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


Every revolution -- even when studied closely by many authors of various tendencies, and at different times -- long remains, fundamentally, a great Unknown. Centuries pass, and from time to time, men turn up new facts and unpublished documents among the remains of old uprisings. These discoveries upset our knowledge and ideas which we had supposed to be complete. How many works about the French Revolution of 1789 already existed when Kropotkin and Jaures unearthed from the ruins elements unknown until then, which threw unexpected light on that period? And didn't Jaures say that the vast archives of the Great Revolution were hardly tapped?

Generally, it is not known how to study a revolution, just as it is still not known how to write the history of a people. Moreover, authors, even when experienced and conscientious, commit errors and negligences which prevent the reader from getting a clear understanding of their theme. They take the trouble, for instance, to examine meticulously and explain in detail the striking facts and phenomena, those which unfold in the light of day, in the burning "revolutionary furnace". But they mistrust and ignore those developments which occur silently, in the depths of the revolution, outside the "furnace". Or, at best, they accord them a few words in passing, basing their comment on vague testimonies, with interpretations which are frequently erroneous or biased. And it is precisely these hidden facts which are important, and which throw a true light on the events under consideration and on the period.

Too, the scientific keys to the phenomena of revolution -- economics, sociology, psychology -- are at present incapable, by reason of their rudimentary state, of explaining adequately what has happened.

And this is not all. Even from the point of view of pure "reportage", how many gaps there are. In the terrible whirlwind of revolution, a multitude of facts, engulfed by crevices which open and shut at every instant, remain undiscovered, perhaps forever. Those who live through a revolution, those millions of men who, in one way or another, are carried away by the storm, are, alas, very little concerned with noting down, for future generations, what they saw, thought, or experienced.

Finally, there exists still another reason, which I particularly want to emphasize. With very few exceptions, the rare witnesses who leave notes, and also the historians, are disgustingly partial. Each one deliberately seeks and finds, in a revolution, the elements which will support a personal thesis, or will be useful to a dogma, a party, or a caste. Each one carefully hides and discards all that might contradict his own theory. The revolutionaries themselves, divided by their theories, try to dissimulate or distort whatever does not agree with such and such a doctrine.

We of course are not speaking of the disconcerting number of books which simply are not serious.

In the last analysis, who then can seek to establish the real and only truth? No one -- or practically no one. And it is not astonishing that there exists, on the subject of a revolution, nearly as many versions as volumes, and that the fundamental truth of the real revolution remains unknown.

However, it is this hidden revolution which carries within it the seeds of future upheavals. Whoever wants to live meaningfully, or who wants to understand events clearly, must discover and scrutinize this Unknown. And the duty of the author is to help the seeker in his task.

In the present work this unknown revolution is the Russian Revolution, not the one which has been treated many times by politicians and bought-and-paid writers, but the one that has been either neglected or adroitly hidden, or even falsified by such people.

Leaf through a few books on the Revolution in Russia. Until now nearly all have been written by more or less biased individuals, and from a doctrinal, political, or even personal point of view. According to whether the writer is a White or a Red, a Democrat, a Socialist, a Stalinist, or a Trotskyite, everything differs in appearance. The reality itself is adapted to the design of the narrator. The more you seek to establish it, the less you succeed. For authors [of histories of Russia in 1917] have all too often passed over in silence facts of the highest importance, if they did not conform to their own ideas, did not interest them, or were inconvenient.

A fundamental problem has been bequeathed to us by the revolutions of 1789 and 1917. Opposed to a large extent to oppression, animated by a powerful breath of liberty, and proclaiming liberty as their essential purpose, why did these revolutions go down under a new dictatorship, exercised by a new dominating and privileged group, in a new slavery for the mass of the people involved? What will be the conditions which will permit a revolution to avoid this sad end? Will this end, for a long time still, be a sort of historical inevitability, or is it due to passing factors, or simply to errors and faults that can be avoided from now on? And in the latter case, what will be the means of eliminating the danger which already threatens the revolutions to come? Is it permissible to hope to avert or surmount it?

In the opinion of the author, it is precisely the elements that are unknown -- or that have been deliberately dissimulated -- which offer us the key to the problem before us and supply material indispensable to its solution. And this volume is an attempt to clarify that problem with the help of incontestable facts.

The author actively participated in the Russian Revolution of 1917, as well as in that of 1905. And he wants to examine, with complete objectivity, the available authentic facts [about the overturn in 1917]. Such is his only concern. If he did not have it, he never would have bothered to write the pages which follow.

This concern for a frank exposition and an impartial analysis of that revolution is favoured by the author's ideological position. Since 1908 he has not belonged to any political party. By personal conviction, however, he sympathizes with the libertarian idea. So he can permit himself the luxury of being objective, for, as an Anarchist, he has no interest in betraying the truth, no reason to deceive. He is not interested in power, nor in a high position, nor in privilege, nor in the triumph, "at any cost", of a doctrine. He seeks only to establish the truth, for only the truth is fertile. His passion, his only ambition, is to explain the events of 1917 in the light of exact facts, for only such an explanation permits one to formulate correct and useful conclusions.

Like all revolutions, the Russian Revolution involved a wealth of unknown and even unsuspected facts.

The present study is offered in the hope that some day it will take its modest place beside the works of authors who have wished, been able, and known how, to explore those great riches, honestly, and in complete independence.