The Russian Revolution in Ukraine

Nestor Makhno

Chapter 13: Struggle with the Counter-Revolution. Going to the villages

Thus the bourgeoisie was disarmed and its weapons were distributed among the revolutionary peasants. The disarmament took place without any blood being spilled.

A Congress of Raion Soviets was convened with the purpose of examining the causes and goals of General Kornilov's movement.

The Congress welcomed the election by the Gulyai-Pole Soviet and other organizations of the "Committee for the Defence of the Revolution", as well as all its actions up to the time the Congress was convened. The Congress expressed the conviction that the time for such actions had arrived.

Reviewing the Kornilov attack on Petrograd, which had already been suppressed, the Congress once more emphasized that it considered the dismantling of the External Front a crime because this Front was necessary to defend the Revolution against the exterior enemy. The Congress encouraged all toilers to root out the Kornilov movement in their midst.

The Congress dealt with some other questions, approved the declaration of the abolition of private property in our raion, and discussed the agrarian question.

The Anarchist Communist Group proposed to the Congress to make its own report on the agrarian question. This report was presented by Comrades Krat and Andrei Semenyuta. It was concerned mainly with practical measures for liquidating the rights of the pomeshchiks and kulaks to ownership of land, especially fabulously large estates which they couldn't possibly work with their own hands. The Group proposed to immediately expropriate the land and to convert the estates into free agrarian communes. The pomeshchiks and kulaks were to be given an opportunity to be part of these communes. But if they refused to become members of the family of free toilers and wished to work individually for themselves, then they would be assigned a portion of the people's wealth appropriate for their labour power. In this way they would have the means of making a living while working separately from the free agrarian communes of the rest of the toilers.

The Congress summoned representatives of the Gulyai-Pole Land Committee and asked them to make a report explaining what this Committee had been doing about the land question. Comrade Krat was a member of the Land Committee. With the approval of the other Committee members he reported what had been undertaken by the Committee in this field, emphasizing that the Committee was in accord with the position just set forth by the Anarchist Communist Group. He noted that this position had been placed on the agenda of the Raion Congress of Land Committees by the Gulyai-Pole representatives and that this Congress had adopted it as the basis for arriving at a solution of the land question.

The Congress of Soviets, with the full participation (as I have already mentioned) of the Soviet of the Trade Union, the Land Committee, and the Anarchist Communist Group, discussed these two reports with full awareness of its revolutionary duty towards the oppressed toilers, who had only just decided to rid themselves of their oppressors by revolutionary means. The resolution passed by the Congress on this question reads:

"The Gulyai-Pole Raion Congress of Toilers firmly condemns the pretensions of the Provisional Government in Petrograd and the Ukrainian Central Rada in Kiev to direct the life of the toilers and invites the local soviets and the whole organized proletarian population to ignore any orders of these governments.

The people must be in charge of their own lives. The time has finally come to realize this age-old dream. From now on, all the land, the factories, and the workshops must belong to the toilers.

The labouring peasantry must be masters of the land, and the workers must be masters of the factories and workshops.

Before the peasants stands the task to expel all the pomeshchiks and kulaks who don't want to contribute their own labour from their estates and organize free agrarian communes on these estates, communes composed of volunteer peasants and workers. The Congress recognizes that the initiator of this approach is the Anarchist Communist Group and charges the Group with carrying it through.

The Congress hopes that the local Soviets and Land Committees will provide the Group with all the technical means at their disposal for the carrying through of this project."

Then the Congress expressed its conviction that the consolidation of the conquests of the Revolution by the toilers, in the face of the opposition of their enemies, would immediately lead to, not just in our raion but in the whole of Ukraine and Russia, the total expropriation of all collective enterprises so that the labouring population could enjoy the fruits of their labour instead of the bourgeoisie and the State.

