The Russian Revolution in Ukraine

Nestor Makhno

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

Being hostile to the very concept of a Constituent Assembly, our Group was naturally hostile to the election of its delegates.

Influenced by the agitational work of our group, the toiling population of the raion was, on the whole, also hostile to the idea of the Constituent Assembly. However, many of them took part in the elections. This is explained by the fact that the socialist parties – the Left and Right S-Rs, Bolsheviks, and Mensheviks – as well as the powerful Kadet Party – conducted a furious campaign throughout the country on behalf of their lists of candidates. Under the influence of this propaganda, the population of the country divided up into numerous groups, thereby completely destroying its unity and even found itself divided on the question of socialization of the land. This was playing into the hands of the Kadets and Mensheviks who at that time stood for making the peasants buy back their land.

Our Group, after studying the activities of all the above-mentioned parties, activities which threatened to destroy the unity of the toilers, favoured the S-Rs and Bolsheviks over the Kadets and Mensheviks. As a result we refrained from actively pursuing a boycott of the elections at that time. We recommended to those members who wanted to take part in the meetings organized by the political parties to advise the toilers that if any of them had faith in the Constituent Assembly and wished to participate in the election of delegates to it, they should vote for the Socialist-Revolutionaries (the Left and Right SRs put forward one list – No. 3) or for the Bolsheviks (No. 9).

Although the elections in Ukraine had numerous lists of candidates, only three were of interest to the toilers: No. 3 – the S-Rs; No. 5 – the "Ukrainian list", i.e. a mishmash of socialist-chauvinists and nationalists; and No. 9 – the Bolsheviks. The lists of S-Rs and Bolsheviks enjoyed enormous success in areas where the toiling population participated fully in the electoral campaign. No. 5, the "Ukrainian" list, had less success in Left-Bank Ukraine than either No. 3 or No. 9.

The success of the left-wing socialist parties in the elections can be explained, on the one hand, by the fact that the Ukrainian labouring population, not deformed by the politics of the nationalists, preserved its inherent revolutionary spirit, and voted for revolutionary parties. On the other hand, there was the reality that the idea of Ukrainian liberation was based on bourgeois-nationalist self-determination, rather than the autonomy of working people. This idea of the bourgeoisie, anachronistic in the twentieth century, was resuscitated by irresponsible people who even stuck socialist labels on themselves and tried to "talk socialist". But this didn't change the essence of the matter: the question of "Ukrainian liberation" remained locked into a chauvinist framework. The heads of this "movement" were a really ill-assorted bunch, with the exception of two or three people who also eventually sold out to German militarism and ended up marching against the Revolution. Often the most responsible posts were filled with people who could speak Ukrainian but really had no business being in the ranks of a movement which liberatory aspirations.

The spirit of the "Ukrainian Liberation Movement" was bourgeois and chauvinist through and through. Its leaders behaved reprehensibly towards the toilers who had set out by direct action to win liberty, the right to independence, and the construction of a free society. As a result the idea of a "Ukrainian Liberation Movement" aroused the hatred of the Ukrainian revolutionary toilers. They saw through it from the beginning and moved against it, showing no pity to anything touched by it. After two or three months of active struggle against the Ukrainian nationalist movement, the Great Russian Revolution began and the toilers could see that they were right to struggle against the nationalists so quickly and with such intensity.

I don't really want to take up any more space in this memoir dissecting the Ukrainian Liberation Movement, which caused so much harm to the Revolution. I want to move on to reporting on the effect of the October coup after its triumph in Petrograd and Moscow. It exerted an influence almost immediately on the revolutionary toilers of Zaporozh'e and Preazov, in particular. This included the following raions which were linked ideologically with the Gulyai-Pole Soviet and looked to it for guidance in the struggle against the government and the widening and deepening of the revolutionary process: Aleksandrovsk, Melitopol', Berdyansk, Mariupol', Bakhmut, and Pavlograd.

Having followed closely the everyday goings on in these raions, I can confirm that in November and December the triumph of the coup in Russia was greeted by the Ukrainian toilers with great joy. They in no way changed their own local activities because they recognized that the Coup was based on the ideas of the real Revolution, which came from the awakening of the oppressed villages and enslaved cities.

Up until October, Gulyai-Pole raion had tried to make its mark on the Revolution in a deep and deliberate manner – completely devoid of any statist concepts. Then at the end of November 1917 four official governments were organized in Ekaterinoslav, each pretending to rule the revolutionary masses of the whole province. They proceeded to bad-mouth each other and then started to fight among themselves, dragging the toilers into the fray. Gulyai-Pole raion completely avoided taking sides in these struggles in which one government or the other temporarily triumphed.

At the beginning of December the bloc of Bolsheviks and Left S-Rs got the upper hand in Ekaterinoslav. Gulyai-Pole raion recognized these parties as revolutionary and immediately came up with an analysis their revolutionary value.

The toilers said: "We consider the Bolsheviks and Left S-Rs to be revolutionary because of their activities during the Revolution. We congratulate them as staunch militants. But we don't trust them in power. They triumphed on our backs over the bourgeoisie which tried to kill the Revolution with the support of right-wing socialist groupings. And then the Bolsheviks and Left S-Rs set up their own government which smells just the same as any other government, the likes of which have been stifling us for centuries. And it doesn't look like this new government is in any hurry to establish local self-management for the toilers so they won't be at the mercy of the bosses.

"Everywhere commissariats are being established. And these commissariats have a police-like character rather than being egalitarian institutions composed of comrades seeking to explain to us the best way to organize ourselves so that we will be independent and not have to listen to the bosses who up to now have lived on our backs and done us nothing but harm.

Since this revolutionary government shows no egalitarian tendencies, since on the contrary it is consolidating police-like institutions, then in the future we can expect, instead of advice, only the peremptory orders of the bosses. Anyone thinking independently and acting contrary to the orders received will be faced with death or deprived of their freedom, which we value above all else."

The toilers offered this analysis which, although vague in details, expressed the truth that by means of their sacrifices events had taken place in which one evil system was overthrown and another installed in its place under various pretexts.

The fact that the toiling masses of Ukraine understood the aspirations of the various political parties allowed them to reject the right-wing socialists and ally themselves with those groups which they saw moving in the same direction. In the vanguard they saw the Bolsheviks, Left S-Rs, and anarchists. But the first two socialist groupings knew what they needed to do at the given moment; moreover they had concluded an alliance which meant that they acted perfectly in unison. This made them stand out in the eyes of the toilers who referred to them under one name – "Bolsheviks" – a name under which all the revolutionaries were merged, including the anarchists.

The masses of toilers looked at this complex of groupings standing in their vanguard and said: "We welcome these revolutionaries, but we don't have enough information to say they won't end up fighting among themselves for the right to take power over us and subject us entirely to their will. This tendency certainly exists among them which could lead them to unleash a new war while we, the toilers, with our right to autonomous action on behalf of revolutionary interests, are relegated to the sidelines and forced to submit to the egotistical, criminal interests of parties."

This forced the revolutionary toilers of Gulyai-Pole to be even more vigilant than usual.


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