The Unknown Revolution, Book Two : Part 04, Chapter 06

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(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.)
• "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.)
• "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.)


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Part 04, Chapter 06

Chapter 6. A Personal Experience

Let me tell here of an experience of my own, of a less tragic nature, but one which throws light on certain Bolshevik procedures worthy /of being written up among the high exploits of State Communism. LAt the time of which I speak, this happening was far from unique in Russia. But since then it could not be repeated in a country wholly subjugated by its new masters.

In November, 1918, I arrived in the city of Kursk, in the Ukraine, to attend a congress of Ukrainian libertarians. In those days, such an assemblage was still possible in Ukrainia, in view of the special conditions in that region, then struggling against both the reaction and the German invasion. The Bolsheviki tolerated the Anarchists there, while utilizing and supervising them.

From the beginning of the Revolution, the laboring population in Kursk never had heard a lecture on Anarchism, the small local group not having the necessary strength, so that the few libertarian speakers went elsewhere. Taking advantage of my presence, the group proposed that I give a lecture on that subject, in a large hall. Naturally I accepted with joy.

It was necessary to ask for permission from the president of the local Soviet. He, an honest ex-worker, gave it to us readily. The precious document in hand, the hall was engaged two weeks in advance, and impressive posters were ordered a few days later and placed on walls. Everything was ready.

The lecture promised to be a great success for our ideas. Certain indications — talk around the city, crowds reading the posters, requests for information to the local group — left no doubt about the matter. Evidently the hall would be packed. Unaccustomed to such a response (for in Great Russia, by that time, no public lectures on Anarchism were possible) we felt a legitimate satisfaction.

Then, two days before the appointed date, the secretary 0f the sponsoring group came to see me, worried and indignant. He had just received a note from the president of the Bolshevik Com-mittee of Kursk (the real power there), informing him that “because of the holiday” the Anarchist lecture could not take place, and that he had so notified the custodian of the hall, which was now reserved by the Communist committee for a popular dancing party.

I hurried to the office of that committee, and had a stormy session with its president — whose name, if 1 recall correctly, was Rynditch (or it may have been Ryndin).

“What is this?” I demanded. “You, a Communist, do not recognize the rules of priority? We obtained the authorization of the Kursk Soviet and engaged the hall two weeks in advance, precisely to be certain of having it. The committee must await its turn.”

“I’m sorry, Comrade,” he answered, “but the decision of the Committee, which is, don’t forget, the supreme power in Kursk, and as such may have reasons of which you are ignorant and which supersede everything else, is irrevocable. Neither the president of the Soviet nor the custodian of the hall could have known in advance that the Committee was going to need the hall on that date. It is absolutely useless to discuss the matter, or to insist. I repeat, it is irrevocable. The lecture will not take place. Either hold it in another hall or on another date.”

“You know very well,” I said, “that it is not possible to arrange all that in two days. And then, there are no other halls large enough. Moreover, all the halls must already be taken for holiday parties. The lecture is out, that is all.”

“I’m sorry. Postpone it to another date. You will lose nothing. It can be arranged.”

“That would not be the same thing at all,” I contended. “Alterations like this always injure the cause greatly. Then, too, the posters were expensive. Furthermore, I have to leave Kursk quickly. But tell me — how are you going to manage on the evening scheduled for the lecture? It is my opinion that you are going to expose yourself to the resistance of the public, who certainly will come in large numbers to hear the lecture. The posters have been up for two weeks. The workers of Kursk and the surrounding country are awaiting it impatiently. It is too late to have notices of the change printed and posted. You will have difficulty imposing a dancing party on that crowd instead of the lecture which they will have come to hear.”

“That’s our affair. Don’t do anything. We will take full charge of it.”

“Therefore, fundamentally,” I pointed out, “the lecture is forbidden by your committee despite the authorization by the Soviet.”

“Oh, no, Comrade. We don’t forbid it at all. Set it for a date after the holidays. We will inform the people who come to ‘hear the lecture. That’s all.”

On this note we parted. I conferred with the local group and we decided to postpone the lecture until January 5, 1919. Accordingly we notified the Bolshevik Committee and the hall custodian. This change compelled me to delay my intended departure for Kharkov several days.

