The Unknown Revolution, Book Two : Part 02, Chapter 04

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1921

People

(1882 - 1945) ~ Bolshevik-Aligned Leader of the Russian Nabat Anarchists : March of 1920 saw him taken to Moscow, where he would remain prisoner until October, when he and many other anarchists were released by virtue of a treaty between the Soviet Union and Makhno's army. Voline then returned to Kharkov, resuming his old activities... (From : Rudolph Rocker Bio.)
• "Socialism, so mighty in Germany, Austria and Italy, has proved powerless. 'Communism', itself very strong, especially in Germany, has proved powerless. The trade unions have proved powerless. How are we to account for this?" (From : "The Unknown Revolution," by Voline.)
• "As we know, there it was an authoritarian state communism (Bolshevism) that scored a stunning and rather easy victory in the events of 1917. Now, these days, nearly seventeen years on from that victory, not only is communism proving powerless to resist fascism abroad, but, where the regime within the USSR itself is concerned, the latter is more and more often being described more and more deliberately as 'red fascism'." (From : "The Unknown Revolution," by Voline.)
• "Yet there is consolation to be had. The masses learn through all too palpable first hand experience. And the experience is there." (From : "The Unknown Revolution," by Voline.)

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Part 02, Chapter 04

Chapter 4. Some Reflections

Naturally the popular masses could not recognize all the subtleties of these different interpretations. It was impossible for them — even when they had made some contact with our ideas — to understand the real significance of the differences in question. The Russian workers, of all the workers in the world, were the least familiar with political matters. They could not be aware either of the machiavellianism or the danger of the Bolshevik interpretation.

I recall the desperate efforts with which I tried to warn the city workers, in so far as it was possible, by word of mouth and by writing, of the imminent danger for the true Revolution in the event that the masses let the Bolshevik Party entrench itself solidly in power.

In vain I argued; the masses did not recognize the danger. How many times did they object in words like these: “Comrade, we understand you well. And moreover, we are not too confident. We agree that it is necessary for us to be somewhat on guard, not to believe blindly, and to maintain in ourselves a prudent distrust. But, up to the present, the Bolsheviks have never betrayed us. They march straightforwardly with us, they are our friends. And they claim that once they are in power they can easily make our aspirations triumph. That seems true to us. Then why should we reject them? Let us help them win power, and we will see afterwards.”

Unheeded, I pointed out that the goals of the Social Revolution could never be realized by means of political power. To doubting listeners I repeated that once organized and armed, the Bolshevik power, while admittedly as inevitably impotent as the others, would be infinitely more dangerous for the workers and Wore difficult to defeat than they had been. But invariably those to whom I talked replied in this wise:

“Comrade, it was we, the masses, who overthrew Czarism. It was we who overthrew the bourgeois government. And it is we who are ready to overthrow Kerensky. So, if you are right, and if the Bolsheviki have the misfortune of betraying us, and of not keeping their promises, we will overthrow them as we did the others. And then we will march finally and only with our friends the Anarchists.”

Again in vain I pointed out that for various reasons, the Bolshevik State would be much more difficult to overthrow. But the workers would not, or could not, believe me.

All this, however, is not at all astonishing when in countries familiar with political methods and where (as in France) they are more or less disgusted with them, the laboring masses and even the intellectuals, while wishing for the Revolution, are still unable to understand that the installation in power of a political party, even of the extreme left, and the building of a State, whatever its label, will lead to the death of the Revolution. Could it be otherwise in a country such as Russia, which never had had the slightest political experience?

Returning on their battleships from Petrograd to Kronstadt after the victory of October, 1917, the revolutionary sailors soon began discussing the danger that might result simply from the existence of the Council of People’s Commissars in power. Some maintained, notably, that this political sanhedrin was capable of some day betraying the principles of the October Revolution. But, on the whole, the sailors, primarily impressed by its easy victory, declared while brandishing their weapons: “In that case, since the cannons have known how to take the Winter Palace, they will know how to take Smolny also.” (The former Smolny Institute in Petrograd was the first seat of the Bolshevik government, immediately after the victory.)

As we know, the political, statist, governmental idea had not yet been discredited in the Russia of 1917. And it still has not been discredited in any other country. Time and other historical experiences certainly are needed in order that the masses [everywhere], enlightened at the same time by propaganda, will finally be made entirely aware of the falsity, the vanity, the peril of the idea.

On the night of the famous day of October 25, I was on a street in Petrograd. It was dark and quiet. In the distance a feW scattered rifle shots could be heard. Suddenly an armored car passed me at full speed. From inside the car, a hand threw a packet of leaflets which flew in all directions. I bent down and picked one up. It was an announcement by the new government to “workers and peasants” telling of the fall of the Kerensky government, and giving a list of the “People’s Commissars” of the new regime, Lenin at the head.

A complex sentiment of sadness, rage, and disgust, but also a sort of ironic satisfaction, took hold of me. “Those imbeciles (if they are not simply demagogic impostors, I thought) must imagine that thus they have achieved the Social Revolution! Oh, well, they are going to see ... And the masses are going to learn a good lesson!”

Who could have foreseen at that moment that only three years and four months later, in 1921, on the glorious days of February 25 to 28, the workers of Petrograd would revolt against the new “Communist” government? ’

There exists an opinion which has some support among Anarchists. It is maintained that, under the prevailing conditions [in October, 1917], the Russian Anarchists, momentarily renouncing their negation of politics, parties, demagogy, and power, should have acted “like Bolsheviks”, that is to say, should have formed a sort of political party and endeavored to take power provisionally. In that event, it is asserted, they could have “carried the masses” with them, defeated the Bolsheviki, and seized power “to organize Anarchism subsequently”.

