Anarchists in Moscow, 1918: Squatted Mansions and Poets' Cafe

An excerpt from “Budetlyanin nauki” (the title can be translated as “Futurist of science”), a book of memoirs by linguist Roman Jakobson*, as recorded and annotated by Bengt Jangfeldt.

Soon after the October [1917] revolution I was visiting Elsa [Triolet*] at her home near Pyatnitskaya Street. I suggested that we go to the Poets’ Cafe*…

The audience was very diverse. There were some actual ex-bourgeois, who listened to [poems like Vladimir Mayakovsky’s*] “Eat pineapples, chew hazel hen, your last day is coming, you bourgeois!” There were some people from the streets who knew nothing about poetry, there were some curious youths. At the time residents of [squatted] houses, mansions were already appearing - the anarchists. On that night suddenly an anarchist wearing some strange, semi-military uniform performed. He said: “There were some poems read here but I’ll tell you how I got married.” And he read, with great narrative technique, the technique of a low farce performer, a well-known popular-print text which exists in various versions from the 18th century, a derision of a pathetic wedding and a pathetic, ugly, poor, disgusting wife. A folklorist still lived in me, I came up to him: “I would very much like to record this, you told it so well.” - “No, I just came here for fun and entertainment. Come to my place.” - “Where’s that?” - “It’s called the House of Immediate Socialists.”* I was going to visit but never got around to it, and soon thereafter the anarchists were dispersed…

By the end of the night, when the audience was relatively small, the Chekists came to check the papers, to find out what sort of people were there. Either my papers were insufficient, or I did not have any papers at all, and they started to bother me, when on my behalf intervened, on the one hand, [Vasily] Kamensky* - “He’s our man, he works with us” - and on the other hand, particularly strongly and impressively, “futurist of life” Vladimir Gol’tsshmidt* - and so the Chekists left me alone. Gol’tsshmidt was a terribly strong man, and he broke planks over his head at the Poets’ Cafe…

In the spring of 1918, David Burliuk* lived at an anarchist house - there were lots of cases then of people living at anarchist houses. They were mansions, aristocratic or just rich, squatted and robbed inch by inch. Volodya [Mayakovsky] told me that Burliuk somehow used porcelain or crystal ware [from these houses]. It was noticed but he hid it all and carried it away. Also, he had brothers who were in the White Army.”

Roman Yakobson. Budetlyanin nauki: vospominaniya, pis’ma, stat’i, stikhi, proza. Moscow, Gileya, 2012, pp. 61-63,_pisma,_stati,_stihi,_proza__sost.,_podg._teksta,_vstup._stati_i_komm._b._jangfeldta.html


* Roman Jakobson (1896-1982) - Russian linguist and literary theorist.

* Elsa Triolet (1896-1970) - French author of Russian origin, Resistance fighter during World War II.

* Poets’ Cafe opened in Autumn 1917 at the corner of Nastas’insky Lane and Tverskaya Street. “Anarchists were amongst its regulars, as the cafe offered a convenient meeting place for them (Spassky S., “Mayakovsky i yego sputniki”, Leningrad, 1940, p. 109). Maykovsky’s close friend L.A. Grinkrug, who visited it on an almost nightly basis, remembered: “Very often the anarchists were coming. They occupied the building of the former merchant club in Malaya Dmitrovka Street. From time to time they started scandals with shooting” (B. Jangfeldt archive). Anarchists, for their part, viewed futurists as their allies, and The Futurist Newspaper [Gazeta Futuristov], which was published in March 1918, was listed as one of the anarchist outlets in the anarchist magazine Revolutionary Creativity [Revolyutsionnoye Tvorchestvo], I-II, 1918. On the night of April 12, 1918, the Cheka conducted a raid on the Moscow anarchists, and two days later, no doubt in connection with that, the Poets’ Cafe was shut down.” - note by Bengt Jangfeldt, in: Roman Yakobson. Budetlyanin nauki: vospominaniya, pis’ma, stat’i, stikhi, proza. Moscow, Gileya, 2012, p. 231.

* Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930) - Russian Futurist poet and playwright.

* “Amongst the numerous and short-lived anarchist organisations there was a group of “immediate socialists.” - note by Bengt Jangfeldt, p. 231.

* Vasily Kamensky (1884 - 1961) - Russian Futurist poet and aviator.

* “Vladimir Robertovich Gol’tsshmidt, “futurist of life”, one of the organisers of the Poets’ Cafe, preacher of the “health and sun” philosophy. His main contribution to the history of futurist epatage was breaking wooden planks over his head on the cafe’s stage. Gol’tsshmidt was closely connected with anarchists. After the Poets’ Cafe closed, he ended up, like David Burliuk, in the Far East; he was last seen in Japan.” - note by Bengt Jangfeldt, p. 231.

* David Burliuk (1882 - 1967) - Russian Futurist painter and poet. “Jakobson’s memoirs shed some new light on Burliuk’s sudden departure from Moscow after the Cheka raid against anarchists in April 1918. Burliuk’s younger brother Nikolay (b. 1890) was arrested by the Red Army in December 1920 and sentenced to be shot. He was executed on December 27.” - note by Bengt Jangfeldt, p. 232.

Translated by: - Szarapow.