anarchy archives

An Online Research Center on the History and Theory of Anarchism



About Us

Contact Us

Other Links

Critics Corner


The Cynosure

  Michael Bakunin
  William Godwin
  Emma Goldman
  Peter Kropotkin
  Errico Malatesta
  Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
  Max Stirner
  Murray Bookchin
  Noam Chomsky
  Bright but Lesser Lights
  Cold Off The Presses
  Anarchist History
  Worldwide Movements
  First International
  Paris Commune
  Haymarket Massacre
  Spanish Civil War
Originally published in 1937 by International Publishers of New York

History on Anarchism in Russia

by E. Yaroslansky


In the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics at the present time the anarchists no longer enjoy any influence over the masses. They are met with only as isolated individualists. The reason for this is the victory of socialism in the U.S.S.R. The old Russia, landlord and petty-bourgeois peasant Russia, which fostered anarchism and gave birth to the founders of anarchism, those repentant aristocrats--Mikhail Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin and Leo Tolstoy--has passed away.

In place of this old tsarist Russia, a new state, a Soviet socialist state has been built during the last 20 years, the like of which history has never known. This state arose in the flames of civil war, as a result of the victorious socialist, proletarian revolution.

This revolution opened a new page in world history. In October, 1917, a big breach was made in the system of imperialist states. The young Soviet government of workers and peasants, guided by the Bolshevik Party, the Party of Lenin and Stalin, succeeded in vanquishing the forces of all the enemies who rose against it. It abolished the capitalist and landlord classes. In the U.S.S.R. there is not a single capitalist or landlord. The Soviet state routed the armies of the whiteguards, the armies of the bourgeoisie, although they were commanded by the old tried tsarist generals and included nearly all the old officers. The Soviet state defeated the armed intervention and the economic blockade of the 14 capitalist states which joined in the struggle against it.

The Soviet state vanquished economic chaos and built up a splendid industry and agriculture equipped with the most up-to-date machinery. In place of the old, dilapidated, capitalist, landlord and small-proprietor system of economy, the Soviet state, in accordance with the plan drawn up by the Communist Party, has built up a new, powerful socialist system of economy, with a more developed technique and higher productivity of labor. It has raised the economic, political and cultural standard of life of the entire population. It has created a splendid Red Army, the only one of its kind, which stands guard over the banner of communism, over the life, labor and property of vast masses of the people on one-sixth of the globe. The Soviet state has secured the great amity of nations in the U.S.S.R., thanks to the correct national policy of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the vanguard of the Communist International.

This Party arose 40 years ago in the form of small secret workers' circles which were persecuted by the tsarist government. Its chief organizers were Lenin and Stalin, those brilliant theoreticians, strategists and leaders of the revolution. The workers and peasants of Russia achieved their splendid results primarily because from its very inception the mass revolutionary working class movement in Russia was headed by the Bolshevik Party. This Party organized the advanced workers, it organized the armed insurrection, it organized resistance to the whiteguards and foreign intervention, and it organized their defeat. The Bolshevik Party organized the new, Soviet, proletarian state; it organized the new system of economy. It ensured the great victories achieved by the working people.

But it succeeded in doing all this because it fought against all forms of opportunism in the working class movement, including anarchism. The anarchism of Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin was the theory of the Narodniks of the Land and Freedom society, who wanted to secure "land and freedom" under tsarism. During the 1905 Revolution anarchism in Russia took the form of terrorist groups which organized plots against the lives of tsarist officials and raids on banks and government institutions. During this period some of its adherents began to go over to the anarchosyndicalists. In their propaganda the Russian anarchists tried to create enmity between the revolutionary Socialist intellectuals and the working class.

After the Revolution of 1917 had triumphed, the anarchists in certain localities of Russia attempted to put their doctrine into practice, and thus came into sharp conflict with the whole course of the revolution. In the form of the so-called Workers' Opposition, anarcho-syndicalism attempted to establish itself in the working class movement, in the Communist Party, under the proletarian dictatorship.

