The Life and Labor Commune was a Tolstoyan agricultural commune founded in 1921 and disbanded as a state run collective farm on January 1, 1939. The commune was founded near Moscow but was later resettled in central Siberia, not far from Novokuznetsk. At its peak, it reportedly had as many as 1.000 participants. Throughout its existence the members of the commune were persecuted by the Bolsheviks, both for refusing to enlist or support their war efforts as well as for organizing themselves communally outside of the approved state structure.
1. Founding 1921–1930
The Life and Labor Commune was founded on December 31, 1921 with a rental contract with the Moscow District Land Department for the Shestakovka estate, twelve miles outside of Moscow. The commune was built on land in the Tsaritsyn district of the Moscow region and fell under the village soviet of Troparyovo. The commune was named "Life and Labor" after the Tolstoyan and anarchist leanings of its founding members. From the very beginning, all communal meals were strictly vegetarian.
In 1927 the commune began to come under attack along with the Tolstoy New Jerusalem Commune, which was liquidated by the Soviet government in 1929. Many of the members from there joined the Life and Labor Commune. Leading members of the commune came under legal prosecution by the government, which attempted to revoke their charter. They were defended in court by anarchist Peter Kropotkin, a member of the Public Defenders Office, as well as nephew of Kropotkin.
2. Resettlement 1931
Vladimir Cherkov, who intervened on behalf of conscientious objectors to the Red Army with Lenin and had won them their freedom from impressment, suggested that the Life and Labor Commune resettle along with other followers of Tolstoy to form one large commune. On February 28, 1930 the All-Russian Central Executive Committee issued a decree by the Presidium of the Committee, Protocol 41, Paragraph 5, about "the resettlement of Tolstoyan communes and cooperatives." After a scouting expedition in the spring of 1930, the location of Kuznetsk along the Tom River was chosen. On March 22, 1931, after selling the livestock and donating the farm to an outpatient psychiatric hospital, the inhabitants of the Life and Labor Commune set out for outskirts of Siberia.
3. Demise under Stalinism 1936–1939
In 1936, the leaders of the commune were arrested, followed by additional waves of arrests in 1937 and 1938. By January 1939, the few remaining women and children were consolidated into a Soviet collective farm. Many of the communards died in labor camps or were executed for refusing to serve in the military.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote about the persecution of the commune:
"In the twenties, a large group of Tolstoyans was exiled to the foothills of the Altai mountains, and there they established communal settlements jointly with the Baptists. When the construction of the Kuznetsk industrial complex began, they supplied it with food products. Then arrests began - first the teachers they were not teaching in accordance with the government program, and the children ran after the police cars, shouting. And after that the commune leaders were taken."
4. Memoirs of participants
Several of the participants in the commune wrote memoirs of their experiences.
"Out of the stormy, boundless ocean of human life, with all its infinitely varied aspirations and fates, suddenly one part of it was caught up in a powerful maelstrom, whirled together into one unit, and torn away from the rest of the mass. It was carried off on the foamy crest of the wave. Then with a mighty surge it was lifted up into the air, toward the sun, and was thrown with powerful force against a cliff. It broke into thousands of droplets, sparkling with all the colors of the rainbow, then fell back into the ocean and merged with it. And it was no more. And it seemed that there had never been anything. But there was! And the memory of it lives on in the souls of those who experienced it as something bright, great, necessary, and joyous."
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