Wednesday, September 23, 2009


The following report was originally written for the Anarkismo website. In the last few days it has also been published in numerous other places, including the Avtonom website in Russia and the A-Infos website. It is important because it shines a spotlight on the recovery of anarchism in what was once one of its heartlands-Russia. Since the fall of Marxist dictatorship anarchism in Russia, like in much of the rest of the world, has become pretty well the only credible radical alternative to business as usual and the rule of the kleptocracy. There is still, however, a long way to go, but the following shows how anarchists in Russia are overcoming their initial disorder and forming working organizations.


Report from 8th General Assembly of Autonomous Action:
by Ellenor Hutson - Liberty & Solidarity

( Molly Note- Liberty and Solidarity is a recently formed British platformist organization )
The setting of the assembly
Earlier this year, decided to send a delegate, as an observer representing the organizations which run the Anarkismo project, to the 8th annual conference of Autonomous Action (AD), a libertarian communist organization with branches across Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine. Present at the conference were delegates from 12 different branches of AD, together with observers from the Union of Autonomous Youth and the youth wing of the Siberian Federation of Labour.

The conference was held at a secret location in the Ural Mountains where a campsite was set up from resources laboriously carried uphill over a 6-hour hike. This was a necessary precaution police attention and in addition provided economical conference accommodation in a country were poverty is widespread.
Report from 8th General Assembly of Autonomous Action

This year I was privileged to attend the 8th annual conference of Autonomous Action, an anarchist group with branches across Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine as an observer representing the Anarkismo project.

The conference was held at a secret location in the Ural Mountains where a campsite was set up from resources laboriously carried uphill over a 6-hour hike. This was a necessary precaution police attention and in addition provided economical conference accommodation in a country were poverty is widespread.

The campsite was beautiful; nestled in unspoilt conifer forest teeming with wildlife, much of it unfortunately of the insect variety. The comrades were the most fantastic hosts, going out of their way again and again to make me feel welcome, introduce me to people, find me translators, put me up in their homes before and after the conference and generally take very good care of me during my stay.

During the lengthy journey to the campsite the comrades were able to explain something of the recent history of Russian Anarchism to me which I found very interesting. After having been totally crushed by the Bolshevik movement following the Russian Revolution, Anarchists in Soviet Russia faced the task of rebuilding a movement from scratch in the 1980’s when Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of Perestroika once again permitted political opposition. This was no easy task given that the number of living anarchists in a country larger than Europe could literally be counted on one hand. The first task of anarchists in the eighties was therefore propaganda initiatives to inform others of the anarchist philosophy.

As in other countries, the anarchist movement has been influenced by sub cultural movements such as punk. The environmental movement has also been a large influence. In particular the Rainbow Keepers, a Russian equivalent of Earth First active in the 1990’s was influenced by anarchist ideas and organisational principles and has been instrumental in popularising anarchist ideas amongst activists.

Coordination of groups leading to the formation of Autonomous Action began around 2000, as an attempt to organise the diffuse elements of anarchist activity into a federation capable of defending itself and coordinating in a more organised way.

Autonomous Action now has around 120 members. 12 branches sent delegates to the General Assembly representing Tyumen,Ufa, Nizhni Novgorod, Moscow, Irkutsk, Magnitogorsk, Novosibirsk, Barnaul, and Minsk. In addition two new groups based in Cheboksary and Kazan were admitted to the federation during the assembly and an individual member attended from St. Petersburg.

Also attending as guests were the Union of Autonomous Youth, the youth wing of the Siberian Federation of Labour, a syndicalism union with approximately 6000 members, mainly in air traffic control, healthcare and public transport. 48 individuals were present in total.

Within the Autonomous Action, individuals and groups must agree to abide by the manifesto and organisational principles. A proposal passed during the conference also requires members to refrain from publicly voicing opinions that contradict agreed AD positions. Beyond this, groups have a large degree of autonomy to adapt their activity to local conditions.

Joint projects and Campaigns are decided through conference but participation by local groups is not compulsory. Resolutions on joint activity have the status of recommendations. The conference resolved several joint projects including the publication of a “how to” activist guide and a national campaign against the Centre for the Prevention of Extremism, a national police initiative targeting activists.

Decisions are made on a national level in three ways: by a vote or the reaching of consensus between group delegates, by conference or by a referendum of members.

Delegates councils are held every two weeks using the internet. Each group is expected to meet regularly in order to discuss the agenda and mandate a delegate. The delegates council have limited powers compared to the conference, for example they are not able to change any rules, or admit collective members or expel members.

Conference makes decisions by consensus if possible and by 2/3rds vote if not. Members not present can send mandates.

The referenda of members allows decisions to be taken on any important issues that come up between conferences. They can be initiated by any group and decided within one month. As with conference consensus is sought first. The period allowed for attempting to reach a consensus is one month after which a 2/3rds majority vote is accepted. This period is shorter than previously as the spread of the internet across the region has now reached the point where all groups have at least one member who is able to obtain internet access. This is improving the efficiency of decision making.

The conference began each morning with physical training. I’m ashamed to say I never found out what this involved, considering that the hike up the mountains on the first day was quite physical enough and preferring to spend my mornings dipping my feet lazily in the river.

The programme then continued with discussion on various subjects often lasting well into the night. Topics included Anti Fascism, Anarchist Black Cross, the economic crisis and training in how to deal with the police.

