In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included several pieces on the lessons of the Russian Revolution. The Chapter on the Russian Revolution itself begins with a selection from Gregory Maksimov on the co-optation of the soviet workers’ and peasants’ councils by the Bolshevik Party. Maksimov called for a “third revolution” and supported the creation of factory councils as genuine organs of workers’ self-management. Maksimov was a leading Russian anarcho-syndicalist and critic of the emerging Bolshevik dictatorship. In the following excerpts, written in the late 1920s, Maksimov sets forth some of the lessons of the Russian Revolution. The original article was reprinted in his posthumous publication, Constructive Anarchism, and later as a pamphlet, The Program of Anarcho-Syndicalism.
Lessons of the Russian Revolution
Neither the Russian nor the German Revolutions realized the goals set them by history; but the Russian Revolution in its downfall revealed the nature of State socialism and its mechanism, demonstrating that there is no great difference in principle between a State socialist and a bourgeois society. Both strive for the solution of insoluble tasks: to harmonize freedom and power, equality and exploitation, prosperity and poverty. It showed that between these societies, seemingly so irreconcilable and so antagonistic to each other, there is really only a quantitative, not a qualitative difference. And the attempt to solve the social problem by utilizing the methods inherent in rigid, logically-consistent power Communism, as in the Russian Revolution, demonstrates that even quantity is not always on the side of authoritarian Communism and that, on the contrary, when logically pursued to the end, it resembles despotism in many ways.
The experience of the development of power Communism in Russia gives us the opportunity to analyze and explain its structure. The principal economic peculiarity of the Communist State is production for use (in which products do not become commodities) on the basis of bureaucratic relationships, where all means of production, all distribution of goods, all the people’s labour, and the individual himself, belong fully to the State, which in turn is in the hands of a small class of the bureaucracy. The rest of the population consists of workers, forced to give their labour energy to the State Trust, and with it to create the power of this Trust, at the same time increasing the economic standards of the administrative class.
The net of bureaucratic industrial relationships covers the entire economic life of society, and forces the working class into complete dependence on the State, which divides the population according to occupations, subordinates them to the rule of the bureaucracy, compels them to work under the direct control of officials, and views the human personality only as “manpower”. The State moves its manpower about as it sees fit, considering only its own interests, and applies military discipline to labour. In this way, the Communist state turns the working people into soulless cogs in the centralized machine, geared during their entire lives to the maximum fulfilment of production quotas, subjected to the will of the State, and allowed only a minimum of activity, initiative and individual will. Such a situation creates social inequality, strengthens the class structure of society, and solidifies the rule of bureaucracy.
An inevitable result of such a social organization is the powerful police state, which subordinates to itself every phase of the citizen’s life. By strong centralization of power, the Communist state subjects all its people to complete regimentation, and watches over them by means of organized espionage. This system destroys the freedom of movement, association and meeting, of speech and the press, of industrial struggle, of education, of dwelling and of personal development. It even invades the most intimate relationships between its citizens.
The evolution of such a society will lead inevitably to an intensification of its internal contradictions and, as under Capitalism, to class struggle of a more difficult and cruel kind than ever before. The Russian experience has demonstrated the impracticability of a social structure of this type. Its builders are forced to renounce authoritarian Communism in favour either of free Communism, requiring for its realization the liberation of the people from police tutorship, or of a capitalism which can retain this tutorship. The Bolsheviks, to hold their power, chose the second road — that of State Capitalism.
The Russian Revolution, begun in liberty and the liquidation of bourgeois society, made a full circle, and, in accepting the aristocratic principle of dictatorship, came back through “War Communism” to its point of origin — Capitalism. However, like the great French Revolution, it left to the world an idea which from that time has become the fundamental aspiration of the twentieth century, the goal for Revolutionary movements among the working masses of all countries, races and peoples.
Only the Anarcho-Syndicalist revolution can lead the proletariat and the whole of mankind on the road to true freedom, equality and brotherhood. It alone can save humanity from wars, since all States, however “red” they may be, are Imperialist by nature. With the bankruptcy of State Communism in Russia, and of Social Democracy in Germany, with the ever growing contradictions within Capitalist society, the struggle of the working masses against the existing social order is growing and expanding throughout the world, while at the same time continuing technical progress — resulting in the constant enlargement of industrial enterprises and the socialization within them of the productive processes — creates the essential material pre-requisites for the transfer from a Capitalist economy to a more perfect one — that of libertarian Communism. This transfer will make possible and realizable a successful social Revolution and such, indeed, is the fundamental aspiration of the International Anarcho-Syndicalist movement.
Only the social Revolution is capable of destroying private property and its mainstay, the State; of establishing public ownership and a stateless, federalist organization of society on the basis of the free association of productive units in factories and villages. It alone can assure liberty, i.e. the well-being and the free development of the individual in society, and of society itself. It alone will stop the division of society into classes and will abolish every possibility of the exploitation or rule of man by man.
The experience of Russia has shown that an essential condition for the successful realization of the revolution is the communal-syndicalist structure, based on the principles of Anarchist Communism. This is the transition period, leading eventually to complete Anarchy and Communism, which must follow the destruction of the State-Capitalist society. It will permit the proletariat not only to suppress counter-revolutionary opposition by the parasitic classes, but also to avoid social despotism in a “dictatorship of the proletariat” or in any other forms.
This transitional phase is characterized by the fact that in it, as Bakunin said, “the land belongs only to those who work it with their own hands — i.e. to the agricultural communes. Capital and all means of production belong to the workers, i.e. the workers’ associations.” At the same time, “All political organization must be nothing more than the free federation of free workers, both agricultural and industrial.” That is to say, in politics Communalism, the federation of free villages; in economy syndicalism, federation of free factories and workshops as an organizational form of Communism. In such a system the factories and villages, united among themselves, will gradually develop into producer-consumer communes.
“Villages and workshops,” said Bakunin, “which will reorganize in this way from below, will not create — at the very beginning — an organization that is in all points perfect according to our ideal. But it will be a living organization, and, as such, a thousand times belter than those in existence today. This new organization, which will always be open to propaganda and which will not be capable of becoming rigid and inflexible by means of any juridical sanctions of the State, will progress freely, developing and perfecting itself not according to some pre-ordained plan, not according to decrees and laws, but always in liberty and vitality, until it achieves a stage of efficiency which we can hope to see in our own day.”
The working classes are thus confronted with the great goal of the liberation and renaissance of the world. The task of international Anarcho-Syndicalism is to help actively in its realization. To hasten the quickest and most just solution to the historic problem facing the proletariat, the Anarcho-Syndicalists, benefitting by the experience of the class struggle, of revolutions and particularly of the great historic experiment in Russia, are developing the concrete tasks for the transition period (the time of passage from Capitalism to Anarchist Communism) and giving it a positive content…