Voline, The Unknown Revolution, 1917-1921 (1947)

Book One: Birth, Growth and Triumph of the Revolution


Toward a Socialist Government;
The Poverty of Socialism

Thus the first provisional Russian government, essentially bourgeois, was rapidly and inevitably reduced to manifest ridiculous and fatal impotence. The poor thing did what it could to maintain itself: it manoeuvred, it temporized, it stalled. Meanwhile all the cardinal problems also were bogged down. Criticism of and then general anger against this phantom government increased from day to day. Soon its existence became insupportable. Scarcely sixty days after its solemn inauguration, it was compelled to give way, without a struggle, on May 6, to a so-called "coalition" government (with Socialist participation), whose most influential member was Alexander Kerensky, a very moderate Social Revolutionary, or rather "independent" Socialist.

Could this bourgeois-Socialist regime hope to achieve more satisfactory results than its predecessor? Certainly not. For the conditions of its existence and the impotence of its actions would necessarily be identical with those of the first provisional government. Obliged to rely on a powerless bourgeoisie, forced to continue the war, incapable of finding a real solution of the more and more urgent problems, attacked by the leftists, and surrounded by difficulties of all kinds at all times, this second provisional regime perished ingloriously like the first, and in almost the same length of time, stepping aside on July 2 for a third provisional government, composed primarily of Socialists, with a few bourgeois elements.

It was at this point that Kerensky, supreme leader of the third and subsequently of a fourth government (almost the same as its immediate forerunner) became, for a time, a sort of Duce of Russia, and the Social Revolutionary Party, in close collaboration with the Mensheviks, seemed to have emerged definitely as masters of the Revolution. One step further, and the country would have had a Socialist government which could have relied on very real forces: the peasantry, the mass of industrial workers a large section of the intellectuals, the Soviets, the Army, et cetera.

However, it accomplished nothing.

Upon its attainment of power the last Kerensky government appeared very strong. And, in fact, it could have become so.

Kerensky, a lawyer and a Deputy, enjoyed great popularity, both among the masses and in the Army. His speeches in the Duma at the outbreak of the Revolution scored memorable success. And his assumption of power aroused tremendous hopes throughout Russia. He could depend without reservation on the soviets -- and therefore on the whole of the nation's working class -- for at the moment the overwhelming majority of the delegates [the Soviets, factory committees, and the soldiers' committees] were Socialists, and the Soviets were entirely in the hands of right Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks.

In the early weeks of the Kerensky ministry, it was dangerous to criticize its leader in public, so strong was the country's confidence in him. Several agitators learned this to their cost, while trying to speak against Kerensky in the public squares. There were even cases of lynching.

But to profit from all these remarkable advantages it was necessary that Kerensky fulfil -- and fulfil effectively, by deeds -- a single condition: the one recommended by Danton in days gone by. He must have audacity, still more audacity, and audacity all the time.

Well, this was precisely the quality that Kerensky completely lacked!

In the existing situation audacity for him properly meant: 1. Immediate abandonment of the war (the finding of some way to do this); 2. A decisive break with the capitalist bourgeois regime (that is, the formation of a wholly Socialist government); 3. Immediate orientation of the economic and social life of all Russia toward a frankly Socialist system.

All this would have been perfectly logical and "mandatory" for a government of Socialist persuasion, with a Socialist majority, and a Socialist leader. But no! As always, as they did everywhere, the Russian Socialists and Kerensky himself, instead of understanding the historical necessity and seizing the propitious moment to go forward and finally fulfil their real programme, remained prisoners of their bastard "minimum" programme which categorically required a struggle for a bourgeois democratic republic.

Instead of putting themselves candidly at the service of the working masses and their emancipation, the Socialists and Keren-sky, held captive by their own flabby ideology, could find nothing better to do than play the game of Russian and international capitalism.

Kerensky dared not abandon the war nor turn his back on the bourgeoisie, dared not base himself solidly on the working classes, nor even simply to continue the Revolution! And he dared not hasten the calling of the Constituent Assembly.

