A short biography of anarchist German Askarov, a leading light in the Russian anarchist movement.
Herman Iakobson was born on 24th June 1882, probably at Lodz, into a Jewish family. His father was an estate manager. He graduated from the Nizhyn (Russian Nezhin) gymnasium in Chernihiv (Russian Chernigov) province of the Ukraine in 1902, and then studied at Kiev University. In the same year he became an anarchist communist and apparently helped found the Nizhyn group of anarchist communists in 1903.
In September 1905 he took part in setting up the South Russian group of anarchist communists in Kiev and carried out propaganda among the students. He was arrested in 1906 and faced the death penalty for taking part in terrorist acts. He managed to escape from Szczavelsk prison in Kiev after eight months and went underground. He was apprehended the following year and imprisoned at Lutsk. After another eight months he was released and subsequently emigrated, living in Geneva and then Paris.
Here he organised the Paris group of exiles, “Anarkhist” and from October edited the magazine of the same name, writing under the pen name of Oskar Burritt. This was explicitly anarchist communist, but unlike other forms of anarchist communism was opposed to participation in trade unions, stating that: “the dissolution of anarchism in the union is a symptom of impotence." In 1909 Anarkhist ceased publication because of lack of funds. An Okhrana report noted that Askarov, his wife and the rest of the Anarkhist group lived in extreme poverty in Paris. Operating now under the name of German Askarov, (German is the Russian form of Herman) he continued being active and contributed to other exile anarchist papers. Between 1914 and 1916 Askarov edited an international anarchist and anti-militarist newspaper along with Malatesta and Domela Niewenhuis.
In either spring or July 1917 Askarov returned to Russia. He was a member of the Moscow Federation of Anarchist Groups and worked on the editorial board of Anarkhiia which first appeared in September of that year. He took part in the fighting during the October Revolution. He gave many lectures to factory workers. In 1919 he joined the Moscow Union of Anarchist Communists. After this was destroyed by the Soviet authorities he attended the founding conference of the Moscow Union of Anarchists in December 1919.
From summer 1920 he was one of the organisers of the Moscow section of the Anarchist Universalists and editor of its paper Universal. Since April 1920 he was a member of the Organising Bureau of the All-Russian Federation of Anarchists. He published a pamphlet on Anarchist Universalism in 1921, with distinct biases to “Soviet anarchism” and recognition of the Soviet state. He served as a deputy to the Moscow soviet.
In February 1921 he was one of the members of the Kropotkin funeral committee. He was arrested for the first time by the Cheka on 11th November 1921 and accused of harbouring anarchist escapees, (“anarcho-terrorists” according to the Chekists), from Ryazan prison, links with the anarchist underground, buying up false documents, links with the Makhnovists and anti-Soviet agitation during his lectures. He was sentenced to two years at the Arkhangelsk concentration camp on 21st January 1922. Before being sent there he took part in a long hunger strike, and then another when he arrived at Arkhangelsk. Some of the charges against him were dropped in late July 1922, and instead he was sent to Vyatka where or two years. He then lived in a settlement in the town of Pochep in Gomel province.
The NKVD decided to release him before the end of his sentence in January 1924. He returned to Moscow and worked as an economist and in cultural and educational work. He took part in the work of the Kropotkin Committee. He refused to take sides in the disputes between anarchists and anarcho-mystics between 1925 and 1928. By 1930 he was out of work and on 14th September of that year was arrested in a raid on the flat of the anarcho-mystic Alexei Solonovich. The archives of Anarkhiia and other materials were seized from Askarov’s apartment.
During the subsequent investigation Askarov stated that he had not taken part in anti-Soviet agitation, supported the government and its policies, and had taken no part in the anarchist underground. He was released on 16th September and banned from leaving Moscow. Charges against him were dropped in early 1931.
From 1932 he worked at the editorial office on a literary magazine and by 1935 was working as an economist again. He was again arrested on 13th January of that year with the anarchists Andrey Andreyev and A. A. Ivanov-Ivin on charges of "systematic anti-Soviet agitation and the dissemination of slanderous rumours about the leadership of the Communist Party It was alleged that there were gatherings of anarchists at Askarov’s flat that he engaged in counter-revolutionary propaganda and that he saw the regime as "the worst kind of fascist dictatorship” and predicted its imminent demise. He was sentenced to 5 years of prison camp on 17th March 1935.
He is rumoured to have been shot at the end of 1937.
Avrich, P. The Russian Anarchists.