Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Anarchists Go on a Pilgrimage to Tver

For MTAn anarchist enjoying ice cream near the remaining south wing of the Bakunin family estate in Pryamukhino in the Tula region.
PRYAMUKHINO, Tver Region -- Pavel Glazkov is fed up with people who hear the word anarchy and instantly conjure up thoughts of debauched sailors wreaking havoc and chaos.

Anarchism is a moral thing above all, Glazkov says, and it hinges on order, self-discipline and mutual assistance.

A graduate student from Tambov, Glazkov is in the process of writing a thesis on Mikhail Bakunin, the 19th-century philosopher whose ideas laid the foundation for modern anarchism. And he is active in spreading the gospel of anarchy. Glazkov posts leaflets at his university urging students to take action. At a children's summer camp where he works as an educator, he tells children stories about anarchism before bedtime. The Tambov bar where he once worked as a bartender turned into a sort of a revolutionary circle full of conversation and debate, not unlike one of Bakunin's many secret societies.

"I'm trying to educate people," says Glazkov, 24, a gentle giant who wears black-rimmed glasses and two earrings in his left ear. "When I was a kid with an anarchy badge on my chest listening to the Sex Pistols no one told me what I was supposed to do as an anarchist."

Late last month, Glazkov traveled 10 hours by train and bus to Pryamukhino, the Bakunin family estate in the Tver region, in search of like-minded people. What he found was an improbable mix: white-bearded intellectuals studying the Russian gentry culture alongside pierced and tattooed 20-somethings in black T-shirts and ragged jeans who were doing little more than frolicking in nature away from their parents' control.

Glazkov spent a weekend in Pryamukhino. He took part in a scientific conference and civic duties like picking up trash in a park. At night he listened to romances -- lyrical, sentimental songs -- and drank vodka with the academics. Then it was time for a drunken rendition of the "Mother Anarchy" song by the kids, who described themselves as anarcho-communists, Marxists, Maoists, hippies and anti-fascist skinheads.

Yulia Solovyova / For MT

Young anarchists cleaning up the estate's park after skinny-dipping in the creek.

"It was great," Glazkov enthused. "I met young people who are into ideas, and they don't just stick to some stiff, outdated beliefs, but take them further."

The Pryamukhino Free Co-Op was created in 1995, when a group of students from Moscow decided that Bakunin's birthplace, which was formally protected by the state, actually needed protection from the state. Since then, a few dozen anarchists from central Russia and, occasionally, from abroad, have come here every summer to work in the park, scandalize the locals by skinny-dipping in the creek and debate anarchism around the campfire. They live in a cramped log house with a black anarchy flag flying from the roof and a sign over the door that reads, "Work is the best hangover treatment."

The anarchist movement can encompass certain elements of other ideologies, such as Maoism and communism, while rejecting those components relating to authoritarian political control. The anarchist movement is not uniform, but this doesn't appear to present a problem. "What's important is the rejection of the state, hierarchy, clericalism, dominance, all dogmas, everything that's dead and rotten," said Vasily Prytkov, who helped organize this summer's co-op. "People who come here share these ideals.

Pryamukhino's mixed appeal is the result of its rich heritage. In the 19th century, this traditional nobles' nest was a nationwide cultural magnet. Bakunin's parents and 10 siblings were well-educated people known for their various talents, bon vivant habits and a taste for sophisticated company. Leading lights of the times, such as literary critic Vissarion Belinsky, novelists Ivan Turgenev and Leo Tolstoi and thinker Nikolai Stankevich, walked among the exotic plants that grew in the estate's sumptuous park.

All in all, the Pryamukhino harmony, as the contemporaries described life on the estate, shared little of the rebellious spirit of its most famous resident -- the man who was all passion and bustle and pure will, the prototype of Richard Wagner's Siegfried and the very model of a thunderbolt-hurling revolutionary.

Bakunin believed that the state and capitalism are evil and must be destroyed. He fought for a society based upon justice, equality and freedom. Being more of a doer than a writer, he threw himself into the insurrections that burst across Europe like thunderstorms in his day. Bakunin is often contrasted with Karl Marx, and credited with forecasting the inevitable connection between state communism and the Gulag.


Yulia Solovyova / For MT

Sergei Kornilov playing the piano in his home during a get-together to sing love songs.

Bakunin's prophecies came true in the Soviet Union, and although streets across the country were named after him, his legacy was forgotten or distorted and anarchy became almost a swearword. Similarly, his family's country estate was plundered and destroyed. The great park, with fish ponds, artificial waterfalls and hills, became neglected and overgrown.

Today, Bakunin's followers include the ragtag members of the international New Left movement, who share the values of anti-globalism, pacifism, environmentalism and human rights. In Russia, they are few and have little formal organization, with few exceptions, including the groups Avtonomnoye Deistviye, or Autonomous Action, and the Russian branch of the Rainbow Keepers, a radical eco-anarchist group.

"Collective social activity is much more important than setting up formal organizations," said Mikhail, 31, one of the founders of the Pryamukhino Free Co-Op, who asked that his last name not to be used. "In Russia, people don't have faith left in collective action and social change. But it's necessary to keep trying."

The anarchists occasionally participate in joint actions and social protests like the annual anti-capitalism rally in Moscow. Otherwise they are largely invisible on Russia's political landscape.

On a recent Sunday morning, a group of anarchists, looking slightly woozy from the night before, trickled into a garden. While some camp goers are serious about anarchism, others are clearly there for the lifestyle that the relaxed environment provides -- especially given the fact that the Bakunin Foundation covers all transportation and food costs.

The anarchists settled on the grass among flowers and buzzing bees, where they conducted a meeting concerning the areas of the camp that needed the most work. Soon, armed with a variety of garden tools, they began trimming plants in the park and cleaning up a pond under the supervision of Sergei Kornilov.

Kornilov is a director of the Bakunin Foundation, which was created to promote the legacy of the Bakunin family and restore the estate. A former theater director who says he was too brainwashed to care about anarchism in Soviet times, Kornilov, 65, has dedicated his life to the Pryamukhino estate since he moved there from Moscow in 1998.

A tanned and energetic man who looks like a 19th-century aristocrat, Kornilov mapped out Pryamukhino's future as an artist would. Tourists were to stay in the recreated interiors of the Bakunin house, and church services, grand balls and theater plays would be staged in the vaulted basement of the remaining south wing of the estate.

"I looked up plays about Mikhail Bakunin, and there weren't any," Kornilov said. "So I decided to write one myself." Kornilov has written a trilogy of plays about Bakunin.

Meanwhile, Glazkov, the Bakunin scholar from Tambov, wrestles with applying his ideas to contemporary realities.

"Go tell a Muscovite whose relative was killed in a terrorist act that Russia needs anarchism and they'll tell you, 'What are you, crazy?'" he said. "People are tired of terrorism, Marxism, and other isms. What they want is stability and strong leadership."