A history of anarchism in Siberia, until its demise in the Bolshevik counter-revolution. It had many similarities with the Makhnovist movement.
Academics like Paul Avrich, along with militants
like Voline, Gorelik and Archinov, have given us only a sketch of anarchism
in Siberia. The important role of anarchism there has remained obscured.
Now the work of Anatoli Shtirbul has cast a spotlight
on this region and its anarchist history.
His work `The anarchist movement in Siberia in the first
quarter of the 20th century: Anti-statist revolt and non-statist self-organisation
of the workers` has been published by Omsk University in 1996 but as yet has
not appeared in any translations in Western European countries. His two-volume
work contains many documents from the archives of both the Cheka (the Bolshevik
secret police and chief arm of repression) and the Communist Party, as well
as eyewitness accounts from different sources.
Shtirbul is certainly no anarchist, let alone sympathetic
towards anarchism, but he has painstakingly demonstrated its influence on
both revolutionaries and general population of Siberia.
Shtirbul links up the anarchist tradition with the secular
traditions in Siberia. He instances the tendency towards anti-feudal autonomy
of the Cossack groups, the strong links of solidarity between the peasants
and bandit groups, the anti-statism of dissident Russian Orthodox groups and
the influence of Protestantism in the region in the 19th century, and the
existence of cooperative practices among both peasants and workers. Bakunin has often been ridiculed, including by Marxists, for his support for bandit
groups within the Russian Empire. This work gives some credence towards his
recognition of the social importance of banditism and its radical possibilities.
In fact Shtirbul, basing himself on the work of Lojdikov, believes that Bakunin
deepened his libertarian convictions whilst exiled in Siberia. This was certainly
the case with Kropotkin, who admitted as such in his memoirs.
The presence of anarchists in the prisons as well as in
exile in Siberia as the result of their activities against the Tsarist regime
must count as one of the foundations of Siberian anarchism.
The first specific anarchist groups appeared in 1902,
and their social appearance date from the first Russian Revolution of 1905-1906.
Very much in a minority, anarchists concentrated on oral or written propaganda.
The failures of the reformist parties and the repression that followed the
revolution, coincided with a worsening economic situation and fall in the
standard of living. This pushed a section of politically active workers towards
anarchist positions. The Tomsk anarchist group, meeting in 1907, decided to
spread propaganda through spoken and printed word, agitation in the armed
forces to prepare an insurrection, legal activity via cooperatives, unions
and solidarity funds, expropriation of the State banks and private rich individuals,
terrorism against certain individuals. In collaboration with the Social-Democrats,
the Social-Revolutionaries, and non-party revolutionaries various armed actions
took place: an aborted uprising in 1907 at Omsk, and one in 1911 at Tchita,
with the desertion of 30% of a regiment. Acts of expropriation and terrorism
were equally numerous.
In 1914 a conference of anarchist communists took place
in a village in Irkutsk province. 30 people participated and established a
double line, anarchist propaganda and terrorism against the representatives
of power. At the same time there developed the splitting of the anarchist
movement into three currents, anarchist communism, anarcho-syndicalism and
anarchist individualism. Shtirbul estimates 100 anarchists compared to 3,000
Social-Democrats and 1,000 Socialist-Revolutionaries for the period 1906-1907.
In 1917 Shtirbul estimates 46 anarchist groups and clubs with 800 militants.
The Russian Revolution of 1917 turned rapidly in favour
of the Bolsheviks, who quickly got control of all the apparatus of government.
Occupied with resisting the counterrevolution of the Whites, the other revolutionary
groups attempted nevertheless to establish popular bodies opposed to the Bolsheviks.
During this process, the anarchists split into pro-Soviet
and anti-Soviet tendencies. In Siberia, the anarchists started a constructive
activity, notably organising among the miners of Keremovo. This was despite
internal problems linked to the presence of “criminal elements”
in its ranks.
In September and October, workers seized the factories
and workshops. Shtirbul refers to a “spontaneous anarchism” without
apparent link to the anarchist organisations. This explains Lenin’s
anxiety that the situation was getting out of control of the Bolsheviks. At
Irkutsk, where the reactionary general Kornilov was in control, there was
a failed uprising of the garrison in September 1917, but equally there was
anarchist agitation among the garrisons at Tomsk, Krasnoyarsk, Tcheremkhovo,
Semipalatinsk, Tchita and among the fleet on Lake Baikal. Whilst the activity
of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks rapidly decreased, that
of the Bolsheviks and the anarchists grew. The anarchists were strongly implanted
in the regions of Tomsk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk and around Lake Baikal. These
4 regions covered nearly three and a half million square kilometres, 12.7
per cent of Siberia.
