Voline: The Unknown Revolution (1917 – 1921)

Previously, I have posted excerpts from Voline’s anarchist history of the Russian Revolution, The Unknown Revolution (1917 – 1921), first published in French in 1947. I am pleased to see that PM Press is reprinting The Unknown Revolution with a new introduction by Iain McKay. Here I reproduce an article from the book, originally published by the Union for Anarchist Propaganda in Petrograd, in its paper, Golos Truda, soon after the October Revolution of 1917, warning the Russian people of the consequences of a Bolshevik victory in the elections for the Constituent Assembly (which the Bolsheviks soon thereafter simply dismissed). I included a chapter on the Russian Revolution in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

The Red Guards enter the Constituent Assembly

The Constituent Assembly and the Bolsheviks

Comrade workers, peasants, soldiers, sailors, and all toilers:

We are in the midst of the election for the Constituent Assembly. It is very probable that this will soon meet and begin to sit.

All the political parties – including the Bolsheviks – put the ultimate fate of the Revolution in the hands of this central organization.

In this situation we have the duty to put you on guard against two eventual dangers:

First danger: The Bolsheviki will not have a strong majority in the Constituent Assembly (or may even be in a minority).

In that case, the Assembly will comprise a useless, motley, socialo-bourgeois political institution. It will be an absurd talking shop like the “State Conference” in Moscow, the “Democratic Conference” in Petrograd, the “Provisional Council of the Republic,” et cetera. It will become involved in empty discussions and disputes. It will hold back the real revolution.

If we do not want to exaggerate this danger, it is only because we hope that in this case the masses will once again know how to save the Revolution, with weapons in hand, and will push it forward on the right road.

But in relation to this danger we should point out that the masses have no need of a hullabaloo of this type, and ought to get rid of it. Why waste energy and money to create and maintain an inept institution? (While waiting, the workers’ Revolution will stop once again!) What would be the good of sacrificing more strength and blood only to combat later “this stupid and sterile institution” in order to “save the Revolution” (how many times again?) and get it out of “a dead end”?

That strength and those efforts could be employed to the greater advantage of the Revolution, the people, and the whole country at large, in organizing the labouring masses in a direct way and from the very bottom, alike in the villages, the cities, and in the various enterprises, uniting the [resultant] organizations from below, into communes and federations of free villages and cities, in a direct and natural manner. All that would need to be done on the basis of work and not of politics nor of membership in this or that party – and this would lead later to regional unification.

Likewise that strength and those efforts could and should be employed in organizing immediately and energetically the supplying of enterprises with raw materials and fuel, in improving means of communication, in organizing exchange and the entire new economy in general and, finally, in carrying on a direct fight against the remains of reaction, especially against the gravely threatening movement of Kaledin in the central region.

Second danger: The Bolsheviki will have a strong majority in the Constituent Assembly.

In such an event, having easily succeeded in overcoming the “opposition” and wiping it out without difficulty, they will become, in a firm and solid manner, the legal masters of the country and of the whole situation – and masters manifestly recognized by “the majority of the population.” That is precisely what the Bolsheviks want to obtain from the Constituent Assembly. That is what they need – that the Assembly consolidate and “legalize” their power.

Comrades, this danger is much more important, much more serious than the first. Be on your guard!

Once their power is consolidated and “legalized,” the Bolsheviks – who are Social Democrats, that is, men of centralist and authoritarian action – will begin to re-arrange the life of the country and of the people by governmental and dictatorial methods, imposed by the centre. Their seat in Petrograd will dictate the will of the party to all Russia, and command the whole nation. Your Soviets and your other local organizations will become, little by little, simply executive organs of the will of the central government.

In place of healthy, constructive work by the labouring masses, in place of free unification from the bottom, we will see the installation of an authoritarian and statist apparatus which would act from above and set about wiping out everything that stood in its way with an iron hand. The Soviets and other organizations will have to obey and do its will. That will be called “discipline.” Too bad for those who are not in agreement with the central power and who do not consider it correct to obey it! Strong by reason of the “general approbation” of the populace, that power will force them to submit.

Be on guard, comrades!

Watch carefully and remember.

The more the success of the Bolsheviks becomes established, and the firmer their situation, the more their action will take on an authoritarian aspect, and the more clear-cut will be their consolidation and defense of their political power. They will begin to give more and more categorical orders to the Soviets and other local organizations. They will put into effect from above their own policies without hesitating to use armed force in case of resistance.

The more their success is upheld, the more that danger will exist, for the actions of the Bolsheviks will become all the more secure and certain. Each new success will turn their heads further. Every additional day of achievement by Lenin’s party will mean increasing peril to the Revolution.

Furthermore, you can already see this now.

Study carefully the latest orders and plans of the new authority. You can already now clearly see the tendency of the Bolshevik leaders to arrange the lives of the people in a political and authoritarian manner, by means of a center which imposes itself on them. You can already see them give formal orders to the country. You can already see that those leaders understand the slogan “Power to the Soviets” to mean power for the central authority in Petrograd, an authority to which the Soviets and other local organizations must be subjugated as simple executive organs.

This is happening now, when the Bolshevik leaders still feel strongly dependent on the masses and are obviously afraid of provoking disillusionment; it is happening now, when their success is not yet totally guaranteed and still depends completely on the attitude of the masses toward them.

What will happen when their success becomes a fait accompli and the masses accept them with enthusiastic and firm confidence?

Comrade workers, peasants and soldiers!

Don’t ever lose sight of this danger!

Be ready to defend the real Revolution and the real freedom of your organizations and your action, wherever you are, against the violence and the yoke of the new Authority, the new Master: the centralized State and the new imposters: the heads of the political parties.

Be ready to act in such a way as to turn the success of the Bolsheviks – if these successes transform them to imposters – into their graves.

Be ready to rescue the Revolution from a new prison.

Don’t forget that only you may and can construct and create your new life by means of your free local organizations and their federations. If not, you will never see it. The Bolsheviks often tell you the same thing. All the better, naturally, if in the final analysis, they act according to what they say.

But comrades, all new masters, whose position depends on the sympathy and the confidence of the masses, speak sweetly in the beginning. In the first days, Kerensky also had a honeyed voice; the heart of gall is revealed later.

Observe and take note, not of words and speeches but of gestures and acts. And as soon as you discover the slightest contradiction between what these people tell you and what they do, be on guard!

Don’t trust in words, comrades. Trust only in deeds!

Don’t trust the Constituent Assembly, the parties, or the leaders. Have confidence only in yourselves and in the Revolution. Only yourselves – that is, your local grass-root organizations, organizations of the workers and not of the parties, and then your direct and natural unification (along regional lines) – only you can be the builders and the masters of the new life, and not the Constituent Assembly, not a central government, not the parties nor the leaders!

Golos Truda, No. 1, December 1917

Valentin Serov, The Assault of the Winter Palace, sketch, The Central Museum of the Revolution, Moscow, Russia.

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