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CONFINO, Michael. "Organization as Ideology: Dilemmas of the Russian Anarchists (1903-1914)"

Sunday 2 January 2011, by ps

This is the last article by Michael Confino. It appeared in Russian History 37 (2010) 179–207. I wish to thank Mrs. Irene Confino for bringing this article to my attention. This important contribution challenges the "1917 paradigm", often repeated by historians, for whom the anarchists were crushed by the Bolsheviks because they were not organized.

Ronald Creagh


From the first years after 1900, the Russian anarchists debated the “question of the organization,”
and examined how they should organize the movement so that they may carry on its
political activities and secure freedom of expression and of spontaneous action both for its members
and for the masses. Opposed as they were to all kind of hierarchic, centralized, and pyramidal
types of organization, most of the Russian anarchists preferred the creation of independent
and autonomous groups whose members would be linked by a community of ideas and feelings.

(The first groups appeared in Russia in 1903.) Under the influence of classical anarchist thinkers
like Bakunin, Kropotkin, and Malatesta, some of them saw in anarchism not only an ideology,
but a way of life, and tried to create cells in the image of the future society.

Everyday realities compelled many of them to adopt more efficient and practical solutions.
The most frequent terms used in their vocabulary (and examined here) reveal their state of mind
and ways of action, terms such as self-rule, initiative, autonomous action, independence, creativity,
and free activity. Their groups were usually homogenous in terms of their social, educational,
and national or ethnic composition. They rejected the practice of collecting members’ fees or
donations. As a result they faced the problem of how to finance their activities. A major debate
ensued whether or not to use “expropriations” ( eksy ), armed attacks on state institutions or private
enterprises, for gathering funds, and how such actions were viewed by the masses. The
Revolution of 1905, in which the anarchists participated actively, had important repercussions
on their views and ways of organizing.