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(en) Yelensky's Fable: A History of the ABC

From "Boris Yelensky" <la_blackcross@hotmail.com>
Date Mon, 19 Aug 2002 02:41:18 -0400 (EDT)


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Yelensky?s Fable: A History of the ABC, by Matthew Hart
	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 Bialostock would have been the meager beginnings 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. While I admit the history of this organization seems evasive 
at the surface level, a deeper search for the organization's history 
uncovers a rich amount of information that is far from folklore or fairy 
tales. This article is just a small amount of the history that has been 
discover in just a couple of years of research. Hundreds of pages filled 
with facts regarding the history of the organization is presently being 
assembled by members of the Los Angeles Branch Group of the Anarchist Black 
Cross Federation in hopes of one day printing this information in books, 
pamphlets, etc. We present the information in hopes of bringing unity and 
knowledge within the ranks of those who struggle for the support of 
political prisoners throughout the world.
	The Anarchist Black Cross dates back to the beginning of the last century 
during the politically turbulent times of Tsarist Russia. Due to the cruel 
aristocratic rule of the Tsar during the late years of the 19th century, 
many Russians began to search for answers beyond what the present political 
institution could provide for the Russian people. This search lead many 
people to find answers in the socialist and anarchist ideas that were being 
introduced by Western European revolutionaries. 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 
conditions of 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 unbearable and those imprisoned 
for political actions faced considerably cruel treatment.(2)
	A prisoner aid organization called 'Political Red Cross' was formed to 
provide support for those political prisoners kept within the confines of 
Tsarist prisons or labor camps. This organization not only provided aid to 
prisoners but many times assisted in the planned escapes from prisons 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 these organizations were, in theory, non-partisan, it wasn't long 
before the Social-Democrats (the followers of Karl Marx) gained control of 
the organization. Aid to anarchist prisoners, as well as any other political 
prisoner not associated with the Social-Democratic Party, soon began to 
dwindle. Anarchists outside of the prisons were unaware that the funds given 
to the Political Red Cross were not reaching their imprisoned comrades. When 
made aware of such news they were infuriated by the divisiveness of the 
Social-Democrats.(4)  It became self-evident to the anarchists that the only 
way their comrades would receive the help they needed 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 the organization formed during the period 
of 1900 to 1905. According to his statement, 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 
these facts are true, then the organization appeared no sooner than 1905, 
the year Figner was released from prison. Presently, the only known visit by 
Figner to London was in June of 1909 but ARC groups, including the one in 
London, were already established by then.
	Though the actual date of Vera Figner's meeting in London cannot be 
established, a few facts from that meeting are known. One important fact 
regarding the meeting was that all in attendance had agreed that this new 
prisoner aid organization would support both Anarchist and 
Socialist-Revolutionaries in prison and in exile, where ever the two 
existed, since both had been excluded from the Political Red Cross.(6) They 
refused to make the same mistake the Social-Democrats made by excluding 
others because they were not from the same political thought. As long as 
prisoners were social revolutionaries they should be supported.
	By 1906 the organization had groups in Kiev, Odessa, Bialystok, and other 
cities . More than likely these organizations were created because of the 
mass arrests of revolutionaries by the Tsar in response to the 1905 
revolution. Throughout 1906, trials of revolutionaries took place throughout 
the land, including at least six members of the organization for their 
involvement in the 1905 Revolution. Because of the mass arrests and trials 
many fled from the country in fear of persecution. Many of those who managed 
to escape were the first to start chapters of the Anarchist Red Cross in 
other countries.
	The first chapter outside of Russia was in London which was established in 
1907. This group became the main chapter as other chapters emerge through 
the years.The organization collected funds from other chapters throughout 
Europe and sent those funds to the politicals 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 group sprung up with chapters in various 
cities including 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 by these actions and the response by the anarchists was 
to give Rockefeller the same treatment.(8)  Members of the Lettish section 
of the Anarchist Red Cross and others began to design a plot to assassinated 
J.D. Rockefeller. Sadly, on the morning of the planned assassination the 
would-be-assassins were getting ready to unfold their plot when the bomb 
planned for Industrialist, went off in the apartment where the anarchists 
were staying, killing ARC members Charles Berg, Carl Hanson, and two other 
individuals. The bomb shower the street below with debris and body parts. 
Dozens of people were injured and the repression after the incident 
increased heavily. This event became known as the "Lexington Avenue 
bombing." Other individuals not associated with the organization were 
involved but it is known that at least one other Anarchist Red Cross member, 
Louise Berger, was apart of the plot. Luckily Berger left the building 
minutes before and she got away unharmed (less than ten years later she 
would lose her life to illness in Russia.)(9)
	With the outbreak of the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Anarchist Red 
Cross in the United States disbanded after news was received that all the 
political prisoners were released from the Russian jails. 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 Russia 
would once again have political prisoners, arrested by the Bolsheviks 
government this time.(10) With the rise of a new dictatorship in Russia the 
ARC was forced to reorganize in 1919 (known at this point as the Anarchist 
Black Cross.) The organization changed its name 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 under the 
Makhno's army. The purpose of the units was to protect cities and villages 
and organize resistance from pogroms lead by from 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 
Anarchist Red Cross in the United States.(12)
	Because of their activities, the Anarchist Black Cross members experienced 
constant harassment by the Bolshevik government including the seizure of 
goods being shipped to political internees, creating laws against the 
organization thus making its activities illegal, and the murder of ABC 
activists. By 1924-1925, the organization in Russia was virtually destroyed. 
