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

Book Two: Bolshevism and Anarchism

Part I: Two Conceptions of the Revolution

Causes and Consequences of the Bolshevik Conception

It was, as is well known, the political, governmental, statist, centralist conception which won in Russia in 1917.

And at this point two preliminary questions arise which need to be clarified before we deal with the events there in that year.

What were the fundamental reasons that permitted Bolshevism to triumph over Anarchism in the Russian Revolution? How is thai triumph to be evaluated?

The numerical difference between the two groups and the poor organization of the Anarchists is not enough to explain their lack of success. In the course of developments their numbers could have been increased and their organization improved. Violence alone also is not a sufficient reason. If the masses could have been won over to Anarchist ideas in time, violence could not have been used against that movement.

Moreover, as will be seen, the defeat could be imputed neither to the Anarchist idea as such nor to the attitude of the libertarians. It was the almost unavoidable consequence of a complexity of factors beyond their control.

Therefore let us seek to discover the essential causes of the repulse of the Anarchist concept. They are multiple. We will enumerate them, in the order of their importance, and try to judge their exact worth:

1. The general state of mind of the masses, and also of the cultivated strata of the population.

In Russia, as everywhere else, the State and the government seemed to the masses to be elements that were indispensable, natural, and historically established for all time. The people did not even ask if the State and the government represented healthy institutions.1 Such a question did not occur to them. Or if some one formulated it they began -- and often also ended -- by not understanding him.

2. This statist prejudice, almost innate, resulting from evolution and environment through thousands of years, thus becoming "second nature", was further reinforced -- especially in Russia, where Anarchist literature hardly existed except for a few clandestine pamphlets and leaflets -- by the press generally, including that of the Socialist parties.

We must not forget that the advanced youth in Russia read a literature which invariably presented Socialism in a statist form. The Marxists and the anti-Marxists disputed among themselves, but for both the State remained the indisputable basis of all modern society.

So Russia's younger generation never thought of Socialism except in a statist form. Except for a rare few individual exceptions, the Anarchist conceptions remained unknown to them until the events of 1917. Not only the Russian press, but all education in that country -- all the time -- had had a statist character.

3. It was for the reasons set forth above that the Socialist parties, including the Bolsheviks, had at their disposal, at the beginning of the Revolution, sizeable cadres of militants ready for action.

The members of the moderate Socialist parties already were relatively numerous at that time, which was one of the causes of the success of the Mensheviks and the right Social Revolutionaries. As for the Bolshevik cadres, they were then mainly abroad. But all these men [and women] quickly returned home and immediately set to work.

Compared with the Socialist and Bolshevik forces which were acting in Russia from the beginning of the Revolution on a wide scale and in an organized, disciplined manner, the Anarchists were only a handful of individuals without influence.

But it was not only a question of numbers. Renouncing political methods and goals, the Anarchists logically did not form an artificially disciplined political party for the purpose of conquering power. They organized themselves into groups for propaganda and social action, and later into associations and federations practicing free discipline. This mode of organization and action contributed to putting them, provisionally, in an inferior position in relation to the political parties. That, however, did not discourage them, for they were working for the day when the masses, having been made to understand -- by the force of events, reinforced by explanatory and educational propaganda -- the vital truth of their conception, it would be achieved.

1 recall that, when I returned to Russia from abroad and arrived in Petrograd in the early part of July, 1917, I was struck by the impressive number of Bolshevik notices announcing meetings and lectures in all parts of the capital and suburbs, in public halls, in factories, and in other gathering places. I didn't see a single Anarchist notice. Also I learned that the Bolshevik Party was publishing, in Petrograd and elsewhere, a daily paper of wide circulation, and that it had important and influential nuclei nearly everywhere -- notably in the factories, in the administrations, and in the Army.

And I observed at the same time, with bitter disappointment, that there was not in the capital a single Anarchist newspaper nor any oral Anarchist propaganda. There were, it is true, a few very primitive libertarian groups there. And in Kronstadt there were a small number of Anarchists whose influence made itself felt. But these "cadres" were insufficient to carry on effective propaganda, not only for advocating an almost unknown idea, but also for counteracting the powerful Bolshevik activity and propaganda. In the fifth month of a great revolution, no Anarchist newspaper, no Anarchist voice was making itself heard in the capital of the country. And this in the face of the almost unlimited activity of the Bolsheviki! Such was my observation.

It was not until August, and with great difficulty, that a little group of Anarcho-Syndicalists, consisting mainly of comrades returned from abroad, finally succeeded in starting a weekly newspaper, Golos Truda, The Voice of Labour, in Petrograd. As for oral propaganda, however, there were scarcely three or four comrades in that city capable of performing it. In Moscow the situation was more favourable, for it already had a libertarian daily, published by a fairly large federation, under the title of Anarchy. In the provinces Anarchist forces and propaganda were insignificant.

It was astonishing that in spite of this poverty, and such an unfavourable situation, the Anarchists were able to gain, a little later -- and nearly everywhere -- a certain influence, forcing the Bolsheviks to combat them with arms in hand, and in some places, for a considerable time. This rapid and spontaneous success of the Anarchist idea is highly significant.

When, on my arrival [in Petrograd], some comrades wanted to know my first impressions, I told them this: "Our delay is irreparable. It is as if we had to overtake on foot an express train, which, in the possession of the Bolsheviki, is 100 kilometres ahead of us, and is travelling at the rate of 100 kilometres an hour. We not only have to overtake it, but we must grab hold of it at full speed, hang on, get into it and fight the Bolsheviks, dislodge them, and finally, not take over the train, but, what is much more delicate, put it at the disposal of the masses and help them make it go. A miracle is needed for all that to succeed. Our duty is to believe in that miracle and work for its realization."

