The Russian Revolution in Ukraine

Nestor Makhno

Chapter 15: The Provincial Soviet makes advances to Gulyai-Pole

While Comrade Antonov and myself were in Aleksandrovsk, the Executive Committee of the Ekaterinoslav Provincial Soviet of Workers', Peasants', and Soldiers' Deputies began to direct serious attention towards Gulyai-Pole. This Committee, politically astute, did not have recourse to repressions as is normally the case with inconsiderate and foolish revolutionary and counter-revolutionary politicians. Instead it resorted to "political wisdom": by-passing the uyezd level, it sent a proposal to the Gulyai-Pole Soviet to delegate its own permanent representative to the Provincial Executive Committee of Soviets.

In the course of the discussion on this proposal, the Gulyai-Pole Soviet was astonished by the following circumstance: there was already a delegate from Gulyai-Pole on the Provincial Executive Committee – elected at the Provincial Congress. However, the Provincial Executive Committee was proposing that we send a second delegate directly from the Gulyai-Pole Soviet.

This proposal compelled our Soviet to review its past policies, according to which it had always determined it own role in revolutionary work and rejected the direction of higher bodies as incompatible with its understanding of the essence of revolution. Thus it seemed that our response to the Ekaterinoslav Provincial Soviet had, in principle, already been decided and merely needed to be formalized by means of a meeting and a resolution.

However, after we had referred to our original revolutionary views, we realized that they gave rise to problems in carrying revolutionary work in practice. We needed to form alliances with the industrial workers so that together we could claim the right to our heritage: the land, the factories, the plants, etc., and so that together we could exercise this right.

Guided by this idea, we found it mandatory to study the proposal of the Provincial Soviet from all points of view and try to understand what importance its acceptance or rejection would have for revolutionary work in Gulyai-Pole.

The proposition was submitted to serious discussion. Two questions required clarification: (1) the links generally of the toilers of Gulyai-Pole raion with other raions which were also striving to broaden and deepen the revolutionary process; and (2) the possibility that direct representation on the Provincial Soviet would lead to a conflict of ideas in our ranks.

In the end it was clear that the influence of Gulyai-Pole raion was widespread in the region, and that Kamishevatsky raion was working energetically with us. Many raions from Berdyansk, Mariupol', Pavlograd, and Bakhmyt uyezds were sending us their delegates to learn our attitude towards the enemies of the revolution: the Provisional Government and the Ukrainian Central Rada; also to find out how be we were struggling to transfer all the land, factories, and workshops under the direct control of the peasant and worker organizations.

Moreover, the toilers of many raions of the mentioned uyezds had, by their actions. They had confirmed their solidarity with our ideas, confirmed that they shared our perspective on the land question and on the necessity of doing away with the rule of the Public Committees. They stood for self-management of social affairs and demanded their right to put their ideas into action.

The Gulyai-Pole Soviet and the Anarchist Communist Group saw in this the fruits of their combined efforts. Under the influence of the idea of unity, the Soviet resolved the question about sending their representative to the Provincial Executive Committee in a positive sense: to send a capable, reliable comrade from the Anarchist-Communist Group.

The rationale for this positive resolution was given by the members of the Gulyai-Pole Soviet – peasants and workers – who were not members of the Group. They considered themselves revolutionaries and sympathized with the anarchists but remained embedded in the working class as excellent defenders of the rights of labour. The resolution could be summarized as follows:

"The toilers of Gulyai-Pole raion are totally committed to the expropriation of private property in the means of production and consumption for the benefit of working people. But we are not going to get carried away and do something foolish! We realize that this extraordinarily important question can only be solved successfully if expropriations are applied in several raions simultaneously, or, at the very least, separated by only very short intervals of time. That's why it's necessary that the Soviet, the Anarchist Communist Group, and the Trade Union, which are all sympathetic to our idea, use their influence to root this idea as firmly as possible in the consciousness of the masses in the raions close to Gulyai-Pole, because Gulyai-Pole will be needing support from these adjacent raions at the critical moment if the practical implementation of these ideas is to be spread to raions even further from Gulyai-Pole.

As the initiator of this great project, it falls to Gulyai-Pole to take a leadership role, which it can fulfil only if when the idea of expropriating personal property is firmly established in its own raion. From this point of view it is very important for the Gulyai-Pole Soviet to have direct representation by a capable comrade on the Provincial Executive Committee of the Soviets. The Anarchist Communist Group and the Union of Metal and Carpentry Workers do not oppose this; on the contrary, they support it."

Following this reasoning, both the Anarchist Communist Group and the Trade Union Executive spoke out at meeting of the Gulyai-Pole Soviet in favour of the decision to send their own representative to the Provincial Executive of the Soviets.

Since the Soviet insisted on sending a member of our Group, we chose Comrade Lev Schneider, an experienced working class organizer.

* * *

It was a time of troubles. Kerensky threatened the leftists with reaction. Revolutionary anarchists had to be ready either to begin armed struggle against the Provisional Government or to disappear into the underground.

I knew perfectly well that our anarchist movement, because of the absence of a strong organization, was weak in the cities and in the countryside scarcely existed. Consequently, our anarchist group had to operate completely independently, as we had earlier decided, and be ready for anything.

