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

Book Two
Bolshevism and Anarchism

Part V
The Bolshevik State


The creative impotence of the Bolshevik government, the economic chaos into which Russia was plunged, the despotism and unheard-of violence, the bankruptcy of the Revolution, and the tragic situation which resulted from it provoked first a far-flung discontent, and later wide-sweeping backwaters, and finally forceful movements against the insupportable state of affairs imposed by the dictatorship.

As always in such cases, those movements came from two opposite poles -- from the side of Reaction, from the "right", which hoped to regain power and re-establish the old order, and from the side of the Revolution, from the "left", which hoped to redeem the situation and resume revolutionary action.

We shall not dwell long upon the counter-revolutionary movements -- on the one hand, because they are more or less well known, and on the other, because in themselves they are only of secondary interest. Such movements are the same in all great revolutions.

Nevertheless, some aspects of these movements are sufficiently instructive so that they should not be passed over in silence.

The first resistances to the Social Revolution in Russia (in 1917 and 1918) were very limited, rather local, and relatively harmless. As in all revolutions, certain reactionary elements immediately took a stand against the new order, trying to nip the Revolution in the bud. The vast majority of the [industrial] workers, peasants, and members of the Army being (actively or passively) for this new order, these resistances were quickly and easily broken.

If, later, the Revolution had known how to show itself really fertile, powerful, creative, and just; if it had known how to solve satisfactorily its great problems and open new horizons for Russia and perhaps for other countries, [the opposition] certainly could have been confined to those skirmishes, and the victory of the Revolution would not have been threatened. Too, subsequent events in Russia and elsewhere would have taken a turn much different from what we have witnessed for twenty years.

But, as the reader knows, Bolshevism, installed in power, perverted, chained, and castrated the Revolution. First it rendered it impotent, sterile, empty, and unhappy -- and then gloomily, ignobly, tyrannically, uselessly, and stupidly violent. Thus Bolshevism ended by disillusioning, irritating, and disgusting larger and larger segments of the population. We have seen in what manner it strangled the workers, suppressed freedom, and wiped out the other movements. And its action of terror and cruel violence toward the peasants led them also to oppose it.

We must not forget that, in all revolutions, the bulk of the population, the simple apolitical people, the citizens pursuing their trades from day to day, the petty bourgeoisie, a part of the middle bourgeoisie, and a goodly number of the peasants at first remain neutral. They observe, hesitate, and wait passively for the initial results. It is important for the Revolution to be able to "justify itself" in the eyes of these elements as speedily as possible. If not, all such "lukewarm" people will turn away from the revolutionary work, become hostile to it, begin to sympathize with the counterrevolutionary machinations, support them, and render them much more dangerous.

Such is the situation especially during huge upheavals which involve the interests of millions of men, profoundly modifying social relations and doing it by means of prodigious suffering and with great promises of satisfaction. This satisfaction must come quickly. Or, in any event, the masses must be able to hope for it. If not, the Revolution weakens and the counter-revolution gets going.

Manifestly the active sympathy of these neutral elements is indispensable for the effective progress of the Revolution, for they include many "specialists" and professional men -- skilled workers, technicians, intellectuals. All those people, who are not exactly hostile to the Revolution once it had been accomplished, will turn toward it and help it enthusiastically if it manages to inspire them with a certain confidence, if it makes them feel its capacities, its possibilities, and its perspectives, its advantages, its strength, its iruth, and its justice.

But if that condition is not attained, all such elements end by becoming open enemies of the Revolution, which is a serious blow to them.

One can well believe that the vast laboring masses, carrying out a free activity with the aid of the revolutionists, would know how to achieve convincing results, and hence would know how to reassure and finally attract these neutrals.

The dictatorship -- impotent, arrogant, stupid, and viciously violent -- does not achieve such results, and drives those people to the other side.

