opened the eyes even of these naïve peasants, these poor “tradition-less” socialists.
Who then are the authentic socialists? Is it minister Prieto, who, in answer to a delegation of railway workers told them that, being a minister, his primary duty was to champion “the general interest”; or the farm labourers who are, after all, fighting precisely to carry through the bourgeois revolution? Because their demands are very modest. What they are after is simply an authentic agrarian reform, a reform that will put paid to the formidable accumulation of land in the hands of a few big landowners incapable of introducing improvements in terms of farming technology and who always thwart the creation of an internal market for Spanish industrial goods due to the exceptionally backward circumstances in which they keep the peasants; just consider this: the Spanish peasant does not use either petrol or candles!
Recent events have widened the gulf between the socialist masses and the party’s “top echelons”. Which has thereby opened up a path to unity between both trade union associations. The future hinges on this: are the two trade union organizations, the CNT and the UGT, going to realize, yes or no, that they have overlapping interests and that they need to unite? Will they be able to at least build a loyal united front?
Because there is another alternative. Rather than workers’ unity, there might well come a pronunciamiento by some general. In which case the blame would certainly fall, not on these “tradition-less” socialists who have been fighting with the Civil Guards, but the ones who, in keeping with the direst traditions of a Noske, dream only of smothering the workers’ movement in blood.

La Révolution prolétarienne, No 123, January 1932

Letter to Young French Workers Bound for Russia (Ida Mett/1926)

In the 20 September edition of L’Humanité, we read that yet another delegation of young French workers is bound for Russia to see the situation with their own eyes and to reassure themselves that everything that has been written about Russia is an unadulterated lie. That Russia is on the path to capitalism, a lie; that the Communist Party’s dictatorship is falling apart, a lie; that most of the ‘Leninist Old Guard’ has been ousted from power, a lie; all of this is supposedly a lie invented by a press that has sold out to the bourgeoisie. But if they want reassurance that this is no bourgeois invention, all that is required is that the young French workers take a conscientious translator with them, if only to afford them access to the soviet press. Only then can these workers, if they truly and genuinely do want to find out the truth about Russia and if they are not going there armed with a preconceived idea dictated by headquarters, only then will they be well placed to discover the truth. Because the bulk of Russian political émigrés have never pushed their wishes and demands to same lengths as the Russian Communist Party’s opposition. Who was the first to come up with the watchword of winding up the ‘Comintern’, (Red Trade Union International)* and the’Profintern’ (Red Trade Union International)? Who was it that asked for the Communist Party to join the “2nd International and the Amsterdam trade union international? It was a member of the Russian Communist Party, currently a member of its opposition, Medvediev. Who was it that said that the party was now representing the interests of the entire population – workers, peasants, ‘nepmans’ and the statist bureaucracy? It was the Bolshevik Ossorsky. Wasn’t it Zinoviev who exclaimed at the 14th party congress: “You now regard anyone who talks about socialism as a counter-revolutionary.” And didn’t Dzerzhinski state in his recent address, referring to the Old Bolsheviks, most of whom are in the opposition: “Had I had wind in time of your clandestine gathering in the forest, I’d have sent two GPU (Cheka) battalions in with machine-guns to wipe you out!” None of that was a bourgeois invention. It was recorded in the soviet press. And now it is not “counter-revolutionaries”, but the Bolshevik leaders, leaders who only recently were all-powerful and acknowledged by all, who are being persecuted.
Let is take a quick look at the means whereby a young worker delegation might discover the truth (supposing that it is not going to be made up of communists who, as a matter of discipline, would be required to sing the praises of whoever might be master of the situation at any given moment). The delegation will be required to learn the truth from the lips of those who are in power, as the opposition has been side-lined and persecuted and is no more. Then again, do you take the Bolsheviks for such fool as to let inexperienced young workers look behind the scenes? That would be too naïve. It reminds me of tsarist times when a soldier seeking to make a complaint about his officer was required to submit that complaint to that very same officer …
The delegation, like its predecessors, wishes to find out about working conditions in Russia. But let the honest souls among you young delegates ask how the they might go about finding out the truth where the worker is persecuted and dare not speak his mind. If such celebrated leaders as Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev are ousted from power for having spoken their minds, how can you expect to learn the truth from the mouth of a mere weary worker, who you will in any event not be able to understand, since you have no knowledge of his language? Perhaps, if you manage to slip surreptitiously into the home of a Russian worker and provided that he can be certain that you are not a Bolshevik agent, perhaps then you might discover the truth about his harsh existence as a victim of exploitation, as long as you can understand his language.
You should therefore acknowledge that mere sight of the country is not enough; one needs to be able to understand it. Tell me honestly: is that feasible for you? … Or are you perhaps going to believe everything your Bolshevik guides will tell you? But they tell you same thing here in France.
We learn too the reassuring news that you wish to take an interest in the imprisoned anarchists and even set foot inside the “polit-isolators” That would be laughable, were it not so tragic. Don’t you understand that they are not going to let you get anywhere near the GPU or the polit-isolators (prisons)? Don’t you realize that your questions regarding the imprisoned anarchists will draw the response: “They’re not ideal-driven anarchists, they’re bandits?” French barristers highly versed in legal practice have returned from Russia and announced that it is utterly impossible to discover and find out anything at all where the GPU is involved.
And you are out to discover the truth … but what assurances have you, what have you been told, that they are not going to confront you with Chekists in disguise rather than imprisoned anarchists, and so on?
If you genuinely want to learn the truth about life in hard-working, exploited labour in Russia, ask the Bolshevik government about the chances of your bringing with you a Russian anarchist émigré, complete with a temporary safe-conduct pass. Then you might discover the true conditions of worker and peasant life. Then you will discover where and why the Russian anarchists and revolutionaries are being persecuted.
In the absence of that opportunity and guarantee, your delegations are pointless. They are merely proof of your naiveté and lack of political consciousness and the impossibility of your knowingly finding your bearings in the midst of your surroundings … And that is the greatest danger to the proletarian cause.
Le Libertaire, Paris, 22 September 1926
*Error here. The Comintern was the Communist Party International

Lest the Spanish Revoltion Finish up Like the Russian (N. Lazarévitch – David Poliakov – Ida Mett)

N. Lazarévitch – David Poliakov – Ida Mett
Comrade Arshinov’s article “The Spanish Revolution and the Russian Experience” in Solidaridad Obrera’s 4 June edition contains a whole series of arguments and conclusions which, given the moral authority that the writer enjoys within the anarchist movement, might lead to huge confusion among Spanish workers. Which is why the signatories to this present item have decided to produce this document by way of a rebuttal of his point of view.
The author of the article concerned, when he comes to describe the Soviet, claims that “the members of the Soviet were elected from among the various groups and political bodies, affording the Soviet a universality.”
In actual fact, at the outset the soviets numbered among its delegates not merely members of political groupings but also non-party workers, the merely unionized or sometimes the un-organized workers; as a result, the Soviets were appointed by the entire workforce of a factory, heedless of the political beliefs of those elected; later, they were not, as a reading of the article might have suggested, a collection of various mandatories from the political groups and bodies existing within the factory.
This correction is an important one, as it restores the primitive Soviets to their actual class character, having nothing to do with the different parties that later strove to bring them to heel by snatching away their independence.
It is, to say the least, surprising that the author has not a single word of explanation as to how the Soviets were later stripped of virtually all of their rights by the Communist Party; yet that too is part and parcel of the Russian experience. But the author’s silence regarding this point is clearly explained when we find that he goes on to urge the Spanish syndicalists to form a united front with the communists. Indeed, having named and included the Bolsheviks among those who – he tells us – established just such a united front in Russia, he announces: “In other countries, the revolution’s victory is not going to be feasible until such time as a united front is formed like the one in Russia.”