At the most critical moment in the struggle of the proletariat against the united forces of the Russian and the international bourgeoisie, the anarchists engaged in dividing up the residences and property they had plundered from the rich, never realizing that in place of the old demolished system the proletariat must build its socialist system of economy.

In the south of the Ukraine, the anarchists-Makhno and his supporters-attempted to put into practice the ideal of anarchism. For the working people of the Ukraine and the whole of the Soviet Union the name of Makhno and his hordes is synonymous with the blackest crimes against the revolution, against the cause of the working class.

Thus the first proletarian revolution in the world tested not only the doctrine, program, strategy and tactics of the Communists, but also the doctrine, program, strategy and tactics of the anarchists. In their struggles the vast masses of the people throughout the world can benefit by the experience of the October Revolution. Of course, they must take into account the specific features of the struggle for emancipation in their own countries, but they would be making a great and irretrievable mistake if they simply disregarded this experience and failed to apply it. What could one say about people who obstinately refused to take a known and tried road leading to the goal but must at all costs take a different road, which leads them to defeat?

The workers in those countries where they now have to choose between the doctrine of the anarchists and that of the Communists should know both these roads.

The Rise of Revolutionary Marxism.

In 1884 the first Russian Marxist group, known as the Emancipation of Labor, was founded in Switzerland by Plekhanov, Axelrod, Deutsch and Zasulich. It should be noted that all the organizers of this group had for several years been prominent in the Narodnik movement, and had belonged to the Bakuninist rebel wing. The formation of this group was preceded by a split in the Land and Freedom organization, which broke up into the People's Will and the Black Redistribution (Cherny Peredel) groups in 1879. The founders of the latter group afterwards formed the Emancipation of Labor, carrying with them their old anarchist views on the revolution and the state. The Black Redistribution group did not have much influence on the revolutionary movement in Russia. In a letter to Sorge, written on November 5, 1886, Marx ridiculed the Black Redistribution as a Bakuninist semianarchist group.

These gentlemen-Marx wrote-are opposed to all political revolutionary action. According to their plan Russia is to leap straight into the anarchist-communist atheist millennium. In the meantime they are preparing for this leap by the most tedious doctrinairism. The so called principles of their doctrine have been taken from the late Bakunin.

After they became Social-Democrats, these people abandoned and criticized the Narodnik anarchist views. But it is with good cause that Marxists call anarchism the twin brother of compromising reformism. From their Bakuninist anarchism Plekhanov, Axelrod and their supporters in the Emancipation of Labor group soon went over to Menshevism and became the leaders of the Menshevik movement.

With Lenin's organization of the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class in St. Petersburg towards the end of the nineties, the movement of revolutionary Marxism began to develop, the Bolshevik trend began to take shape. At the Second Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party, in 1903, this trend assumed definite organizational shape as a party. In 1905 the Bolsheviks held a separate Party Congress, and in 1912 the Party finally rid itself of the Mensheviks and organized its own Central Committee.

After the proletarian revolution of 1917 the Bolshevik Party adopted the name of Communist Party. But from the outset this Party was the embryo of the future Third, Communist International, for which Marx and Engels had fought. The St. Petersburg League of Struggle was already the embryo of the new party, a fighting party, capable of overthrowing not only tsarism, but also the power of the landlords and capitalists in Russia; and this was its greatest and most difficult task, considering that under tsarism the proletariat constituted an insignificant minority of the population of Russia. It was only in alliance with the peasantry, and only under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, that the working class could accomplish this gigantic historic task.