I may add that such a "miracle" occurred at least twice in the course of the Revolution -- first, in Kronstadt at the time of the uprising in March, 1921; and second, in the Ukraine [in the forward sweep of] the mass movement called Makhnovist. These two achievements, [are among the developments that] have been passed over in silence or distorted in the works of ignorant or biased authors. They remain generally unknown to the public.

4. Certain events of the Revolution, cited farther on, prove to us that despite the unfavourable circumstances and the insufficient number of Anarchist cadres, the Anarchist idea could have blazed a trail, or even won, if the mass of Russian workers had had at their disposal, at the very beginning of the Revolution, class organizations that were old, experienced, proven, ready to act on their own, and to put that idea into practice. But the reality was wholly otherwise. The workers' organizations arose only in the course of the Revolution.

To be sure, they immediately made a prodigious spurt numerically. Rapidly the whole country was covered with a vast network of unions, factory committees, Soviets, et cetera. But these organizations came into being with neither preparation nor preliminary activity, without experience, without a clear ideology, without independent initiative. They had no historical tradition, no competence, no notion of their role, their task, their true mission. The libertarian idea was unknown to them. Under these conditions they were condemned to be taken in tow, from the beginning, by the political parties. And later the Bolsheviks saw to it that the weak Anarchist forces would be unable to enlighten them to the necessary degree.

The libertarian groups, as such, could only be transmitters of ideas. In order that those ideas be applied to life, "receiving" sets were needed: workers' organizations ready to get these idea-waves, "receive" them, and put them into practice. If such organizations had existed, the Anarchists of the corresponding professions would have joined them, and given them their enlightened aid, advice, and example. But in Russia, those "receiving sets" were lacking, and the organizations which arose during the Revolution could not fulfil this purpose [with the needed swiftness]. The Anarchist ideas, although they were broadcast energetically by a few "transmitters", were "lost in the air" without being received effectively. So they had no practical results.

Under these conditions, in order that the Anarchist idea might blaze a trail and win, it would have been necessary either that Bolshevism didn't exist, or that the Bolsheviks acted as Anarchists -- or that the Revolution had left sufficient time to the libertarians and the working masses to permit the workers' organizations to receive that idea and become capable of achieving it before being swallowed up and subjugated by the Bolshevik State. This latter possibility did not occur, the Bolsheviki having swallowed the workers' organizations, and blocked the way for the Anarchists, before the former could familiarize themselves with Anarchist concepts, oppose this seizure, and orient the Revolution in a libertarian direction.

The absence of these "receiving sets", that is, of workers' organizations, socially ready to receive and carry out, from the start, the Anarchist idea, (and then, the lack of time needed to create such "receiving sets") -- this absence, in my opinion, was one of the principal reasons for the failure of Anarchism in the Russian Revolution of 1917.

5. Another factor which we will glance at, and the importance of which is not inconsiderable, despite its subjective character, could be added to the preceding one. It aggravated it and rendered it completely fatal to the Revolution.

There was a simple and speedy method available to eliminate the effects of the backwardness of the masses, to make up for lost time, to fill in the gaps. That was to leave the field free for the libertarian propaganda and movement, since, after the fall of the last Kerensky government, freedom of speech, organization, and action were definitely achieved by the Revolution.

Knowing of the absence of workers' organizations, and of a widespread libertarian propaganda and Anarchist knowledge before the Revolution, enables us to understand why the masses entrusted their fate to a political party and a power, thus repeating the fundamental error of previous revolutions. Under the existing conditions, the beginning was objectively inevitable. But subsequent developments were not in the least inevitable.

Let me explain.

A true revolution can only take its flight, evolve, attain its objectives, if it has an environment of the free circulation of revolutionary ideas concerning the course to follow, and the problems to be solved. This liberty is as indispensable to the Revolution as air is to respiration.2 That is why, among other things, the dictatorship of a party, a dictatorship which leads inevitably to the suppression of all freedom of speech, press, organization, and action -- even for the revolutionary tendencies, except for the party in power -- is fatal to true revolution.

In social matters, no one can pretend to possess the whole truth, or to be immune from self-deception. Those who do so pretend -- whether they call themselves Socialists, Communists, Anarchists, or anything else -- and who, once in power, destroy, on the strength of this pretension, other ideas, inevitably establish a kind of social inquisition. And like all inquisitions, they stifle all truth, all justice, all progress, life, man, the very breath of the Revolution. Only the free exchange of revolutionary ideas, the multiform collective thought, with its law of natural selection, can keep us from error and prevent us from going astray. Those who do not recognize this are simply bad individualists while pretending to be Socialists, collectivists, Communists, et cetera.

These truths are so clear and natural in our days -- I might even say evident -- that one is really uncomfortable in having to insist on them. It is necessary to be both blind and deaf, or of bad faith, to fail to understand them. Yet Lenin, and others with him, undoubtedly sincere, renounced them. The fallibility of the human mind. And as for those who blindly followed the "chiefs", they recognized their error too late. By that time the Inquisition was functioning at full steam; it had its "apparatus" and its coercive forces. And the masses "obeyed" as they were accustomed to, or were, once more, powerless to alter the situation. The Revolution was corrupted, turned from its course, and the correct way was lost. "Everything disgusts me so much," Lenin admitted to his comrades one day, seeing what was going on around him, "that, despite my illness, I would like to leave it all and flee." Had he understood?

