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(en) SA, Zabalaza #5 - A Makhnovist in Africa: Shalom Schwartzbard

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 5 Jun 2004 08:25:05 +0200 (CEST)

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One of the lesser-known heroes of the Ukrainian Revolution 1917-1921 was Shalom
(Samuel) Schwartzbard, whose name is alternately given as Sholem Shvartsbard.
Hailing from Besarabia (Moravia) where he was born in 1886, Schwartzbard worked
periodically as a watchmaker. He became a revolutionary during the Russian
Revolt of 1905 that affected all Russian-occupied territories like Besarabia -
and Poland, where the political prisoner-support organisation the Anarchist Red
Cross (later renamed the Anarchist Black Cross, ABC) was founded in that year.
He fled Besarabia in 1906 following the collapse of the revolt and moved
to France in 1910, joined the French Foreign Legion in 1914 on the outbreak
of the First World War, was wounded and honourably discharged.

He returned to Odessa, Ukraine, in
1917. Although it is not know whether or
not Schwartzbard was a convinced
Anarchist, after the outbreak of the revolu-
tion he put his legionnaire experience to
good use as a guerrilla in the anarchist-
communist Revolutionary Insurgent Army
of the Ukraine (RIAU) - known as the
Makhnovists. The RIAU liberated some 7-
million people in the southern Ukraine and
controlled large swathes of territory in a
battle on five fronts: against the Ukrainian
bourgeois nationalists; the Austro-
Hungarian invaders; the counter-revolu-
tionary White Armies; the Bolshevik Red
Army; and roving bandit gangs.
Some historians claim that
Schwartzbard was rather a member of the
Red Army, which may either be the usual
communist tactic of claiming key activists
as their own, or may in fact have been par-
tially true, because many Red Army mem-
bers deserted to the RIAU which boasted
equality among its guerrillas.
In 1919, 14 members of
Schwartzbard's family were slaughtered in
an anti-Jewish pogrom allegedly initiated
by Symon Petliura, chairman of the bour-
geois Ukrainian National Republic
between 1918 and 1920 - one of the
Makhnovists' primary enemies.
As many as 60,000 Ukrainian Jews
lost their lives in pogroms at this time.
Schwartzbard was involved as an RIAU
guerrilla in organising the self-defence of
Jewish rural communities against attack,
much the same work that the ABC did in
the cities.
Historians differ over whether Petliura
was personally responsible for the
pogroms, but he certainly did little to stop
them. In contrast, the RIAU was sternly
anti-pogromist, numbered many leading
Jewish anarchists in its ranks and publicly
assassinated those - including any of its
own guerrillas - that it found responsible
for having conducted pogroms.
Schwartzbard returned to Paris in
1920. The RIAU was finally defeated by
the Red Army in 1921 and the Ukrainian
Revolution was crushed by red reactionar-
ies - and red revolutionaries who were lied
to by the Bolshevik bureaucracy that the
RIAU was a white, pogromist bandit force.
Many RIAU survivors, including the
brilliant guerrilla warfare strategist Nestor
Makhno, also settled in Paris. Makhno
went on to co-author the "Organisational
Platform of the Libertarian Communists",
which re-emphasised the anarchist mass
organisational tradition by calling for them
to be ideologically and tactically unified in
their organisations. The "Platform" has
inspired numerous anarchist organisations
across the world, including the ZACF here
in southern Africa.
Meanwhile, Petliura, who had struck
up a friendship with Polish leader Jozef
Pilsudski (who later staged a coup d'etat in
May 1926), fled Poland in disguise in
1923, travelling via Budapest, Zurich and
Geneva to Paris where he settled in
October 1924.
There, in the Latin Quarter, he headed
up the UNR government-in-exile and pub-
lished the paper "Tryzub (Trident)".
Schwartzbard gained French citizenship in
1925.Schwartzbard became aware that
Petliura was also living in Paris and he
began to stalk the UNR leader. On 26
May 1926, Schwartzbard assassinated
Petliura in broad daylight as he was walk-
ing in the street, proclaiming loudly as he
fired his fatal shots that he was avenging
the pogroms. Schwartzbard waited quiet-
ly at the scene for the police to arrest him.
He was put on trial for murder and
defended by the famed North African left-
ist lawyer Henri Torres. Described by one
of his enemies as "a communist, an anar-
chist... who is never indifferent", Torres
had previously successfully defended the
famous Spanish anarchist guerrillas
Buenaventura Durruti, Francisco Ascaso
and Gregorio Jover, plus the Catalan sep-
aratist Francisco Macia, during the Primo
de Rivera dictatorship. He later went on to
defeat a charge in 1951 against CNT-in-
exile secretary-general Jose Peirats
(author of the anarcho-syndicalist CNT's
"official" account of Spain, "Anarchists in
the Spanish Revolution") and two other
CNT leaders despite Torres having joined
the French Communist Party.
The prosecution suggested that
Schwartzbard was actually acting on
behalf of Soviet intelligence, and that he
knew OGPU agent Mikhail Volodin.
OGPU was the Unified State Political
Administration, Stalin's restructuring of the
notorious Bolshevik Cheka death-squad /
political terrorism organisation that had
been responsible for the murder and
detention of so many anarchists during the
Bolshevik counter-revolutions in Russia
and Ukraine.
The prosecution alleged that
Schwartzbard was a pawn in a Stalinist
plot to prevent the resurgence of Ukrainian
nationalism by assassinating the UNR
leader. But Schwartzbard's origins make
this seem unlikely. In any case, the asser-
tion of an OGPU link was never proven
and Schwartzbard was acquitted by a
French jury on the grounds that he had
committed a "crime of passion".
The sensational trial and acquittal was
covered in the world's major newspapers
and Schwartzbard became famous. But
he preferred obscurity and it was as a trav-
elling salesman for a Yiddish encyclopae-
dia that he visited Cape Town in 1938.
By this stage, he was well-known in
Yiddish-speaking circles for his poetry and
his writings, notably: "Troymen un
Virklikhkayt" (Dreams and Reality)", 1920;
"In Krig - Mit Zikh Aleyn (At War - With
Myself)", 1933; and his autobiography
"In'm Loyd Fun Yorn (In the Course of
Years)", 1934.
He had only been in South Africa for a
month when he suffered a heart attack
and died. He was buried with great cere-
mony at the Maitland Jewish Cemetery in
the largest public funeral held in Cape
Town to that date.
Schwartzbard had previously applied
for the right to settle in British-occupied
Palestine, but had been refused. So in
1967, a committee established in Israel
arranged for Schwartzbard's remains to be
disinterred and reburied in the Heroes'
Acre at Natanya, a resting-place for
Jewish military heroes. But his original
grave-stone can still be visited at Maitland
where every year, the local Jewish com-
munity performs a ceremony in remem-
brance of him.
In May 2000, South African anarchists
visited the place in the Pere le Chaise
cemetery in Paris where Makhno's ashes
are interred and inserted a Zulu-language
anarchist pamphlet into the flower-holder
in honour of how far afield Makhnovist
ideas have spread since the 1930s. In
similar fashion, we honour the memory of
Shalom Schwartzbard for the direct action
he took against racist oppressors.
- Michael Schmidt (ZACF)

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