Anarchist books - Kropotkin, Reclus, and Malatesta - began to be published by Novomirski Editions as well as the appearance of
newspapers like Sibirskiy Anarkhist (The Siberian Anarchist) in Krasnoyarsk
and Buntovnik (The Insurgent) in Tomsk. Conlicts began to develop between
anarchists and Bolsheviks.
During the winter of 1917-18 the Krasnoyarsk anarcho-syndicalists
declared themselves opposed to the “the taking of power in the Soviets”
and affirmed that they were prepared to struggle against the parties that
left no place for “proletarian revolutionaries”. In spring 1918,
the Tomsk anarchists defended an organisation of soviets that truly expressed
the interest of the workers. In the course of 1918 there could be traced an
anarchist presence at different congresses of soviets: 7 delegates out of
104 for West Siberia, at Irkutsk in January. Beyond these figures, certain
details indicate an anarchist influence in these structures. At the all-Siberia
congress of soviets, which took place in February at Irkutsk, there were 8
anarchist delegates out of 202. The congress elected to its direction 25 Bolsheviks,
11 Socialist-Revolutionaries, 4 Maximalists, 4 anarchists and 2 Internationalist
Social-Democrats (just over 45% of the direction were therefore non-Bolshevik).
Shtirbul recognises the growing influence of the anarchists
among railway workers and peasants, reinforced by the soldiers of anarchist
persuasion sent to Siberia.
Interestingly, he comes to the same conclusions as Makhno
and Arshinov- it was the lack of coordination and an absence of tactical unity
that hindered the development of anarchism comparable to that of the Bolsheviks
on the level of Siberia and Russia.
The Bolsheviks moved against the anarchists in spring
1918, using the Cheka to attack them and imprison them. But the disarming
of anarchist units in Siberia by the Bolsheviks was hindered by the attack
by the Whites led by Kolchak in March 1918. These units, as well as units
organised by the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, fought too efficiently for
the Bolsheviks to allow themselves to destroy them. They were in the first
rank of the underground resistance when the Whites occupied Siberia. In autumn
1918 anarchist peasant guerrilla groups appeared in the regions already mentioned.
Novoselov was commander of a group of tens of combatants singing The March
of the Anarchists and flying red and black flags inscribed with the slogan
“Anarchy is the Mother of Order” (a sentence from Reclus also
used on Makhnovist flags). Other anarchist detachments elected their commanders.
Shtirbul considers that a significant number of the 140,000
revolutionary combatants in Siberia were under anarchist influence. Like the
Makhnovist detachments who contributed in a decisive fashion to the defeat
of the White general Denikin in the Ukraine, the Siberian anarchist partisans
(Novoselov and Rogov) contributed to the pushing back of Kolchak, From a strictly
military point of view, the support of the anarchists in the struggle against
the Whites was indispensable. This explains why, despite orders from Moscow,
there were severe problems with the crushing of Siberian anarchism, as local
Bolsheviks regarded the anarchists as honest revolutionaries.
The Communist Party had problems in Siberia with the designation
by Moscow of leaders from outside the region and the nomination of ex-Tsarist
officers as Red Army leaders. These circumstances gave validity to anarchist
suspicions about the Bolsheviks and their proposals that the revolution be
controlled by the masses themselves. Within the Fourth Army of Peasant Partisans
led by Marmontov, the commander M.V. Kozyr proposed that the soviets be organised
without the Bolsheviks. The Communist Party leadership had him removed and
had a Bolshevik put in his place. Immediately a mass assembly of the garrison
voted through the following resolution:” The revolutionary committees
of the military elected by us have no power… no-one can dismiss our
representatives and replace them with people that we do not know…”.
Kozyr himself said that “Let us name the best among
us choose those who merit our confidence and who understand our needs.”
A report of January 1920 for the Altai region by the government noted that
the peasants had expected the development of regional control. When this clashed
with the centralizing tendencies of the Bolsheviks, growing antipathy resulted.
