The Russian Revolution in Ukraine

Nestor Makhno

Chapter 14: Visit to the factory workers of Aleksandrovsk

In spite of the reaction which reigned in all the government institutions and in the workers' Soviet of Aleksandrovsk towards the toilers of Gulyai-Pole raion, the delegates of the Gulyai-Pole Soviet and the Congress, namely Comrade Antonov and myself, left for Aleksandrovsk with the aim of presenting to the factory workers a report on "the Counter-Revolution in the city and uyezd of Aleksandrovsk", because we were convinced that revolutionary Gulyai-Pole could have an impact in Aleksandrovsk.

The authorities received us with hostility but didn't dare hinder us from making an official tour of all the factories, plants, and workshops so we could let the workers know what the peasants were thinking and what measures they intended to take in their revolutionary work. At the same time we hoped to find out what the workers were thinking and what plans they were making for the future, surrounded as they were by the Counter-Revolution which, in the name of the workers, was extending its activity into the countryside.

The Gulyai-Pole Soviet and the Trade Union had promised that if the authorities took it into their heads to arrest us, they would launch a campaign against Aleksandrovsk.

When we arrived in Aleksandrovsk we first went to the Soviet and asked the executive to suggest the most expeditious way to arrange our tour of workplaces so that we wouldn't skip any place and wouldn't waste our time. In response to questioning from members of the executive as to what we were up to, we showed them our mandates and, after pondering a bit, they suggested an itinerary and stamped our mandates. But after leaving the Soviet we didn't follow their suggestions, but made our way instead to the Federation of Anarchists. There we picked up a guide and assistant in the person of the anarchist Comrade Nikiforova and all three of us headed out to visit the workplaces.

We presented our mandates to the factory and plant committees and right away they collected all the workers to hear our report from the peasants.

We spent several days visiting workplaces, making reports to the workers about activities being carried on in their name in the villages by the counter-revolution, activities which were being resisted by the peasants. The workers listened to us with rapt attention and passed their own resolutions of protest against the actions of their own Soviet. They thanked us and, through us, all the toilers of Gulyai-Pole raion for our visit and for exposing to them these vile machinations which were being carried out in the uyezd by their own Soviet together with other government organizations.

At many of these sessions there appeared members of the Aleksandrovsk Soviet and the Public Committee, as well as agents of the Government Commissar and the Military Commissar himself, the S-Rs. Popov. All of these characters spoke out against our reports in an arrogant fashion, acting as if they were incontestably in charge of the situation.

However, they didn't prevail. The workers declared to them: "We don't trust you any more because, letting yourselves be run by the bourgeoisie, you have hidden from us a lot of stuff which is useful to the Revolution. You want us to support the Revolution but you don't want us to develop and broaden it."

On the evening of the third day we had one report left to make at the munitions workshops, formerly the Badovsky plant. We arrived at the gates of these workshops. At our request to the sentry to admit us to the Committee of Military Workshops, the sentry silently locked the gates in front of us. We shouted through the gates that we had come on behalf of the peasants to make a report to the military workers. The sentry called a member of the Military Committee who declared to us, through the gates, that the Committee knew about us but could not let us in to talk to the soldiers because the Military Commissar, the S-R Popov, had ordered that we were not to be admitted under any circumstances. At this time groups of soldiers began to gather in the courtyard behind the gates. I spoke to them directly: "Comrade soldiers, who's the boss here? Is the Commissar, elected by you to the Public Committee, the boss over you? Or does the Commissar answer to you? It's a disgrace, comrades, that you find yourselves in a situation where you aren't allowed to receive representatives of the peasants they're your fathers and mothers, your brothers and sisters!"

Cries were heard from the soldiers: "Where's our Committee? Bring them here! The Committee must open the gates and let in the representatives of the peasants!... . Or else we'll let them in ourselves... ."

Five soldiers, bare-headed, ran up and opened the gates. We were let into their dining hall where they bombarded us with sensible questions about Gulyai-Pole and the activities there.

A dozen of them surrounded me and said: "We are mostly Left S-Rs and Bolsheviks, there are some anarchists here as well, but we are helpless. If we make the slightest move in a revolutionary sense the Military Commissar will immediately send us to the Front against the Germans and recruit new people to take our places. Help us if you can, Comrade Makhno. We would like to recall all the soldiers' representatives from the Soviet and the Public Committee and replace them with others who are closer to our ideas."

I told them we had been charged by the peasants to carry out a mission. "Since our mission coincides with your revolutionary ideas, you should rejoice at its success and try to contribute to it."

