The Makhnovchina, better perhaps than any other movement, shows that the Russian Revolution could have become a great liberating force. It was inspired by Nestor Makhno, a young Ukrainian anarchist, and has been almost totally ignored by bourgeois historians no less than by Stalinist and Trotskyist apologists - and for good reason. It shows the Bolsheviks stifling workers and peasants with lies and calumnies, and then crushing them in a bloody massacre.
Geographically, the Makhno movement covered a region inhabited by seven million people and measuring some 150 miles in diameter. Its centre was the small Ukrainian town of Gulye Polye with 30,000 inhabitants.
The movement flourished from 1918 until the summer of 1921, when it was finally crushed by the Red Army.
From 1918 to 1921, armed Makhnovite groups fought the White Guards and later the Red Army without respite. They were responsible for holding the Ukrainian front against the White general Denikin, whose armies Makhno defeated in 1919, and then against General Wrangel. The best way of showing who they were and what they stood for is to quote from the manifesto published by the Cultural and Educational Section of the Insurrectional Makhnovite Army. It was widely distributed among the peasants and workers.
(i) Who are the Makhnovites and what are they fighting for?
The Makhnovites are peasants and workers who in 1918 rose up against the brutality of the German, Hungarian and Austrian interventionists and against the Hetman of the Ukraine.
The Makhnovites are workers who have carried the battle-standard against Denikin and against every form of oppression and violence, who have rejected lies from whatever source.
The Makhnovites are the workers who by their life's labour have enriched and fattened the bourgeoisie in the past, and are today enriching new masters.
(ii) Why are they called Makhnovites?
Because during the greatest and most painful days of reactionary intervention in the Ukraine, they had within their ranks the staunch friend and comrade, Makhno, whose voice was heard across the entire Ukraine, challenging every act of violence against the workers, calling for struggle against the oppressors, the thieves, the usurpers and those charlatans who were deceiving the workers. That voice still rings among us today, and unwaveringly calls for the liberation and emancipation of the workers from all oppression.
(iii) How do you think you will obtain this liberation?
By overthrowing the coalition of monarchists, republicans, social democrats, communists and Bolsheviks. In its place we call for the free election of workers' councils which will not rule by arbitrary laws because no true soviet system can be authoritarian. Ours is the purest form of socialism, anti-authoritarian and anti-government, it calls for the free organisation of the social life of the workers, independent of authority, a life in which each worker, in a free association with his brothers, can build his own happiness and well-being in accordance with the principles of solidarity, amity and equality.
(iv) What do the Makhnovites think of the Soviet regime?
The workers themselves must choose their own councils (soviets), to express the will and carry out the orders of these self-same workers. The soviets will be executive organs of and not authorities over, the workers. The land, the factories, the businesses, the mines, transport, etc. must belong to those who work in them. All that the people inherit must be socialised.
(v) What are the paths that will lead to the final goals of the Makhnovites?
A consistent and implacable revolutionary battle against all false theories, against all arbitrary power and violence, no matter from what quarter, a struggle to the death. Free speech, justice, honest battle with guns in our hands.
Only by overthrowing all governments, every representative of authority, by destroying all political, economic and authoritarian lies, wherever they are found, by destroying the state, by a social revolution, can we introduce a true system of workers' and peasants' soviets and advance towards socialism.
Trotsky was one of Makhno's bitterest adversaries among the Bolsheviks, and never forgave Makhno for refusing to serve under his supreme command in the Red Army. On 4 June 1919, Trotsky began his first campaign of calumny and military intimidation, by publishing the notorious order No. 1824. It forbade the holding of a congress in the Ukraine, and accused Makhno of delivering this front over to the enemy. 'The Makhno brigade has constantly retreated before the White Guards, owing to the incapacity, criminal tendencies, and the treachery of its leaders.'
Trotsky's order stipulated, inter alia:
(1) It is forbidden to hold this congress, which must not take place under any circumstances;
(2) Participation in the congress by any worker or peasant will be deemed to constitute an act of high treason;
(3) All delegates to the said congress must be apprehended and brought before the revolutionary tribunal of the Fourteenth Army of the Ukraine.
So much for Trotsky's respect for the workers' right of free assembly!
