A short biography of Volin (Voline) Russian anarchist and one of the founders of the anarchist synthesis
Vsevelod Eichenbaum was born at Tikhvin in Russia on 11th August 1882 into a well-off Jewish family. His grandfather was a mathematician and well-known poet. His father and his mother were doctors. Vsevelod completed his secondary education at a high school in Voronezh and was able to speak fluent French and German before going to university. He studied at the law faculty in St Petersburg where he came in contact with revolutionary ideas.
In 1901 he broke with his parents and abandoned his studies, surviving by teaching courses. He also set up a study circle for workers. He took part in the 1905 revolution and the setting up of the first soviet on 10th January. He turned down the presidency of the soviet, believing that this should be filled by a worker and not an intellectual. During this period he took on the name he now became known by for the rest of his life, Volin (meaning Man of Freedom). He joined the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, and donated the inheritance from his father to it. The following year he took part in the insurrection at Kronstadt. He was arrested and imprisoned at the Peter and Paul fortress and then deported to Siberia. He escaped from there and fled to France.
He now began frequenting anarchist circles and in 1911 became an anarchist. He joined the group set up by Apollon Karelin. In 1913 he served on the International Action Committee Against War. When arrest and deportation threatened because of his anti-militarist activity, he left France for the USA. During his stay in France he had met his first partner Tatiana Solopova, a Socialist-Revolutionary and they had two children. She died in 1915.
In the US, Volin held meetings on the 1905 Revolution and contributed to Golos Truda (The Voice of Labour) the anarchist paper that was the organ of the Union of Russian Workers of the USA and Canada, which had 10,000 members. He returned to Russia in May-June 1917 with the help of the Anarchist Red Cross and edited a roneotyped newssheet Poplavok during the course of the voyage.
Volin went to Petrograd and edited Golos Truda which had now become the voice of the Union for Anarcho-Syndicalist Propaganda. This started as a weekly and then became a daily before being closed down by the Bolsheviks. In spring 1918 Volin denounced the Brest-Litovsk Treaty and left Petrograd. He went to the front to join the anarchist units fighting the forces of the White general Denikin. On his return he spent some time at Moscow. He turned down the Bolshevik offer of director of education and then left for the Ukraine. Here he was re-united with his second partner, Anna Grigorieva, and their four children. He was one of the founders of the Nabat (Alarm) Confederation of Anarchists which sought to unite anarchist-communists, anarcho-syndicalists and individualists. The Nabat HQ was situated at Bobrow and Volin worked in the soviet of that town, concerning himself with education and culture as well as helping edit the paper of the Confederation, also called Nabat. When this transferred to Kursk, Volin went with it and took part in a Nabat conference there on 5th January 1919. In summer 1919 he joined the Makhnovist movement and involved himself in intensive activity around education and culture and the organisation of meetings and educationals. In fact Volin held 400 educational meetings during the course of the revolution. In August 1919 he served as chairman of the Insurrectionary Military Council of the Makhnovists. Struck down by typhus, he decided to journey to Moscow to get treatment but was apprehended by the Cheka and imprisoned. He was freed from a Bolshevik prison in October 1920 thanks to the new pact between the Makhnovists and the Bolsheviks. He was again arrested by the Cheka on 24th December 1920 along with all the leading members of Nabat on the occasion of their conference. Volin started a hunger strike along with other imprisoned anarchists like Maximov. He was sentenced to death but thanks to the intervention of foreign union delegates to the founding conference of the Red Union International he was freed.
He was expelled from the Soviet Union into Germany. In Berlin he worked with the local section of the anarcho-syndicalist union the FAUD. He was one of the editors of the pamphlet The Repression of Anarchism in Soviet Russia in 1922. He also edited the Russian language anarchist paper Rabotchee Anarchist (Anarchist Worker) subtitled Review of Anarcho-Synthesist Expression. He translated this into French, also proving a French translation of Arshinov’s History of the Makhnovist Movement for which he wrote a preface. He also contributed to several French anarchist papers, and in Le Libertaire defended Makhno against charges of anti-Semitism. He wrote about his Russian experiences in the Revue Anarchiste.
In 1925, at the request of Sebastien Faure, he moved to France and lived at Gennevilliers. He attended the congress of the anarchist organisation the Union Anarchiste on 12-13th July 1926, along with Makhno and they both appear to have joined the UA. He joined the Groupe d’Etudes Sociales (Social Studies Group) and translated the Organisational Platform of Makhno, Arshinov et al into French. For his part Volin and seven others took issue with the document. In their Reply of Several Russian Anarchists to The Platform they raised accusations of vanguardism and bolshevisation. Against the ideas of the Platform Volin advanced the ideas of the Synthesis, harking back to his experience with Nabat. He believed different tendencies of anarchism could be reconciled and could co-exist in one organisation. This controversy ended his friendship with Makhno and their relations became acrimonious after this.
