The All-Russian Federation of Anarchist Youth (VFAM), 1919.
A short account of VFAM, the all-Russian Federation of Anarchist Youth
Shortly before the crushing by the Bolshevik authorities of the Moscow Federation of Anarchist Groups in April 1918, it was decided to set up a circle of young anarchists, which was then transformed into the Free Thought organisation, made up of students and young workers. The weekly journal Life and Creativity of Russian Youth (ZhTRM) which began publishing in November 1918, had been originally put out by the youth commune Unification and was edited by the young anarchist Nikolai Vasilievich Markov, who put forward the idea of creating an all-Russian federation of unions of Free Youth.
Anarchist youth groups had emerged in spring 1917 with the Moscow anarchist student group, the Petrograd anarchist-syndicalist student group, and the anarchist group at Shanyavsky University, and by the end of 1918 spread to the provinces.
The Moscow union of Free Youth (MSSM) formed around the editorial office of. Its inspirers included Leonid Chivolov, which was a pseudonym for Yevgeny Iosofovich Gabrilovich (1899-1993), later to become Honoured Art Worker of Russia (1969), and the author of the scripts for the films "Communist" (1958), "Lenin in Poland" (1966), and "Lenin in Paris" (1981). Another was Andrei Platonov, like Gabrilovich from Voronezh, also to become a famous writer (1). The journal later became the mouthpiece of the Moscow Anarchist Youth Association (MAAM).
A decision to form an all-Russian federation of anarchist youth groups was made at a meeting on 2nd January 1919 by the MSSM, MAAM, the editorial group of ZhTRM, the Anarchist Student and Secondary School Group, the Group of Individualist Anarchists, and the Free Circle of the Komissarov Technical School. The meeting appointed a secretariat of N. Korsikov, Chivolov and Markov, who were assigned to convene an all-Russian conference, and organise agitation and propaganda. Shershenevich came on to the editorial board of ZhTRM with Korsikov, Markov and Meyer-Uransky. The meeting also adopted a declaration “To all the anarchist youth of Russia, to all groups and individuals”. The Supreme Court approved the charter of the VFAM on 9th February 1919.
From the double issue 28/29th of April 13, 1919, active cooperation began with the magazine of the Imaginist writers and above all with Vadim Shershenevich, its leading ideologist who proclaimed from its pages: "Under our banners – anarchist imaginism – we summon all young people, strong and cheerful” (3).
The declaration announcing the creation of the All-Russian Federation of Anarchist Youth- Vserossiyskaya Federatsiya Anarkhicheskoy Molodezhi – (known for short as VseFAM or VFAM), dated January 26, 1919, stated that the new all-Russian organisation being created aims for the "spiritual unification of all anarchist youth without distinction between political and other trends, from individualists up to and including the communists. At the same time, the apoliticalism of the VFAM was declared “due to numerous disagreements in the tactics of anarchism,” but it was emphasized that the emerging federation “maintains relations with all anarchist associations.”
Most of the members of VFAM were anarchist communists -Kaluga, Moscow, Sudogda, Voronezh- or individualists- Minsk, Moscow- whilst fewer were anarchist syndicalists-Kamyshin, Simbirsk. The size of adherent groups ranged from 3-4- in Odoev to 100-120 in Yelizavetgrad. Students and school students were in the majority, though there were also some young white collar workers. In Moscow, there were many artists and poets, in the provinces, mainly workers and peasants.
The VFAM undertook to carry out agitation and propaganda, including the distribution of literature, speeches at meetings and rallies, etc. Propaganda took place within the Communist Youth League (Komsomol), the youth wing of the Bolsheviks, and as a result some Komsomol cells came over, leading as at Ivanovo-Voznesensk to the establishment of the Free Youth Union, and in Tambov and Kirsanov to the creation of anarchist youth groups.
The VFAM worked closely with “adult” anarchist organisations, especially the All-Russian Federation of Anarchist Communists (VFAK). Statements of the VFAM were regularly published in the VFAK magazine Free Life. Youth groups in Voronezh and Ivanovo-Voznesensk were joint members of VFAK. Youth groups in Ukraine worked closely with the Nabat Confederation of Anarchists.
The VFAM regarded its main aims to be “ideological anarchist work among the youth and the working masses", “to bring anarchism to life and create a broad anarchist movement in the country”, and “self-education of members of the organisation”.
"Every person who considers themselves young" could be a member of VFAM. Thus the oldest member was the anarchist communist Grigory Ivanovich Anosov, then 31 years old, and the youngest were 13 to 14 years old.
