The Russian Revolution in Ukraine

Nestor Makhno

Chapter 16: October coup d'état in Russia

Repercussions of the October coup d'état – in Petrograd and Moscow, and then in the whole of Russia – reached us in Ukraine only at the end of November and the beginning of December, 1917.

Up until December 1917 the Ukrainian toilers, both urban and rural, knew of the October coup d'état only through the manifestoes of the All-Russian Executive Committee of Soviets, the Soviet of People's Commissars, and revolutionary parties and groups. Two parties in particular were prominent: the Bolsheviks and the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries. For these two parties knew how to benefit from this period in the Russian Revolution to attain their goals. This was a vast uprising of workers, soldiers, and peasants against the Provisional Government, against its disgraceful, but feeble, attacks against the Revolution. The foundations of this uprising had been laid by all the revolutionary groups which had found a place in the great current that was the Russian Revolution.

But these two parties – the one, well-organized; the other, submissively following the crafty Lenin – knew how and when to approach the revolutionary masses, enticing them with their lying slogan: "All Power to the Soviets" and congratulating the masses for their slogan "The Land to the Peasants, the Factories to the Workers". These parties took over the Revolution and, having at their disposal an abundance of paper and printing presses, they papered town and country with their manifestoes, declarations, and programs.

The anarchists played an outstanding role in this insurrection in Petrograd, Moscow, and a series of other industrial centres. They were in the vanguard of the sailors, soldiers, and workers. But, being disorganized, they could not compete in influence with these two political parties, forming a bloc under the direction of the crafty Lenin. They knew exactly what they had to do during these days and months and what sort of forces and energy were required. Their voice was heard throughout the country loud and clear, echoing the age-old aspirations of the labouring masses: the conquest of the land, bread, and freedom.

Meanwhile the anarchists, totally uncoordinated, were not able even to show the masses the basic hypocrisy of these two political parties, constructing their own rule over the Revolution while spouting slogans which were anti-statist in essence, quite alien to their authoritarian ideals.

The toiling masses, during the period when the Provisional Government and its direct agents, the Right S-Rs and Kadets, were carrying out counter-revolutionary acts, saw the Bolsheviks and Left S-Rs as champions of the goals of labour. That they were full of political cunning the masses did not notice. Only the anarcho-communists and anarcho-syndicalists would have been able to jolt the masses into taking a closer look at these parties. But, following their old tradition, the anarchists before the Revolution did not bother to unite their different groups into a powerful organization. And once the Revolution had begun, they were too busy, either among the workers or in their newspaper offices to think seriously about their lack of self-discipline and the necessity of creating an organization which would allow them to influence the course of events in the country.

It's true that some time after the Revolution began anarchist federations and confederations sprang up. But the October events showed that they had not been able to cope with events. It would seem that perceptive anarcho-communists and anarcho-syndicalists should immediately set about re-evaluating the form of their organizations, coming up with something more stable and more in tune with the momentum of the Revolution.

Alas! This didn't happen! And because of this (and a bunch of other reasons as well) the anarchist movement, so lively and full of revolutionary enthusiasm, found itself trailing events and even, at times, completely shunted to the sidelines, unable to follow an independent path and enrich the Revolution with its ideas and tactics.

Thus, the October revolutionary events, events which cleared the way for the Second Great Russian Revolution, really began to make themselves felt in Ukraine only in December 1917.

During the period from October to December, in the cities and villages of Ukraine took place the transformation of the Public Committees (of these territorial units) into Zemstvo Boards. Now it's true that participation of the toilers in this re-organization was minimal and purely formal. In many raions the representatives of the peasants on the Public Committees were dropped from the Zemstvo Boards. In many places the Public Committee was simply re-named the Zemstvo Board without undergoing any change in its structure. But officially the whole country was divided up into territorial units under Zemstvo Boards.

Part of the urban proletarian had gradually taken on a passive, wait-and-see attitude.

The peasants found the moment auspicious for overthrowing the ruling powers and taking their destiny into their own hands. The peasants of Zaporozh'e and Preazov followed the October coup with great interest as it spread across central Russia in the form of armed attacks against the adherents of Kerensky's rule. They saw the beginning of what they had been attempting themselves in their villages in August and September. That's why the peasants welcomed the coup and tried to promote it in their own areas. Any other motives tending to bring together the peasants and that part of the workers who rejected passivity and supported the coup did not exist. Thus revolutionary Ukrainian toilers of both town and country reacted joyfully to the October coup as they encountered it through manifestos and newspapers. However, the Ukrainian revolutionary toilers were not enthused by the fact the Bolsheviks and Left S-Rs were now in power. The class-conscious peasants and workers saw in this a new phase of intervention by the central authorities in the revolutionary creativity of the toilers at the local level, and consequently a new war between central power and the people. As for the mass of Ukrainian toilers, the peasants of the downtrodden villages in particular, they saw in this new revolutionary socialist government only a government like all governments, which they only had occasion to notice when it despoiled them with its various taxes, when it conscripted soldiers, or intervened with other acts of violence in their arduous lives. One would often hear the peasants express their true opinion of the pre-revolutionary and revolutionary authorities. They seemed to be joking, but they were actually speaking seriously from a background of suffering and hatred when they said that after they had driven the fool Nicholas Romanov from power, Kerensky had then played the fool. Now that he had been chased, "Who will now play the fool at our expense?"

"Lord Lenin," said some.

Others said, "Without the 'fool' we couldn't manage." (By the word 'fool' they always meant the government.)

"Cities only exist for this – their idea, their system is bad. They bring into existence this 'fool'," said the peasants.

In reality, the crafty Lenin correctly understood the city. He placed in the position of "fool" a group of people, under the banner of the dictatorship of the proletariat, who got it into their heads that they knew what they were doing, but who only wanted power for its own sake so they could impose their will on other people and in fact on the whole human race.

The crafty Lenin raised the role of "fool" to heights previously unknown and thus attracted not only members of the political party closest to his own in their revolutionary activity and historical militancy – the Left SRs who became his half-convinced disciples – but also some of the anarchists. It's true, these offspring of the old party of Socialist-Revolutionaries – the Left SRs – after 7 or 8 months as Lenin's lackeys came to their senses and went into opposition against Lenin even to the point of taking up arms against him. But this by no means changes our evaluation of them mentioned above.


On to Chapter 17 Elections to the Constituent Assembly; our attitude towards the party strife

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