Novomirsky's "Iz programmi sindikalnovo anarkhizma" ("Anarchism's trade union programme")

Witness evidence and a mini-biography of the author.

Kropotkin [1]: “At no time did we ever see eye to eye with Novomirsky. He is an individual with too much liking for power, and hence he cannot get along with anarchists. Which was of course why he mixed with the Maximalists (a variety of Blanquists with an anarchistic social programme) but what the Maximalists may have to offer the liberation movement remains to be seen” [2] (March 1907)

Nestor Makhno: “[In Moscow prison in 1911] Kirilovski did not arouse much sympathy among his [anarchist] comrades. Even then he was torn between anarchism, individualism and Judaism. As a result, the workers in particular wanted no truck with him” [Nestor Makhno, Memoires et ecrits 1917-1932 (introduction and translation by Alexandre Skirda).

Note added by Skirda: “Kirilovski was primarily known by his pen-name, Novomirsky. He was the author of the Anarcho-Communist Manifesto (1904) and The Anarcho-Syndicalist Programme (1907), writings that had a degree of influence in their day. His thinking later evolved: in 1917, he backed Kropotkin’s stand in favour of war against Germany, before joining the Bolshevik Party in 1918, holding important positions within it. He finished up quitting the Party and disappeared during the Stalinist purges in 1936-1939.” (p 55)

A biography in Russian refers to him as Daniil Novomirsky (real name Yakob Isaevich Kirillovsky, although Michael Confino refers to him as Yankel Isakov (or Yakov Isaakov) Kirillovsky. He was born on 5 March 1882 in Gaisin (northern Ukraine, Kamenets Podolski province) into a family of teachers. He was schooled in Odessa and studied law in Paris. From 1900 onwards he was a Social Democrat. Arrested in February 1904, he was convicted but freed on bail in September 1904 and emigrated.

Once abroad, he sided with the anarchists. Between November 1905 and 1907 he shuttled backwards and forwards between Odessa and abroad and was involved in a number of bank robberies.

Arrested in 1907, he was convicted and sentenced in Odessa to an 8 year prison term of which he served 2 years in Odessa and the remainder in the Butyrki prison in Moscow up until 1915. He was then banished to a town in Siberia, in Irkutsk province. From where he escaped to the USA.

On 19 May 1920 (by which time he had become a Bolshevik) he had an Open Letter to Anarchists published in Pravda. But by 1922 was scathing in his criticism of Bolshevism. He later published pieces about anarchist history. In 1936 he vanished during the purges. Michael Confino contends that he was a Comintern official who, “feeling let down by the NEP which he described as abandoning the aims of the revolution, he left the Party and devoted himself to research. […] Arrested with his wife during the 1936-1937 purges, he was deported along with her to Siberia, where they died on a date unknown.” [3]

From his book The Anarcho-Syndicalist Programme:

The significance of Novomirsky’s approach was his vision of an idealised and out-of-context revolutionary syndicalism. [4] “Trade unionism [5] represents the tactics of the bourgeois liberal, parliamentarism is the tactic of the intellectuals’ collectivism, revolutionary syndicalism is the path to a labour anarchism […] Hence the collectivists who have acknowledged revolutionary syndicalism’s tactics and who, out of fear, have stuck with the ranks of the Social Democracy, will sooner or later, come over to us. And even those honest anarchists who reject revolutionary syndicalism will sooner or later be persuaded of the utter pointlessness of their efforts and that, in the absence of the collaboration of the broad masses of the organised proletariat they descend into apathy; and turn from hot-headed revolutionaries into harmless dreamers and charlatans. Our slogan is Revolution for the people, carried out by the people itself.” [6]


The author has set himself two goals: first to set out a general critique of the mainstays of social democracy; then to set out the general lines of that tendency within anarchism that the French call syndicalism and the Germans Gewerkschaftlicher Anarchismus.

There is no question as to the importance of these tasks. There is no way that one can start to explain anarchism without criticising some of the positions of “scientific socialism” so-called, without first cleaning up socialism’s filth.

On the other hand, I cannot stick within the broad principles of anarchism for two reasons. First, the works of Kropotkin, Jean Grave, Bakunin, Malatesta, Malato and other anarchists have already spelled out the essence of communism and the precept of rejection of power. It being impossible for me to deepen and extrapolate upon the investigations of the writers I have mentioned, I must in effect turn to the older studies familiar to us all. That, it seems to me, is enough and this is why the chapters ‘Collectivism and Communism’, ‘Crime and Punishment’, ‘Self-organisation of the People’ touch upon these issues very briefly. Since I am more concerned with familiarising myself in greater detail with the [social] struggle, allow me to refer [readers] to the aforesaid works of the theorists of anarchism, particularly Kropotkin’s classic The Conquest of Bread [and the chapter on] “The Wage System”, etc. Secondly, whilst there is one approach, namely Kropotkin’s teaching, that holds sway within anarchist literature, it strikes me as utterly muddle-headed [7] and replete with remnants of populist prejudices with its extreme subjectivity, sentimentality and erudite humanism. We Russian anarchists who have passed through the marxist school cannot make do with the muddle-headed, sentimental phraseology which our elderly teacher all too often resorts to as arguments. We seek to base our approach on the sound realist foundations of the class struggle, rather than on some muddle about ‘mutual aid’ .We take serious issue with Kropotkin and his followers in Russia, the so-called Khlebovoltsi [supporters of the review Khleb i Volya (Bread and Freedom)] in everything conected with tactical and organisational issues.