Whilst emphasising “absolute autonomy of the individual”, the VFAM introduced fixed membership, recommended the collection of membership dues and giving weekly reports on activities to the Secretariat of the organisation. It recommended setting up clubs, libraries, “Houses of Youth” and “Student Houses”.
The Russian Armed Forces agreed to the setting up of local branches of the VFAM and "instructors for organising youth circles in the field”. In addition new VFAM groups emerged in a number of other cities. In Ukraine, by April 1919, the Kharkiv and Alexandrivsk groups of Nabat Anarchist Youth appeared, as did the Yelisavetgrad Initiative Group of Anarchist Youth of Ukraine Nabat (leading lights M.G. Aksenfeld, M. Zloy (real name Mikhail Evseevich Radomyslsky, younger brother of the leading Bolshevik Zinoviev), I. Reidman, V. A. Tarkovsky, Isaak Teper), who worked on the creation of the All-Ukrainian Union of Anarchist Youth "Nabat" (VSAM); a representative of Ukrainian groups, Misha Zloy, was elected a delegate to the All-Russian Congress of Anarchist Youth, which was being prepared by the Secretariat of the WFAM, but died before it was convened. He and Tarkovsky were among those anarchists killed when they tried to defend Yelisavetgrad railway station from pogroms of Jews by units of Ataman Grigoriev in April 1919. Both Zloy and Tarkovsky were themselves Jewish, and the latter was the uncle of the Soviet film maker Andrei Tarkovsky, who created films like Solaris, Andrei Rublev and Stalker.
On May 4, 1919, members of the VFAM including Chivolov met with Petr Kropotkin in Dimitrov, after which a note about this meeting was published in Life and Creativity. Kropotkin’s parting words to the young anarchists were quoted: “We are going through a serious time. The old capitalist world is collapsing, the means chosen by the Soviet government to achieve their good ends were and are the worst, and thus it is clear that the path of the Bolsheviks will lead us to a terrible reaction. It is necessary to create a revolution and the construction of a new life from below, and not from above, and in this construction, preference should be given not to the person of the party, but to the worker.
The new list of the magazine’s employees who "expressed their consent to cooperation" in the May issue included Yesenin the famous poet, bad boy and erstwhile lover of the dancing queen Isadora Duncan, Kusikov, Marienhof, S. Tretyakov, Boris and Nikolai Erdman, Natalya Poplavskaya and others, all members of the Imaginist group. At the congress of anarchist youth in June 1919 Shershenevich was projected to make a report on "Anarchist youth and art."
Markov wrote on peasant youth in issue 19, whilst Platonov contributed an article on art. In issue 20 there was a report on the creation of a secretariat of the VFAM and the first part of “Anarcho-philosophy. The problem of personality in anarchism” by Chivolov. In issue 21 Chivolov contributed "To Life!", whilst Uransky wrote "Against God" (Atheistic Psalms) and there was an article on the case of Marusya Nikiforova at the Moscow Revolutionary Tribunal. In issue 22 there was an article on the anarchist movement in Ukraine, and Markov and Chivolov also provided articles. In issue 23 there was a statement on the exclusion of Alexander Ge from the All-Russian Federation of Anarchist Communists (VFAK) after he headed the Cheka in Yessentuki in the Caucasus. In the double issue of 25-26 there were articles on the forthcoming VFAM conference, and articles by Uransky and N. Korsikov on “Politics and Anarchists”. In the double issue 26-27 there was another article about the first general meeting of the VFAM, as well as articles by Markov and Chivolov and poems by Uransky on executed anarchist revolutionaries.
Reports and reviews of artistic life began to disappear from the pages of the magazine, but the subject of Esperanto took up important space in its pages. Young Esperantists, primarily members of the Moscow Union of Young Esperantists (MSUE) and the All-Russian League of Young Esperantists (VLUE) contributed, headed by the chair of these organisations, Nikolai Nekrasov (2). There were reports on the activities of anarchist groups throughout the Soviet Union in every issue, as well as much coverage of the Makhnovist movement.
On the eve of the congress, in May 1919, the VFAM issued a new declaration, which proclaimed a line on the organisation of a mass youth anarchist movement and a departure from apoliticalism.
Some VFAM members openly criticised the policy of the Soviet government. Markov wrote: "Instead of socialism (…) state capitalism will be planted." The members of VFAM in the Ukraine shared the concept of the anarchist "Third Revolution" common to the Nabat Confederation. In response, the Cheka monitored the activities of the VFAM, including using infiltrators.
