From: Alexander Berkman, Now and After: The ABC of Communist Anarchism, New York: Vanguard Press, 1929.
What Is Communist Anarchism?
REVOLUTION AND DICTATORSHIP
BECAUSE the Revolution and the Bolshevik dictatorship were things of an entirely different and even opposite nature. And here is where most people make the greatest mistake in confusing the Russian Revolution with the Communist Party and speaking of them as if they were one and the same, which emphatically they are not.
This will become clear to us if we compare the aims of the Revolution with the ends sought by the Bolsheviki.
The Revolution was a mighty uprising against oppression and misery. It voiced the longing of the masses for liberty and justice. It attempted to do away with everything that kept man in subjection, made him a slave and a beast of burden. The Revolution tried to establish new forms of life, conditions of real equality and brotherhood.
We have already seen that the Revolution was not a superficial change, that it did not stop with the February events. The Tsar had been abolished and the power of his autocracy broken, but the result was only another form of government. The economic and social conditions remained the same. Yet it was just those that the people meant to change. That is why the October Revolution took place. Its purpose was to rebuild life altogether, on new social foundations.
How was it to be rebuilt? It is evident that taking Romanov out of the Kremlin palace and putting Lenin in his Place would not do it. Something more was necessary. It was necessary to give the soil to the peasant, to put the factories in the hands of the workers and their labor organizations. In short, it was the aim of October to afford the people an opportunity to make use of the political freedom won in February.
That is the way the masses sized up the situation. And they acted upon it. They began to apply liberty to their needs. They wanted peace, so they stopped the war, first of all. It was months later that the Bolshevik Government signed the Brest-Litovsk treaty and concluded an official peace with Germany. But so far as the Russian armies were concerned, war was at an end long before, without diplomatic negotiations. Trotsky frankly admits this in his work on the Revolution.** 1917, by Leon Trotsky.MOSCOW, 1925.
The Russian workers and peasants, temporarily in soldiers' uniforms. had taken matters into their own hands and terminated the war by leaving the fronts.
Similarly did the peasantry and the proletariat act in solving the industrial and agrarian problems. While the Provisional Government was still discussing land reforms, the masses themselves acted, through their local councils and Soviets The peasants took the land they needed and began cultivating it. With simple common sense and inherent popular justice they settled the agrarian problem over which politicians and lawgivers had been breaking their beads for many decades without result. The Bolsheviki, when they came to power, "legalized" what the peasants had already accomplished without asking anybody's permission.
In like manner did the workers' Soviets. start to solve the industrial problem by taking over the factories and mines and managing them for the general benefit instead of for the profit of the "owners." That was actual abolition of capitalism and wage slavery, long before the Bolshevik Government declared capitalist ownership "legally" at an end.
All the other problems of every-day life the Revolution was similarly solving by the practical and direct activity of the masses themselves. Cooperative organizations brought city and village together for the exchange of products; house Committees looked after the housing question; street and district committees were organized for the safety of the city,
and other voluntary bodies were formed for the defense of the people's interests and of the Revolution.
The requirements of the situation directed the efforts of the masses; liberty of action brought initiative into play, and the wants of the people shaped their creative capacities to the needs of the hour.
These collective activities constituted the Revolution. They were the Revolution. For "revolution" is not some vague thing without definite meaning and purpose; nor does it signify political scene shifting or new legislation. The actual Revolution took place neither in February nor in October, but between those months. It consisted in the free play and interplay of the revolutionary energies and efforts of the people, in independent popular initiative and creative work, inspired by common need and mutual interests.
That was the spirit and tendency of the great economic and social upheaval in Russia. It solved problems as they arose, on the basis of liberty and free cooperation.
This process of the Revolution was stopped in its development by the Communist Party seizing political power and constituting itself a new government.
We have just seen what the aim of the Revolution was; we know what the masses of Russia wanted and what means they used to achieve it.
The objects of the Bolsheviki as a political party, on the other hand, were of an entirely different nature. As frankly admitted by themselves, their immediate goal was a dictatorship; that is, the formation of a powerful Bolshevik State which should direct the life and activities of the country according to the views and theories of the Communist Party.
To give due credit to the Bolsheviki let me say right here that there never was any political party more devoted to its cause, more wholehearted in its efforts to advance it, more determined and energetic in the achievement of its purposes. But those purposes were entirely foreign to the Revolution and opposed to its real needs. They were, in fact, so contrary to the spirit and aims of the Revolution that their achievement meant the destruction of the Revolution itself.
No doubt the Bolsheviki really thought that only by means of their dictatorship could Russia be converted into a Socialist paradise for the worker and farmer. Indeed, as Marxists they could not see things in any other way. Believers in an all-powerful State, they had no confidence in the people; they had no faith in the initiative and creative ability of the toilers. They distrusted them as a "multi-colored mob which has to be forced into liberty." They agreed with the cynical maxim of Rousseau that the masses "can be made free only by compulsion."
"Proletarian compulsion in all its forms," wrote Bukharin, the foremost Communist theoretician, "beginning with summary execution and ending with compulsory labor is, however paradoxical it may sound, a method of reworking the human material of the capitalistic epoch into Communist humanity."
That was the Bolshevik gospel; it was the attitude of a party that believed a revolution could be run by the orders of a Central Committee.
What followed was the logical outcome of the Bolshevik idea.
Claiming that only the dictatorship of their Party could properly conduct the Revolution, they bent all energies to secure that dictatorship. It meant that they had to take things exclusively into their own hands, to have the designs of the Party accomplished at any cost.
We need not go into the details of the schemes and political manipulations of those days which finally resulted in the Communist Party gaining the upper hand. The important point is that the Bolsheviki did contrive to carry out their Plans. Within a few months after the October Revolution, by April, 1918, they were in entire control of the government.
By taking advantage of the excitement of the revolutionary days and the inevitable confusion, they exploited the situation for their own objects. They used the political differences to rouse fierce party passions, resorted to every means to denounce their opponents as enemies of the people, branded them counter-revolutionists, and finally succeeded in damning them in the eyes of the workers and soldiers. Declaring that the Revolution must be protected against those alleged enemies, they were enabled to proclaim their own dictatorship. In the name of "saying the Revolution" they began eliminating all other revolutionary elements, non-Bolshevik, from positions of influence, finishing by suppressing them entirely.
It must be left to future historians to determine whether Bolshevik repression of the bourgeoisie, with which they started their rule, was not merely a means toward the ulterior purpose of suppressing all other non-Bolshevik elements. For the Russian bourgeoisie was not dangerous to the Revolution. As already explained, it was an insignificant minority, unorganized and powerless. The revolutionary elements, on the contrary, were a real obstacle to the dictatorship of any political party.
Because dictatorship would meet with the strongest opposition not from the bourgeoisie but from the truly revolutionary classes which considered dictatorship inimical to the best interests of the Revolution, the elimination of these would therefore be of prime necessity to any political party seeking dictatorship. Such a policy, however, could not successfully begin with the suppression of the revolutionists: it would provoke the disapproval and resistance of the workers and soldiers. It would have to be begun at the bourgeois end and means found gradually to spread the net over the other elements. Distrust and antagonism would have to he wakened. intolerance and persecution stimulated, popular fear created for the safety of the Revolution in order to secure the people's support for an ever-widening campaign of elimination and suppression, for the introduction of the bloody hand of red terror into the life of the Revolution.
But as I have said, it is the place of the future historian to determine to what extent such motives fashioned the events of those days. Here we are more concerned with what actually happened.
What happened was that before long the Bolsheviki established the exclusive dictatorship of their Party.
"What was that dictatorship," you ask, "and what did it achieve?"
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