A short biography of Alexander Taratuta, Russian social democrat and then anarchist communist.
Taratuta was born into a poor Jewish family on a shtetl at Novomirgorod in Kherson province in the Ukraine, on 12th October 1879. His father was a clerk. He joined the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) in 1895 in Yekaterinoslav. The following year he was a student at the vocational school “Trud” in Odessa, and carried out propaganda among students, workers and artisans. In 1899 he finished his studies and moved to Kiev. He continued to carry out propaganda among workers, whilst continuing his studies at Kiev University. In 1901 he was expelled from university for taking part in a student-worker demonstration, and later arrested in Elisavetgrad for a short time. Between 1901 and 1902 his flat was used as a printshop for the RSDLP. In December 1901 he travelled to Nikolaev, and then In January and February 1902 to Kherson and Feodosia. In all of these places he carried out propaganda among workers and artisans. In May 1902 he was in Nizhny Novgorod where and worked in the printshops of the RSDLP papers Iskra and Red Banner, and then in exile printshops in Vienna. Whilst in exile he was close to Plekhanov, Martynov and other leading lights of the RSDLP.
He now began reading the works of Bakunin, Most, and Kropotkin. He left the RSDLP and became an anarchist communist. He returned to Russia at the beginning of 1904 and carried out revolutionary activity in Odessa, Yekaterinoslav and Bryansk. He attended the anarchist conference in London in December 1904. In January 1905 he was held in Vilna prison and then at the Peter and Paul fortress from May 1906. He was then returned to Vilna for trial. He was then exiled to the village of Ashlyk in Tobolsk province. He soon escaped from there with the help of his wife Olga (see her biography here at libcom) and then took part in the work of anarchist communist groups in Kiev and Moscow.
In December 1906 he prepared the escape of his wife Olga from the prison in Odessa. He then took part with Olga in the work of the Buntar group of anarchist communists in Moscow. At the beginning of 1907 he set up a propaganda school for workers’ groups in Moscow. In January 1907 he established links with Buntar groups in Bryansk, Yekaterinoslav, Odessa, St Petersburg and Smolensk. He was arrested in Moscow in March of that year and transferred to Minsk, where he was sentenced to 3 years of katorga (hard labour) which he served in Minsk prison, continuously in shackles. Not to be deterred, he organised literacy classes for both criminal and political prisoners and created a library with the aid of the prison priest.
In 1910 he was sent to prisons in eastern Siberia. On his way to the gold mine at Bodaibo in northern Irkutsk, he met a young woman, Agniya Markova, who helped arrange his escape on the 20th November 1910. Agniya had read the novel The Gadfly by the Irish writer, Ethel Voynich, which was hugely popular in Russia. She had just finished high school and was bound for a nunnery, but her reading of The Gadfly, about a revolutionary in Italy, changed her mind and she determined to help the revolutionary cause.
Alexander then managed to escape abroad and ended up in Paris. Markova joined him there and they married. In Paris Taratuta studied languages and agronomy. Two children were born to Agniya and Alexander in Paris. Taratuta continued his participation in anarchist conferences and in producing and distributing propaganda to Russia. From 1913 to March 1917 he worked as a clerk for the Louis Dreyfus Company, involved in agricultural trading.
In May 1917 he returned to Petrograd. He worked as a proofreader there, and also worked on the editorial board of the anarchist paper Golos Truda (Voice of Labour). He took part in the July Days and in the October Revolution. After October he worked at the People’s Commissariat of Food, and was involved in publishing the works of Bakunin, Kropotkin and other anarchist thinkers. He set up a farm at Cherkizovo in the countryside outside Moscow, which supplied meat and vegetables to an orphanage between April 1918 and November 1922. He created an electrical generating plant and a school for workers. He organised factory farms in 1922 and 1923. From 1923 to 1929 he worked as an agronomist industrialiser. The model farm that he created was visited by foreign delegations and much written about.
However with the consolidation of power by Stalin, Taratuta was removed as farm manager. From 1932 he worked as an agronomist and economist in the Soyuzkonservmoloko trust. Travelling through the Ukraine in the 1930s he was horrified to see the consequences of forced collectivisation On Dec 13th 1934 he was arrested during a business trip in Rudnya, in the Smolensk region. The NKVD sentenced him to 5 years in a political isolator on charges of carrying out counter-revolutionary activity and organising terrorist groups in February 1935. He was sent to Suzdal and Verkhneuralsk. He was transferred to the political isolator at Suzdal and shot there on September 28th, 1937.
Taratuta passed on his admiration for Kropotkin’s ideas to his daughter Yevgeniya. This spark of anarchism sustained her in the many harsh years she also had to face. She worked in children’s literature and broadcasting and then for the Gorky Institute of World Literature. In 1950, she was arrested for counter-revolutionary activity in her turn. She was sentenced to 15 years in a Siberian camp. Rehabilitated in April 1954, she was reinstated at the Gorky Institute.She began a period of literary activity which included bringing out the collected works of Ethel Voynich in Russian, and a biography of the revolutionary Stepniak-Kravchinsky,