Originally published in 1937 by International Publishers of New York
History of Anarchism in Russia
by E. Yaroslavsky
THE RUSSIAN ANARCHO-SYNDICALISTS DURING THE PROLETARIAN REVOLUTION
IN OCTOBER, 1917, the Bolsheviks roused the masses of Russian workers, peasants, soldiers and sailors for the great Socialist Proletarian Revolution. Though opposed by all other parties, including the so-called Socialists-the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries-and by most of the anarchists, the revolution triumphed and opened up the new epoch of socialism, which is so replete with deeds of glory and heroism of the working people.
Did the anarchists take any part in this struggle? No. As in 1905, they thought it a sin to fight for the establishment of authority of any kind. But without organized authority the victorious people would have been crushed, for the proletarian revolution had to face the opposition not only of all parties in Russia with the exception of the Bolsheviks, not only of the entire bourgeoisie in Russia and all its hangers-on, but of the entire international bourgeoisie. Fourteen capitalist states organized intervention and economic blockade against the new state.
Today, when we see the fascist governments of Germany, Italy and Portugal aiding the fascist rebels in Spain with the tacit consent and even support of other governments, it would be well for the working people of Spain, and no less for their enemies, to remember that the people of the Soviet state, badly armed and starving, succeeded in routing the forces of both the internal counter-revolution and the international imperialist intervention, and freed their country. They succeeded in doing this under the leadership of the Communist Party. Members of the Communist Party and the Young Communist League formed the main body which organized resistance, they were the storm troops which invariably displayed valor and heroism at the most critical moments. Twenty-five per cent of the members of the Communist Party and 50 per cent of the Young Communist League were mobilized for the Red Army, and in the region of military operations all Communists and Young Communists without exception were mobilized. During the four great years of civil war outstanding Communist military leaders sprang up from the ranks of the people trained by Lenin and Stalin-men like Voroshilov, Frunze, Budenny, Blucher, Yegorov, Kirov, Kuibyshev, Chapayev, Shchors, and hundreds and thousands of other heroes of the civil war.
Did the anarchists do anything to help in this struggle? When faced with this question, every anarchist points to Nestor Makhno. We shall deal with Makhno and his followers in a chapter specially devoted to them. For the present we will deal with the Russian anarcho-syndicalists, who borrowed many of their theories and forms of practical activity from the French, Spanish and Italian anarcho-syndicalists.
Anarcho-syndicalist ideas played no part in the Russian revolution of 1905, but the trade union organizations certainly did include anarcho-syndicalists. Certain of their ideas found favorable ground in the reformist wing of the Russian Social-Democrats, the Mensheviks. For instance, the Mensheviks upheld the pernicious idea of the neutrality of the trade unions. They overestimated the function and importance of the trade unions to such an extent as to propose the establishment of a "broad labor party" to include all trade unions, cooperative societies and other non-party organizations. This confusion of the trade unions with the party was vigorously opposed by the Bolsheviks.
After the proletarian revolution, certain prominent trade union officials formed in the Bolshevik Party what was known as the Workers' Opposition, led by Shlyapnikov and Medvedyev. As the subsequent struggle showed, the Workers' Opposition had no right to bear this name, for they turned out to be a petty-bourgeois group hostile to the dictatorship of the proletariat and to the proletarian revolution. In 1920, shortly before the Tenth Congress of the Bolshevik Party, this Workers' Opposition drew up a set of theses on the trade unions in which they tried to prove that the principal organization of the working class was not the party, but the trade unions. They proposed that the economic administration of the country should be placed in the hands of bodies elected by a Congress of Producers, which in Russia would actually have meant, not the organized socialist proletariat, but the 25,000,000 scattered small peasant farmers, for the small peasants were also "producers." The anarcho-syndicalist nature of these proposals is clear; the anarcho-syndicalists in Spain and France were also of the opinion that the management of industry arid agriculture should be placed in the hands of the trade unions and that the trade unions were the principal organizations of the proletariat.
The Tenth Party Congress condemned the Workers Opposition and proclaimed the propaganda of its views to be incompatible with membership in the Bolshevik Party. Lenin severely criticized this group, pointing out that the attacks on the Party launched by it were undermining the dictatorship of the proletariat and helping the bourgeoisie.
At the time of the Tenth Party Congress the Kronstadt mutiny against the Soviet government broke out, supported by the whiteguards and the entire Russian bourgeoisie.
