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Comrade Gisia

Page history last edited by Malcolm Archibald 3 months, 2 weeks ago

In the July 7, 1916, issue of Golos Truda, the New York-based organ of the anarcho-syndicalist Federation of Unions of Russian Workers of the USA and Canada, the following notice appeared:

"On Sunday, July 9, a mass meeting will be held at which Comrade Gisia from the URW [Union of Russian Workers] of Philadephia will speak on the theme: "Where did serfdom in Russia come from?" Start time is 3 p.m. Meeting place: in the woods, on the bank of the river between Roebling and Florence. – Group of Roebling Workers."

This was Comrade Gisia's third Sunday visit to address workers of Roebling, a company town about 30 miles northeast of Philadelphia on the Delaware River. Her previous visits had drawn crowds of up to 120.

Comrade Gisia was not one of the first tier of the Federation's orators, who were mostly from New York (Bill Shatov, Vsevolod Voline) or Chicago (Aron Baron) in 1916. But she was the only woman speaker available, clearly popular, and, based on her choice of topics, quite well-educated.

Gisia is a Yiddish given name; so far no family name has turned up in the meagre source material about her.

According to another announcement in Golos Truda, Comrade Gisia delivered a talk on "The Necessity and Goal of Proletarian Revolution" at the premises of the URW at 701 North Marshall Street in Philadelphia on December 21, 1916. [Earlier that month the Bolshevik Nikolai Bukharin lectured on "Europe and the War" at the same venue. Bukharin's talk wasn't sponsored by the anarcho-syndicalists, but their relations with the Bolsheviks at that time were so close that they often shared facilities. Both tendencies endorsed revolutionary defeatism with respect to Russia and the War.]

 

On March 18, 1917, the Union of Russian Workers co-sponsored a mass meeting in honour of the Paris Commune at Royal Hall in Philadelphia. Other sponsors included the Radical Library and Italian, Spanish, Jewish, and French anarchist groups; there were speeches in various languages. The Russian speaker was Comrade Gisia.

The next we learn from a newspaper announcement of Comrade Gisia giving a talk is two years later in Kharkov, capital of Soviet Ukraine. She spoke on "Anarchism and Soviet Power" at the local anarchist club on January 19, 1919, according to Issue No. 1 of the "Kharkov Nabat," published by the Nabat Confederation of Anarchists of Ukraine.

A brief look at Comrade Gisia's activities in early 1918 is provided by the book "Nikolayev – the Last Outpost of German Forces on the Black Sea" by Walter Fest, originally published in German in 1919 and republished in Russian translation in 2016 by a committee of interested citizens in Nikolayev. The book describes the city's history in 1917–1919.


Fest was a journalist working as a press attaché for the German forces that captured Nikolayev on March 24, 1918, from revolutionary elements (mainly Bolsheviks). An important Black Sea naval base, Nikolayev had a population of about 100,000 in 1918. Although the German armed forces at first represented a reactionary element in the complex politics of the region, they eventually succumbed to the revolutionary currents of the time so that by the time they left the city, on March 16, 1919, a "soldiers' council" was in charge.

 

According to Fest, Comrade Gisia was chief-of-staff of an anarchist detachment based in the city in February – March, 1918, which terrorized the bourgeois element of the population. Significantly, he writes that she had been to America and that she was an "outstanding orator" who spoke to packed audiences in Nikolayev's municipal theatre. Fest's knowledge of Comrade Gisia was not first hand because she had been driven from the city before he arrived. His book was long a bibliographic rarity.

It seems almost certain that Philadelphia Gisia and Ukraine Gisia are the same person, although definitive proof is lacking. It's only in the last decade that some information about her has emerged, or re-emerged. Her career is similar to that of the anarcho-communist Maria Nikiforova: both had been abroad, were charismatic speakers, and had a talent for military affairs. Probably, like Nikiforova, she perished during the Civil War period. Hopefully more information about Comrade Gisia will turn up, as has happened in the case of Nikiforova.

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