Peter Arshinov, History of the Makhnovist Movement (1918-1921), 1923.
The October Upheaval in Great Russia and in the Ukraine.
To clarify the development of the Russian revolution, it is necessary to examine the propaganda and the development of revolutionary ideas among the workers and the peasants throughout the period from 1900 to 1917, and the significance of the October upheaval in Great Russia and in the Ukraine.
Beginning with the years 1900-1905, revolutionary propaganda among workers and peasants was carried out by spokesmen of two basic doctrines: state socialism and anarchism. The state socialist propaganda was carried out by a number of wonderfully organized democratic parties: Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, Socialist-Revolutionaries and a number of related currents. Anarchism was put forward by a few numerically small groups who did not have a sufficiently clear understanding of their tasks in the revolution. The field of propaganda and political education was almost completely occupied by the democracy which educated the masses in the spirit of its political program and ideals. The establishment of a democratic republic was its basic goal; political revolution, its means to realize this goal.
Anarchism, on the contrary, rejected democracy as one form of statism, and also rejected political revolution as a method of action. Anarchism considered the basic task of workers and peasants to be social revolution, and it is for this that it called the masses. This was the sole doctrine which called for the complete destruction of capitalism in the name of a free, stateless society of working people. But, having only a small number of militants and at the same time lacking a concrete program for the immediate future, anarchism could not spread widely and establish roots among the masses as their specific social and political theory. Nevertheless, because anarchism dealt with the most important aspects of the life of the enslaved masses, because it was never hypocritical toward them, and taught them to struggle directly for their own cause and to die for it -- it created a gallery of fighters and martyrs for the social revolution at the very heart of the working class. Anarchist ideas held out through the long ordeal of Tsarist reaction and remained in the hearts of individual workers of cities and countryside as their social and political ideal.
Socialism, being a natural offspring of democracy, always had at its disposal enormous intellectual forces. Students, professors, doctors, lawyers, journalists, etc., were either patented Marxists or to a great extent sympathized with Marxism. Thanks to its extensive forces experienced in politics, socialism always succeeded in attracting a significant number of workers, even though it called them to a struggle for the incomprehensible and suspect ideals of the democracy.
In spite of this, at the time of the 1917 revolution, class interests and instincts led the workers and peasants toward their own direct goals: the appropriation of land and factories.
When this orientation appeared among the masses -- and it appeared long before the 1917 revolution -- one section of the Marxists, namely their left wing, the Bolsheviks, quickly abandoned their overtly bourgeois-democratic positions, proclaimed slogans which were adapted to the needs of the working class, and in the days of the revolution marched with the rebellious mass, seeking to make themselves masters of the mass movement. They succeeded in this thanks to the extensive intellectual forces in the ranks of Bolshevism as well as the socialist slogans with which they seduced the masses.
We have already mentioned above that the October upheaval was carried out under two powerful slogans: "Factories to the Workers; Land to the Peasants!" The working people gave these slogans a plain meaning, without reservations; i.e., the revolution would place the entire industrial economy directly under the control of the workers, the land and agriculture under that of the peasants. The spirit of justice and self-activity contained in these slogans inspired the masses to such an extent that a significant and very active part of them was ready the day after the revolution to start organizing life on the basis of these slogans. In numerous cities the trade unions and factory committees took over the management of the factories and their goods, getting rid of the proprietors, and themselves determined prices, etc. But all these attempts met the iron resistance of the Communist Party which had already become the State.
The Communist Party, which marched shoulder to shoulder with the revolutionary masses and took up their extremist, frequently anarchist, slogans, abruptly transformed its activity as soon as the coalition government was discarded and the Party came to power. The revolution as a mass movement of working people with the slogans of October, was from that point on finished for the party. The basic enemy of the working class, the industrial and agricultural bourgeoisie, was defeated. The period of destruction, of struggle against the capitalist regime, was over; what began was the period of communist construction, the period of proletarian building. From this point on, the revolution could only be carried out by the organs of the State. The continuation of the earlier condition of the country, when the workers were masters of the streets, factories and workshops, when the peasants, not seeing the new power, tried to arrange their lives independently, could have dangerous consequences and could disorganize the Party's role in the State apparatus. All this had to be stopped by all possible means, up to and including State violence.
Such was the about-face in the activity of the Communist Party as soon as it seized power.