As the Congress was winding down, the Committee for the Defence of the Revolution received a bunch of telephonograms from a whole series of raions which had been loyal to the authorities in Aleksandrovsk. These messages said agents of the Aleksandrovsk Uyezd Public Committee, the Uyezd Soviet, and the government commissar had been trolling the villages and countryside, holding meetings and urging the peasants to boycott the Congress of Soviets in Gulyai-Pole. The reason given was that the Congress was deciding questions which no one had the right to decide before the Constituent Assembly convened... . They declared that the Congress in Gulyai-Pole, although passing itself off as a peasant congress, was actually making decisions that would harm the peasants... . That the leaders of the Congress were sworn enemies of the peasants who did not understand the laws of the Revolution which is why they had repudiated the Provisional "Revolutionary" Government (with Kerensky at the top) and the Constituent Assembly (the supreme revolutionary tribunal) ...

I added to these messages a directive received by the Gulyai-Pole Public Committee from the Government Uyezd Commissar which demanded the removal of N. Makhno from any organizing activities in Gulyai-Pole: he was, it seems, to be brought to trial in connection with the disarming of the pomeshchiks and kulaks.

After listening to these messages, the Congress convoked the executive of the Gulyai-Pole Public Committee and asked them to participate in critiquing these missives, in particular the demand of the commissar that I be relieved of any organizing duties.

After a storm of indignation directed at the Government commissar and the Government agents who were roaming the countryside, the Congress passed the following resolution:

"The Gulyai-Pole Congress of Soviets, as well as the Gulyai-Pole Soviet itself, do not recognize, either for themselves or for the toilers who have invested them with full powers, any sanctions, either of the Government Commissar, or the Public Committee of Aleksandrovsk; and the anarchist Makhno they consider above all their friend and mentor in revolutionary and organizing activities.

The former Gulyai-Pole Peasants' Union sent the anarchist N. Makhno and six other members to the Gulyai-Pole Public Committee to exercise firm control over its work. After the reorganization of the Union into the Peasants' Soviet, these appointments were confirmed. This Congress also supports these appointments and protests against the impertinent interference of the Uyezd Public Committee and the Government Commissar in local working class affairs."

This resolution (Book No. 2 in the minutes of the Congress) I sent off to the government commissar Citizen B. K. Mikhno. However this was not the end of the matter. The Anarchist Communist Group asked the Congress for a recess of two hours during the last sitting of the Congress, after which the Group intended to make a very important report about the current state of affairs. The Congress in fact recessed for three hours, during which the delegates engaged in many private conversations. Meanwhile the members of our Group held a meeting at which myself and Comrade Antonov were charged with presenting a report to the Congress about "the counter-revolution in Aleksandrovsk and its uyezd". The Congress session resumed. The report was presented.

I find it inappropriate to recount here the ideas contained in the report, but I wish fervently that those who dismiss the peasants without knowing them could be present at such a meeting where reports are given on behalf of our anarchist groups of peasants and workers. The reaction of the peasants to these reports is quite instructive and gives a good sense of their psychology. Those smug, superior-feeling observers would learn once and for all that revolutionary peasant toilers require no external advice or authorization when it comes to arranging their own independence and their own productive activities in the revolutionary process. It is for us to go to the peasants humbly and try to understand them.

After hearing the report of our Group, the Congress passed the following resolution:

"The Congress of Toilers of Gulyai-Pole Raion charges the Gulyai-Pole Soviet of Peasants' and Workers Deputies appoints two representatives from the Gulyai-Pole Anarchist Communist Group, Comrades N. Makhno and V. Antonov. These representatives, provided with appropriate official documentation, are charged with meeting with the factory and dock workers of Aleksandrovsk with the aim of finding out their real views on the Soviet of Workers' Deputies elected by them in Aleksandrovsk. We, the peasants, need to have a clear understanding of the position of the city workers in relation to Executive Committee of their own Soviet, which is spreading the counter-revolution throughout the rural areas of the uyezd.

It is only in this way that we, the revolutionary peasantry, can correctly evaluate the relative strengths of the revolutionary forces and the forces of our enemies."
(From the minutes of the Congress of Toilers in Gulyai-Pole, September 1917).

