Banished to Freedom! Book Trailer

Watch the untold story of “The 160” – Russia’s first dissidents who ideated ways to overcome Lenin and the Bolsheviks via a Revolution from Within. As their message gained followers and grew – underground – into more and more free associations of people from all classes, all beliefs, all walks of life they became so threatening to the new regime in Russia that something had to be done!

Lenin ordered his justice department to change the criminal code on May 17, 1922 making free expression of any alternative views a crime (or support thereof), punishable by death or deportation. On May 19th, he directed the head of his secret police force to find or fabricate evidence against The 160 so they could be charged under this new law.

Was this “governance” or a crime syndicate of mob bosses?

Then fate intervened, and on the night of May 25-26, 1922 Lenin was struck down by a terrible stroke that incapacitated him for almost a month.  It was the first of three seizures, the last of which would end his life, in January 1924.

In late June, 1922, Lenin recovered sufficiently to resume his plotting against The 160.  After berating Stalin for inaction, he personally chaired over 30 meetings with members of the Politburo and police forces compiling the lists of who should be arrested and purged.  By August, they were finally ready.

Excerpt from Revolution from Within:

Dzerzhinsky distributed the lists to the appropriate GPU agents. On Aug. 3, the first arrests occurred sweeping up 77 intellectuals in the Ukraine. On Aug. 10, new laws were passed regarding the registration of associations and societies, rendering the Free Academy of Spiritual Culture, Vol’fila, the Russian Technical Society, and countless other groupings, illegal.[i]

The next series of arrests were completed by Aug. 23, with 67 apprehended in Moscow and 30 in Petrograd. Berdyaev was caught in this wave of arrests, as were the intellectuals who had contributed to the fateful edition of Ekonomist, the professors who had gone on strike, and many former members of VKPG.

A copy of an arrest list was notated by Yagoda, the GPU agent who was to become Stalin’s lead agent in the Great Purges of the 1930s. He updated Lenin with a report on their progress (a report that was discovered only after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991). Yagoda’s status notes are sure to cause raised eyebrows. One can scarcely imagine characterizations of the planned arrest and punishment more ironic than these: “According to the agreement undersigned by President Kommissart Dzerzhinsky decrees that actions by char. [acter] pertains to anti-Soviet organization in West. Do not exile to freedom. Await all judgment. Keep under arrest. Do not free.”; “Arrest for banishment to freedom;[1] for liquidation by telephone.”[2]“Exile, suspend first until receiving from tovarish Tsiperovicha guarantee and substantiation of such things, by order of Commissar 31/Aug/1922.”[ii]

Even for the Bolsheviks’ secret police, exile to the West was equated to freedom. Yagoda’s notes demonstrate the fraud that was perpetuated: Evidence had to be manufactured to justify making some of the arrests.

The arrests all took place in the middle of the night. Each person on the list was designated by a secret, numbered order listing his or her address and stating that they were part of the “Operation.” Each arrest took about four hours since the agents also searched their houses for incriminating evidence at the same time. From Berdyaev, they seized his notebooks, all his letters and even papers that he had thrown out.[i]

Those arrested were then taken to prison where they were held, rarely for more than three or four days. The interrogations were all the same: The arrested were asked to give their opinion of the “structure of Soviet power and the system of proletarian government.”

Berdyaev responded that he felt uncomfortable with basing everything upon the narrow concept of socio-political “class” (proletariat, peasant, nobility). One wonders what the hapless GPU agent interrogating him must have thought when the 50-year-old philosopher asserted that he would prefer “less aristocratic” assumptions that considered people’s individual abilities, desires, and traits.