As far back as 1894, during his controversy with the Narodniks, Lenin had written in his book, What the "Friends of the People" Are and How They Fight Against the Social-Democrats, that as a result of the propaganda of Marxism carried on among the workers by the Marxists and as a result of their organizational work in establishing an independent working class party:

The Russian workers will rise at the head of all the democratic elements, overthrow absolutism and lead the Russian proletariat (side by side with the proletariat of all countries) along the straight road of open political struggle towards the victorious communist revolution.*

Now the whole world can see that Lenin was absolutely right, that in 1894, more than two decades before the October Socialist Revolution of 1917, he correctly and precisely marked out the line of development of the revolution. The revolution in Russia did not follow the prescription of the anarchistsBakunin, Kropotkin, Reclus, Puget, Malatesta and the restbut the road foreseen by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin. Is not this the best possible proof that the theory and practice of the Communists are correct, that they correctly judge the development of the struggle, the strength and importance of the various classes in society, the enemies and allies of the proletariat, indicate the proper methods of struggle and properly employ them?

In the period when the forces of the first Russian revolution were taking shape and rising in the struggle, the anarchists in Russia did not perform a single revolutionary act of any importance. But they undoubtedly caused the revolutionary movement considerable harm by their struggle against the Marxists, and particularly by their advocacy of individual terrorism and anarchy.

In 1905-06, the activities of the Russian anarchists were confined almost exclusively to the South of Russia-Odessa, Ekaterinoslav, Elisavetgrad-and partly the Caucasus and Poland ( Lodz, Byelostok, Warsaw). Those who are familiar with the history of the revolution in Russia know that the anarchist movement of 1905-07 did not give Russia a single outstanding revolutionary leader, did not provide a single idea of value to the revolution; this anarchist movement cannot name a single fact of positive and decisive significance in its development.

Revolutionary methods of struggle, such as the mass strike or the armed uprising, were widely employed in Russia, not under the influence and leadership of the anarchists, but by the Bolshevik Party. In the Moscow insurrection of December, 1905-the most important event in Russia prior to the 1917 revolution-there was not a single anarchist fighting squad, whereas the Bolsheviks and even a section of the Menshevik workers fought on the barricades.

The favorite methods of struggle chosen by the anarchists in 1906-07 were individual terror and expropriation; but these methods showed the weakness, and not the strength of the anarchist movement. They degenerated into sheer banditry, which had nothing in common with the aims of the revolution.

We do not mean to suggest that there were not among the Russian anarchists people who in their own way were devoted to the cause of the revolution, for some of the workers also supported anarchism. But let us see what a competent witness like Kropotkin has to say on this point:

Our revolution has brought forth many heroes, people with personal courage; but it has not brought forth people with courage of thought, capable of carrying revolutionary ideas among the seething masses, of rallying them and inspiring them to perform great revolutionary deeds that would cause a revolution in the organization of life, in the economic distribution of forces, in all the ideas of the poor and exploited masses.

Let us bear in mind this opinion of a prominent anarchist leader. But at the same time let us recall that the Bolshevik movement has produced such giant thinkers as Lenin and Stalin, who rallied and inspired the masses to rise in armed insurrection, and trained these masses to make the greatest revolution known in history.

But the anarchist movement hindered the working class in this struggle. Let us examine the facts.


First of all we must say a few words about the Makhayev trend, which caused an enormous amount of harm to the working class movement in Russia.

A. Makhayev (Volsky), a Social-Democrat of the reformist type, while in exile in Siberia came to the conclusion that "behind the capitalists a new exploiting and master class is growing up, namely, the intellectuals, the commanding intellectuals who also invented socialism in order to transform the working class into a tool for their own ends." To prove this "theory" he wrote a book, The Intellectual Worker. Makhayev soon found adherents among the exiled anarchists, Taratuta and others. In a leaflet issued in 1902, the Makhayevites argued that the intellectuals represented "a superior race whose mission it was to rule." In the same leaflet they tried to prove that the revolutionary party in Russia was fighting against tsarism only in order, when political liberty had been gained, to get into power and exploit the working class. Concerning the Jewish Labor League, known as the Bund, the Makhayevites wrote that the Jews were fighting against tsarism in order to be permitted to enter government service. Is it surprising that the gendarmes in Irkutsk freely permitted these counter-revolutionary productions of the Makhayevite anarchists to be distributed among the population? The ideas they preached played into the hands of the gendarmes, into the hands of tsarism. The Makhayevites succeeded in establishing the Invincible (Neprimirimy) group in Odessa and the Struggle (Borba) group in Byelostok. Novomirsky, one of the Russian anarchist leaders, characterized the Makhayevite program as follows:

It can be reduced to three points: (1) the working class needs no ideals; (2) what it needs is an economic, revolutionary terrorist struggle against capital; and (3) the intellectuals are an exploiting class hostile to the proletariat.