Albeit that he lives and works in France, comrade Arshinov has never deigned to join the CGT-SR, a branch of the IWA, let alone any other trade union; which explains his utter ignorance of the conditions in which the revolutionary syndicalist movement exists, as it would otherwise not occur to him to urge Spanish proletarians to form a united front with those who, only yesterday, in their central mouthpiece Pravda were arguing that Barcelona’s anarcho-syndicalists fought on the police’s side during the First of May clashes.* If comrade Arshinov is interested in the formation of a united front with those who jailed his co-religionists, his fellow-strugglers in Russia – the likes of Baron, Barmash, Rogdaev – let him go for it! But the common sense and the nous of Spain’s syndicalists will place them on their guard against any such alliance. Unity from the grassroots within the CNT’s unions will be achieved between all workers, but these bodies must never be seen opening negotiations aimed at some arrangement with any political party, even should that party be the Communist Party. To argue, as the author does when he speaks about Moscow’s agents “let us leave these groups and parties aside”, or “to be sure, they behave as they do out of ignorance” is tantamount to deliberately closing one’s eyes rather that gaze upon a great danger.
This sort of semi-tolerance towards the supporters of the Russia government pops up again in the sentence where the writer, pointing an accusing finger at the Russian anarchists, says, literally, “The Russian anarchists’ biggest mistake was their failure to take into account and show any interest in or devote any special attention to the ferocious resistance that the bourgeoisie would inevitably put up against the proletariat’s victorious onslaught.”
We three reckon that, as a result of our having no well-defined organization, we three Russian comrades made tactical errors that led to a defeat, inflicted, not by the bourgeoisie, but by the dictatorship of the bureaucrats.
What is more, comrade Arshinov, having been a participant himself, is very well aware of the resistance to Denikin and Petliura that was orchestrated by comrade Makhno, and of the detachments of anarchist rebels in Siberia and in the Far East, mounted by the many Russian libertarians who even saw action within the Read Army itself.
The Italian comrades stand accused by comrade Arshinov of believing that “the capitalists and the bourgeoisie would give up”. Though it may not sit well with the author, the whole pf the workers’ movement today knows that the factories in Italy were evacuated due to a treacherous arrangement made between Giolitti and the centralist trade union organizations, of which the leaders of the Communist Party that comrade Arshinov is presently urging us to look upon as allies in a united front were, at that point, part.
According to him, the Russian working class “has sought out and prefers the line of organization and the rule of the proletarian class over the bourgeoisie, the clear understanding being that the organization of such proletarian rule over the revolution’s interests can assume a variety of forms and that the Russian format is not mandatory for every other country. Relying upon such organization, the working class has fought off all the furious onslaughts from the bourgeoisie and broken every attempt to restore the capitalist bourgeoisie; the anarchists should never lose sight of that and should steer revolutionary struggles in that direction.” Just yesterday, the very same comrade Arshinov was telling us that the Bolshevik route had led to the installation of the GPU, with Russian libertarians shot and jailed by means of secret trials and to the unmitigated rule of state “trusts” before which Moscow’s fake unions kowtow, with the whole press completely done away with, and with there being no labour voices left, other than those licensed by the Communist Party.
That was not a path chosen by the Russian proletariat which was instead cornered and cruelly mistreated by Bolshevik repression, resulting in the cream of the Russian workers’ meeting their end.
The lesson of the Russian experience will not be missed by the proletariat in Catalonia and Spain; it will achieve its emancipation through its own efforts; it will keep faith with the CNT; it will shun the flattering appeals emanating from the supporters of bureaucratic dictatorship, no matter what labels they may flaunt.

From Solidaridad Obrera (Barcelona), 13 June 1931.
*Mett and Lazarévitch were present in Spain during the first of May demonstrations in 1931. The Civil Guard opened fire on the demonstrators and were invited by the Army to withdraw.


Article by Mett (et al) associate Peter Arshinov

Solidaridad Obrera, Thursday 4 June 1931, pp.6 and 7
(caption illegible)
Some comrades have asked me as a militant in the Russian social revolution to spell out my view of the recent happenings in Spain.
The Russian revolution, carried out by the Russian workers and peasants, is indeed an event of huge importance and with very far-ranging implications for the international proletariat. Failing to take the experience of the Russian revolutionary experience into account and to draw inspiration from it would, as far as the workers from countries ripe for revolution are concerned, be tantamount to running the risk of making a series of mistakes that might prove fatal for that revolution and the proletariat. Which is why, cognizant of my responsibility, I have taken up the invitation extended by my comrades.
The essential character of the Russian revolution resides in the fact that the working class operated as an autonomous force and, despite protracted propaganda from bourgeois and socialist ideologies tending to demonstrate that a bourgeois revolution was the only one that could be carried out in Russia and that the working class’s role consisted of toppling the tsarist regime and establishing a self-styled democratic regime, after which the great toiling masses of workers and peasants shrugged off both tsarism and the bourgeoisie. The summons to social revolution issuing from the anarchists was also a help but not a decisive one.
The chief factor that spurred the proletariat into social revolution was the persistent and clear-cut revelation of the aggravation and exacerbation of the irreconcilable class antagonisms between the bourgeoisie and the working class.
Having brought down the tsarist government in 1917 thanks to assistance from the opposition bourgeoisie, the Russian workers and primarily the peasants and revolutionary proletariat embarked upon a titanic struggle against their main enemies: the agrarian and industrial capitalists who were strangling the labouring classes’ freedom and labour force. The peasant class se about sharing out the holdings of the State and big landowners over the course of the first months of the revolution.
To no avail the provisional government had ordered the peasants to wait for the convening of the Constituent Assembly, which, second only to it, was endowed with the right to resolve the agrarian question; the socialist minister of that government, Avksentieff had vainly had the members of the agrarian committee arrested, which is to say, the peasants seizing the estates from the big landlords. The peasants’ elemental force had shattered the moulds of the old agrarian regime and conjured up a brand-new one. During the spring of 1917, meaning prior to the October revolution, the Russian peasants had effected a thoroughgoing agrarian revolution, rendering the social revolution of October 1917 feasible. During the very same period the peasants [misprint]
That was the revolutionary proletariat’s first step in establishing itself as the master of production.
The next step was to mount a general attack on the machinery of the capitalist state, with an eye to securing contro of industry for the working class. That attack came in October 1917. The characteristic trait of the Russian social revolution was the emergence of brand-new organs of proletarian struggle, the councils of worker factory delegates. Every factory, every workshop set up a workers’ council representing and unifying all the workforce of the factories and companies, and performing the role of combat organ against the capitalist system.
The council members were chosen from among the members of the various political groups and bodies, affording the council a measure of universality. At all times, though, the councils had but one purpose: to liberate the working class from the capitalist yoke. Unified and backed by the entire working class in the country, the councils had to stand up to all the forces of the capitalist world.
The issue was plain: either the bourgeoisie or the proletariat. Thereafter only one of those two forces could exist and there was no way of one’s flanking the other.
Social revolution was latently and permanently on the agenda. With the entire working class of one mind and with help from the revolutionary peasants, the revolution was carried out brilliantly opening up wide horizons and broad new paths for the Russian and world proletariat.