The first congress of the VFAM took place on June 19th, 1919. It included delegates from Minsk, Mogilev, Moscow, Odoev, Penza and Tver. However, on the third day, July 1st, at 2pm, an armed detachment of Chekists arrived in two cars and searched and arrested all 23 delegates. These included secretary to the congress Alexander Alexandrovich Meyer (Uransky, Meyer-Uransky), Emmanuil Yakovlevich Baron (aka Maxim) delegate from the Kyiv anarchist youth, Nikolai Markov, Pavel Efimovich Isaev, Vasily Efimovich Semenov, Ivan Afanasyevich Orlov-Tarakaisky, Vladimir Nikolaevich Teplov, Vladimir Oldenborger, Alexander Konstantovich Kutyin, Alexander Petrovich Zhebelev, Alexander Mikhailovich Zhigarev, Yakov Ivanovich Ilyin, Sergey Alexandrovich Paleguev, Vasily Yakovlevich Bolshakov-Zelensky, Nikolai Mikhailovich Rybnikov, Veniamin Fedorovich Yudaev, Fedor Fedorovich Ulyanov, and Maxim Mikhailovich Podobedov.
The premises of the congress and the apartments of some comrades living in Moscow were searched, and documents were seized everywhere. They were taken by truck to the Moscow Cheka headquarters on Lubyanka.
On the way they sang "The Internationale" and "You fell victim" (4) and other songs and shouted "long live Anarchy."
The imprisoned young anarchists wrote to Kropotkin in Dimitrov, asking him for help. The letter was signed by Baron under his pseudonym Maxim, and resides in the Kropotkin Archive. Unfortunately, Kropotkin’s reply has not been discovered.
The letter read “Thanks to our protest, the next day we were interrogated. The interrogations of some comrades continued for 2-3 hours; some were interrogated at night”. They were threatened with solitary confinement for their opposition. The letter ended: “We sit in a small basement with 70-90 people. What awaits us in the future, we do not know… We protest against the arbitrariness and violence of the "workers’ and peasants’" authorities over the young generation of Russia and Ukraine. The future belongs to us, the youth, and only we will be fully responsible for the fate of the peoples of Russia and Ukraine, and therefore we consider our arrest as a barbaric act. We have the right to free self-development, as well as to mutual assistance and association for this purpose. Those who hinder us in this matter hinder the cause of intellectual, cultural, and, to a large extent, economic progress. Warmly protesting against the predatory attitude of the "socialist" government towards us, we ask you, dear Petr Alekseevich, to add your voice to our protest. Long Live Anarchy! Down with all power with all its institutions of arbitrary violence and parasitism.”
Six or seven were soon released, whilst 17 others were transferred to the Butirky prison, first a Tsarist and now a Bolshevik place off detention. They were charged with an "actively hostile attitude towards the Soviet government." Due to the action of the Political Red Cross and of Apollon Karelin, secretary of the VFAK, 13 of those arrested were released in August 1919 due to a lack of a case against them. Three members of the anarchist youth group of Odoev in Tula province, Ivan Sergeevich Petrov, Ivan Vasilievich Ogurtsov, and Emelyan Klementievich Shelopaev, remained in prison and took part in the hunger strike of anarchist prisoners in September, but failed to be released.
The arrests and the closure of ZhTRM in June 1919 led to the collapse of the VFAM. In Jul-August 1919, the group in Belarus ceased to exist with the advance of the Polish Army. The group in Kamyshin was wiped out by the White general Denikin. Anosov and others moved over to activity in the VFAK, and Teper, Reidman, Fayans to activity in the Nabat Confederation in Ukraine, whilst others (Bolshakov-Zelensky, Braude, Zhebelev, Meyer-Uransky, Fedorov) turned to activity in local anarchist groups. The Simbirsk Union of Anarchist Youth, which had been a component part of the VFAM, existed at least until the end of 1921. Another component of the VFAM was the anarchist youth group Buntar (Rebel) in Smolensk, which formed in April 1919. It convened the Western Regional Conference of Anarchist Youth on June 23rd, 1919, which sent delegates to the VFAM conference. In May 1919, an anarchist youth group was formed in Roslavl in Smolensk province, which undertook educational work among railway workers.
Nikolai Markov was later directly involved in the activities of the Moscow Underground Anarchists (MOAP) and together with Kazimir Kovalevich served on its literary commission producing statements. He was one of those anarchists sent out to other regions to spread the work of the MOAP, in his case to Bryansk. It is not known whether he was arrested after the bomb attack on the Moscow HQ of the Communist Party, and no further evidence of his fate have yet come to light, in either the files of the Moscow or Bryansk Chekas.
Like Markov, Pavel Isaev was involved with the MOAP, operating an underground printshop. He was shot by the Moscow Cheka in 1919.
