“The man who is shut up in a prison is so far from being bettered by the change, that he comes out more resolutely the foe of society than he was when he went in.”
This statement is the animating principle of Peter Kropotkin’s libertarian classic, IN RUSSIAN AND FRENCH PRISONS, first published in 1887 From its pages emerges a portrait of man’s inhumanity to man as old as Socrates of the Phaedo and as new as Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.
Kropotkin’s first experience with prisons came when he was assigned to collect facts on the penal system of Siberia. But when his findings were completely rejected and all hope of reform dashed, he embarked on a program of revolutionary activity that eventually led to his own arrest and imprisonment, first in St. Petersburg and, later in his life, in France.
In his new Introduction, Paul Avrich writes, “There are a great many books about prison life, some of them of genuine literary distinction. Yet within this vast genre, IN RUSSIAN AND FRENCH PRISONS holds a special place. it is the most eloquent statement of the libertarian view-point written from personal observation and experience.”
Paul Avrich (1931-2006) was Professor of Russian History at Queens College, New York, and the author of The Russian Anarchists (1967) and Kronstadt Nineteen Twenty-One (1970)
Antonio Martín Escudero, better known by the derogatory nickname “El Cojo de Málaga” (‘The Malaga Gimp’), was born in Belvis de Monroy (Cáceres). He was the son of Celestino Martín Muñoz, farmer, and Ascensión Escudero Jara, “her sex being her trade”. Both were 26 years old at the time Antonio was born. The limp from which he suffered was due to a wound sustained during the revolutionary events of Tragic Week in Barcelona (1909). Other sources put the limp down to osteitis.
As a smuggler he, along with Cosme Paules, specialised in the smuggling of weapons across the border for the CNT’s defence groups. By 1922 he and Paules were regular active collaborators with the Los Solidarios group to which they belonged. Between 1924 and 1934 Antonio was in exile in France. He ran a tiny little shoe repair stand in a yard adjacent to an Auvergne coal-yard on the Boulevard Montparnasse in Paris. In 1927, being resident in Aubervilliers, he had a daughter by the name of Florida Martín Sanmartín (she outlived him after he was killed in 1937): The mother’s name is not known to us. In Aubervilliers he worked, first, in construction and later in a garage.
This stimulating collection of the writings of Voltairine de Cleyre, an important anarchist writer of the late 19th and early 20th century, covers such diverse topics such as the Paris Commune, Crime and Punishment, the Mexican Revolution, Sex and Marriage, the McKinley Assassination —and of course her distinct interpretation of anarchism.
Voltairine De Cleyre (1866-1912), anarchist, poet, lecturer, writer and teacher lived in St. Johns, Michigan until 1880, when she was sent to a convent school in Sarnia, Ontario. After graduating she became active in freethought circles, and moved quickly from socialism to anarchism. From the late 1880s until her death in 1912, De Cleyre was an energetic anarchist and a prolific writer, living in Philadelphia and then Chicago. She was a contemporary and acquaintance of Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Benjamin Tucker and other prominent anarchists of the time. Emma Goldman described her as “the poet-rebel, the liberty-loving artist, the greatest female anarchist of America.” Max Nettlau, a historian of the anarchist movement, considered her to be “the pearl of Anarchy,” outshining her contemporaries in “libertarian feeling and artistic spirit.” She published hundreds of poems, essays, stories, and sketches, mainly on themes of social oppression, but also on literature, education, and women’s liberation. She died on June 23, 1912 and was buried in Waldheim Cemetery in Chicago.
On Monday May 3, 1886, during a peaceful demonstration of striking workers outside the McCormick Reaper works in Chicago, police, private security guards and agents provocateurs employed by the Pinkerton National Detective Agency — then run by Robert and William Pinkerton, sons of the company’s founder, Gorbals-born low-life, Alan Pinkerton — fired into the crowd, killing two (or possibly six) and wounding a number of other demonstrators. A rally in support of the eight-hour day and in protest at the previous day’s killings was held the following evening, May 4, in Haymarket square was peaceful until 10.30 pms when, during the short speech given by the last speaker, British socialist Samuel Fielden, a large number of policemen marched up to the wagon being used as a platform and ordered the speaker to stop and the remaining crowd to disperse. According to historian Paul Avrich the police then opened fire on the fleeing demonstrators, reloaded and then fired again, killing four and wounding as many as 70 people. A pipe bomb was then rolled in front of the advancing police which exploded, killing one policeman and wounding six others. The bomb thrower was never identified, although evidence was produced by August Spies, one of the subsequent accused and executed, linking the bomb to Pinkerton agents. Fortunately for the investigating officers bomb-making equipment and bombs were discovered ten days later in the apartment of German-born anarchist carpenter Louis Lingg, who hadn’t been present during the Haymarket Rally on the day in question. As a result of the 1886 Haymarket affair, the First of May — May Day — was chosen by the Second International as the date for International Workers’ Day. The following article by Robert Pinkerton, one of those complicit in the events of 3 and 4 May 1886, appeared in November 1901 following the September 6 assassination of US President William McKinley by Polish anarchist Leon Czolgosz. It provides an informed insight into the opportunist mentality and modus operandi of this ‘noble profession’ as is claimed on the grandiose obelisk tombstone of the detective agency’s founder — and disgrace to Glasgow:
Peter Arshinov* first met and befriended Nestor Makhno in prison in 1911, a friendship that that was to continue after their release following the February Revolution in 1917. In 1919 Arshinov became Makhno’s secretary, and remained with the Makhnovischina until 1921. The following year, 1922, he escaped into exile in Berlin where he published the Russian edition of the Makhno story. Arshinov’s history of the Makhnovists is one of the most important primary sources on the life of the Ukrainian anarchist guerrilla leader.
Makhnovism refers to various related political and economic theories elaborated by Ukrainian anarchist revolutionary leader Nestor Makhno, and by other theorists (Peter Arshinov etc.) who claim to be continuing Makhno’s work. During Makhno’s lifetime Makhnovism was anarchistic, and opposed the state and political parties, as well as bureaucracy, favouring highly decentralized communes run by peasants and workers. Makhnovism builds upon and elaborates the ideas of Peter Kropotkin, and serves as the philosophical basis for anarchist communism.
In early 1918, the new Bolshevik government in Russia signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk making peace with the Central Powers, but ceding large amounts of territory to them, including Ukraine. Partisan units were formed that waged guerrilla war against the Germans and Austrians. Nestor Makhno was one of the main organizers of these partisan groups, who united into the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine (RPAU), also called the Black Army (because they fought under the anarchist black flag) and “Makhnovists” or “Makhnovshchina”. The RPAU also battled against the Whites, the Reds and anti-semiticpogromists. In areas where the RPAU drove out opposing armies, there were villagers (and workers) who sought to abolish capitalism and the state through organizing themselves into village assemblies, communes and councils. Land and factories were expropriated and workers’ self-management implemented. The economy the Makhnovists in Ukraine implemented was based on free exchange between rural and urban communities.