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(en) Britain, *Organise! #62 - A SIBERIAN MAKHNOVSCHINA?

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 5 Mar 2005 08:29:21 +0100 (CET)

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Academics like Paul Avrich, along with militants like Voline,
Gorelik and Archinov, have given us only a sketch of anarchism in
Siberia. The important role of anarchism there has remained obscured.
Now the work of Anatoli Shtirbul has cast a
spotlight on this region and its anarchist history.
His work `The anarchist movement in Siberia
in the first quarter of the 20th century: Anti-statist
revolt and non-statist self-organisation of the
workers` has been published by Omsk
University in 1996 but as yet has not appeared in
any translations in Western European countries.
His two-volume work contains many documents
from the archives of both the Cheka (the
Bolshevik secret police and chief arm of
repression) and the Communist Party, as well as
eyewitness accounts from different sources.
Shtirbul is certainly no anarchist, let alone
sympathetic towards anarchism, but he has
painstakingly demonstrated its influence on both
revolutionaries and general population of
Shtirbul links up the anarchist tradition with the
secular traditions in Siberia. He instances the
tendency towards anti-feudal autonomy of the
Cossack groups, the strong links of solidarity
between the peasants and bandit groups, the
anti-statism of dissident Russian Orthodox
groups and the influence of Protestantism in the
region in the 19th century, and the existence of
cooperative practices among both peasants and
workers. Bakunin has often been ridiculed,
including by Marxists, for his support for bandit
groups within the Russian Empire. This work
gives some credence towards his recognition of
the social importance of banditism and its
radical possibilities. In fact Shtirbul, basing
himself on the work of Lojdikov, believes that
Bakunin deepened his libertarian convictions
whilst exiled in Siberia. This was certainly the
case with Kropotkin, who admitted as such in
his memoirs.


The presence of anarchists in the prisons as well
as in exile in Siberia as the result of their
activities against the Tsarist regime must count
as one of the foundations of Siberian anarchism.
The first specific anarchist groups appeared in
1902, and their social appearance date from the
first Russian Revolution of 1905-1906. Very
much in a minority, anarchists concentrated on
oral or written propaganda. The failures of the
reformist parties and the repression that
followed the revolution, coincided with a
worsening economic situation and fall in
standard of living. This pushed a section of
politically active workers towards anarchist
positions. The Tomsk anarchist group,
meeting in 1907, decided to spread
propaganda through spoken and printed
word, agitation in the armed forces to
prepare an insurrection, legal activity via
cooperatives, unions and solidarity funds,
expropriation of the State banks and
private rich individuals, terrorism against
certain individuals. In collaboration with
the Social-Democrats, the Social-
Revolutionaries, and non-party
revolutionaries various armed actions took
place: an aborted uprising in 1907 at
Omsk, and one in 1911 at Tchita, with the
desertion of 30 % of a regiment. Acts of
expropriation and terrorism were equally
In 1914 a conference of anarchist
communists took place in a village in
Irkutsk province. 30 people participated
and established a double line, anarchist
propaganda and terrorism against the
representatives of power. At the same time
there developed the splitting of the
anarchist movement into three currents,
anarchist communism, anarchosyndicalism
and anarchist individualism. Shtirbul
estimates 100 anarchists compared to
3,000 Social-Democrats and 1,000
Socialist-Revolutionaries for the period
1906-1907. In 1917 Shtirbul estimates 46
anarchist groups and clubs with 800
The Russian Revolution of 1917 turned
rapidly in favour of the Bolsheviks, who
quickly got control of all the apparatus of
government. Occupied with resisting the counter-
revolution of the Whites, the other revolutionary groups
attempted nevertheless to establish popular bodies
opposed to the Bolsheviks. During this proces
the anarchists split into pro-Soviet and
anti-Soviet tendencies. In Siberia, the
anarchists started a constructive activity,
notably organising among the miners of
Keremovo. This was despite internal
problems linked to the presence of
"criminal elements" in its ranks.
In September and October, workers
seized the factories and workshops.
Shtirbul refers to a "spontaneous
anarchism" without apparent link to the
anarchist organisations. This explains
Lenin's anxiety that the situation was
getting out of control of the Bolsheviks.
At Irkutsk, where the reactionary general
Kornilov was in control, there was a failed
uprising of the garrison in September
1917, but equally there was anarchist
agitation among the garrisons at Tomsk,
Krasnoyarsk, Tcheremkhovo,
Semipalatinsk, Tchita and among the fleet
on Lake Baikal. Whilst the activity of the
Socialist-Revolutionaries and the
Mensheviks rapidly decreased, that of the
Bolsheviks and the anarchists grew. The
anarchists were strongly implanted in the
regions of Tomsk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk
and around Lake Baikal. These 4 regions
covered nearly three and a half million
square kilometres, 12.7 per cent of


