The Unknown Revolution, Book One : Part 01, Chapter 03
(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.)
• "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.)
• "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.)
Part 01, Chapter 03
It was the son and successor of Nicholas I, Emperor Alexander II, who had to face the difficult situation of the country and the regime. General discontent, pressure from the progressive intellectual strata, fear of an uprising by the peasant masses, and finally the economic necessities of the period, forced the Czar to give in and embark resolutely on a path of reform, despite the bitter resistance of reactionary circles. He decided to put an end to the purely bureaucratic system and to the absolute arbitrariness of administrative officers, and instituted far-reaching changes in the judicial system. Above all, he confronted the problem of serfdom.
From 1860 on, reforms followed each other in rapid and uninterrupted succession. The most important were: the abolition of serfdom (1861); the establishment of assize courts with elected juries (1864) which replaced the earlier State courts composed of functionaries; the creation (in 1864) of units of local self-administration in the cities and in the countryside (the gorodskoe samoupralenie and the zemstvo: forms of urban and rural municipalities), with the right of self-government in certain domains of public life (some branches of education, health, transportation, etc.).
All the vital forces of the population, particularly the intellectuals, turned toward the projects which were now possible. The municipalities devoted themselves enthusiastically to the creation of a vast network of primary schools with secular leanings. These “municipal” and “urban” schools were obviously under the surveillance and control of the government. Religious instruction was obligatory and the “pope” played an important role. The schools nevertheless enjoyed a certain amount of autonomy, the teaching staff being recruited by the “zemstvos” and the urban councils from among progressive intellectuals.
A great deal of attention was also devoted to sanitary conditions in the cities and to the improvement of transportation.
The country breathed more freely.
However, in spite of their importance in relation to the earlier situation, the reforms of Alexander II were very timid and incomplete in relation to the aspirations of the advanced strata and to the material and moral needs of the country. To be effective, to give the people a real impetus, the reforms would have to be accompanied by the granting of certain freedoms and civic rights: the freedom of speech and of the press, the right of assembly and association, etc. In this area, however, nothing changed. Censorship was scarcely less ridiculous. Speech and the press remained muzzled; no freedoms were granted. The emerging working class had no rights. The nobility, the landowners and the bourgeoisie were the dominant classes. Above all, the absolutist regime remained intact. (It was precisely the fear of changing the regime that led Alexander to throw the bone of “reform” to the people, while preventing him from carrying these reforms through to the end. Thus the reforms failed to satisfy the population.)
The conditions in which serfdom was abolished provide the best illustration of what we are saying. This constitutes the weakest point of the reforms.
The landowners, after struggling in vain against any change in the status quo, had to bend before the supreme decision of the Czar (who reached this decision after long and dramatic vacillations under the energetic pressure of progressive elements). But the landlords did everything they could to make this reform minimal. It was all the easier for them to do this since Alexander II himself naturally did not want to infringe upon the sacred interests of his “beloved nobles.” It was primarily the fear of revolution which finally dictated his gesture. He knew that the peasants had heard of his intentions and of the disagreements which surrounded this subject at court. He knew that this time their patience was really at an end, that they expected their liberation, and that if they learned of the postponement of the reform, the agitation which would follow could provoke a vast and terrible revolt. In his last discussions with the opponents of the reform, the Czar expressed this well-known sentence which says a great deal about his real feelings: “It is better to give freedom from above than to wait until it is taken from below.” Therefore he did everything he could to make this “freedom,” namely the abolition of serfdom, as harmless as possible to the interests of the landed nobles. “The iron chain has broken at last,” wrote the poet Nekrasov in a resounding poem. “Yes, it broke; one end hit the lord, but the other, the peasant.”
To be sure, the peasants finally obtained individual freedom. But they had tp pay for it dearly. They received mini-scule plots of land. (It was obviously impossible to “free” them without granting them plots of land which were at least large enough to keep them from dying of hunger.) Furthermore, in addition to having to pay taxes to the State over a long period, they were required to pay a large fee for the lands taken from the former landowners. It should be noted that 75 million peasants received little more than a third of the land. Another third was retained by the State. And almost a third remained in the hands of the landowners. This proportion condemned the peasant masses to a life of famine. They remained at the mercy of the “pomeshchiks” and, later, of the “kulaks,” peasants who had, in one way or another, become rich.
In all his “reforms,” Alexander II was careful to grant as little as possible: only the minimum necessary to avoid an imminent catastrophe. Thus the defects and the shortcomings of these “reforms” could already be felt by 1870.
The working population of the cities was defenseless against the growing exploitation.
The absence of any freedom of speech and of the press, as well as the absolute prohibition of all meetings with political or social content, rendered impossible all criticism, all propaganda, all social activity, the circulation of all ideas, in short, all progress.
The “people” were no more than “subjects” under the arbitrary power of absolutism which, while less ferocious than under Nicholas I, nevertheless remained intact.
As for the peasant masses, they remained beasts of burden reduced to the hard labor of feeding the State and the privileged classes.
The best representatives of the young intellectuals quickly became aware of this deplorable situation. They were all the more distressed because in this period countries in the West already had relatively advanced political and social systems. Around 1870, Western Europe was in the midst of social struggles; socialism had started its intense propaganda and Marxism had begun the task of organizing the working class into a powerful political party.