Volin developed further the idea of the Synthesis with Sebastien Faure. He also wrote several articles for L’Encyclopedie Anarchiste, including on Class Struggle, Historical Materialism, Anti-Semitism and the Anarchist Synthesis. In 1931 he coordinated a special issue of Le Libertaire on the repression carried out by Stalin.
In 1934 he wrote Red Fascism in which he compared Bolshevism to Fascism. Nevertheless, whilst recalling Trotsky’s role in the repression of the Russian anarchist movement and of the Kronstadt uprising, he protested against his expulsion from France that summer. He gave a speech at Makhno’s funeral in July. He began to work with Andre Prudhommeaux and contributed to his paper Terre Libre, contributing articles on Russia and Soviet repression. He joined the Federation Anarchiste de Langue Francaise which was founded at Toulouse on 15th-16th August 1936. With Prudhommeaux in Spain, Volin took on the editing of L’Espagne Antifasciste (CNT-FAI-AIT) which later became L’Espagne Nouvelle. Like Prudhommeaux, Volin denounced CNT-FAI participation in the Republican government.
Volin moved to Marseilles in 1939. His partner Anna Grigorieva died in December. Despite being seriously affected by her death Volin continued with his anarchist activity. During WW2 Volin defended internationalist positions. Together with Andre Arru he set up the Groupe Anarchiste International which circulated underground pamphlets and leaflets. Arru (real name Jean-Rene Sauliere) had sought Volin out and had put to him the idea of creating an underground anarchist movement capable of producing propaganda. The international group included, apart from the French, several Italians, several Spaniards, a Czech and a Russian (1). Volin wanted to help with flyposting but Arru observed that Volin, a man in his sixties, did not have the necessary fitness to make a quick escape and that he had severe intestinal problems contracted from his time in the Peter and Paul fortress. Volin participated in all the discussions of the group and contributed to their underground paper La Raison (Reason) the only anarchist paper to appear under German occupation. The first and only issue appeared in June 1943. He also participated in a secret conference in the outskirts of Marseilles. As he was forbidden to travel outside of the city limits he travelled there with false papers. Twenty people attended the conference representing groups in Toulouse, Paris, and Marseilles. There were also 3 delegates from different groups of the Spanish movement as observers. Unfortunately, soon after, almost the whole group in Marseilles was arrested, though Voline escaped the round-up.
Volin continued to be active in attempts to resurrect the anarchist movement after the Liberation. He attended the pre-conference meeting in Agen in October 1944. Then Volin fell seriously ill and was hospitalised. By now he had lost a lot of weight but he remained acutely alert. He was finally dismissed from hospital and was looked after by two Spanish comrades. Then his son Leo took him to Paris.
He died on 18th September 1945 of tuberculosis, which he had contracted during his many prison terms. His body was cremated at the Pere Lachaise cemetery and his ashes lie in the columbarium there, not far from those of his old comrade Nestor Makhno.
Shortly after his death his The Unknown Revolution was published thanks to his old comrade Jacques Doubinsky.
Sources: Itineraire No.13 devoted to Volin.Published in France
Les anars des Origines a hier soir. Published in France
(1) The Czech was Joseph Sperck. Another active member of the group was the black Frenchman Armand Maurasse. Pierre Guiral in his book on the Liberation in Marseilles mentioned the group: “ In a town where they always had sympathisers let us not forget the anarchists. ..a little group, clandestine, strictly libertarian, hostile to the Germans, to Vichy, to capitalism, to the war leaders, to the Stalinist dictatorship. That way they gathered enemies, so well that the anarchists were suspected by the Gaullists and by the Communists”.
A small anecdote I heard from
A small anecdote I heard from comrades about Volin in Marseilles during the war. He knew Marc and Clara Chirik of the French communist left group in the city, and they recognised each other as fellow internationalists. They were all poor but Volin was desperately poor. Marc and Clara knew that Volin would be too proud to accept any charity so they asked him if he could provide them with German lessons (at least I think it was German...) in exchange for dinner, which he agreed to do.
Voline was one of the
Voline was one of the greatest Anarchists in my view.Its a shame there isn't more literature on his life and ideas.The Synthesis group was a much needed idea to forge some unity and homogeneity in Anarchist practice but I agree with Makhno on the implausibility of including Individualists in that concept.
As a previous post stated it would be great to have all these Libertarian anecdotes in book form.It would be a great read and propaganda format.