A short biography of Grigori Borzenko, active in the Odessa anarchist underground.
“A serious comrade” .Nestor Makhno, Under The Blows of the Counterrevolution.
Born in 1888 Grigori Maximovich Borzenko had joined the revolutionary movement in 1904 and by 1906 was a convinced anarchist-communist. He worked as a sailor in the Black Sea merchant fleet. He was a member of the Kharkov group of anarchist-communists. Arrested in 1909 he spent 2 years in prison and then three years in exile. After this he emigrated to the United States where he became active in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the anarchist Union of Russian Workers (URW).
With the Revolution he returned to Russia in 1917. He was at first active among the Kharkov anarchists, and then moved to Odessa where he was considered the best orator of the Odessa Federation of Anarchists. He was active in the Union of Black Sea Sailors set up by anarchists in 1906, alongside Stepan Ivanovich Shakhvorostov (1), noted Odessa anarchist and like Borzenko, later the secretary of the Odessa Anarchist Federation.
In 1918 he worked in various Army HQs of several fronts, engaged in combat with the Whites and the Austro-Germans. For example he was active in the HQ of the Don Front at Tsaritsyn (now Volgograd) during July and August. The staff consisted of 9 members, 6 of whom were anarchists, as well as one Maximalist, Boris Cherkun (2). Anarchists who served on the staff alongside Borzenko included fellow anarchist sailor the famed Anatoli Zhelezniakov and Chaim Ryt,(3) noted organiser of the Odessa unemployed, Max Chernyak, later a noted Makhnovist, Krasny, and K I Mekel. Borzenko was responsible for formation and education. Anarchists agitated on the Don Front against subordination to the Communist Party, for the sovereignty of the soviets and for the elective principle within the armed groups. On August 18th the Communist Commissar of the Don Soviet republic Nikolai Ilyich Podvoisky dismissed the Headquarters "in connection with the domination of the anarchists in it. Simultaneously Zhelezniakov was outlawed and was forced to go underground.
Borzenko attended the conference in Moscow at the Hotel Florentia called by anarchists from Odessa, Kharkov, and Yekaterinoslav in May 1918. He later returned to the Ukraine to undertake underground work. He was one of the founders of the Nabat Confederation of Anarchist Organisations in autumn 1918. From 1919 he operated under the false name of Leonid Moskalenko, which he was to use right up to his death in 1938.
From November1918 he worked in the Odessa underground when the city was occupied by the Whites and the Ukrainian nationalists, alongside Anatoli Zhelezniakov, Petr Zaitsev, Aleksander Bugaenko, Boris Chikovani, Konstantin Kazakov and others up to the liberation of Odessa by Red Army forces in April 1919. The agitation of this underground organisation included work among sailors and dockers and port maintenance workers.
When the Bolsheviks moved into Odessa they were faced with a strong influence of the anarchist movement among the working class. Early in that year they banned the anarchist papers Vestnik Heraldl) and Odessa Nabat (Alarm), closed down the Odessa Anarchist Club and forbade the further printing of anarchist papers. In spring-summer a Cheka special squad arrived and eliminated some of the most radical anarchist elements. The Odessa United Anarchist Organisation and the Odessa Federation of Anarchists were dissolved.
The response to this was two-fold. Some anarchists took a legalist path- and were allowed to open a club in December of that year. The majority however manifested their outright hostility to the regime and prepared for underground work.
The Cheka responded by trying to frame Shakhvorostov on”anarcho-banditry” charges. This attempt failed and he was released.
Further operations against the anarchists occurred in December 1920 and January 1921 culminating in mass arrests in March 1921 with the Kronstadt uprising. Over the summer a group of anarchists was shot in Odessa. In October 1921 a strike against the Communist authorities instigated by anarchists broke out. This was crushed.
The Odessa anarchists began to recover from these waves of repression and started to rebuild their organisations.
According to records Borzenko was arrested in Tiflis (quite along way from Odessa) in 1922 and forbidden to work. We must assume that he was arrested under his own name ( was he looking for work in Tiflis or was he on a mission?)
Moskalenko-Borzenko and Shakhvorostov set up an underground group with 18 members in 1923. As a boatswain and then chief mate Moskalenko-Borzenko was able to establish communication with other Black sea merchant sailors, and the group also carried out propaganda among the port workers, and the workers of ship repair plants and other plants, among the unemployed and in Komsomol (Young Communist League) cells and in the universities. As well as the two anarchists already mentioned the group included B. Meckel, Lazar Rabinovich, Abram Bulis (Vulis) I. Suporin (Shornik-Supornik) A. Sharasyuk, Vashti A., A. Geydman (Geytsman) F. Gekkokolnen, Laskin,. V Zholsilevich, P. Bidnyi and Topelberg. Lazar Rabinovich had served a term of hard labour under the Tsarist regime for political activities and appears to have been exiled to Kolpashevo, Tomsk in 1930, Minusinsk in 1931 and Ulyanovsk-Simbirsk in 1933, 1934.
Moskalenko-Borzenko was able to establish relations with the Odessa anarchists in exile in Germany via the former Odessa anarchist A. Ulanovsky who was doing underground work in Hamburg for the Communist government(4).
In 1924 a meeting of the unemployed in Odessa at which 4,000 participated sparked a near insurrection. The suicide of one of the unemployed led to a riot and the granting of an unemployed section at the City Hall. The unemployed metal workers chose the anarchist Berkovich as their delegate and the unemployed conductors elected the anarchist Gandler.
