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Organization as Ideology: Dilemmas of the Russian Anarchists (1903-1914)

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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.


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