There was also decision making on national proposals. These were mostly of an administrative nature but also included a proposals for a shared programme of action. There was also discussion of strategy and the direction Autonomous Action should take in the future.

A large amount of the conference was given over to reports from each group on their activity and the situation in their region, followed by discussion and suggestions. This provided an extremely interesting overview of activity and an insight into the working culture of Autonomous Action. I was impressed by the respectful and comradely tone of discussions and the willingness of participants to listen to constructive criticism.

The overwhelming majority of the groups gave significant time in their reports to an account of antifascist and Anarchist Black Cross Activity. The fascist movement in the region is very large although the exact numbers are obscure as many fascists are organised in a decentralised fashion into street gangs.

The neo nazi movement adopts a radical rather than a parliamentary approach and aims at establishing superiority on the street and crushing political opposition as a precursor to seizing state power. The popular slogan “Russia for the Russians” is given effect by regular attacks on migrants. The existence of these movements clearly necessitates a militant response from the anarchist movement. Comrades reported that violence is escalating, frequently involving the use of knives where previously only fists had been used.

Nationally, 9 comrades have been killed by fascists in the last few years: Nikolay Girenko, Timur Kacharava, Aleksandr Ryukhin, Stanislav Korepanov, Ilya Borodaenko, Fyodor Filatov, Stanislav Markelov, Anastasia Baburova and Ilya Dzhaparidze.

Of these, Timur Kacharava and Ilya Borodaenko and Anastasia Baburova were anarchists, and Ilya and Anastasia also members of Autonomous Action.

There is a great deal of racism in wider society against people from the Caucasus and central Asia which the fascists are able to exploit. One comrade told me that more people would probably be involved in fascist movements were it not for the fact that the soviet years had engendered a sense of cynicism towards political expression of any sort!

Only a few groups were able to report superiority on the streets or progress in preventing the fascists from organising. The more common anarchist experience is of being outnumbered locally by fascists. The level of state attention on anarchists is also high. The movement has political prisoners and many groups had experienced harassment from the Centre for Prevention of Extremism. This partially reflects on the militant tactics employed by antifa but is not wholly explained by this. Although the delegates from Ufa reported that general political activism is distinguished from militant anti fascism and is tolerated locally this experience is unrepresentative and in any case is only a recent development there.

Unsurprisingly therefore, participation in the Anarchist Black Cross is a very popular activity for members of Autonomous Action. Anarchist Black Cross activities include collecting money for lawyers fees, collecting and publishing information about prisoners, educating activists in basic legal rights and tactics when dealing with the police and supporting resistance by prisoners.

Anarchist Black Cross activity is coordinated over the Autonomous Action email list. This is apparently not wholly efficient and some difficulty was reported in obtaining accurate information. A proposal was made to delegate responsibility for some tasks to named individuals but this was decided against on the basis of wishing to avoid the creation of an elite of ABC activists and in favour of generalised responsibility shared by all.

Apart from Anti Fascism and the ABC, groups reported a large range of other activities including, animal rights campaigning, environmental campaigns, propaganda production and movie clubs, food not bombs initiatives and attempts to organise factory workers and tenants and student unions and to campaign on bread and butter issues such as the price of public transport.

Anarchists, particularly in Ufa are also involved in LGBT issues, Russia is quite socially conservative and the rights of LGBT people are not always respected. For example a Gay Pride march in Moscow was subject to a counter demonstration by members of the Russian Orthodox church amongst other reactionaries.

Anarchists appear to have achieved the greatest public support for environmental campaigns, understandably so as many of the projects opposed are harmful to local people as well as to the environment more generally.

It would be fair to say, however, that the pursuit of social organising and campaigning work is often overshadowed by the pressing need for survival and self defence. This is not to criticise Autonomous Action, which struck me as successfully maintaining a decent organisation under tremendous pressure. One delegate, in a particularly beleaguered region reported that “All we do is just hang banners and fight for survival.”

Other delegates commented on increased organisation challenges facing their groups as a consequence of repression from police or neo nazi’s. For example groups may find that membership suffers as individuals become dissuaded from remaining in the movement. This prompts a need for greater recruitment activity and a relatively high turn over of activists, leading to a greater requirement for internal education and training.

Autonomous Action appears capable of responding effectively to these challenges although solidarity from abroad is of course always welcome! The conference gave the impression of a small movement but one which is focused and well organised. One comrade commented that although membership had been steady at around 100 people for the last few years but that the quality of participants had increased terms of serious and self discipline.

All in all a fantastic bunch of comrades! I can only end the report by thanking them all for their hospitality over an inspiring and informative week.
Ellenor Hutson
Liberty & Solidarity
Report written for
Autonomous Action's website:

In addition to Avtonom mentioned above there are a number of other Russian anarchist links in this blog's Links section. The following is a quick list, and excludes a number of links in other ex-Soviet republics such as Ukraine, Lithuania and Latvia. A general overview of anarchism in the ex-Soviet bloc, including numerous links can be found at the Abolishing the Borders From Below website.

**Indymedia Russia

**Indymedia St. Petersburg

**Indymedia Siberia

**Moscow Anarchist Black Cross

**Praxis Research and Education Center Moscow

**Free Trade Union confederation of Tomsk http://kulac/


**Federatsiya Anarcho-Kommunistou

There are numerous other links in the Russian language which are listed HERE at the Avtonom website. Most of these are simply email addresses. Some are no longer current. the interested reader is urged to consult that list for a fairly complete listing as of earlier this year.

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