CHAPTER 1: Bolsheviks and Anarchists Before October
Here we find occasion to go back and review the respective positions of the Bolsheviks and the Anarchists prior to the October Revolution.
The position of the Bolsheviki on the eve of that revolution was characteristic.
It is well to recall, however, that Lenin's ideology and the position of his party had changed considerably since 1900. Aware that the Russian labouring masses, once started in revolt, would go far and would not stop at a bourgeois solution -- especially in a country where the bourgeoisie hardly existed as a class -- Lenin and his party, in their desire to anticipate and dominate the masses in order to lead them, ended by formulating an extremely advanced revolutionary programme. They now envisaged a strictly Socialist revolution. And they arrived at an almost libertarian conception of the revolution, with almost Anarchist slogans -- except, of course, with regard to the fundamental point of demarcation -- the taking of power and the problem of the State.
When I read the writings of Lenin, especially those after 1914, I observed a perfect parallelism between his ideas and those of the Anarchists, except for the idea of the State and power. This identity of understanding, recognition, and prediction seemed to me already very dangerous for the true cause of the Revolution. For -- I did not fool myself -- under the pen, in the mouths, and in the acts, of the Bolsheviks, all these great ideas were without real life, without a future. These writings and these words, fascinating and overpowering, would remain without serious consequences, because the subsequent acts [of the Bolsheviki] certainly were not going to correspond to their theories.
But I was sure that, on the one hand, the masses, in view of the weakness of the Anarchist movement, would blindly follow the Bolsheviks, and that, on the other hand, the latter inevitably would deceive the masses and mislead them into an evil course. For beyond any doubt they would distort and pervert their proclaimed principles.
That is what happened in fact.
In order to quicken the spirit of the masses, and gain their sympathy and confidence, the Bolshevik Party launched, with all the strength of its agitational and propaganda apparatus, slogans which until then had particularly and insistently been voiced by the Anarchists:
Long live the Social Revolution!
Down with the war! Immediate peace!
The land to the peasants!
The factories to the workers!
The labouring masses swiftly seized upon these slogans, which expressed their real aspirations perfectly.
From the lips and under the pens of the Anarchists, those slogans were sincere and concrete, for they corresponded to their principles and called for action entirely in conformity with such principles. But with the Bolsheviks, the same slogans meant practical solutions totally different from those of the libertarians, and did not at all tally with the ideas which the words appeared to express. For the Bolsheviki, they were only slogans.
Social Revolution meant for the Anarchists a really social act: a transformation which would take place outside of all political and statist organizations, and all out-moded social systems -- both governmental and authoritarian.
But the Bolsheviks pretended to wage the Revolution specifically with the aid of an omnipotent State, of an all-powerful government, of dictatorial power.
If a revolution did not abolish the State, the government, and politics, the Anarchists did not consider it a social revolution, but simply a political revolution -- which of course might be more or less coloured by social elements.
But achievement of power and organization of "their" government and "their" State spelled the Social Revolution for the "Communists" [the label which the Bolsheviki adopted later].
In the minds of the Anarchists, social revolution meant destruction of the State and capitalism at the same time, and the birth of a new society based on another form of social organization.
For the Bolsheviks, social revolution meant, on the contrary, the resurrection of the State after the abolition of the bourgeois State -- that is to say, the creation of a powerful new State for the purpose of "constructing Socialism".
The Anarchists held it impossible to institute Socialism by means of the State.
The Bolsheviki maintained that it could be achieved only through the State.
This difference of interpretation was, as will readily be seen, fundamental.
(I recall big posters on a wall in Petrograd, at the time of the October Revolution, announcing lectures by Trotsky on The Organization of Power. "A typical and fatal error," I said to comrades, "for if it is a question of social revolution, one should be concerned with organizing the Revolution and not with organizing power.")
Respective interpretation of the call for immediate peace also was notably different.
