Georgi Gogelia

An obituary for the Georgian anarchist G. Gogelia (pseudonym K. Orgeiani) (1878 – 1924) by the self-styled "anarcho-bolshevik" I. S. Grossman-Roschin. Gogelia, largely forgotten today, was one of the foremost theoreticians and practitioners of anarchism in the epoch of the struggle against tsarism. This article first appeared in the Soviet periodical Biloye [Bygone Times].

The telegraph brought the sad news of the death of one of the notable anarchists – Georgi Gogelia. Comrade Gogelia played an outstanding role in the Russian anarchist movement. He headed the Khleb i Volya1 tendency. Gogelia was widely known in the milieu of French syndicalism and had a significant influence on many of the leading syndicalist workers. At his modest apartment in Paris it was often possible to encounter French workers passionately discussing the fundamental problems of tactics and theory. This is not the place to launch into a detailed analysis of Comrade Gogelia’s literary and practical activity. His best known works are “The Chicago Martyrs”, “Concerning Revolution and Revolutionary Government”, “What are the Origins of Revolutionary Syndicalism”, “Concerning the Intelligentsia”, and a whole raft of articles about the theory and tactics of class struggle which were published in Khleb i Volya2, Burevestnik3, Golos Rabochego4, Rabochiy Mir5, and Put’ k svobodye6. It is with great regret that I mention the loss of many manuscripts, of which the most valuable was a critique of parliamentary democracy.

Georgi Gogelia was the original founder of the Russian anarchist newspaper Khleb i Volya, published abroad. Later he edited a daily anarchist organ in Georgia. A couple of words about the literary work of Comrade Gogelia. It is common to think that he was an orthodox follower of P. A. Kropotkin. This requires significant reservations. In the field of theory Comrade Gogelia had for some time distanced himself from the naive materialism of Kropotkin. It’s true that Gogelia opposed this naive materialism not with dialectical materialism but with empirio-criticism. Even Kropotkin’s unquestionably brilliant work The Great French Revolution did not entirely satisfy Gogelia. He agreed with me, although he had earlier disagreed vigorously, that even here Kropotkin had failed to clearly set forth his conception of mass creativity. In the field of tactics Gogelia in essence parted ways abruptly with Kropotkin. I recall that in the third issue of Khleb i Volya there was an article by Cherkezov on the question of tactics, an article infused with liberalism. This article provoked a strong reaction from leftists and all the revolutionary anarchists. Was it possible that Gogelia, the editor, was in solidarity with this article? But the subsequent article of Comrade Gogelia made it crystal clear that he embraced the class point of view. Gogelia was not a Marxist, but he tried to set forth those writings of Mikhail Bakunin which embodied the class point of view. Comrade Gogelia did not always draw all his practical conclusions from class premises, but by and large in his works he dissociated himself from the liberal anarchism of Cherkezov and others.

It’s quite apparent that this break with Kropotkin’s tactics took place during the period of the imperialist war. The majority of anarchists moved over to the camp of the imperialists; at the head of this tendency, alas, stood the teacher and personal friend of Gogelia – P. A. Kropotkin. Gogelia felt bitter, ashamed, and tormented about the fate of the revolutionary banner! He suffered painfully through the necessary rupture with Kropotkin. But he unreservedly moved over to the camp of the internationalists and engaged with us in an implacable struggle with the chauvinist scum.