We began our report. The soldiers from the workshops avidly devoured each word, trying to understand everything correctly. They asked questions and openly expressed their joy.

When we invited the soldier-workers to form an organizational connection with the peasants of the uyezd through Gulyai-Pole raion and create a common revolutionary front against the Counter-Revolution, a cry was heard from the mass of soldiers: "Against what Counter-Revolution? All power is in the hands of the revolutionaries! Where can the Counter-Revolution arise?" This was none other than Military Commissar Popov, surrounded by his cohorts.

When Comrade Antonov responded to him that it was precisely this "revolutionary power" which was creating the Counter-Revolution, Commissar Popov, the S-R Martinov, and other socialists began to object violently. From this dispute it became clear that the military workshops were under the influence of the S-Rs and S-Ds. But this influence was not, strictly speaking, ideological, but authoritarian-statist. The mass of soldiers were divided into various political groupings of which the Right S-Rs and the Mensheviks (S-Ds) did not form the majority. But, if they expressed a revolutionary opinion even once (the soldiers told me this openly), they risked being sent to the External Front. So they abstained from speaking out and submitted to the tyranny of the statist power of the Right S-Rs and Mensheviks. This domination of the SRs and SDs got me so worked up that I immediately asked the soldiers to recall these socialists from all the institutions and even expel any of them found in the workshops. I promised the soldiers to intervene at the Provincial Military Commissariat to ensure that their rights were not trampled on. At that time the head of the Commissariat was an anarcho-syndicalist, Comrade Grunbaum, a man with a strong revolutionary will and a good administrator. In the worst case scenario they must be prepared to defend their rights by force of arms in the street and they could count on Gulyai-Pole to support them.

My appeal filled the soldiers with enthusiasm. They wanted to kick the SRs and SDs out of the workshops right away. And if they had not been restrained by their revolutionary consciousness of their responsibility for the lives of these people, why they would have torn them in pieces. Actually it was only with great effort that we succeeded in preventing the soldiers from committing an act unworthy of revolutionaries and directed against other revolutionaries. (However the agents of the government and of these "revolutionaries" on July 3-5, 1917 murdered Comrade Asnin in Petrograd at the Durnovo dacha, as well as many other revolutionaries and anarchists.)

The soldier-workers of the military workshops passed a resolution in connection with our report about recalling their representatives from the Soviet and the Public Committee if these two organizations were not re-organized by all the workers. They also passed a resolution supporting the revolutionary toilers of Gulyai-Pole raion... .

And when we left the workshops the soldiers asked us to tell the peasants that the soldiers would always support them in their struggle for liberty and requested them to send similar reports more often.

It was already late. Exhausted, we grabbed a hasty meal at the home of the comrade workers and returned to our rooms.

During the night the Government and Military Commissars the pomeshchik Mikhno and the S-D Popov gathered their forces and ordered the secret arrest of the anarchist Nikiforova because she had accompanied us in our meetings with the workers and didn't enjoy the protection of a mandate from the peasants. The agents of the commissars quickly found her apartment and, seizing her, they took to prison in an automobile.

But, unfortunately for the commissars, the workers of Aleksandrovsk found out about the Nikiforova's arrest first thing in the morning when they went to work. They immediately elected delegates and sent them to the commissars, empowering them to demand the immediate release of Nikiforova. The commissars avoided the workers' delegates and couldn't be found.

Then the workers of the factories, plants, and workshops abandoned their machines and, accompanied by the wailing of the plant sirens, marched on the Soviet under their banners, singing revolutionary songs.

As the workers were showing their revolutionary solidarity by marching on the Soviet, they encountered the President of the Soviet, the Social Democrat Mochalii and seized him. A delegation, elected on the spot, put the President in a horse-drawn cab and accompanied him to the prison to liberate the anarchist Nikiforova.

When the workers' delegation, President Mochalii, and the anarchist Nikiforova arrived back from the prison at the procession which was marching along Cathedral Street, the workers grabbed Nikiforova and, passing her from hand to hand, bore her in triumph to the Soviet, congratulating her on her release and cursing the Provisional Government and all its agents.

None of the commissars dared show themselves at the tribune of the Soviet. Only the anarchist Nikiforova occupied this tribune and, with her powerful voice, urged the workers to struggle against the Government for the Revolution and for a society free of all authority.

