The Russian Revolution in Ukraine

Nestor Makhno

Chapter 10: Struggle against rent

The month of June. The peasants of the Gulyai-Pole raion refused to pay the second instalment of their land rent to the pomeshchiks and kulaks. They hoped that after the harvest they would seize the land themselves without entering into any negotiations with either the owners of the government which protected the owners. Then the peasants would divide the land between themselves and any factory workers who wished to cultivate it themselves.

Several other uyezds and raions followed the example of Gulyai-Pole.

In Aleksandrovsk there was alarm among the government authorities and their agents from the Socialist and Constitutional-Democratic Parties the S-Rs, S-Ds, and Kadets. With the technical and financial assistance of the Public Committees and the government commissar, the revolutionary uyezds and raions were inundated with party propagandists-agitators, appealing to the peasants not to undermine the authority of the Provisional "Revolutionary" Government which, they said, was very concerned with the fate of the peasants and intended in the very near future to convene the Constituent Assembly. And until this "competent" institution convened, and until it has issued its opinion about land reform, no one had the right to infringe on the ownership rights of the pomeshchiks and other landowners. And hastily, on orders from the top, the Land Departments were renamed Land Committees and separated from the Public Committees as independent entities. These Land Committees were invested with the right to collect from the peasants the rent for land rented by them from the pomeshchiks and kulaks. The local raion Land Committees were supposed to send these payments to the uyezd Land Committees which would then hand over the money to the landowners.

The propagandist-agitators of the various parties brazenly told the peasants that the pomeshchiks and kulaks still had huge taxes to pay for their land. "Our revolutionary government," they said, "is demanding payment and the 'poor' landowners have nowhere else to get the money than from the peasants to whom they rented their land."

A bitter struggle took place between the Anarchist Communist Group of Gulyai-Pole and the Peasants' Union on the one hand and these agents and the government bureaucracy which supported them on the other hand. And under the protection of the government were the well-organized rural, industrial, and commercial bourgeoisie. The peasants at the meetings held by order of the government commissars dragged down from the podium the representatives of those groups which supported the Provisional "Revolutionary" Government and beat them for their abominable speeches, hypocritically adorned with revolutionary phrases, designed to deflect the peasants from their main goal: to take possession of their own historical legacy the land.

In some locales, the bewildered peasants, doubting their own just strivings, gathered their last kopeck to pay their rent to ferocious landowners, who were supported by the Church, the State, and its hired servant the government.

But even those peasants who were lead into error did not lose hope for victory over their enemies. They listened with great attention to the call of the Anarchist Communist Group and the Peasants' Union: "Don't lose hope and bravely prepare for the next battle with the enemy."

This is what I said at the time at a meeting of thousands of peasants and workers in Gulyai-Pole, inspired by the main idea of an appeal launched by the Anarchist Communist Group and the Peasants' Union (I was speaking in the name of both organizations):

"Toilers! Peasants, workers, and you worker-intellectuals who have taken sides with us! We have all seen how, in the space of four months, the bourgeoisie has organized itself and skilfully drawn into its ranks the socialists, who have become its faithful servants. If the propaganda carried out among the peasants in favour of paying rent to the landowners, even during this revolutionary time, does not provide sufficient proof, let me cite other facts, comrades, which you will find even more convincing:

"On July 3 the Petrograd proletariat rose up against the Provisional Government, which in the name of bourgeois rights was trying to suppress the revolution. For example, the government suppressed a bunch of Land Committees in the Urals which were acting in a revolutionary manner against the bourgeoisie. The members were thrown in prison. We have seen the same thing with our own eyes, where agents of the government socialists are urging the peasants to pay rent to the pomeshchiks. From the 3rd to 5th of July the blood of our brother-workers flowed on the streets of Petrograd. The War Minister, the socialist Kerensky, summoned several tens of thousands of Cossacks historically executioners of the free life of the labouring classes to suppress the revolt. The socialists in the government went crazy in the service of the bourgeoisie and together with the Cossacks killed the best fighters of our working class brethren. By doing this the socialists are inviting the labouring classes to retaliate against them and against the bourgeoisie which has incited these odious, totally unjustifiable acts.

"What will result from this crime of the enemies of our emancipation and of the peaceful, happy life to which we aspire? A fight to the finish! But not only that! No good can come out of this for us. In the first place it harms the revolution, so long awaited and finally here but still not fully developed. The labouring masses have still not awakened from the mind-numbing slavery which has oppressed them for centuries. They are still feeling their way as with extreme caution they present to the new hangmen their demands for freedom and their rights to an independent life. But these rights, comrade, are met with the cannons and machine guns of the powerful...

"Let us be strong, brother workers, so strong that the enemies of our freedom, of our genuine liberation from everything evil and hateful, feel this strength in us.

"Let us go forward with sure steps towards self-organization and revolutionary self-activity! The future, the not too distant future, will be ours. We must get ready for it... ."

After me spoke a Ukrainian S-R who beseeched the toilers of Gulyai-Pole to remember that as a counterbalance to the "foul Provisional Government in Petrograd, in Kiev existed 'our' Ukrainian Government in the form of the Central Rada. It was genuinely revolutionary, the only government on Ukrainian soil capable and competent to restore freedom and a happy life for the Ukrainian people". In conclusion he exclaimed:

"Drive the katzaps from our land! Death to these suppressors of our native tongue! In our native land long live 'our' power the Central Rada and its Secretariat!... ."