Our Soviet provided Comrade L. Schneider with documents certifying that he was authorized to represent it on the Executive Committee of the Provincial Soviet. The Anarchist Communist Group gave him instructions about how to conduct himself and about working with the Ekaterinoslav Federation of Anarchists. The Soviet of the Trade Union also empowered him to try to enter into negotiations with the Provincial Industrial Committee which was located in Ekaterinoslav. The purpose of this was to ensure that the foundries of Gulyai-Pole received the raw materials they needed in sufficient quantity and in a timely fashion so that work in the plants would not have to stop. Or if it did have to stop, then only in those branches which were least necessary for the population of Gulyai-Pole raion.

At the Provincial Executive Committee of Soviets, Comrade Schneider was welcomed with open arms. But ... after one or two meetings of the Committee, and one or two speeches by Comrade Schneider – the attitude of the leaders of the Committee changed drastically. His position became difficult. Some members of the Committee raised the question of denying him the right to vote on decisions, leaving him with only a consultative role. Lev Schneider responded that he had never had the right to take part in the decisions of the Provincial Executive Committee of Soviets because the Gulyai-Pole Soviet had not authorized him to do so. He had been delegated to the Committee only to keep informed of all new measures taken by the Committee in the revolutionary domain, and to acquaint the representatives of the toilers from other parts of the province with what was being accomplished by the toilers of Gulyai-Pole. In this way he hoped it would be possible to coordinate the self-activity of the toilers of the various uyezds or raions so as to fill in any gaps in a coordinated way.

After this frank declaration by Schneider of the motives which had brought him to the Provincial Executive Committee of Soviets from the Gulyai-Pole Soviet, numerous members of the Committee requested that an item be added to agenda demanding the complete exclusion of the representative of Gulyai-Pole.

However, the times were such that to exclude the representative from Gulyai-Pole would have provoked a boycott of the Provincial Executive by Gulyai-Pole and a number of revolutionary-minded raions adjacent to it. This would have demonstrated to the toiling masses of the whole province, and even well beyond its boundaries, that the Ekaterinoslav Provincial Executive was trailing the masses when it came to revolutionary action. A boycott at such a high-stress point in the Revolution would create serious problems, at least for politicians.

The Provincial Executive understood this very well and, grudgingly, allowed the representative of Gulyai-Pole to remain in its ranks, assigning him to a place in one of its sections. He ended up in the industrial section, if I am not mistaken.

Each week our representative came back to Gulyai-Pole to make reports to the Soviet, the Trade Union, and the Anarchist Communist Group. His reports were discussed. His strength renewed, he headed back to Ekaterinoslav for another week.

Through his mediation the Soviet of the Trade Union concluded an agreement with the Provincial Industrial Committee and began to receive vital raw materials for its plants.

The Raion Congress of Land Committees designated a number of properties of pomeshchiks to be turned into agrarian communes with the help of volunteers.

The toiling peasantry and workers, made up of people with the appropriate skills – often extended families or groups of neighbours – organized themselves into free agrarian communes ranging in size from 50 to 200 people. They had joy on their faces as they discussed among themselves what they must do before spring, what kind of wheat they should sow so as to give the best harvest and, of course, help the Revolution, on condition that the weather was good, not too dry, with the rain necessary for our black earth at the right time in the spring and first two months of summer.

"Sowing all the land with a good grain, followed by an abundant harvest, will allow us to overcome the devastations of war and support the forces of the Revolution as they work in our best interests," said the peasants.

And when the anarchists put this question to them: "What about the Provisional Government in Petrograd and the Central Rada in Kiev? They are the direct enemies of this Revolution which you are striving to support." The answer was always the same, delivered with revolutionary emotion: "But we are organizing ourselves precisely to overthrow the Provisional Government and not allow the Central Rada to triumph. We hope that by the time spring rolls around we will have done with all governments."

And sometimes we asked: "Who's going to do this – you?"

"We, the peasants and workers. You went to Aleksandrovsk and were able to see that the workers want to live, like us, free and independent of any kind of rulers over our heads."

* * *

In September, during our organizing work among the peasants and workers, the Government Commissar, the pomeshchik Mikhno, sent to Gulyai-Pole an official charged with conducting an investigation of me and the other peasants and workers who had disarmed the bourgeoisie of the raion.

This official set up shop in the office of the Militia and told the Militia to summon all these peasants and workers, including myself, so he could interrogate them one at a time.

There I sat him on a chair and asked him to explain as calmly as possible the reason for his presence in Gulyai-Pole. He tried his best to give me explanations in a calm manner but, for reasons I can't imagine, he didn't manage at all: his lips trembled, his teeth clattered, he face alternated between red and white, and his eyes were fixed on the floor.

Then I asked him to compose himself and write down what I was going to dictate to him. And when he, holding his pen with great difficulty, had written down what I said, I gave him 20 minutes to get out of Gulyai-Pole and two hours to leave the borders of the raion. And the official indeed left very quickly, astonishing the Committee and myself with his speed, as he returned to his boss in Aleksandrovsk.

After this Gulyai-Pole no longer received any external orders, nor any special envoys from Aleksandrovsk.


On to Chapter 16 October coup d'ιtat in Russia

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