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

Book Two: Bolshevism and Anarchism


The Bolsheviks in Power; Differences Between the Bolsheviks and the Anarchists

Struggle between the two concepts of the Social-Revolution -- the statist-centralist and the libertarian-federalist ideas -was unequal in the Russia of 1917. The statist conception won, and the Bolshevik government took over the vacant throne. Lenin was its undisputed leader. And to him and his party fell the task of liquidating the war, facing up to all the problems of the Revolution, and leading it onto the course of the real Social Revolution.

Having the upper hand, the political idea was going to prove itself. We shall see how it did this.

The new Bolshevik regime was in fact a government of intellectuals, of Marxist doctrinaires. Installed in power, claiming to represent the workers, and to be the only group that knew the correct way to lead them to Socialism, they expected to govern, above all, by decrees and laws which the labouring masses would be obliged to sanction and apply.

In the beginning that regime and its chief, Lenin, gave the appearance of being the faithful servants of the will of the working people; and of justifying, in any case, their decisions, pronouncements, and activities before the workers. Thus, for example, all the Bolsheviki's initial measures, notably the decree remitting the land to the peasants (October 26) and the first official step toward immediate peace (decree of October 28) were adopted by the Congress of Soviets, which gave the Government its approval. Moreover, Lenin knew in advance that these laws would be received with satisfaction by both the people and the revolutionary circles. Fundamentally, they did nothing but sanction the existing state of affairs.

The same Lenin considered it necessary to justify before the executive committee of the Soviets the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, which occurred in January, 1918. This action of the October Revolution deserves to be described in detail.

As the reader already knows, the Anarchists, in keeping with their whole social and revolutionary conception, were opposed to the convocation of the Assembly. Here are the terms in which they developed their point of view on that issue in Golos Truda, [official organ of the Union for Anarchist Propaganda in Petrograd], No. 19, November 18/De-cember 1, 1917:

Comrade -workers, peasants, soldiers, sailors, and all toilers:

We are in the midst of the election for the Constituent Assembly. It is very probable that this will soon meet and begin to sit.

All the political parties-including the Bolsheviks-put the ultimate fate of the Revolution in the hands of this central organization.

In this situation we have the duty to put you on guard against two eventual dangers:

First danger: The Bolsheviki will not have a strong majority in the Constituent Assembly (or may even be in a minority).

In that case, the Assembly will comprise a useless, motley, socialo-bourgeois political institution. It will be an absurd talking shop like the "State Conference" in Moscow, the "Democratic Conference" in Petrograd, the "Provisional Council of the Republic," et cetera. It will become involved in empty discussions and disputes. It will hold back the real revolution.

If we do not want to exaggerate this danger, it is only because we hope that in this case the masses will once again know how to save the Revolution, with weapons in hand, and will push it forward on the right road.

But in relation to this danger we should point out that the masses have no need of a hullabaloo of this type, and ought to get rid of it. Why waste energy and money to create and maintain an inept institution? (While waiting, the workers' Revolution will stop once again!) What would be the good of sacrificing more strength and blood only to combat later "this stupid and sterile institution" in order to "save the Revolution" (how many times again?) and get it out of "a dead end"? That strength and those efforts could be employed to the greater advantage of the Revolution, the people, and the whole country at large, in organizing the labouring masses in a direct way and from the very bottom, alike in the villages, the cities, and in the various enterprises, uniting the [resultant] organizations from below, into communes and federations of free villages and cities, in a direct and natural manner. All that would need to be done on the basis of work and not of politics nor of membership in this or that party -- and this would lead later to regional unification. Likewise that strength and those efforts could and should be employed in organizing immediately and energetically the supplying of enterprises with raw materials and fuel, in improving means of communication, in organizing exchange and the entire new economy in general and, finally, in carrying on a direct fight against the remains of reaction, especially against the gravely threatening movement of Kaledin in the central region.

Second danger: The Bolsheviki will have a strong majority in the Constituent Assembly.

In such an event, having easily succeeded in overcoming the "opposition" and wiping it out without difficulty, they will become, in a firm and solid manner, the legal masters of the country and of the whole situation -- and masters manifestly recognized by "the majority of the population." That is precisely what the Bolsheviks want to obtain from the Constituent Assembly. That is what they need -- that the Assembly consolidate and "legalize" their power.

Comrades, this danger is much more important, much more serious than the first. Be on your guard!

