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Bolsheviks against Anarchists: 1918

In 1918, anarchists were roaming the countryside, and in large cities they were 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 famous Russian anarchist Bakunin was in exile had died in 1876, and replacing him as anarchism's foremost theoretician was the Russian Peter Kropotkin. In 1914 he 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 at age 76, but unlike Lenin he took no part in politics. In 1917 the Bolsheviks found it convenient 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 a nuisance. Lenin and the Bolsheviks wanted and needed order. In early March 1918 the Soviet government made banditry and looting a capital offense. In April, government forces moved to dissolve the anarchist's military organization: the Black Guard. Bolshevik 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 Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks brought up artillery, and the fighting ended with thirty anarchists and twelve Bolsheviks — Chekists — dead and the anarchists defeated. An anarchist fear was being realized: those posturing as representing state authority were ruining the spontaneity of the masses. 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 would die in February 1921 still considering himself a friend of Lenin's 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."

CONTINUE READING: Russians and Civil War: 1919


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