Bolshevism does not know how to "justify" itself, nor how to "justify" the Revolution. As we have seen, the only great problem which it succeeded in solving -- indifferently, and under pressure from the Russian Army, which refused to fight -- was that of the war. That success -- the achievement of peace -- won the confidence and the sympathies of the masses. But that was all. Soon its economic, social, and other impotence made itself felt. In fact, the sterility of its methods of action, governmental procedures, and statist absolutism revealed themselves almost on the day after victory.

The Bolsheviki and persons who sympathize with them like to invoke the "terrible difficulties" that their government had to surmount, after the war and the Revolution, in a country like Russia. And it is on the basis of these difficulties that they seek to justify all the Bolshevik procedure.

One might influence, with such arguments, the foreign public which doesn't know the facts. But the individuals who lived through the Revolution eventually became aware [of certain realities]:

  1. That the evil methods of Bolshevism arose not so much from the difficulties encountered as from the very nature of the Bolshevist doctrine;
  2. That many of those difficulties arose specifically because the Government, from the beginning, set about stifling the free activity of the masses;
  3. That the real difficulties, instead of being smoothed over by the Bolsheviks, were greatly increased by them;
  4. That these difficulties could have been surmounted easily by the free action of the masses.

The principal difficulty was certainly that of provisioning and rationing. To advance the Revolution, it was necessary to pass, ; as quickly as possible, from a regime of scarcity and an "exchange" economy (based on money) to a regime of abundance and a "distributive" economy, without money.

Yet the more important and the vaster the difficulties, the less a government could show itself capable of solving them; the more severe and thorny the situation, the more it would have to depend on the free initiative of the people. But, as we know, the Bolshevik regime monopolized everything: ideas, initiative, methods, and action. It instituted an absolute dictatorship ("of the proletariat"). It subjugated the masses, it smothered their enthusiasm. And the greater the difficulties, the less it permitted the "proletariat" to act.

It was not astonishing that despite the purported "industrialization" of its famous "five-year plans", Bolshevism did not know how to come to grips with these difficulties, and that it was driven, in its desperate struggle against the exigencies of life, to the most odious violence, which simply emphasized its real importance. It is not by means of forced industrialism imposed on a mass of slaves that [a nation] can reach abundance and build a new economy.

Intuitively the Russian masses felt the necessity of passing to other forms of production and of transforming the relations between production and consumption. More and more did they perceive the vital need and possibility of doing away with money and of inaugurating a system of direct exchange between the agencies of production and those of consumption. Repeatedly, here and there, they were even ready to make efforts in that direction. It is highly probable that if they had had freedom of action, they would have been able to arrive progressively at a real solution of the economic problem: the distributive economy. It was necessary to let them seek, find, and act, while guiding and helping them like true friends.

But the Lenin regime did not want to hear anything about that. The Bolsheviks pretended to do everything themselves and to impose their will and their methods. Intuitively at first, and more and more clearly later, the masses became aware of the inefficiency and impotence of the Government, and of the danger into which the dictatorship and the violence was leading the country.

The psychological result of such a state of affairs is easy to comprehend. On the one hand, the populace turned away more and more from Bolshevism; disillusioned, they abandoned or grew hostile to it. The discontent, the spirit of revolt, increased with each day.

But, on the other hand, the masses did not know how to get out of the impasse. No valid solution presented itself, all ideological movements, ali discussion, all propaganda, and all free action having been forbidden. Tiie situation seemed to them insoluble. They did not have any way of acting. Their organizations had been nationalized, and militarized. The slightest opposition was severely repressed, and arms and all other material means were in the hands of the authorities and the new privileged stratum which had known how to organize their imposition [of authority] and their defense. [In the face of those circumstances the populace], though increasingly rebellious, did not see any possibility of undertaking effective action.

The counter-revolution which was lying in wait did not fail to take advantage of this situation and this spirit. Assiduously, it sought to turn to its advantage both that spirit and current events. Thus the more and more general and profound popular discontent served as a basis for far-sweeping counter-revolutionary movements, and supported them for three years.

Great armed campaigns were launched in the Southern and Eastern regions of Russia, plotted by the privileged class, supported by the bourgeoisie of other countries, and directed by generals of the old order.