Resistance to the incorporation of partisan units was
organised around the units commanded by the anarchists Novoselov, Rogov, Lubkov
and Plotnikov, in the Altai, Tomsk and Semipalatinsk regions. The anarchists
led a campaign for the creation of self-organised peasant collectives and
the freeing of Rogov, which they achieved in April 1920. On 1st May that year,
there was a massive anarchist meeting in the village of Julanikh, 120 km northeast
of Barnoul, where speakers paid their respects to the victims of White terror.
A thousand partisans took part and several thousand peasants attended, flying
red and black flags. Two days later an insurrection broke out. A thousand
Novoselov, who had commanded a unit of one hundred anarchist
fighters which had ranged nearly one thousand kilometres in the Altai and
Kuzbas regions, from December 1918 to December 1919, proposed the creation
of an Anarchist Federation of the Altai (AFA) which was supported by Rogov
and seven other commanders.
The military detachment grew to one thousand and received
the support of thousands of peasants from the Pritchensk region. This insurrection
grew thanks to the activities of the AFA in the Red Army, the militia and
the Cheka (the last extremely significant as it was the armed wing of repression
of the Bolsheviks and indicates the level of disaffection). Anarchist partisans
occupied the northeast region of Barnaul and the Biiski, Kuznetskov and Novonikolaev
Despite orders from the Moscow centre, the local Bolshevik
authorities held their fire, probably because they feared that disaffection
would spread to other army units. Once the Red Army began to attack, the Rogov
units split into small units which dispersed throughout the taiga.
In June 1920 Rogov was captured and committed suicide
(?) Novoselov continued the struggle up to September 1920, before going into
hiding with his partisans. At the same time Lubkov sparked a new insurrection
in the Tomsk region, grouping 2,500 to 3,000 fighters.
Defeated, Lubkov attempted to negotiate a truce with the
Bolsheviks before vanishing into the taiga with some of his partisans. In
January 1921 Novoselov participated in a new insurrection at Julianikh. His
peasant army gathered together 5-10,000 combatants. In an extremely desperate
situation, he attempted to form an alliance with anti-communist forces, including
the Whites. He hoped to turn against them once victory over the Bolsheviks
was gained (the Makhnovists
in the Ukraine refused such an alliance on political principle and actually
went into military alliance with the Reds, though the latter turned on them).
Both the stances of the Novoselov and Makhno movements point to a lesson of
the need for complete autonomy from any anti-anarchist current). Novoselov
was quickly crushed. Shtirbul believes that the “Siberian Makhnovschina”
was a contributory factor in the adoption by the Bolsheviks of the New Economic
The Bolsheviks continued their war against those who had
heroically fought in the underground resistance against Kolchak’s Whites.
In 1923, in another onslaught against revolutionary forces outside the Bolshevik
Party, the staff of the irregular units at Nikolayevsk on the Amur were shot
- these included the Maximalist Nina Lebedieva and the anarchist Triapitzin
(the Maximalists were a split from the Socialist Revolutionary Party, who
came to adopt positions very close to anarchism). These irregulars had defeated
the Japanese invading forces. Also shot were members of the local soviet,
the Communist Party member Sasov and others who had questioned the setting
up of the Far Eastern Republic as an artificial buffer state by the Bolsheviks.
Between February and April of that year mass arrests of anarchists, Maximalists
and Socialist-Revolutionaries took place. Worst of all were the actions in
Vladivostok on February 26th when members of the underground workers organisations
and of irregular units were rounded up. These included 8 Maximalists and 4
anarchists including the editor of the paper Black Flag and the irregular
partisans Khanienko and Ustimenko. 38 more, again including Maximalists, Left
Socialist-Revolutionaries and anarchists, were arrested in Blagoviestchensk
on April 10th. A “White Guard” plot was fabricated by the Cheka
at a trial of those arrested who were arraigned at Chita. Eight were shot
and ten others sentenced to long prison sentences. As an opponent of the Bolsheviks
wrote in a letter: “ backed up by the Left Socialist-revolutionaries
and the Anarchists, the workers and peasants put up during the elections to
the Soviet their own independent revolutionary but non-partisan ticket and
refused to vote for the Communists”.
Adapted from a review by Frank Mintz in the French anarchist magazine A Contretemps and edited by libcom
Pictured above are people killed by the counter-revolutionary Czech Legions in Vladivostok.