Novomirsky also expressed the following opinion about the Makhayevites:

The Makhayevites could not become the vanguard of the mass movement, for practically their whole program was a negative one. The very causes that proved fatal for "Economism" and brought about the collapse of "Zubatovism" inflicted a mortal blow on Makhayevism. A political struggle was a historical necessity, and by their repudiation of politics the Makhayevites put themselves outside of history.

For the benefit of readers who are not sufficiently acquainted with the revolution in Russia we will explain that the Russian "Economism" of the nineties tried to persuade the workers to reject the political struggle, to leave that to the liberal bourgeoisie. "Zubatovism" was the attempt of the tsarist police to direct the working class movement into the legal channel of economic demands, and thus, by diverting the proletariat from the political struggle, to make it innocuous. The anarchism of the Makhayevites was something between "Economism" and "Zubatovism." For example, Makhayev tried to convince the workers that they could reach a standard of wages equal to the profits of the capitalists.

Makhayevism was not widespread among the working class. It is a characteristic fact that its leaders were not workers. For instance, Nikolai Striga (Vladimir Lapidus), the leader of the Makhayevites in Odessa, came of a bourgeois family. The purpose of Makhayevism was to create distrust between the masses of the workers and the socialist intellectuals, thus playing into the hands of the tsarist gendarmes who were pursuing the same end by different means, although at the end of 1904 the Makhayevites in Odessa styled themselves anarchist-communists.

The Anarchists in the Revolution

During the 1905 revolution the Russian anarchists split up into several trends, but they had one thing in common, namely, the repudiation of the state and of the bourgeois-democratic stage of the revolution. The Russian anarchists took their ideas from Bakunin, Kropotkin, Proudhon, Malatesta and Reclus. They tried to prove that the revolution in Russia must lead to the destruction of every kind of state, that it must lead to anarchy. In their opinion, skipping all transitional stages, including the dictatorship of the proletariat, the revolution would immediately establish in place of the tsarist landlord and capitalist state complete communist-anarchist society, a society based on the rule: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."

One of these "anarchist-communist" trends was named after their publication. No Authority (Beznachalive). An article dealing with the program of the group, published in No. 1 of this publication, state that the anarchists must inscribe on their black banner the slogan: "Ruthless, bloody popular retribution." It demanded the "recognition of burglary and all other open attacks on stores and houses committed by the oppressed classes."

Another-group of Russian anarchists were called the Black Banner (Chernoye Znamya) group. Their publication, the Rebel (Buntar) stated in its first editorial, addressing the unemployed: "Organize and arm! Attack the stores and seize necessities in an organized manner. Let that be your demand for bread!"

Of course, it was easier to attack some small shopkeeper, or to rob a private apartment, than to carry on an organized class struggle against the landlord and capitalist classes as a whole; it was easier to attack an individual official of the tsarist government than to attack the entire tsarist autocracy, than to organize the masses to overthrow tsarism. But such activity is not revolutionary-far from it. These anarchists called themselves communists. But their communism was "consuming" communism. They deceived the masses when they said that it was possible to provide everything "to each according to his needs" on the morrow of the revolution, and that the class struggle would also cease immediately after the revolution.

It should be noted that these anarchists did not carry on their activities among the more organized, class-conscious workers, but among the children of ruined petty bourgeois, among the petty-bourgeois intellectuals, among the lumpenproletariat, and sometimes among real criminals, for bandits were quite suitable as far as burglaries and attacks on houses and stores were concerned. No principles were necessary for this purpose. But if we recall that Bakunin himself regarded highway robbers as the finest revolutionaries, we shall realize why the Russian anarchists formulated their objectives in this way.