From May to July 1924 further arrests of anarchists took place, with 75 being detained. This did not deter anarchist agitation among the unemployed culminating in an action by unemployed Red Army soldiers in December 1926 which called for a march to City Hall under the black banner. The demands put forward by the unemployed groups became increasingly anarchist. At the beginning of 1927 the group animated by Moskalenko-Borzenko and co. made contact with the veteran anarchist Olga Taratuta who had moved to Odessa. The group organised an illegal channel crossing the Soviet-Polish border in the Rivne region which maintained contact with exile anarchist and Makhnovist groups in Berlin and in Budapest and Paris, and allowed the smuggling of anarchist literature into the USSR.
The security forces were able to arrest members of the anarchist underground group, which included Bulis and L. and A. Rabinovich in 1929. One of those arrested was Berta Tubisman : see here http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/hx3grd
However the underground activities continued.
In 1937 Shakhvorostov, Shornik-Supornik, David Haskin (sometimes given as Hasin or Laskin), Bidnyi, Geytsman and Chait were arrested as well as the Bulgarian anarchist Grozev (5). In December of that year Shakhvorostov was shot as were Haskin, Chait(6) and Shornik-Supornik (7)
The following year the NKVD (successor to the Cheka) implicated Moskalenko-Borzenko and 11 others. It was alleged that they had been involved in anarchist underground work from 1923-1933.
On May 5th the NKVD shot Genrich P. Zhostovt (8) Vladimir Petrovich Ioselevich (9) Menashe El Nusevich Kanevsky (10) Isaac Abramovich Rabinovich (11).
Moskalenko-Borzenko himself was shot by the NKVD on May 22nd, 1938.
(1) Born in 1883 into a very poor peasant family in Kurschiny. Writing about his visit to Odessa, Alexander Berkman noted that: “Among the opposition Shakhvorostov, an Anarchist of militant type, has such a strong following that the Bolsheviki have not dared to remove him. Due to his friendly efforts, the Soviet of Unions has decided to call a meeting of secretaries, whom I am to address in the interest of the Museum.”(The Bolshevik Myth, Diary 1920-1922). For her part Emma Goldman was to praise him for his “manner utterly simple”. A former Black sea fleet sailor.
(2)Born in 1894 Cherkun was also from Odessa, and as well as being a Maximalist, was a Futurist poet!
(3)Ryt had begun his political activity within the Bolshevik organisation in Odessa. However he developed an “anarchist interpretation of Marx” in 1906 and started strongly advocating anti-parliamentarian positions. He left the Bolsheviks to join Daniil Novomirsky’s South Russian Anarchosyndicalist Group (JUGAS). One of the most influential anarchists in Odessa he animated the Union of the Unemployed which had a membership of 20,000.
(4) “The anarchist Alyosha Bulanov (1891-1970) is known to history by many names, but was born Izrail Khaykelevich Ulanovsky in Kishinev, Bessarabia. After fighting as an anarchist in the Russian civil war, he joined the Soviet intelligence services and held postings all over the world, including the USA (1931-1934). Although he survived Stalin’s purges initially, he and his family were arrested in 1948 and sentenced to long terms in the gulags.” From Malcolm Archibald notes to A Letter of Aron Baron from Tashkent (1929) http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/31zdqb
(5) Zhelyu Tilevich Grozev was born in1897. He became an anarchist-communist and took part in the Kilifarevo uprising of 1923. He fled across the border in the late 1920s and helped establish a small group of Bulgarian anarchist exiles. He died in a Siberian prison camp on 7th February 1942
(6) Benjamin Y. Chait born October 29th 1884 in Bessarabia, an anarcho-syndicalist since 1905. Took part in the 1905 revolution in Odessa. In 1917-1918 he was one of the leaders of the Odessa Federation of Anarchists and the Executive Committee of the Odessa Soviet. In 1918-1920 he took an active part in the Odessa anarchist underground against the Whites and the Communist authorities, and was active among the shoemakers. In the 1920s, he played a prominent role in the illegal Odessa anarchist groups. He was arrested in 1933 and exiled to Kazakhstan, and then finally arrested and executed in 1937.
(7) Izrail Abramovich Shornik (or Šornik), Izrail' A. Supornik (patronymic also given as Fishelevich) alias Grinberg was born in Odessa on 27th May 1900, an anarchist since 1917. During the Civil War, he worked in the Odessa Federation of Anarchists and Nabat. In 1920 a member of an Odessa underground anarchist group. In the period from 1920 to 1927 was arrested four times, in 1927 exiled to Narym region. In 1933 he returned to Odessa and resumed participation in the anarchist underground. He was sentenced in December 1937 and shot in the following year.
(8) Born December 14th 1906. An anarchist since 1917, the organizer of clandestine anarchist youth groups of the 1920s
(9) Born May 22nd 18891 in Berdichev, Podolia province. An anarchist-communist since 1906, arrested in 1907 and served 9 years of hard labour, in 1917-1918 participated in the anarchist movement in Odessa and Kiev, then joined the Communist Party but in 1921 expelled and resumed activities in the Odessa anarchist underground.
(10) Born 8th November 1905 in Odessa, an anarchist since 1917, a member of the anarchist underground in Odessa in 1920-1930, arrested four times by the Soviet authorities
(11) Born 1893. An anarchist-communist since 1908, arrested three times by the Tsarist authorities in Odessa, in 1920-1930 took an active part in the Odessa underground anarchist, he was arrested in 1933, but escaped from custody and for several years was in an irregular situation.
Azarov, V. Anarchists in The Merchant Navy (in Russian). Information on the Union of Black Sea Sailors at:
Makhno, N. Under The Blows Of The Counterrevolution. Black Cat Press (2009)
Savchenko, V. The Anarchist Underground in the 20s-30s of the Twentieth Century (in Russian)
Anarchist Odessa (in Russian) at:
Biographical information on some of the Odessa anarchists at:
Zheleznyakov and Borzenko in the Odessa underground at: