Meeting with George
The Story of George Sossenko
I think back
to the time I spent with George and I keep on telling myself, “it was just a
dream; it was just a dream.” It wasn’t.
I met George
Sossenko, 88, at an anarchist workshop at the United States Social Forum in
Atlanta this past June
. I found his phone number and was able to track him
down to talk to him before I left town. He and his wife Birdie picked me up
for lunch and I spent the next few hours talking with him about the Spanish
Civil War, anarchism and revolution.
first met me, he was sporting a red and black flag button with the acronyms
CNT and AIT and the word antifascista emblazoned in bold black letters. He
told me in a slight French accent, “I am a worshiper of logic.” I soon found
out that this was certainly the case. He told me that he’s a “fourth
generation atheist – God has never entered my house.” I asked him to tell me
about the Spanish Civil War. He and his wife Birdie told me that if the
revolution in Spain had been successful, both the Holocaust and the Second
World War would never have occurred. History would have been dramatically
different. When we all sat down for lunch, he pulled out a leather-bound
binder and showed me a dozen articles and a few pictures. One picture was of
him and three of his comrades in Aragon, Spain, all of them wearing the
signature Durruti Column cap. “I was 16 years old in this picture; I was
just a little boy.”
the International Brigades in his home country of France at the age of 16.
He went to Spain by way of Andorra and fought in Barcelona, near Madrid and
in Aragon. He soon joined both the Durruti Column and the CNT (the anarchist
union federation Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo).
George how he initially became attracted to anarchism and he told me it was
because of capitalism – the fact that in any day one person can make $10,000
and another only $2. I asked him the same question again later and he said,
“I already told you” then paused and asked, “Do you know who Nestor Makhno
is?” I nodded.
me of the anarchist revolution in Ukraine in 1918 where Makhno helped
mobilize Ukrainian peasants and workers and bravely fought off
counterrevolutionary White armies, authoritarian Communists and Ukrainian
nationalists, all the while defending a communal way of life built on ideas
of mutual aid and cooperation.
described Makhno’s flight to Paris where he eventually died (when George was
just a teenager). George’s friend told him about Makhno after the
revolutionary’s death and both decided to attend his memorial ceremony.
George met Alexander Berkman there and very soon after became immensely
interested in anarchism, in both thought and practice.
has never waned over the years; it’s only intensified.
Our talk was
filled with sadness and frustration. George spoke of Guernica, the betrayal
by the West during the revolution, how the Russians “liberated” Makhno’s
family in France from the fascists, only to throw them in the gulags in
Russia. He told me about people’s fascination with and attraction to
communism when he was younger. But as a “worshiper of logic” he was able to
see through the commisarocracy and bureaucracy that developed in
authoritarian communist systems. He also spoke of the youth. He was very
inspired and excited by the dedication, seriousness and commitment of
younger people at the US Social Forum. But he also spoke of the apathy
expressed by many young people today – very similar to a form of
disinformation he witnessed as fascism spread throughout Europe in the 30s
and 40s. He told me that when he was younger than me students in France
would have fistfights and battles in the streets and at universities over
politics. It was a war in the most literal sense. I thought maybe he was
hinting at and hoping for student and youth militancy and greater
organization in this country.
told me about Spain when he was there, a society he witnessed, experienced,
felt, lived, I hung on every word that escaped his mouth. The only
connection I have with anarchism, as experienced and lived at its height in
Spain, has been in books. Hearing from someone who lived in an anarchist
society, fought for it and believes that it can happen again was a surreal
experience. He described a society without police or courts, prisons,
priests, hierarchy, government, capitalism, a society without bosses and
masters. He told me how happy people were to live their lives – to really
live their lives. This was a society, he said, where “the union was in
where the union (in Spain’s case the CNT) was in power had a lasting effect
on George. He was at the US Social Forum every day starting at 8 a.m. where
he spent time volunteering at the Veterans for Peace booth, frequented
workshops and discussions, and found time to help with translating at the
forum (he speaks seven or eight languages). He and his wife often have
meetings together because they’re “too involved” and sometimes need a little
Age has taken
a hold of George Sossenko but he still seems young, active and very much
alive. I remember once looking at pictures of Lenin taken before, during and
after the Bolshevik Revolution. It looked like he aged 20 years in the span
of five. For Lenin, Revolution was a tiresome and stressful affair; by no
means liberating. The Russian Revolution killed him – stress killed him.
Lenin breathed death into the people of Russia and Eastern Europe and in
time his breath caught up with him. George had a vastly different experience
with the revolution in Spain.
George’s eyes, I could see that the revolution in Spain wasn’t just a single
spectacular historical event. It wasn’t something that rose and fell, lived
and abruptly died. I can hear the revolution in his voice and see it in his
eyes. The revolution isn’t something constrained by time and space. It
didn’t start in Spain and it didn’t end there either. I felt it in Atlanta
when I was there. I feel it now.
Maslauskas Dunn is a member of the Olympia chapter of Students for a
Democratic Society and is a delegate for CNT’s sister union – the IWW. He
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read Brendan’s full report
of the US Social Forum at