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Schapiro was born in 1882 in Rostov-on-Don, and as a child was taken to Turkey where he attended the French school in Istanbul. As a result, he could speak Russian, French, and Turkish, and would later master German and English. By the age of eleven, he was studying the works of anarchist theorists Peter Kropotkin, Jean Grave and Élisée Reclus. After studying biology at the Sorbonne in Paris with the intention of embarking on a career in medicine, he was forced to drop out for financial reasons, and joined his father in London where they were active in the London Anarchist Federation.
London and international activism
In London, he was a member of the Arbeter Fraynd collective, and a delegate of the Jewish Anarchist Federation of London at the 1907 International Anarchist Congress in Amsterdam, at which he was elected one of three secretaries and became one of five members of a bureau calling itself the Anarchist International. He was a signatory to the International Anarchist Manifesto against the First World War issued in London in 1915. He was the secretary in the London branch of the Anarchist Red Cross, which provided aid to imprisoned anarchists (in Russia especially), working alongside Peter Kropotkin, Varlaam Cherkezov and Rudolf Rocker. Schapiro was one of the few anarchist friends of Kropotkin not to cut his ties with the anarchist communist theorist over the latter's role in the pro-war Manifesto of the Sixteen.
Years in Russia, and exile
In the aftermath of the February Revolution in 1917, Schapiro returned to Russia and began working on the anarcho-syndicalist paper Golos Truda (The Voice of Labour), seeking to re-invigorate the Russian anarcho-syndicalist movement.
Schapiro became one of many Russian anarchists who collaborated with the Soviet government in the belief that he could help ameliorate working conditions; he accepted positions in the Commissariat for Jewish National Affairs and later the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs. Revolutionary anarchist-turned-Bolshevik Victor Serge described him in his Memoirs of a Revolutionary as a man "of critical and moderate temper".
After a few unhappy years in the service of the Bolshevik regime, and protesting its persecution and imprisonment of anarchists, he chose to go into exile in 1922. He then participated actively in the resurgent and by-then-anarcho-syndicalist International Workers Association (IWA), which at the time was organising aid for anarchists imprisoned in Russia.
He worked on the Russian anarcho-syndicalist newspaper Rabochii Put' (The Workers Voice) with Gregory Maksimov while in Berlin, before traveling on to France, where he continued to work with the IWA and edited another anarcho-syndicalist paper, La Voix du Travail (The Voice of Labour). Schapiro left Europe for New York, where he remained a tireless activist in the cause of Russian political prisoners until his death in 1946.
- Graham, Robert (June 28, 2008). "Alexander Schapiro - Anarchosyndicalism and Anarchist Organization". Robert Graham's Anarchism Weblog. Retrieved March 20, 2009.
- Avrich, Paul (2006). The Russian Anarchists. Stirling: AK Press. p. 138. ISBN 1-904859-48-8.
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- Graham, Robert (2005). "Selection 81". Anarchism: a Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas: from Anarchy to Anarchism. Montréal: Black Rose Books. ISBN 1-55164-250-6.
- "International Anarchist Manifesto on the War". Freedom: a Hundred Years, October 1886 to October 1986. London: Freedom Press. 1986. p. 21. ISBN 0-900384-35-2.
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- Woodcock, George (1990). Peter Kropotkin: From Prince to Rebel. Montréal: Black Rose Books. p. 387. ISBN 0-921689-60-8. OCLC 21156316.
- Porter, David (2006). "Introduction". Vision on Fire. Stirling: AK Press. p. 37. ISBN 1-904859-57-7.
- Woodcock, George (1990). Peter Kropotkin: From Prince to Rebel. Montréal: Black Rose Books. p. 349. ISBN 0-921689-60-8. OCLC 21156316.