We chose to reprint this letter because we feel it is relevant to the on going debates that have continued over the years regarding aid work for political prisoners. The letter is a correspondence between Alexander Berkman, who at that time was a member of the Joint Committee to Aid Revolutions Imprisoned in Russia and Lillie Sarnov, a member of the Anarchist Red Cross. The topic of this letter is regarding whether anarchist groups should support non-anarchist political prisoners. It is important to understand that the Joint Committee was created by members of the Society to Aid Imprisoned Anarchist, a group that succeeded the Anarchist Black Cross in Russia. It was formed to continue the work of the ABC after its members were arrested for prison support. Members of the Society and the Joint Committee considered the groups ABC organizations. They have continued to be added in history as such.
ALEXANDER BERKMAN TO LILLIE SARNOV, JULY 22ND, 19 42, BERLIN
Dear Comrade Sarnov:
Your letter of June 28 (written by you in the name of you group) and copies of the Bulletin #2 received. This reply is to you as well as to the comrades of the [Anarchist] Red Cross.
You know my position in regard to aid of the revolutionists imprisoned in Russia. As I said in the statement recently issued by myself and Mark Mratchny, I do not consider aid to imprisoned revolutionists in the light of political work. It is not necessary here to repeat all that I said in the statement, a copy of which I sent to you.
To me, in this connection, supplying bread to a Maria Spiridonovna (who is a Left Social Revolutionist) is just as imperative as to aid Aaron Baron (who is an anarchist). It is not a question of the political views of the prisoners. It is enough for me that they are sincere revolutionists.
Concerning your remark that we cannot work with Left SR¹s, I may tell you that we, at least I, could also not work together with many of the anarchists who are in the prisons of the Bolsheviki. Yet I am willing to help them, as prisoners. Among the anarchists in prison are many individualists, Sternerians [i.e., followers of Max Stirner], Universalists, Gordinists [i.e., followers of Abba Gordin] (who are worse than crazy), ect. Some among them are pure cranks who did us more harm than good in the revolution. Yet you even send help to all anarchists, not asking what their particular views and opinions are. Some of those ³anarchists² cannot even be considered as anarchists in our sense, yet we are willing to help all of them. I can assure you that as a revolutionist I felt nearer [to] Spiridonovna, Kamkof, or Trutovsky (I knew them all personally and spent many days with them in Moscow, than to some of those individualist and Stirnerians who you are willing, and justly, to regard as anarchists. In short, I would help Sophia Perovskaya and Zheliabov in prison, the same way as I would help Baron or Meier-Rubinchik. (If you really wanted to carry out your view out logically, you should aid only anarchist-communists in prison, for the Universalists, for instance, are as far from us as the Left SR¹s and perhaps even farther in points of ideas.)
As a matter of fact, the anarchists in the prisons of Russia share the things they receive with the Left SR¹s, and the latter do the same. Among revolutionists in prison political distinctions are abolished so far as food, etc. is concerned , You will therefore realize how stupid it is of the fellow in the New York Izvestia who asked me whether I would also ³work with Denikin and Wrangel to aid their prisoners.² We are speaking of revolutionists in prison, not of counter-revolutionists. To me the Left SR¹s are revolutionists, even if I disagree with their political view.
Well, You are at liberty to have your own opinion in the matter. That is why I call myself an anarchist, leaving others free to act and think as they believe best. But at the same time I claim the right for myself to act as I think proper under given circumstances.. I personally am indifferent as to where and how people send help to Russia. I am only interested in seeing that our prisoners should receive aid. How and by whom is just the same, just so that they get it.
This is about all there is to be said on the subject. I have explained my position to you, and I hope that you clearly understand it.