A similar revolutionary process is now inevitable in every country. It is our belief that that course, that path will be followed and pursued in the carrying out of the worker and peasant revolution in Spain where, for many decades, the working class has been displaying its ardour through a series of revolutionary general strikes as well as manifesting and also demonstrating its determination to carve out a position of its own, an autonomous position within the revolutionary movement. So what is the next step facing the working class in Spain and its vanguard as it advances under the colours of anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism! In our view, the Spanish proletariat must first conjure up a system of workers’ factory councils. The system of councils of workers’ delegates would equip the proletariat with the effective tool for rattling, and shaking off the capitalist world and for the construction of a brand-new proletarian world.
Let the bourgeois parties and bourgeois capitalists band together around Parliament and other institutions of the bourgeois state. The working class will stick to organizing around its revolutionary class combat organ and will shape its brand-new destinies with its own resources.
The leaders of the proletarian revolution have already highlighted the vital importance of the agrarian question in Spain and have issued the peasants with a watchword pointing to the short-term revolutionary solution to that question. In fact the peasants must be helped to come up with some new form of agrarian organization.
The latter cannot be anything other than peasant councils at village, hamlet and local levels. If the peasants cannot have their needs met, they cannot carry out their agricultural endeavours and right from the outset of the revolution, it will be in danger of being left high and dry due to the power of inertia, which will be exploited by the enemies of the working class and of the revolution.
Another pressing need is “a stepping-up of the organization of the country’s revolutionary might”.
Close contact and revolutionary collaboration are required between all the producers; organizations and the political organizations which embrace the notion of social revolution and align themselves with the proletariat.
In the absence of such contact, the proletarian revolution’s victory in a country is impossible. We know that certain groups and parties are active and stand ready to form the Revolutionary Labour Confederation, rather than fighting and struggling alongside it for the success of the Social Revolution. Let us cast those groups and parties aside.
Plainly they act that way out of ignorance; they have a childish political outlook and we have a duty to remind them that whilst the Russian social revolution’s victory was due to there having been, in the time of crisis, no internal strife but rather a united front of all working class revolutionary forces against the bourgeoisie. That united front was made up of anarchists, Bolsheviks, communists, maximalists and Left Social Revolutionaries. Elsewhere, the victory of the revolution is not going to be feasible unless there is a united front as in Russia. Indeed, in organizing themselves, the Spanish comrades should keep the sad experiences of anarchists in Russia and in Italy in the forefront of their minds, lest they make the same mistakes. The issue is, above all else, the orientation of the revolution.
In 1917 the Russian anarchists confined themselves to launching broad, vague slogans such as, say, “autonomous activity of the popular masses”, “an anarchist society on the day after the coup against the bourgeois state”.
Thirteen years on from the October revolution, it is obvious today that the anarchists erred cruelly, launching a program rooted in abstractions without troubling themselves about pointing out the ways, the concrete paths whereby the revolution can be developed. The Russian anarchists’ biggest mistake was their not having taken into account, shown no interest in and paid no special attention to the ferocious resistance that the bourgeoisie would put up against the proletariat’s victorious onslaught. Beating the bourgeoisie temporarily is not enough; the important point, above all, is that the victory stays in the hands of the working class. The defeated bourgeoisie does not give in, nor does it accept its fate and it mounts fresh attacks, resorting to every extreme means and procedure in the fight, including the material destruction of the proletariat’s fighting cadres, provocation, duplicity and deceit, bandying around pseudo-socialist watchwords. Native capitalism enjoys and also has the backing of all the capitalists from other countries and the victorious working class then finds itself as isolated as if it was in a stronghold.
Anyone who has observed and studied the history of the Russian revolution will agree with what we are saying.
In those circumstances, or rather, in anticipation of such circumstances, one cannot operate according to the anarchists’ traditional methods which are simply restricted to overthrowing the capitalist bastion and announcing the establishment of a anarchist society. Following that route or something of the same order, would be tantamount to leaving the capitalists a free hand and affording them the opportunity to hang around the necks of the workers, strangling the social revolution.
The example of Italy in 1920, where the anarchists made do with seizing the factories in the hope that the capitalists and bourgeoisie “might then “foreswear” their privileges, is an indication to us of how the anarchists; thinking regarding their power to resist were vacuous and delusional.
The old anarchist approach to the social revolution has failed the eloquent test of the facts.
Life has given that the lie and the Russian working class has not been able to accept it. It has sought out and opted instead for the line of organization, of the rule of the proletarian class over the bourgeoisie and it is well appreciated that the organization of said rule by the proletariat to salvage the interests of the revolution may assume different forms and that the Russian form is mandatory for every country. Relying upon such organization, the Russian working class has beaten off the bourgeoisie’s attacks and ferocious onslaughts, stemmed every attempt at a bourgeois capitalist restoration; anarchists would do well never to forget that and steer their revolutionary struggles in that direction.
The writer is a literary worker who played an active part in the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917

Article by Mett partner Nicolas Lazarévitch

N. Lazarévitch
As the motto for his splendid book on the Paris Commune, Lissagaray penned the following words: “That it be made known.”
In publishing this pamphlet today we too are trying to shed a little light on the situation trade unionists have had to confront in Russia due to the revolutions of March and November 1917 and the Communist Party’s dictatorship.
There has been no dearth of documents of all sorts over the ten years that have elapsed. One by one, celebrated journalists, politicians and authors have provided us with, here a book, there a pamphlet. But each of them was a visitor to Russia in a clearly defined capacity. Some, ferocious enemies of the revolution, fearful lest one that might damage their interests might erupt in their own countries refused to see anything in the land of the soviets other than bloodthirsty criminals with ghastly habits and abominable practices. Which of us had not heard tell of women raffled off, bourgeois hacked to pieces and knives held between the teeth?
Others, discovering in the soviet regime confirmation of their authoritarian collectivist aspiurations, saw everything as perfectly fine and rosy. To them, the real motive, or rather pretext was primarily to resue the Russian revolution. To that end all means were permitted and everything justified: celebrating the jailing of those opposed to the dictatorship; the banishment of libertarian revolutionaries was seen as necessary; deportations to the islands in the White Sea were viewed as understandable. They systematically denied anything that challenged the legend of the “Promised Land” that they claimed to have rediscovered and they countered the “red hell” tales of the former with tales of a “Russian paradise” that has become the stuff of legend, but which has, regrettably, remained precisely that.
Today a happy turn of events offers us the opportunity to present a summation of Russia with the utmost confidence of truthfulness. The notes that follow are not the handiwork of some horrified bourgeois, nor of some unrepentant Bolshevik.
Bringing to prior assumptions to the table, comrade Nicolas Lazarévitch, an ex-member of the Mechanics’ Union, who returned to Russia at the time of the revolution, offers not a single detail that he has not experienced at first hand. He had set course for the revolution as if sailing into the dawn. He knew that in our lousy society the bourgeois governments were in coalition with one another to cut off the road to Freedom. He was ready for the suffering in order to help build a better world. He believed in the Revolution.
Unfortunately, events left him cruelly disappointed. In the wake of the horrific famine that decimated Russia, he attempted to defend his bread and his freedom from the rapaciousness of the Nepmen and the dogmatism of the intellectual leadership. Instinctively sociable, he sought to join with his brothers in order to assert their right to life. As a class trade unionist, he attempted by word of mouth and by example to revive the instrument of struggle that is the trade union and to make a reality of control of the factories being in the hands of the producers. But, from the very outset of his endeavours to regenerate the unions, he was confronted by a redouble machinery of repression in no way inferior to that of the reactionary governments the world over.
Determined that his ideal would triumph, a looking to the banding together of producers as the best way of building a new age, he carried on with his work on behalf of truth and justice. After that, his fate was sealed. Police, imprisonment, beatings, secret trials, slander and eventually expulsion – all of these were deployed to stop Lazarévitch from achieving his purpose: a union for trade unionists and not for the politicians.
