(CIVIL WAR, LENIN and RISE of STALIN – continued)
The Bolsheviks, meanwhile, had broken up the anarchist movement in Russia. In 1918, anarchists were roaming the countryside, and in large cities they had been expropriating buildings and homes of the well-to-do, rationalizing their moves with the slogan "loot the looters." In Moscow, the anarchist fighting organization, the Black Guard, occupied twenty-five palaces, one of which they made their headquarters, calling it the House of Anarchy. And they had begun publishing their own newspapers.
The philosophy of anarchism had roots in Russia, with some Russians influenced by the anarchism of Prince Mikhail Bakunin. As an anarchist of repute, Bakunin had superseded the French anarchist Proudhon. The tsarist government had confiscated Bakunin's estates and had driven Bakunin into exile. And there he had become a critic of Karl Marx. Unlike Marx, Bakunin opposed political organizing for action. And Bakunin thought Marx's withering away of the state was too slow. Bakunin believed that the state was an organ of oppression and wanted its abolition as soon as possible. He believed that eventually the great military states would devour each other in war and benefit humanity by elevating anarchy. With the breakdown of the state, he believed, an anarchistic communism would arise through spontaneous insurrection.
Bakunin had died in 1876, and replacing him as anarchism's foremost theoretician was the Russian Peter Kropotkin. When war erupted in 1914, Kropotkin and other anarchists opposed supporting any of the nation-states that had gone to war. Living in exile, and seventy-three years old, Kropotkin proclaimed that rather than the enemy being Germany the enemy was the landowner who exploits the peasant and the manufacturer who exploits his wage slaves. The enemy, he said, was the state whether it was monarchical or democratic. Kropotkin returned to Russia with other exiles in 1917 – one month after Lenin – but, unlike Lenin, he took no part in politics.
The anarchists and Bolsheviks agreed that with revolution everything would be turned over to the masses, and at first it was convenient for the Bolsheviks to pretend collaboration with the anarchists in overthrowing capitalists and the Provisional government. But by April 1918 the Bolsheviks no longer wished to tolerate rival, irresponsible anarchist armies roaming the land. Lenin and the Bolsheviks wanted and needed order. Already in early March the Soviet government had made banditry and looting a capital offense. In April, government forces moved to dissolve the anarchist's military organization: the Black Guard – if one can call it an organization. Government soldiers surrounded twenty-six anarchist houses and the anarchist's palace-headquarters. From the roof of their headquarters the anarchists fired machine guns and lesser weapons against the government forces. The government force brought up artillery, and the fighting ended with thirty anarchists and twelve government men – Chekists – dead and the anarchists defeated. The anarchists' fear that someone might try to fill a vacuum of authority and ruin the spontaneity had been realized.
Whatever ideals came with the anarchist philosophy, it was crude impulses that left their mark on the palaces and fine homes that the anarchists had confiscated. A British diplomat, Bruce Lockhart, taken on a tour by the Bolsheviks, found ceilings, no matter how wondrous, riddled with bullet holes. Excrement and wine stains covered floors and fine carpets, and priceless paintings were slashed to ribbons.
The Bolsheviks did not arrest the aged Kropotkin, but they planned to keep him isolated. Kropotkin, meanwhile, had become disillusioned and depressed. He died in February 1921 still considered a friend of the revolution. The procession to his burial place, near Moscow, would be a mile long. The deported American anarchist Emma Goldman was among those who spoke at his funeral. Others speakers according to Goldman were of "many political tendencies [and] had paid the last tribute to their great teacher and comrade."
Anarchism outside of Russia lived on, and in the thirties in Spain the anarchist philosophy would be tested again.
Copyright ©1998-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.