Under the new conditions, the vast uprising in 1919-1921 took on a much graver character than the spontaneous and relatively insignificant resistance of 1917-18, such as the sedition of General Kaledin in the South, that of the ataman Dutov in the Urals, and others.

In 1918-19 several serious rebellions, on a large scale, were attempted here and there. Among these were the offensive by General Yudenitch against Petrograd in December, 1919, and the counter-revolutionary movement in the North, under the aegis of the "Tchaikovsky" government there.

Well organized and well armed and equipped, the forces of Yudenitch reached the gates of the capital. Here they were easily destroyed by outbursts of enthusiasm and devotion and the remarkable organization of the laboring masses of Petrograd, with the aid of detachments of sailors from Kronstadt, outbursts vigorously supported by upheavals behind the enemy lines. The young Red Army, commanded by Trotsky, participated in the defense of the city. The Tchaikovsky movement succeeded in invading the district of Archangelsk and a part of that of Vologda. As elsewhere, its defeat was not effected by the Red Army. Spontaneous uprisings of the laboring masses, both on the spot and behind the front, put an end to it.

It is notable that that movement, supported by the foreign bourgeoisie, likewise encountered the resistance of the Western working class. Strikes and demonstrations against all intervention in Russia -- especially strikes in British ports -- disturbed that bourgeoisie, which did not feel secure at home, and made it withdraw its aid.

More important, however, was the insurrection led by Admiral Kolchak in the East, in the summer of 1918. Among other help, it had the support of a Czecho-Slovakian army, formed in Russia. It is notorious that Trotsky's Red Army was powerless to break this movement. It, too, was liquidated by a fierce partisan resistance of armed industrial workers and peasants, and by uprisings in the rear. The Red Army arrived "triumphantly" -- after the job was done.

All these counter-revolutionary movements were more or less actively supported by the moderate Socialists -- the Mensheviks and the right Social Revolutionaries.

It was at the time of the Czecho-Slovakian offensive that the Bolsheviks, to avert additional complications, and fearing an eventual rescue, executed, on the night of July 16-17, 1918, the former Tsar Nikolai II and his family, who had been deported to Ekater-inenburg, in Siberia. That city was later evacuated by the Bolsheviki.

The precise circumstances of this execution remain fairly mysterious, despite a meticulous investigation conducted by a jurist at Kolchak's order. It is not even known specifically whether these official killings [which took place in a cellar] were ordered by the central authorities in Moscow, or by the local Soviet. And as for the Bolsheviks themselves, they keep silent.

In that period the Russian populace, not yet disarmed by the Lenin regime, and retaining its confidence in the Bolsheviks' revolution, energetically resisted the counter-revolutionary movements and put an end to them with comparative facility.

But this situation changed completely at the end of 1919. The masses, disillusioned about and disgusted with Bolshevism (and disarmed by the "Soviet" government) no longer offered the same resistance to counter-revolutionary attempts. And the leaders of those movements now knew how to play on their sympathies perfectly. In their leaflets and manifestoes they declared that they were fighting only against the despotism of the Bolsheviki. They promised the people "free Soviets" and the safeguarding of the other principles of the Revolution that were scoffed at by the Lenin government. (Of course, once victory was achieved, they had no intention of keeping these promises, but would subdue all revolts).

Thus the two great "White" uprisings in the center of the country, that of Gen. Anton Ivanovich Denikin and that of Baron Peter Wrangel, could assume such proportions that they were on the point of overthrowing the regime.

The first of these movements, directed militarily by General Denikin, rapidly invaded the whole Ukraine and a sizeable portion of central Russia in 1919. Breaking and routing the Red troops, this White Army reached the city of Orel near Moscow. The Bolshevik government was getting ready to flee when, to its great surprise, Denikin's Army suddenly lost its footing and retreated precipitously. The threat to Moscow was ended; the situation was saved. But again, the Bolsheviks and their Army did not play any part in this collapse.