As before, the best publicists of the period continued to defy and circumvent the censors, who were neither well enough educated nor intelligent enough to understand the finesse and variety of the procedures (although Chernyshevski ultimately paid for his audacity by forced labor). The publicists succeeded in communicating socialist ideas to intellectual circles through magazine articles written in conventional styles. In this way they educated the youth, keeping them regularly informed of the movement of ideas as well as the political and social events abroad. At the same time they skillfully exposed the underside of the so-called reforms of Alexander II, their real motives, their hypocrisy, and their shortcomings.
Thus it is altogether natural that clandestine groups formed in Russia during this period, in order to struggle actively against this contemptible regime, and above all to communicate the idea of political and social liberation of the working classes.
These groups were composed of youth of both sexes who consecrated themselves, with a sublime spirit of sacrifice, to the task of “bringing the light to the working masses.”
Thus was formed a vast movement of Russian intellectual youth who, in large numbers, left families, comforts and careers and threw themselves “toward the people” in order to enlighten them.
At the same time, terrorist activities against the main servants of the regime began. Between 1860 and 1870 there were several assassination attempts on the lives of several high government officials. There were also some unsuccessful attempts against the Czar.
The movement ended in failure. Almost all the propagandists were arrested by the police (frequently on the basis of denunciations by the peasants themselves); they were imprisoned, exiled or sent to hard labor. The practical results of the movement were nil.
It became increasingly evident that Czarism represented an insurmountable obstacle to the education of the people. It was necessary to go only one step further to reach the logical conclusion that, since Czarism represents such an obstacle, it must be destroyed.
And this step was in fact taken by tattered and desperate youth whose primary goal was the assassination of the Czar. Other factors also led to this decision. The man who had deceived the people with his so-called “reforms” had to be publicly punished. The deception had to be exposed before the vast masses; their attention had to be attracted by a dramatic and terrible act. In short, the elimination of the Czar was to show the people the fragility, the vulnerability and the fortuitous and temporary character of the regime.
The “legend of the Czar” was thus to be killed once and for all. Some members of the group went further: they held that the assassination of the Czar could serve as a point of departure which, in the context of the general development, would end in revolution and the immediate fall of Czarism.
The group, which called itself Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will), after detailed preparations, executed the project: Czar Alexander II was killed while traveling in St. Petersburg on March 1, 1881. Two bombs were thrown by terrorists at the imperial carriage. The first destroyed the carriage, the second mortally wounded the Emperor, removing both of his legs. He died almost immediately.
The act was not understood by the masses. The peasants did not read the journals. (They could not read at all.) Completely ignored, outsiders to all propaganda, fascinated for over a century by the idea that the Czar wished them well but that his good intentions were thwarted by the nobility, the peasants accused the nobility of assassinating the Czar to revenge itself for the abolition of serfdom and with the hope of restoring it. (The peasants found further proof for this in the nobility’s resistance to their liberation and also in the compulsory payment of large fees for their plots of land, for which they blamed the intrigues of the nobility.)
The Czar was killed. But not the legend. (The reader will see that twenty-four years later history itself destroyed the legend.)
The people did not understand and did not move. The servile press screamed about the “low criminals,” the “horrible villains,” the “imbeciles.”
There was not much disorder at the court. The young heir Alexander, oldest son of the assassinated Emperor, immediately took power.
The leaders of the Narodnaya Volya party, those who organized and carried out the assassination, were rapidly found, arrested, tried and killed. One of them, the young Grinevetski -the very one who had thrown the bomb that killed the Czar — had himself been mortally wounded by the explosion and died on the spot. Sofya Perovskaya, Zheliabov, Kibal-chich (the famous technician of the party, who made the bombs), Mikhailov and Ryssakov were hung.
Exceptionally extensive and severe measures of persecution and repression quickly reduced the party to complete impotence.
Everything “returned to order.”
The new Emperor, Alexander III, greatly affected by the J assassination, found nothing better to do than to return to the recently abandoned path of complete reaction. The to-l tally inadequate “reforms” of his father seemed to him excessive, unfortunate and dangerous. He considered them a, deplorable mistake. Instead of understanding that the assassination was a consequence of their inadequacy and that they had to be broadened, he, on the contrary, saw in them the cause of the evil. And he took advantage of the murder ofj his father to oppose the “reforms” in every possible way.
He set out to distort their spirit, to counteract their effects, and to create obstacles for them through a long series 0f reactionary laws. The bureaucratic and repressive State regained its rights. Every movement, every expression of liberal thought, was stifled.
The Czar obviously could not reestablish serfdom. But the working masses were condemned to remain more than ever in their condition as an indistinct herd, good for exploiting, and deprived of all human rights.
The slightest contact between the cultivated strata and the people again became suspect and impossible. The “Russian paradox,” the unbridgeable gap between the cultural level and the aspirations of the higher strata and the somber and unthinking life of the people, remained intact.
Social activity of any type was once again prohibited. What survived of the timid reforms of Alexander II was reduced to a caricature.
Under these conditions, the rebirth of revolutionary activity was inevitable.
This was in fact what took place. But the form, as well as the very essence, of this activity was totally transformed by new economic, social and psychological factors.
From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org
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