The following was related by the anarchist Novomirsky, publisher of the magazine New World (Novy Mir), regarding the Odessa anarchist-communist group at the end of 1905. When in his report Novomirsky had set forth the anarchist views on the revolution, Gershkovich, the leader of the Odessa anarchist-communist group, took the floor and declared that the anarchist-communists did not agree with Novomirsky.

The anarchist-communists absolutely differ with him: we say to the workers, "Murder, rob, killl We do not want any societies, we do not want any organizations: rob, murder, kill!"

Judge for yourselves what enormous harm such a doctrine caused in those places where it was not opposed by that of the genuinely revolutionary party of Bolshevik Marxists, who under exceedingly difficult conditions built up their party step by step, teaching the proletariat to fight its class enemies in the most effective way.

The No Authority and the Black Banner were not the only anarchist trends in Russia during the revolution. A participant in the anarchist movement gives the following description of this variety of "shades" of anarchism:

Bombs of "unmotivated" terror-and Tolstoy's "thou shalt not kill"; revolution-and passive resistance; the refusal of the members of the No Authority to go to work in order not to be exploited-and strikes; the No Authority justification of robberies perpetrated against capitalists-and the social expropriation of the exploiters, these were incompatible forms of direct action, this was the distance between a beast and an angel....

The only thing this anarchist forgot was that revolution is made not by beasts and not by angels, but by working people.

We shall not deal in detail with all the trends of anarchism. Tolstoyanism, as an anarchist trend, is in a separate category, since it is the doctrine of non-resistance to evil, and repudiates all political struggle. We have seen what the theories and the practical slogans of the active anarchist groups were like.

Nor was there much difference between the above-mentioned groups and the Bread and Freedom (Khleb i Volya) group organized by Kropotkin, Orgeyani, Cherkezov, Corn and other anarchists in London with supporters in Russia. This group also preached the direct transition to the "anarchist millennium," it also denied that it was necessary for the working class to establish an independent party and to take part in the political struggle. Thus, all the anarchists detached a section of the workers from the united front of the working class and the peasantry, weakened the forces of the revolution and thereby played into the hands of the counter-revolution.

We have already said that the principal methods of struggle recommended by the anarchists were economic terror, expropriation, and what was known as "unmotivated terror," which was intended to terrorize the bourgeoisie.

The anarchists, themselves, in a statement addressed "to the Anarchist Comrades" gave the following withering description of their theory:

The elements of Utopian idealism, fragments of 18th century thought, are mixed up with modern "progressive" theories, and in places all this is pierced by the rays of the class theory. (Chernoye Znamya, 1905, No. 1.)

And the anarchists put forward this miserable and pernicious jumble as the most advanced doctrine of the proletariat!

But the tactics of individual and economic terror practiced by the anarchist groups and by individual anarchists served to rouse among a section of the workers the false hope that the anarchist "heroes" were fighting their battle, that they would be freed from exploitation as a result of the anarchist terrorist acts. These tactics relaxed the activities of the masses of the workers, they subdued their mass militant spirit. As a typical example of this we may quote from a letter addressed to the Odessa anarchist-communist group by the women working in the Odessa Municipal Laundry and published in the anarchist magazine, Stormy Petrel (Burevestnik),Geneva, 1907, No. 7. As a means of ridding themselves of exploitation, these women turned for help to the anarchists, since they regarded them as "comrades who exercise more influence over the bastards who suck the blood of poor working people." . . . They requested the anarchist leaders "not to leave us unprotected, if only by scaring the parasites who drink our blood.... Send a special letter threatening these parasites." Could such faith in the action of anarchist threats snake people fit for the mass revolutionary movement?

