Martin GUDELL (1906-1993)

Martin GUDELL (1906-1993)

Martynas Gudells, better known as Martin Gudell Petrowsky – although he used other pseudonyms such as Martyno Gudelio, M. Skynimas, M. Petrowsky, P. Šalna, L. Guoba, V. Davainis and so forth – was born on 29 March (or 16 March according to the Julian calendar) in Rochester, New York, USA. Of Lithuanian extraction, he was a US citizen. He received his secondary education at the Marijampole Institute (in Suvalkija, Lithuania). From 1926 to 1929 he was a student in Kaunas (Lithuania) and at the University of Berlin, reading a number of subjects (economics, languages, journalism). He worked as a journalist in Lithuania and in Berlin, on a number of publications (Aušrine, Kovos Kelias, Kultura, Darbas etc.) and belonged to the LSMO (Lietuvos Socialistines Maksleivijos Organizacija/ Lithuanian Socialist Students’ Organization). At the same time he was a member of Karl Korsch’s councilist Marxist circle but he made contact with Augustin Souchy, the then secretary of the International Workers’ Association (IWA) and this tilted him in the direction of the libertarian movement and anarcho-syndicalism. As a member of the Lietuvos Socialisty Revoliucionieriy Maksimalisty Sajunga or LSRMS (Maximalist Revolutionary Lithuanian Students’  Union) he was involved on 6 May 1929, together with the writers Aleksandras Vosylius and Andrius Bulota, in the abortive attempt to assassinate the Lithuanian prime minister, Augustinas Voldemaras, at the State Theatre in Kaunas, an attack that resulted in the death of Captain Pranas Gudynas. Vosylius was arrested, tried and executed but Bulota, his partner and Martynas Gudelis managed to escape to Poland and then on to Austria via Czechoslovakia. 

Later he became the correspondent of Lithuanian newspaper Lietuvos Žinios in Berlin and Paris. In 1932 he moved to Barcelona where, in addition to sending contributions to Lietuvos Žinios, he worked as a Russian language teacher and joined the CNT. In Barcelona he lived with a number of German anarcho-syndicalist comrades, especially Arthur Lewin. In Catalonia he claimed that he was the child of a White Russian mother (Petrowsky) and a Catalan anarcho-syndicalist by the name of Gudell who had moved to the United States.

In 1933, in Lithuanian, he published Sukilusi Ispanija (Revolt in Spain) on the anarchist revolutionary movement under the Second Republic and, using the pen name M. Petrowsky, he translated Efim Yartchuk’s book Kronstadt. Its Significance in the Russian Revolution into Spanish. In November 1936, along with Francisco Carreño and José Berruezo Romera, he was a part (as translator) of the CNT delegation dispatched to Moscow to take part in the parade marking the October Russian Revolution. Also along on that trip was secretary Antoni Martí Sbert Massanet, who presided over the Second Republic’s extra-ordinary embassy to the USSR. In 1945 Gudell published, in Lithuanian, an important critical assessment of communist rule (Ka girdejau Soviety Sajungoje) which was then translated into Spanish and published in Mexico the following year as Lo que oí en la URSS [What I Heard in the USSR] and into Swedish as Spanjor I sovjet. Vad jag horde I SSRU. A member of the FAI Peninsular Committee, he was appointed in 1937 as secretary of the CNT-FAI Foreign Propaganda Office set up on 10 April that year and served alongside Helmut Rüdiger from the IWA as well as CNT representative Joaquín Cortés. The Office looked after the publication of newspapers, pamphlets, books, etc., in a range of languages.

After Ferdinand Götze quit the DAS [German Anarcho-Syndicalists] and following the launch of the SRDF (Sozial revolutionare Deutsche Freiheitsbewegung/ German Social Revolutionary Freedom Movement), Gudell and Gerhard Thofern and Eugen Scheyer threw their weight behind the latter group. 

From November to December 1937, he served on the CNT-FAI Court Service which defended the many comrades arrested for having had dealings with the POUM or for having deserted from the International Brigades following the clashes that occurred in the wake of the May 1937 clashes with the Stalinist reaction. However, his discretion when it came to detained German comrades was harshly criticized by the DAS. In a report from the special services of the PSUC (stalinists) in October 1937, Gudell was described as “a White Russian émigré” who, inside the CNT, headed “a blatantly counter-revolutionary group that worked closely with the POUM on the preparation and implementation of a counter-revolutionary coup in Bacelona.” In 1937, using the nom de plume M. Skynimas, he published his own Lithuanian translation of Vicente Blasco Ibanez’s novel, La Barraca: the Lithuanian title was Prakeikta žeme (Accursed Land). 

By 1938 he was a member of the Barcelona Agrupacion FAI. In October that year, along with Lola Iturbe and Pedro Herrera Camarero, he escorted the Veteran anarchist Emma Goldman, acting as her translator during her visit to the peninsula to see for herself the achievements of the Spanish Revolution as she moved between the front lines and the collectives. During the war, Gudell had contributed to broadcasts from Radio CNT-FAI as well as to Solidaridad Obrera and Umbral

When the Catalan front collapsed, he was in Paris where he co-signed with Mariano Rodriguez Vázquez and Nicolas an agreement transferring the CNT’s documentation holdings to the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam. And in February 1939 he and Simón Radowitzky (aka Raúl Gómez) smuggled those holdings over the border into France by lorry. In France he was interned in a range of concentration camps.

After the Second World War broke out in 1940, he moved back to the United States: as he had no papers verifying his American nationality, he won the immigration bureaucrats over by singing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, which song he had learnt in kindergarten. On 31 May 1941 he spoke at the posthumous tribute to Emma Goldman held in the Town Hall in New York; other speakers included Leonard D Abbott, John Haynes Holmes, Roger Baldwin, Norman Thomas, Harry Weinberger, Rose Pesotta, Harry Kelly, Rudolf Rocker, Dorothy Rogers, Eliot White and Clifford Demarest.

In 1941 he published, in Lithuanian, Ispany kovos del laisves. Svarbiausi pilietinio karo epizodai (Spain’s Fight for Freedom. Episodes from the Civil War). At the time he was contributing to the anarchist press in exile such as España Libre and Estudios Sociales, as well as in the New York-based Delo Truda

During the 1950s he contributed to Lithuanian literary reviews Literatüra and Literatüros Matraštis. Having settled in Chicago, he worked as an editor on the Lithuanian-language American socialist newspaper Naujienos/The Lithuanian Daily News, taking over the administration of it in 1951 and acting as editor-in-chief from 1969 to 1986. He chaired the Chicago-based Society of Lithuanian Authors. And also served as president of the ‘Žiburelio’ cultural association and was director of Chicago’s Lithuanian National Cemetery. Besides the works named above, he wrote, among others, Skynimai dega (1935), Boliaus Šilinio nuotykiai (1943), Martinaicio atsiminimai (1947), Lietuvai gyne savo miškus (1950) and Povilas Mileris. Biografijos bruožai (1973). Some writers also contend that he also use the pen name M. Perkunija. Martin Gudell died in Chicago on 4 July 1993. 

Some of his papers are on deposit at the IISH: his correspondence (with Emma Goldman, Andrius Bulota, Virgilio Gozzoli, Agnes Inglis, Jesús Lara Trueba, Vitas, Zhang Yan, etc.) reports on his CNT duties in Catalonia, personal papers and so on. 

Author: Emilia Páez Cervi

From Biografias del ‘36 edited by Paolo Casciola and Agustín Guillamón 

[Note: Martin Gudell Papers ]

Translated by: Paul Sharkey.