If, once in power, the Bolshevik Party had, we won't say encouraged (that would have been too much to ask), but only allowed freedom of speech and organization to the libertarians, the retardation would have been quickly made up for and the gaps filled in. As will be seen, the facts prove this irrefutably. The long and difficult struggle which the Bolsheviks had to carry on against Anarchism, despite its weakness, alone permits one to conjecture the success that the Anarchists might have achieved if they had had freedom of speech and action.

But, precisely because of the initial successes of the libertarian movement, and because free Anarchist activity infallibly would have given rise to the idea that all political parties and all power were useless, which would have led to the Bolshevik Party"s elimination, the latter could not permit this liberty. To tolerate Anarchist propaganda would have been equivalent to suicide for the Bolsheviki. They did their best to prevent, then to forbid, and finally to suppress by brute force, any manifestation of libertarian concepts.

It is frequently contended that the labouring masses are incapable of achieving a revolution for themselves, freely. This thesis is particularly dear to the "Communists", for it permits them to invoke an "objective" situation necessarily leading to repression of the "wicked Utopian Anarchists". (Since the masses are incompetent, they say, an "Anarchist revolution" would mean the death of the Revolution). But this thesis is absolutely gratuitous. Let them furnish proof of such alleged incapacity of the masses. One can search history without finding a single example where the masses were really left to act freely (while being helped, naturally), which would be the only way of proving their incapacity.

This experiment never has been tried -- and for reasons easy to understand. (It would, however, be simple). For it is well known that that thesis is false, and the experiment would put an end to exploitation of the people and to authority, based, no matter what its form, not on the incapacity of the masses, but only on violation and deception. That is why, moreover, that eventually the labouring masses will be driven historically to take their liberty of action through a revolution, a true one -- for the dominators (they are always at the same time exploiters, or are in the service of an exploiting class) will never give it, no matter what their label.

The fact that they [the mass of workers] have always entrusted their fate, until the present, to parties, to governments, to leaders -- a fact that all the dominators and potential exploiters use to advantage for subjugating the masses -- may be explained by several circumstances which we don't have to analyze here, and which have nothing to do with the capacity or incapacity of the multitude. This fact proves, if one wishes, the credulity, the heedlessness, of the masses, their unawareness of their own strength, but not at all their incapacity, that is, the absence of that strength.

"Incapacity of the masses". What a tool for all exploiters and dominators, past, present, and future, and especially for the modern aspiring enslavers, whatever their insignia -- Nazism, Bolshevism, Fascism, or Communism. "Incapacity of the masses" There is a point on which the reactionaries of all colours are in perfect agreement with the "Communists". And this agreement is exceedingly significant.

Let the "capable" and infallible leaders of our time, permit the labouring masses, on the day after the coming Revolution, to act freely, while simply helping them where there is need. They will soon see whether the masses are "incapable" of acting without political protectors. We can assure them that the Revolution will then lead to another result than that of 1917, with its Fascism and unending war.

Alas, we know in advance that they never will dare such an experiment. And the masses again have a special task to perform : that of eliminating in full consciousness and in an opportune time, all the "aspirants", of taking the work into their own hands, and carrying it out in full independence. Let us hope that this time the task will be done.

Accordingly the reader will understand why the propaganda of Anarchist ideas, trying to destroy the credulity of the masses, make them conscious of their own strength, and give them confidence in themselves, was considered, at all times and in all countries, as the most dangerous. It has been repressed, and its protagonists pursued, with exceptional promptness and severity, by all reactionary governments.

In Russia this savage repression rendered the spread of libertarian concepts -- already so difficult under existing circumstances -- almost impossible up to the advent of the Revolution. Then the Anarchists were allowed a certain degree of freedom of action. But we have seen that under the provisional governments from February to October, 1917, the Anarchist movement still could not accomplish much. And as for the Bolsheviks, they were no exceptions to the rule. As soon as they achieved power, they undertook the suppression of libertarians by every means at their disposal: slanders, traps and ambushes, prohibitions, searches, arrests, acts of violence, destruction of meeting places, assassinations -- anything was acceptable to them. And when they felt that their power was sufficiently consolidated, they launched a general and decisive repression against the Anarchists. This began in April, 1918, and has never let up until the present. Farther on the reader will find details of this "feat of valour" by the Bolsheviki, almost unknown outside of Russia.

Thus Anarchist activity could only be carried on in approximate freedom for some six months. It is hardly astonishing that the libertarian movement did not have time to organize, to expand, to get rid of, in growing, its weakness and faults. All the more reason that it lacked time to reach the masses and make itself known to them. It remained to the end, shut up in a "closed vessel". It was killed in the egg, without being able to break the shell. (This was, objectively, not impossible).

Such was the second principal reason for its failure.

It is necessary to underline here the capital importance -- for the Revolution -- of what we have just stated.

The Bolsheviks wiped out Anarchism deliberately, aggressively. Taking advantage of the circumstances, and of their hold upon the masses, they savagely suppressed the libertarian idea and the movements which supported it. They did not let Anarchism exist, still less go to the masses. Later they had the impudence to maintain, for political reasons, that Anarchism had failed "ideologically", the masses having understood and rejected its "anti-proletarian doctrine". Abroad, all those who like to be fooled took them at their word. The "Communists" also pretend, as we have said, that since Anarchism, in opposing Bolshevism, did not have "objectively" any chance of steering the Revolution onto its course, it put it in danger and showed itself as being objectively "counter-revolutionary", and therefore had to be fought without softness. They took care not to say that it was precisely they who, very "subjectively", took away from the Anarchists -- and from the masses -- the last chance, the very real means, and the concrete possibility of success.

