A short biography of Aron Baron, anarchist active in Russia and the Ukraine
“Aaron Baron, arrested in the Ukraine, due to return that evening to a prison from which he would never again emerge, lifted his emaciated, bearded, gold-spectacled profile to cry relentless protests against the new despotism; the butchers at work in their cellars, the dishonour shed upon socialism, the official violence that was trampling the Revolution underfoot. Fearless and impetuous, he seemed to be sowing the seeds of new tempests" Baron at Kropotkin’s funeral, Memoirs of a Revolutionary, Victor Serge.
Aron Baron was born in the village of Hlynets in Kiev province in the Ukraine into a poor Jewish family on 6th July 1891. His father was David who had originally had the name Faktorovitch which was changed when he was adopted by a childless couple, the Barons, to avoid him being drafted into the Russian Army at a young age and his mother was Mindel nee Rabinovitch. He had five other siblings. He worked as a baker. He had become an anarchist in his school years.
Around 1906 he was involved in revolutionary activity within the Kiev Bakers’ Union. He was arrested and exiled in 1907. In 1912 he fled to the United States. Here he was active within the Russian Workers Union and within the Industrial Workers of the World from 1912. He was co-editor of the Chicago anarchist paper Alarm from 1915 with Lucy Parsons as well as writing for the Russian Workers Union paper Voice of Labour. He was heavily involved in activity among Jewish and Russian Workers. Several times he was arrested for short periods. He met and married Fanya Grefenson , the sister of his brother's wife in Chicago. During the unemployed demonstrations in 1915, Aron and Fanya were at the forefront of the struggle and were severely beaten by the police.
In June 1917 the Barons returned to Kiev, where Aron was nominated by the Bakers Union to the local soviet. He distinguished himself as a speaker and lecturer and was popular among peasants, workers and soldiers. Aron formed an anarchist combat unit which fought the forces of the Cossack general Kaledin on the Don, and was then involved in battles against the Austrian and German invaders.Assertions that he was involved in March 1918 in the defence of Poltava as a military commander appear to be mistaken as he is confused with Mikhail Baron, a commander at Poltava and an anarchist turned Bolshevik. In March 1918 he mediated between the Bolsheviks and the Ekaterinoslav Federation of Anarchists when armed conflict broke out.
In May 1918 Aron retreated with anarchist units to Rostov-on-Don, where he took part in the expropriation of the local bourgeoisie, banks, and attacks on prisons and jails of the Bolshevik authorities. He was forced to retreat with an anarchist unit to Tsaritsyn, where his group, like many others, was disarmed by the Bolsheviks in early June. By the summer of 1918 he was in Kursk, where in July 1918 he participated in the foundation of the Nabat Confederation of Anarchists which aimed to unite all anarchists in the region and beyond. On 12th-16th November the founding congress of Nabat took place and Aron served on the secretariat and as an editor of its paper of the same name. In September of the same year together with the Bolshevik Cossack Vitaly Primakov he set up the 1st Ukrainian Insurgent Division, which became the Tarashchansky Regiment and he became its commander. In January 1919 he was in Kharkov as a result of a military offensive and in February he was involved in the capture of Ekaterinoslav, where he began to organise Nabat groups. This eventually led to his arrest by the local Cheka on February 8th 1919, following his lecture on “Anarchism and the Soviet government." After a few days he was freed, and took part in the 2nd Gulyai-Polye District congress from 12th-18th February, where he criticised the Bolsheviks for usurping power, harassing workers and members of revolutionary organisations, and called for the establishment of non-party Soviets which must manage the economy and became the main instrument of social revolution.