The Congress then discussed some other questions of current importance and charged the Gulyai-Pole Soviet with publishing all its resolutions and distributing them to all the local Soviets. This ended the work of the Congress.

* * *

This attitude on the part of the revolutionary peasants towards the parasitic land barons, an attitude observed by us, the peasant-anarchists, for a duration of six months and confirmed in clear-cut fashion by the September Congress, still more consolidated the strength of our Group in the raion.

Henceforth the Anarchist Communist Group attracted more and more attention from all the Soviets and even the Public Committees. But this result was not achieved without growing pains. We expended a lot of effort in order to overcome, internally, resistance to the principle of a well-ordered organization. Our situation in the oppressed villages became firmly established only when the Group had set up a strong organization and when each move of its active members was made with the knowledge of the membership of the group as a whole. Our assignments were as follows:

Soviet of Workers' and Peasants' Deputies: V. Antonov, Sokruta, and Kalinichenko.

Workshop Committees: Petrovsky, Seregin, Mironov, G. Sharovsky, and L. Shnayder.

Soviet of the Union of Metal and Carpentry Workers and their Health Insurance Fund: N. Makhno, Seregin, Antonov.

Peasants' Soviet and the Land Committee: A. Marchenko, A. Semenyuta, Prokofii Sharovksy, F. Krat, Isidor Lyuty, Pavel Korostelev, the brothers Makhno, Stepan Shepel, and Grigori Sereda.

In this way our group was unified around the goal of bringing our ideas to life. Each of us understood this and conscientiously took responsibility for their own work.

At the same time our group was drawn closer to the mass of toilers and was enabled to acquaint the toilers with the ideas of anarchism in the social sense of the term and of the need for vigilance with respect to the activities of the Provisional Government and the Ukrainian Central Rada and its Secretariat at a time when these bodies were most detrimental to the practical goals of the Revolution.

The toilers of the raion declared openly to all and sundry that they were keeping a close eye on their oppressors and were prepared to take up arms against them.

From the end of August 1917 all the Public Committees of the raion began to protest against various government orders they had received. These protests were first discussed at local meetings. Then delegates were sent to Gulyai-Pole to consult with our group, and after this a final decision was arrived at.

However, in spite of the obvious revolutionary consciousness of the toilers, a consciousness which opened the way to full spiritual and material freedom and independence from authority, a freedom which the toilers strived to acquire at whatever cost, with their own blood if necessary, a freedom which they wished to feel in themselves and around themselves thereby realizing a society without authority in spite of this consciousness so strongly displayed by the toilers the principle of the abolition of private property in land, factories, and workshops proclaimed by the Gulyai-Pole Committee for the Defence of the Revolution and confirmed by the Raion Congress of Toilers could not be fully realized in practice.

The Provisional Government, backed by Kerensky's allies (the Right S-Rs and the Mensheviks) and controlling the local state apparatus and the troops (which kept apart from the toilers of Gulyai-Pole raion and knew nothing of their goals), ended up having the upper hand. The Government impeded the revolutionary impulse of the toilers who, with their demands for full liberty, had gone well beyond the programs of these political parties. The Government would not allow this healthy initiative to be brought to fruition.

It was thus that, temporarily at least, the privileges of the bourgeoisie shamefully triumphed over the revolutionary masses.

Those who marched under the banner of socialism and played at being socialists contributed incontestably to this result. The toilers of Gulyai-Pole raion, who had boldly tried to seize liberty and happiness, had to content themselves, this time, with not paying to the pomeshchiks the land rent and placing under the control of the Land Committees the land, equipment, and livestock so that the pomeshchiks couldn't sell them.

It was painful to see how all the toilers in the raion suffered with their physical powerlessness in comparison to the strength of their enemies. This powerlessness was quite obvious and the question was posed: where can one find strength? The toilers finally came to the conclusion that they could count only on themselves. They closed ranks, trying to create sufficient force to liberate all the toilers from the baleful tyranny of the State.


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