Alexander M. Schapiro (1882 or 1883–1946) was a Russian anarcho-syndicalist militant active in the international anarchist movement.
Schapiro was born in 1882 or 1883 in Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia, but grew up in Constantinople because his father Moses, a member of the secret revolutionary organization Narodnaya Volya, which attempted to assassinate Tsar Alexander II in 1881, was forced to flee the Russian Empire. There, he attended the French school. Schapiro spoke Yiddish, Russian, French, and Turkish, and would later learn German and English. In the mid-1890s, Moses converted to anarchism and Schapiro started studying the works of anarchist theorists Peter Kropotkin, Jean Grave and Élisée Reclus. After finishing school, Schapiro moved to Sofia, Bulgaria in 1899 to study mathematics and physics. In August 1900, he moved to Paris to attend the Sorbonne and possibly to participate in an international anarchist congress, which in the end was banned by the authorities. He started studying either biology with the intention of embarking on a career in medicine or engineering. He was forced to drop out for financial reasons. In Paris, he came to know many of the city's leading anarchists and was part of an anarcho-syndicalist group.
In 1900 or 1901, at Kropotkin's suggestion, Schapiro moved to London, where he joined his father, an active member of London's anarchist milieu. In London, Schapiro worked as an assistant for the physiologist Augustus Waller. This allowed Schapiro to devote a lot of his time to the anarchist movement, but he is also listed as an author on several publications from Waller's lab. He recruited the anarchist Thomas Keell as a test subject.
In London, Schapiro was a member of the Arbeter Fraynd collective. According to Sam Dreen, another member, he was intelligent and capable, but also a stubborn and overbearing intellectual who was not in touch with workers' issues. The collective was split on the question of participation in trade unions. Schapiro was opposed because he feared anarchist principles could be compromised by unionism. Fermin Rocker, Rudolf Rocker's son, liked Schapiro and considered him well-educated and intelligent, but dogmatic, intolerant, and self-important.
Schapiro was a delegate of the Jewish Anarchist Federation of London at the 1907 International Anarchist Congress in Amsterdam, at which he was elected one of three secretaries and became one of five members of a bureau calling itself the Anarchist International. In the years after the Russian Revolution of 1905, Russian anarchists were the targets of severe government repression. Hundreds were executed or sentenced to long prison terms and many fled to the west. In 1907, anarchist exiles established the Anarchist Red Cross to protest the Russian Empire's treatment of anarchists and help imprisoned activists. Along with Kropotkin, Varlam Cherkezov, and Rudolf Rocker, Schapiro directed the London headquarters of the network. Schapiro took part in the First International Syndicalist Congress in London in 1913. He did not represent any organization, but was one of two translators, with Christiaan Cornelissen the other. The German delegates praised Schapiro's objective approach, while Alfred Rosmer deemed him the only participant who did not lose his poise.
By the time World War I broke out, Schapiro was an important organizer in the international anarchist movement. He was a signatory to the International Anarchist Manifesto against the First World War issued in London in 1915. Schapiro was one of the few anarchist friends of Kropotkin not to cut his ties with the anarchist communist theorist over the latter's role in the pro-war Manifesto of the Sixteen.
After the February Revolution in 1917, Schapiro returned to Russia via the Pacific route, arriving in Petrograd in July. He was one of a number of a number of anarcho-syndicalists returning from exile. He initiated a Yiddish newspaper in Russia. He joined the Union of Anarcho-Syndicalist Propaganda and contributed to its journal Golos Truda and its publishing house. Golos Truda had previously been published in New York as the organ of the Union of Russian Workers of the United States and Canada, but was moved to Petrograd in 1917. The anarcho-syndicalists called for workers' control of production through factory committees, which they expected would be the organizations at the heart of future non-capitalist society. In this they agreed with the Bolsheviks. Like the Bolsheviks they also supported the soviets, but were wary that they were increasingly dominated by the former. Schapiro in September called for "complete decentralization and the very broadest self-direction of local organizations" in order to avoid the soviets becoming vehicles of political coercion. He called for the abolition of the state and an immediate general strike.
After the October Revolution, which Golos Truda supported and celebrated afterwards, the Bolsheviks took power and relations between them and the anarcho-syndicalists became more strained. Yet even as they criticized Bolshevik policy, the syndicalists collaborated with the Soviet government in its fight against the White Army in the Civil War, as they considered the Whites the greater evil that had to be defeated to allow for a Third Revolution. Schapiro started working for the Commissariat of Jewish Affairs in 1918, promoting the Soviet system among Jewish workers, but not specifically Bolshevism. By 1920, he had transferred to the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs where he worked as a translator. The Commissariat was led by Georgy Chicherin, whom he had gotten to know in London. Revolutionary anarchist-turned-Bolshevik Victor Serge in his Memoirs of a Revolutionary described Schapiro as a man "of critical and moderate temper".
In 1918, government repression against the anarchist movement began. In May, Golos Truda was shut down. Schapiro turned his attention to stopping this repression. In 1920, syndicalists from several western countries came to Moscow to attend the second congress of the Comintern. They knew little about conditions in Russia. While in Moscow, several syndicalists including Augustin Souchy, Ángel Pestaña, Armando Borghi, and Bertho Lepetit visited anarchists like Kropotkin, Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, and Schapiro. Schapiro relayed to them Russian syndicalists' critique of the regime and their fears of persecution. Some of those syndicalists then raised these issues with the Bolshevik leadership. After the congress, Alfred Rosmer, a French syndicalist, stayed in Russia. He supported Bolshevism and was elected to the Comintern's executive. Rosmer contacted Schapiro and met him at the Golos Truda printing house. The Russian syndicalists had written a letter of protest and hoped it would receive attention if Rosmer submitted it to the Comintern. Rosmer and Schapiro discussed the issue and Rosmer was optimistic it could be resolved. The Russian syndicalists' defiant tone surprised Rosmer and he refused to submit their declaration unless they softened it. Eventually, Shapiro and Gregori Maximoff, another member of Golos Truda, rewrote the letter and Rosmer submitted it in February 1921.