In wiping out the libertarian movement, in destroying the free movements of the masses, the Bolsheviki, ipso facto, stopped and stifled the Revolution.

Unable to advance further towards the real emancipation of the masses, for which had been substituted a dominating statism, inevitably bureaucratic and exploitive, and "neo-capitalist", the real Revolution inevitably had to recede. For all unfulfilled revolutions, that is to say, those which do not lead to genuine and complete emancipation of labour, are condemned to recede, in one way or another. History teaches us this. And the Russian Revolution confirms it. But those who don't want to listen or see, are slow to understand it.

Some persist in believing in an authoritarian revolution, while others end by despairing of all revolutions, instead of seeking for the why of the failure. Still others -- and these, alas, are the most numerous -- don't want to listen or look. They imagine that they will be able to "live their lives" away from and sheltered from the far-sweeping social backwaters. They are indifferent to the social whole, and seek to intrench themselves in their own miserable individual existence, unconscious of the enormous obstacle that they present, by their attitude, to human progress and their own real well-being. They believe anything and follow anything provided they are "left in peace". They hope thus to be able to "save themselves" in the midst of the cataclysm. A fundamental and fatal error and illusion. However, the truth is simple: so long as the labour of man is not free of all exploitation by man, no one can speak of real life, real progress, or real personal well-being.

For thousands of years three principal conditions have prevented the existence of free labour, and therefore "fraternity" and human well-being:

  1. The state of technology -- man did not possess the vast forces of Nature of which he is now master.
  2. The state of economic affairs which resulted from this -- the insufficiency of the products of human labour, and, as a consequence, an "exchange economy", money, profit; in short, the capitalist system of production and distribution, based on the scarcity of manufactured products.3
  3. The moral factor, which, in its turn, followed the first two -- ignorance, brutalization, submission, resignation of the masses.

But for several decades the first two conditions cited have been greatly modified. Technologically and economically, free labour is now not only possible, but indispensable for the normal life and evolution of man. The capitalist and authoritarian system can no longer insure either one or the other; it can only produce wars. Only the morale is inadequate: accustomed for millennia to resignation and submission, the immense majority of men will not see the true path which is open before them; they still do not perceive the action which history imposes on them. As before, they "follow" and "submit", lending their enormous energy to acts of war and senseless destruction, instead of realizing that, under modern conditions, their free creative activity would be crowned with success. It will be necessary that the force of events, wars, calamities of all sorts, abortive and repeated revolutions, occurring without interruption, taking from them all possibility of living, finally will open their eyes to the truth and will consecrate their energy to real human action, free, constructive, and benevolent.

We must add, in passing, that in our time, the Revolution and reaction will, in the consequences, inevitably be world-wide. Moreover, in 1789 the French Revolution and the reaction which I followed it made resounding echoes and motivated important movements in several countries. If the Russian Revolution, continuing to march forward, had become the great emancipating revolution, peoples in other lands would have followed it presently and in the same direction. In that event it would have been, in fact and not just on paper, a powerful beacon lighting up the true path for humanity.

On the contrary, distorted, and stopped in full retreat, it j served admirably the purposes of world reaction, which was awaiting its hour. (The great moguls of reaction are more perspicacious than the revolutionists). The illusion, the myth, the slogans, the trimmings, and the waste paper remained, but real life, which has no use for illusions, trimmings, and waste paper, pursued a wholly different route. Hence the reaction and its far-reaching consequences: Fascism, new wars, and economic and social catastrophes, became almost inevitable.

In this situation, the fundamental -- and well-known -- error of Lenin is curious and suggestive. He expected a rapid extension of the "Communist" revolution to other countries. But his hopes were in vain. However, fundamentally, he did not deceive himself: the true Revolution will "set fire to the world". Yes, a true revolution would have set the world afire. Only his revolution was not a true one. And that Lenin did not see. It was in this respect that he deceived himself. Blinded by his statist doctrine, fascinated by "victory", he did not and could not realize that it was a miscarried, strayed revolution; that it was going to remain sterile; that it could "set fire" to nothing, for it had ceased to "burn" itself; that it had lost the power of spreading, a characteristic of great causes, because it had ceased to be a great cause.

Could he see, in his blindness, that this revolution was going to stop, retreat, degenerate, give rise to victorious reaction in other countries after a few abortive uprisings? Of course not. And he committed a second error: He believed that the ultimate fate of the Russian Revolution depended upon its extension to other countries. Exactly the opposite was true: extension of the Revolution depended upon the results of the revolution in Russia.

These results being vague and uncertain, the labouring masses abroad hesitated, inquired, waited for details. But the information and other indicative elements became more and more obscure and contradictory. The inquiries and delegations met with no definite data. Meanwhile the negative testimonials [about what was happening among the Russians] accumulated. The European masses temporized, did not dare, were mistrustful or uninterested. The necessary spirit was lacking in them, and the cause remained in doubt. Then came the disagreements and the schisms. All this played into the hands of the reaction. It prepared, organized, acted.