Anarchist books- Kropotkin, Reclus, and
Malatesta- began to be published by
Novomirski Editions as well as the
appearance of newspapers like Sibirskiy
Anarkhist ( The Siberian Anarchist) in
Krasnoyarsk and Buntovnik ( The
Insurgent) in Tomsk. Conlicts began to
develop between anarchists and
During the winter of 1917-18 the
Krasnoyarsk anarcho-syndicalists declared
themselves opposed to the " the taking of
power in the Soviets" and affirmed that
they were prepared to struggle against the
parties that left no place for "proletarian
revolutionaries". In spring 1918, the
Tomsk anarchists defended an
organisation of soviets that truly expressed
the interest of the workers. In the course
of 1918 there could be traced an anarchist
presence at different congresses of soviets.:
7 delegates out of 104 for West Siberia, at
Irkutsk in January. Beyond these figures,
certain details indicate an anarchist
influence in these structures. At the all-
Siberia congress of soviets, which took
place in February at Irkutsk, there were 8
anarchist delegates out of 202. The
congress elected to its direction 25
Bolsheviks, 11 Socialist-Revolutionaries, 4
Maximalists, 4 anarchists and 2
Internationalist Social-Democrats.( just
over 45% of the direction were therefore
Shtirbul recognises the growing influence
of the anarchists among railway workers
and peasants, reinforced by the soldiers of
anarchist persuasion sent to Siberia.
Interestingly, he comes to the same
conclusions as Makhno and Arshinov- it
was the lack of coordination and an
absence of tactical unity that hindered the
development of anarchism comparable to
that of the Bolsheviks on the level of
Siberia and Russia.
The Bolsheviks moved against the
anarchists in spring 1918, using the Cheka
to attack them and imprison them. But the
disarming of anarchist units in Siberia by
the Bolsheviks was hindered by the attack
by the Whites led by Kolchak in March
1918. These units, as well as units
organised by the Left Socialist-
Revolutionaries, fought too efficiently for
the Bolsheviks to allow themselves to
destroy them. They were in the first rank
of the underground resistance when the
Whites occupied Siberia. In autumn 1918
anarchist peasant guerrilla groups
appeared in the regions already
mentioned. Novoselov was commander of
a group of tens of combatants singing The
March of the Anarchists and flying red and
black flags inscribed with the slogan
"Anarchy is the Mother of Order" (a
sentence from Reclus also used on
Makhnovist flags). Other anarchist
detachments elected their commanders.
Shtirbul considers that a significant
number of the 140,000 revolutionary
combatants in Siberia were under
anarchist influence. Like the Makhnovist
detachments who contributed in a decisive
fashion to the defeat of the White general
Denikin in the Ukraine, the Siberian
anarchist partisans (Novoselov and Rogov)
contributed to the pushing back of
Kolchak, From a strictly military point of
view, the support of the anarchists in the
struggle against the Whites was
indispensable. This explains why, despite
orders from Moscow, there were severe
problems with the crushing of Siberian
anarchism, as local Bolsheviks regarded
the anarchists as honest revolutionaries.