Ivan Ilyin said that he was not surprised by or resistant to the world in Soviet Russia at that time: He saw the current famine and oppression to be an inevitable result of Russia’s socio-spiritual evolution for the past hundred years. Feodor Stepun declared that he was loyal to Soviet power as a citizen. As an intellectual, however, he believed Bolshevism’s negation of people’s spirit could not give them purpose and hope.[ii]

They were asked about their view of “the intelligentsia’s task” and “that of what are called ‘societies’;” about what their attitudes were “towards such methods of Soviet power towards the professors’ strike.” They had to explain their attitude towards the various ongoing “plots” and “the trial of the SRs” and were asked to give their views on the “condition of Soviet power in regional, secondary schools and attitude toward the reforms of them.” Their opinions were sought about the Russian emigration abroad and on political parties in general and in Russia in particular.[iii]

Replies to these questions seem to have generally been a uniform “no opinion,” with the exception of the emigration question to which most of the accused responded that they disliked the Whites and the incestuous politics that pervaded that milieu. The day after the interrogation, each was presented with a verdict sentencing them to life in exile outside of Russia, and promising their death should they ever attempt to return. They were forced to sign the following statement:

Statement Signed by The 160

On [date] the decree about my trial in the capacity delineated in article no. 57 of the Criminal code of the R.S.F.S.R. [USSR] was read to me and I do not confess myself to be guilty of that, namely being engaged in anti-Soviet work, and particularly, I do not believe myself to be guilty of that, namely causing external embarrassment for the R.S.F.S.R. by engaging in counter-revolutionary work.[iv]

Then each person was told she or he was to be exiled abroad and forced to sell their possessions and obtain visas.[v] None was given a trial, told why they were accused, or provided with any chance to defend themselves against the charges. Instead, they were told to be grateful that their fate was exile and not death by firing squad.[vi]

The official announcement of their deportation was made on Aug. 31, 1922, in Pravda entitled: “The First Warning.”[vii] It did not mention specific family names nor state the number to be expelled; it only assured readers that “no great scientists” were among those targeted. Lenin, in one move, had rid Russia of her most prominent and capable intellectuals. Of the 174 arrested, 160 were actually sent abroad (The outcasts numbered 225 when the families who accompanied them are included).


[1] “Arrested for banishment to Freedom” meant the individual was to be exiled to the West.

[2] “For liquidation by telephone” meant the GPU agent would receive final confirmation by telephone before issuing the final sentence and departure pass to the victim.

[i] M. Kalinin [Chairman of VTsiK], “Instructions for the Registration of Societies, Unions and Associations,” Aug. 10, 1922, Documents of Soviet History, 392-393.

[ii] One list has been recovered of Yagoda reporting to Lenin. Designations are “arrest for banishment to freedom”—someone in the GPU had a great sense of humor!—“Do not exile to freedom. Await all judgement,” and “not found.” The last does not mean the person was not eventually arrested and expelled, but only that they were simply not caught in the initial sweep documented in these artifacts. A. Massal’skoi & I. Seleznevoi, “Vsekh ikh von is Rossii” Rodina (1992), vol. 10 67.

[i] Designated by Order # 1722, Berdyaev was one of the first arrested on Aug. 16, 1922. The police arrived at one o’clock in the morning. See Kogan, 71.

[ii] Kogan, 71-76.

[iii] Kogan, 72.

[iv] They were then given a second form to sign which stated: “Pledge. Given by me, M. [name], to the Government political administration [GPU], that I pledge not to return to the territory of the R.S.F.S.R. without permission from the organs of Soviet power. I have been advised of Statute 71 of the Criminal code R.S.F.S.R. which states that I will face the greatest measure of punishment if I return of my own free will within the boundaries of the R.S.F.S.R….” Berdyaev signed these statements on Aug. 19, 1922. Kogan, 73.

[v] Record of Conversation with Prof. S.L. Frank, Berlin, 4 October 1923, PBA Papers, Box 5: 2-3.

[vi] ibid; Record of Interview with Prof. S.N. Prokopovitch, Berlin, 3 October 1923, PBA Papers, Box 5: 2; Berdyaev, DR, 233.

[vii] Pravda, 31 Aug. 1922: 1.







One Response to Banished to Freedom! Book Trailer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.