He wanted to continue the war! And at all costs and by whatever means!

What he did dare to do was, first, to institute a group of reforms in reverse: re-establishment of the death penalty and court-martials at the front, repressive measures in the rear. And finally, there was a long series of visits to the battle-front, and the making of speeches and inflammatory harangues which would, in Kerensky's opinion, revive the war-like enthusiasm of the early days of the conflict among the soldiers. He was aware that the war continued only through inertia. And he wanted to give it a new impetus with words and punishments, not taking any account the reality.

He orated so much that his title of Commander-in-Chief (he also was president of the Council of Ministers) was soon changed by the Russian public to Orator-in-Chief.

About two months sufficed to make Kerensky's popularity fall to the bottom, especially among the industrial workers and soldiers, who ended by jeering at his speeches. They wanted deeds, deeds of peace and social revolution. They also wanted the speedy calling of the Constituent Assembly. The obstinacy with which all the provisional regimes delayed that convocation was one of the reasons for their unpopularity. The Bolsheviks took advantage of this, promising, among other things, the calling of the Assembly as soon as they would come into power.

In short, the reasons for the failure of the Kerensky government were the same as those which brought on the collapse of the preceding regimes: the inability of the moderate Socialists to end the war; the lamentable impotence of this fourth government to solve the basic national problems; and its intention of imprisoning the Revolution within the limits of a bourgeois regimen.

Several circumstances and events -- the logical outcome of these fatal inadequacies -- aggravated the situation and precipitated Kerensky's downfall.

In the first place, the Bolshevik Party, having by this time assembled its best forces and thus possessing a powerful organization for propaganda and action, daily spread throughout the country, by means of thousands of orators and published articles, skilful, accurate, and vigorous criticisms of the policy, attitude, and activities of the Government (and also of all the moderate Socialists). It advocated immediately cessation of the war, demobilization, continuation of the Revolution.

It diffused with all its energy its social and revolutionary ideas. It repeated every day its promise to convoke the Constituent Assembly at once, and finally to resolve -- quickly and successfully -- all the problems of the hour if it was given power. Constantly it hammered, without let-up and without allowing itself to be intimidated, on the same nail: Power! "All power to the Soviets!" it shouted from morning to evening, and from evening to morning. Give political power to the Bolsheviki and everything would be fixed, resolved, realized.

Increasingly listened to and followed by the intellectual workers, the working masses in industry, and the Army, multiplying, with precipitous rapidity, the number of its adherents, and thus penetrating into all the factories and enterprises, the Bolshevik Party already had recruited by June, 1917, an imposing force of militants, agitators, propagandists, writers, organizers, and men of action. It also possessed considerable funds. And it had at its head a courageous central committee directed by Lenin. It carried on activity that was fierce, feverish, and fulminating, and it felt itself, at least morally, the master of the situation. Especially was this true because it had no rivals on the extreme left. The left Social Revolutionary Party, much weaker, could only figure as a satellite, the Anarchist movement was scarcely beginning; and as for the revolutionary Syndicalist movement, it was, as we know, non-existent.

Kerensky, feeling himself less and less secure, dared not attack the Bolsheviks resolutely, straightforwardly. He had recourse, in a desultory manner, to half-measures, which, while sufficient to defeat his opponent, gave it publicity, so that it won the attention, esteem, and finally the confidence of the masses. In the last analysis, these timid reactions strengthened the enemy instead of weakening it. And then, like many others, Kerensky did not see the danger. At that moment hardly anyone anticipated a Bolshevik victory. It is notable that even in that party itself, Lenin was almost alone in his certainty of winning and almost alone insisted that opportunity for preparing for an insurrection was at hand.

Finally Kerensky, pressed by the Allies, and hypnotized by his own dreams and probably by his own speeches, had the misfortune of launching, on June 18, his now famous offensive on the German front -- an offensive which failed miserably and struck a terrible blow to his popularity. And on July 3 an armed uprising against the Government, participated in by troops (and by sailors from the Kronstadt fortress) broke out in Petrograd, with cries of "Down with Kerensky! Long live the Social Revolution! All power to the Soviets!" This time Kerensky still could master the situation, though with difficulty. Nevertheless he lost the very shadow of his former influence.