Comrade Gogelia was a revolutionary syndicalist from the best period of that tendency. Roughly from 1905 to 1907 French syndicalism undoubtedly expressed the revolutionary trend of the working masses. French syndicalism struggled with parliamentary cretinism and with the degenerate renegades of reformism. The working class quarters of Paris were in a constant state of insurrectionary ferment. Syndicalism attempted to give an organizational form to this mass movement. The bourgeoisie trembled in expectation of the imminent social revolution. Hervé7, today a pogromist, and his lackey Poincaré8, flaunted their anti-militarism. The talented intellecual adventurer Georges Sorel tried to unite Marxism with the doctrines of Bergson and Nietzsche. It was characteristic of Comrade Gogelia that even then he was very sceptical of Sorel and clearly did not trust Hervé. But soon, unexpectedly soon, the revolutionary ardour of French syndicalism subsided. And as soon as he noticed the degeneration of revolutionary syndicalism into neo-reformism, Gogelia anxiously sounded the alarm. It was around that time that he wrote a number of brilliant articles which appeared in the American Golos Rabochego. In these articles Gogelia exposed the mendacious and unprincipled slogan “We don’t need either Bakunin or Marx” and laid bare the fact that a variety of tendencies were uniting under the flag of syndicalism, and that some of these tendencies were hostile to proletarian thought and tactics. He gave an analysis of these currents. My article in Rabocheye Znamya9 about dogmatic and critical syndicalism was carefully reviewed by Gogelia at the manuscript stage and received his complete approval.

Not surprisingly, the articles by Gogelia and myself were greeted with displeasure and biting, but hardly compelling, critiques from the syndicalists and Mensheviks.

Unfortunately there’s nothing much I can say about the relationship of Gogelia to the struggle between us, the “anarcho-Bolsheviks”, and the anti-Soviet anarchists. I know that Comrade Gogelia underwent an agonizing spiritual crisis. But of much greater importance was the merciless disease which had already seized him by the throat.

Comrade Shatov10 told me about a speech delivered by Gogelia at a meeting. A large crowd had assembled in a Leningrad auditorium. Everyone was anxious to hear Gogelia’s speech. He took the floor, but his mind wandered... There were flashes of brilliance which soon faded away... But he had been an orator of exceptional strength and power. He “seized his audience” not by the external form of his presentation, nor by the richness of his images, but by his sincerity, passion, and conviction. His listeners felt they were in the presence of a man who knew “but one passion, and a fiery one”11 – the struggle.

While still a youth Gogelia was distressed by his observations of inequality as well as the hypocrisy and evil-doing of bourgeois society. But he was not familiar with revolutionary theory. At an early age he was consumed by pessimism. And during this period, still lacking experience of life and not properly educated, he became acquainted with the pessimistic theory of Schopenhauer. He formed the impression that the real world was an arena of pain and suffering, that happiness was an illusion, equality an unrealizable dream, and struggle – a futile waste of energy. But this phase did not last long. His revolutionary temperament and exuberant vitality urged him towards practical work. Pessimism gave way to militant optimism.

A couple of words about the personality of Comrade Gogelia.

There are people whose thought is like a “superstructure” over their real personality; between their thought, their emotions, and their desires “the wheel of causality does not roll”.12 It is told of Socrates, the proponent of wisdom and the suppression of lustful thoughts, that he frequented the company of heterae who were neither intellectuals nor had mastered their libidinous impulses. To the question: “How, Socrates, do you reconcile your teaching with your behaviour?” the sage replied: “Only my head is Socrates. The rest of me is no better than anyone else.”

Comrade Gogelia knew only thoughts, if one can put it this way, directly related to the pursuit of freedom and the life of the intellect. Struve13 once reproached the Russian intelligentsia for transforming categories of logic into matters of conscience. This “reproach” could be applied with accuracy to Gogelia. Seldom does it happen that questions of abstract thought are transformed into questions of life and personal behaviour as happened with Comrade Gogelia.

Typical, in this connection, is an episode told to me by the editor of Burevestnik, Comrade Rayevsky14.

Rayevsky met Gogelia in one of the Paris streets. Gogelia was agitated and extremely depressed.

“Come to my place, Comrade Rayevsky, I need to talk to you about something very important.”

Rayevsky got the impression that something was amiss with Comrade Gogelia. He went to his place. Gogelia was very gloomy and quite upset. Finally he said:

“Here’s the situation, Maxim. Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time on statistics. And I’ve come to the conclusion that the proletariat almost nowhere constitutes a solid majority. This means that the proletariat will have to drag behind itself the dead weight of the petty-bourgeoisie and the artisans.

Comrade Rayevsky concurred with this possibility and with all the tactical consequences flowing from it, but nevertheless was perplexed at the mixture of grief and dismay which infused the words of Comrade Gogelia, who seemed to regard this matter as a personal disaster.