From this moment on, the Party obstinately reacted against all socialist activity on the part of the masses of workers and peasants. Obviously, this about-face of the revolution and this bureaucratic plan for its further development was a cowardly and impudent step on the part of a party that owed its position only to the working people. This was pure imposture and usurpation. But the logic of the position taken by the Communist Party in the revolution was such that it could not have acted otherwise. Any other political party seeking dictatorship and supremacy over the country from the revolution would have acted the same way. Before October it was the right wing of the democracy which sought to command the revolution -- Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries. Their difference with the Bolsheviks was that they were not able to organize their power and catch the masses in their nets.
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Let us now examine how the dictatorship of the Communist Party and its ban on the further development of the revolution outside the organs of the State were received by the working people of Great Russia and the Ukraine. For the workers of Great Russia and the Ukraine, the revolution was the same, but the Bolshevik statist domination of the revolution was not received the same way: in the Ukraine it met more resistance than in Great Russia. Let us begin with Great Russia.
Before and during the revolution, the Communist Party carried on enormous activity among the workers of the cities of Great Russia. During the Tsarist period it tried, being the left wing of social-democracy, to organize them for the struggle for a democratic republic, recruiting a reliable and solid army from among them to struggle for its ideals.
After the overthrow of Tsarism in February-March 1917, a tense period began, when the workers and peasants could not afford to lose any time. The working people saw the provisional government as their avowed enemy. Thus they did not wait to set out to realize their rights by revolutionary means: first of all their right to the eight-hour day, then their rights to the instruments of production and consumption as well as the land. In all this the Communist Party presented itself to them as a superbly organized ally. It is true that through this alliance the Party followed its own aims, but the masses did not know this, and only saw the fact that the Communist Party struggled with them against the capitalist regime. This party directed all the power of its organizations, all its political and organizational experience, its best militants, into the heart of the working class and into the army. The party used all its forces to assemble the masses around its slogans, playing demagogically with the burning questions of the oppressed laborers, snatching the slogans of the peasants about the land, of the workers about voluntary labor, and pushed the working people toward a decisive clash with the coalition government. Day after day, the Communist Party was in the ranks of the working class, carrying on with the workers an untiring struggle against the bourgeoisie, a struggle which it continued until the days of October. Thus it is natural that the workers of Great Russia were accustomed to see in the Party their energetic comrades-in-arms in the revolutionary struggle. This circumstance, as well as the fact that the Russian working class had almost no revolutionary organizations of its own -- it was scattered, from an organizational standpoint -- allowed the party to easily take the management of affairs into its hands. And when the coalition government was overturned by the working class of Petrograd and Moscow, power simply passed to the Bolsheviks as the leaders of the upheaval.
After this the Communist Party directed all of its energy toward the organization of a firm power and to the liquidation of mass movements of workers and peasants which continued, in various parts of the country, to try to achieve the basic goals of the revolution by means of direct action. The party succeeded in this task without great difficulty due to the enormous influence which it had acquired in the period which preceded October. It is true that immediately after its seizure of power, the Communist Party was obliged, more than once, to stifle the first steps of workers' organizations trying to start production in their enterprises on the basis of workers' equality. It is true that numerous villages were pillaged and thousands of peasants were assassinated by the Communist power for their disobedience and their attempts to do without state power. It is true that in Moscow and in several other cities, in order to liquidate anarchist organizations in April 1918, and later, organizations of the left Socialist-Revolutionaries, the Communist Party was forced to use machine guns and cannons, thus provoking a civil war on the left. But in general, due to a certain confidence of Great Russian workers in Bolshevism after October, a confidence which was short-lived, the Bolsheviks succeeded easily and quickly in taking the masses in hand and in stopping the further development of the workers' and peasants' revolution, replacing it with the governmental decrees of the Party. That ended the revolution in Great Russia.
The period before and during October was very different in the Ukraine. Here the Communist Party did not have a tenth of the organized party forces which it possessed in Great Russia. Here its influence on the peasants and workers had always been insignificant. Here the October upheaval took place much later, not until November, December, and January of the following year. Up to this point the Ukraine had been ruled by the local national bourgeoisie -- the Petliurovtsi (followers of Petliura). In their relations to the Ukraine, the Bolsheviks did not act in a revolutionary manner, but mainly in a military manner. In Great Russia the passage of power to the Soviets meant its passage to the Communist Party. However in the Ukraine, thanks to the powerlessness and unpopularity of the Communist Party, the passage of power to the Soviets meant something completely different. The Soviets were meetings of delegated workers without any real power to subordinate the masses. The workers in the factories and the peasants in the villages felt themselves to be the real force. But this force was scattered, disorganized, and constantly in danger of falling under the dictatorship of a well-knit party.