I consider this reasoning fundamentally and dangerously false.

Even if the Anarchists, in such a contingency, had won the victory (which is exceedingly doubtful), that winning, bought at the price of the “momentary” abandonment of the basic principle of Anarchism, never could have led to the triumph of that principle. Carried away by the force and logic of events, the Anarchists in power — what nonsense! — could only have achieved a variety of Bolshevism.

(I believe that the recent events in Spain and the position of certain Spanish Anarchists who accepted posts in the government I thus throwing themselves into the void of “politics” and reducing to nothing the real Anarchist action, confirms, to a large extent, my point of view.)

If such a method could have achieved the result sought, if it were possible to fight power with power, Anarchism would have no reason to exist. “In principle” everybody is an “Anarchist” If the Communists, the Socialists, et al., are not so in reality, it is precisely because they believe it possible to arrive at a libertarian order by way of politics and power. (I speak of sincere people). Therefore, if one wants to suppress power by means of power and the “carried away masses” one is a Communist, a Socialist, or anything you like, but one is not an Anarchist. One is an Anarchist, specifically, because one holds it impossible to suppress power, authority, and the State with the aid of power, authority, and the State (and the “carried away masses”). Whenever one has recourse to such means — even if only “momentarily” and with very good intentions — one ceases to be an Anarchist, one renounces Anarchism, one rallies to the Bolshevik principle.

The idea of seeking to carry the masses along with power is contrary to Anarchism, which does not believe that man can ever achieve his true emancipation by that method.

I recall, in this connection, a conversation with our widely known comrade, Maria Spiridonova, animator of the left Social Revolutionary Party, in 1919 or 1920 in Moscow. (At the risk of her own life, she assassinated, in the old days, one of the most ferocious satraps of the Czar. She endured tortures, barely missed death [by hanging], and remained imprisoned a long time. Freed by the Revolution of February, 1917, she joined the left Social Revolutionaries and became one of their pillars. She was one of the most sincere revolutionists, devoted, respected, esteemed.)

During our discussion. Maria Spiridonova told me that the left Social Revolutionaries believed in power in a very restricted form; a power reduced to a minimum, accordingly very weak, very humane, and especially very provisional. “Just the bare minimum, permitting it, as quickly as possible, to weaken, to crumble, and to disappear!”

“Don’t fool yourself,” I advised her. “Power is never a ball of sand, which, when it is rolled, disintegrates. It is, on the contrary a snowball, which, when rolled, increases in size. Once in power, you would do like the others.”

And so would the Anarchists, I might add.

In the same connection, I remember another striking incident.

In 1919 I was active in the Ukraine. By that time the Russian masses already were keenly disillusioned about Bolshevism. The Anarchist propaganda in Ukrainia (where the Bolsheviks had not yet totally suppressed it) had begun to achieve a lively success.

One night some Red soldiers, delegated by their regiments, came to the seat of our Kharkov group and told us this: “Several units of the garrison here are fed up with the Bolsheviks. They sympathize with the Anarchists, and are ready to act. One of these nights they could easily arrest the members of the Bolshevik government of the Ukraine and proclaim an Anarchist government, which certainly would be better. Nobody would oppose it. Everybody has had enough of the Bolshevik power. Therefore we ask the Anarchist Party to come to an agreement with us, to authorize us to act in its name in preparing this action, to proceed to arrest the present government, and to take power in its place, with our help. We put ourselves completely at the disposition of the Anarchist Party.”

Of course the misunderstanding was evident. The term “Anarchist Party” alone bore witness to it. These good soldiers had no idea of what Anarchism really meant. They may have heard it spoken of vaguely or attended some meeting.

But the fact was there. Two alternative solutions were available to us: either to take advantage of this misunderstanding, have the Bolshevik government arrested, and “take power” in the Ukraine; or explain to the soldiers their mistake, give them an understanding of the fundamental nature of Anarchism, and renounce the adventure.

Naturally we chose the second solution. And for two hours I set forth our viewpoint to the regimental delegates.

“If,” I said to them, “the vast masses of Russia arise in a new revolution, frankly abandoning the Government and conscious that they need not replace it with another to organize their life on a new basis, that would be the proper, the true Revolution, and all the Anarchists would march with the masses. But if we — a group of men — arrest the Bolshevik government to put ourselves in their place, nothing basic is changed. And subsequently, carried along by the very same system, we could not do any better! than the Bolsheviki.”

Finally the soldiers understood my explanations, and left swearing to work henceforth for the true Revolution and the Anarchist idea.

What is inconceivable is that there exist in our day “Anarchists” — and not a few of them — who still reproach me because we did not “take power” at that time. According to them, we should have gone ahead and arrested the Bolshevik government and installed ourselves in their place. They maintain that we lost a good opportunity to realize our ideas — with the help of power. But that would have been contrary to our principles.

How many times have I said to an audience, in the midst of the Revolution: “Never forget that no one can do anything for you, in your place, above you. The ‘best’ government can only become bankrupt. And if someday you learn that I, Voline, tempted by politics and authoritarianism, have accepted a governmental post, have become a ‘commissar’, a ‘minister’, or something similar, two weeks later, comrades, you may shoot me with an easy conscience, knowing that I have betrayed the truth, the true cause, and the true Revolution.”

From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org

Chronology

November 30, 1920 :
Part 02, Chapter 04 -- Publication.

February 22, 2017 19:22:31 :
Part 02, Chapter 04 -- Added to http://www.RevoltLib.com.

May 28, 2017 15:36:12 :
Part 02, Chapter 04 -- Last Updated on http://www.RevoltLib.com.

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