In the summer of 1906 the author of this pamphlet was working in the industrial center of Ekaterinoslav (now Dniepropetrovsk), where there was a fairly large group of anarchist-communists. The anarchists killed the director of the engineering works in that town, although they took no part in the strike that was then in progress. This terrorist act, like most of its kind, produced only negative results. Some time later the workers were compelled to resume work under worse conditions than before the strike.

Especially harmful were the acts of "unmotivated terror," intended to frighten the bourgeoisie in general. Here is a description of the consequences of such an act given by the prominent anarchist, Novomirsky:

On December 17 (1905), a group of the Black Banner leaders organized a terroristic act which undermined the influence of the anarchist-communists in Odessa for a long time after. This was the notorious attack on Liebman's Cafe. The group wanted to commit a model act of "unmotivated terror." But they could not have chosen a more unfortunate object to popularize this theory. Lieb- man's Cafe was a second-rate place patronized not by wealthy people, but by people of all classes, including minor office employees and needy intellectuals. Moreover, the act itself was very clumsily performed: the bomb was thrown in the street, and of course produced nothing but noise and confusion. The workers were puzzled and asked what this throwing of bombs in an ordinary cafe could mean. Nobody wanted to believe that this was the work of revolutionaries. I myself was among the crowd that gathered after the explosion and heard the workers say: "Have revolutionaries nothing better to do now than throwing bombs at restaurants? Has the tsarist government been overthrown and the power of the bourgeoisie destroyed? The. bomb must have been thrown by the Black Hundreds** to discredit the revolutionaries."

The mass of the workers were far above anarchist methods of struggle and had outgrown the anarchist theory. They understood the object and methods of the struggle better than the anarchists did. But in some places the backward section of the workers, misled by the anarchists, adopted this system of petty terrorist acts and robberies. The expropriation of the owners started by the anarchists during a shoemakers' strike in Warsaw in 1907 resulted simply in the more adroit shoemakers grabbing the shoes from the workshops for themselves, and not in any real "expropriation of the expropriators."

The result was that the term anarchist began to serve as a screen for various criminal gangs, such as the notorious Black Raven gang in Odessa.

The Russian anarchist Arshinov, well-known among the Spanish, Italian and French anarcho-syndicalists, who played a prominent part under Makhno, wrote as follows in summing up this movement in Russia during the period of the first revolution:

Some genuine anarchists had remained at liberty and were resisting this turbid wave of expropriation. A special article against it was printed at the end of 1906 in the Buntar, the principal organ of the Russian anarchistcommunists, which at first had advocated the tactics of expropriation in theory, but then began to sound the alarm. . . . This turbid wave rose higher and higher, overwhelming the genuine anarchists. As a consequence, ordinary workers came to identify anarchism with plain banditry. Moreover, even the genuine anarchists, especially the younger ones, could not break through the vicious circle of partial expropriation. They were powerless to adopt any road other than that of expropriation and terror, for the anarchist leaders themselves knew no other road. By 1908-09 anarchism in Russia had ceased to exist as a movement. It had been partly destroyed by the tsarist government, but it collapsed mainly owing to its false theory and fundamentally false tactics.

Such were the results of the anarchist movement during the period of the first Russian revolution.

The tsarist government persecuted the Bolsheviks no less than it persecuted the anarchists. Large numbers of Bolsheviks were killed and executed during the revolution. Thousands were sent to penal servitude, imprisoned or exiled. But, unlike the anarchists, the Bolsheviks had succeeded in taking root so deeply among the working class that no persecution could destroy the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary movement. Even during the blackest reaction the Bolsheviks kept the banner of revolution flying and continued their preparations for a new armed uprising, which in February-March, 1917, overthrew the tsarist monarchy and paved the way for the Socialist October Revolution.

*V.I. Lenin, Selected Works, Vol. I, p. 455. International Publishers, New York. ?Ed.

**Members of the monarchist counter-revolutionary League of Russian People.

Return to Anarchism in Russia links
Return to World Anarchist Movements

This page has been accessed times since November 20, 2001.


[Home]               [Search]               [About Us]               [Contact Us]               [Other Links]               [Critics Corner]