Olga Freidlin-Maximoff

On May 7 1973, Olga Freidlin-Maximoff, widow of the well known Anarchist writer and militant Gregory Maximoff, (who edited Bakunin’s Political Philosophy) passed away in Chicago. Olga Freidlin was born in Smolensk near the close of the last century into a prosperous Jewish family which gave her an excellent education. The revolutionary storm which burst upon Russia early in the new century swept her up and deposited her in Ekaterinoslav, where she met the celebrated Olga Taratuta, who introduced her to Anarchism. Like Taratuta, young Olga was arrested and condemned to a long term of exile in Siberia. Liberated by the February revolution of 1917, she came to Kharkov, where she took an active part in the Anarchist movement. Soon afterwards she moved to Petrograd, which was then the center of Anarchist activity and the home of Golos Truda (The Voice of Labor) and its publishing house, which reprinted the most important works of the outstanding Anarchist theorists. Joining Golos Truda, Olga became the manager of its bookstore and met Gregory Maximoff, who became her lifelong companion.

After the Bolshevik seizure of power, Anarchist activity in Petrograd became increasingly difficult, so the Golos Truda press was moved to Moscow. There Olga resumed her post in the bookstore, while Gregory devoted his energies to the newspaper. In March 1918, however, the Bolshevik capital was also transferred to Moscow. From the outset the Bolsheviks displayed an implacable intolerance of anyone who thought differently from themselves. All newspapers which did not give unqualified support to the Bolshevik cause were shut down. Among them was Golos Truda, many of whose members, including Gregory Maximoff, were arrested, though Olga remained at liberty and continued to manage the bookstore, which for the moment was left undisturbed.

Before long a large number of Anarchists had been locked up in Moscow’s prisons. To assist them, a Black Cross group was founded, in which Olga took an active part. In 1921 a number of imprisoned Anarchists declared a hunger strike, which the Bolsheviks tried in vain to suppress. Olga, as the wife of an inmate, was allowed to visit the prison, and she did everything possible to spread the news of the strike. To avoid unfavorable repercussions among the foreign workers, Lenin finally decided to release some of the Anarchists on condition that they leave the country. Thus, at the beginning of 1922, a group of Russian Anarchists, including Gregory and Olga Maximoff, were able to leave their homeland and travel to Berlin, without a penny in their pockets or any knowledge of the German language. On no account did Olga wish to see Maximoff cease his literary activities, above all his work on Bakunin. But Germany too soon began to smell of totalitarianism, so the couple moved on to Paris – and yet another unfamiliar language. Finding no more contentment in Paris than they had found in Berlin, they at length emigrated to the United States and settled in Chicago.

By education Gregory Maximoff was an agronomist, and his friends in America advised him to learn English so as to acquire a position in his profession. Maximoff, however, lived with the hope that Russia would soon free itself from the Bolshevik regime, and he meanwhile learned the trade of paperhanger until he might leave America, which he found repugnantly materialistic. After a hard day of physical labor he would throw himself into editing the journal Delo Truda (The Cause of Labor) and he also resumed his extensive work on Bakunin. Maximoff’s exhausting labors, combined with his dissatisfaction with America, undermined his health. In 1950 his heart finally gave out, and he died prematurely at the age of 56.

For Olga the death of her beloved companion was a terrible blow, but she managed to withstand it and to continue her work as a cashier for a large Chicago concern, and so was able to outlive her husband by almost a quarter-century. As before, she remained active in all Anarchist undertakings in Chicago.

An avid reader, Olga followed world events and was well versed in great literature. Although she was active in gathering aid for needy Anarchists, she herself strove to remain self-sufficient and seldom approached her friends for assistance, even in the most trying circumstances, which included a crippling accident on one of Chicago’s icy streets, and the development of total deafness.

She was a true bearer of the Anarchist ideal, the embodiment of its fullest beauty.

From: The Match! Vol. 4, No. 10 (October 1973), p. 11..