Lenin's successors had to accept the evidence. Without perhaps discerning the true cause, they understood intuitively that conditions were not propitious for an extension of the "Communist" Revolution, but that there was a vast reaction against it. They understood that this reaction would be dangerous for them, for their Revolution, such as it was, could not be imposed upon the world. So they set feverishly to work preparing for future wars, henceforth inevitable. From now, this was the only course for them to follow. And for history, too!

It is curious to observe that, subsequently, the "Communists" tried to explain the lack of success and mistakes of the Revolution by invoking "the capitalist encirclement", the inaction of the proletariat of other countries, and the strength of world reaction. They did not suspect -- or did not admit -- that the weakness of the foreign workers and the spreading of the reaction were, to a large extent, the natural consequences of the false route on which they themselves had put the Revolution; and that, in diverting it, they themselves had prepared the road for reaction, for Fascism, and for war.

Such is the tragic truth of the Bolshevik Revolution. Such is its principal lesson for the workers of the world. Fundamentally, it is simple, clear, and indisputable. However, it is still neither established nor even known. It will become so in proportion to events, and as the free study of the Russian Revolution develops.

Let us not be deceived about the fate of the coming Revolution! It has before it only two courses: either that of the genuine Social Revolution which will lead to the real emancipation of the workers (and which is objectively possible), or, again, that of the political, statist, and authoritarian impasse, leading inevitably to a new reaction, new wars, and catastrophes of all sorts.

Human evolution does not stop. It blazes a trail through, over, or around any obstacles. In our day, capitalist, authoritarian, and political society completely forbids it in advance. That society must therefore disappear now, in one way or another. If again this time the people do not know how really to transform it and at the moment of the Revolution, the unavoidable consequence will be a new reaction, a new war, and terrible economic and social cataclysms; in short, the continuation of total destruction, until the people understand and act accordingly. For, in this case, human evolution will have no other way of blazing a trail.4

We mention finally an element which, without having the importance of the factors already cited, nevertheless played a notable role in the tragedy of the Russian Revolution. It has to do with "publicity" or demagogy. Like all political parties, the Bolshevik Party [now the "Communist" Party] used and abused such means. To impress the masses, to "conquer" them, it made use of display, publicity, and bluff. Moreover, it put itself, in any way it could, on top of a mountain so that the crowd could see it, hear it, and admire it. All this gave it strength for the moment.

But such methods are foreign to the libertarian movement, which, by reason of its very essence, is more anonymous, discreet, modest, quiet. This fact increased its temporary weakness. Refusing to lead the masses, working to awaken their consciousness, and depending on their free and direct action, it was obliged to renounce demagogy and work in the shadows, preparing for the future, without seeking to impose authority.

Such was its situation in Russia.

Here I would like to leave the field of concrete facts for a few minutes, and to attempt a short incursion into "philosophical" territory.

The basic idea of Anarchism is simple: no party, political or ideological group, placed above or outside the labouring masses to "govern" or "guide" them ever succeeds in emancipating them, even if it sincerely desires to do so. Effective emancipation can be achieved only by the direct, widespread, and independent action of those concerned, of the workers themselves, grouped, not under the banner of a political party or of an ideological formation, but in their own class organizations (productive workers' unions, factory committees, co-operatives, et cetera) on the basis of concrete action and self-government, helped, but not governed, by revolutionaries working in the very midst of, and not above the mass and the professional, technical, defence, and other branches.

All political or ideological grouping which seeks to "guide" the masses toward their emancipation by the political or governmental route, are taking a false trail, leading to failure and ending inevitably by installing a new system of economic and social privileges, thus giving rise, under another aspect, to a regime of oppression and exploitation for the workers -- therefore another variety of capitalism -- instead of helping the Revolution to direct them to their emancipation.

This thesis necessarily leads to another: The Anarchist idea and the true emancipating revolution cannot be achieved by the Anarchists as such, but only by the vast masses concerned -- the Anarchists, or rather, the revolutionaries in general, being called in only to enlighten and aid them under certain circumstances. If the Anarchists pretended to be able to achieve the Social Revolution by "guiding" the masses, such a pretension would be an illusion, as was that of the Bolsheviki, and for the same reason.

That is not all. In view of the immensity -- one might say the universality -- and the nature of the task, the working class alone cannot lead the true Revolution to a satisfactory conclusion. If it has the pretentiousness of acting alone and imposing itself upon the other elements of the population by dictatorship, and forcibly making them follow it, it will meet with the same failure. One must understand nothing about social phenomena nor of the nature of men and things to believe the contrary.

Also, at the beginning of such a struggle for effective emancipation, history necessarily takes an entirely different course.

Three conditions are indispensable -- in the following order of importance -- for a revolution to succeed conclusively.

  1. It is necessary that great masses -- millions of persons in several countries -- driven by imperative necessity, participate in it of their own free will.
  2. That, by reason of this fact, the more advanced elements, the revolutionists, part of the working class, et al., do not have recourse to coercive measures of a political nature.
  3. That for these two reasons, the huge "neutral" mass, carried without compulsion by the far-sweeping current, by the free enthusiasm of millions of humans, and by the first positive results of this gigantic movement, accept of their own free will the fait accompli and come over more and more to the side of the true revolution.

Thus the achievement of the true emancipating revolution requires the active participation, the strict collaboration, conscious and without reservations, of millions of men of all social conditions, declassed, unemployed, levelled, and thrown into the Revolution by the force of events.

