Vladimir Barmash was born in a village near Ivanovo-Voznesensk (now Ivanovo). This village was very small and everyone who lived there had the family name Barmash. Despite the disadvantages of coming from a peasant background, he was successful at school and afterwards went to Moscow where he completed three courses in the people’s university of Alfons Shaniavsky. In the 1900s he studied at the Agrarian Academy of Petrovsko-Razumovskoe and was awarded a diploma in agronomy. In 1905 Barmash joined a Moscow cell of the Social-Revolutionary Party. He took part in the armed struggle in Moscow in December 1905. At the beginning of 1906 after the split in the Social-Revolutionary Party, he joined an armed group of the opposition fraction, the Maximalists. He took part in an expropriation of 800,000 roubles from the bank, the Society of Mutual Credit, in early March 1906.
In June 1906 Barmash moved to anarchism and set up in Moscow the anarchist communist group the Free Commune. He took part in mass propaganda and in armed actions. On the 27th June 1906 the Moscow anarchist group approved the declaration and programme developed by Barmash. This stated that the role of the anarchist-communist groups was: organisation of the workers, peasants and lumpen proletariat, for the expropriation and socialisation of private property; preparation of a general strike of the workers; anarchist participation in the unions was necessary to neutralise the influence of reformist political parties ; boycott of all government organs and parliamentary structures; refusal of expropriations for personal profit – any expropriations only came from the need to finance anarchist propaganda; anarchist refusal to work with any political party. Throughout 1906 Barmash propagandised in Moscow factories, distributing anarchist literature. He was one of organisers of the explosion at the building of the Moscow Administrative Guard in July 1906. In autumn 1906 the Free Commune needed money for literature and other projects . Barmash organised some expropriations but was captured. He was condemned to 3 years imprisonment by a Moscow tribunal. After he was freed in 1909 he lived in exile. He returned to Moscow but was again arrested and exiled in 1912, or according to other reports he was indicted for the trial of the Free Commune in 1908. As an organiser he risked the death penalty so decided to simulate mental illness and was put in an asylum. He escaped from there and fled to France.
He was on 2nd March 1917 freed from Butirky prison in Moscow (how he got there, and on what charges it is not clear). He then created local anarchist-communist cells in the Lefortovo district of Moscow, and working with other groups created the Federation of Anarchist Groups of Moscow (FAGM). Barmash was one of its secretaries, a member of its Council and its treasurer in 1917-1918. He organised a big project of publishing anarchist books for the FAGM. In autumn 1917 he propagandised among Moscow workers and was celebrated as a fiery orator. He took an active part in the October revolution. Between September 1917 and April 1918 he was an editor of the anarchist paper Anarkhiia. On the 12th April 1918 with the attack on the Moscow anarchist movement by the Cheka, Barmash was arrested. With the other members of the FAGM, Barmash was accused of harbouring bandits and criminals but no trial took place and in May 1918 all were freed. On 6th May 1918 Barmash took part in the Council of the FAGM with a report on the Council and local groups. In summer 1918 he spoke at many meetings and accused the Bolsheviks of betraying the revolution and of carrying out reprisals against anarchists and workers. In autumn of the same year he worked together with other prominent anarchist communists the Gordin brothers.
Between 1918 and1921 Barmash worked in different structures, was a deputy of the Moscow soviet, worked as a teacher and in several banks. In April 1919 he was one of the leading lights of the Moscow Union of Anarchist-Syndicalists-Communists. According to unconfirmed reports he had links with the Underground Anarchists who carried out attacks on the Bolsheviks. In September or October 1919 Barmash went to the Ukraine and joined the Makhnovists. He was one of its most popular propagandists and guided its cultural-educational section in the Greek village of Kremenchuk. He later returned to Moscow.
In August 1920 he was one of the organisers of the Moscow section of the anarchist-universalists (MSAU), one of the authors of its platform and worked on its paper Universal, (1920-1921). In this period for a time he supported the idea of working with the Soviet government, but after the crushing of the Kronstadt revolt he came out in strong opposition against the Bolsheviks. In November or December 1921 he was arrested after a raid on the MSAU and was exiled to Kostroma without any formal charges.
In 1923 he was arrested for desertion. NKVD judges sentenced him on 4th May to 2 years of exile in Ziranska oblast (now a region of Tomsk province.) This decision was reversed and Barmash was allowed free residence in the USSR. He returned to Moscow and worked as a house administator. He joined the socio-economic section of the All-Russia Public Committee for honouring the memory of Peter Kropotkin (EQA), and participated in the work of the Kropotkin Museum. In summer 1927 with other anarchists he organised a solidarity campaign for Sacco and Vanzetti. He was one of twelve – with Borovoi, Rogdaev,etc.- who sent abroad a telegram concerning the case and attempted to organise public meetings which were refused by the Moscow authorities on several occasions. He formed a close friendship with Noi Varshavskij who wrote a leaflet protesting the hypocrisy of the Soviet government and calling for its overthrow.It is likely that Barmash was involved with this but Varshavskiy after his arrest stubbornly and heroically refused to name anyone else.
In 1927-1928 he took part, alongside Rogdaev in the conflict between anarchists and “anarcho-mystics” ( a group manipulated by the State secret police) at the Kropotkin museum. As a result in March 1928 he was forced to resign from the committee. By this time, he was with Rogdaev, Borovoi. Khudolei and Kharkhardin, one of the most active supporters of the Organisational Platform in the Soviet Union.
In 1929 Barmash lived in Mozhaisk and worked at the Moscow Agricultural Credit Bank. On 15th June 1929 he was arrested with many other old anarchists, and of accused of creating illegal anarchist groups, distributing anti-Soviet literature and links with anarchists outside the Soviet Union. He was condemned to 3 years in a political isolator at Suzdal. In August 1930 he was transferred to Butirky prison for a medical operation and after this sent to a polit-isolator at Verkĥneuralsk.
In June 1932 he was condemned to 3 years exile in Siberia. From 1934 up to January 1935 he was in Yeniseisk, working as an agronomist. On 25th January 1935 he was arrested again for anti-Soviet acts and condemned to 3 years in Verkhneuralsk politico-isolator. Here he founded the Verkhneuralsk Anarchist Group which advocated illegal anarchist organization to bring together the remnants of the movement and mobilise against the state capitalist regime and to develop a programme. He was allowed to join the Institute of Distance Education at the Agricultural Academy under the name of Kliment Timirjazev. In 1938 he was arrested again and condemned to 5 years in a concentration camp. This is the last mention of Barmash in the archives. After that, all trace was lost of him.
Avrich, P. The Russian Anarchists.
Rublyov, D. I. The Story of a Leaflet and the Fate of the Anarchist Varshavskiy in After Makhno. Kate Sharpley Library.
Makhno site (in Russian) http://www.makhno.ru/
[NB see this letter regarding Barmash’s execution in 1937 https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/5dv5gp ]