Then an event occurred which gave him the coup de grace. Made desperate by the rising tide of the Revolution and by Keren-sky's indecision, a "White" general, Kornilov, brought from the front several thousand soldiers (mostly from Caucasian regiments- -- in effect colonial troops -- more easily duped and manipulated than others), deceived them about what was happening in the capital, and sent them to Petrograd under the command of another general who swore that he would "put an end to the bands of armed criminals and defend the Government, which is powerless to exterminate them."

For reasons which perhaps will someday be known specifically, Kerensky gave only feeble resistance to Kornilov -- a token resistance. The capital was saved only by the furious determination, the prodigious effort, and sublime spirit of sacrifice of the city's workers. With the aid of the Petrograd Soviet's left wing, several thousand of the workers armed themselves hastily and departed on their own initiative for "the front" against Kornilov. A battle, on the outskirts of the capital, remained indecisive.

The workers did not yield an inch of territory. But they left many dead on the field, and were not sure of having enough men and munitions for the next day. However, thanks to the quick and energetic action of the railroad and telegraph workers, assisted by soldiers' committees on the battle-line, Kornilov's headquarters were isolated from the front and from the whole country.

In the night, that commander's soldiers, surprised by the heroic resistance of [men who had been described to them as] "bandits, criminals, and idlers", and suspecting trickery, decided to examine the dead. They discovered that the bodies all had the calloused hands of bona fide industrial workers. Presently, too, a few groups of Socialists from the Caucasus who were then in Petrograd managed to get a delegation into Kornilov's camp. The delegates conferred with the soldiers there, told them the real situation, dispelled the myth of the "bandits", and persuaded them to abandon the fratricidal fight. Next morning, Kornilov's men, declaring that they had been deceived, refused to continue fighting against their brother workers and returned to the main front. The Kornilov adventure ended.

Immediately after this, public opinion accused Kerensky of secretly conniving with Kornilov. Whether true or not, this story was widely believed. Morally the situation spelled the finish of the Kerensky government and, in general, of the moderate Socialists. The way was open for a resolute offensive by the Bolshevik Party.

Then another event of major importance occurred. In new elections of delegates (to the Soviets, factory committees, and soldiers' committees) the Bolsheviks scored a crushing victory over the moderate Socialists. Thus that party attained full control of all working class and revolutionary activity. With the collaboration of the left Social Revolutionaries the Bolsheviks likewise gained wide sympathy among the peasants. They were now in an excellent strategic position for a decisive attack.

At this juncture Lenin conceived the idea of calling a Pan-Russian congress of Soviets, which would rise against Kerensky, overthrow him with the help of the Army, and inaugurate Bolshevik power. And preparations to carry out that plan began at once, partly in the open, partly in secret. Compelled to hide, Lenin directed the necessary operations by remote control. Keren-sky, while suspecting the danger, was powerless to avert it. Events moved swiftly. The last act of the drama was about to start.

It is fitting at this point to sum up certain outstanding elements in the Russian situation in that period.

All the conservative or moderate governments which officiate! from February to October, 1917, proved their impotence to solve under the existing conditions, the exceptionally acute problem with which the Revolution had confronted the people of Russia This was the principal reason why the nation threw out, one afte the other in the short space of eight months, the bourgeois con stitutional government, the democratic bourgeois government, an the two moderate Socialist governments.

Two facts especially marked this impotence:

1.    The impossibility of the country continuing the war, and of any of the four governments cited ending it.

2.    The urgency with which the people awaited the calling of the Constituent Assembly, and the inability of those governments to call it.

The insistent propaganda of the extreme left for immediate cessation of the war, for immediate summoning of the Assembly, and for the integral Social Revolution as the only way to safety, with other factors of less importance, animated the thunderous march of the Revolution.