The accusation that Makhno had retreated before the White Guards, when in fact he defeated them, was repeated by the entire Soviet press. But for the time being, continued attacks by the White Guards prevented Trotsky from implementing his Order 1824 - he shelved it but did not forget it. In November 1920, the Soviet authorities invited several officers of Makhno's army to a military council meeting, and shot them. The ensuing battle raged for nine long months. At the end, Trotsky's troops, who were superior in number and in arms and had constant replacements, won the day. It was in the course of the last battle that the Makhnovites issued the following appeal to their brethren in the Red Army:
STOP, READ AND THINK!
Comrades of the Red Army!
You have been sent out by your commissars to fight the revolutionary Makhnovites.
On the orders of your commander you ruin peaceful villages, you will raid, arrest, and kill men and women whom you do not know but who have been presented to you as enemies of the people, bandits and counter-revolutionary. You will be told to kill us, you will not be asked. You will be made to march like slaves. You will arrest and you will murder. Why? For what cause?
Think, comrades of the Red Army; think, workers, peasants suffering under the lash of new masters who bear the high-sounding name of "worker-peasant authorities"! We are revolutionary Makhnovites. The same peasants and workers as you, our brethren in the Red Army. We have risen up against oppression and slavery, we fight for a better life and a more enlightened one. Our ideal is to build a community of workers without authorities, without parasites, and without commissars. Our immediate aim is to establish a free Soviet regime, not controlled by the Bolsheviks, without the pressure of any party.
The government of the Bolsheviks and Communists has sent you out on a punitive expedition. It hastens to make peace with Denikin and with the rich Poles and other rabble of the White Army, the better to suppress the popular movement of the revolutionary insurgents, of the oppressed, of the rebels against the yoke of all authority.
But the threats of the White and Red commanders do not frighten us. We shall reply to violence with violence. If necessary, we, a small handful of people shall put to flight the divisions of the Red Army because we are free and love our liberty. We are revolutionaries who have risen up in a just cause.
Comrades, think for whom you are fighting and against whom! Throw off your shackles, you are free men!
The Revolutionary Makhnovites.
Let us hope that one day some publisher will see fit to translate Arshinov's History of the Makhno Movement which is unobtainable today but is fundamental to any true understanding of the history of the Russian Revolution. Makhno's defeat spelled the defeat of the Revolution; Trotsky's victory, the victory of the bureaucratic counter-revolution.
Even while the struggle for Soviet democracy was still being carried on under a black banner in the Ukraine, elsewhere the Bolsheviks had succeeded in crushing every form of resistance. Inside the Party, a bitter controversy on the question of 'one-man management' was started in the spring of 1918. The deliberate policy of the Bolshevik leaders to run all factories by State-appointed managers was not only a flagrant breach of Bolshevik promises but also led to the demoralisation of the most advanced sectors of the Russian proletariat. This development was a strong contributive factor to the bureaucratic degeneration of the Bolshevik party. Lenin's 'The immediate tasks of the Soviet Government', published in Izvestia on 28 April 1918, explained the stand of the Party leadership in quite unambiguous terms: it emphasised discipline, obedience and the need for individual rather than collective management. 'Discipline is a prerequisite of economic renewal ... Greater output is essential ... The class-conscious vanguard of the Russian proletariat has already tackled the task of enforcing discipline at work, for example, the Central Committee of the Metal Workers Union and the Central Council of the Trade Unions, have begun to draft the necessary measures and decrees.'
These 'measures and decrees' whereby 'labour discipline' was to be enforced make tragic reading in the light of subsequent events. They start by bemoaning the 'absence of all industrial discipline'. They then prescribe measures 'for the purpose of improving labour discipline such as: the introduction of a card system for registering the productivity of each worker, the introduction of factory regulations in every enterprise, the establishment of rate of output bureaux for the purpose of fixing the output of each worker and the payment of bonuses for increased productivity.' (Lenin: Selected Works, Vol. VII, page 504.)
It requires no great imagination to see in the pen-pushers recording the 'productivity of each worker' and in the clerks manning 'the rate of output bureaux' the as yet amorphous elements of the new bureaucracy.
But Lenin went much further. He quite explicitly came out, as early as 1918, in favour of the individual management of industrial enterprises. 'The struggle that is developing around the recent decree on the management of the railways, the decree which grants individual leaders dictatorial powers (or "unlimited powers") is characteristic,' he wrote. Only the 'conscious representatives of petty-bourgeois laxity' could see 'in this granting of unlimited (i.e. dictatorial) powers to individual persons a departure from the collegium principle, a departure from democracy and from other principles of Soviet government'. 'Large scale machine industry' he went on, '- which is the material productive source and foundation of socialism - calls for absolute and strict unity of will ... How can strict unity of will be ensured? By thousands subordinating their will to the will of one.'
