Rethinking Reality (II)

Here’s How Anarchism and Mysticism Go Together (II)

Author: Romina Heim

Part 3: From Hylics to Pneumatics

Writing about this ‘second-period’ mystical anarchism in coherence with everything said before proves rather difficult for two reasons: First, it has not yet been determined how Chulkov’s mystical anarchism is connected to the ‘revived’ post-revolutionary one. This question cannot be answered either by those once involved in the movement (Nalimov 1994, 306) nor by contemporary scholars of anarchism who seem to ignore this blank space by simply classifying these two episodes of mystical anarchism into “early” and “late” expressions of one and the same social phenomenon (Udartsev 2016, 30). The second complicating factor concerns the organizational secrecy and esoteric elitism surrounding “late” mystical anarchism: Although it represented a relatively wide-spread spiritual current, it was combined with a secret society called the “Order of the Templars”, the members of which were the philosophy’s main ideologists and closest adherents. In what follows, I am attempting to shed some light upon these issues.

Both the philosophy’s theoretical construct and the establishment of a strictly hierarchical as well as extensively networked secret society seem to be the achievement of one enigmatic and controversial man – Aleksey Solonovich (1887–1937). Solonovich, a lecturer at the mathematical department of the Bauman Moscow State Technical University, had been interested in occultism since his youth. Although there is no reference to Chulkov in his writings, lectures, or even interrogation records, he was known in symbolist circles as apparent from Andrey Bely’s memoirs (Bely 2016, 430). Also, Solonovich’s first mystical treatise shows symbolist characteristics and is evocative of Bely’s Symphonies (Burmistrov 2011, 75). Consequently, it is reasonable to assume that Solonovich was in some way or another familiar with Chulkov’s mystical anarchism, took up its ideas, complemented and transformed them into a new and more complex ideology.

Aleksey Solonovich (1887–1937)
©Andrey Nikitin, 2002 II: 376

A mathematician by profession, a philosopher by passion, and a mystic by conviction, Solonovich created a synthesis of Russian (leftist) political thought, German philosophical concepts, Hindu spiritual tradition, French occultism, New Testament Christianity, and Gnostic dualism, underlining its validity by means of mathematical formulas (Solonovich ~1920s II, 23).[1] As follows from Solonovich’s philosophical lectures, he was thoroughly familiar with concepts of the Bhagavad Gita, the occult writings of Éliphas Lévi, as well as with Gnosticism, the typological characteristics of which are evident in both his tripartite anthropology and his multi-layered hierarchical cosmology.

As with Chulkov, Solonovich acted upon the ideas of Bakunin, Kropotkin, and Tolstoy, whereas the greatest significance was assigned to the latter’s notion of Christian “nonviolence”. Mystical anarchism’s focus was on Christianity, but not limited to it. While Chulkov might have interpreted morality as some form of violence over man, Solonovich postulated a strict and clearly defined code of ethics in alignment with the Gospels. As ten years before, mystical experience still represented one of the philosophy’s key aspects, however, deprived of its erotic nature. Now, transformations of consciousness were to be achieved by means of meditation and believed to be a crucial step towards self- and social transformation, helping to internalize the Christian values and foster an autonomous consciousness. In contrast to the famous position of Karl Marx (1818–1983), who wrote “[i]t is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness” (Marx 1904, 11f.), the adherents of mystical anarchism acted upon the premise that just as being determines consciousness, consciousness also determines being (Solonovich 2003, 460).

Although mystical anarchism officially postulated social egalitarianism and anti-authoritarianism, its theoretical and organizational foundations abounded in elitist conceptions. For one thing, since Solonovich saw man as consisting of body, soul, and spirit, he divided humanity into the three Gnostic categories of “hylics” (entirely materially-oriented, and therefore lowest type of human), “psychics” (soulful humans), and “pneumatics” (spiritual, immaterial, enlightened, and therefore highest type of human), depending on a person’s identification preference. In Solonovich’s view, it should be one’s life purpose to strive towards enlightenment in order to bring the soul to perfection, for which it will be able to reincarnate into a higher being in one of the numerous superior worlds.

Apart from that, elitism is what characterizes secret societies, since the mere concept of the latter implies that only “chosen” people are offered membership and initiated into the society’s esoteric teaching. As follows from the members’ interrogation records, published in 2003 by the Russian historian Andrey Nikitin (1935–2005), and the memoirs of Vasily Nalimov, a former member of the order, this also applied to the Russian “Order of the Templars”. Even though Solonovich can be seen as the order’s mastermind, establishing it was not his idea but that of his mentor – Apollon Karelin (1863–1926).

Karelin, a staunch anarchist and theorist on anarchism, has so far received little scholarly attention in comparison with his Russian contemporaries. Already at an early age, Karelin had come into conflict with the authorities due to his involvement with revolutionary circles. He had encountered life in Siberian prisons and exile before fleeing to Paris, where he engaged in a relentless literary activity, publishing numerous articles on political and economic questions (Sapon 2015, 13–40). He also founded the so-called Brotherhood of Free Communists, an anarchist circle of Russian exiles that eventually split up because its leader was accused of performing initiatory rituals and was criticized for using esoteric terminology in anarchist publications (Gooderham 1988, 211).Upon his return to Russia in 1917, Karelin resumed his political activity, yet now he was a “Soviet anarchist” (Avrich 2005, 201) cooperating with the Bolshevik government and holding a seat in the Soviet Central Executive Committee.