Thus the Russian Revolution, which had broken out in February, as an uprising against Tsarism, rapidly outgrew the stages of a bourgeois political revolution, and of democratic and moderate Socialism.

In October, the road being cleared of all obstacles, the Revolution was set, effectively and completely, on a social revolutionary basis. And therefore it was logical and natural that, after the failure of all the moderate governments and political parties, the working masses should turn to the last party remaining, the only one which looked toward the Social Revolution without fear, the only one which promised, if it were given power, a speedy and happy solution for all the existing problems -- the Bolshevik Party.

The Anarchist movement, we must repeat, was still much too weak to have tangible influence on events. And there was no Syndicalist movement.

From a social point of view, the situation was as follows:

Three fundamental elements existed: 1. the bourgeoisie; 2. the working class; 3. the Bolshevik Party, acting as ideologue and "advance guard".

The bourgeoisie, as the reader knows, was weak. The Bolsheviki would not have too much trouble in eliminating it.

The working class also was weak. Unorganized (in the true sense of the word), inexperienced, and basically unaware of its true task, it could do nothing by itself in its own interests. It left everything to the Bolsheviks, who seized control of the action.

We will add a note here which anticipates developments somewhat, but which will enable the reader to follow and understand them better.

This inadequacy of the Russian working class at the beginning of the Revolution subsequently proved fatal to the whole Revolution. [Apropos of this] there was an evil debit left over from the abortive revolution of 1905-06; at that time the workers did not win the right to organize; they remained scattered. In 1917 they felt the effects of that fact.

[Consider the early course of the Bolshevik Party after it took control]. Instead of simply helping the workers to achieve the Revolution and emancipate themselves, instead of aiding them in their struggle, the role to which the workers assigned it in their thoughts, the role which, normally, would be that of all revolutionary ideologists, and which never [properly] includes taking and exercising "political power" -- instead of performing this role, the Bolshevik party, once in control, installed itself as absolute master. It was quickly corrupted. It organized itself as a privileged caste. And later it flattened and subjected the working class in order to exploit it, under new forms, in its own interest.

Because of this the whole Revolution was falsified, misled. For, when the masses of the people became cognizant of their danger, it was too late. After a struggle between them and the new masters, solidly organized and in possession of ample material, administrative, military, and police strength, the people succumbed. That bitter and unequal conflict went on for some three years, and for a long time remained practically unknown outside of Russia. The real emancipating revolution again was stifled, and by the "revolutionaries" themselves.

Let it be explained here that "political power" is not a force in itself. It is strong when it can base itself on capital, the arms of the State, the Army, the police. Lacking those supports it remains "suspended in the void", powerless, and unable to operate. The Russian Revolution has given formal proof of this. After February, 1917, the Russian bourgeoisie had "political power" in its hands, yet it was actually powerless, and its "power" fell by itself two months later. Following its bankruptcy it no longer possessed any real force -- neither productive capital, nor mass confidence, nor a solid State apparatus, nor an Army of its own. The second and third provisional governments fell in the same manner and for the same reason. And it is highly probable that if the Bolsheviki had not precipitated events, the Kerensky regime would have met precisely the same fate a little later.

Manifestly it follows that if the Social Revolution is in the process of taking over [a nation] (so that capital, land, mines, factories, means of communication, and money begin to pass into the hands of the people, and the Army makes common cause with the latter) there is no reason to be concerned about "political power" If the defeated classes attempt, in line with tradition, to form a government, what importance could it have? Even if they should succeed in that, it would be a phantom government, ineffectual and easily suppressed by the slightest effort of the armed people.

And as for the Revolution, what need has it of a "government" of "political power"? It has only one task to perform, that of advancing by the same course as the people, to organize itself, to consolidate itself, to perfect itself economically, to defend itself if need be, to extend itself, to build a new social life for the masses. Which has nothing to do with "political power". For all this is a normal function of the revolutionary people themselves, of their various economic and social organizations, their ordinating federations, their defence formations.