New posters were ordered. Beyond that, we decided, first, to let the Bolshevik authorities placate the public; and second, that I should remain in my hotel room that evening. For we surmised that a large crowd would demand, in spite of everything, that the lecture be given, and that finally, the Bolsheviki would feel obliged to yield. It was therefore necessary that the secretary of the group could summon me in case of need. Personally, I expected a great scandal, perhaps even a serious fracas.

The lecture had been scheduled for eight in the evening. Toward 8.30 I was called on the telephone. I heard the excited voice of the secretary say: “Comrade, the hall is literally besieged by a crowd which will listen to no explanations, and is demanding the lecture. The Bolsheviks are powerless to reason with them. Probably they will have to yield and the lecture will take place. Take a cab and come quickly.”

A cab was at hand, and the trip was made speedily. From a distance I heard an extraordinary clamor in the street. Arriving at the scene, I saw a throng standing around the hall and cursing: “To the Devil with the dancing party! Enough of dancing parties! We are fed up with them. We want the lecture. We came for the lecture ... Lecture! .. . Lecture .. . Lec-ture!”

The secretary, watching, hurried to meet me. With difficulty we pushed through the mass. The hall was being mobbed. At the top of the stairs I found “Comrade” Rynditch haranguing the crowd, which continually shouted: “Lecture! Lecture!”

“You did well to come,” the Bolshevik committee head threw at me, angrily. “You see what is happening This is your work.”

Indignantly I said: “I warned you. You are responsible for all this. You took charge of arranging things. Well, go ahead! Fix things the way you want them. The best and simplest move would be to permit the lecture.”

“No, no, no!” he shouted furiously. “Your lecture shall not take place, I guarantee.”

I shrugged my shoulders.

Suddenly Rynditch said to me: “Look, Comrade: They won’t listen to me. And I don’t want to have to use force. You can arrange things. They’ll listen to you. Explain the situation to them and persuade them to go away peacefully. Make them listen to reason. Tell them that your lecture has been postponed. It is your duty to do what I ask.”

I felt that if the lecture did not take place then, it would never take place. Also I was sure that it was definitely forbidden, and that quite likely I would be arrested.

Unequivocally I refused to speak to the people who jammed the stairway. With a shake of my head, I told the committee head: “No, I will not speak. You wanted this. Get out of it yourself.”

The crowd, aware of our dispute, cursed more loudly. Rynditch tried to yell something. Wasted effort. His voice was drowned in a tempest of shouting. The crowd felt itself strong. It was having a good time, closing ranks, packing the staircases even more tightly if that were possible, and the landing, and the foyer in front of the hall’s closed doors.

Now Rynditch made desperate guestures and again appealed to me. “Speak to them, speak to them, or it will end badly.”

An idea came to me. I signaled for silence to the people who surrounded us. Instantly they quieted down. Then, sedately, spacing my words, I said:

“Comrades, the responsibility for this highly regrettable confusion belongs to the Bolshevik Committee of Kursk. We engaged the hall first for the lecture, two weeks in advance. Two days ago the committee, without even consulting us, took possession of the hall to hold a dance tonight. (Here the crowd demanded at the top of their lungs: “Down with the dance! Let’s have the lecture!”) That compelled us to postpone our lecture to a later date.

“However, I am the speaker and 1 am prepared to give the lecture right away. The Bolsheviks have formally forbidden it this evening. But you are the citizens of Kursk; you are the public. It is up to you to decide. 1 am entirely at your disposal. Choose, Comrades — either we postpone the lecture and go away peacefully and come back on January fifth, or if you want the lecture right .now, if you are really determined, act, take possession of the hall.”

Hardly had I spoken these last words when the crowd applauded joyfully and yelled: “Lecture, right away! Lecture! Lecture!”

And with irresistible force it pushed toward the hall. Ryn-ditch was overwhelmed. The doors were opened. If not, they would have been forced. And the lights went on inside.

In a few moments the hall was filled. The audience, partly sitting, partly standing, calmed down. I had only to begin. But Rynditch climbed onto the platform. He addressed the audience: “Citizens, Comrades! Be patient for a few more minutes. The Bolshevik Committee is going to confer and make a final decision. They will communicate this to you directly. Probably the dance will not take place.’