Emmanuil Baron was born in Odessa in 1901 and lived in Kyiv. He was an anarchist communist. He was arrested for the second time, after the Moscow bombing, on September 26th. His further fate is unknown.
Alexander Meyer-Uransky (born 1900 or 1903) was subsequently arrested three times as an anarchist communist and in October 1929 was sentenced to 3 years in the Solovetsky Special Purpose Camp. On October 26th 1937 he was shot along with another seasoned anarchist Yakov Zaidel in the Magadan region.
Ivan Petrov (born 1900) son of a police officer, and an anarchist from 1917, after release from prison, was arrested again in 1920. In 1921-22 he was under supervision by the Chekists. In 1929 he was stripped of voting rights. In 1931 he worked as a political economist in Tula but was considered “politically untrustworthy). He was recruited as a secret agent of the UNKVD (new name for the Cheka) in 1938 but was arrested in May 1940 accused of supplying false information. He was sentenced to 8 years hard labour in a camp in November of that year.
Grigory Anosov, after several prison sentences was shot on April 19th, 1938 in Krasnoyarsk.
The Imaginists, like Rodchenko and the Constructivists before them in 1918 after the attacks on the Moscow Federation of Anarchist Groups, became frightened and began to distance themselves from the VFAM. Sergei Yesenin however, always the hooligan poet, wrote the long narrative poem Land of Scoundrels in 1923. In this poem an anarchist bandit Nomakh is the main protagonists. Nomakh is an anagram for Makhno. Nomakh clashes with the Bolshevik commissar Rassvetov in the poem. Rassvetov, probably based on Trotsky and Sverdlov, wants to modernise Russia by force. Yesenin, deeply disillusioned by the drift of Russian society, killed himself in 1925, though rumours still persist that he was murdered by the Chekists.
Yevgeny Gabrilovich still had hankerings for his anarchist youth in the late 1970s even though he had long been co-opted into the officially approved artistic establishment. In 1978 he collaborated with the film director Ilya Averbach on Declaration of Love. It is partly based on the memoirs of Gabrilovich and employs a sequence of complex flashbacks to portray Russian youth that came to maturity with the 1917 Revolution. The leading character is an anarchist who reluctantly becomes a journalist. A police raid, clearly alluding to the Chekist raid on the VFAM, is referred to, as is collectivisation and construction projects in central Asia.
(1) Andrei Platonov 28 August (1899–1951) was the pen name of Andrei Platonovich Klimentov, a writer, philosopher, playwright, and poet, whose works anticipate existentialism. His major works remained unpublished in his lifetime because of their scepticism as regards the collectivisation of agriculture, and other Stalinist policies and because they were seen as too avant garde and experimental. It should be underlined that Platonov always regarded himself as a communist. His famous works include the novels Chevengur (1928) and The Foundation Pit (1930).
(2) Nikolai Nekrasov was shot on 4th October, 1938, accused of being “an organiser and leader of a fascist, espionage, terrorist organization of Esperantists”.
(3) Imaginism was founded in 1918 in Moscow by a group of poets including Shershenevich, Anatoly Marienhof, Sergei Yesenin, Rurik Ivnev, Alexander Kusikov, Ivan Gruzinov, Matvei Royzman, and the playwright Nikolai Erdman who had broken with the Russian Futurists. Imaginists wrote poems without verbs, based on sequences of arresting and uncommon images. In January 1919 they issued a manifesto, whose text was largely written by Shershenevich. Most of the Imaginists were freethinkers and atheists. Imaginism had its main centres in Moscow and Petrograd. There were also smaller centres of Imaginism in Ukraine, Kazan and Saransk. Imaginists organised four poetry publishing houses, one of which was called simply Imaginism, and published the poetry magazine Gostinitsa dlya puteshestvuyuschih v prekrasnom ("Guesthouse for travellers in the beautiful").The group broke up in 1925, and in 1927 it was officially dissolved. However its influence remains strong in Russia. Poems by Yesenin and Shershenevich, memoirs by Marienhof, and plays by Erdman are still in print and are always popular. The Young Imaginists of the 1930s were inspired by them, as were the Meloimaginists of the 1990s.
(4) “You fell victim” was a revolutionary anthem used by all the revolutionary groups including the Bolsheviks and often sung at the funerals of revolutionaries. It is quoted in Dimitri Shostakovich’s Symphony Number 11 and in Britten’s Russian Funeral.
Anatoli Dubovik and others on the VFAM:
Kropotkin as Human Rights Activist:
Information on Life and Creativity of Russian Youth: