A short biography of Nikolai Rogdaev, trailblazer of Russian anarchism.
Born Nikolai Ignatievich Muzil in 1880 in the village of Silkino near Klin to the north of Moscow, into a family of nobility with Austrian origins.In the 1890s he became active in the revolutionary movement, joining the Riazan group of Social-Revolutionaries and also contacting a circle of Social-Democrats. In May 1900 he came to the notice of the Tsarist police. In late January 1901 he was arrested for possession and distribution of illegal Social-Revolutionary propaganda. He was condemned to 3 months imprisonment. He was freed in April under conditions of police observation. In June 1901 he fled to Bulgaria where he became an anarchist-communist. He started distributing anarchist propaganda and took part in organising anarchist groups in Sofia and Varna. He was also active amongst workers and intellectuals who had emigrated from Russia.
He was a trailblazer of anarchism in Russia and the Ukraine. Rogdaev was a propagandist in Briansk, Nezhin and Ekaterinoslav in 1903, when the anarchist movement was re-born, after its destruction by the Tsarist regime in the 1880s. Known as Uncle Vanya, he helped set up many anarchist groups. In December 1904 he represented the exile anarchist-communist group Khleb i Volya (Bread and Freedom) at the Congress of Russian Anarchist Communists in London. In March 1905 he went with his wife Olga Malitskaya and Vladimir Zabrezhnev to Kiev and organised the South Russian Groups of Anarchist Communists there, as well as editing the paper Nabat which he hoped would be the mouthpiece of a united movement. He escaped arrest on 30th March but the press and all the publications of Nabat were seized and destroyed.
In June 1905 he went to Ekaterinoslav and organised regular meetings of workers and meetings about anarchism. These met with great success and in July the whole cell of the Social-Revolutionary Party declared itself anarchist and named itself the Ekaterinoslav Group of Anarchist Communist Workers.He fought behind the barricades in the Moscow uprising of December 1905. Ignatii Muzil, his brother, was seized in woods near Nizhnii Novgorod with anarchist literature in his possession in 1905.He refused to recognize the court or stand up before questioners and was one of the many victims of the Tsarist clampdown of 1905-1906.
In late September-early October 1905 he moved from Ekaterinoslav to Geneva and worked for the paper Khleb i Volya until its closure in November.
Nikolai was an impressive debater confusing Socialist Revolutionary and Social Democrat opponents and thus recruiting many to anarchism.
He wrote a “huge martyrology” (his own words) in a report he wrote for the International Congress of Anarchists in 1907 in Amsterdam. He was one of the Russian delegates with Zabrezhnev at this conference. The minutes taker reported: “Comrade Nikolai Rogdaev takes the floor to speak about "The Russian Revolution". Rogdaev speaks in Russian and most people attending the Congress do not understand him. Everyone's eyes, however, are fixed on that pale youth in whose eyes burn a strange flame. And everyone can guess at what he is saying. He speaks about the struggle in which Russian anarchists (including himself) are engaged against murderous czarism; he recalls the revolts and the martyrs, the suffering and the executions, all the enormous drama that is being played out in Russia only to be met with the indifference of Europe”.
Rogdaev was joint editor with Maksim Raevskii, a champion of syndicalism, of Stormy Petrel –Burevestnik. This was named after Gorky’s famous poem of the same name. The last line from the poem- “Let the storm burst forth more strongly”- appeared on the masthead. It was founded in Paris in 1906. His articles also appeared in Golos Truda founded in 1911 in New York. In 1909 he brought together an invaluable collection of documents and personal reminiscences of movement from 1903 to 1908. Al’manakh: sbornik po istorii anarchicheskogo dvizheniia v Rossii.
He also engaged in a lengthy polemic with Lenin in Switzerland and continued to be on good terms with him. At the beginning of the First World War he took an anti-war and internationalist position, calling for social revolution as a response, as well as the creation of an anarchist workers international.
After the 1917 Revolution he became a member of the Moscow Federation of Anarchist Groups, and worked on the daily paper Anarkhiia. He then moved to Petrograd, subsequently becoming secretary of the Anarchist Federation of Kronstadt between autumn 1917 and spring 1918.Makhno invited him to edit Nabat in Gulyai-Polye in February 1919 but he was put off by the presence of Volin who he had never forgiven for being an associate of Vladimir Burtzev, who had uncovered many police agents in the revolutionaries’ ranks and who had had not lifted a finger when he was falsely accused of being an agent provocateur. He became commissar of medical administration. In 1920 Lenin summoned him to Moscow and urged him to persuade Makhno to “subordinate” himself to the Kremlin, and to take an important post (based on his knowledge of foreign languages) on the Red Army staff on the Western front. He refused both. This got him in trouble with the Samara Cheka. This was later smoothed over, and he went on to an educational position in Tiflis. He broke off all involvement with Soviet administration after the crushing of the Kronstadt uprising.
He joined the All-Russian Memorial Committee for Kropotkin in 1923 created by the anarchist Borovoi. He worked in the Kropotkin Museum as economic administrator of the committee.
He kept in touch with Dielo Truda in Paris and even managed to send it money, supporting the position of Makhno, Arshinov and co over the Organisational Platform.
In 1927 he was one of the anarchists allowed by the Bolshevik regime to sign a petition in favour of Sacco and Vanzetti, the Italian-American anarchists on death row in the USA, a cruel irony when anarchists in the Soviet Union were being murdered and imprisoned. The group of anarchists around this campaign, led by Vladimir Barmash, wanted to hold a public meeting to propagandise for anarchism and Rogdaev agreed to speak at it. However, it was immediately banned by the Kremlin.
He joined an illegal anarchist group made up of many anarchist veterans.This group was discovered in May 1929 and all its members arrested.
He died in Tashkent in 1932, where he had been exiled after completing a sentence passed in 1930 in the Suzdal “polit-isolator” which seriously effected his health. He collapsed from a cerebral haemorrhage “in a street named, by a mocking coincidence, Sacco-Vanzetti” (Man, June-July 1934).
The last piece Nestor Makhno ever wrote was an obituary to his fondly remembered comrade: “Very dear friend, comrade and brother, sleep easy in the heavy slumber from which there is no awakening. Your cause is our cause. It shall never perish. It will spring to life again in the generations to come who will take it up again and enrich it. It will motivate the open, healthy life of the struggle of toiling humanity. Friend, you will remain with us forever! May shame and damnation rebound upon those who have besmirched your name, who have slowly and cravenly clawed at your soul and your heart to the end” (Makhno was too poor to send it in to the Russian exile anarchist paper Probuzhdenie, not being able to afford the price of a stamp. It finally appeared in the November-December 1934 issue).