After this he returned to Kiev, where he was once again arrested by the Cheka. He was elected in absentia to the Nabat secretariat at its congress at Elizavetgrad on 2nd-7th April. In April - June 1919 he moved to Odessa where he edited the Odessa Nabat. The last issue, No.7, appeared on June 16th after which it was banned by the Bolsheviks. In June 1919 he went to Moscow, where in early October he was once again arrested on suspicion of links with the Underground Anarchists and their bomb attack on the Moscow HQ of the Communist Party. In prison he initiated the setting up of a Commission of Inquiry which tried to investigate the circumstances of the explosion. In November 1919 it was proven that he had no involvement and in addition because he was seriously ill with typhus, he was released. In early 1920 he returned to the Ukraine and took part in secret conferences of Nabat in Kharkov in February and April 1920. He was elected as the official representative of the Nabat secretariat to the Council of Revolutionary Insurgents (PSA) of the Revolutionary Insurgent Army of Ukraine (RPAU), the Makhnovist armed units. He was again arrested by the Cheka for links with Makhnovists and released after he started a nine day hunger strike . In mid-June 1920 with a group of other Nabat activists he joined the Makhnovists and during the summer participated in raids carried out by them. He was a member of the editorial board of the Makhnovist paper Insurgent (Povstanets). An opponent of a further alliance with the Bolsheviks, he insisted on the need to consolidate Makhnovist military presence in a certain area and the immediate construction of an anarchist-communist society. With Sukhovolsky and Belash, he was an initiator of the KAD(Commission for Anti-Makhnovist Activities) which sought to control the actions of the Kontrrazvedka , the Makhnovist counter-intelligence service.
He sought to subordinate the local and long established anarchist groups of Gulyai-Polye and Novospasovka- in many ways the real core of the Makhnovist movement to the Nabat Secretariat and as someone with some military experience he began to interfere in the military affairs of the movement. As a result there was a personal falling out between Baron and Makhno in August 1920. Baron described Makhno as an Ukrainian Bonaparte and left the movement.
In September 1920, he was arrested in Moscow by the Cheka. In early October 1920 he was released following the new treaty between the Makhnovists and the Bolsheviks and returned to Kiev. He now came to the conclusion that there had to be closer cooperation between Nabat and the Makhnovists, and he threw himself into active organisational and propaganda work, speaking daily at factories, working with the newspapers Nabat and Golos Makhnovtsa (Makhnovist Voice) organising anarcho-syndicalist unions, and preparing for an all-Ukrainian anarchist congress. He was once again arrested on 25th November 1920 in Kharkhov, leading to several months confinement. On November 29th the editorial board of Golos Makhnovtsa were arrested and most of them shot by the Cheka. In January 1921, together with other Nabat anarchists he was brought to Moscow. He was one of the imprisoned anarchists allowed to attend the funeral of Kropotkin. From April he was held in the central prison of Orel where he conducted an 11-day hunger strike. That year Fanya was arrested and shot by the Cheka. In November 1922 he was returned to prison in Kharkov, but was soon released.
He moved to Kieb, where his new partner, the anarchist Fanya Avroutzkaya was very ill. He had to report to the Cheka on a daily basis. He was sent back to the Moscow Cheka.
On 5th January 1923 he was sentenced to 2 years of exile for "clandestine propaganda", and sent to the prison islands, first at Pertominsky then Kemsky . In protest against prison conditions, he attempted to burn himself alive in June 1923, and was seriously burnt. In 1925 he was released and then sent by the authorities settled to Novonikolayevsk (now Novosibirsk). Between 1926 and 1930 he was in the Yenisei region, and then sent to Tashkent for 5 years. On his return from exile in the East, he was prevented from living in big cities. By 1934 he was in exile in Voronezh, where he worked as an economist, and helped set up an underground group of anarchists with connections with similar groups in Orel, Bryansk and Kharkov. On January 27th 1934 he was arrested by the NKVD for agitating against the collective and state farm system and sentenced in May to three years imprisonment. In 1937, he was exiled to Kharkov, where he was arrested the same year. He was sent to Tobolsk, where he worked in the local planning department. On March 20th he was arrested again and sentenced to death by the Omsk troika of the NKVD on August 5th. On August 12th he was shot with other anarchists- Prokop Evdokimovich Budakov, Zinaida Alekseevna Budakova, Avram Venetsky, Ivan Golovchanskii, Vsevolod Grigorievich Denisov, Nikolai Desyatkov, Ivan Dudarin, Andrei Zolotarev, Andrei Pavlovich Kislitsin ( the oldest- born in 1873), Alexander Pastukhov, Anna Aronovna Sangorodetskaya, Mikhail G. Tvelnev, Vladimir Khudolei-Gradin, Yuri I. Hometovsky-Izgodin, Nahum Aaronovch Eppelbaum ( partial list as others like Shabalin also seem to have been condemned to death at same time)- in Tobolsk. (Primakov, his old military colleague and member of the Communist Party, was also shot in 1937).
He was rehabilitated by the Soviet authorities on February 8th 1957.
Malet, M. Nestor Makhno in the Russian Civil War
Avrich, P. The Russian Anarchists
Photo from: http://www.iisg.nl/collections/kropotkin