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(en) UK, AF, Organise #60 - Yelensky's Fable: A History of the ABC, by Matthew Hart

From ManchesterOldham AF <anarchist_federation@yahoo.co.uk>
Date Wed, 28 May 2003 07:33:29 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E

> Full html or pdf version at www.af-north.org/organise.htm
For close to a century, anarchists have united under
the banner of the Anarchist Black Cross for the sole
purpose of supporting those comrades imprisoned for
their commitment to revolution and to the ideas of
anarchism. Who would have suspected that a few men
supplying boots, linen, and clothing to deportees in
Bialystock would have been the beginning of an
organization that has spread throughout the globe.(1)
Recently statements have been made, referring to the
history of the Anarchist Black Cross as mere folklore.
But a dedicated search for the organization's history
uncovers information that is far from fairy tale.
Hundreds of pages filled with facts regarding the
history of the organization are being assembled by
members of the Los Angeles branch of the Anarchist
Black Cross Federation in hopes of one day publishing

The Anarchist Black Cross dates back to the
politically turbulent times of Tsarist Russia. Due
to the cruel aristocratic rule of the Tsar, many
Russians began to search for answers outside of
existing political institutions. The words of Karl
Marx and Michael Bakunin created a massive stir within
the soul of the Russian people and their desire for
freedom lead many of them to rebel against the toil
and serfdom that defined their very existence. With
the rise of political opposition to the Tsar, many
anarchists, socialists, and revolutionaries paid for
their desire for freedom by imprisonment, exile or
death. Conditions within the prisons were terrible
and political prisoners faced cruel treatment.(2) A
prisoner's aid organization called 'Political Red
Cross' was formed to support prisoners within Tsarist
prisons or labour camps. This organization not only
provided aid to prisoners but many times assisted
escapes from prison or places of exile. The great
anarchist thinker, Peter Kropotkin was one of the many
former political prisoners that owe their freedom to
members of this organization.(3)

Although the PRC was non-partisan, it wasn't long
before the Social-Democrats (the followers of Karl
Marx) gained control of it. Aid to anarchists or
others not associated with the Social-Democratic Party
began to dwindle. When anarchist supporters became
aware of this they were infuriated at this
divisiveness.(4) The only way their comrades would
receive help was for the anarchist community to create
their own aid organization and the Anarchist Red Cross
(ARC) was formed.

The exact year of the Anarchist Red Cross' formation
is unclear, but it is estimated by Rudolph Rocker that
it was formed during 1900-05. The organization came
about during a meeting in London with Vera Figner, who
was the treasurer for the political prisoners of the
Party of the Socialist Revolutionaries.(5) If this
is true, then the ARC appeared no earlier than 1905,
the year Figner was released from prison. The only
known visit by Figner to London was in June of 1909
but by then ARC groups were already established.
During the visit a meeting was held and it was agreed
that the ARC would support both Anarchist and
Socialist-Revolutionaries in prison and in exile since
both had been excluded from the Political Red
Cross.(6) Unlike the Social-Democrats, as long as
prisoners were social revolutionaries they would be
supported. By 1906 the ARC had groups in Kiev,
Odessa, Bialystok, and other cities, probably as a
response to the mass arrests by the Tsar following the
1905 Revolution. Trials of revolutionaries took place
throughout the land, including at least six members of
the ARC for their involvement in the 1905 Revolution.
Many fled the country and those who managed to
escape started ARC chapters in other countries. The
first was in London in 1907. The organization
collected funds from other chapters throughout Europe
and sent them to political prisoners in Russia. Those
involved in the London branch included Peter
Kropotkin, Alexander Shapiro, V.Cherkezov and Rudolf
Rocker. The following year, the first North American
chapter was started in New York and soon other
chapters were formed in Chicago, Philadelphia,
Brownsville, Detroit, and Baltimore.(7)

One of the more interesting groups in early ABC
history was the Lettish section of the ARC. In 1914,
the anarchist community became enraged when John D.
Rockefeller ordered National Guardsmen to attack the
striking workers and their families in Ludlow,
Colorado. Several miners, women and children were
killed and anarchists planned to give Rockefeller the
same treatment. (8) Members of the Lettish section
of the ARC drew up a plot to assassinate Rockefeller.
Sadly, on the morning of the planned assassination
the bomb planned for the industrialist went off in the
apartment where the anarchists were staying, killing
ARC members Charles Berg, Carl Hanson, and two others.
The bomb showered the street below with debris and
body parts. Dozens of people were injured and
repression after the incident increased heavily. This
event became known as the "Lexington Avenue bombing."
The plot involved non-ARC members and one other ARC
member, Louise Berger, who had left the building
minutes before and got away unharmed. (9)