What of discussion and initiative at shop floor level? The idea was summarily dismissed. 'The revolution demands,' Lenin wrote, 'in the interests of socialism that the masses unquestioningly obey the single will of the leaders of the labour process.' No nonsense here about workers' management of production, about collective decisions, about government from below. Nor are we left in any doubt as to who the 'leaders of the labour process' were to be. There was, Lenin said, to be 'unquestioning obedience to the orders of individual representatives of the Soviet government during work time' - iron discipline while at work, with unquestioning obedience to the will of a single person, the Soviet leader.
Lenin's oft-repeated views on labour discipline did not go unchallenged. Opposition developed within the Party itself. Early in 1918, the Leningrad District Committee published the first issue of the 'left' Communist paper Kommunist. This was edited by Bukharin, Radek and Ossinsky (Obolonsky and Smirnov were later to join the editorial board). The journal issued a far-sighted warning: 'The introduction of labour discipline in connection with the restoration of capitalist management of industry cannot really increase the productivity of labour, but it will diminish the class initiative, activity and organisation of the proletariat. It threatens to enslave the working class. It will rouse discontent among the backward elements as well as among the vanguard of the proletariat. In order to introduce this system in the face of the hatred prevailing at present among the proletariat for the "capitalist saboteurs", the Communist Party would have to rely on the petty-bourgeoisie, as against the workers, and in this way it would ruin itself as the party of the proletariat.'
Lenin reacted violently. He called such views 'a disgrace', a complete renunciation of communism in practice', 'a complete desertion to the camp of the petty-bourgeoisie'. ('Left-wing Childishness and Petty-bourgeois Mentality', Selected Works Vol. VII 374.) The Left were being 'provoked by the Isuvs (Mensheviks) and other Judases of capitalism'. He lumped together leaders of the 'left' and open enemies of the revolution, thus initiating the technique of the political smear which was to be used so successfully by Stalin in later years. A campaign was whipped up in Leningrad which compelled the Kommunist to transfer publication to Moscow, where the paper reappeared in April 1918, first under the auspices of the Moscow regional organisation of the Party, later as the 'unofficial' mouthpiece of a group of comrades.
The controversy smouldered on throughout 1918. Kommunist repeatedly denounced the replacement of workers' control by 'labour discipline', the increasing tendency for industrial management to be placed in the hands of non-Communist 'specialists' and the conclusion of all sorts of unofficial deals with previous owners 'to ensure their cooperation'. It pointed out that 'the logical outcome of management based on the participation of capitalists and on the principle of bureaucratic centralisation was the institution of a labour policy which would seek to re-establish regimentation of workers on the pretext of voluntary discipline. Governmental forms would then evolve towards bureaucratic centralisation, the rule of all sorts of commissars, loss of independence for local Soviets and, in practice, the abandonment of government from below'. 'It was all very well,' Bukharin pointed out, 'to say as Lenin had (in State and Revolution) that "each cook should learn to manage the State". But what happened when each cook had a commissar appointed to order him about?'
The conflict between the Leninists and the 'left' Communists came to a head during May and June 1918, during the First Congress of Economic Councils. Lenin spoke out strongly in favour of 'labour discipline', of 'one-man management' and of the need to use bourgeois specialists. Ossinsky, Smirnov and Obolonsky, supported by numerous provincial delegates, demanded 'a workers' administration ... not only from above but from below'. They urged that two-thirds of the representatives on the management boards of industrial enterprises should be elected from among the workers. They succeeded in getting a Congress sub-committee to accept this resolution. Lenin was furious at this 'stupid decision'. Under his guidance a plenary session of the Congress 'corrected' the resolution, decreed that no more than one-third of the managerial personnel should be elected, and set up a complex hierarchical structure vesting veto rights in a Supreme Economic Council, at the apex of an administrative pyramid.
A split occurred at this time among the 'left' Communists. Radek was willing to make a deal with the Leninists. He was prepared to accept the 'one-man management' principle in exchange for the extensive nationalisation decrees of June 1918, which heralded the period of War Communism, and which in his opinion would ensure the proletarian basis of the regime. Bukharin also broke with Ossinsky and rejoined the fold. The ideas developed by the left Communists continued to find an echo, however, despite the defection of most of those who had first advocated them. Ossinsky and his supporters formed the new opposition group of 'Democratic Centralists'. Their ideas on workers' management of production (and those of the original group of 'left' Communists) were to play an important part in the development, two years later, of the Workers' Opposition.
