Girish Mahajan

Anarchist Black Cross

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedIn
Anarchist Black Cross

The Anarchist Black Cross (ABC, formerly the Anarchist Red Cross) is an anarchist support organization. The group is notable for its efforts at providing prisoners with political literature, but it also organizes material and legal support for class struggle prisoners worldwide. It commonly contrasts itself with Amnesty International, which is concerned mainly with prisoners of conscience and refuses to defend those accused of encouraging violence. The ABC openly supports those who have committed illegal activity in furtherance of revolutionary aims that anarchists accept as legitimate.



The Anarchist Black Cross began as the Anarchist Red Cross, a breakaway organization from the Political Red Cross organized to aid political prisoners in Czarist Russia. For years, the origin of the organization was under dispute, but recent documents have resurfaced that have narrowed down the time frame. According to Rudolph Rocker, once the treasurer for the Anarchist Red Cross in London, the organization was founded in Russia during the "hectic period between 1900 and 1905." Most material discussing ABC history points to this era as the birth of this group. The group came into prominence after the 1905 Revolution with the increase of imprisoned anarchists in Russia. Due to the refusal of the Political Red Cross and other prisoner aid groups to support anarchist political prisoners, Russian anarchists in Russia and those in exile abroad created the Anarchist Red Cross to support their comrades held in Russian prisons. Each branch of the organization was known by the region in which they operated (Latvia, Riga, Odessa, etc.). Within a few years, the organization spread beyond the Russian borders to the United States and England, where exiled revolutionaries had settled.

By 1905, the group changed its name, dropping "Red Cross" from the title. In this era, the group used various names including: Chicago Aid Fund, Society to Aid Anarchist Prisoners in Russia, Joint Committee to Aid Revolutionaries Imprisoned in Russia, and finally, the title that would remain, the Anarchist Black Cross.

However, according to Harry Weinstein, one of the two men who began the organization, the activities of the group began after his arrest in July or August 1906. Once released, Weinstein and others provided clothing to anarchists sentenced to exile in Siberia. Weinstein alleged that the group broke off from the original Political Red Cross in late 1906 when Weinstein and other anarchists received no support despite ample donations from the anarchist community. Weinstein continued his efforts in Russia until his arrival in New York in May 1907. Once there, he helped to create the New York Anarchist Red Cross, which included such members as Mother Earth editor Louise Berger. In 1911, a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania chapter of the Anarchist Red Cross was founded by Morris Beresin and Boris Yelensky.

Black Army

In 1918, Nestor Makhno organized new chapters of the Anarchist Black Cross as an adjunct to his anarchist Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine or Black Army in the territories of Ukraine which they controlled.

It was at this time that the organization's efforts were shifted from prisoner support to emergency medical response and self-defense. With the onset of attacks from Cossacks, White Guards, pogromists, and later the Red Army, the Ukrainian Black Cross took on a unique secondary role preparing city defenses and organizing the first urban army in Ukrainian history. As a city militia, the Ukrainian Anarchist Black Cross worked alongside units of the anarchist Black Army, but were never a mobile force, being primarily based within city environs. Members wore no formal uniforms, but were identified by wearing denim overalls and distinctive armbands.

For a time, the Anarchist Black Cross was tolerated in Moscow and Petrograd by the Bolshevik government, though its activities in those cities were not large in scale. The Cheka (Lenin's secret police) infiltrated informers into the Black Cross, who regularly made reports on the organization's leaders and activities. Outside of Moscow, Petrograd, and the areas of the Ukraine controlled by the Black Army there was complete repression; anarchist pamphlets and books were regularly seized, and even Anarchist Black Cross aid workers were subject to arrest and detention.

In September 1919, a grenade attack at a meeting of the Moscow Committee of the Bolshevik Party was used as a pretext for mass arrests of anarchists all over Russia by Bolshevik Red Army forces and the Cheka. Anarchist militants were arrested; even the Black Army and its general, Nestor Makhno, was hunted down at the orders of Leon Trotsky, determined to cleanse Russia of all anarchists with "an iron broom". It soon became clear that some kind of anarchist prisoner aid organization would have to be created once again to help anarchists in Bolshevik prisons. In Moscow, Kharkov, Odessa, and many smaller cities new Anarchist Black Cross and similar organizations were formed such as the Society to Help Anarchist Prisoners, devoted mainly to supplying food to anarchists and other dissidents on the left. The work proved difficult, even where food was easy to obtain, as it would often be confiscated by Bolshevik Red guards encountered on the way. By 1922, even anarchist aid workers in Moscow and Petrograd such as Senya Fleshin and Mollie Steimer were themselves arrested by the GPU on the grounds of "aiding criminal elements" in violation of the Soviet state security code.

Later years

During the 1960s, the Anarchist Black Cross was reformed in Britain by Stuart Christie and Albert Meltzer with a focus on providing aid for anarchist prisoners in Francisco Franco's Spain. The reason for this was Christie's experience of the Spanish State's jail and the importance of receiving food parcels. At that time there were no international groups acting for Spanish anarchist and Resistance prisoners. The first action of the re-activated group was to bring Miguel Garcia, who Christie met in prison, out of Spain on his release. He went on to act as the group's International secretary, working for the release of others.

The organization continued to grow, spreading throughout Europe and North America. In 1995, ABC chapters in the US merged into a Federation- the Anarchist Black Cross Federation. While other formations tried to startup, they were unable to maintain long term support. Around 2001, a new organization, the Anarchist Black Cross Network, began and attempted to present themselves as an alternative to the ABC Federation. A conflict existed until members of both organization sat down at the Break the Chains conference; since then the two groups have tried to develop a working relationship.

List of ABC groups

  • ABC Belarus
  • ABC Irkutsk
  • ABC Moscow
  • ABC Nancy
  • ABC Mexico
  • ABC Rio
  • Solidaritaetswerkstatt (Hamburg/Germany)
  • Portland ABC [1]
  • ABC Los Angeles
  • References

    Anarchist Black Cross Wikipedia

    Similar Topics
    Anarchist Black Cross Federation
    Anarchist Black Cross Network
    A Get2Gether