With the outbreak of the Russian Revolution of 1917,
the ARC in the United States disbanded after news was
received that all the political prisoners had been
released. Several ARC members went to assist the
revolution in Russia, where they were warmly met by
the political prisoners they had once supported. But
before long the Bolsheviks began arresting
'counter-revolutionaries'. (10) With the rise of a
new dictatorship the ARC was forced to reorganize in
1919 as the Anarchist Black Cross to avoid confusion
between them, the International Red Cross and the
Political Red Cross. (11) In the Ukraine, the Black
Cross was organized as defensive units to protect
cities and villages and organize resistance to pogroms
led by Cossacks, White Guards or the Red Army. Many
of those involved in these units were members of the
Nabat Confederation in the Ukraine or had previously
been active in the ARC in the United States.(12)

Because of their activities, Anarchist Black Cross
members experienced constant harassment by the
Bolshevik government including the seizure of goods,
imprisonment for belonging to an illegal organisation
and murder of ABC activists. By 1924-1925, the
organization in Russia was virtually destroyed.
Several members of the ABC, like Lea Gutman, Helana
Ganshina and Aaron Baron, were arrested and killed by
the Bolshevik government. Others were arrested but
due to international campaigns by anarchists abroad
were later released. (13) At least two ARC members
converted to Bolshevism but later lost their lives
during the Stalinist purges.

Several individuals who managed get out of Russia met
in Berlin and reorganized the ABC. The organization
stayed in Berlin for several years before moving to
Holland and then Paris. Chapters in the Unites
States re-emerged to support the comrades still in
Russian jails but by 1936 contact with them began to
dwindle and by 1940 all contact with prisoners in
Russia ceased. Later it became known that most, if
not all, anarchist political prisoners were killed
during Stalin's purges. (14) By this time the
Spanish Civil War and then Second World War broke out
in Europe, and the organization switched to a more
international focus. ABC worked to aid anarchists
fleeing Fascist persecution and those arrested in the
resistance movement. Most of ABC members at this
time were Russian Jews, so being caught in Europe
during this period meant almost certain death. Once
again, Social-Democrats refused to assist ABC in
helping their comrades escape and caused hundreds of
Jewish anarchists to die in Nazi concentration camps.

By 1939, most of the chapters in the United States and
Europe collapsed under the work needed to support
thousands of anarchist prisoners in Europe and the
organisation seems to have disappeared. As the ABC
this may have been true but it actually continued for
two decades under different names: The Joint Committee
for the Defense of Revolutionists Imprisoned in
Russia, Society to Aid Anarchist Prisoners in Russia,
Relief Fund of the International Working Men's
Association, Chicago Aid Fund, and the Alexander
Berkman Aid Fund. All these organizations were
continuing the work of the ABC. (15) Towards the end
of the war, only a few groups remained active. The
Berkman Aid Fund in Chicago, one of the few groups
able to organize serious aid operations organized a
Paris branch where C.A.R.E. packages were sent to
anarchists in serious need of funds and support. This
work went on for many years but eventually it was
forced to discontinue activities after 1958. (16)

In 1967, the organization re-emerged in England where
it initially helped prisoners of the Spanish
resistance. The London ABC promoted the concept of
the Black Cross and during the International Anarchist
Conference in Carrara. Their call for an
International Anarchist Black Cross was answered.
Other chapters emerged throughout Europe, the United
States and Australia. (17) But the early success of
the organization was also met by repression.
Members were arrested, tried and even murdered.
Stuart Christie, one of the founders of the London
chapter of the organization was arrested several times
and on one occasion held for more than a year after
being accused of having been involved in the Angry
Brigade, an underground group active in the United
Kingdom in the 1970s. In the end, he was found
innocent of all charges and released.(18)

On December 12, 1969, Guiseppi Pinelli, member of the
Milan chapter of the Anarchist Black Cross, was
arrested after several bombings in Italy. Not for the
first time. Pinelli was interrogated for three days
and on the third day, December 15, Pinelli was thrown
from the fourth story of the police station and
killed. The authorities claimed Pinelli had admitted
the charges against him but later it emerged that the
bombings were the work of neo-fascists, backed by the
CIA and NATO. (19) This "strategy of tension"
involved planting bombs to destabilise the government,
discredit the Left and allow the fascists to take
power. Pinelli was targeted because he was a
well-known anarchist and was investigating a planned
fascist coup prior to his murder. It became necessary
to kill Pinelli to ensure the plot's integrity. (20)
In 1971, Georg von Rauch, Secretary of the ABC in
Germany, was pulled over by the police and while
resisting von Rauch was shot. (21) Several months
later, Augsburg police closed in on two known radicals
and during the arrest, Thomas Weissbecker, another ABC
member, was shot. Both Weissbecker and von Rauch had
been associated with the 2nd June Movement, the most
prominent left-wing German urban guerrilla groups of
the 70s. Both lived very short lives and their
involvement in the movement can be described as short
but intense.(22)