Writing in the second issue of the Kommunist, Ossinsky was to issue a prophetic warning: 'We stand,' he wrote, 'for the construction of a proletarian society by the class creativity of the workers themselves, not by ukases from the "captains of industry" ... We proceed from trust in the class instinct, and in the active class initiative of the proletariat. It cannot be otherwise. If the workers themselves do not know how to create the necessary prerequisites for the socialist organisation of labour - no one can do this for them, nor can the workers be forced to do it. The stick, if raised against the workers, will find itself either in the hands of another social force ... or in the hands of the soviet power. But then the soviet power will be forced to seek support against the proletariat from another class (e.g. the peasantry), and by this it will destroy itself as the dictatorship of the proletariat. Socialism and socialist organisation must be set up by the proletariat itself, or they will not be set up at all; something else will be set up: state capitalism.'
These prophetic phrases, and the reception they were given by Lenin and Trotsky, should put an end to all the 'revolutionary' arguments that it was Stalin the Terrible alone who perverted socialism into a bureaucratic dictatorship.
Thus it was Trotsky, not Stalin, who, towards the end of 1919, submitted to the Central Committee the famous thesis 'transition from war to peace'. The most important of his propositions was the call for the 'militarisation of the proletariat'.
Trotsky did not believe that these propositions would go further than the Central Committee; like all good bureaucrats he liked to take the most important decisions behind closed doors. But by 'mistake', Bukharin published its text in Pravda of 17 December 1919. According to Isaac Deutscher, this indiscretion caused an extremely tense public controversy and one that continued for more than a year, as the working class seized on this unexpected opportunity of discussing its own fate. Trotsky defended his views before the Ninth Congress of the Bolshevik Party in 1920: 'The workers must not be allowed to roam all over Russia. They must be sent where they are needed, called up and directed like soldiers. Labour must be directed most intensely during the transition of capitalism to socialism.' We might add, in parenthesis, that since this transition has not yet been made, and never will be made unless there is another revolution, Soviet workers must prepare to settle down to a further spell of forced labour. 'It is essential,' Trotsky went on, 'to form punitive contingents and to put all those who shirk work into concentration camps.'
Stalin, who as Trotsky himself has repeatedly pointed out, lacked theoretical imagination, did in fact very little more than pursue the theoretical and practical path opened up by Trotsky. In particular, Trotsky introduced Stakhanovism when he offered special bonuses for extra effort 'worthy of socialist emulation'; he also spoke of the need to adopt the 'progressive essence of Taylorism' - at that time the most extreme form of capitalist exploitation. Lenin's thesis of one-man management and 'work discipline' were adopted at this Congress.
After the Ninth Congress, Trotsky wrote: 'The young workers' state requires trade unions not for a struggle for better conditions of labour ... but to organise the working class for the ends of production, to educate, to discipline the workers ... to exercise their authority hand in hand with the State, to lead the workers into the framework of a single economic plan...' (Trotsky: Dictatorship vs. Democracy, page 14.) 'The unions should discipline the workers and teach them to place the interests of production above their own needs and demands.' Of the militarisation of labour Trotsky said: 'This term at once brings us into the region of the greatest possible superstitions and outcries from the opposition.' (ibid., page 14.) He denounced his opponents as Mensheviks, and 'people full of trade unionist prejudices'.
'The militarisation of labour,' he declared at the Third Congress of Trade Unions, '... is the indispensable basic method for the organisation of our labour forces.' This use of the word 'our' when referring to the labour forces of the working class fully justifies Debord's remark: 'Its claim to a monopoly of the representation and defence of the workers, turned the Bolshevik Party into what it is today: the masters of the proletariat... ' (La Société du Spectacle.)
'Was it true,' Trotsky asked, 'that compulsory labour was always unproductive?' He denounced this view as 'wretched and miserable liberal prejudice', learnedly pointing out that 'chattel slavery, too, was productive' - and that compulsory serf labour was in its times 'a progressive phenomenon'. He told the unions that 'coercion, regimentation and militarisation of labour were no mere emergency measures and that the workers' State normally had the right to coerce any citizen to perform any work at any place of its choosing'. A little later he proclaimed that the 'militarisation of the trade unions and the militarisation of transport required an internal, ideological militarisation'.
