Zhuk, Iustin Petrovich 1887-1919

Iustin Zhuk

A short biography of Iustin Zhuk, an heroic figure of Russian anarchism

Submitted by Battlescarred on May 6, 2009

“giant Zhuk, a man with the physique of a bogatyr”. Zinoviev in article on Pravda front page. (Bogatyr- a hero from Russian folk epics)
" Deeds, not words" Zhuk

Born in the Ukraine at the village of Gorodische (now Voroshilovgradkoy) in Kiev province on May 31st 1887, Iustin Zhuk was sent to a special school by his poor peasant family who had noticed his remarkable intellectual abilities. This two classroom school was attached to a local sugar factory. His progress in study enabled him to get a job at the chemical laboratory in the factory. In September 1905 he studied at the Iruskanskie agricultural college, which trained agricultural experts. Many teachers and students at this school were influenced by revolutionary ideas, with the result that the school was destroyed by the Black Hundreds ( proto-fascist anti-Semitic squads) and the police. It is not exactly clear when Iustin himself joined the revolutionary movement, though he had sympathy for revolutionary ideas from a young age when he started going to school. Some of his relatives including his younger brother were activists in anarchist groups. He evolved his ideas to anarchist communism and anarcho-syndicalism. In the outskirts of Kiev he established a network- the Southern Russian Federation of Anarcho-Syndicallist Peasants. In the gendarmerie dossier of the time he is recorded as being “ head of the Cherkassy group of anarchist-communists”.

He organised expropriations, including one at the sugar factory managed by Leoniid Piatakov in Kiev ( His son Georgei Piatakov had organised in a group of fifty anarchists in summer 1906 , then joining with Zhuk’s group to distribute propaganda and carry out expropriations- he later became a leading Bolshevik) During 1907-08 Zhuk set up a network of safe houses, many of them bunkers in the basements of houses. He himself was often forced to hide in these places, which were poorly lit and ventilated. Here he passed the time in literary activity, including writing poetry. None of these writings has survived, as his father burnt them all after his arrest, to avoid there being any incriminating evidence.

In June 1909 the safe house where he and other anarchists was hiding was surrounded by the police. The anarchists kept up their firing all night long whilst singing revolutionary songs, before deciding to surrender with the arrival of a detachment of soldiers. The story that he tried to blow himself up himself and a group of police who were arresting him is apparently apocryphal. At his trial he refused to testify as an atheist and anarchist. He took the blame for all the actions in an attempt to exonerate others. He was sentenced to life katorga (hard labour).In the first prison he was put in he managed to get the prison nurse to provide him with ingredients to make a bomb. He intended to use his chemical knowledge to blow a hole in the prison wall and escape. Unfortunately he was betrayed (1911) He was then transferred to the Shlissel'burg prison on outskirts of Petrograd. This was the second largest prison within the Empire. Other inmates described him as a man “ of gigantic stature, heroic body, with eyes in which could be seen unwavering willpower”. He was actively involved in the collective protests by prisoners. In prison he began a history of the fortress and continued with his poetry. These writings disappeared in the Ukraine during the Civil War.

He was freed in 1917 with the February revolution. He then started work as a fitter at the powder factory at Shlissel'burg. He became a member of its factory committee and soon became its chairman. He actively agitated for the workers to take over the factory. At the First Factory Committee Conference in Petrograd he read out the statement of his committee:
Tarrying not a single moment, the toilers must organise a better management... and not trust the owners. The workers themselves must elect specialists in each area so that work will begin to move ahead at full throttle and every kopek will be accounted for. In these elections the workers should be guided not only be personal sympathies for individual managers, engineers and foremen, but also by the latter's experience and knowledge. Not one hour of wasted work: all time only for useful labour.

He took an active part in the factory committees’ movement, speaking at further conferences.
The Shlissel'burg gunpowder mills and the surrounding agricultural estates were expropriated and organised on anarchist principles. Zhuk was involved in organising a Red Guard from the workers there. Zhuk was slandered by his political adversaries and accused of having been in prison for murdering his parents. He had to refute this to the press, suggesting that someone be sent to the Ukraine where his parents were alive and well. Kadet and Menshevik papers fulminated about the horrors of the “Shlissel'burg Republic” and the “viper” Zhuk. Workers in fact worked 6 hours per day in the factory and then trained in the use of weapons. The Shlissel'burg Red Guard was one of the shock troop units of the Revolution.

During the June 18th demonstration in Petrograd he was among the 1500-2,000 anarchists and soldiers who marched to the Crosses, the Vyborg prison in which the Bolshevik Khaustov was imprisoned in Petrograd and had him released at gunpoint. In August during the attempted coup by General Kornilov, he organised that a barge of explosives be sent to the Petrograd City Council to help it in its defence of the city.During the October Revolution he organised the storming of the Mikhailovskoye Artillery School at the head of 200 Shlissel'burg Red Guards.

At Shlissel'burg he helped develop a children’s home and school for the workers. His chemical knowledge led to his discovery of the manufacture of sugars from woodchips in the powder shop. He hoped to set up sugar mills all over Russia.

In 1919 with the threat of intervention from the Whites organised in the North Western Army, Zhuk was appointed to the board of the military front. At the battle at the village of Kuyvozi on October 25th, Red Army troops were surrounded. Zhuk arrived on a train and attempted to salvage the situation. In the ensuing fighting Zhuk was shot and died.

Like Zhelezhniakov, Zhuk was coopted as one of those anarchists ready to cooperate with the Bolsheviks and portrayed as ready to move over to them. But such cooperation was deemed by such anarchists to be tactical and they maintained their anarchist convictions. Zhuk was a defender of the factory committees and of the Red Guards and he expressed grave misgivings about how these grassroots workers militias were being militarised and turned into detachments in the Red Army.

Nick Heath


Article in Russian by Y. at www.1917.com
The Russian Anarchists by Paul Avrich
Les Anarchistes russes, les soviets et la révolution de 1917 by Alexandre Skirda
Syndicalists in the Russian Revolution by G. P. Maximov
Red Petrograd: revolution in the factories 1917-1918
Red guards and workers' militias in the Russian Revolution by Rex A. Wade