Maximov's account of the April 1918 suppression of Moscow's anarchist groups.
The Moscow Anarchist Federation actively participated during the October days in the street battles waged by the Moscow proletariat against the White Guardists and Right Socialists. It was represented in the Military Revolutionary Committee, and it powerfully swayed the masses of quite a number of factories and military units. Its standing was high not only with the Moscow Bolsheviks, but likewise with the population of the city. The numerical growth of the Federation was indicated by the fact that at that time there were in existence large regional groups in various sections of Moscow, like Sokolniki, Presnia, Zamoskvoriechie, Lefortovo. The growth of its influence was marked by intense interest toward Anarchist ideas on the part of the great masses of people. All that impelled the Federation to an ever greater expansion of its work. Its propagandists and lecturers were making the rounds of the factories and military barracks where meetings and lecturers were frequently held. Equal attention was paid to the arranging of Anarchist lectures and mass meetings in the central part of the city. The Federation also published literature, conducted round table talk in its club rooms and issued a weekly paper “Anarchia“ [Anarkhiia].
All that however was not adequate to the needs of the moment and the tremendous interest toward the Anarchist idea shown at that time by the Moscow population. Some way for expanding organizational and propaganda activities had to be found. This could be done by getting larger headquarters for the Federation and by issuing a large daily dedicated to the Anarchist interpretation of social and political events.
Because of its power and influence the Federation succeeded in sequestering the premises of the “Kupechesky Club” (The Merchant’s Club) located at the Malaya Dmitrovka, an enormous and magnificent house, luxuriously decorated and having a library and theatre. The seized premises were renamed into “Dom Anarchia” – “Home of Anarchy”; proving to be well suited for the most extensive and varied Anarchist activity. By that time the Federation entered into agreement with one of the largest Moscow printing shops, enabling it to start issuing a daily instead of their former weekly paper.
By March, 1918, the Federation became a large organization in point of numbers. Apart from the work carried on outside of the “Dom Anarchia”, there was also extensive activity going on within the newly acquired headquarters. Frequent and well attended lectures and mass meetings were held in the Theatre Hall of the “Dom Anarchia”. A library and reading room were organized on the premises, circles of proletarian art-printing, poetry and theatre, were set up and numerous other activities of the same kind were launched.
Emulating the work of forming a Red Guard Army, the Federation set out to organize a military force of its own, the so-called “Black Guards”. Another house was seized and turned into barracks for the newly formed “Black Guard” contingents. Comrade Kaydanov, an active figure in the Anarchist movement and a comrade of long standing, was commissioned with the organization and leadership of this military formation, which soon became the formal cause of Bolshevik enmity, which resulted in the spreading of vile calumnies, faked charges of subversive intentions leveled at the Anarchists, and of the final smashing up of Anarchist organizations.
At the forums held in the club rooms of the “Dom Anarchia” a number of Anarchist lecturers and speakers were carrying on Anarchist propaganda and education. Barmash, Kovalevich, Krupenin, Askarov, Piro, A. Gordin, etc., were frequently holding the platform of these forums.
Apart from the educational and propaganda work carried on in Moscow itself, Anarchist activity of the same extensive character was carried on by the provincial groups in many other cities of Central Russia: Riazan, Smolensk, Tula, Tver, Kostroma, Yaroslavl, etc.
Especially active were Kovalevich and Dvumiantzev, both syndicalist minded workers among the railway proletariat. They were carrying on cultural work, taking part in the publication issued by the union, which ultimately became outspokenly anarcho-syndicalist in its character. Their propaganda work yielded splendid results.
The workers on many railroads, such as the Moscow-Nizhni-Novgorod, Moscow-Murom, Moscow-Kazan, and other railroads followed the lead of the Anarchists. The name Kovalevich soon became the most popular one among the railway workers. An analogous situation was created on the Nikolayevsky railroad. where among other signs of Anarchist influence on this road, one had to point to the great popularity and general esteem enjoyed by the Anarcho-Syndicalist paper, “Golos Trouda”.
The relative weakness of the Bolsheviks in Moscow, – Less than 8,000 members of the party – and the strong influence of the Anarchists, resulted in an adequate representation in the Moscow Soviet. There were sufficient number of Anarchists and Anarchist sympathizers among the Soviet delegates, and this created a situation whereby some problems, like the housing problem for example, were not passed upon without the representatives of the Federation participating in such deliberations. In addition, the Federation had a special desk in the Soviet, in charge of a member of the Federation, whose task was to issue writs for the seizure of various premises by the Anarchist organizations.