In the late 1970's, members of the Anarchist Black
Cross in Huddersfield were tried in what became known
as "the Persons Unknown" trial. Another UK member,
Phil Ruff, was accused of inciting the Gartree Prison
Riots in 1978. Stuart Christie, mentioned earlier,
continued to remain 'Public Enemy #1' in London and in
Spain during the 70s , and was constantly under police
harassment.(23) Members of the Irish ABC, Noel and
Marie Murray, took part in several armed actions in
Dublin. In September 1975, during a robbery at the
Bank of Ireland in Killester, an of-duty police
officer was killed and Noel and Marie were given the
death sentence, later commuted. (24)

In 1979 Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin, an anarchist political
prisoner in the US, issued a "Draft Proposal for an
ABC Network" in hopes that it could build a movement
to assist anarchist political prisoners. He believed
the ABC should be a united mass movement rather than
individual collectives. His initiative influenced the
growth of the Anarchist Black Cross but no unified
organisation developed. However in 1989 some unity
did develop with the establishment of the "Emergency
Response Network" (ERN). This was a response to
political raids, crackdowns, death sentences, hunger
strikes, torture or killings of members of the ABC or
the communities they worked with. Following arrests
or other police action ABC groups around the world
would send telegrams, make phone calls or hold
demonstrations within 48 hours. Sadly this idea was
not widely taken up and the ERN faded away.

Although ABC groups continued to undertake support
work, a united ABC front never materialized; there was
little common focus or unity. In 1994, a conference
of ABC groups was held and once again the ERN was set
up. In 1995 four ABC groups (New Jersey, Bronx,
Washington DC and Brew City) got together to form the
ABC Federation. Other groups joined but in 1996
issues of direction and goals caused a split. Those
leaving the ABCF would soon create the Anarchist
Black Cross Confederation but this organization only
lasted a couple of years. The ABCF continued and
after seven years is still very active. Other
networks emerged such as Raze the Walls, which was
very successful for a number of years but disappeared
around 1998-1999. Remnants of it remain in Seattle.
Networks in Europe, such as the one in Poland, have
recently emerged and seem to have a bright future.
And even a more recent creation has been the Anarchist
Black Cross Network in Texas and a few other places.

The history of this organization is far from a fairy
tale. This article is only a small portion of the
history that has been discovered by just a handful of
people and we are sure more information is waiting to
be found. We welcome the assistance and aid of
anyone interested in searching for the past of the
ABC. As for the title of this piece, Boris Yelensky
was a man who for over 5 decades dedicated his life to
political prisoners throughout the world. He fought
tirelessly for his fallen comrades and is a man who
should not be lost within the pages of history. Nor
is he a man whose work should be forgotten or
discredited as myth or folklore. He should be
remembered and respected as one who has gone before
us; one who helped pave the way. Boris Yelensky,
once wrote, "The work is not done for the glory, but
because we believe in Mutual Aid." We must take these
words to heart and continue our work in that spirit.
We are always reminded of the words of Ojore Lutalo
(an anarchist political prisoner currently held in
Trenton State prison): "Any movement that does not
support its political internees is a sham movement."
Free All Political Prisoners!!

Work Cited
1. Yelensky, Boris. In the Struggle For Equality.
p22; 2. Voline. The Unknown Revolution pp 27-31; 3.
Broido, Vera. Apostles Into Terrorists. p96; 4.
Freie Arbeiter Stimme. February 10th 1956; 5.
Yelensky, B. The Struggle for Equality p20; 6.
Yelensky, B. The Struggle for Equality p20; 7.
Letter From P. Avrich to Matthew Hart; 8. Zinn,
Howard. A People History of the United States
1492-Present p346-347; Goldman, Emma Living My Life
p533; 9. Zinn, Howard. A People History of the
United States 1492-Present p346-347; Goldman, Emma.
Living My Life. p 533; 10. Letter from P. Avrich
to Matthew Hart; 11. Avrich, P. The Russian
Anarchist. p136-137; 12. Bulletin of the Anarchist
Black Cross, London. July 1967; 13. Bulletin of the
Anarchist Red Cross. New York. 1924; 14. Yelensky,
B. Twentieth Anniversary Alexander Berkman Aid Fund
of the International Workingmen Association p7; 15.
Letter From P. Avrich to Matthew Hart.; 16.
Yelensky, B. Twentieth Anniversary Alexander Berkman
Aid Fund of the International Workingmen Association
p7; 17. Bulletin of the Anarchist Black Cross. July
1967; 18. Anarchist Black Cross Bulletin No. 2,
Chicago Anarchist Black Cross, September-October 1972;
19. New York Times. December 12 1969; 20.
Christie, Stuart. Stafano Delle Chiaie: Portrait of a
Black Terrorist pp 63-64; 21. Baumann, Bommi. How
It All Began pp 93-103; 22. Tom Vague, The Red Army
Faction 1963-1993 pg 42-43; 23. Black Flag: Organ of
the Anarchist Black Flag. Volume 5, Number 7 1978;
24. Times. December 21 1979

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