The Russian Revolution in Ukraine

Nestor Makhno

Chapter 18: Provincial Congress

Before the December Provincial Congress of Soviets of Peasants', Workers', and Soldiers' Deputies, an assembly of the Soviet of Gulyai-Pole raion was organized. All the delegates present at this assembly insisted that our representatives at the Provincial Congress be prepared not to fall under the influence of the agents of political parties. Our representatives were to declare, without hesitating, that they had come to the Congress, not in order to listen to reports of government agents and to obey them, but to read their own reports about what the toilers were doing locally and why they were doing it. And they were to explain why, in the future, they would not be following orders imposed from above.

The delegates which we elected to the Provincial Congress were to make explicit the idea which formed the basis of our actions, namely that at this moment in the Revolution the problem of first importance for all toilers was moving forward to full liberation from the power of the two authorities which oppressed us private Capital and the State.

The State as political power, as the organization of society, cannot exist without oppression, pillage, and murder; it must die under the blows of the revolutionary toilers who are advancing passionately and in unity towards a new free society.

The agenda of the Provincial Congress was known to us. There was nothing new in it for our raion, for we had already instituted the measures mentioned there some time ago. Our delegates were to note this fact to the peasant and worker delegates from other raions. Our position in practice flowed naturally from our ideas. We needed to make this widely known so that the toilers of the whole country would understand what we were doing.

After the assembly had laid out these guidelines, there were nominations of candidates. Elected were N. Makhno and Mironov.

The assembly then expressed its thanks to its representatives for accepting its mandates, saying: "You have been elected, Comrades, with the full consent of those who sent us here. In your persons we are sending to the Provincial Congress the first among equals of the revolutionary toilers of Gulai-Polye raion.

"We have no doubt that you will fulfil with distinction your mission to the Provincial Congress. The instructions we are giving you don't go into details. The fact that we are giving you instructions at all is just our traditional way of doing things. It helps to unite us on the road to more revolutionary conquests."

Such instructions and such parting words were customary in Gulyai-Pole when delegates were elected to the uyezd and provincial congresses.

If I dwell on this election of representatives, it is because it took place at a time when the Left Bloc had taken power over the inhabitants of the city of Ekaterinoslav and its environs. Gradually they concentrated in their own hands, to their own benefit, all the popular conquests of the Revolution. They were trying to deform the Revolution itself.

The toilers of Gulyai-Pole raion were well aware that the December Provincial Congress would be dominated by agents of the Left Bloc, who from time to time would let slip their state-power aspirations. That's why the peasants and workers of Gulyai-Pole frequently spoke at their own meetings about the necessity to use caution and not rely on the bloc of revolutionary parties. There was a certain odour about them which aroused vigilance. Gulyai-Pole warned the toilers of other regions as well.

On the way to Ekaterinoslav, our train was derailed so we arrived a day late. However, we didn't miss the opening of the Congress. The delegates were all there, but the Congress had not yet started. Among the organizers of the Congress one sensed a certain malaise, a certain anxiety.

As I mentioned earlier, there existed at that moment in Ekaterinoslav four or five independent municipal administrations: (1) the one left over from the Kerensky regime; (2) the Ukrainian one claiming allegiance to the Central Rada; (3) a group of neutral citizens; (4) a unique administration of sailors from Kronstadt who were on their way by train to fight Kaledin and had stopped in Ekaterinoslav for a rest; (5) the administration of Soviet of Workers', Peasants' and Soldiers' Deputies. At the head of the latter at that time stood the anarcho-syndicalist Comrade Grunbaum, a very tactful man with an iron revolutionary will; unfortunately, at that period he was working for the Bolshevik-Left SR Bloc. Grunbaum's authority was dominant, at least in his negotiations with the commanders of the "Ukrainian" units put together from the former Preobrazhensky, Pavlovsky, and Semenovsky regiments (which had just arrived from Petrograd and were stationed in Ekaterinoslav). If Grunbaum had not been conducting these negotiations himself, the Bolshevik leaders Kviring, Gopner, and Epstein, and also the Left SR Popov and others, would not have been able to get anywhere and would have been driven out of Yekaterinoslav.