In a country that brags about being free, under the aegis of the dictatorship of the proletariat, in the name of defending the revolution, a libertarian worker who dared to work to form independent trade unions was stymied. The “GPU”, the red judges and red gaolers all strove to stifle a voice that had spoken out and which might prove the overture to a formidable movement capable of rattling the new order. What! Some poor devil of a working man daring to speak of a right to life, a right to speak, of doing away with Piece-=rates and of workers’ control? It might have been overlooked had he been an intellectual: wolves do not turn on one another. Lazarévitch was dispatched to the places where well-intentioned fact-finders and smug potentates do and never will go.
Ah! Those lovely tales of model prisons!
And the sweet myths about holidays for detainees!
But now light is being shed on everything and we can see that it was all fibs. The proletariat is odiously exploited in Russia. The Nepmen have replaced the capitalists. In Russia, those who protest are jailed. In Russia, the working-class groans beneath the yoke. The only thing that has changed has been the name: the shortcomings endure. True, there has been a thoroughgoing change, an enforced change, brought about by the enormous suffering of the muzhiks and the workers. And there is no question but that the Russian people stands ready to defend the few freedoms that it has earned with its blood against any bourgeois coalition. But, having escaped from the clutches of tsarism, it need not fall into the mailed fists of the Marxist experimenters. Men driven by a higher idea, trade unionists and libertarians should not be jailed, deported or executed in the land of the soviets.
Let the producer, having overthrown all dominion, take up his proper place in the sun and , by means of labour intervention in the factories, topple this new foe: “The dictatorship over the proletariat.”
Jean Ledoux

N.B. A special note should be made that comrade Lazarévitch was never set free. Having refused to compromise his principles , since jail had made no inroads into his moral fibre and since he was as determined as ever to carry on as before and struggle through his union, he was, in the end, expelled
Dear comrades:
Whilst in the Butyrki prison in Moscow (Russia) I learned very vaguely that your organization had protested to the Russian government about my imprisonment.
Despite the lack of detail in this news, it nevertheless and very often afforded me the courage that I needed, and I remembered that I owed a duty to the Very first trade union organization to which I ever belonged, and was obliged, it seems to me, to refuse to have any truck with the whole hypocrisy surrounding the charge that was hanging over me and that, some many years on, a hand was being reached out to me through the bars. Thank you, comrades.
But now I need to ask something more of you. Would you be willing t help me state in public the truth as to the situation that confronts class trade unionists in Russia?
You will find enclosed a copy of a letter that I wrote to the union paper of the Syndicat Unique du Bâtimient (Amalgamated Constuction Union) in Paris; I an afraid that lack of space may prevent their publishing it.
Should you find the contents of that letter interesting enough, could you not publish it?
For myself, I would rather it was published in trade union papers, or by the anarchist press, but I would ask you on no account to forward it to the socialist press.
Be so kind as to let me have your response on this matter, at the address I have included.
I offer you, in all friendship, my worker’s greetings.
N. Lazarévitch
19 November 1926
Dear comrades:
Allow m to provide your newspaper with a few details of the group of which I was a member; I reckon the best place to do so is in a trade union paper, since they will be alive to certain little-known aspects of the union question in Russia.
Before making the following reports public, I hesitated, since, for quite some time now, I have noted that all criticism of the current regime in Russia is immediately seized upon by reactionaries of every persuasion and more especially by the socialists.
Therefore, before broaching the crux of the matter, I ought to ay that all the shortcomings of the current Russian regime, no matter how obvious, do not prevent us from foreseeing that the advent of a bourgeois restoration in this country, whether in the form of a monarchy or a democratic republic, would deal a severe blow to the workers’ movement in general and to the Russian one in particular. Russian workers know, from experience, that they have ousted the regimes of Kerensky, the Constituent Assembly rule, rule by Denikin, Koltchak, etc., and that any restoration would, as far as they are concerned, be synonymous with a wave of White terror, or, to speak more bluntly, a huge massacre of proletarians; so that, whilst entertaining no illusions as to the proletarian character of the Russian government, they will side with the governing class at the first move by the bourgeoisie, whether this take the form of a movement inside the country or a declaration of war.
That said, lest the hypocritical followers of Noske be allowed to have their crimes forgotten by posing as champions of the Russian working class, by my reckoning it is no less necessary, for the sake of workers everywhere, that we understand the real nature of the current Russian government. A few painful truths discovered in time will allow workers elsewhere to keep a weather eye out in future so that they do not let the fruits of their endeavours be snatched away from them by a new class of intellectuals guilefully purporting to be the workers’ movement’s allies; besides, the consequences of the absence of workers’ control in Russia could be resolutely resisted, starting right now, not merely by those of us who are opposed to the state in any form, but also by sincere communist workers who, deeming a period of transition into a proletarian state necessary actually wish to see it run by the working class itself.
Up until 1921, the boldest of the Russian intellectuals, banded together in the RCP, or in support of it, knowing the importance of the role accorded them by the expansion of modern technology, saw no chance of gaining and retaining power other than by allying itself with the proletariat, arguing that the latter’s wishes had been expressed and realized. They divined in it a strength that was not only capable of overthrowing the bourgeoisie but also of turning against themselves, if they plainly opposed the proletarians’ struggle for possession of the factories.
But once civil war and famine weakened the working class, the intellectuals thought that they might be able to harness its strength; and they no longer made any bones about their intention of clinging to power; not just in defiance of the bourgeoisie, but also in defiance of the proletariat too, and they discarded their socialist mask and moved directly to the “NEP”.
That was in late 1921 or early 1922. We witnessed the re-establishment of economic inequality: whereas in the working-class districts there was a slow return to a few opportunities to survive on a crust of black bread, a handful of rich folk wallowed in the rebirth of luxury. On closer inspection, we can identify them not just as businessmen happy because the State was tolerating their thievery, but also those who were running the State factories – we used to laughingly refer to them as “our factories” – those who were preaching to us about our patiently enduring our painful living conditions; those who used to console us when, for weeks and months at a time, we would be waiting in vain for our wages, telling us that such sacrifices were being made so that, once hard times had passed, we might organize our lives for ourselves. As soon as those factories generate any profits, most of them were gobbled up by the technicians on high wages that were being lawfully and officially increased because, so they said, their work was more valuable than ours.
Faced with that situation, the workers made ready to fight, not for their well-being, but in order to ease their misery; the leaders realized that and, in order to direct that resistance, they awarded a brand-new role to the Unions, formally announcing that they were going to revert to their old role of championing the workers’ economic interests. The fact is that, since then, having seen the close union that there was between the trade union officials, the factory managers and high-ranking Party members, we query the outcome of such trade union activity, subjected as it is, entirely to the governing political party, which is to say, effectively, to the same ruling class of technicians. But we were aware f the harmful consequences of any split inside the Trade Unions and we strove to re0set those organizations by working from within them, playing an active part in the workshop meetings. The mistrust among the working classes, aggravated by their being physiologically weakened, was huge: the workshop meetings were sparsely attended, often because they were unable to go ahead because the factory gates had been shut and the staff could not gain entry; and one had to speak up in the knowledge that every word might be reported to the secret police which is entitled to jail or banish without trial; whether to the soviets or to the factory committees, elections were conducted, and still are, by means of open voting, so that the management and the party cell know who votes this way or that; everything conspired to crush the proletariat’s interest in such meetings. In such conditions, it was necessary to call for confidence in the Trade Unions so that they might be changed and turned into authentic class defence organs.
Let me explain my personal experience in this regard since that way I can stand over every detail.
The first time I spoke up at the Dynamo plant was with regard to the election of a deputy to the district soviet. The only time it occurred to him to make contact with his electors was at a meeting prior to the fresh elections, in which he was seeking re-election. When I argued that the point of the soviets was precisely that their members, ahead of any important discussion, should consult with those who had delegated them and keep them regularly briefed in detail on what their delegates were doing, the communists responded by telling me that I was a naïve hothead lobbying on behalf of unfeasible things.
Next up was a meeting regarding the Central Committee of the SRs; I expressed the view that the matter was nothing more than a squabble between intellectuals; since the SRs were too cowardly to seize power, they preferred to see the bourgeoisie ensconced there, as long as it would let them have the occasional well=paid appointment; the intellectual communists, being more sure of themselves, were hoping to govern over the heads of the bourgeoisie whilst simultaneously exploiting the proletariat for the benefit of their own caste. I was dismissed as a Menshevik and the chairman of the Factory Committee moved that I be banned from saying anything more: the meeting did not fall into line behind him there.
In the end a meeting was held to determine my fate within the plant; up until then, membership of the Union had been automatic; every worker entering the plant was enlisted as a member, without his even being issued with a union card; dues were deducted rom his wages at the end of every month and no unionized worker ever set eyes on the Union, other than on grand, solemn occasions: since the outset of the “NEP”, in order to be able to stem any inkling of economic resistance and as one of the consequences of the abandonment of the fight for a new order, the Party saw fit to arrange a sham of voluntary Union membership; it intended to holds special meetings to that end; if two thirds of the meeting, voting by a raising of hands, supported the granting of membership, it was taken that the entire workforce was unionized; as before, the union membership cards stayed in the factory offices and the union dues carried on being deducted by the plant management. Instead of that, I suggested this new arrangement, according to which those dues payments would have been collected by workshop delegates; that way, the union members would have the opportunity of frequent contact with the organization and of making their demands known to it.
A few weeks later, that suggestion was used as a pretext for removing me from the workshop: the chair of the Factory Committee interpreted it as outright opposition to the Union on my part and he moved and got the Regional Committee to agree, without consultation with the workshop employees, that I should be kicked out of the organization; then he had the management fire me as a non-unionized worker; only ater some heated arguments did they had me back my card; when I tackled him in the manager’s office regarding my being re-hired, he warned me, in a friendly way, that, speaking for himself, he would have loved to see me jailed a long time ago, but the rest of the Factory Committee members had opted instead to have the management fire me and for me to have the opportunity to work elsewhere and “to ensure thereby that the situation at Dynamo was not as bad as it might be.” Those are the very words he used.
Things having come to that pass as a result of activity that was above board and lawful, I found myself obliged to resort to more surreptitious approach, making a personal effort to ensure that, wherever I was working, the workers, supportive of a clear cut stand in defence of their rights, and more especially of doing away with delays in the payment of wages and obtaining better protection against work accidents, would meet frequently with one another, get to know one another and participate in greater numbers in the workshop meetings.
In the spring of 1924, in Moscow, I bumped into a number of comrades who, knowing that I could sometimes come by copies of Le Libertaire or Der Syndikalist, would regular ask me to translate from them; in order to avoid falling foul of the secret administrative courts, we used to get together in the countryside on the outskirts of the city to read those newspapers.; We were just manual workers and very soon issues relating to workshop life drove us to look into the trade union issue; in order to gauge the state of the trade unions, suffice to say that , a few months later, after a number of spontaneous incidents of economic unrest, on the part of the toiling masses, the Party had to launch the watchword Revive the trade unions; At the time I am speaking of, these had been utterly discredited in the eyes of te workers who could see the union officials forever grovelling in front of the factory and trust managements; this was apparent every day in the lives of the Factory Committees and in their overall conclusions – such as the drive for increased productivity levels.
Our group reckoned that person-to-person propaganda was not enough and needed to be backed up by pamphlets calling for the setting up of class trade unions independent of every party, unions that would embark upon a clear-cut defence of the workers’ interests, against both the state trusts and the private employers.
The first one was launched over a cut to wages introduced simultaneously in several plants in the industrial district of Moscow in the shape of a reduction in rates paid for piece-work. The pamphlet underlined how indifferent the official unions had been in the face of this attack on pay and it argued that any opposition was not about to succeed unless it relied on class trade unionism.
The draft agreement between England and Russia, on which both governments had in principle agreed, gave rise to a second pamphlet: the negotiations were proceeding in the midst of the greatest secrecy; the workers were never briefed on how they were going; the press carried only vague hints picked up by some bourgeois reporter; the delegates had set t work without having established beforehand what the Russian proletariat was after and they were prepared to cave in and sign a treaty; the plan provided for a clause awarding a measure of compensation to British employers damaged by the October revolution. We stated that on this occasion also the trade unions had fallen down on the job; they had remained silent whereas, at a secret conference, the Russian and British governments were preparing to have Russian workers pay for their possession of the factories already taken over and kept in spite of all the military interventions. Once again, our pamphlet saw this as grounds for setting up class trade unions.
Around July, the Russian leadership orchestrated a huge campaign to boost productivity rates, as they put it. In actual fact, those scientific terms boiled down to requiring the worker to step up the rate of productivity whilst keeping wages at the same level. The technicians were starting to sugar the pill with talk of introducing brand-new machinery, rationalized methods, but at the same time they let it slip that Russian workers were lazy, that they wasted most of their day.
According to them too, what was needed was a considerable increase in what was deemed normal effort in the workshops and reduction in the rates paid for piece-work, with all of this being enforced just as the regulation work arrangements for the miners were being increased considerably. Our pamphlet warned the workers of the threat that this drive represented because of the absence of class trade unions; under cover of a forward-thinking notion – rationalization of production practices – the ruling class could, without hindrance, and thanks to the silence from the official trade unions, pass the full burden of the escalation in productivity on to the backs on the workers.
Those pamphlets were rough-and-ready, clumsy and simple; but they were put together by men of our own class, from line one through to the signature “A group of Workers”; they contained no clunky terms about freedom in the abstract, but pointe to a practical, concrete and specific course: a reversion to class struggle trade unionism.
In one plant where our comrades had distributed them overnight on the machines, after climbing in through the windows come the morning other, unknown friendly hands had picked them up and pasted them over the official notices. In one foundry workshop, a worker was caught on the hop by a communist in the act of reading one of these pamphlets: the Chair of the Factory Committee arrived, fuming and threatening to have him sacked and tried to get him to admit who had given it to him; but the workers steadfastly insisted that he had pick ed it up off the ground.
However, one of our people was caught in a tchainia (people’s cafe). Even though he had cast around himself the wary glance that is so typical of the Russian worker these days when he is on the brink of offering an opinion, they had failed to spot the face of a ‘grass’ laying in wait in one corner and the latter spotted him take the criminal pamphlets from his pocket.
That night the working-class Simonovka district reverted to scenes not witnessed since Kolchak’s rule. The noises made by powerful cars woke up those who had been kept awake all day the escalation in productivity rates; ordinarily, such vehicles kept to the city centre, ferrying some trust manager in comfort; that night, they pulled up outside ugly workers’ homes to ferry some workmen off to prison GPU (the Russian police) officers brutally ransacked all the homes and took away the fathers, leaving the wives and children distraught and crying.