“But this means a terrible slowdown in the tempo of the social revolution! It means that on the ‘Second Day’ we will have to concern ourselves with a long, drawn-out ‘reconditioning’ of the petty-bourgeois public, which will effectively limit the revolution to the minimum program!”

And Comrade Gogelia fell silent, as he sorrowfully, but stubbornly, grappled with this problem. In doing so he demonstrated his personal integrity, his capacity for experiencing a problem such as the tempo of the revolution as a matter of personal joy or sorrow, which characterized his distinctive zeal and fanaticism, so foreign to people who are cool and calculating.

I remember one meeting in Geneva. Chernov15 spoke. He tried to give an outline of the sociology of the SRs while ignoring Kropotkin, the theoretician of the principle of mutual aid. Gogelia answered him. The problem under discussion seemed sufficiently abstract. But Gogelia, whose worldview was a unified, internally coherent, organic whole, rejected the division of problems into abstract and concrete, and he expressed his opinion with so much fire and passion that the audience was literally spellbound.

Yes, Gogelia knew “but one passion, and a fiery one” – the struggle.

He lived for the struggle and tried to draw others to it.

His name will not be forgotten by the victorious proletariat.

I. S. Grossman-Roshchin

Biloye, 1925. – No. 2 (30). – pp. 230–233.
Notes are by the translator.

  • 1. Kleb i Volya [Bread and Freedom] was an anarcho-communist group, composed of followers of P. A. Kropotkin, formed in 1903 in Geneva. At that time Switzerland was practically the only country in the world where anarchists could function openly.
  • 2. Khleb i Volya [Bread and Freedom] was the organ of the group of the same name, published in Geneva in 1905 – 1907.
  • 3. Burevestnik [Stormy Petrel] was an anarcho-communist journal published in Geneva in 1906 – 1910. In 1908 the group associated with this journal (which included Grossman-Roshchin's brother Alexander) merged with the Khleb i Volya group.
  • 4. No trace can be found of an anarcho-communist or anarcho-syndicalist journal with the name Golos Rabochego [Voice of the Worker], but further along in the article Grossman-Roshchin mentions that it was American so he undoubtedly is referring to Golos Truda [Voice of Labour], published in the U.S.A. in 1911 – 1917 as the organ of the anarcho-syndicalist Union of Russian Workers in the USA and Canada. Among its editors were Maxim Rayevsky and Bill Shatov, also mentioned in Grossman-Roshchin's article.
  • 5. Rabochiy Mir [Labour World] was the organ of the Zurich group of anarcho-communists of the same name, published 1912 – 1914. Both G-R and Gogelia were editors.
  • 6. Put’ k svobodye [Road to freedom] was the organ of the Geneva – Zurich group of anarcho-communists, published irregularly in 1917. Its editor was Alexander Ge.
  • 7. Gustave Hervé (1871 – 1944) started out on the extreme left of French politics and slowly moved to the extreme right.
  • 8. Raymond Poincaré (1860 – 1934) was a conservative French politician.
  • 9. Rabocheye Znamya [Workers' Banner] was a theoretical organ of the Lausanne group of anarcho-communists, published in 1915 – 1917.
  • 10. Vladmir ("Bill") Shatov (1887 – 1943), like Grossman-Roshchin, was an anarcho-syndicalist who had lived abroad before the Revolution and worked with the Bolsheviks after 1917.
  • 11. From the well-known poem Mtsyri by Mikhail Lermontov (1814 – 1841).
  • 12. From Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche.
  • 13. Peter Struve (1870 - 1944), a Russian political-economist, was once an opponent of Lenin within the Russian social-democratic movement.
  • 14. Maxim Rayevsky (188? – 1931) was the co-editor (with Nikolai Rogdaev) of the anarchist journal Burevestnik in 1906-1910. He was another anarcho-syndicalist who returned to Russia in 1917 and ended up working for the Bolsheviks.
  • 15. Victor Chernov (1873 – 1952) was the main party theoretician of the Russian Socialist Revolutionary (SR) Party.