But, in order that these millions of men be driven into a place from which there is no escape, it is necessary above everything else that this force dislodge them from the beaten track of their daily existence. And for this to happen, it is necessary that this existence, the existing society itself, become impossible; that it be ruined from top to bottom -- its economy, its social regime, its politics, its manners, customs, and prejudices.

Such is the course history takes when the times are ripe for the true revolution, for true emancipation.

It is here that we touch upon the heart of the problem.

I think that in Russia this destruction had not gone far enough. Thus the political idea had not been destroyed, which permitted the Bolsheviks to take power, impose their dictatorship, and consolidate themselves. Other false principles and prejudices likewise remained.

The destruction which had preceded the revolution of 1917 was sufficient to stop the war and modify the forms of power and capitalism. But it was not sizeable enough to destroy them in their very essence, to impel millions of men to abandon the false modern social principles (State, politics, power, government, et cetera) and act themselves on completely new bases, and have done forever with capitalism and power, in all their previous forms.

This insufficiency of destruction was, in my opinion, the fundamental cause which arrested the Russian Revolution and led to its deformation by the Bolsheviki. 5

It is here that the "philosophical" question arises.

The following reasoning appears quite plausible:

"If, truly, the insufficiency of the preliminary destruction prevented the masses from achieving their revolution, this element, in fact, over-rides and sweeps away everything, and explains everything. In this case, were not the Bolsheviks right in taking power and pushing the Revolution as far as possible, thus barring the way to reaction? Was not their action historically justified, with its methods and consequences?"

To that I reply:

In the first place, it is necessary to define the problem. Fundamentally, were the labouring masses capable of continuing the Revolution and building the new society themselves, by means of their class organizations, which were created by the Revolution, and with the help of the revolutionists?

The real problem is there.

If the answer is no, then one can understand why someone might try to justify the Bolsheviki,6 without, however, being able to pretend that their revolution was the true revolution, or that their procedure was justified where the masses were capable of acting by themselves. But if the answer is yes, then they are irrevocably condemned "without extenuating circumstances", whatever the circumstances and the momentary mistakes of the masses may have been.

In speaking of the insufficiency of destruction, we meant by that especially the evil survival of the political idea. This not having been nullified in advance, the masses, victorious in February, 1917, entrusted the fate of the Revolution subsequently to a party, that is to say, to new masters, instead of getting rid of all pretenders, whatever their label, and taking the Revolution entirely into their own hands. Thus they repeated the fundamental error of previous revolutions. But this erroneous act had nothing to do with the capacity or incapacity of the masses.

Let us suppose for the moment that there had been no one to profit from that error. Would the masses have been capable of carrying the Revolution to its final goal -- to effective, complete emancipation? To this question I reply categorically: Yes. I even maintain that the labouring masses were the only ones capable of leading it there. I hope that the reader will find irrefutable proof of that in this work. And, if this affirmation is correct, then the political factor was not in the least necessary for preventing reaction, continuing the Revolution, and bringing it to a successful conclusion.

2. Let us point out now that our thesis is confirmed by a significant fact, details of which will be given later. In the course of the Revolution, many Russians recognized their error. (The political principle began to fade). They wanted to correct it, to act themselves, to get rid of the pretentious and ineffectual guardianship of the party in power. Here and there they even set to work. But instead of being pleased with this, of encouraging them, or of helping them along that course, as true revolutionists would have done, the Bolsheviki opposed that tendency by unprecedented deceit, violence, and a profusion of military and terrorist exploits. Having discovered their error, the revolutionary masses wished to act themselves and felt that they were capable oj doing so. The Bolsheviks broke their spirit by force.

3. It follows, irrefutably, that the Bolsheviki did not "push the Revolution as far as possible". Retaining power, with all its forces and advantages, they, on the contrary, kept it down. And, subsequently, having taken over the capitalist property, they succeeded, after a fierce struggle against popular total revolution, in turning it to their own advantage, restoring under another form the capitalist exploitation of the masses. (Wherever men do not work under conditions of freedom, the system is necessarily capitalistic, though the form may vary).

4. Thus it is clear that it was not at all a question of justification, but only an historical explanation of the triumph of Bolshevism over the libertarian conception in the Russian Revolution of 1917.

5. It follows also that the real "historical meaning" of Bolshevism is purely negative. It is another lesson from experience, demonstrating to the labouring masses how not to wage a revolution -- a lesson which completely condemns the political idea. Under the conditions existing [in Russia in 1917] such a lesson was almost inevitable, but not at all indispensable. Acting in another manner (which, theoretically, would not have been impossible), the Bolsheviks could have avoided it. So they have no right to be proud of themselves, nor to pose as saviours.

6. This lesson also emphasizes other important points:

  1. The historical evolution of humanity has reached a stage where continuity of progress requires free labour, exempt from all submission, from all constraint, from all exploitation of man by man. Economically, technically, socially, and even morally, such labour is, from now on, not only possible but historically indispensable. The "lever" of this vast social transformation (of which, through several decades, we have been experiencing the tragic convulsions) is the Revolution. To be truly progressive and "justified" that revolution must necessarily lead to a system in which human labour will be effectively and totally emancipated.
  2. In order that the labouring masses may pass from slave labour to free labour, they must, from the beginning of the Revolution, carry it out themselves, in full freedom, in complete independence. Only on this condition can they, concretely and immediately, take in hand the task which is now imposed upon them by history -- the building of a society based on emancipated labour.