Once their power is consolidated and "legalized," the Bolsheviks -- who are Social Democrats, that is, men of centralist and authoritarian action -- will begin to re-arrange the life of the country and of the people by governmental and dictatorial methods, imposed by the centre. Their seat in Petrograd will dictate the will of the party to all Russia, and command the whole nation. Your Soviets and your other local organizations will become, little by little, simply executive organs of the will of the central government. In place of healthy, constructive work by the labouring masses, in place of free unification from the bottom, we will see the installation of an authoritarian and statist apparatus which would act from above and set about wiping out everything that stood in its way with an iron hand. The Soviets and other organizations will have to obey and do its will. That will be called "discipline." Too bad for those who are not in agreement with the central power and who do not consider it correct to obey it! Strong by reason of the "general approbation" of the populace, that power will force them to submit.

Be on guard, comrades!

Watch carefully and remember.

The more the success of the Bolsheviks becomes established, and the firmer their situation, the more their action will take on an authoritarian aspect, and the more clear-cut will be their consolidation and defense of their political power. They will begin to give more and more categorical orders to the Soviets and other local organizations. They will put into effect from above their own policies without hesitating to use armed force in case of resistance.

The more their success is upheld, the more that danger will exist, for the actions of the Bolsheviks will become all the more secure and certain. Each new success will turn their heads further. Every additional

day of achievement by Lenin's party will mean increasing peril to the Revolution.

Furthermore, you can already see this now.

Study carefully the latest orders and plans of the new authority. You can already now clearly see the tendency of the Bolshevik leaders to arrange the lives of the people in a political and authoritarian manner, by means of a center which imposes itself on them. You can already see them give formal orders to the country. You can already see that those leaders understand the slogan "Power to the Soviets" to mean power for the central authority in Petrograd, an authority to which the Soviets and other local organizations must be subjugated as simple executive organs.

This is happening now, when the Bolshevik leaders still feel strongly dependent on the masses and are obviously afraid of provoking disillusionment; it is happening now, when their success is not yet totally guaranteed and still depends completely on the attitude of the masses toward them.

What will happen when their success becomes a fait accompli and the masses accept them with enthusiastic and firm confidence?

Comrade workers, peasants and soldiers!

Don't ever lose sight of this danger!

Be ready to defend the real Revolution and the real freedom of | your organizations and your action, wherever you are, against the violence and the yoke of the new Authority, the new Master: the centralized State and the new imposters: the heads of the political parties.

Be ready to act in such a way as to turn the success of the Bolsheviks -- if these successes transform them to imposters -- into their graves.

Be ready to resuce the Revolution from a new prison.

Don't forget that only you may and can construct and create your I new life by means of your free local organizations and their federations, j If not, you will never see it. The Bolsheviks often tell you the same thing. All the better, naturally, if in the final analysis, they act according to what they say.

But comrades, all new masters, whose position depends on the sympathy and the confidence of the masses, speak sweetly in the beginning. In the first days, Kerensky also had a honeyed voice; the heart of gall is revealed later.

Observe and take note, not of words and speeches but of gestures and acts. And as soon as you discover the slightest contradiction between what these people tell you and what they do, be on guard!

Don't trust in words, comrades. Trust only in deeds!

Don't trust the Constituent Assembly, the parties, or the leaders. Have confidence only in yourselves and in the Revolution. Only yourselves -- that is, your local grass-root organizations, organizations of the workers and not of the parties, and then your direct and natural unification (along regional lines) -- only vow can be the builders and the masters of the new life, and not the Constituent Assembly, not a central government, not the parties nor the leaders!

And in an editorial headed "Instead of a Constituent Assembly," in the following issue of Golos Truda (No. 21, December 2/15, 1917), the anarchists said:

It is well known that we Anarchists repudiate the Constituent Assembly, considering it not only useless, but frankly harmful to the use 0f the Revolution. However, only a few are yet aware of the reasons for our point of view. And what is essential is not the fact that we oppose the Assembly, but the reasons which lead us to do so. But it is not through caprice, obstinacy, or the spirit of contradiction that we reject that Assembly.

Moreover, we do not confine ourselves to "purely and simply" rejecting it; we arrive at that rejection in a perfectly logical way. We believe, in fact, that in a time of social revolution, what is important for the workers is for them to organize their new life themselves, from the bottom, and with the help of their immediate economic organizations, and not from above, by means of an authoritarian political centre.

We reject the Constituent Assembly, and we offer in its place an entirely different "constituent" institution -- an organization of labour unified from below in a natural manner. We spurn the Assembly because we propose something else. And we don't want this other thing to be threatened by the Constituent Assembly.