The situation created was such, that in the district where the Federation’s headquarters “Dom Anarchia” was located, the premises assigned for sequestration, were actually distributed by the Federation. The Soviet permit for the occupation of some buildings was not sufficient, it had to be supplemented by a similar warrant issued by the Federation and signed by its secretary, Lev Cherny, or some other responsible member of the Federation. (Lev Cherny was shot by the Bolsheviks in 1921).
It is quite noteworthy that while hold-ups flourished in other districts of the city, they were rare in the district where the Federation headquarters, “Dom Anarchia”, was located. The population of that district was highly pleased with that and showed, as a result, the friendliest attitude toward the Federation.
The steady growth of Anarchist influence, the great success of the organization of the Black Guards, and the numerical growth of the latter, began to disturb rather seriously the Bolsheviks and their fellow travelers, the Left Social-Revolutionists, with whom they shared power at that time. Both raised in their party and government press, a brazen and lying campaign against the Anarchists, charging them with such deadly sins as robberies, banditry, stealing and plundering the property of the seized houses, and also with sheltering many common criminals and White Guardists, who allegedly had permeated the Anarchist ranks. Following that, they began, a few days prior to their raid on the Anarchists, circulating various rumors through their press and other means at their disposal. The absurd rumors had all the marks of being a Kremlin product fabricated for the occasion. These fabrications charged that the Anarchists were preparing a plot against the Soviet power with the view of capturing Soviet power.
It was also charged that this would-be plot was timed for a definite date, and that the fact had become known to the authorities through reliable sources of information. This insinuation and calumny was being steadily pushed on by the Bolsheviks notwithstanding the official denial given it by the Anarchist papers “Anarchia” and “Golos Trouda”.
In Moscow the Anarchists seized about twenty-five private houses, but it was not only the Anarchists that were quartered in those private houses. In most cases the Anarchists would have workers move with them into the occupied houses. As to the property found on the premises the Anarchists were specific in their aim to conserve any art treasures found in those houses. Thus, for instance, the Federation was the first to undertake, under the guidance of Piro, the registration of the art treasures found in the Morosov house. (Morosov, [Morozov] owner of textile mills, one of the richest men in Tzarist Russia). The Federation kept a guard to insure the safety of all collections and then, acting jointly with the Moscow Soviet and Art Societies, it transferred those treasures to the respective museums.
Having prepared the ground with their lying campaigns, the Bolsheviks decided to put an end with a single blow to the Anarchist movement whose growth in Moscow and throughout the country became dangerous to them. Perhaps motivated by the problematic hope of redeeming themselves in the eyes of the European bourgeoisie by smashing up the Anarchist organizations they prepared and proceeded with their wicked plot. It was subsequently reported that the routing of the Anarchists was followed by a rise of the Russian rouble on the European exchanges.
In Moscow there were persistent reports at that time that during a whole week Trotzky had kept on haranguing the Red Army detachments stationed at Kremlin, about Anarchism and Anarchists, in an attempt to infuriate them against the latter.
When everything was ready, the authorities began their attack. On the night of April 12, 1918, troops began closing in upon the private houses quartering the Anarchists. The troops were armed with machine guns and cannons. Their tactics consisted in surrounding each house and then taking it by assault. In some cases, when awakened by the racket, the residents succeeded in improvising some sort of resistance. The Anarchists did not even know whether the assailants were the government forces, or White-Guardists, when they were presented with a demand for surrender. Those that surrendered were taken to the Kremlin. When met with a refusal to surrender, the attacking forces subjected the houses to intensive fire from machine guns and cannons. Especially great was the damage done by that bombardment upon three houses: Federation headquarters, “Dom Anarchia”, the house of “Immediate Socialists”, at the Povarskaya, and the house of the Donskaya Anarchist group which was situated near the Donskoy monastery. The first two houses suffered much less than the third one, although scarred with a few gaps produced by cannon shots.
The workers surprised at the house of the “Donskaya group” thought the assault was being made by White-Guardists. They showed fierce resistance with the result that the house was badly damaged. The rattling of the machine guns and the booming of the cannons lasted until dawn. The city was practically taken over during the night by a licentious undisciplined mob of Lettish soldiers of the Red Army, who were influenced by the Bolsheviks against the Anarchists. Passers-by were halted, and rudely subjected to searching and sometimes arrest. Thus, for instance, were assaulted members of the “Golos Trouda” editorial staff who were returning from their desk work. Zabrezhnev, Yartchuk (both became Communists) and the author of these lines [Maksimov]. None of them, up to the moment of their detention, knew what had been going on in Moscow during that night. Their Anarchist identity having been revealed, the soldiers began dragging them away to some barracks. It was only the presence of mind and composure evinced by one of the detained that saved them from lynching.
