About this issue's cover

Issue: 
Spring 2014
Author(s): 

In the winter of 1917, following the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II on 2 March and the declaration of a Republic, Russian anarchists in North America were ecstatic, including Volin (Vsavolod Mikhailovich Eikhenbaum) and Maksim Raevskii, editors of the New York-based newspaper Golos Truda (Voice of Labour). Founded in 1911, Voice of Labour was the weekly publication of the Union of Russian Workers of the United States and Canada, an anarchist-syndicalist organisation with 10,000 members. On 23 March 1917, Volin published an article, ‘The Revolution Ahead’, assessing recent events and their significance for radicals. Overthrowing the Tsar was but a first step, he argued: abolish private property, declare peace, and establish communal control of the land and factories on a federated basis, and then ‘we may speak of revolution’. To this end, in the spring and summer of 1917, the Union coordinated the return of hundreds of anarchists to Russia, including Volin and Raevskii. That August, the editors re-established Voice of Labour as the leading publication of the newly-founded Petrograd (Saint Petersburg) Union of Anarchist-Syndicalism. Thus it came about that in October, just prior to Lenin’s orchestration of the coup that brought his ‘Bolshevik’ faction of the Russian Social Democratic Party to power, Voice of Labour featured the illustration reproduced on this issue’s cover.

‘Civilization’ depicts an immense executioner wading through a pulpy mass of humanity. Ankle deep in corpses, hands dripping in blood, he towers over his victims, thirsting for more. The drawing was by American anarchist Robert Minor and had first appeared in the 16 December 1915 issue of the socialist New York Call news- paper, where it was captioned: ‘National Honour! In Terms of War and Democracy’. A few years later, with World War One casualties climbing towards 37,466,000 plus, Minor’s nightmarish depiction of warring nationalism run amuck was the perfect anecdote to the propagandistic rhetoric permeating all sides of the conflict. As the signatories of the ‘International Anarchist Manifesto on the War’ (1915) put it, each government claimed to be ‘the immaculate defender of right and liberty and the champion of civilization’. ‘Civilization?’ they asked: ‘Who, then, represents it now? Is it the German State, with its formidable militarism, and so powerful that it has stifled every disposition to revolt? Is it the Russian State, to whom the knout, the gibbet, and Siberia are the sole means of persuasion? Is it the French State, with its Biribi (a refer- ence to disciplining camps for recalcitrant conscripts), its bloody conquests in Tonkin, Madagascar, Morocco, and its compulsory enlistment of black troops? France, that detains in its prisons, for years, comrades guilty only of having written and spoken against war? Is it the English State, which exploits, divides, and oppresses the popula- tions of its immense colonial Empire?’

In early April 1918, five months after ‘Civilization’ appeared in Voice of Labour, Minor was able to make his way from America to Petrograd (via Sweden, which remained neutral during the war). He remained in Russia until December 1918 and witnessed the crushing of the anarchist movement firsthand, beginning in mid-April with government assaults and mass arrests in Moscow and Petrograd. Minor stands out as one of the first American anarchists to condemn the emerging ‘Soviet’ regime as counterrevolutionary. Capping a feature interview with Lenin published by the New York World newspaper in February 1919 (i.e., after he had left Russia) Minor condemned the Bolsheviks’ program of State centralisation for taking ‘industry’ out of the hands of ‘insurgent’ workers and returning it to ‘the business class, who disguise their activities by giving orders under the magic title of “Peoples’ Commissars”’. As a result, the Soviet government had ‘roused the bitter antagonism of the anarchist- syndicalists’ who were ‘the strongest opponents Lenin now has’, Minor concluded. Tragically, as we know, the Soviet State prevailed over the anarchists, ensuring more wars and more revolutionary betrayals would plague the twentieth century.

Anarchist Studies Vol 22 No 1