One week later, and it was my turn: on venturing outside one morning, I spotted a fellow at the corner of the street who was watching me from a doorway; I had twigged a few days earlier that they were spying on me and I simply reckoned that the hunt was going to continue; nevertheless, after I had taken a few more steps, I saw that person speaking with three of his own ilk; on reaching the corner, I paused to buy myself a newspaper and found myself grabbed from behind, whilst one officer pressed the barrel of his gun into my face; A car lurking in a dead-end street then pulled up at speed; I was bundled inside like a parcel and the frisking started immediately; As I asked to see their warrant for arresting me, these individuals claimed to be working for the crime squad; but the direction taken by the car immediately told me all I needed t know and, within a few minutes, I was passing through the doors and along the intricate corridors of the luxurious building occupied by the police in the Lubyanka Square.
After a painstaking search, and once the officers had examined me from every angle and sneered at my working clothes, I was taken to an office, high-ceilinged and brightly lit, where examining magistrate Slaviatinski was waiting for me, the very type of a refined and punctilious Polish intellectual who, with exquisite politeness, invited me to have a cigarette.
After he heard me decline the invitation in he same tone, he asked me if I could guess why I had been arrested: since my response was that I could not, he stated emphatically that he knew if for certain that I was the instigator and leader of the “group of workers”; to which I replied that at no time in my life had I been or wanted to be leader of anything. He explained that, if so inclined, he could refuse to take a statement from me, but, according to him, there was no dignity in any effort to cover up. When I replied that, actually, I was refusing, as a syndicalist anarchist, to make any statement to an institution that functioned without any worker supervision, he jotted down that statement and handed me over to the gaolers.
So then it was down the endless staircase, led by an officer who was carrying a revolver in his hand with his finger on the trigger; they put me in a huge cell, teeming with people; most of the floor area was covered by a crude, filthy, wooden plank platform without any bedding; the tremendous grime was suited to the nick-name of “the dog bed” of that the inmates there had bestowed upon it; they were all sorts – officers and workers, there was even a fifteen year-old lad charged with having been part of an underground youth gang; there was no exercise period; and if, in the norming or overnight, one had to go to the toilets just to stretch one’s legs and grab a breath of fresh air, the sentries with their fixed bayonets use to threaten us brutally. The average stay there about four or five days; sometimes as many as ten.
From there I was moved to another premises of the same sort, albeit cleaner and referred to as preventive custody and I was there only a couple of days before I was admitted to the prison proper.
Another painstaking search and there I was, alone in my cell: the window-pane was shattered and covered by a thin metal plate in any case; in that prison the regime was designed to maintain the illusion of hygienic conditions whilst at the same time undermining the individual’s health and morale; on one hand, there was a gleaming waxed tarpaulin and on the other, as a general rule, not one minute’s exercise in the open air over a period of three, four or five months; on one hand, there was no familiarity with the prisoner and, on the other, one was constantly being monitored through the spy-hole in the door; the very same gaolers watched over the women being held in similar conditions; one was allowed to wash twice a day, but barely five minutes were allowed for visits to the toilets and for washing-up. The Administration amused itself by having the inmates clean out the toilets.
On a daily basis, the gaoler passed by and asked of you wanted to see the nurse; but the help afforded by the latter was just farcical; one day, after the nurse had checked me over and discovered that I had a fever, I asked her to take my temperature using a thermometer, only to be told that I was not in hospital and she steadfastly refused the request, even after I had taken to my bed for four days; not that I received any response to the complaint I made about the matter. As a rule, in the inner prison, there was a ban on all correspondence; one was allowed neither paper nor pencil nor newspaper; if the examining magistrate approved it, you might get two books a week, drawn from the library and one could not choose.The regulations emphatically insisted that the sentries were entitled to shoot without warning at any prisoner spotted at the window; strict silence was rigorously enforced; the slightest murmur or even whistling could end up with one being clapped in the dungeons; which was restrictive and dark and dank and where the prisoner was often held entirely naked; all communication between inmates was cracked down on, severely; in cells where there were several prisoners together, the had to keep all talk to a whisper; no distinction was made between politicals and ordinary prisoners. At night, every room had its spyhole open a crack and the sentry peered through; those on their own in their cells had their light left on all night. The rations were confined to a pound of black bread and a cup of cabbage soup at midday with a few morsels of meat and, at night, a stew of badly ground oatmeal. One was issued with a straw mattress to sleep on; no blankets, sheets or pillows; generally, the mattress passed from one inmate to another without being washed. The regimen was particularly hard on workers who, living I poverty as they did, were unable to rely upon their families for supplementary rations or bedding. At no time was the inner prison, nor any of those strictly reserved for politicals – in Suzdal, Tobolsk, Verkhne-Uralsk or Yaroslav – visited by foreign labour or communist delegations.
Two afternoons ate etched on my memory forever: one was 24 December and the other 30 December; from our cells we could har the heart-rending screams and moans of a woman. After I asked the gaoler what was going on, only to be told that that was no concern of mine, I pounded on the door, kicking up as loud as stink as I could, along with a Trotskyist by the name of Zavarin and a communist member of Worker’s Truth, by the name of Hainkevitch. The boss of the prison arrived, though not before attaching a sabre to his belt and carrying a pistol at his waist; it was only when he saw that we were ready for anything and after we told him that unless they killed us we would some day tell all that was done with the prisoners that he relented a little, mumbled a few excuses and issued his orders: the screaming stopped. It was the same again on 30 December, except that the communists were no longer there and my protest was supported by the Social Democrat, Karlinski.
A fortnight after y arrest, they brought me into the office where a junior official told me to let him have the names of the other members of the group. I refused and he cautioned me that I was being accused of having breached two articles of the Code – articles 58 and 59, if memory serves; I remember that one of them said something to the effect that I must have been a member of an organization whose purpose was to collaborate with the international bourgeoisie; it was pointed out to me that I was in jeopardy of several sentences ranging from one year in prison to death; and then, with a smile, he told me tha the article was a bit on the crude side. And that was all I ever saw by way of a formal charge.
They questioned me a further two times: at one of these interrogations, they presented e with the statements made (so they said) by my comrades: they contained precise details about those who had taken part in our group meetings; they were like accounts given by persons out of their mins and did not delve into the deeper reasons that had prompted us to try to set up class trade unions.
Again I refused to offer any specific details as to the group’s make-up; I owned up to the part that I had played in the drafting and distribution of pamphlets and stipulated that, in getting involved in that initiative, I had merely been exercising my right of association as a worker.
On 31 December I was called back for further questioning: instead of taking me to the office, they searched me thoroughly and then handed me the following document, which I can still recall, almost word for word:
“Extract from the minutes of the meeting of the Special Conference of the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs:
That he be locked up in a concentration camp for three years.
12 December 1924.”
So a worker was being sentenced to three years in a concentration camp for having tried to set up a trade union and without any formal chare having been presented to him; judged by intellectuals who determined his fate without even seeing him, at a meeting at which they must have examined a large number of cases; his class would never know the accusation made against him, or the sentence; that sentence would never be published in the press; he would never have the opportunity to explain himself to his comrades.
I ought to note that, shortly before tis, an intellectual like Savinkov had been allowed to mount a detailed defence and had the entire press at his disposal in the publication of it.
On the very same on which they had rad e the extract from the minutes, they transferred me to the Butyrki prison; I was dropped off at the men’s cellular prison and they gave me a cell measuring three paces by ten and initially I was subject to the criminal law regimen: fifteen minutes’ exercise, on my own, in a tarmacked yard, surrounded by high walls, lousy food, and a bread ration cut to half a pound. At first, I did not know that I was classed as a common law prisoner: most of the time, I exercised at night; thanks to a slip by the gaoler I found out that there were some political convicts in the prison who enjoyed slightly better rations and one hour’s exercise; After a number of determined and vigorous protests, they granted me the regimen that applied to the intellectuals; later, I asked the political if they too had bee subjected to the common law regimen; I was convinced that that measure had been reserved especially for a worker detainee.
Accommodation there was the same as in the inner prison: except that the regulations were not so strictly enforced. There too, there was to be no showing oneself at the windows; the light had to be left on all night and only seriously ill inmates were granted the relief of dimmed light; talking and singing were banned; there were no metal plates over the windows and the glass panes were intact; one was free to read the newspapers as long as one had the money to buy them; but again the full weight of the regimen was borne by the poorer inmate; without money, there were no additional rations, no writing paper and no pencil; the administration never issued blankets nor coverings of any sort; nor underwear; it even refused to repair the prisoners’ footwear; so you can imagine what condition the worker detainees must have been in.
Officially, one was entitled to write letters and of course these were subject to police inspection; but whenever the police were out to break a prisoner, they refused to pass letters on, capitalizing on the fact that he had no way of knowing whether his family was actually writing to him.
Such was the case of the anarchist Motchenovsky who had been imprisoned for four and a half years for having had a hand in the editing of a newspaper that had refused to submit to censorship; he had a further five years eft to serve and they were hoping to force him to sue for clemency if they could starve him of his correspondence. Even though he was ill and the prison doctors acknowledged the fact, they stopped me from putting a few roubles into his account so that he might buy some food.
From April through to June 1925, the administration supplied us detainees with no water except on Sundays, alleging that there was a problem with the pipework; you can imagine the state of the toilets with no water, as a result of this measure.
It tickles me to recall that the British MP Lansbury, following visits to the corridors set aside for certain privileged categories of common law prisoners could write in all seriousness that “the prison regime is not of concern to the prisoners.”
In June 1925 I took vigorous exception to the fact that, although I had been sentenced to a concentration camp, they had been holding me by then upwards of ten months in prison; such discriminatory treatment inflicted upon a worker detainee was particularly outrageous since, as a rule, intellectual prisoners served no more than a month or two in prison after sentencing. As a result of my protests, they moved me to the Suzdal so-called concentration camp.
The latter is in actuality just a former monastery in the city, adapted for use as a prison. Since it has been described on several occasions, I shall not go into detail about it; I shall confine myself to saying this: here too persons sentenced without a trial are still suffering a very severe prison regimen; prisoners are placed in groups of two or three and also held in separate cells on their own; the regimen is reminiscent of that in the Butyrki; there is the same obligation to stay silent, the same ban on communicating with one another; given that here we are talking about prisoners serving their sentences and who therefore do not need to be prevented from plotting together, the only possible explanation for this regimen is a delight in cruelty, an ailment with which the highest-ranking officers of the GPU are afflicted.
Medical attention comers from a quack who is not at all bad-natured but he is subject to orders coming from the commandant.
Thus, a few days before the death of the Social Democrat Schenkman, it became necessary for him to be transferred to the sunny side of the hospital. But as the commandant was against that, it never occurred to him to pay any heed to the doctor’s authority. On another occasion, he identified the Social Democrat Goretski as suffering an attack of rheumatism and mentioned the need for him to be removed to a less damp cell;’ because of the commandant’s resistance to this, even though there were a lot of cells left empty on the top floor once the Georgian socialists had moved on, Goretski was not moved, and the doctor never spoke a word of complaint.
On 7 November the very same Goretski had a violent seizure in the cell that he was sharing with me; He fell on to his bed, moaning and asked me to approach a gaoler to fetch him a few drops of sedative from a neighbouring prisoner. Unfortunately, a notorious chief guard by the name of Blinov was on hand; he stepped into the cell and told me that there could be no movement of medicines from one cell to another, or, if any did take place, it had to be done through the nurse; I explained to him how serious the matter was and asked him to summon the nurse; he refused, arguing that it was a holiday and he also turned down my request that the commandant be fetched so that I might make a complaint. Caught between the gaoler’s grin as he relished my powerlessness and the body of a man foaming at the mouth and writhing around on his bed, I was at a loss to know hat to do. Luckily, when they opened the doors to let us step out for our exercise I managed to dart quickly into the other inmate’s cell and snatched the sedative from him before Blinov’s very eyes and brought it to Goretski who managed to swallow it., From then on, Blinov was on the look-out for a chance to catch me out.
There is one essential point that neds to flagged up, that, once their sentence had been served, prisoners were not discharged but were taken back to the GPU in Moscow again; there they were interrogated all over again and often the questioner was the very same examining magistrate as before; if, following that interrogation or conversation, after the usual amount of time, the official found that the prisoner would not disown his past, he was served with another article of the Code; the matter was referred again to a secret meeting so that another sentence might be passed, a sentence of three years’ banishment this time. Here is a list of the names of detainees who, after serving their sentences in Suzdal, had t start a brand-new term of banishment:
July 1925: V. Arkavina, Social Democrat, banished to Tashkent for three years.
August 1925: E, Friend, Social Democrat, banished to Orenburg for three years.
December 1925: G. Kotz, Social Democrat, banished to Semipalatinsk for three years.
December 1925: I. Beresnieff, Left Social Revolutionary, banished to Siberia for three years.
December 1925: A. Sokolovskai, Left Social Revolutionary, banished to Tashkent for three years.
If there are no other anarchist names in that list, that is because the GPU, despite lots of repeated protests, was very careful to keep me on my own in the midst of socialists: it was dealing here with a worker prisoner and this was yet another way of making his sentence harder by planting him in the company of his enemies, which it was reckoned was the way to break him.
I was transferred again to the Butyrki prison in March 1926, in the wake of a pretty serious accident. As I had been sentenced to three years in a camp, I had always thought it against the law that they could arbitrarily convert that sentence to thre years of imprisonment: I realized, being cut off from the working class by the prison walls, that my protestations served only to add to the officials’ unhealthy delight in cruelty.
That was why I made up my mind to fight back only against measures that undermined my morale unduly, which is to say, against the rule of absolute silence; so, whenever I took it into my head to sing inside my cell, I did just that and it really niggled the gaolers that a locked-up worker was still not properly broken; they passed lots of comments about me and depicted me as an individual whose behaviour was not to be tolerated; one day, while passing the open cell of another two inmates who belonged to my exercise cohort, I made to drop in to return a book to them (this was allowed when the prisoners belonged to the same cohort), one of the guards reached out a hand to bar my way; I pressed on regardless, pushing his hand aside with my chest; chief guard Blinov, who had been gunning for me for a long time, showed up and tried to push me out again; but as I stood my ground and so did the other two inmates, they did not press the matter. Since he was dealing with a worker, he argued that I had ten minutes to pack my things, whereas intellectuals were always allowed between two and seven hours to get their stuff together and bid farewell to the other inmates from their exercise cohort. Spotting that I was about to be handed over, on my own, to these folk, whose practices I knew from Salovki and Yaroslav, I made up my mind to resist with all my might. So I refused to walk on and a gang of gaolers rushed into my cell to force my hand; I clung to the window-bars and as they were choking me to get me to release my grip, I called out whatever came into my head to the other prisoners: “Long live the proletariat! Long live Anarchy!” The guards dragged me through the corridors, stuffing their greatcoats into my mouth to stop my subversive shouts; they had come to an empty cell and they tossed me on to the cot there, sat on my legs and an officer decorated with the “Red Banner of Labour” twisted my arms, delicately smiling as he told me: “Calm yourself.”