While the Bolsheviks recognize, on the one hand, the direct class organization of the workers (in Soviets, etc.) on the other hand they preserve the Constituent Assembly, that inept and useless organization. We consider this duality contradictory, harmful, and exceedingly dangerous. It is the inevitable result of the fact that the Bolsheviks, as true Social Democrats, are generally mixed up in questions of "politics" and "economics," "authority" and "non-authority," "party" and "class." They dare not renounce the dead prejudices definitively and completely, for that would be like throwing themselves into water without knowing how to swim.

To get involved in contradictions is inevitable for people who, during a proletarian revolution, consider their principal task to be the organizing of power. To oppose this "organization of power" we would substitute for it "the organization of the Revolution."

"The organization of power" leads logically to the Constituent Assembly. "The organization of the Revolution" leads, also logically, to another building, where there simply would be no room for that Assembly, and where it would be strictly in the way. That is why we oppose the Constituent Assembly.

The Bolsheviks preferred to convoke the Assembly, having decided in advance to dominate it or dissolve it if its majority was not Bolshevist -- a possibility under the circumstances of the moment.

So that assemblage was called together on January i§ 1918. Despite all the efforts of the Bolshevik Party, in power for three months, the majority of the Constituent Assembly turned out to be anti-Bolshevik. This development fully confirmed the expectations of the Anarchists. "If the workers," they said, "tranquilly pursue their work of economic and social construction, without paying attention to political comedies, the great majority of the people will finally follow them, without any ceremony. And meanwhile they have on their backs this unnecessary worry."

Nevertheless, and despite the utter uselessness of this Asl sembly, the "work" of which was pursued in an atmosphere of dismal and general indifference (everyone felt, in fact, the weakness and futility of that institution), the Bolshevik gov--ernment hesitated to end its existence.

It required the almost fortuitous intervention of an Anarchist finally to dissolve the Constituent Assembly. That is another little known historical fact.

Fate decided that an Anarchist sailor from Kronstadt, by I name Anatol Jelezniakov, be appointed by the Bolshevik regime as commander of the detachment of guards in the Tauride Palace, where the 707 delegates to the Assembly met.1

Throughout a long night the leaders of the various political parties made interminable speeches, which fatigued and ! exasperated the guard corps that was on duty. Hours of debate resulted in rejection of the Bolshevik platform by the Assembly majority. Then the Bolsheviki and the left Social Rvolutionaries left the session after a threatening declarator) to the representatives of the right. But other speeches followed on various issues, and kept going until dawn. Finally lelezniakov, at the head of his detachment, entered the hall 0f deliberations and marched up to the rostrum. Addressing the chairman-Victor Tchernov, leader of the right. Social Revolutionary Party, the head of the guards said: "Close the session, please, my men are tired!"

Rankled and indignant, the chairman protested.

"I tell you that the guard corps is tired," Jelezniakov insisted, threateningly. "I ask you all to leave the Assembly Hall. And furthermore, there has been enough of this babbling! You have prattled long enough! Get out!"

The assemblage obeyed.

That morning, with knowledge that the delegates were scheduled to reconvene at noon, the Bolshevik government took advantage of the incident. It sent troops to occupy the meeting hall of the Constituent Assembly in the Tauride Palace, the soldiers being armed with rifles, machine-guns and two field pieces. And before the day ended, it issued a decree declaring the Assembly dissolved.

The nation remained indifferent.

Later the Lenin regime justified this act before the executive committee of the Soviets.

Thus everything had gone smoothly for the Bolsheviki -- until that day when the will of the Government entered, for the first time, into conflict with the will of the "governed," the people.

Then everything changed, in the face of a new German offensive.

After the October Revolution, the German Army which was operating along the Russian border remained inactive for some time. Its command hesitating, awaiting events, and maneuvering with a view to gaining the greatest possible advantage from the situation.

In February, 1918, feeling themselves ready, the Germans decided to start an offensive against Revolutionary Russia.

And now it became necessary for the Bolshevik Government to take a position. Any resistance was impossible, for the Russian Army would not fight. It was essential to find a solution of the situation. Such a solution would resolve, at the same time, the first problem of the Revolution-that of the war.

There were two possible solutions:

1. Abandon the front. Let the German Army venture into the vast territory in revolt, draw it into the depths of the country, in order to isolate it, separate it from its supply bases, make guerilla warfare against it, demoralize it, and disintegrate it, thus defending the Social Revolution -- a solution which had been successfully utilized in 1812, and which was always possible in a land as huge as Russia.

2. Enter into negotiations with the German command. Propose peace to them, negotiate further, and accept it whatever the conditions.

