Editor's Introduction


The widespread movement of conscientious objection during the first twelve years of Soviet rule remains a topic almost unexplored by scholars. Yet it is one of the most important themes in the history of pacifism before the nuclear age. Until near the end of the Communist era the few writers who broached the subject, e.g.. the hard party-liner F.M. Putintsev or the erudite sociologist of religion A.l. Klibanov, did so in an extremely tendentious fashion. With the collapse of Communism, the situation of course changed. But little progress has been made so far despite the opening of archival collections wholly or partially closed before. Unfortunately post-Soviet Russian historians hitherto have shown very little interest in serious research in this area while historians outside Russia have remained on the whole indifferent, too. The Chertkov Archive, fond 435 in the Russian State Library (Moscow), represents here the most important single collection for study; for long inaccessible to scholars, its contents continue to be largely unexploited. The Archive indeed constitutes an unrivalled source for the history of Russian pacifism and conscientious objection from 1917 to 1936 - along with certain central and provincial government archives as well as the religious press. A partial exception to the above strictures must, however, be made in regard to the work of Lawrence Klippenstcin and Harvey Dyck on the Mennonites, Paul Steeves on the Baptists, and William Edgerton on the Tolstoyans.

In the existing situation the documents printed in this booklet may prove useful. They are excerpted from the War Resisters‘ International Bulletin and its continuation appearing under the title The War Resister, both published at the organizations headquarters at Enfield, Middlesex (U,K.). (Alas, no manuscript materials dealing with the inter-war Soviet Union survive in the archives of the WRI, deposited in the international Institute of Social History, Amsterdam; letter from its information Officer Mieke ljzermans, dated 27 January 1997.) The WRI was founded in March 1921 as Paco, the Esperanto word for peace, with four affiliated sections in the UK, Netherlands, Germany and Austria — to which sections in Russia and a number of other countries were soon added. The first WRI Bulletin appeared in October 1923. Apart from some references in the work of the Belgian polemologist, Bruno Coppieters, WRI materials on the interwar Soviet Union have scarcely been used at all, even though they disclose many interesting details giving, too, a fairly clear overall picture of the position of Soviet C.Os, during that period.

Several reservations must be made, though. First, whereas the Mennonites, concentrated in the south of the Union, are not mentioned at all here (they form indeed almost a separate story), Tolstoyans take precedence over other groups even though numerically they formed only a comparatively small percentage of the pacifist community. (The Mennonites, Baptists, and Evangelical Christians certainly far outnumbered them.) But it was the Tolstoyans, under the leadership of the Master's friend and literary executor, Vladimir G. Chertkov, who dominated the Moscow scene and formed the War Resisters' Group there, from which the WRI drew most of its information about C.Os. in the Soviet Union.

Secondly, we may note that the detailed information about C.Os. given in these reports is incomplete and cannot, therefore, be used for statistical purposes. It deals, for one thing, almost exclusively with the C.Os. who failed to gain exemption from military service. With the passing of the years, and increasingly restrictive C.O. legislation in 1924 (when Tolstoyans ceased to be recognized as a “religious community") and again in 1925 and 1930, they constituted a growing number of the total applicants for exemption; that of course explains this imbalance. The importance of the data lies in the insight given into the conditions in which C.Os. served their terms in the prisons and prison camps where they were incarcerated and into the increasing harshness with which the Soviet government administered its C.O. legislation.

Thirdly, the materials printed here cover the period of decline in the Russian antimilitarist movement. Baptists and Evangelical Christians during these years yielded to official pressure and renounced their pacifist stand while Tolstoyans, Mennonites and the other nonresistant sects were forced onto the defensive. ln fact, even before Lenin died in January 1924, the movement had lost most of its earlier momentum. By this date the United Council of Religious Communities and Groups, established by Chertkov in October 1918 and entrusted with the administration of the extremely generous provisions for conscientious objection in the decree of 4 January 1918, had virtually ceased to function. in its heyday around 1920, however, the United Council had possessed, according to A.B. Roginsky, its representatives in 117 towns and villages in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine where the pacifist sects were strongly represented. The Council was eventually to succeed in bringing to an end the confusion with regard to the treatment of C.Os, existing throughout this troublous period, during which some men were shot for refusing to bear arms (though that had been done contrary to the wishes of the Soviet government).

This booklet will, I hope, help to illuminate Soviet C.Os.' second “time of troubles" and aid in the understanding of how an antiwar movement of such initial promise ended in defeat and tragedy after only a few years — but with posthumous rehabilitation eventually to emerge.

In conclusion, I will mention that I have left unchanged the erratic orthography of the documents and the other peculiarities of style found there, correcting only obvious misprints. Readers should, without difficulty, be able to convert the spellings used in the documents into the transliteration of their choice. I would also like to thank the War Resisters' International for permission to reprint from their publications.

Toronto, April 1997 Peter Brock

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