The anarchists have more than once defended the Kronstadt mutiny. Even quite recently, on November 29, 1936, the Solidaridad Obrero, organ of the Spanish anarchists, wrote:
The Marxists must know that in Spain there can be no repetition of that feature of the Russian Bolshevik dictatorship when a whole working class district in Petrograd, in which many leaders of anarchist organizations were gathered, was destroyed at the very moment when the opponents of every form of authority (i.e., the anarchists) were putting the White army to flight in South Russia. Nor can Spain ever be the scene of what took place in the Ukraine in the course of the persecution of our Makhno, the most fearless revolutionary leader in Russia. Nor will the history of Kronstadt, that anarchist town completely demolished by the Red soldiers, ever be repeated in our country.
We, too, are of the opinion that the anarchists in Spain will not commit the crimes against the revolution that were committed by the anarchists in Russia. We shall devote a special chapter to the activities of the anarchists, particularly of Makhno. For the present we must make clear what actually took place in Kronstadt in the spring, of 1921.
In the first place, it should be pointed out that neither in the revolution of 1905 nor in the revolution of 1917 was Kronstadt an anarchist town. The sailors of Kronstadt played a great revolutionary role in October, 1917, and in the subsequent Civil War. Their leaders at that time were Bolsheviks, and most of the sailors were Bolsheviks, too. However, those sailors who successfully defended revolutionary Kronstadt against the forces of Kerensky and Yudenich were sent to the front, while Kronstadt was filled with new sailors, chiefly from the rural districts, who brought with them the discontent of the peasants and their longing for the cessation of the Civil War. A counter-revolutionary organization fighting against the Communists, against the dictatorship of the proletariat, came into being in Kronstadt under the secret leadership of the whiteguards. The whiteguard emigre Milyukov, formerly a minister in Kerensky's bourgeois government, urged support for the rebels' slogan of "Soviets" of Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries, Cadets, and anyone you please, against the Communists, against the proletarian dictatorship, against socialism and for capitalism.
The Spanish, Italian, French and all other workers must never forget that the Bolsheviks in Russia captured political power at a time when the Socialist-Revolutionaries, the Mensheviks and the rest had made a united front with the bourgeoisie against the proletariat, against the socialist revolution.
A la guerre, comme a la guerre,* as the French say. It was a very dangerous time for the young Soviet Republic. It would have been a crime to fool around and hesitate to adopt resolute measures against the rebels, for Kronstadt is the key to Leningrad. To have left Kronstadt in the hands of the rebels would have meant endangering the revolution, and more years and years of bloodshed in order to win back such an important point as Kronstadt was. We believe that the Spanish anarchists would act just as the Bolsheviks acted in 1921-they would storm the rebel fortress and drive the rebels out. Kronstadt was not demolished. That is a lie. Kronstadt is still an impregnable fortress of the U.S.S.R. But by a heroic blow, advancing over the uncertain ice, the Red Army men carried the strategic points of the rebels by storm and dislodged them from Kronstadt. During their few days of rule the rebels imprisoned several hundred Bolsheviks; they terrorized the inhabitants who were loyal to the socialist revolution. All the whiteguard bourgeois papers in the capitalist countries glorified the rebels. When have the capitalists ever praised their enemies? They praised the Kronstadt rebels because the latter were actually fighting in their cause, the cause of the capitalists.
That is the truth about Kronstadt.
"But," the reader may ask, "what connection has the Kronstadt rebellion with the anarcho-syndicalists?" The connection is that both the anarcho-syndicalists of the Workers' Opposition and the independent anarcho-syndicalist group-the Russian Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation-actually supported the Kronstadt rebels. In its resolution, the Tenth Congress of the Bolshevik Party pointed out that "the bourgeois counterrevolution and whiteguards in all countries of the world expressed their readiness to accept even the Soviet system if only they could secure the overthrow of the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia." The Congress adopted a resolution on the anarchist and syndicalist deviation in the Party in which it pointed out that the anarchist and syndicalist sentiments of a section of the Communists were due partly to the penetration into the Party of elements who have not yet fully assimilated the principles of Communism; but this deviation is due mainly to the influence exerted on the proletariat and the Russian Communist Party by the petty-bourgeois element, which is exceptionally strong in our country, and which inevitably gives rise to vacillations in the direction of anarchism, especially at a time when the conditions of the masses have been very much worsened owing to the failure of the harvest and the devastating results of the war and when the demobilization of an army numbering several million leaves hundreds and hundreds of thousands of peasants and workers who cannot immediately find employment and means of livelihood.