Within minutes the commandant arrived on the scene and got the guards to release me, telling me that, although I might be a political, I was behaving like a bandit. My response to that was that I would always stand on my dignity as a worker. They bundled me into a sledge and brought to the city of Vladimir, travelling through a blizzard; contrary to what usually happened, they were very careful not to let me have the heavy blanket meant for prisoners, who were opt supposed to make the slightest movement in transit; with a revolver pointed at me, I arrived at the staging-post (half-way mark in the journey) as stiff as a board; even the peasants from the village, subjected to the rule of terror, could not help asking the commandant who was fat and well wrapped up in his furs: “How come you’re transporting him like that?” That simple, timid query made my guard realize that of course I would not make my destination alive and he let me have a thin blanket for cover. On arrival in Moscow, I served another three months in the inner prison and underwent two interrogations, in the course of which I gave a detailed account of the treatment that had been meted out to me; the only response I received from Andreieva, the acting head of the secret operations section, was that in future I should abide by the prison regulations and that they would then move me to a political isolator where there were other anarchists. As I gave no such undertaking, I was locked up again in a cell in the Butyrki prison. I remained there under the described conditions until expelled from Russia.
But that incident was to have serious ramifications in Suzdal prison.
A week later, during an inspection visit by the commandant, he gave the Left Social Revolutionary inmates Zheleznov, the worker Gerassimov and Padgorski a slap each “for protesting against the brutality employed against political prisoner Lazarévitch”. The prisoners were hoping that sooner or later their action might reach the ears of the working-class which would work out how to stop the Russian government brutalizing its imprisoned sons. They were transferred to Moscow, charged with having infringed some article of the Code; they were informed that their gesture of protest would be considered a political offence; and even though Padgorski and Zheleznov had already served two years of their sentences and Gerassimov nearly three of his, they got a further two and three years; imprisonment; something hitherto unprecedented in the treatment of political prisoners and they were shipped off to serve their sentences in the company of common law offenders and thus were denied the meagrely better rations and exercise rights to which ‘politicals’ are entitled. But above all, being completely cut off from their comrades and swallowed up b the terrified mass of ordinary convicts, they could be quietly eliminated by the commandants of the prisons in which they were now living. Reports from prisoners say that Zheleznov and Gerassimov were dispatched to the Solovietzki Islands (where according to the Russian government, socialists and anarchists are no longer being sent) and Padgorski to Viatka. I have no time for socialists of any persuasion, but the treatment meted out to these three men can also be applied to any worker detainee; and I do not believe that the workers the world over should let this matter go, without telling the Russian intellectuals’ government in unmistakable terms that the torture has to stop.
As to what L’Humanité has to say about the good treatment dispensed to me, I ought to say for the benefit of any persons of good faith among its readership that in fact I was at no time able to turn my hand to translations, but did everything within my power to prevent that text from being forwarded to the addressee); and as for the kid-glove treatment, let me briefly explain the price we had to pay for wanting, on the first of May, to remember that , in spite of everything, we were of one mind with all the workers of the world. On that date, the political prisoners in the men’s cellular prison pulled themselves up on the bars and called out to one another, yelling: “Long live the First of May!” We answered the abuse coming from the guards with shouts of “Down with the new bourgeoisie! Death to the police!”
One hour after that, as I was proceeding down the corridor, intending to step outside into the yard for some exercise, I saw that the staircase was crammed with angry gaolers. They instructed me to go to the office; I refused; and then the commandant arrived and led his men in assaulting me; they dragged me by the feet, my head bouncing off the steps, thrashing my body with a cane and punching and kicking me in the face – even the warders; once there, they hung me upside down and, on the commandant’s orders, placed me in a strait-jacket , even though I was baely conscious by then; they only managed it after several failed attempts and then they looked around for the most uncomfortable position; they set me down on a bench whilst raining punches on my kidneys; ten minutes after that, I lay down on my side, only for them to reappear and hitch me to the bench from behind; unfortunately, one head warder happened along who urged the rest to sit on top of me. He ordered the others that, should I ask or something to drink, they were to smash a copper mug that was handy against my mouth “to ensure that he goes thirsty”. A few hours later, I suffering from a bad cramp, they untied me and removed me to the Pugatchev tower, to some damp, dirty cells where the other political prisoners guilty of having marked the first of may were being held – Zheleznov, Gerassimov, Padgorski (Left Social Revlutionaries), Garrack-Bystrov (Social Democrat), Motchenovsky (anarchist) and a young Zionist. We demanded to see the prosecutor; the Administration ignored us; we asked for paper and ink so that we could make out a written complaint; again, this was refused. A more determined protest followed by obstruction earned us a visit from Doukis, the head of the prisons branch; to him I made a formal complaint about the treatment I had just been receiving and asked to be brought face to face with the gaolers and guard commanders; his response was that there was no way that any such brutality could have occurred in his prisons. He ordered us led back to our cells, but left the young Zionist behind in the tower. Once we discovered that, Zheleznov’s handsome face appeared above the bars and he started shouting, demanding to share the Zionist’s fate, and we were taken back to the tower again. This time a drunken Doukis led the operation himself and the gaolers’ fury was vented through punches and curses directed at the Left Social Revolutionaries. The following morning we began chatting at the windows and the sentry fired a shot at mine; the bullet slammed into the wall. Again we requested paper so that we could ill out our complaint for the prosecutor. They tied us up again and separated me from the others and I was taken t the clock tower. From there, after two days on hunger-strike, I was brought back to my cell. There, on 11 May, I then wrote up a long, detailed complaint for the prosecutor of the Republic; not that I was ever questioned about the mater. I never set eyes on any of those held in the tower again, with the exception of the Social Democrat Garrach-Bystrov who, although he was a political prisoner, was shipped off to the Solovki Islands like a common criminal.
I should make it clear that I was at no time released. The very same secret courts that had held me in prison for two years switched my sentence to one of open-ended banishment. During the most recent interrogation sessions, I had specified that I wanted to stay in Russia; not that it did me any good and, under a police escort and after being denied the opportunity to shake hands with my own brother, I was taken to the borders of Estonia.
This instance of being punished for membership of a workers’ coalition is absolutely true and specific; the supreme organs of the Russian Communist Party who said nary a word about the matter were aware of it; this goes to show the sort of hurdles the working class runs into whenever it tries to articulate its wishes.
In light of this situation, the essential thing is to cling to one’s sangfroid; not to play the game of the world reaction which seeks to harness workers’ indignation in order to bring back its parliamentary rule, after having inflicted a bloodbath on the Russian proletariat, guilty for having sought to run its factories for itself.
Plainly the bulk of the work is up to the Russian comrades; it is up to them to sort out their trade union movement whilst passing through the prison system and being banished. For that to be achieved, they are going to have to see to it that all matters of importance, all the elections within the trade union organizations and in the Soviets, are conducted by secret ballot, so that each and every worker can be absolutely sure that he will not be bothered because he spoke his mind; the first guarantee here can be offered with an announcement that every worker should be tried by his peers, in people’s courts, with the proceedings, defence case, statements and verdicts al being made public; and that every matter handled administratively y the GPU will be publicly reviewed and all detained workers be brought I front of judges who are also workers.
Workers elsewhere can be of very great help by bringing pressure to bear on the Russian government to secure the unfettered exercise of the wishes of the workers.
We invite not just the usual rebel workers and libertarians but also non-party workers who despise bosses everywhere, plus many communist worker comrades to join us in this effort.
The latter may believe that we are mistaken in extrapolating from what they contend are just isolated cases; but it is my belief that they will be in agreement with us in preventing any repetition of these disgraceful events by ensuring effective implementation of workers’ control by the masses of the proletariat.
Worker greetings,
From the Spanish translation made by Elizalde and serialized in La Revista Blanca (Madrid) over its editions of 1 July 1927, 15 July 1927, 1 August 1927, 15 August 1927 and 1 September 1927
The original was first published in Liège (Belgium) by the Liège Mechanic Union in 1926