The Communist Party had problems in
Siberia with the designation by Moscow of
leaders from outside the region and the
nomination of ex-Tsarist officers as Red
Army leaders. These circumstances gave
validity to anarchist suspicions about the
Bolsheviks and their proposals that the
revolution be controlled by the masses
themselves. Within the Fourth Army of
Peasant Partisans led by Marmontov, the
commander M.V. Kozyr proposed that
the soviets be organised without the
Bolsheviks. The Communist Party
leadership had him removed and had a
Bolshevik put in his place. Immediately a
mass assembly of the garrison voted
through the following resolution:" The
revolutionary committeees of the military
elected by us have no power... no-one can
dismiss our representatives and replace
them with people that we do not know...".
Kozyr himself said that "Let us name the
best among us choose those who merit our
confidence and who understand our
needs." A report of January 1920 for the
Altai region by the government noted that
the peasants had expected the
development of regional control. When
this clashed with the centralising
tendencies of the Bolsheviks, growing
antipathy resulted.
Resistance to the incorporation of partisan
units was organised around the units
commanded by the anarchists Novoselov,
Rogov, Lubkov and Plotnikov, in the Altai,
Tomsk and Semipalatinsk regions. The
anarchists led a campaign for the creation
of self-organised peasant collectives and
the freeing of Rogov, which they achieved
in April 1920. On 1st May that year, there
was a massive anarchist meeting in the
village of Julanikh, 120 km northeast of
Barnoul, where speakers paid their
respects to the victims of White terror. A
thousand partisans took part and several
thousand peasants attended, flying red and
black flags. Two days later an insurrection
broke out. A thousand people gathered.
Novoselov, who had commanded a unit
of one hundred anarchist fighters which
had ranged nearly one thousand
kilometres in the Altai and Kuzbas
regions, from December 1918 to December
1919, proposed the creation of an Anarchist
Federation of the Altai (AFA) which was
supported by Rogov and seven other
commanders. The military detachment grew
to one thousand and received the support
of thousands of peasants from the
Pritchensk region. This insurrection grew
thanks to the activities of the AFA in the
Red Army, the militia and the Cheka ( the
last extremely significant as it was the
armed wing of repression of the
Bolsheviks and indicates the level of
disaffection). Anarchist partisans occupied
the northeast region of Barnaul and the
Biiski, Kuznetskov and Novonikolaev
Despite orders from the Moscow
centre, the local Bolshevik
authorities held their fire,
probably because they
feared that disaffection
would spread to other
army units. Once the
Red Army began to
attack, the Rogov units
split into small units
which dispersed
throughout the taiga.
In June 1920 Rogov
was captured and
committed suicide (?)
Novoselov continued the
struggle up to
September 1920,
before going into
hiding with his
partisans. At the same
time Lubkov sparked a
new insurrection in the
Tomsk region, grouping
2,500 to 3,000 fighters.
Defeated, Lubkov attempted to
negotiate a truce with the
Bolsheviks before vanishing into the taiga
with some of his partisans. In January 192
Novoselov participated in a new
insurrection at Julianikh. His peasant arm
gathered together 5-10,000 combattants. I
an extremely desperate situation, he
attempted to form an alliance with
anticommunist forces, including the
Whites. He hoped to turn against them
once victory over the Bolsheviks was
gained (the Makhnovists in the Ukraine
refused such a alliance on political
principle and actually went into military
alliance with the Reds, though the
latter turned on them). Both the stances of the
Novoselov and Makhno movements point
to a lesson of the need for complete
autonomy from any antianarchist current)
Novoselov was quickly crushed.
Shtirbul believes that the "Siberian
Makhnovschina" was a contributory factor
in the adoption by the Bolsheviks of the
New Economic Policy (NEP).
The Bolsheviks continued their war
against those who had heroically fought in
the underground resistance against
Kolchak's Whites. In 1923, in
another onslaught against
revolutionary forces outside the
Bolshevik Party, the staff of
the irregular units at Nikolayevsk on the
Amur were shot - these included the
Maximalist Nina Lebedieva and the
anarchist Triapitzin (the Maximalists
were a split from theSocialist
Revolutionary Party, who came to
adopt positions very
close to anarchism). These
irregulars had defeated the
Japanese invading
forces. Also shot
were members of
the local soviet, the
Communist Party
member Sasov and
others who had
questioned the setting up of the
Far Eastern Republic as an
artificial buffer state by the
Bolsheviks. Between February and April
of that year mass arrests of anarchists,
Maximalists and Socialist-Revolutionaries
took place. Worst of all were the actions i
Vladivostok on February 26th when
members of the underground workers
organisations and of irregular units were
rounded up. These included 8
Maximalists and 4 anarchists including the
editor of the paper Black Flag and the
irregular partisans Khanienko and
Ustimenko. 38 more, again including
Maximalists, Left Socialist-Revolutionaries
and anarchists, were arrested in
Blagoviestchensk on April 10th. A "White
Guard" plot was fabricated by the Cheka a
a trial of those arrested who were
arraigned at Chita. Eight were shot and
ten others sentenced to long prison
sentences. As an opponent of the
Bolsheviks wrote in a letter : " backed up
by the Left Socialist-revolutionaries and
the Anarchists, the workers and peasants
put up during the elections to the Soviet
their own independent revolutionary but
non-partisan ticket and refused to vote for
the Communists".

Adapted from a review by Frank Mintz in the
French anarchist magazine A Contretemps

* Buletin of AF - Anarchist Federation - Britain

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