Thursday, 29 August 2013

Q58: Doukhobors and Hippies?

From: Dr. Irina Gordeeva, Moscow, Russia

I am a Russian historian and my theme is a history of the radical pacifist movement in Russia in the twentieth century. I start with the tolstoyans of the beginning of the twentieth century and finish with independent peace movement of the late Soviet period.

Thank you for your site and texts very much. Could you, please, answer a question for me: Is there any information about the attitude of the pacifist doukhobors to the hippie movement?

My question refers to the problem of the different types of pacifism and their interrelations. In the archive of Olga Birukova, I found a letter by a Doukhobor who was very negative towards hippies. In the Soviet Union there were several hippie-tolstoyans. Maybe there were hippie-Doukhobors as well?

Note: Dr. Gordeeva is an expert in the field of the history of religious and social movements in Russia (history of Utopian movements, the communitarian movement, radical pacifists, "Tolstoyan" and Russian sectarianism).


I do not know precisely what attitudes Doukhobors had in the 1960s to the immigrants and do not know of any hippie-Doukhobors, so I am asking readers to submit their stories as comments below.

In 2006, the USCC and Doukhobor Discovery Centre fully supported former "hippie / draft-dodgers" who were being attacked while trying to create a memorial and hold a conference in Nelson. See: Our Way Home Peace Event & Reunion: A review of the event and news about it.

Instead of answering Dr. Gordeeva's question, I will provide some context to this history and encourage readers to contribute.

The hippie phenomenon in the 1960s had its roots in a protest against authority, against war in Vietnam, against social injustices in society. The general response was for freedom from oppression, freedom from wars, and freedom from a variety of restrictions related to the middle class norms of sex, work, fashion, and education. The era was manifested with singing of protest songs, rallies against war, sexual freedoms, use of drugs, and by experiments in cooperative arrangements and home education.

The hippie era was democratic, but also dispersed in many directions that were responding to many needs. That dispersal made the social movement ineffective.

Joan Baez with John Kootnekoff, 1973, Mir (Issue 1:1, page 5).
The photo shows Doukhobor youth meeting a lead peace protester whose husband was 'imprisoned for 20 months, for refusing induction and organizing draft resistance against the Vietnam war' (Joan Baez, Biography). Their dress is typical for the hippie-styles of the late-1960s and early 1970s. It appeared in the magazine Mir, published by Doukhobor youth.

For Doukhobors, their historic tradition of plakun trava (going against the current) matched the hippie phenomenon of questioning the life style of the day, always looking for ways to free human beings from the restrictions of the church and state. In their dominant mir community system in Tsarist Russia, authority was shared with little or no differentiation. However, villagers feared the authority held by persons outside the local village.

The Doukhobors who moved to Canada in 1899 (about 1/3, 7500, mostly followers of Peter V. Verigin) faced a new threat to their previous comfortable community structure arrangement. The prevailing trend of the North American society was private enterprise, the free market, and capitalism. The new migrants wanted their freedoms to continue, as they negotiated before immigration. But, the agreements were soon breached. In 1905 newly elected Canadian politicians required private ownership instead of communal land ownership granted to Doukhobors. This caused Verigin in 1908 to abandoned 79% (1209 mi.2) of all land homesteaded by all Doukhobors, and order his followers (two-thirds, 5000) to move to private land he purchased in the interior of British Columbia to continue their communes for almost three decades as Community Doukhobors. The one-third who stayed behind, worked their land as individual owners, became farmers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, mechanics, nurses, and other professions, as Independent Doukhobors.

Within the Doukhobor communities, there were individuals known variously as svobodniki (free people), Sons of freedom or zealots, who resisted the state in terms of land ownership, public education, and the filling out of census data. They appear to have gotten their inspiration from Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his back-to-nature movement, from anarchists in opposing the state, and even from Lev N. Tolstoy who sought truth and the simple life to ensure an egalitarian society.

These zealots refused to adjust to the prevailing style of life in North America. Some of them became so vocal and extremist that they contradicted their historic roots of nonviolence and respect for ones neighbours. By going naked, releasing their 'brothers and sisters' horses and cattle in 1902, burning and bombing property (their own and others), experimenting with free marriage and sex, they essentially excluded themselves from the Doukhobor Movement. Their extremist antics were so sensational for the media and the public, that the group was condemned as a whole. A small group of warring zealots had in effect hijacked the larger peaceful group of Doukhobors.

The hippies were against war and social injustice, as have been the Doukhobors over the centuries.

The parallel to the hippie movement is closest to the extremist zealots, but there is a caveat which historians must take note. Burnings, bombings and nudity are not main-stream behaviours of Doukhobors. In fact, they are not Doukhobor in their true peaceful essence. To equate the Doukhobors as hippies is inaccurate.

What I see as the real lesson to Irena Gordeeva's question is that Doukhobors and hippies both questioned the right of the state to wage wars and instead sought an alternative society based on equality, nonkilling peace, justice and love. What attitudes the Doukhobors had in the 1960s and still have today require further study.



  1. I was told when visiting the Slocan that older Doukhhobors had welcomed the draft-dodgers and other war resisters when they showed up in the 1960s; and were friendly to hippies of the back-to-the-land and vegetarian varieties; not told to me by a Doukhobor but by one of the American exiles who found a new home in that region.

  2. The Svobodniki/Freedomites and the Community Doukhbors had a rapprochement in the mid-1970s when the former swore and oath to never engage in violence ever again. According to the documentaries I've watched it was hard within Doukhobor-dom to distinguish between Freedomites and other Doukhobors, and that included by the police.

    I'm sure Ms Tarasoff has seen Larry Ewashen's video documentaries on youtube so as a non-Doukhobor but a Canadian concerned about his country's police actions against dissident groups, I'm greatly saddened and more than a bit disgusted by what was done to Doukhobor children; and from their upset emotions came the post-1960 bombings and burnings...I found this documentary on a case against the province of British Columbia in 2001 by survivors of the New Denver residential school; I don't know if it was ever resolved or was, like the death of Peter the Lordly, fully investigated.

    1. about the 1924 death of Peter the Lordly, this mid-1970s request that the files be opened was never answered, only evaded.

  3. I should like to add for Dr. Gordeeva's research that I remember well that large contingents from the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ were at the front of Vancouver's immense Peace Marches in 1980, '81 and '82 and continue in peace organizations in BC to this day.