Shlioma Asnin

[Asnin was killed in the retaking of the Durnova dacha by government forces in Petrograd in June 1917. In this article Ivanov shows how an “ordinary” criminal could come to join the anarchists, and how his dead body, with its tattoos recording his “criminal past” was used to justify the repression.]

“Asnin derived the political authority sufficient for participation in the anarchist activities and for turning into a martyr and a hero after his death not from his elocutionary or literary talents, most likely not from his organizational or combat skills either, but from the political hard-labor subculture. Revolutionary subculture dictated to its participants “lifestyle, and forms of leisure, and range of books to read, and behavioral norms, … and even personal appearance.”  Russian revolutionary subculture was formed by the intelligentsia, but the boundaries of intelligentsia as a group were often rather blurred, and relations of radicalized intelligenty [members of intelligentsia] with the law were frequently rather tense. Would it be too much of a stretch to call Asnin – a self-taught poet and sociologist, teacher’s son – an intelligent? The rapid growth of the revolutionary movement in the early 20th century brought representatives of very different layers of Russian society into contact with the revolutionary underground subculture. Penitentiary system was the main point of contact between revolutionary and common-criminal subcultures. It changed both the revolutionaries and the inmates sentenced for common crimes.”

From “The Dying Criminal”: The Image of the Anarchist Shlioma Asnin and the Political Struggle in Petrograd, June 1917 by Dmitrii I. Ivanov in The Journal of Regional History (2587-8344) V.4 No.3