To the Anarchists that slogan was a call for direct action by the armed masses themselves, over the heads of the governors, the politicians, and the generals. According to the anarchists, those masses should leave the front and return to the country, thus proclaiming to the world their refusal to fight stupidly for the interests of the capitalists and their disgust with the shameful butchery. Such a gesture, frank, integrated, decisive -- the Anarchists believed -- would produce an enormous effect upon the soldiers of the other nations, and might lead, in the last analysis, to the end of the war, perhaps even to its transformation into a world revolution. They thought that it was necessary, taking advantage of the immensity of Russia, to draw the enemy on, cut him off from his bases, cause his Army to disintegrate, and put him out of the fighting.
The Bolsheviks, however, were afraid of such direct action. Politicians and statists, they wanted a peace through political and diplomatic channels, the fruit of discussions with the German generals and "plenipotentiaries".
The land to the peasants! the factories to the workers! By these words the Anarchists understood that, without being the I property of anyone, the land should be put at the disposal of all those who desired to cultivate it (without exploiting anyone) and of their associations and federations, and that likewise the factories, works, mines, machines, et cetera, should be at the disposal of all the workers' productive associations and their federations . Methods and details of this activity would be regulated by those associations and federations, by free agreement.
But to the Bolsheviki this same slogan meant the nationalization of all those elements. For them the land, the works, the factories, the mines, the machines, and the means of transport should be the property of the State, which would permit the workers to use them.
Again, the difference of interpretation was fundamental.
As for the masses themselves, intuitively they understood all those slogans rather in the libertarian sense. But, as we have said earlier, the voice of Anarchism was relatively so weak that the vast masses didn't hear it. It seemed to them that only the Bolsheviks dared to proclaim and defend these glorious and just principles. This was all the more true in that the Bolshevik Party proclaimed itself every day on the street corners as being the only party struggling for the interests of the city workers and the peasants; the only party which, once in power, would know how to achieve the Social Revolution.
"Workers and peasants! The Bolshevik Party is the only one which defends you. No other party knows how to lead you to victory. Workers and peasants! The Bolshevik Party is your own party. It is the only party that is really yours. Help it to take power and you will triumph."
This leitmotif of the Bolshevik propaganda finally became an obsession. Even the left Social Revolutionary Party, which was much stronger than the small Anarchist groups, could not rival the Bolsheviks. However, it was then strong enough so that the Bolsheviki had to reckon with it and offer it, for some time, seats in the government.
Finally, it is interesting to compare the position of the Bolsheviks to that of the Anarchists, on the eve of the October Revolution, on the question of the workers' soviets.
The Bolsheviki expected to achieve the Revolution, on the one hand, through an insurrection of these Soviets, which were demanding "all power" for themselves, and, on the other hand, through military insurrection which would support the action of the Soviets (the whole proceedings of course under the immediate and effective direction of the party). The working masses had the task of vigorously supporting this action, In perfect accord with their point of view and their "tactics", the Bolsheviks launched the general slogan of the Revolution: "All power to the Soviets!."
As for the Anarchists, they were suspicious of this slogan and for good reason -- they knew well that that formula did not at all correspond with the real plans of the Bolshevik Party. They knew that in the last analysis the latter sought highly centralized power for itself. (That is, for its central committee and ultimately for its leader, Lenin, who, aided by Trotsky, as is now generally known, directed all the preparations for the taking of power).
"All power to the Soviets!" was therefore, in reality, according to the Anarchists, only an empty formula, subject to being filled later with any kind of content. And it was a false, hypocritical, deceptive formula -- for, the Anarchists declared, if "power" really should belong to the Soviets, it could not belong to the Bolshevik Party, and if it should belong to that Party, as the Bolsheviks envisaged, it could not belong to the Soviets.
That is why the Anarchists, while admitting that the Soviets should perform certain functions in the building of the new society, did not accept the formula without reservations. To them, the word power rendered it ambiguous, suspect, illogical, and demagogic. They knew that, by its very nature, political power could not really be exercised except by a very restricted group of men at the centre. Therefore this power -- the real power -- could not belong to the Soviets. It would actually be in the hands of the party. Then what did the formula "All power to the Soviets" truly mean?