General Wrangel led the second movement that was exceedingly dangerous for the Lenin regime. He followed Denikin's uprising. Wrangel, more artful, was able to learn several lessons from the defeat of his forerunner, and won deeper and more solid sympathy than the latter. Moreover, the spiritual decline [of the Russian populace] was further advanced.

But Wrangel's movement, like that of Denikin, and various others of lesser importance failed.

That of Denikin went to pieces with strange suddenness. Having reached the gates of Moscow, his Army abruptly left everything and retreated in disorder to the South. There it disappeared in a catastrophic debacle. Its remnants, wandering across the country, were wiped out one after another by detachments of the Red Army, coming from the North on the track of the fugitives, and by partisans.

For at least 24 hours the Bolshevik government in Moscow, overcome by panic, could not believe that Denikin's troops had retreated, since they did not understand the reason for it. They got an explanation much later. Finally convinced, they sent some Red regiments in pursuit of the Whites. Denikin's whole movement was destroyed.

Wrangel's effort, beginning some time later, achieved several great successes at first. Without being able to threaten Moscow, it nevertheless worried the Lenin regime much more than Denikin's expedition. For the Russian populace, more and more disgusted with the Bolsheviks, seemed not to want to offer serious resistance to this new anti-Bolshevik drive; it remained indifferent.

But because of this almost general indifference, the Government could count on its own Army less than ever.

However, after those early successes, Wrangel's movement folded up like all the others.

What were the reasons for these almost "miraculous" reversals, for the final defeat of campaigns which began so successfully?

The real causes and the exact circumstances of those fluctuations are little known, [largely because] they have been deliberately distorted by-biased authors.

Chiefly, the reasons for the downfall of the White movements were the following:

First, the awkward, cynical, and provocative attitude of the leaders. Having captured [certain areas of Russia] they installed themselves in the conquered regions as veritable dictators, no better than the Bolsheviks. Uusually leading a dissolute life, and likewise incapable of organizing a healthy society, swelled with pride, and full of mistrust of the workers, they brutally made known to the latter that they intended to restore the old regime, with all of its "beauties". The alluring promises of their manifestoes, issued on the occasion of their offensives simply for the purpose of winning over the population, were quickly forgotten.

These gentlemen did not even have enough patience to wait for complete victory. They threw off their masks before they were secure, with a suddenness which soon revealed their real designs. And these boded nothing good for the masses. The White terror and savage reprisals, with their usual retinue of denunciations, arrests, and summary executions without trial and without mercy began to take place everywhere.

Moreover, the former landed proprietors and industrial lords, who left voluntarily or had been driven out with the advent of the Revolution, returned with the White armies and made haste to regain possession of their "property".

Thus the absolutist and feudal regime of the past had suddenly reappeared in all of its hideousness.

Such an attitude [on the part of the White leaders] swiftly provoked a violent psychological reaction among the laboring masses. They feared the return of Tsarism and of the pomest-chiki, the big land-owners, much more than Bolshevism. With the latter, in spite of everything, they could hope to achieve some improvements, a redressing of wrongs, and finally "a free and happy life". But they could hope for nothing from the return of Tsarism. So it was necessary to block its path directly. The peasants, who at that time, had profited at least in principle by the expropriation of the available land, especially were terrified at the idea of having to restore those lands to the former owners. (This spiritual state of the masses explains, to a large extent, the momentary solidity of the Bolshevik government: of the two evils they chose the one which seemed to them the lesser).

Thus the revolt against the Whites was resumed immediately after their ephemeral victories. As soon as the danger was realized, the populace began to resist anew. And the partisan detachments, created in haste and supported by both the Red Army and by the working multitude, which had recovered its understanding, inflicted crushing defeats on the Whites.

Notably, the army which contributed most to the destruction of Denikin's and Wrangel's commands was that of the insurgent peasants and workers of the Ukraine, known as the Makhnovist Army from the name of its military chief, the Anarchist partisan Nestor Makhno. Battling in the name of a free society, that army had to fight simultaneously against all the forces of oppression in Russia, against both the Whites and the Reds.