Apollon Karelin (1863–1926)
©Andrey Nikitin, 2002 II: 372

Being a deeply religious man, Karelin took a pacifist stance during the revolutionary and first-world-war periods, and he seems to have made quite an impression on Solonovich, whom he met presumably in 1917, the same year Solonovich avowed himself an anarchist (Nikitin 2003 II,: 141). According to Nikitin, Karelin apparently claimed to have been initiated in France into the Brotherhood of the Knights Templar (the because from Nikitin’s point of view there exists only one, historical, brotherhood of Templars) and to have received the task to form the Eastern detachment of the order in Russia (Nikitin 2003 I, 13).

Karelin’s esoteric-Christian anarchism attracted numerous intellectuals and artists (among them were the film director Sergey Eisenstein (1898–1948), the actors Mikhail Chekhov (1891–1955) and Yuri Zavadsky (1894–1977), and the sinologist Julian Shchutsky (1897–1938)) and found a platform for public performances in the Kropotkin Museum which became the Moscow center for mystical anarchists in the 1920s. There, Karelin, Solonovich, and a few other “chosen” leaders of mystical anarchism selected among their audiences those who they deemed worthy of spiritual education and qualified to pursue the path towards self-perfection.

Karelin, too, wrote mystical texts, e. g. plays that are strongly reminiscent of Édouard Schuré’s and Rudolf Steiner’s mystery dramas, but it is without doubt that it was Solonovich, who succeeded Karelin after his death in 1926, who eventually gave mystical anarchism its ideological foundation. As “early” mystical anarchism, the movement did not last very long – not because of decreasing interest, but because of an increasingly repressive political environment. By the end of the 1930s, both the philosophical current and the order were destroyed, its members shot, imprisoned, or exiled.

However, more than half a century later, the Russian philosopher and mathematician Vasily Nalimov (1910–1997), who belonged to the last generation of “Templars” and was sentenced to eighteen years in prison, labor camp, and exile, processed the years of his youth in his philosophical and autobiographical writings and further elaborated on Solonovich’s inheritance.

Vasily Nalimov (1910–1997)
©Wikimedia Commons, 2019

That’s how Russian anarchism was paired with mysticism.


  1. The esoteric lectures I am referring to have not yet been published. They were held by Solonovich in the second half of the 1920s, judged by its content, presumably in front of a closed audience of selected students. In 2019, these lectures were handed over to me by Zhanna Drogalina, the widow of one of Solonovich’s former students, the philosopher Vasily Nalimov (1910–1997). The Roman numeration refers to the chronological order, in which the lectures were arranged.


{Bely} Белый, Андрей. “Ракурс к дневнику“. // Андрей Белый. Автобиографические своды: Материал к биографии. Ракурс к дневнику. Регистрационные записи. Дневники 1930-х годов [Andrei Bely. Autobiographical vaults. The material for a biography. View to the diary. Registration records] Москва: Наука, 2016, 329-663.

Burmistrov, Konstantin. “Esotericism in Soviet Russia in the 1920s–1930s.” In The New Age of Russia. Occult and Esoteric Dimensions, ed. by B. Menzel, M. Hagemeister, B. G. Rosenthal. München / Berlin: Otto Sagner, 2011.

Gooderham, Peter. “The anarchist movement in Russia 1905–1917.” University of Bristol, 1988. Accessed October 29, 2019:

Marx, Karl. A Contribution of the Critique of Political Economy. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Company, 1904.

{Nalimov} Налимов, Василий. Канатоходец [Rope dancer]. Москва: Прогресс. 1994.

{Nikitin} Никитин, Андрей. Орден Российских Тамплиеров. Документы 1922–1930 гг. Том I [The Order of the Russian Templars. Documents 19221930. Vol. I]. Москва: Минувшее, 2003.

{Nikitin} Никитин, Андрей Л. Орден Российских Тамплиеров. Документы 1930–1944 гг. Том II [The Order of the Russian Templars. Documents 19301940. Vol. II]. Москва: Минувшее, 2003.

{Sapon} Сапон, Владимир. Либертарный социалист Аполлон Карелин [The Libertarian Socialist Apollon Karelin]. North Carolina: Lulu Press, 2015.

{Solonovich} Солонович, Алексей. Вселенная, как совокупность миров. Мир образов и мир идеи. [The Universe as a Collection of Worlds. The World of Images and the World of Ideas]. (машинопись датируется предположительно второй половиной 1920-х гг.).

{Solonovich} Солонович, Алексей. “Критика материализма (2-й цикл лекций)“ [A Criticism of Materialism (2nd series of lectures)]. // Никитин, Андрей. Орден Российских Тамплиеров. Легенды Тамплиеров. Литература Ордена. Том III. Москва: Минувшее, 2003.

{Udartsev} Ударцев, Сергей Ф. “Эволюция теории анархизма в XIX–XX вв [The evolution of the theory of anarchism in the 19th and 20th centuries]“. // Анархизм: pro et contra, антология. Отв. ред. Д. К. Богатырев, 20–32. СПб.: РХГА, 2016.

This blog post in Russian

Cite this article as: Romina Heim, “Rethinking Reality: Here’s How Anarchism and Mysticism Go Together (II)”, in New Age in Russia, 07/11/2019,

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