On all of these grounds, I believe I need to speak, not in the name of anarchism in general (and of those anarchists who identify with Kropotkin’s teachings) but on behalf of this new departure in Russian anarchism, which, from the outset, has taken on the name of syndicalism. [8] There was one emigré newspaper, Novy Mir [New World] that committed itself to this approach, but unfortunately it was as short-lived as most Russian anarchist newspapers tend to be. [Novomirsky published several articles in its columns, articles he returned to in this book.]

I think it might be worthwhile adding that I was able to spell out the main principles underlying my approach two years ago in a pamphlet entitled Manifest anarkhistov-kommunistov (The Anarcho-Communist Manifesto).


The book’s table of contents
Chapter I: Scientific Socialism (pp. 6-9)
Chapter II: A Few Words about the Forces of Production (pp. 10-15)
Chapter III: The Spirit of revolt and consciousness (pp. 11-20)
Chapter IV: In Defence of Freedom (pp. 21-28)
Chapter V: Authority (pp. 22-36)
Chapter VI: Collectivism and Communism (pp. 37-48)
Chapter VII: Crime and Punishment (pp. 49-51)
Chapter VIII: Self-organisation of the people (pp. 52-61)
Chapter IX: The State and property (pp. 62-66)
Chapter X: How [the Social Democrats] would like to be seen and what they are in practice (pp. 67-89)
Chapter XI: Liberalism, socialism and anarchism (pp. 90-104)
Chapter XII: The class nature of Social Democracy (pp. 105-114)
Chapter XIII: The taking of power (pp. 115-124)
Chapter XIV: The two dictatorships (pp. 125-133)
Chapter XV: Reforms, parliamentarism, direct action (pp. 134-145)
Chapter XVI: Trade unionism, Social Democracy and revolutionary syndicalism (pp. 146-156)
Chapter XVII: On Expropriation (pp. 157-166)
Chapter XVIII: Anarchism, organisation and the party (pp. 167-173)
Chapter XIX: Pressing issues for Russian anarchism (pp. 174-184)
Chapter XX: Now what? (pp. 185-192)
Chapter XXI: Draft (11 point) Anarcho-syndicalist programme (pp. 193-197)
Summation (p. 198)

To sum up:

1) It strikes us as crucial that a programme and clear cut tactics de drawn up. And that all of the most wholesome elements of Russian anarchism be brought together, on foot of the general guidelines of said programme: the anarchist party.

2) In the realms of ideas and organisation, we must stand apart from those suspect elements which peddle and practise the theory of theft as an anarchist weapon of struggle.

3) At the very core of our activism we should have participation in the revolutionary trade union movement, with an eye to its becoming anarchist.

4) Our practical watchword is: wholesale boycott of all state institutions, especially the army and parliament, and the proclamation in the cities and villages of workers’ communes with soviets headed by workers’ representatives and operating as economic committees.

These points make up the basis for practical action on behalf of this approach, for which I stand.” [9]

Taken from the Draft Anarcho-Syndicalist Programme:

1) In essence any society is simply a specific form of collaboration, that is, a specific form of the common battle against nature […]

4) In order to protect their privileges, the propertied classes need some stability in property relations, that is, some guarantee of the ownership afforded them by the means and products of production. Hence the need for law, courts, police, army and state […]

8) The state cannot wither away until such time as the factors of a new life have been hatched within the framework of the old regime. Since society is mainly the organisation of production, for the old society and the old organisation of the producers to be toppled, a fresh organisation of production with new social relationships and new forms of property must first be nurtured in the bosom of the doomed society.

9) The embryo of the Worldwide Free Workers’ Union of the future in the context of current capitalist society is the labour unions (…)

10) No state can openly permit social forces to organise freely within the framework of the law. Consequently, the anarchist revolutionary syndicates which are bent on bringing anarcho-syndicalism to pass, can and must be exclusively against the law and clandestine. Russian anarcho-syndicalism is conjuring into existence in Russia a Pan-Russian Union of Secret Revolutionary Anarchist Endeavour.

11) Together with the task of creating unions of revolutionary workers - small cells of the free, worker society of the future - and together with workers’ participation in the direct fight with capitalism, Russian anarchists must mount relentless revolutionary struggle against the state, unremittingly dealing it heavy blows, weakening it and destroying it. This destructive effort consists of terrorist attacks on the powers of representatives [of state], capital and church, through rejection of taxation, military service, a shunning of all state institutions, large-scale, violent expropriation of financial hubs, state banks. etc.”


1, Anarchistes en exil (Correspondance inédite de Pierre Kropotkine à Marie Goldsmith 1897-1917), Paris 1995, pp. 235, 243, 272-273 in Russian. The notes, in French, are a valuable contribution from the anthologist Michael Confino (Bulgaria 1926-Israel 2010) who also clarifies the dealings between Bakunin and Nechayev. Of the 368 letters exchanged only half a dozen are not in Russian.

2, The Maximalists represented the Union of Maximalist Socialist Revolutionaries who at first sided with the Bolsheviks only to be quickly gobbled up or eliminated by them.

3, Anarchistes en exil pp. 551-552

4, See

5, Trade unionism meaning unionisation with no class struggle nor aspiration to social change in mind.

6, End of Chapter XVI, pp. 155-156

7, It remains to be seen to what extent the personal animosity to which Kropotkin referred was key to the very cavalier stance subsequently set out by Novomirsky.

8, In English and in Russian alike, ‘syndicalism’ has the ring of a term that is foreign, obsolete and the English prefer the word ‘Union’ and the Russians ‘profsoyuz’ (i.e. trade union).

9, Close of Chapter XIX “Pressing Issues for Russian Anarchism” .This is all of page 184.

From: Article taken from . Translated by: Paul Sharkey.