All modern revolutions which are not carried out by the masses themselves will not lead to the historically indicated result. So they will be neither progressive nor "justified" but perverted, turned from their true course, and finally lost. Led by new masters and guardians, again kept from all initiative and from all essentially free responsible activity, and compelled as in the past to follow docilely this '"chief" or that "guide" who has imposed himself on them, the labouring masses will revert to their time-honoured habit of "following" and will remain an "amorphous herd", submissive and shorn. And the true revolution simply will not be accomplished.

7. Of course it might still be said to me:

"Suppose for the moment that you are right on certain points. It is none the less true that, though the preliminary destruction was, in your opinion, insufficient, the total Revolution, in the libertarian sense of the term, was objectively impossible. Consequently what happened was, historically at least, inevitable, and the libertarian idea could only have been a utopian dream. Its utopianism might have put the whole Revolution in danger. The Bolsheviks knew this and acted accordingly. That is their justification."

The reader may have noticed that I invariably say: "almost inevitable". I use "almost" deliberately. From my pen this word takes on a special importance.

Naturally, in principle, the general objective factors outweigh all others. In the phase we are considering, the insufficiency of the preliminary destruction -- and the survival of the political principle -- would, objectively, lead to the accession of Bolshevism. But in the human world the problem of "factors" becomes exceedingly delicate. The objective factors dominate it, not in an absolute manner, but only to a certain degree, and the subjective factors play an important role.

What exactly is this role, and to what extent is it significant? VVe do not know. The rudimentary state of the sciences of man do not permit us to define [the two roles] precisely. And the task is all the more arduous in that neither of the two is fixed, but that both are, on the contrary, infinitely mobile and variable. (This problem is one of free will). How and to what extent does "determinism" prevail over the "free will" of man? Inversely: in what sense and to what degree does "free will" exist and how does it extricate itself from the hold of "determinism"? In spite of the researches of many thinkers we still do not know.

What we do know perfectly is that subjective factors hold an important place in human affairs -- to such an extent that sometimes they overcome the apparently "inevitable" effects of the objective factors, especially when the former are connected in a certain way.

Let us cite a modern example, striking and universally known.

In the war of 1914-18, Germany, objectively, should have defeated France. And, in fact, scarcely a month after the beginning of hostilities, the German Army was under the walls of Paris. One after another, the battles were lost by the French. France was "almost inevitably" going to be conquered. (If it had been, it would have been easy to say later, with a "scientific" manner, that this was "historically and objectively indispensable"). Then there occurred a series of purely subjective developments. They linked together and destroyed the effects of the objective factors.

Too confident of the crushing superiority of his forces and carried away by the enthusiasm of his victorious troops, General von Kluck, who commanded the Kaiser's Army, neglected to cover his right wing adequately -- this was the first purely subjective factor. (Another general, or even von Kluck at another time, might have covered that wing).

General Gallieni, military commander of Paris, observed this error of von Kluck, and proposed to Generalissimo Joffre that the uncovered wing be attacked with all the forces available, notably those of the Paris garrison. This was the second subjective circumstance -- for it required the discernment and the will of Gallieni to make such a resolution and risk such a responsibility. Another general -- or even Gallieni at another moment -- might have been neither so discerning nor so determined.

Joffre accepted Gallidni's plan and ordered the attack. This was the third subjective fact -- for it needed the good will and other moral qualities of Joffre to accept that proposal. Another generalissimo, haughty and jealous of his prerogatives, might have replied to Gallieni: "You are the commander in Paris. So tend to your own affairs and don't meddle in what is not within your province."

Finally, the strange fact that the discussions between Gallium" and Joffre were not intercepted by the German high command, usually well informed about what occurred on the French side, must also be added to this chain of subjective factors, a chain which led to the French victory and which was decisive for the issues of the war.

Themselves aware of the objective improbability of this victory, the French characterized it as "the miracle of the Marne". But it was not a miracle. It was simply a rather unusual event, unexpected and "imponderable", growing out of a group of subjective factors which overcame the objective elements.

It was in the same sense that I said to my comrades in Russia in 1917: "A 'miracle' is needed for the libertarian idea to overcome Bolshevism in this revolution. We must believe in this miracle and work for its realization."

By that I meant that only an unforeseen and imponderable play of subjective factors could militate against the crushing objective weight of Bolshevism. This did not occur. But what is important is that it could have occurred. And let us recall that it almost occurred twice -- once at the time of the Kronstadt uprising in March, 1921, and in the course of the severe fighting between the new authorities and the Anarchist masses in the Ukraine in 1919-1921.

Thus in the human world "absolute objective inevitability" does not exist. At any moment purely human, subjective factors can intervene and override [any such abstraction].

The Anarchist conception, as solidly and "scientifically" established as that of the Bolsheviks, (the latter conception also was treated as Utopian by its opponents, on the eve of the Revolution) exists. Its fate, in the course of the next revolution, depends on a highly complicated interplay of all sorts of factors, objective and subjective, the latter especially being infinitely varied, mobile, changeable, unforeseeable, and intangible -- a play, the result of which can never be "objectively inevitable".

Concluding on this point, I repeat that the insufficiency of destruction was the fundamental cause of the triumph of Bolshevism over Anarchism in the 1917 Russian Revolution. It goes without saying that this was the case, and that it is being discussed here because the play of various other factors did not efface either the cause or the effect. But it could have been otherwise. And who knows what subjective factors played a part in the triumph of Bolshevism?

