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Fellow Seminar

14 May 2020

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Irina Gordeeva will present online via Zoom her research proposal on the topic: "Tolstoyans and International Pacifist Movement in the 1920-1930s: The Early History of European Transnational Solidarity" on 14 May 2020, at 16:30h.


My current project started many years ago with examination of the huge archive (about 60 000 leaves) of the leader of the Russian Tolstoyan movement Vladimir Chertkov (1854-1936) (Manuscript department of the Russian State Library, fond 435). This archive was almost unexplored for about 50 years. In fact this is an archive of the unknown Russian radical pacifist movement of the first third of the 20th century. The great amount of the records of this archive covers the history of international and transnational activity of the movement, its collaboration with numerous foreign counterparts, European religious pacifists and Christian anarchists (War Resisters International (WRI) and International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) are the most significant of them). 

The research revealed a lot of archives in Russia and other European countries, which contain materials strongly connected with Chertkov's archive. In Russia these are many personal archives of the Tolstoyans, participated in the movement. As for foreign archives, there are a big amount of records on the theme in the archives of the WRI in the International Institute of Social History archives (Amsterdam), International Fellowship of Reconciliation Collected Records in Swarthmore college peace collection (Pennsylvania, USA), Fellowship of Reconciliation, Britain archive in the LSE (London), fond of Přemysl Pitter in Památníku národního písemnictví (Prague, Czech Republic), P. Sevruk's materials in the State regional archive of Grodno (Belarus), archive of Iordan Kovachev in Bulgarian Historical Archive (BHA) in the Cyril and Methodius National Library (Sofia), and so on.

The Russian pacifist movement of the late 19th - early third of the 20th century combined the features of a traditional social movement and a new social movement of a transnational nature. Its values (non-violence, freedom of conscience, tolerance, autonomy of an individual, universal brotherhood of people all over the world) and agenda (protection of COs, demilitarization of all spheres of life, cessation of international wars, abolition of national borders, education in the spirit of non-violence, peaceful revolution) together with protest methods (for example, civil disobedience) had more impact on the foreign countries and turned out to be totally forgotten in Russia. 

All these archives let me to reconstruct the history of the Soviet pacifist movement of the 1920-1930s not just as a history of the international collaboration of pacifists from different countries, but as a part of the united transnational movement with shared agenda, aims and ideology. This is the first aim of my project, which can be done only by the means of the thorough archival exploration. From the very beginning, the Russian Tolstoyans' movement had a definite identity as a radical pacifist, Christian socialist, and anarchist movement. The radicalism of the pacifist movement was rooted in its revolutionary nature. It was directed towards social action and total transformation of society through a peaceful, nonviolent change of the people, their ideals and values, everyday life, and interactions between them. The ultimate goal of the pacifists was to establish a universal brotherhood of the entire humanity by means of a peaceful spiritual revolution.

Tolstoyans built the pacifist movement on the basis of the elitist Tolstoyism and the popular sectarian movements. Closely communicating with the Russian peasantry and the sectarians, Tolstoyans explored phenomena that James C. Scott later defined as "weapons of the weak" - the stable behavioral stereotypes of popular protest, different forms of escape, passive resistance and the creation of communities that were autonomous from state institutions. Thus the ideology and methods of resistance of the Tolstoyan pacifists was a kind of amalgam of Tolstoyan ethics and folk traditions of passive resistance. This is my second aim - to describe the ideas of the Russian and European religious pacifists of the time. It also requires to find the theoretical language to describe this phenomenon.

The Russian radical pacifists collaborated intensively with Western pacifist organizations and groups. The international collaboration became more active during the First World War and it continued after the Russian Revolution until the mid 1930s. After WWI European pacifists came to the conclusion that they needed to fight not only against wars, but also against the roots of all wars. They considered the current social system (capitalism and imperialism) as the main causes of war. Hence, they proclaimed that their goal was a radical revolution and asked for a "mutual association of the people of different nations and religions, as well as the elimination of the reasons, which initiate the existence of social disparity, in other words, the elimination of private property and the capitalist system."

Russian Tolstoyans contributed to this movement their idea of nonviolent revolution. The origins of this idea can be traced back to the very beginning of the 20th century, when some Tolstoyans proclaimed the necessity of nonviolent revolution in a form of "general strike". Most of them were socialists and anarchists. Therefore, they appreciated the social slogans of the Bolshevik revolution, but could not agree with the repressive nature of the new regime and with the compulsory character of Bolshevik communism.

Their disappointment in the Russian revolution of 1917 pushed the Tolstoyans to develop a transnational solidarity network around the idea of nonviolent revolution and nonviolent communism. The highpoint of the Russian pacifists' attempts to realize the idea of "peaceful revolution" was creation of the International Movement for Christian Communism (IMCC) (1926). It was a result of collaboration of the religious activists under the leadership of the Czech writer and leader of the religious commune "New Jerusalem" Premysl Pitter, and the Russian émigré Tolstoyan Valentin Bulgakov. The organizers of the International Movement for Christian communism fully rejected violent methods of establishing communism and declared themselves the supporters of a "nonviolent, Christian revolution" (or "non-cooperation") in the meaning proposed by Leo Tolstoy and Romain Rolland, and in the way it was introduced by Gandhi in his activities. They "considered his objectives in deepening, widening the methods used in the non-violent struggle against capitalism, militarism and other evils of life", accepting "this way as fairly radical and at the same time as consonant and ensuing directly from the teachings of Christ." 

The leaders expected to initiate a new movement particularly in Russia and other Slavic countries where the traditions of Tolstoyism were still alive. Soon, pacifists in different European countries-not just from refined intellectuals, but commoners as well-started to read, discuss, copy, translate, and distribute pacifist materials. The personal archives of the East European Tolstoyans and Christian anarchists saved the evidences of ordinary people's attempt to participate in the transnational movement (correspondence, manifests, dissemination of literature, accounts on conscientious objections, agitation among peasants and workers, mutual support). This is my third aim - to examine the social base of the movement, its development in Europe in the 1920s-1930s.

Stalin's politics made any contact with pacifist organizations abroad extremely dangerous. By the late 1930s, Soviet pacifists existed only as a network of befriended people secretly connected through correspondence and mutual support. The last nodes of this pacifist network in the Soviet Union were the Tolstoyan agricultural communes, which lived on until the Great Terror (1937-1938). The fate of the movement in other countries is a subject of my research now. Besides I am going to trace the impact of the movement to the further anarchist (anarcho-pacifist) and religious movements of the 20th century.

Irina Gordeeva (b. 1975) graduated the Institute for History and Archives of the Russian State University for the Humanities (RGGU, Moscow, Russia). Between 2000-2017 was an associate professor in RGGU. Now she is a lecturer in the Department of History in the St. Philaret's Christian Orthodox Institute (Moscow, Russia). She is the author of a book "Zabytye Ludi: Istoriia rossiiskogo kommunitarnogo dvizheniai" (The Forgotten People: A history of the Russian communitarian movement) (Moscow: AIRO-XX, 2000, 2nd edition -2017), published following her PhD thesis. Her research interests embrace the Tolstoyan movement, Russian communitarianism and utopianism, history of conscientious objection, alternative social movements, pacifism and nonviolence in Russia. Her current project dedicates the history of pacifist movement in Russia from Tolstoyans of the beginning of the XX century to the independent peace activism of the late Soviet period (Group for Establishing Trust between East and West and Soviet hippies' pacifist activity). She also traces the history of hippie movement, movement of Soviet disabled people and grassroots ecumenical movement as a part of the late Soviet independent peace movement.



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