We had finished our reports with an appeal to the workers to do something about the Aleksandrovsk Soviet which had gone too far in its anti-revolutionary activities. We knew what kind of organization it was from the behaviour of its agents in the villages and at congresses. Our reports predicted its fate. The arrogant act of the commissars towards our comrade anarchist was inexcusable both from a political and a tactical point of view and could only hasten the fall of this Soviet of Right S-Rs, Menshevik S-Ds, and Kadets.

The industrial workers were now confronted with the problem of how to re-elect the Soviet in the most expeditious manner. In the course of several days new elections were scheduled. The workers recalled all their former representatives and elected, in most cases, new people.
In this way a new Executive Committee of the Aleksandrovsk Soviet was formed.

This new Executive Committee was again composed not of workers interested directly in furthering their class interests, but of people who, while they were workers, were also by conviction very close to the Left S-Rs, and Bolsheviks, and even the anarchists. These newly-elected people divided themselves into fractions and, from the very first day of their entry into the Executive Committee, were guilty of distorting the meaning of Revolution among the working masses and, if it were not for the anarchists, would have ended up doing away with the essence of Revolution altogether.

However, this new Executive of the Aleksandrovsk Soviet at least did not support the clearly counter-revolutionary Public Committee of Aleksandrovsk uyezd and the Government Commissar in their demands to the Gulyai-Pole Public Committee to remove me from organizational work because of my role in disarming the bourgeoisie. Also the new Soviet did not insist on the return of the confiscated weapons.

The new Aleksandrovsk Soviet, like all the higher political institutions and administrations, felt the need to give each of its members a portfolio to carry under their arms as if they were going to decide the fate of the Revolution. And they met day after day elaborating rules for their own activities. The time for such work was propitious. This was the period when the Bolsheviks and Left S-Rs agreed on many points and the question of forming a bloc arose. This question had not yet been posed by the leadership of either party but it was easy to predict a positive outcome.

Comrade Antonov and myself left Aleksandrovsk with regret. We would have liked to spend more time with the industrial workers of Aleksandrovsk, among whom were many well-known and devoted revolutionaries. They were outstanding members of their class and yet did not belong any political party. The sympathized with the anarchists. We would have liked to stay with them but we didn't have the right. We had begun organizational work among the peasants and we had to see it through. We returned to Gulyai-Pole.

Upon our return we called a meeting of all the Gulyai-Pole revolutionary, trade union, and social organizations and made a detailed report about our successes in Aleksandrovsk. Then we convened a general assembly of the whole working population of Gulyai-Pole and made a detailed report about the reception we got from the city workers and their reaction to our report to them about the counter-revolutionary activities going on in Aleksandrovsk and its uyezd. We also passed on the message from the soldier-workers of the munitions workshops. Our successes among the Aleksandrovsk workers invoked general rejoicing among the toiling population.

The revolutionary toilers thirsted for action.

I proposed to the peasants to designate reliable people who would be able to help the Land Committee to proceed immediately to dividing up the land belonging to the churches, the monasteries, and the pomeshchiks, because it was necessary to seed this land before winter or plough it in preparation for spring.

The peasants resolutely set about this work, but when they got out in the field and actually began to divide up the land, they realized that each peasant would have to keep, for that year at least, the land which he had ploughed and seeded with winter wheat. It was decided that each of these peasants should pay a certain sum to the community in order to maintain the public funds which provided for needs of the community, funds which would receive nothing that year from those peasants who had not been working.

In general the peasants took over the land which it was necessary to seed before winter and shared it out without paying the least attention to threats from government agents. A number of raions and uyezds followed the example of the peasants of Gulyai-Pole.

Our Anarchist Communist Group and members of the Gulyai-Pole Soviet sent out literature and agents over a wide area encouraging the peasants to follow our example. We hoped that the local successes of direct revolutionary action by the toilers would resolve the land question in a definitive and just manner before the convocation of the Constituent Assembly. At the same time we hoped also to predetermine the fate of private ownership of factories, plants, and other enterprises, so that the workers, following the example of the peasants, would not remain slaves of the owners of these social enterprises. We hoped they would declare them public property and put them under the direct control of their union plant committees and unions.

This would lead to the commencement of the struggle against the political power of the government (assuming that the anarchist groups in the cities were on the job) and thus the death of the principles of statism itself would become an accomplished fact in the life of the toilers. There would remain only one task: to bury these principles so deeply that they would never be resurrected.

In Gulyai-Pole and the surrounding territory public life took on a healthy character, to the great joy of the revolutionary anarchists, peasants, and workers.


On to Chapter 15 The Provincial Soviet makes advances to Gulai-Polye

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

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