Comment and doubts having to do with that theme were expressed by the Anarcho-Syndicalists in an editorial entitled Is This the End?, published in their weekly, Golos Truda. 1 Pointed questions were asked in that editorial.
"Will the eventual realization of the formula, All power to the Soviets -- rather the eventual taking of political power -- be the end? Wili this be all? Will this act accomplish the destructive work of the Revolution? Will it completely prepare the ground for the great social construction, for the creative spirit of the people in revolt? Will the victory of the 'Soviets' -- if it is achieved -- and, again, the 'organization of power' which will follow it, effectively signify the victory of labor, of the organized forces of the workers, the beginning of genuine Socialist construction?
Will this victory and this new 'power' succeed in leading the Revolution out of the impasse in which it finds itself? Will they manage to open new creative horizons for the Revolution, for the masses, for everyone? Are they going to point out the true course for the Revolution to constructive work, the effective solution for all the burning questions of the period?"
It would all depend, the Anarcho-Syndicalist organ contended, on what interpretation the conquerors put on the word power and their idea of the organization of power. It would depend, too, on the way in which the victory would be utilized by the elements holding power after that victory.
Plainly pessimistic, the editors of Golos Truda cited several circumstances vitally necessary to a just and equitable handling of the situation by the Bolsheviki. Only if certain factors existed, they averred, could the new crisis become the last one; only then could it signify the beginning of a new era. Those factors embodied five ifs:
"If by 'power' one wishes to say that all creative work and all organizational activity throughout the whole country will be in the hands of the workers' and peasants' organizations, supported by the armed masses;
If one understands by 'power' the full right of these organizations to carry on this activity and to federate to this end . . . thus beginning the new economic and social construction which will lead the Revolution to new horizons of peace, economic equality, and true liberty;
If . . . 'power to the Soviets' does not signify installation of lobbies of a political power . . . ;
If, finally, the political party aspiring to power . . . liquidates itself after the victory and yields its place effectively to a free self-government of the workers; and
If the 'power of the Soviets' does not become, in reality, statist power of a new political party."
But, the Anarcho-Syndicalists held, if "power" actually meant the activity of the authoritarian and political lobbies of the Bolshevik Party, lobbies directed by its principal authoritarian and political centre (the central power of the party and the State); if the; "taking of power by the Soviets" really meant usurpation of power by a new political party, for the purpose of reconstructing, by means of this power, from above and by that "centre", the whole economic and social life of the country, and thus resolving the complex problems of the moment and of the period -- then this new stage of the Revolution would not be the final stage either.
Golos Truda did not doubt for an instant, it stated, that "this new power" would neither begin nor understand the real Socialist construction, nor even satisfy the immediate essential needs and interests of the population. And it did not doubt that the masses would quickly become disenchanted with their new idols and be forced to turn to other solutions after having disavowed those new gods. Then, after an interval -- of uncertain length -- the struggle would of necessity begin again. This would be the commencement of the third and last stage of the Russian Revolution -- a stage which would be a Great Revolution in itself.
"This will be a struggle [the editorial continued] between the living forces of the creative spirit of the masses, on the one hand, and the Social Democratic power, with its centralist spirit, defending itself bitterly, on the other. In other words: a struggle between the workers' and peasants' organizations acting directly and on their own, taking the land and all the means of production, transport, and distribution, to establish, in complete independence, a really new human existence -- this on the one hand, and the Marxist political authority on the other; a struggle between the authoritarian and libertarian systems; a contest between two principles which have been battling for pre-eminence for a long time: the Marxist principle and the Anarchist principle."
And, the Anarcho-Syndicalist editors concluded, only a complete and definitive victory of the Anarchist principle -- the principle of the free and natural self-organization of the masses -- would spell a true victory for the Great Revolution.
They did not believe, they declared, in the possibility of achieving the Social Revolution through the political process. They did not believe that the work of new social construction, and the solution of the vast, varied, and complex problems of that time could be achieved through a political act, by the taking of power by the top or centre. "Those who live," they predicted, "shall see!