In January 1921, Kropotkin, almost eighty years old and living in Dmitrov, contracted pneumonia. Schapiro, with Goldman and Nikolai Ivanovich Pavlov, took a train to visit him, but their train was delayed and they arrived an hour after he died on February 8. Schapiro and Berkman organized Kropotkin's funeral. In early 1921, the government started to ban syndicalist and anarchist writings, including those of syndicalist theorist Fernand Pelloutier and some by the anarchists Kropotkin and Mikhail Bakunin. After the Kronstadt uprising in March, the Bolshevik government began rounding up anarchists. Schapiro's critique of the regime, which had been fairly moderate, turned into fundamental opposition. In May, Schapiro was one of several signatories of a protest against the persecution of Russian anarchists, which was circulated in the west. In July, at the founding congress of the Red International of Labor Unions (RILU), several European syndicalists protested the persecution of anarchists and syndicalists in Russia on Schapiro and others' behalf. One syndicalist delegate demanded that Schapiro be allowed address the congress, but he was not. The Bolshevik leadership relented and several anarchist prisoners were released and forced into exile. Among them were Gregori Maximoff and Volin who had worked with Schapiro in the Golos Truda group. After the congress, Schapiro denounced the RILU as "the illegitimate daughter of the Communist International, and consequently the handmaiden of the Russian Communist Party" and warned Italian syndicalists against associating with it.
In June 1921, Schapiro, along with Goldman, Berkman, and the fellow anarchist Alexei Borovoi, anonymously wrote a pamphlet entitled The Russian Revolution and the Communist Party, which was smuggled to Germany and published by Rocker. They argued that anarchists had refrained from protesting the repression leveled against them in Russia as long as the Civil War was being fought so as not "to aid the common enemy, world imperialism". The end of the war, however, had made it clear that the biggest threat to the revolution "was not outside, but within the country: a danger resulting from the very nature of the social and economic arrangements which characterize the present 'transitory stage'." In December 1921, Schapiro, Berkman, and Goldman received permission from the Soviet government to attend an international anarchist congress in Berlin, which was to held from December 25 to January 2. They were held up in Latvia and therefore missed the congress. Sweden then allowed the trio to enter the country and they arrived there in January. Schapiro decided to join the Russian syndicalist exiles in Berlin.
In June 1922, he attended a syndicalist conference in Berlin. The meeting was called to discuss the international organization of the movement. Schapiro and Mark Mrachnyi, recently deported from Russia, represented the Russian syndicalist movement, but a representative of Russia's centralist unions also attended. Schapiro and Mrachnyi used the meeting as another opportunity to denounce the Soviet government's repression of syndicalists and anarchists. The meeting decided to create an international Syndicalist Bureau, to which Schapiro would be the Russian representative, and discussed the position the syndicalist movement should take on the RILU. Concerning negotiations with the RILU, Schapiro presented the congress with two options. Syndicalists could present the Bolsheviks with minimal conditions, which they might accept, or harsher conditions, which they could not. The former he deemed a betrayal of syndicalist principles and the latter a mere ploy. Instead, he proposed that the syndicalists break off negotiations with the RILU and go their own way. The assembly adopted a resolution which made no mention of negotiations with the RILU. After the meeting Schapiro decided to return to Russia, feeling he could make a contribution there. He contacted Chicherin and received assurances he could safely return to Russia. However, on the night of September 2–3, two weeks after Schapiro's return to Russia, he was arrested in Moscow. The secret police charged him with working with underground anarchists, but was mostly interested in his international contacts. Chicherin ignored a letter Schapiro sent him from prison and the RILU refused to notify the Syndicalist Bureau of his arrest. Nevertheless, the news soon reached the west. After western syndicalists protested his incarceration, the Soviet government was worried about damaging the CGTU's relations with the RILU. Schapiro was expelled from Russia charged with anti-Soviet activities abroad in October 1922.
Schapiro decided to return to Berlin. He become one of the most active Russian syndicalist exiles. He worked on the anarcho-syndicalist newspaper Rabochii Put' (The Workers' Way), which was secretly distributed in Russia. It was published by a group of exiles which also included Maximoff. It received financial support from the Syndicalist Bureau and was printed on the presses of the German syndicalist journal Der Syndikalist. In December 1922, he participated in the establishment of the anarcho-syndicalist International Workers Association (IWA). This move finalized the syndicalist break with Bolshevism. Berlin was selected as the seat of the IWA. Schapiro, Souchy, and Rocker were elected to its secretariat. Its membership was almost entirely European and Latin American.
Rabochii Put' became the IWA's Russian-language organ. Schapiro used the journal to expound on the lessons he drew from the Russian Revolution. According to him, anarchists reacted to the revolution in two ways, both of them partly counter-revolutionary. The first position was taken by the Soviet anarchists who regarded dictatorship as a necessary transitional phase on the way to a stateless society. The second held that the revolution must be immediately fully anarchist and therefore resorted to militarism like Nestor Makhno. He concluded that anarchism could only overcome such problematic reactions by giving more attention to a theory of the revolutionary process rather than the ideal of a post-revolutionary society.
He traveled on to France, where he continued to work with the IWA and edited another anarcho-syndicalist paper, La Voix du Travail (The Voice of Labour). Schapiro left Europe for New York, where he remained a tireless activist in the cause of Russian political prisoners until his death in 1946.
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