During the entire revolutionary struggle, the working class and the peasants of the Ukraine were not accustomed to being surrounded by an ever-present and inflexible tutor like the Communist Party in Great Russia. As a result, the working population experienced a much greater degree of freedom, which inevitably manifested itself during the days of mass revolutionary activity.
Another, still more important aspect of the life of (indigenous) Ukrainian peasants and workers were the traditions of the Vol'nitsa which were preserved from ancient times. Whatever efforts the Tsars made, from Catherine II on, to wipe out all traces of the Vol'nitsa from the minds of the Ukrainian people, this heritage from the heroic epoch of Zaporozh'e Cossacks of the 14th to the 16th century is nevertheless preserved to the present day, and Ukrainian peasants have retained a particular love for independence. Among present-day Ukrainian peasants this takes the form of stubborn resistance to all powers which try to subjugate them.
The revolutionary movement in the Ukraine was thus accompanied by two conditions which did not exist in Great Russia, and which greatly influenced the character of the Ukrainian revolution: the absence of a powerful and organized political party, and the spirit of the Vol'nitsa, a living heritage of the Ukrainian worker, And in fact, when the revolution in Great Russia fell under the domination of the State without much resistance, this domination met great resistance in the Ukraine. The Soviet apparatus installed itself mechanically, and mainly by armed force. At the same time an autonomous mass movement consisting mainly of peasants continued to develop. It had appeared already under the government of the Democratic Republic of Petliura and progressed slowly, still seeking its path. Furthermore, the roots of this movement lay at the very basis of the Russian revolution. It was noteworthy already from the first days of the February upheaval. It was a movement of the lowest strata of the working people, who sought to destroy the economic slave system and create a new system, based on the socialization of means and instruments of labor and the cultivation of the land by the workers themselves.
We have already mentioned that, in the name of these principles, workers got rid of the owners of factories and transferred the management of production to their class organs: trade unions, factory committees or workers' commissions specially created for this purpose. The peasants took over the land of the pomeshchiks (gentry) and of the kulaks (wealthy peasants) and reserved the produce strictly for the workers themselves, thus sketching a new type of agrarian economy.
This practice of direct revolutionary action by the workers and peasants developed in the Ukraine almost unobstructed during the whole first year of the revolution and created a healthy and clear line of revolutionary conduct for the masses.
And every time one or another political group, having taken power, tried to break the workers' line of revolutionary conduct, the workers launched a revolutionary opposition and struggled in various ways against these attempts.
Thus the revolutionary movement of the working people toward social independence, which had begun in the first days of the revolution, did not weaken no matter what power was established in the Ukraine. It was not even extinguished by the Bolsheviks who, after the October upheaval, tried to introduce their autocratic state system into the country.
What was characteristic about this movement?
Its desire to attain the real goals of the working class in the revolution; its will to win labor's independence; its defiance of all non-laboring social groups.
Despite all the sophisms of the Communist Party seeking to prove that the Party was the brain of the working class, and that its power was that of the workers and peasants -- every worker and peasant who had retained his class spirit or instinct was aware that in fact the Party was driving the workers of the cities and the countryside away from their own revolutionary tasks, that the Party had them under its control, and that the very existence of a statist organization was a usurpation of their right to independence and to any form of self-management.
The aspiration to full self-direction became the basis of the movement born in the depths of the masses. In all kinds of ways their thoughts were constantly rooted in this idea. The statist activity of the Communist Party pitilessly stifled these aspirations. But it was precisely this action of the presumptuous party, intolerant of any objection, that enlightened the workers and drove them to resist.
In the beginning, the movement confined itself to ignoring the new power and performing spontaneous acts in which the peasants took possession of the land and goods of the landlords. They found their own ways and means. The unexpected occupation of the Ukraine by the Austro-Germans placed the workers in a completely new situation and precipitated the development of their movement.
Go to Chapter 3