CHAPTER 2: Anarchist Position on the October Revolution
On the same day, the Union for Anarcho-Syndicalist Propaganda published a statement in Golos Truda in which it indicated clearly its position on the question of political power. It summed up the situation in two compact paragraphs:
"I. Inasmuch as we give the slogan 'All power to the Soviets', an entirely different meaning from that which, in our opinion, is given by the Social Democratic Bolshevik Party, 'called upon by events to lead the movement'; inasmuch as we do not believe in the broad perspectives of a revolution which begins with a political act, that is, by the taking of power; inasmuch as we do not support any action of the masses for political goals and under the control of a political party; and finally, inasmuch as we conceive of an entirely different way, both for the beginning and the subsequent development of a real social revolution, we do not support the present movement.
"2. Nevertheless, if the [proposed] action by the masses should commence, then, as Anarchists, we will participate in it with the greatest possible energy. For we cannot put ourselves out of touch with the revolutionary masses, even if they are not following our course and our appeals, and even if we foresee the defeat of the movement. We never forget that it is impossible to foresee either the direction or the result of a movement by the masses. Consequently, we consider it our duty always to participate in such a movement, seeking to communicate our meaning, our ideas, our truth, to it."
CHAPTER 3: Other Disagreements
Beside the great divergences of principle which separated the Anarchists and the Bolsheviks, there existed differences of detail between them. Let us mention the two most important incidental points of variance -- the question of the purported "workers' control of production" and that of the Constituent Assembly.
Contemplating the workers' problem, the Bolshevik Party prepared to begin [moving toward a solution] by instituting the so-called workers' control of production -- that is, the introduction of workers into the management of private enterprises.
The Anarchists objected that if this "control" were not to remain a dead letter, and if the workers' organizations were capable 6f exercising effective control, then they also were capable of guaranteeing all production. In such an event, private industry could be eliminated quickly, but progressively, and replaced by collective industry. Consequently, the Anarchists rejected the vague nebulous slogan of "control of production". They advocated expropriation -- progressive, but immediate -- of private industry by the organizations of collective production.
We want to emphasize, in that connection, that it is absolutely false -- I insist on this, because the false assertion, sustained by ignorant people and by those of bad faith, has been fairly widespread -- it is false, I say, that in the course of the Russian Revolution, the Anarchists knew only how to "destroy" and "criticize", "without being able to formulate the least positive ideas". And it is false that the Anarchists "did not themselves possess, and therefore never expressed sufficiently clear ideas on the application of their own conception". In looking through the libertarian press of the period [in Russia] (Golos Truda, Anarchy, Nabat, et cetera), one can see that this literature abounded in clear and practical expositions of the role and functioning of the workers' organizations, as well as the method of action which would, permit the latter, in! co-operation with the peasants, to replace the destroyed capitalist and statist mechanism.
What the Anarchists lacked in the Russian Revolution was not clear and precise ideas, but, as we have said, institutions able, from the start, to apply those ideas to life. And it was the Bolsheviks who, to achieve their own plans, opposed the creation and the functioning of such institutions.
The [Anarchist] ideas, clear and exact, were formulated, the masses were intuitively ready to understand them and to apply them with the help of the revolutionaries, intellectuals, and specialists. The necessary institutions were sketched out and could have \ been rapidly oriented toward the true goal with the aid of the same elements. But the Bolsheviki deliberately prevented the spreading of those ideas and that enlightened assistance, and the activity of the [projected] institutions. For they wanted action only for themselves and under the form of political power.
This complex of facts, specific and incontestable, is basic for ; anyone who seeks to understand the development and meaning of the Russian Revolution. The reader will find in these pages numerous examples -- chosen from among thousands -- bearing out my statements, point by point.
We come now to the other controversial issue mentioned -- the Constituent Assembly.
To continue the Revolution and transform it into a social revolution, the Anarchists saw no utility in calling such an assembly, an institution essentially political and bourgeois, cumbersome and sterile, an institution which, by its very nature, placed itself "above the social struggles" and concerned itself only, by means of dangerous compromises, with stopping the Revolution, and even suppressing it if possible.