The first of those two alternatives was that of nearly all the workers' organizations consulted, as well as that of the left Social Revolutionaries, the Maximalists, and the Anarchists. They were of the opinion that only that way of acting was worthy of a social revolution; that it alone made it conceivable to hope, as a consequence, for the breaking out of revolution in Germany and elsewhere. In short, they felt that this course -- really impressive direct action -- would constitute, under existing conditions and in a country like Russia, the only correct method of defending the Revolution.

Golos Truda, in an editorial2 entitled The Revolutionary Spirit, indicated the gravity of the problem as the German onslaught was pressed. It said:

Here we are at a decisive turn of the Revolution. It is a crisis which may be fatal. The hour which has struck is impressively clear and exceptionally tragic. The situation is finally plain. The question is in the process of being settled. In a few hours we will know whether or not the Government has signed the peace with Germany. The whole future of the Russian Revolution and the course of world events depend on this day, on this minute.

The conditions proposed by Germany are plain and without reser-vations.

The ideas of several eminent members of the political parties, antjl those of the members of the government, are already known. But there] is no unity of opinion anywhere. There is disagreement among the Bolj sheviks. There is disagreement among the left Socialist Revolutionaries] There is disagreement in the Council of People's Commissars, in thi Petrograd Soviet and in its Executive. There is disagreement among thi masses, in the workshops, in the factories, in the barracks. And the opirJ ion of the provinces is not yet known.

(As we mentioned earlier: the opinion of the left Social-! ist Revolutionaries, as well as the opinion of the working! masses in Petrograd and in the provinces, subsequently turned out to be hostile to the s ?ning of the peace treaty with the German generals.)

The time limit of the German ultimatum is 48 hours. Under these conditions, whether one wants it or not, the question will be discussed! and the decision will be made in haste, and strictly in Government! circles. And that is what is most terrible . . .

As for our own opinion, our readers know it. From the beginning, we have been against the "peace negotiations." Today we are opposed! to signing the treaty. We are for immediate and intensive organization of partisan resistance. We consider that the Government's telegram asking for peace should be revoked: the challenge should be accepted andf the fate of the Revolution be put directly, frankly, in the hands of the proletarians of the whole world.

Lenin insists on signing the peace. And if our information is correct, a large majority will end by following him. The treaty will be signed.

Only the deep conviction of the ultimate invincibility of this revo^, lution permits us not to take this eventuality too tragically. But this way of concluding peace would strike a major blow at the Revolution, weakening it, debasing it, distorting it for a long time, we are absolutely convinced.

We know Lenin's argument, especially from his article On Revolutionary Phrases.3 But those arguments do not convince us.

Golos Truda then made a detailed criticism of Lenin's position, and offered an argument in opposition. It insisted that acceptance of the peace offered would slacken the Revolution, and render it for a long time feeble, anaemic, colourless. Acceptance of such a peace, it held, would warp the Revolution, bring it to its knees, clip its wings, make it crawl. "For," the periodical concluded, "the revolutionary spirit, the great enthusiasm for the struggle, the magnificent flight of the glorious idea of the deliverance of the world, will be taken from it. And as for the world -- its light will be extinguished."

The majority of the Bolshevik Party's central committee at the beginning pronounced itself in favour of the first solution. But Lenin was afraid of this bold decision. Like [any] dictator, he had no confidence in the action of the masses if they were not led by the chiefs and politicians by means of formal orders and behind-the-scenes machinations. He invoked the danger of death for the Revolution if the peace offered by the Germans was rejected. And he proclaimed the necessity of a "respite" which would permit the creation of a regular army.

For the first time since the advent of the Revolution, Lenin had to brave the opinion of the masses and even that of his own comrades. He threatened the latter, and declined all responsibility for what might happen. He declared that he would retire from the scene if his will was not carried out. His comrades, in turn, were afraid of losing "the great leader of the Revolution". They yielded. The opinion of the masses was deliberately trampled on. A peace was signed [on March 3, 1918].4

Thus, for the first time, "the dictatorship of the proletariat" won over the proletariat. For the first time, the Bolshevik power

succeeded in terrorizing the masses, in substituting its will for theirs, in acting on its own, in disregarding the opinion of others.

The peace of Brest-Litovsk was imposed on the working people by the Bolshevist government. The people wanted to end the war in an entirely different way. But the Government took charge of arranging everything. It precipitated matters, forced events, and this broke the resistance of the masses. It managed to keep them quiet, to obtain their obedience, and their forced passivity.

