Kalandarishvili, Nestor Alexandrevitch, 1876-1922

Nick Heath's short biography of Nestor Kalandarishvili, a high profile anarchist who defected to the Bolsheviks.

3. The other Nestor
One of the odd circumstances of history is that during the Russian Revolution and Civil War, there existed two brilliant anarchist guerilla leaders both with the first name of Nestor. Whilst Makhno fought in the Ukraine, the other fought at the other end of the Soviet Union. Whilst Makhno acquired the name of Batko (Little Father) the other acquired that of Grandpa. Both had private meetings with Lenin and both were awarded the elite military medal the Order of the Red Banner by the Bolshevik government. Both Nestors fought under black banners, both inscribed with the identical motto “Anarchy is the Mother of Order”. Both the guerilla groups of the two Nestors used similar tactics, retreating where necessary, dispersing, and then regrouping and attacking from the rear. Whilst Makhno was buried in Paris near the memorial to the martyrs of the Paris Commune, the other Nestor was buried at the foot of a mountain named after them.

There the similarities end. Whilst Makhno was not taken in by the smooth talk of Lenin and maintained his anarchist positions, the other Nestor was unable to resist. Whilst Makhno was short and smooth shaven, the other Nestor was tall and strapping with a full flowing beard.

Nestor Kalandarishvili was born in the village of Shemokmedi in Ozurgetskogo county of Kutaisi Province of Georgia, into a family of impoverished nobility on 26th June 1876. Besides him, the family has another son and three daughters.

At the age of eight Nestor went to the village school. At the insistence of the teacher there who saw a boy of outstanding ability and attraction to education, Nestor was sent to study in Kutaisi Gymnasium, thanks to the financial help of wealthier relatives. After High School he entered the Tbilisi (Tiflis) seminary, from where in 1895 he was called up for two years Army service in the Tbilisi Vladimir Infantry Regiment. Demobilized, Nestor continued his studies, and in 1900 came under the influence of Social Revolutionaries (SRs) who had studied at the seminary.

In 1903 he was expelled from the seminary for revolutionary activity, which included agitational work among soldiers. In the same year, Nestor finished illegal military training in an SR combat group. After leaving Tbilisi, he went to Batumi, where he taught for some time to teach, and then worked in a factory owned by the Rothschilds. By 1904 he was disillusioned with the SRs and joined the Georgian Socialist-Federalists, a nationalist socialist organisation. As a member of its combat brigades, he participated in the Batumi uprising in November 1905, and after its defeat hid in Kutaisi. Here he worked as an actor in the local theatre. By now Nestor had developed anarchist communist positions and was one of thirty Georgians who set up an Anarchist Federation. In his memoirs he talks about beginning the underground revolutionary life with its “charm”, hiding, climbing through pipes, and jumping over fences!

He now was involved in guerilla attacks on gendarmes, landlords and the punitive detachments sent out throughout Russia after the initial uprisings of 1905 and took part in expropriations. He was arrested on several occasions in all the major cities of Georgia, Batumi, Kutaisi, Sukhumi and Tbilisi, but was always released for lack of evidence. In late 1907 after the bloody crushing of the Gulgule (Guriyskom) peasant uprising he was arrested and exiled to eastern Siberia, leaving behind a wife and two daughters.

In eastern Siberia he made contacts with exiled Georgian and Ossetian anarchists working in the mines around Cheremhovo village. He worked as a photographer and actor. He was arrested three times in this period, including for suspected involvement in an assassination attempt on Governor-General Sinelnikov. Each time he was freed for lack of evidence.

He participated in the February Revolution. He and sixty other anarchists formed a squad and took part in the crushing of the Junker uprising against the revolution in Siberia on December 17th. The following April the 1st Irkutsk cavalry division (anarchist-communists) under his command arrived at the front to fight against the White forces of Ataman Semenov. Kalandarishvili was thus involved in the development of a strong anarchist fighting force, which was reinforced by people fleeing from the Whites and the forces of foreign intervention. This group grew to the size of an entire division. Three years of fighting against the White forces of Semenov, Kappel and Ungern took place with Kalandarishvili moving across the whole of eastern Siberia. He developed a reputation as one of the most famous guerilla commanders, with the nickname of Grandpa as a result of his huge flowing beard. From February to July 1918 he commanded the troops of the central board of the Workers and Soldiers Deputies (TsentroSibiri). In October 1918 he suffered a defeat and retreated over the border to Mongolia with 800 troops and 12 machine guns.

In March 1919 the Communist Party leadership in Irkutsk approached him to talk about cooperation. This was initially rejected by Kalandarishvili. The Communist leadership then promised him funds, supplies, arms and soldiers and this lured him into cooperation. That spring and summer the forces of Kalandarishvili engaging in guerilla attacks to the west of Irkutsk and the forces of the White Admiral Kolchak put the sum of 40,000 rubles on his head. In September 1919, the squad moved to the north of Irkutsk and began to sweep the Whites out of the area. Thousands of anarchist were involved in guerilla groups throughout Siberia in groups like those of Kalandarishvili, fighting the forces of the various White leaders and the Japanese interventionists. By early January 1920 Soviet power had been established in Irkutsk, due in many ways to the efforts of the Kalandarishvili division. He continued to hold important military positions and in 1921 he was invited by Lenin to attend a private meeting with him in Moscow.

After the meeting Kalandarishvili declared that he was no longer an anarchist communist and was now a Bolshevik communist and proceeded to join the Party. Lenin gave him supreme command of the armed forces in the Far East and he assumed the right to appoint and dismiss guerilla commanders. He was in charge of Korean revolutionary forces and he began a clamp down on the independence of the anarchist guerilla bands by disarming and dissolving the Sakhalin Regiment, made up of Korean anarchists, because they had refused to recognize their new commanding officer appointed by the Bolsheviks, a former White officer in Ataman Semenov’s army!! Kalandarishvili became increasingly autocratic and authoritarian.

In January 1922 with a group of 300 troops he began operations against a White gang in Yakutia. He and his GHQ numbering fifty were ambushed and killed at 33 km from Yakutsk on March 6th. He was buried on 2nd April 1922 in Yakutsk and on September 17th of the same year was reburied in Irkutsk at the foot of mount Kommunarov.
Various theories exist on the death of Kalandarishvili, with the straightforward one that he died as a result of White action, whilst other historians implicate local Bolsheviks, with or without the involvement of the Bolshevik triumvirate of Yakutia, who were concerned about his political reliability or envious that their positions were being threatened by him. The Bolsheviks on a central level had conducted a considerable charm offensive to win him with praise, the supply of arms and money as well as the awarding of the Order of the Red Banner medal and this proved to be stronger than Kalandarishvili’s political integrity. In death, as with Zhelezhniakov and others, he was integrated into the Bolshevik state iconography with collective farms and streets named after him throughout the Soviet Union.
Nick Heath

Image of Kalandarishvili thanks to http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kalandar.jpg
Sources include
Anarchist Georgia in the early twentieth century http://ilyapol.livejournal.com/1399.html
Nestor Kalandarishvili http://www.molodejka.ru/index.asp?id=4866&n=5508
And http://www.politjournal.ru/index.php?action=Articles&dirid=50&tek=8067&issue=217