“Hurrah!” the crowd shouted, carried away with joy over its apparent victory. “Lecture! Long live the lecture!”

They applauded again, happily.

Now the Bolshevik Committee retired to a nearby room to confer. Meanwhile the doors of the hall were closed, the audience patiently awaiting the decision. We supposed that this little comedy was being played by the Bolsheviki to save face.

A quarter of an hour passed.

Then, abruptly, the hall doors were opened, and a strong detachment of Chekist soldiers (special troops, a sort of State police, blindly devoted to the Lenin regime), rifles in hand, entered. Everyone in the audience, stunned, remained frozen in their places. Quickly, in an impressive silence, the soldiers poured into the hall, sliding along the walls, and behind the seats. One group remained near the entrance, with its rifles pointed at the audience.

(Afterwards it was learned that the Bolshevik Committee had first called upon the city barracks, asking that a regular regiment intervene. But the soldiers wanted explanations — at that stage this was still possible — declared that they, too, would like to hear the lecture, and refused to come. It was then that the committee summoned the Chekist detachment, which had been ready for all eventualities).

Directly the committee members reappeared in the hall. Rynditch announced their ruling from the platform in a triumphant voice.

“The decision of the committee has been made. The dance will not take place. Nor will the lecture. In any case, it is too late for either. I call upon this audience to leave the hall and the building with absolute calm and in perfect order. If not, the Chekists will intervene.”

Indignant, but powerless, the people began to get up and leave the hall. “Even so,” some muttered, “their party was spoiled ... That wasn’t bad.”

Outside, a new surprise awaited them. At the exit, two armed Chekists searched each person and inspected his identity card. Several were arrested. Some were released next day. But others remained in jail.

I returned to the hotel.

Next morning the telephone rang. Rynditch’s voice: “Comrade Voline, come to see me at the committee’s office. I want to speak to you about your lecture.”

“The date is set for January fifth,” I said. “The notices have been ordered. Have you any objection?”

“No, but come anyhow. I must talk with you.”

When I got there [Rynditch was not in sight. Instead] I was received by a Bolshevik, amiable and smiling, who said: “Look, Comrade: The committee has decided that your lecture shall not take place. You yourself are responsible for this decision, because your attitude yesterday was arrogant and hostile. Also, the committee has decided that you cannot remain in Kursk. For the moment, you will remain here, in our quarters.”

“Ah, am I arrested then?”

“Oh no, Comrade. You are not arrested. You will only be kept here for a few hours, until the train leaves for Moscow.”

“For Moscow?” I shouted. “But I have absolutely nothing to do in Moscow. And I already have a ticket for Kharkov,[32] where 1 am supposed to go after the Congress here. I have friends and work to do there.”

After a short discussion on this point, the Bolshevik said: “That’s all right. You can go to Kharkov. But the train doesn’t leave until 1 a.m. You’ll have to stay here all day.”

“Can I go to the hotel and settle my bill and get my valise?”

“No, Comrade. We cannot permit that.”

“I promise to go directly to the hotel ... And moreover, someone can accompany me.”, “It is impossible, Comrade, we regret. You can see that, he matter might get noised around. We don’t want that. The order is formal. Give instructions to one of our comrades. He will go to the hotel and fetch your valise.”

An armed Chekist guard already was stationed in front of my room door. I could do nothing.

A “comrade” brought the valise. Toward midnight another took me in a cab to the railway station and waited until 1 actually departed.

This unexpected journey was made under such painful circumstances that 1 fell sick en route. I was able to avoid pneumonia only because of the kindness of a fellow-passenger who put me up with friends in Soumy, a small Ukrainian city. There a competent doctor took good care of me. And a few days later I was in Kharkov.

On arrival, I wrote for our local weekly, Nabat — forbidden a little later by the Bolshevik authorities because of its growing success — an article entitled Story of a Lecture Under the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. In it I related in detail that whole unsavory adventure.

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November 30, 1920 :
Part 04, Chapter 06 -- Publication.

February 22, 2017 19:30:08 :
Part 04, Chapter 06 -- Added to

March 19, 2019 14:49:09 :
Part 04, Chapter 06 -- Last Updated on


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