So the Anarchists tried to make known to the masses the uselessness of the Constituent Assembly, and the necessity of going beyond it and replacing it at once with economic and social organizations, if they really wanted to begin a social revolution.
As seasoned politicians, the Bolsheviks hesitated to abandon the Constituent Assembly frankly. (Its convocation, as we have seen, occupied a prominent place on their programme before the seizure of power). This hesitation had several reasons behind it: Onthe one hand, the Bolsheviki did not see any inconvenience in having the Revolution "stopped" at the stage where it was, provided they remained masters of power. The Assembly could serve their interests if, for example, its majority were Bolsheviks or if the Deputies approved their direction and their acts. On the other hand, the masses were closely attached to [the idea of] the Assembly, and it was not prudent to contradict them in the beginning. Finally, the Bolsheviks did not feel themselves strong enough to risk furnishing a trump card to their enemies, who, recalling the formal promises of the party before the seizure of power, could cry Treason! and disturb the masses.
For, since the latter were not thoroughly curbed and subjugated, their spirit was on guard, and their temper was very changeable; the example of the Kerensky government still fresh in memory. Finally, the party decided on this solution: to proceed with the calling of the Constituent Assembly, while supervising the elections minutely and exerting maximum effort to make sure that the results were favourable to the Bolsheviki regime.
If the Assembly was pro-Bolshevik, or at least docile and without real importance, it would be manoeuvred and used for the ends of the government. If, however, the Assembly was not favourable to Bolshevism, the leaders of the party would observe closely the reactions of the masses, and dissolve the gathering on the first favourable occasion. To be sure, the game was somewhat risky. But counting on its vast and profound popularity, and also on the lack of power in the hands of the Assembly, which, moreover, was certain to compromise itself if it took a stand against Bolshevism, the risk was accepted. The events which followed demonstrated that the Bolshevik Party did not deceive itself.
Fundamentally, the promise of the Bolsheviks to call the Constituent Assembly as soon as they assumed power, was to them, only a demagogic formula. In their game, it was a card which might win everything at one toss. If the Assembly validated their power, their position would speedily and peculiarly be confirmed throughout the country and abroad. If the contrary should be the case, they felt that they had sufficient strength to be able to get rid of the Assembly without difficulty.
CHAPTER 4: Some Reflections
Naturally the popular masses could not recognize all the subtleties of these different interpretations. It was impossible for them -- even when they had made some contact with our ideas -- to understand the real significance of the differences in question. The Russian workers, of all the workers in the world, were the least familiar with political matters. They could not be aware either of the machiavellianism or the danger of the Bolshevik interpretation.
I recall the desperate efforts with which I tried to warn the city workers, in so far as it was possible, by word of mouth and by writing, of the imminent danger for the true Revolution in the event that the masses let the Bolshevik Party intrench itself solidly in power.
In vain I argued; the masses did not recognize the danger. How many times did they object in words like these: "Comrade, we understand you well. And moreover, we are not too confident. We agree that it is necessary for us to be somewhat on guard, not to believe blindly, and to maintain in ourselves a prudent distrust. But, up to the present, the Bolsheviks have never betrayed us. They march straightforwardly with us, they are our friends. And they claim that once they are in power they can easily make our aspirations triumph. That seems true to us. Then why should we reject them? Let us help them win power, and we will see afterward."
Unheeded, I pointed out that the goals of the Social Revolution could never be realized by means of political power. To doubting listeners I repeated that once organized and armed, the Bolshevik power, while admittedly as inevitably impotent as the others, would be infinitely more dangerous for the workers and Wore difficult to defeat than they had been. But invariably thos to whom I talked replied in this wise:
"Comrade, it was we, the masses, who overthrew Tsarism. It was we who overthrew the bourgeois government. And it is we who are ready to overthrow Kerensky. So, if you are right, and if the Bolsheviki have the misfortune of betraying us, and of not keeping their promises, we will overthrow them as we did the others. And then we will march finally and only with our friends the Anarchists."
