The Issue of all Issues: Russian Anarchists in Nineteenth Century Romania

I explore here the biographies of Russian anarchists in Romania, highlighting the unfolding of their lives and political projects within various historical and discursive contexts. I follow these in order to show how each character negotiated, re-produced and transformed his/her political, cultural, and national trajectories in-between anarchist transnational networks, nation-building projects, and interests of local and national liberal elites. An imperial and widely transnational revolutionary network functioned and reproduced itself in the periphery of Russia and Europe by creating new dialogue partners, making alliances with heterogeneous local forces, changing names, becoming national(ist), having its members work as physicians, engineers, statisticians, ethnographers, publicists and state administrators, and by taking part, sometimes without even knowing it, in the local invention of the social. This chapter delves into the adventurous, sometimes tragic, sometimes banal, undertakings of Russian social revolutionaries from the 1870s and 1880s, in Romania; on how they struggled to ask the ‘social question’, to find positions as state employed physicians, and how they repeatedly attempted to find dialogue partners by appealing to the former 1848 local revolutionaries turned national-liberal who were now ruling the country. As this dialogue never really started off – even if some high-ranking Romanian liberals protected the anarchists from the Russian secret police – the real partners became the first generations of physicians, studying at the recently founded Medical Faculty from Bucharest.

I focus on three very different main characters – and a host of lesser visible ones. Nicolae Codreanu (Zubku) – one of the first to arrive in Romania, unrepentant anarchist, mentor of the medical students in Bucharest; Zamfir Arbure (Ralli), involved in the infamous Necheav affair back in Russia, close friend of Bakunin in Geneva, part of a network of French former communards and Ukrainian social-revolutionaries, that ended in Romania as statistician, ethnographer, and member of the Parliament, and Nicolae Russel (Sudzilovsky), a globetrotter revolutionary, that, after his expulsion from Romania would end up in China after being the first president of the Senate of Hawaii, and a friend of George Kennan while working in Japan with Russian POWs.


  • Photocopied letters (Nicolae Codreanu, Zamfir Arbore, Nicolae Russel etc.);
  • Arbore, Z. În pușcăria Petro-Pavlovsc, Pagini alese din scriitori Români nr 156;
  • Avrich, P. (1967) The Russian Anarchists. [fragments];
  • Christu, V. (1937) Contribuții la mișcările sociale din România. Doi precursori ai ideilor libertare: Hristo Botev și Petru Alexandrov, Societatea de Mâine, 357, 1, p.16-20.


  • Venturi, Franco (1960) Roots of the Revolution: A History of the Populist and Socialist Movements in Nineteenth Century Russia, New York: Alfred Knopf [fragments]