Speaking of the White reaction, it was Makhno's popular Army which compelled Denikin to abandon Orel and beat a precipitous retreat. And it was that same army which dealt an overwhelming defeat to the rearguard and the special forces of Denikin in the Ukraine.

As for Wrangel's armed forces, the fact of their first serious reversal, suffered at the hands of Makhno's army, was admitted to me by the Bolsheviks themselves, under rather curious circumstances.

During the period of Wrangel's furious offensive, I was in a Bolshevik prison in Moscow. Like Denikin, Wrangel beat the Red Army and drove it rapidly Northward. Makhno, who at this time, was warring against the Bolsheviki, decided, in view of the grave danger which the Revolution faced, to offer peace to them and lend them a hand against the Whites. Being in a bad way, the Bolsheviki accepted, and concluded an alliance with Makhno.

Immediately the Anarchist leader threw his forces against Wrangel's army and defeated it under the walls of Orekhov. The battle over, before continuing the struggle and pursuing Wrangel's retreating troops, Makhno sent a telegram to the Government in Moscow, announcing the victory and declared that he would not advance another step unless it set free both his adjutant Tchubenko and myself. Still having need of Makhno, the Bolsheviks agreed and liberated me. On that occasion they exhibited his telegram and praised the great fighting qualities of this partisan.

In ending my comments on the rightist reactions, I must emphasize the falsity of certain legends invented and spread by the Bolsheviki and their friends.

The first is that of the foreign intervention. According to the legend, that intervention was highly important. It is primarily in this way that the Bolsheviks explain the strength and success of some of the White movements. ,

That assertion, however, belies the reality. It is a gross exaggeration. In fact, the foreign intervention during the Russian Revolution was never either vigorous or persevering. A modest amount of aid, in money, munitions, and equipment: that was all. The Whites themselves complained bitterly of [its paucity] later on. And as for detachments of troops sent to Russia, they always were of minor significance and played almost no tangible part.

That is easily understood. In the first place, the foreign bourgeoisie had enough to do at home, both during and after the European war. Then, too, the military chiefs feared the "decomposition" of their troops from contact with the revolutionary Russian people. So such contact was avoided as much as possible. Events showed that these fears were well founded. Without speaking of the French and British detachments, which never came to fight against the revolutionaries, the troops of the Austro-German occupation (after the Brest-Litovsk treaty), fairly numerous and protected by the Ukrainian government of Skoro-padsky, quickly decomposed and were won over by the Russian revolutionary forces.

I also would like to emphasize, in this connection, that the result of the German occupation confirmed the Anarchist thesis at the time of the peace of Brest-Litovsk. Who knows what the world would be like today if, at that time, the Bolshevik government, instead of dealing with the German imperialists, had let the Kaiser's troops penetrate into revolutionary Russia? Who can say whether the consequences of such penetration would not have been the same as those which later caused Denikin, Wrangel, the Austro-Germans, and all the rest to disappear?

But behold! Any government always means for the Revolution : the political way, stagnation, mistrust, reaction, danger, misfortune.

Lenin, Trotsky, and their colleagues were never revolutionaries.

They were only rather brutal reformers, and like all reformers and politicians, always had recourse to the old bourgeois methods, in dealing with both internal and military problems.

They had not confidence in either the masses nor in the real Revolution, and did not even understand it.

In trusting these bourgeois statist-reformers with the fate of the Revolution, the revolutionary Russian workers committed a fundamental and irreparable error.

The explanation of everything that has happened in Russia since October, 1917, lies at least partly in this.

The second widespread legend is that of the important role of the Red Army. According to the Bolshevik "historians", it defeated the counter-revolutionary troops, destroyed the White offensives, and won all the victories.

Nothing could be more false. In all the big counter-revolutionary offensives, the Red Army was beaten and put to flight. It was the Russian people themselves, in revolt and only partially armed, who defeated the Whites. The Red Army, invariably returning after the blow (but in full force) to lend a hand to the already triumphant partisans, simply gave the coup de grace to the already routed White armies and crowned itself with the laurels of victory.