Again in vain I pointed out that for various reasons, the Bolshevik State would be much more difficult to overthrow. But the workers would not, or could not, believe me.
All this, however, is not at all astonishing when in countries familiar with political methods and where (as in France) they are more or less disgusted with them, the labouring masses and even the intellectuals, while wishing for the Revolution, are still unable to understand that the installation in power of a political party, even of the extreme left, and the building of a State, whatever its label, will lead to the death of the Revolution. Could it be otherwise in a country such as Russia, which never had had the slightest political experience?
Returning on their battleships from Petrograd to Kronstadt after the victory of October, 1917, the revolutionary sailors soon began discussing the danger that might result simply from the existence of the Council of People's Commissars in power. Some maintained, notably, that this political sanhedrin was capable of some day betraying the principles of the October Revolution. But, on the whole, the sailors, primarily impressed by its easy victory, declared while brandishing their weapons: "In that case, since the cannons have known how to take the Winter Palace, they will know how to take Smolny also." (The former Smolny Institute in Petrograd was the first seat of the Bolshevik government, immediately after the victory.)
As we know, the political, statist, governmental idea had not yet been discredited in the Russia of 1917. And it still has not been discredited in any other country. Time and other historical experiences certainly are needed in order that the masses [everywhere], enlightened at the same time by propaganda, will finally be made entirely aware of the falsity, the vanity, the peril of the idea.
On the night of the famous day of October 25, I was on a street in Petrograd. It was dark and quiet. In the distance a feW scattered rifle shots could be heard. Suddenly an armoured car passed me at full speed. From inside the car, a hand threw a packet of leaflets which flew in all directions. I bent down and picked one up. It was an announcement by the new government to "workers and peasants" telling of the fall of the Kerensky government, and giving a list of the "People's Commissars" of the new regime, Lenin at the head.
A complex sentiment of sadness, rage, and disgust, but also a sort of ironic satisfaction, took hold of me. "Those imbeciles (if they are not simply demagogic imposters, I thought) must imagine that thus they have achieved the Social Revolution! Oh, well, they are going to see . . . And the masses are going to learn a good lesson!"
Who could have foreseen at that moment that only three years and four months later, in 1921, on the glorious days of February 25 to 28, the workers of Petrograd would revolt against the new "Communist" government? '
There exists an opinion which has some support among Anarchists. It is maintained that, under the prevailing conditions [in October, 1917], the Russian Anarchists, momentarily renouncing their negation of politics, parties, demagogy, and power, should have acted "like Bolsheviks", that is to say, should have formed a sort of political party and endeavoured to take power provisionally. In that event, it is asserted, they could have "carried the masses" with them, defeated the Bolsheviki, and seized power "to organize Anarchism subsequently".
I consider this reasoning fundamentally and dangerously false.
Even if the Anarchists, in such a contingency, had won the victory (which is exceedingly doubtful), that winning, bought at the price of the "momentary" abandonment of the basic principle of Anarchism, never could have led to the triumph of that principle. Carried away by the force and logic of events, the Anarchists in power -- what nonsense! -- could only have achieved a variety of Bolshevism.
(I believe that the recent events in Spain and the position of certain Spanish Anarchists who accepted posts in the government I thus throwing themselves into the void of "politics" and reducing to nothing the real Anarchist action, confirms, to a large extent, my point of view.)
If such a method could have achieved the result sought, if it were possible to fight power with power, Anarchism would have no reason to exist. "In principle" everybody is an "Anarchist" If the Communists, the Socialists, et al., are not so in reality, it is precisely because they believe it possible to arrive at a libertarian order by way of politics and power. (I speak of sincere people). Therefore, if one wants to suppress power by means of power and the "carried away masses" one is a Communist, a Socialist, or anything you like, but one is not an Anarchist. One is an Anarchist, specifically, because one holds it impossible to suppress power, authority, and the State with the aid of power, authority, and the State (and the "carried away masses"). Whenever one has recourse to such means -- even if only "momentarily" and with very good intentions -- one ceases to be an Anarchist, one renounces Anarchism, one rallies to the Bolshevik principle.