Incidentally, I remember meeting, in those feverish hours, the well-known Bolshevik, Nikolai Bukharin, later executed in the course of the infamous Moscow purge trials. I had previously made ins acquaintance in New York, but until then we had never seen each other in Russia. Hastening through a corridor in the Smolny Institute building in Petrograd [seat of the Bolshevik government at this time] I observed Bukharin arguing and gesticulating in a corner amid a group of Bolsheviki. He recognized me and signalled. I went over.

Without preliminaries, and filled with emotion, he began complaining about Lenin's attitude on the question of peace. He lamented that he was in complete disagreement with Lenin, and emphasized the fact that, on this point, he was wholly in agreement with the left Social Revolutionaries, the Anarchists, and the masses in general. And he declared, with consternation, that Lenin would listen to nothing, that Lenin didn't "give a damn for the opinions of others", and that he sought to impose his will and his own mistake on everybody and terrorized the party by threatening to relinquish power. According to Bukharin, Lenin's mistake was fatal for the Revolution. And that frightened him.

"But," I said to him, "if you're in disagreernent with Lenin, you have only to say so and insist on it. All the more since you are not alone in this. And moreover, even if you were alone, you have, I suppose, the same right as Lenin to have an opinion, to express it, spread it, and defend it."

"Oh," he cut in, "you don't mean it. Think what that would mean. To fight with Lenin? That would lead automatically to my expulsion from the party. That would mean a revolt against all our past, against our discipline, against the comrades in arms. I would feel myself under obligation to provoke a split in the party, to pull out the other dissidents with me, and to create another party to struggle with Lenin's. You see, old man, you know me well enough: am I of sufficient stature to become a leader of a party and to declare war on Lenin and the Bolshevik Party? No, don't let us deceive ourselves! I don't have the makings of a leader. And even if I had -- No, no, I couldn't, I couldn't do that."

He was greatly excited, put his head in his hands, and almost wept.

Being in a hurry, and feeling that prolonging the discussion would be useless, I abandoned him to his despair. As we know, he later rallied to Lenin's thesis -- though perhaps only in appearance.

Such was the first serious difference between the new government and the people it governed. It was resolved to the advantage of the power which imposed itself. This was the first imposture. And it was only the first -- but the most difficult. From now on, things could go "by themselves". Having once encroached upon the will of the labouring masses with impunity, having once taken the initiative in action, the new power was, so to speak, a lasso around the Revolution. Later it would only have to tighten the noose, to force and finally habituate the masses to follow in its wake, to make them leave in its hands all initiative, submit completely to its authority, and reduce the whole Revolution to the proportions of a dictatorship.

That, in fact, is what happened. For, such, inevitably, is the attitude of all governments. Such, inevitably, is the course of all revolutions which leave intact the statist, centralist, political, governmental principle.

This course is a slope. And once [any group is] on that slope, the sliding occurs by itself. Nothing can stop it. At first neither the governing clique nor the governed perceive what is happening. The former (in so far as they are sincere) believe that they are fulfilling their role and carrying out an indispensable salutary work. The latter, fascinated, tightly gripped, and dominated, follow.

And when, finally, these two groups, and especially the latter, begin to understand their error, it is too late. It is impossible to go back, impossible even to modify anything. One is too deeply involved with the fatal slope [the downward momentum is too great]. And even if the governed cry out and take a stand againa the governing clique to make them climb back up this menacing slope, it is too late!


1 As in many other circumstances, the Bolsheviks tried, for a long time, to distort the facts concerning Jelezniakov. They claimed, in their press, that he had become-or that he always had been a Bolshevik. It is understandable that the contrary troubled them.

At the time of Jelezniakov's death (he was mortally wounded in a battle with the "Whites" in central Russia) the Bolsheviks asserted, in a note that appeared in lzvestia, that on his death bed, he declared that he was in agreement with Bolshevism. Since then they have said squarely that he was always a Bolshevik.

All this, however, is false. The author of these lines and other comrades knew Jelezniakov intimately. When he left Petrograd for the front, taking leave of me, and knowing that as an Anarchist he could expect anything from the Bolsheviki, he said to me, word for word: "Whatever may happen to me. and whatever they may say of me, know well that 1 am an Anarchist, that i fight as one, and that whatever my fate, 1 will die an Anarchist. "

And he entrusted to me the duty of demolishing, if need be, the lies of the Bolsheviks. I am here performing that duty.

2 No. 27, February 24, 1918.

3 In Pravda, No. 31.

4 That treaty took from Russia "territories equal in size to approximately eighteen provinces".