What is "political power" fundamentally? What is "political" activity? How many times have I posed these questions to members of left political parties without ever being able to obtain an intelligible definition or answer! How can one define "political" activity as an activity in itself, specifically useful for the community having a definite reason for existing? One can describe and define more or less precisely other activity -- social, economic, administrative, juridical, diplomatic, cultural. But "political" activity -- what is it? It is maintained that this term denotes exactly a central administrative activity, indispensable for a widely extended group: for a nation. But then does "political power" mean "administrative power"?

It is easy to see that these two ideas are not at all identical. Consciously or unconsciously, power and administration are thus confused (just as State and society are confused). The fact is that administrative activity is not separate -- cannot be separated -- from any branch of human activity; it is an integral part of it. It functions in all activity in so far as it is a principle of organization, of co-ordination, or normal centralization (to the degree that it is needed) federatively -- and from the periphery toward the centre.

For certain kinds of human activity, one can conceive of a general administration. In each field, or in a group of fields, the men possessing the ability to organize should normally exercise the function of organizers, or "administrators" -- a function which is simply a part of the whole activity of the field in question. These men, workers like the others, could thus insure the "administration of things" (contact, cohesion, equilibrium, et cetera) without having to establish a rigid political power as such. And "political power", like every other "thing apart", remains undefinable, because it does not correspond to any normal, real, concrete human activity. That is why "political power" becomes empty and falls of its own weight when the real functions are carried out normally, by their corresponding services. "As such", it cannot exist, for there is no specific "political" function in a human community.

A. A. Goldenweiser, a Russian jurist, recounts in his memoirs [Kievan Reminiscences, in Archives of the Russian Revolution, Vol. VI, pp. 161-303, [Moscow?] 1922.] that he lived during the Revolution in a city in the Ukraine which was in a notably unstable zone. In the course of events that city was left several times without "power", either White or Red. And with astonishment, M. Goldenweiser reports that during the whole period the people there lived, worked, and took care of their own needs as well as, or even better than, when there was "power." M. Goldenweiser was not the only one to mention that fact. What is surprising is that he was astonished at it.

Is it "power" that makes men live, act, and organize to satisfy their needs? In all human history, has there ever been a "power" which rendered society well organized, harmonious, and happy? History teaches us the opposite: human societies are -- to a degree that it is historically possible -- happy, harmonious, and progressive in periods when political power is weak (vide ancient Greece or certain periods in the Middle Ages) and where the people have been more or less let alone by it. And vice versa: a strong "political power" never gives the people anything but misfortunes, wars poverty, stagnation.

"Political" power took form in the evolution of human society for special historical reasons, which in our time no longer exist. We cannot concern ourselves here with this matter; it would take us too far from our subject. We shall confine ourselves to stating that fundamentally, for thousands of years, "power" has never produced anything but wars. All scholarly writings [on that theme] testify to this. And [recent decades in Russia have demonstrated] it in a striking manner.

It is contended that in order to "administrate" it is necessary to be able to impose, command, coerce. Thus a "political power" is a central administration of a large group (of a country) which possesses the means of coercion. But, in case of need, a popular administrative service, as such, can have recourse to measures of this sort, without having to set up a specific, permanent "political power", and even more efficiently than the latter.

Also it is argued that the masses are incapable of organizing themselves and of creating by themselves an effective administration. Farther on in this work the reader will find, I hope, ample proof to the contrary.

If, in the midst of a social revolution, the political parties want to amuse themselves by "organizing power" the people have only to pursue their revolutionary tasks, leaving the parties isolated; they will soon abandon this useless game. If after February, 1917, and especially after October, the Russian workers, instead of creating new masters, had simply continued their tasks, helped by all the revolutionists, defended by their own Army, and supported by the country at large, the very idea of "political power" soon would have disappeared.

In the pages which follow the reader will come upon various facts, publicly unknown until now, which will confirm this thesis.

We hope that the next revolution will travel the right road, and not let itself be misled by the political "palace revolutionists".