The idea of seeking to carry the masses along with power is contrary to Anarchism, which does not believe that man can ever achieve his true emancipation by that method.
I recall, in this connection, a conversation with our widely known comrade, Maria Spiridonova, animator of the left Social Revolutionary Party, in 1919 or 1920 in Moscow. (At the risk of her own life, she assassinated, in the old days, one of the most ferocious satraps of the Tsar. She endured tortures, barely missed death [by hanging], and remained imprisoned a long time. Freed by the Revolution of February, 1917, she joined the left Social Revolutionaries and became one of their pillars. She was one of the most sincere revolutionists, devoted, respected, esteemed.)
During our discussion. Maria Spiridonova told me that the left Social Revolutionaries believed in power in a very restricted form; a power reduced to a minimum, accordingly very weak, very humane, and especially very provisional. "Just the bare minimum, permitting it, as quickly as possible, to weaken, to crumble, and to disappear!"
"Don't fool yourself," I advised her. "Power is never a ball of sand, which, when it is rolled, disintegrates. It is, on the contrary a snowball, which, when rolled, increases in size. Once in power, you would do like the others."
And so would the Anarchists, I might add.
In the same connection, I remember another striking incident.
In 1919 I was active in the Ukraine. By that time the Russian masses already were keenly disillusioned about Bolshevism. The Anarchist propaganda in Ukrainia (where the Bolsheviks had not yet totally suppressed it) had begun to achieve a lively success.
One night some Red soldiers, delegated by their regiments, came to the seat of our Kharkov group and told us this: "Several units of the garrison here are fed up with the Bolsheviks. They sympathize with the Anarchists, and are ready to act. One of these nights they could easily arrest the members of the Bolshevik government of the Ukraine and proclaim an Anarchist government, which certainly would be better. Nobody would oppose it. Everybody has had enough of the Bolshevik power. Therefore we ask the Anarchist Party to come to an agreement with us, to authorize us to act in its name in preparing this action, to proceed to arrest the present government, and to take power in its place, with our help. We put ourselves completely at the disposition of the Anarchist Party."
Of course the misunderstanding was evident. The term "Anarchist Party" alone bore witness to it. These good soldiers had no idea of what Anarchism really meant. They may have heard it spoken of vaguely or attended some meeting.
But the fact was there. Two alternative solutions were available to us: either to take advantage of this misunderstanding, have the Bolshevik government arrested, and "take power" in the Ukraine; or explain to the soldiers their mistake, give them an understanding of the fundamental nature of Anarchism, and renounce the adventure.
Naturally we chose the second solution. And for two hours I set forth our viewpoint to the regimental delegates.
"If," I said to them, "the vast masses of Russia arise in a new revolution, frankly abandoning the Government and conscious that they need not replace it with another to organize their life on a new basis, that would be the proper, the true Revolution, and all the Anarchists would march with the masses. But if we -- a group of men -- arrest the Bolshevik government to put ourselves in their place, nothing basic is changed. And subsequently, carried along by the very same system, we could not do any better! than the Bolsheviki."
Finally the soldiers understood my explanations, and left swearing to work henceforth for the true Revolution and the Anarchist idea.
What is inconceivable is that there exist in our day "Anarchists" -- and not a few of them -- who still reproach me because we did not "take power" at that time. According to them, we should have gone ahead and arrested the Bolshevik government and installed ourselves in their place. They maintain that we lost a good opportunity to realize our ideas -- with the help of power. But that would have been contrary to our principles.
How many times have I said to an audience, in the midst of the Revolution: "Never forget that no one can do anything for you, in your place, above you. The 'best' government can only become bankrupt. And if someday you learn that I, Voline, tempted by politics and authoritarianism, have accepted a governmental post, have become a 'commissar', a 'minister', or something similar, two weeks later, comrades, you may shoot me with an easy conscience, knowing that I have betrayed the truth, the true cause, and the true Revolution."
- 1Petrograd, October 20, 1917.