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Obituary: Alexandre Skirda (1942-2020)

The influential French historian and translator, best known for his research on revolutionary Ukraine in the early 20th century, died on Wednesday December 23rd.

Alongside his extensive series of works on Russian radicalism, the Makhnovtchina and Krondstadt, Skirda published Facing the Enemy: A History of Anarchist Organisation (Autonomie Individuelle et Force Collective: Les Anarchistes et l’Organisation de Proudhon a nos Jours), the as yet untranslated biography of Jan Vaclav Makhajski Le Socialisme des Intellectuels and a number of highly critical works on Leninism, listed (in French) here.

He founded the Groupe d’Etudes et Action Anarchiste (Anarchist Studies and Action Group) with fellow anarchist historian Roland Biard when they were both 19, taking an active role in the wave of demonstration which took place against France’s war in Algeria. A number of his works are available at the Kate Sharpley Library.

The following tribute has been adapted from Le Monde Libertaire.

Following a long illness, our friend, our comrade, Alexandre Skirda passed away at the age of 78 years.

Did he go to the banks of the Dnieper to join Nestor Makhno, like him a descendant of the Zaporozhian Cossacks?

His interest in this region and his knowledge of the language had enabled him to get to know the revolutionary peasant movement in southern Ukraine, heir to several centuries of direct-democratic practice. In books such as Nestor Makhno — Anarchy’s Cossack: The Struggle for Free Soviets in the Ukraine 1917–1921, he showed how in this period the creation of free municipalities aimed to establish a stateless society, and the way in which the Bolshevik State then destroyed them – eliminating in the process the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine, which had made it possible to defeat the reactionary Whites.

Even today the name of Alexander Skirda winds up the majority of Trotskyist militants, who cannot forgive him for having revealed the way in which the Red Army, sent by Trotsky, crushed the Municipality of Kronstadt, which wanted for Russia a direct, federalist democracy, and declared on March 8th, 1921:

“It is here in Kronstadt that the first stone of the Third Revolution opposed to the bureaucratic order of the Bolsheviks was laid, leaving behind the dictatorship of the Communist Party, the chekas and state capitalism.”

By publishing Kronstadt 1921: Free Soviets Against Party Dictatorship, he granted at long last the wish of Stépan Pétrichenko, president of the Kronstadt Provisional Revolutionary Committee: “They can shoot the Kronstadians, but they will never be able to shoot the truth of Kronstadt.” His research enabled him to write several books on this historical event, which have been the subject of translations in various countries and numerous re-editions, enriched by new documents.

Most recently he had translated and presented Kronstadt in the Russian Revolution by Efim Yarchuk, previously unpublished. Yarchuk, one of the principal organisers of the Kronstadt anarchists, describes how he lived and dedicates his work “to those who shed their blood during the revolution of 1905 for the complete emancipation of the proletariat from the yoke of capital and authority. To those who fought in February and July 1917 against the masters of the world. Those who let themselves be deceived by the slogans of the proletarian state soon raised their arms against the new masters, the Bolsheviks. In memory of those who perished on the road leading to the Society of Free Men: Anarchy.”

Having had the opportunity to see that mountain of documents which fed his books, those mentioned here being only a part, we were able to measure the importance of his historical work revealing what has long been hidden — as much by the “whites” as the “reds” — about a revolution which had consequences, for decades, on the workers’ movement in many countries.

We will not forget Alexandre Skirda, that essential historian of the Russian revolution, and also the anarchist activist who, from the 1960s, led the Anarchist Study and Action Group.

~ Le Monde Libertaire

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