Several members of the organization, like Lea Gutman, Helana Ganshina, and 
Aaron Baron, were arrested and later killed by the Bolshevik government. 
Others were arrested but due to international campaigns brought on by 
anarchists abroad, the Communist government was forced to release them.(13) 
At least two ARC members actually converted to Bolshevism, only to have 
their lives destroyed during the Stalinist purges.
	Several individuals who manage to escape or were released from Bolshevik 
prisons met up in Berlin where they reorganized the ABC. The organization 
continued its activities there for several years before moving to Holland 
and then to Paris. Chapters in the Unites States reemerged once again to 
support the comrades still left behind in Russian jails, but by 1936 contact 
with comrades in Russian prisons began to dwindle and by 1940 all contacts 
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 diligently to aid anarchist comrades fleeing from Fascist persecution 
as well as assisting those arrested in the resistance movement throughout 
Europe. Most of the ABC members at this time were Russian-Jews, so being 
caught in Europe during this period was almost certain death for these 
people. Once again, Social-Democrats headed up gravely important 
organizations that meant the very livelihood of many anarchists.  This time 
it was Jewish Labor Committee, which assisted Jewish refugees in escaping 
from Hitler and Europe. The Social-Democrats refusal to assist ABC in 
helping their comrades escape caused hundreds of Jewish Anarchists to die in 
Nazi concentration camps.
	By 1939, most of the chapters in the United States and Europe were crushed 
by the amount of aid needed for anarchist prisoners and many have pointed to 
this period in which the organization folded. Under the title, "the 
Anarchist Black Cross" this is true, but the organization continued under 
several different names for almost two decades. (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 mentioned were recognized as groups continuing the work 
of the Anarchist Black Cross by its members and those individuals they 
supported.(15)
	Towards the end of the war, only a few groups remained active in prisoner 
aid work. The Berkman Aid Fund in Chicago, one of the few groups able to 
organize serious aid operations, was able to reorganize 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 due to a lack of support 
needed to maintain its work, the group was not able to continue its 
activities after 1958.(16)
	In 1967, the organization resurfaced in England where it initially worked 
to aid prisoners of the Spanish resistance. The London ABC began to promote 
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, United States and 
Australia. Groups like the chapters in Australia and London, were organized 
by or had membership that were part of the Spanish resistance movement at 
one point in time.(17)
	But the early success of the organization was also met with some great 
losses. The organization watched as the police in various countries 
detained, tried, and even murdered members of the ABC. Stuart Christie, one 
of the founders of the London chapter of the organization was arrested on 
several occasions including one case where he was imprisoned 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 1970?s. 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 in relation to several bombings 
throughout Italy. This was not the first time the police tried to pin a 
bombing on Pinelli or other members of the Milan Anarchist Black Cross. For 
three days, Pinelli was interrogated and harassed by the Milan police. On 
the third day, December 15, a few minutes before mid-night, Pinelli was 
thrown from the forth story of the police station where he received fatal 
injuries. The authorities claimed Pinelli had admitted to the charges 
against him before jumping out the window to his death.(19)  Pinelli and 
another anarchist by the name of Valpreda were accused of the bombing 
despite recent evidence produced by the London based 'Observer' that 
indicated the sudden rash of bombings in Italy was the work of neo-fascists.
	Later it became known that these bombing were in fact apart of fascist 
plot, backed by the CIA and NATO, known as "the strategy of tension." The 
plan was to plant bombs and pin the actions on 'the Left' causing so much 
demand for law and order, the fascists would be able to walk right into 
power. Pinelli was targeted because he was a well-known anarchist and it was 
known that he was in the process of an investigation regarding allegations 
of a planned fascist coup in Italy prior to his murder. The Anarchist Black 
Cross in Milan, at the time, was infiltrated by neo-fascists and it became 
clear to the police, who were involved in the plot, that Pinelli might be 
aware of who those infiltrators were, as well as, the very plot against him. 
It became necessary to kill Pinelli to ensure the plot's integrity.(20)
	On December 4, 1971, Georg von Rauch, Secretary of the Anarchist Black 
Cross in German, was pulled over by the police. During the incident, von 
Rauch and a police officer opened fire on each other resulting in von Rauch 
being shot and instantly killed.(21)  Several months later, Augsburg police 
closed in on two known radicals. During the arrest, one of the officers with 
an 'itchy trigger' shot Thomas Weissbecker, who died instantly. Weissbecker 
had also been a member of the Anarchist Black Cross in Germany, and both 
Weissbecker and von Rauch had also been associated with the Movement 2 June, 
one of the most prominent left-wing German urban guerrilla groups of the 
seventies. The two had been part of the counter-culture movement and 
revolutionary left and took part in several underground groups prior to 
being killed, including the Hash-rebels. 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 in the UK as "the Person's Unknown trial." 