What was the fate of the anarcho-syndicalists who attempted to influence the course of the revolution from within the Party? Their further activities showed that the Workers' Opposition, which acted under the anarcho-syndicalist flag, consisted of disguised Mensheviks, of enemies of communism who were out to restore capitalism. All their cheap phrases about equality, all their- hypocritical claims to defending the working class were enemy camouflage.
The anarchists may ask why we are judging them by such anarcho-syndicalists. Because, we reply, the Workers' Opposition found full support among the anarchists. Its literature, such as, for instance, the Workers' Opposition Manifesto by A. Kollontai, was translated into foreign langauges anddistributed by the anarchists. But, worst of all, the Russian anarchists of that time joined the anarchist Council of Action, which during the days of the Kronstadt rebellion served to unite the anarchists with all anti-Soviet organizations.
And who were the Russian anarcho-syndicalists outside the Party? The first national conference 0f anarcho-syndicalists took place in a perfectly open and legal fashion in August 1918, and this was followed by a second in November. Both these conferences showed that the anarcho-syndicalists had no roots in the working class and exercised no influence over it. Small groups consisting mainly of intellectuals were constantly merging and splitting, which finally resulted in the formation of the short-lived League of Anarcho-Syndicalist Communists of Moscow, established in Moscow in 1920. This league fell to pieces a few weeks after it was established. The following explanation of its weakness and collapse was given in a circular 0f the Bureau of the Russian Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation:
Hardly any attempt was made to collect and unite the disintegrating movement; the attempts that were made were inconsistent, were not serious, and therefore did not succeed.
There was only one trade union in Moscow-the Bakers' Union-in which the anarcho-syndicalists enjoyed any influence. At a time when the country was locked in a ring of intervention and drenched with blood, when the country was on starvation rations, the anarcho-syndicalists proposed that the slogan, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs," be put into effect-this at a time when it was impossible t0 provide even half a pound of bread a day for everyone, let alone "to each according to his needs."
Of course, the revolution must lead to an improvement in the life of the working people, otherwise it would be pointless. But is it possible to pursue such a policy immediately after the revolution, when the struggle is not yet at an end, when the wolf is waiting at the door, when strictest accounting and strictest economy of every pound of supplies are essential? Under the proletarian dictatorship the Russian anarchosyndicalists had various publications-Golos Truda (Voice of Labor), Volny Golos Truda (Free Voice of Labor), Trud i volya (Labor and Freedom), and others. They held several conferences. They spoke at workers' meetings. What was the result of their activity, what did they do to benefit the Russian revolution?
A section of the anarcho-syndicalists tried to discard the Bakunin anarchist attitude to the state and to take part in building up a new social system. But at the same time the anarcho-syndicalists defended the seizure of individual houses by gangs acting under the anarchist flag and also defended the pernicious actions of Makhno.
We will deal here with the reproach often levelled at us by the anarchists, including the Spanish anarchists, that at the beginning of the revolution the Bolsheviks put a stop to the arbitrary seizure of houses by individual armed groups for their private benefit.
What were the facts?
While the Bolsheviks were fighting, arms in hand, against the whiteguard armies, the anarchists and the criminal gangs which made haste to assume their name were seizing houses and valuables for their own personal use. The Bolsheviks and all class conscious workers and peasants regarded the property ' of the bourgeoisie as the property of the entire people, and not of some particular group which had succeeded in obtaining arms. It was soon established that arms needed for resistance to the whiteguards at the front-rifles, bombs, machineguns and even cannon-had been seized by bandit groups which had nothing in common with the revolution and were using the name of anarchists to camouflage their criminal activities. They fortified certain houses in Moscow (26 in all), in Leningrad and in Kharkov, turning them into strongholds from which they made armed raids on apartments, restaurants and individuals, searching for and seizing property, which they shared among themselves. Could the working class put up with such "order"? Did not this threaten the ruin of the revolution? The working class of the young Soviet Republic and its vanguard, the Communist Party, after shedding so much blood in the course of three revolutions, undergoing so much suffering and for the first time in history overthrowing the power of the exploiters, would have been guilty of the gravest crime against the revolution had they permitted such actions. Therefore, the arms of these individuals were confiscated and despatched to the front, and the criminal gangsters were caught and punished.