The times were such that everything depended upon the force of arms. That force was concentrated in the "Ukrainian" troops and units made up of workers and other inhabitants of the city. Comrade Grunbaum was able to convince the Left Bloc high command to supply troops to support the Soviet which thereby became strong enough to convene the Provincial Congress.

It was typical that while things were dicey the Bolsheviks and Left-SR faded into the background, letting Comrade Grunbaum front for them, and, once things had settled down a bit, they came to the forefront again and took charge of the Provincial Congress.

The Congress finally got going after lunch. On the next day I took the floor with my report from Gulyai-Pole. In passing, I took a shot at the Ukrainian nationalists for their baseless actions in the name of their provincial "Peasants' Union", pointing out to the Congress that there were a number of raions where the peasantry did not recognize the politics of this "Union".

My speech raised the ire of the nationalists. Seven of them protested to the Congress, saying that the Congress was convened on an illegal basis. They said that raions and uyezds should not be sending their peasant and worker representatives to this Congress the only legal delegates were those elected at uyezd congresses. They demanded that the delegates from Gulyai-Pole not be allowed to speak at the Congress, but be present only as observers.

The peasant delegates, also the Bolshevik leaders Kviring and Epstein, spoke against this demand by the Ukrainian nationalists. The Congress voted it down.

Then the nationalists demonstratively got up and left the meeting hall. They were followed by their supporters, delegates from the soldiers.

The Congress took a break for three or four hours. It turned out that the "Ukrainian Provincial Revolutionary Council" had held an emergency meeting on the question: whether or not to dissolve the Congress and take up arms against the Soviet. At this meeting, the chair of the "Revolutionary Council", Dr. Feldman, noted that their strength might not be sufficient and they could well be beaten.

The Congress was troubled by the notion that at any minute blood could be flowing in the streets of Ekaterinoslav. So the Congress sent its own people to the soldiers' barracks to clarify their attitude towards the Congress. Comrade Grunbaum, supported by the Ekaterinoslav Federation of Anarchists, again played a key role in countering the nationalists. The anarchist sailors from Kronstadt also supported the delegates of the Congress on this day by speaking before the regiments, and also before the workers in the factories.

At that time in Ekaterinoslav was stationed one regiment of the Cavaliers of St. George. This regiment had always hissed the orators sent to them from the Bolsheviks. The Congress sent me and Comrade L. Azersk to address this regiment in their barracks. We were going to try to get them to pass a resolution about the Ukrainian nationalists who were trying to disrupt the Congress and also to discuss a few essential points with a view to joint action.

I didn't want to be hissed. During nine months of revolution I had spoken to many audiences and had never been hissed. Now the Bolsheviks impressed on me that I was going to be hissed. I was apprehensive but I considered it inappropriate to refuse to carry out this mission for the Congress. We set out. We got in a cab. We arrived at the regiment and found the regimental committee. We met the chairman and presented our mandate from the Congress.

The chairman of the regiment read our mandate and, politely offering us chairs, left to gather the soldiers for a meeting.

After 15 or 20 minutes he came back and told us that everybody had been assembled.

At the door of the committee office we were met by two comrade anarchists sailors from Kronstadt and the four of us went to meet the soldiers.

At the meeting we basically argued with the officers, causing one of them to break down weeping and rip off his epaulets, and we got the regiment to pass its own resolution, which declared that "the regiment of the Cavaliers of St. George would defend by force of arms against any attack on the Provincial Congress of Peasants and Workers which started its work on December 2, 1917."

Analogous resolutions were passed by other regiments and squadrons.

This result was unexpected not so much by the Congress as by the Bolsheviks. All the delegates of the Congress were glad that the regular troops were on their side.

The Congress took up its work again and was finished in three days.

It was characteristic of this Congress that all the decisions set out in its resolutions had already been put into practice in Gulyai-Pole raion for three or four months. Only one clause was new to us because we had attached little importance to it: the right of local soviets to a subsidy from the state. I must admit that the Bolsheviks and the Left SRs caught a lot of people with this bait. For Gulyai-Pole raion this innovation was unacceptable because it based its own work on anti-statist ideas and tried to be independent of central authorities who tried to control everything.


On to Chapter 19 Counter-Revolution of the Ukrainian Central Rada

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

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