And this was precisely what Stalin achieved, when he stepped into the shoes of that great strategist who later became his bitterest opponent. Trotsky, who had already 'disciplined' the army by abolishing the soldiers' soviets, early in 1920 took over the Commissariat of Transport, in addition to his defence post. The Politburo offered to back him to the hilt, in any course of action he might take, no matter how severe. Once in charge of Transport, Trotsky was immediately to implement his pet ideas on the 'militarisation of labour'.
The railwaymen and the personnel of the repair workshops were put under martial law. There was a major outcry. To silence his critics, and with the full endorsement of the Party leadership, Trotsky ousted the elected leaders of the union and appointed others who were willing to do his bidding. He repeated the procedure in other unions of transport workers.
Perhaps it is of these men he was thinking when he wrote: 'it is a general rule that man will try to get out of work. Man is a lazy animal.' And in his 'Terrorism and Communism', a piece of Trotskyist writing if ever there was one, he proclaimed: 'Those workers who contribute more than the rest to the general good have every right to receive a larger share of the socialist product than layabouts, idlers and the undisciplined.'
The last battle over the militarisation of work was fought inside the Party in 1920-21. Those opposed to Trotsky's ideas formed the 'Workers' Opposition', whose history has been recorded by Alexandra Kollontai. A Party conference held in Moscow in November 1920 showed that the 'Workers' Opposition' was growing rapidly in strength. 'They, the Centralist Democrats and the Ignatov group (closely associated with the 'Workers' Opposition') obtained 124 seats as against the 154 obtained by the supporters of the Central Committee.' (Daniels: The Conscience of the Revolution.)
The Party leadership took fright and introduced a whole series of counter-measures, some of which were so scandalous that the Moscow Committee passed a resolution publicly censoring the Petrograd Party 'for not observing the rules of correct discussion'. The Central Committee, too, was criticised and instructed to 'ensure that the allocation of printed matter and speakers was such that all points of view can be honestly represented'. At the Tenth Congress, Alexandra Kollontai nevertheless felt impelled to protest that the distribution of her pamphlet, The Workers' Opposition, had been deliberately sabotaged.
Lenin denounced the Workers' Opposition at the very beginning of the Congress, calling it 'a menace to the Revolution.' The atmosphere of the Congress was electric, particularly when Kollontai, Ignatov and many others attacked the bureaucracy, its class character, and the transformation of the Party into a non-proletarian one by the influx of new elements. What the 'Leftist' Communists had foreseen in 1918, what Voline and the anarchists had prophesied all along, had become reality: 'The party had become the springboard for bureaucratic careerists.' Lenin and Trotsky were to triumph over the Workers' Opposition, and when they had done so, the last voice to speak up for the Soviet working class was silenced. The Congress ordered the dissolution of all factions within the Party - having squashed freedom of expression outside the Party leaders now finished off the opposition within. Nor was it simply a struggle of ideas - it was the very fate of the working class that was at stake in this battle. While ostensibly attacking the Left-wing Communists, the Centrist Democrats and the Workers' Opposition, it was in fact the working class itself that was being clubbed down, that lost every right to manage its own destiny.
At the Congress, Trotsky accused the Workers' Opposition of putting forward dangerous slogans. 'They turn democratic principles into a fetish. They put the right of the workers to elect their own representatives above the Party, thus challenging the right of the Party to affirm its dictatorship, even when this dictatorship comes into conflict with the evanescent mood of the workers' democracy. We must bear in mind the historical mission of our Party. The Party is forced to maintain its dictatorship without stopping for these vacillations, nor even the momentary falterings of the working class. This realisation is the mortar which cements our unity. The dictatorship of the proletariat does not always have to conform to formal principles of democracy.'
And Lenin mocked at the Workers' Opposition: 'A producers' Congress! What precisely does that mean? It is difficult to find words to describe this folly. I keep asking myself, can they be joking? Can one really take these people seriously? While production is always necessary, democracy is not. Democracy of production engenders a series of radically false ideas.'
Lenin should not have laughed quite so loudly at all this 'folly', for it was precisely what he himself had written in 1917, in his State and Revolution. Every phrase of that book is a denunciation of the Bolshevik policy in 1920-21, for it was written at a time when the masses forced Lenin to be an anarchist rather than a Bolshevik. When it suited him, Lenin buried the State and Revolution. And even while Trotsky was still thundering on about the Workers' Opposition, Lenin was forced, and not by words only, to correct 'the temporary falterings of the working class'. This he did at Kronstadt, where the bullets of the Party finally settled 'the conflict between its dictatorship and the evanescent moods of the workers' democracy.'