Another ABC member in the UK, Phil Ruff,  who was in prison due to armed 
robbery was soon accused of inciting a riot during the Gartree Prison Riots 
in 1978. Stuart Christie, mentioned earlier, continued to remain 'public 
enemy #1' in London and in Spain through the rest of the decade and was 
constantly under police harassment.(23)
During the mid-1970's, member of the Irish Anarchist Black Cross, Noel and 
Marie Murray, took part in several armed actions throughout Dublin. In 
September 1975, during a robbery of the Bank of Ireland branch in Killester, 
Marie Murray shot and killed an off duty policeman who tried to intervene. 
Apparently, the police officer was sitting with his wife and child in a 
parked car outside of the branch when the anarchists ran out of the bank 
with 7,000 pounds. The police officer ran after the anarchists and was shot 
in the process. Both were given the death sentence but were 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 that the ABC 
should be a united mass movement rather than individual collectives. This 
proposal put out by Ervin influenced the growth of the Anarchist Black Cross 
well into the 1980's and 1990's. Despite Ervin's call for a Network of 
ABC's, this kind of organization never emerged among all the ABC groups in 
the 1980's. But by 1989, movement in the ABC community began to be seen with 
the establishing of the "Emergency Response Network" (ERN). This was 
organized to respond to political raids, crackdowns, death sentences, hunger 
strikes, torture or killings of members of or communities that the ABC 
groups worked with. An ERN mobilization meant that ABC groups and others 
around the world would send telegrams and/or phone calls, organize 
demonstrations or other actions within 48 hours of the network being 
alerted. Sadly much wasn't done with this and the Emergency Response Network 
faded away.
	In the early 1990's, although few ABC groups who still continued to 
maintain solid support work, the concept of a united ABC front never 
materialized. ABC groups seemed to work in multiple areas and there was 
little common focus or unity. This resulted in a weak support system for any 
political prisoner found within the prison systems. In 1994, a conference of 
Anarchist Black Cross organizations was held to discuss matters concerning 
political prisoners support and once again the ERN was set up.
One year later, four ABC groups got together to form the Anarchist Black 
Cross Federation. (New Jersey, Bronx, Washington DC, Brew City) Other groups 
would soon enter into the picture but less than a year later, issues of 
direction and goals of the Federation would cause a split in the 
organization. Those leaving the ABCF would soon create the ABCC (Anarchist 
Black Cross Confederation), but this organization would not last more than a 
couple of years. The ABCF, however, has since continued, reaching its 7th 
year and plans to continue for many years to come. Other networks emerged 
such as the Raze the Walls Network which was very successful for a number of 
years but seemed to disappear around 1998-1999. Remnants of it can still be 
seen in with the Raze the Walls in Seattle, Washington. Networks in Europe, 
such as the one in Poland, have recently emerged within the last couple of 
years and seem to have a very bright future. And Even a more recent creation 
has been the Anarchist Black Cross Network coming out of Texas and a few 
other sporadic places.
	So as we can see, the history of this organization is far from a myth, 
folklore or fairy tale. The history is easily uncovered, if one has the 
patience and desire to search for that information. As I said before, this 
is only a small portion of the history that has been discover by just a 
handful of folks. We are sure that if more people began the search, more 
information will be discovered. More information will be put out by our 
group regarding ABC history. 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 remember and 
respected as one who has come before us; one who has 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 must 
continue our work in that spirit. We are always reminded by the words of 
Ojore Lutalo (New Afrikan anarchist political prisoner currently held in 
Trenton State prison) when he wrote, "Any movement that does not support its 
political internees is a shame movement." It is for these reasons that we 
must continue to support all political prisoners. Free All Political 
Prisoners!!

Work Cited
1. Yelensky, Boris. In the Struggle For Equality. Pg. 22
2. Voline. The Unknown n Revolution. pg 27-31
3. Broido, Vera. Apostles Into Terrorists. pg 96
4. Freie Arbeiter Stimme. February, 10th 1956.
5. Yelensky, B. The Struggle for Equality . pg 20
6. Yelensky, B. The Struggle for Equality . pg 20
7. Letter From  P. Avrich to Matthew Hart.
8. Zinn, Howard. A People History of the United States 1492-Present.pg 
346-347,  Goldman, Emma. Living My Life. pg 533
9. Zinn, Howard. A People History of the United States 1492-Present.pg 
346-347, Goldman, Emma. Living My Life. pg 533
10. Letter from P. Avrich to Matthew Hart
11. Avrich, P. The  Russian Anarchist. pg 136-137
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. pg 7
15. Letter From P. Avrich to Matthew Hart.
16. Yelensky, B. Twentieth Anniversary Alexander Berkman Aid Fund of the 
International Workingmen Association. pg 7
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. 
pg 63-64
21. Baumann, Bommi. How it all began. pg 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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