To be sure, the discrediting in advance of the evil political chimera of authoritarian "Communism" would have assured, facilitated, and accelerated the realization of the libertarian principle. But in a general way, the insufficiency of this discrediting at the beginning of the Revolution did not at all signify the inevitable eclipse of Anarchism.

The complex play of various factors may have unexpected results. It may end by suppressing cause and effect. The political and authoritarian idea, the statist conception, might have been destroyed in the course of the Revolution, and this would have left the field free for the achievement of the Anarchist concept.

Like all revolutions, that of 1917 had two roads before it:

1. That of the true Revolution of the masses, leading directly to their complete emancipation. If this road had been taken, the prodigious enthusiasm and the definitive result of such a revolution would have effectively "shaken the world". Probably all reaction would have been impossible from then on; and all dissension among the social movements would have been prevented in advance by the force of the fait accompli. Finally, the ferment which followed the Russian Revolution in Europe probably would have led to the same definitive result.

2. That of the unachieved Revolution. In that case, history would have had only one way of continuing: retreat to world-wide reaction, world-wide catastrophe (war), total destruction of the existing society, and, in the last analysis, resumption of the Revolution by the masses themselves, actually achieving their emancipation.

In principle, the two roads were possible. But the totality of factors present rendered the second road much more probable. It was the second, in fact, that was followed by the 1917 Revolution.

But the first is the one that should be taken by the next revolution.

And now, our philosophical parenthesis concluded, let us return to the events [involved in all this].


1 To avoid confusion, I will give some definitions here:

I use the term State in its current and concrete meaning: a meaning that it has acquired at the end of a long historical evolution, a meaning which is perfectly and uniformly accepted by everyone: a meaning finally, which precisely constitutes the object of the whole controversy.

Herein the State signifies a congealed political organism, "mechanically" centralized or directed by a political government supported by a complexity of laws and coercive institutions.

Certain bourgeois. Socialist, and Communist authors and critics use the term State in another sense, vast and general, declaring that all organized society on a large scale represents a State. And they deduce from this that any new society, whatever it is, will "necessarily" be a State. According to them, we are fruitlessly discussing a word.

According to us, they are playing with words. For a concrete concept, generally accepted and historically given, they substitute another, and they combat, in the name of the latter, anti-statist, libertarian, Anarchist ideas. Moreover, they thus confuse, unconsciously or deliberately, two essentially different concepts: State and Society.

It goes without saying that the future society -- the real one -- will be society. It is not a question of the word, but of the essence. (It is probable that they [those authors and critics] will abandon a term which designates a determined and limited form of society. In any case, if the future good society is called a "State" it will thus give that term an entirety different meaning from that which is the subject of the controversy.) What is important -- and what the Anarchists maintain -- is that this future society will be incompatible with what is called a State at present.

I take advantage of this occasion to remark that many authors are wrong in admitting only two definitions of the term accepted up to now: Either the State (which they confuse with Society) or a free disorganized assembly and a chaotic struggle between individuals and groups of individuals. Consciously or unconsciously, they omit a third possibility which is neither a State (in the concrete meaning indicated) nor a random gathering of individuals, but a society based on the free and natural union of all sorts of associations and federations: consumers and producers.

There exists, therefore, not one but two essentially different anti-statisms. One, unreasonable, and consequently easily attacked, is allegedly based on the "free caprice of individuals. " (Who has advocated such an absurdity? Is it not a pure invention, created for the sake of argument?) The other is a-political, but is reasonably based on something perfectly organized, on the co-operative union of various associations. It is in the name of the latter form of anti-statism that Anarchism combats the State.

An analogous observation also should be made about the term government. There are many who declare: "It will never be possible to dispense with men who organize, administer, direct, et cetera." Those who do these things for a vast social complex -- for a "State" -- form a "government" whether you like it or not. And they still pretend that it is only a discussion of words! They fall here into the same error. The political and coercive government of a political State is one thing; a body of administrators, organizers and, animators, or of technical, professional, or other directors, indispensable for the co-ordinated functioning of the associations, federations, et cetera, is another.

So let us not play with words. Let us be precise and clear. Does one accept, yes or no, that a political State, directed by a representative, political, or other government, can serve a function in a true future society? If yes, one is not an Anarchist. If no, one is already one, for the most part. Does one agree, yes or no, that a political State, et cetera, can serve a transitional society on the way to true Socialism? If yes, one is not an Anarchist. If no, one is.

2 Some individuals pretend that freedom of ideas is a danger to the Revolution. But from the moment that the armed forces are with the revolutionary people (otherwise the Revolution could not take place) and the people themselves control them, what danger could an opinion have? And then, if the workers themselves are guarding the Revolution, they will know how to defend themselves against any real danger better than an "extinguisher".

3 Readers who wish to investigate the problem of modern economic evolution should consult especially the works of Jacques Duboin.

4 See, in this connection, the author's Choses Vecues, a first brief study of the Russian Revolution, in La Revue Anarchiste of Sebastian Faure, [Paris?] 1922-24.

5 All these ideas are developed more fully in my study mentioned earlier: Choses Vecues

6 As the reader will see, I do not mean that in this case the Bolsheviks were justified. Those who would maintain that they were must prove that they did not have any other way of acting in order to prepare the masses, progressively, to achieve a free and total revolution. I am emphatically of the opinion that they could have found other methods. But I am not much concerned with that aspect of the question. Considering the thesis of the incapacity of the masses as being absolutely false, and considering that the facts set forth in this work prove it abundantly, I have no reason to envisage a situation which, to me, simply did not exist.