Woe to the Spanish revolution if it were to permit the name of anarchism to be used in some such way in its country! We see that the anarchists of Spain are beginning to realize, though not all at once, that it is necessary to register all arms, and to arm those, and only those, who need these arms to wage an organized struggle against the counter-revolutonary rebels. Why did the anarchists of the Solidaridad Obrera reproach the Russian Bolsheviks for having acted in this way in order to help the revolution? Do they not know that the flag of anarchism can be and often is hoisted for counterrevolutionary purposes? We do not know where the Solidaridad Obrera obtained the information that the Bolsheviks destroyed a working class district where the leaders of the anarchists were gathered; we say that this is not true, for the Bolsheviks never destroyed any working class districts either in Petrograd or in any other city. The Bolsheviks disarmed those who seized arms not to fight against enemies of the revolution but for their own criminal ends and thereby injured the revolution and the united front of the working people. And this is what the anarchists too must do if they want the victory of the revolution, not the victory of fascism.
Yes, we Bolsheviks fought against the Russian anarcho-syndicalists, and we did so because the anarcho-syndicalists in Russia not only failed to help the revolution, but played into the hands of its enemies. Let us, for example, take the stand adopted by the Russian anarcho-syndicalists with regard to the Red Army. In its circular No. 3, dealing with "Work in the Red Army," the executive bureau of the Russian Anarchist Communist Federation told its members to demoralize the Red Army. Why did it want to demoralize the only army in the world that has defended the proletarian revolution from that time until now? The anarchist-communists wrote that:
The Red Army can and undoubtedly will fulfill the function of its predecessor, the tsarist army, so that we must realize beforehand that the success of the anarcho-syndicalist revolution will depend largely on the spirit and morale of the Red Army.
This was the slanderous utterance of an enemy. But did not the anarchists of other countries, including Spain, follow the Russian anarchists in writing in a hostile spirit about the Red Army? Did they not try to prove that they would be able to do without such an army during the revolution? Has not their opposition to such an army caused great harm? Fortunately for the revolution, the anarchists in Spain now realize that on this point too the Bolshevik Communists were right, and they are now helping to build up such an army in order to defend the Spanish revolution, to rout fascism, to suppress the enemies of the revolution.
Following Bakunin's anarchist theory that every form of state is an evil, that all state institutions must be combated, the Russian anarcho-syndicalists (followed by the anarchists of other countries as well) failed to realize that the Soviet state has been established in the interests of the working people, of the workers and peasants. After the revolution it is the duty of every revolutionary to take an active part in building life in its new forms, in organizing it. But such was not the attitude of the Russian anarchists. In its circular No. 6, dealing with "Work in Soviet Institutions," the Russian Anarchist-Communist Federation wrote:
It would be foolish, to say the least, to imagine that by working in these institutions we can influence them so that they will become entirely anarchist or will develop in this direction. Reformism is a foolish nonsensical illusion. We must attack the system as a whole. Thus work in a Soviet institution must be regarded not as serving our principles, but-in the same way as we regard working for capitalists-as a means of livelihood, of earning a crust of bread, and nothing more.
This is montrous, but it is a fact. The Russian anarchists in the Soviet institutions voluntarily adopted the position of the bourgeois wreckers, who also were of the opinion that they must attack the Soviet system as a whole, and also worked merely for the sake of earning a "livelihood."
Fortunately for the Spanish revolution, in this matter too the Spanish anarchists have generally not followed the Russian anarchists in their attitude toward working in the organizations of the republican government; they are neither boycotting them nor sabotaging, as proposed by the Russian anarchists on the basis of the teachings of Kropotkin, Bakunin and the other founders of anarchism. On the contrary, they have agreed to work in the organs of government with other organizations serving the revolution. We welcome this change, for it facilitates cooperation between the anarchists and the Communists.
In the spring of 1921, the anarcho-syndicalists held a conference in Moscow at which they declared that it was necessary to make preparations for an armed rising against the Soviet government. They entered into a bloc with the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, in conjunction with whom the "Illegal Anarchists" had in August 1919 thrown a bomb at a meeting of responsible Communists, killing 13 and wounding many.
Such was the activity of the anarcho-syndicalists in Russia. Small wonder that the workers refused to follow them, that the working people despised them! The anarcho-syndicalists in Russia did not produce a single beneficial idea, did not perform a single deed for the revolution. Their little puny organizations fell to pieces, while their best members joined the Communist Party.
* In war act in a wartime manner.-Ed.