But the toilers of Gulyai-Pole were deaf to the appeal of the Ukrainian "Socialist-Revolutionary". Not only that, but they shouted at him in unison: "Down from the tribune! We don't want your government!" Then they passed the following resolution:

"We pay our respects before the bravery of the working class warriors who fell in battle with the Provisional Government on July 3-5. We, the peasants and workers of Gulyai-Pole, will not forget this government atrocity.... Death and damnation on the Provisional Government and the Government of Ukraine the Central Rada and its Secretariat, the worst enemies of human freedom".

For a long time after this discussion and the resolution voted by the peasants and workers, the Russian and Ukrainian nationalists and the state-socialists cursed me and the whole Anarchist Communist Group, because it was henceforth impossible for them to sing the praises of their various governments and their role in the toilers' lives in Gulyai-Pole. The toilers looked upon them as hired agents and they were constantly interrupted when they tried to praise government power.

So day after day passed, accumulating into weeks and months, as my comrades and I circulated through the countryside, propagandizing the ideas of anarchism.

Soon arrived the 2nd Congress of Peasants' Unions of our uyezd, and our Union did not fail to send two delegates, Comrade Krat and myself. The Congress was crowded. Everyone said what had already been said many times. The Russian and Ukrainian S-Rs, the former represented by S. S. Popov, the latter by the teacher Radomsky, put on a display of solidarity before the peasant delegates by agreeing to work together in the struggle for land and freedom for the peasantry. After each had expounded his party's program, they stood before the podium and shook hands.

The peasant delegates from Gulyai-Pole, Kamishevansky, Pozhdestbensky, and Konno-Razdorsky raions told them: "It's all very fine that you are agreeing to struggle together for land and freedom, but where and against whom do you intend to struggle?"

"Everywhere and with anyone who does not want to hand over land to the peasants without compensation," replied the S-R delegates.

"But ultimately we will finish our struggle in the Constituent Assembly," said the S-R. Popov.

"In the All-Ukrainian Seim!" added the teacher Radomsky.

And here was a small difference of opinion between the S-R allies. They exchanged opinions in whispers while on the benches of the peasant delegates some were laughing, the others frowning.

At the end of the Congress representatives were elected to go to the Provincial Congress of the Peasants' Unions and Soviets of Workers', Peasants' and Soldiers' Deputies.

In elections of delegates from the Uyezd Congress to the Provincial Congress, we, the Gulyai-Pole delegates, abstained. We declared our protest against the fact that delegates to the Provincial Congress were not elected directly by the grassroots. This abstention led to us being treated as disturbers of electoral law and order and therefore violently criticized by the leaders of the congress the S-Rs, S-Ds, and Kadets who said we were the only delegates who did not want what the peasants wanted. This provoked more laughter from the peasant delegates which soon became disruptive whistles when the big shots tried to speak.

We, the delegates of the Peasants' Union of Gulyai-Pole, protested once more against the method of elections, insisting that the delegates to the Provincial Congress be elected directly by the peasants. Such an election would give a true picture of the revolutionary peasantry throughout the whole province, we said. But again we were treated as incorrectly understanding the interests of the peasants. The "leaders" of the congress proposed to bring up our point of view at the Provincial Congress of peasants and workers. But since we refused to participate in the elections to Provincial Congress from the delegates of the Uyezd Congress, then we could not stand as candidates and were thus excluded from the Provincial Congress.

However, we had numerous reasons to believe that the organizational bureau of the Provincial Congress would directly invite delegates from Gulyai-Pole because of an exchange of opinions which had taken place between the Peasants' Union of Gulyai-Pole and the Provincial Committee of the Peasants' Unions. But the initiative for this would have to come from Ekaterinoslav, not Gulyai-Pole, i.e. not directly but in an indirect fashion. So we were not certain of participating in the Provincial Congress and returned to Gulyai-Pole with a gloomy feeling that we had suffered a defeat on this occasion.

However, our line of behaviour at the Congress was the correct one from our point of view, and we were not worried about the revolutionary future of our Peasants' Union. When we got back home we made a report to the Executive of the Peasants' Union as well as the Union of Metal and Carpentry Workers which always took an interest in peasant congresses and asked to be informed about them. And then we made a report to a general meeting of peasants and workers in Gulyai-Pole and district. At the same time we prepared the peasants and workers to send delegates to the Provincial Congress even without an invitation. Our goal was to expose the attitude of the leaders of the Uyezd Congress which had just ended and also to inform the peasant delegates to the Provincial Congress about how the S-Rs, S-Ds, and Kadets had tried to stifle the revolutionary initiative and self-activity of the peasantry, how their agitator-propagandists with the assistance of the government commissars travelled around the cities and villages holding meetings where they duped the peasants and squeezed rent money out of them for the benefit of the pomeshchiks, rendering thus more difficult the situation of the peasants who, impoverished by the ravages of war, had not taken part in pillaging and brigandage like the pomeshchiks and kulaks, and were not able to acquire the money necessary to pay the landowners for the land which these thieves had appropriated.

But while we were preparing for the Provincial Congress, and also giving advice to the peasants of raions and uyezds belonging to other provinces, the Executive of the Peasant Union of Gulyai-Pole received from the Provincial Soviet of Workers', Peasants', Soldiers' and Cossacks' Deputies an invitation to send two delegates to the Provincial Congress of Soviets and Unions of Peasants', Workers', Soldiers' and Cossacks' Deputies.

We decided to call a congress of the Gulyai-Pole Raion Peasant Union. At this time the Executive of the Union prepared a report appropriate for the agenda of the Provincial Congress.


On to Chapter 11 P. A. Kropotkin arrives in Russia. Meeting with Ekaterinoslav anarchists

Back to Chapter 9 Some results

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