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Zamfir C. Arbure: Memoirs of an Anarchist in Romania

About nearly no other European country there is so little known on the anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist movement as there is known about Romania. Although bordering on Bulgaria where the movement has reached one of the most extended, most numerous and most lasting social influences up to that time – declared illegal and eventually annihilated by the communists – the influence of anarchism has all time been minor in Romania. Up to the present day the studies have shown that between 1907 and 1916 the anarcho-syndicalist movement has reached here the climax of its development. Especially, in industrial towns such as Ploieşti, Galaţi and Brăila the majority of the workers have organized themselves on revolutionary syndicalist principles, have published anarcho-syndicalist magazines and have fought for the improvement of life and work conditions through direct action methods. Moreover, it has been proven that explicit anarchist circles have existed previously in towns such as Iaşi and Bucureşti, often part of the social democrat party. An overview on the rise of Romanian anarchism is offered by the life and the memoirs of Zamfir C. Arbure, “Temniţă şi exil” (Imprisonment and Exile).

Arbure, called in some magazines and writings also Arbore, as well as known under the pseudonym of Ralli, was born on the 14th November 1848 in Cernăuţi (Austro-Hungary at the time, today Ukraine) in a wealthy family. At the age of 17 his studies take him to Moscow, the capital of the despotically ruled Russia. Together with other students he is arrested after a massive raid following a failed assassination attempt on the tzar despite his not being politically active. In prison he becomes politically involved and his memoirs describe this change as well as the depressing reality of the tsarist Russia and the omnipresence of the secret police. Zamfir Arbure joins the narodnik social-revolutionary movement which was leading an armed struggle against the tsarist regime and its governors at the cost of many human lives. He gets acquainted with Sergei Necaev and later on with Alexander Herzen. As a result of the pressure put on him by the Russian authorities Zamfir moves to Zurich in 1870 and then to Geneva where he becomes an active collaborator of Michail Bakunin. He meets and collaborates with Eliseé Reclus and Peter Kropotkin. Ralli, as he is called in Geneva runs a publishing house, issues social-revolutionary and anarchist writings and distributes them. In 1875 Arbure publishes the first issue of Rabotnik (The Worker), the first Russian social-revolutionary publication in newspaper format. Among other numerous contributions he writes a book about the Paris commune, at the same time being actively involved in organizing the movement. He is member of the First International, supporter of the anarchist movement and member of the Jura Federation. Together with the Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta he translates into Spanish a letter of Bakunin and intends to participate with the latter in the Spanish revolution. However, this does not happen. In time his relationship with Bakunin grows cold. On the other hand, he will remain in connection with Reclus all his life. Short before his death in 1905, Reclus visits him in Bucharest, where Arbure will have eventually moved. After his return in the tsarist Russia, Arbure settles in Bessarabia where he continues to be active in the social-revolutionary movement. Among other things, he attempts to send over the Russian border 100 weapons hidden inside books with the purpose of supporting the armed resistance there. At the same time his main preoccupation is to fight against the strong anti-Semitism and nationalism which was largely popular within the social democrat party and even inside the workers’ movement from Romania. At that time, the major topic of social concern was Bessarabia and its status of geopolitically disputed area between Romania and Russia. Bessarabia had been part of Moldavia (and thus of Romania) until 1812. Subsequently annexed by the Russians in 1917, Bessarabia returned to Romania after the Russian revolution. After the Second World War, which Romania had entered on the side of the Nazis, Bessarabia becomes again part of the Soviet Union.

Nowadays Bessarabia is divided into the Republic of Moldova and a territory belonging to Ukraine. As a reaction to the Russian nationalism and to the Romanian annexionist intentions, Arbure promoted the idea of an independent Bessarabia. Arbure travels in Romania and thus holds a speech in the Bucharest Workers Club in September 1914. Moreover, he publishes a great number of articles in different socialist newspapers. In addition to his activity in the socialist and anarchist circles, Arbure becomes known through the thorough study of Bessarabian geography, a passion which he shares with Reclus. His work “Dicţionar geografic al Basarabiei” (Geographical Dictionary of Bessarabia) appears in 1904 and is the first detailed study dedicated to this region. Arbure has a son, Dumitru and two daughters, Ecaterina and Nina. Ecaterina Arbure is born in 1873 and becomes a major figure of the socialist movement, and later of the Romanian communist party declared illegal. By the order of Stalin she is executed in Tiraspol in 1937. Nina Arbure becomes a well-known painter.

Arbure kept his political beliefs unchanged till the venerable age of 84. Thus, he publishes articles in the magazine “Viaţa Basarabiei” (The Life of Bessarabia) from Chişinău until 1932. However, he was not able to get accustomed with the country he has chosen for his exile, namely Romania. His stay there is the subject of such affirmations as: “Wherever I look around me I see only decay. The old and the young, the cultivated and the illiterate, all behave equally, not even asking themselves what the meaning of their life is in the general progress of humanity. Living inside the Romanian society I for one was not able to merge into it. That is why no one knows me and I also know no one. I haven’t had and I still don’t have friends in Romania”. ”Bounds of friendship tie me with no one here” says the author in the first chapter of “Temniţă şi exil”. There were a common purpose and a sense of change in Bessarabia and Russia which he doesn’t find here. These memoirs which extend up to 1881 (the year when he is granted Romanian citizenship) are mentioned by the well-known historian of anarchism Max Nettlau in his book The History of Anarchism along with another memoirs book of Arbure entitled “În exil. Amintirile mele”(In exile. My memories). Nettlau criticizes both volumes, claiming that they contain a series of inaccuracies. However, Nettlau doesn’t specify also what kind of inaccuracies he has found. The second mentioned volume of Arbure describes his life until 1896. Therefore, his other significant activities, the subsequent social events, as well as the origin and development of the Romanian anarcho-syndicalist movement are not recorded. There are still many things wrote by him and about him and about this stage of the Romanian anarchist and social-revolutionary movement which are waiting to be (re)discovered and (re)published. It is not an easy undertaking. On the one hand, the Romanian and Russian communist dictatorships have locked up and concealed his numerous writings, with the exception of his geographical works. On the other hand, the various different spellings of both his name and pseudonym make the endeavour more difficult.

Furthermore, we are dealing with facts which at the first sight seem contradictory and which require an adequate interpretation. For example, it appears that in 1920 Arbure was a member of the Romanian Senate representing Bessarabia. Which was the reason for this fact remains to be further investigated. However, nationalism is out of question in as far as Arbure is concerned. None other than the anti-Semite historian and extreme right national democrat party leader in the ‘20s and ‘30s of the last century, Nicolae Iorga tried to make out of Arbure a “pioneer of unification of Bessarabia with Romania” despite the fact that throughout his life Arbure championed the cause of an autonomous Bessarabia. Nowadays, following this mystification, Arbure is considered nationalist on the site of the Romanian Library for Internet, www.biblior.net. Similarly, the nowadays fascists and nationalists make a similar claim. They are trying to include this dedicated internationalist socialist into the category of nationalists on behalf of an eulogistic text dedicated to the king of Romania which they attribute to Arbure.

He has spent his last years in Bucharest. There he works as a director of the statistic office and writes for many newspapers, among which one for children and teenagers. On the 2nd of April 1933 Arbure meets his end in the capital of Romania. The translation of his memoirs “Temniţă şi exil” from Romanian into English is being worked on. A detailed biographical description will be included. The Canadian publishing house “blackcatpress” has expressed their intention to publish it. The republishing of the Romanian original is in progress.

Maria Lidia & Martin Veith

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