In the morning the crime committed by the Bolshevik “Revolutionary” Government, drew to the destroyed houses, gaping crowds of well-to-do loafers. But the government had much more in store for the Anarchists. The arrested comrades were kept in abominable conditions and were treated in the most insulting manner. Threats of shooting and the choicest abuse were heaped upon them, while beating with rifle butts were administered as a matter of course. But this was not all.
Since the government alleged that the campaign had been undertaken not against Anarchists, but against “bandits” and “White-Guardists” who hung on to the Anarchist movement, without the latter being able to rid itself from them, it had to invite the would-be sufferers of the robberies to come and identify the “bandits”. And so the bourgeois riff-raff began to pour in. The result of this “public identification” by the enemies of the revolutionary workers were distressing in their effect. Among the “identified bandits” were many old revolutionaries like Khodounov, Kniasiev and others; others were just ordinary workers with their wives who had taken up lodging in the houses seized by the Anarchists. Some of the passers-by who happened to be dragged in during the turmoil were also identified as “bandits”. Prominent Anarchists were soon released, but the others were detained. The brutal treatment of the prisoners reached its utmost in the murder of Khodounov, allegedly at the latter’s attempt to escape.
Anarchist papers were suspended. “Anarchia”, “Svobodnaja Kommuna” (The Free Commune), the Anarcho-Syndicalist paper “Golos Trouda” whose morning issue was run off the press before the suspension order came in force, was compelled to close up the following day. A period of leftward terror set in. The pogrom wave swept throughout Soviet Russia. Everywhere the same terror was repeated, only on a minor scale.
The blow was well-aimed and well-timed. It was delivered before the Anarchist movement had time to crystallize itself. It was unsettled, still in the stage of becoming – of self-determination. It had not yet found itself fully, had not solidified its inner content and had not strengthened itself organizationally within and outside the factories and villages of the country. The movement had not the time to shape itself as a distinct clear-cut national organization with definitely established principles, when the unexpected hurricane of government terror swooped down upon them. The terroristic practice firmly adopted from that moment by the Bolsheviks proved to be too strong for an unsolidified movement. The terroristic policy nearly destroyed this movement, rendering impossible its further existence.
Anarchist activities went down considerably as a result of the government pogroms. The groups were broken up, and it was long before they reshaped themselves organizationally. There remained a few individuals who continued their Anarchist propaganda at factories and at the railroads where Anarchist influence persisted for some time. More than a month passed before the Federation recovered from the blow aimed at it by the government, finally succeeding in launching again its official organ “Anarchia” (“Anarchy”).
The example of Moscow was followed by Petrograd and other provincial cities, and following that an official order was issued by the Commissariat of Inner Affairs to all its subordinate bodies enjoining them to liquidate the Anarchist movement in the same manner as was done in Moscow.
Already in 1917 Lenin wrote in his “A Letter to the Comrades”, appearing in October 17, 1918 (page 283, vol. 14, “Lenin’s Works”, Moscow, 1923) : “It is the nearly unanimous opinion of all, that the prevailing mood of the masses verges on despair, and favors the growth of Anarchism”.
This mood did not suffer any change since that time, and now, after the October revolution, it is still desperate. Added to that there was the widespread dissatisfaction with the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty. Nearly all the Anarchists were opposed to that treaty, favoring a revolutionary war of defense against the German-Austrian troops. And when following the October revolution the German-Austrian troops began advancing upon the territory of revolutionary Russia, there arose spontaneously a movement of irregulars (formed with the consent of the government, but as far as most of them were concerned, almost independent from it), for the purpose of fighting the invaders. This movement grew after the first failure of the peace negotiations when Trotzky threw out the winged phrase “War is ended, but peace has not been signed”. The Anarchists manifested a feverish activity in the organization of the partisan detachments. But following the Brest peace, those detachments began to be viewed by the Bolsheviks with a growing feeling of uneasiness. They were deemed as potentially dangerous in many respects. First, they might disrupt the peace by unwarranted action in the front zone; secondly, the Anarchist irregulars might put a damper (which, indeed, they did to some extent) upon the dictatorial policies of the Bolsheviks; thirdly, they might have a stimulating effect upon the growth of the Anarchist movement throughout the country, which would result in the expansion of its influence not only in the cities but villages as well (where often the Anarchists were virtually unknown); fourthly, they appeared dangerous as an armed force in the hands of another political party which notwithstanding its lack of an organization on a national scale, contained a potential threat of another upheaval. Such were the basic motives actuating the Government in its course of smashing up the Anarchist organizations. It certainly was not “banditry”. Banditry and other calumnies alleged in the official report, were simply a convenient excuse used to camouflage the Bolsheviks’ real purposes.
From: The Guillotine at work (1940) p405-411.
Originally posted at http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/brv25k