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Nov 8, 2021
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Revolutionaries against October

Petrograd.  October 25, 1917.  A detachment of Red Guards outside the Smolny building before being sent to carry out a combat mission of the Military Revolutionary Committee.

Petrograd. October 25, 1917. A detachment of Red Guards outside the Smolny building before being sent to carry out a combat mission of the Military Revolutionary Committee. (Photo: Petr Otsup / TASS)

The armed uprising on October 25, 1917 put an end to the power of the Provisional Government. The Bolshevik Party came to power, led by Vladimir Lenin… However, the uprising itself was the work of a mass of non-party workers and revolutionary-minded soldiers. It was also attended by numerous non-Bolshevik revolutionary forces – anarchists and left SRs. These are all well-known facts. What is less known is that many prominent theorists of Russian anarchism (anarcho-communism) were rather cool about this uprising and, at least, expressed doubts about its expediency. Among them was Lev Fishelev (Maxim Raevsky) – one of the largest Russian theorists of anarchism, a supporter of the system of self-government – free non-party elected Councils.

The Russian workers’ Soviets were the result of the initiative of the workers. Initially, back in 1905, they were created during strikes and other mass protests. These workers’ committees, elected from the factories, were to lead the strikes. They also had to organize the supply of food to the striking workers, keep order in the striking regions, organize volunteer workers’ armed militias to protect them from enemies. Gradually, the functions of the Soviets expanded, they turned into something like local self-government bodies.

On October 25 at 21:40, upon a signal shot from the cannon of the Peter and Paul Fortress, a blank shot of the Aurora's bow gun was fired, which had a psychological effect on the defenders of the Winter Palace.
On October 25 at 21:40, upon a signal shot from the cannon of the Peter and Paul Fortress, a blank shot of the Aurora’s bow gun was fired, which had a psychological effect on the defenders of the Winter Palace. (Photo: TASS)

The Soviet movement was suppressed in 1905 by the tsarist government. However, it was revived in 1917 during the February Revolution. Along with the Soviets, another form of workers’ self-government appeared – factory committees (factory committees). If the Soviets controlled order in the cities, then the factory committees solved the questions of workers’ self-government in the factories, which they introduced gradually, without prior notice. All these self-governing bodies were supposed to control regular meetings of labor collectives (with the right to make any decisions and recall any delegate at any time if he does not comply with the decisions of the meeting). It was direct workers’ democracy – the Power of the Soviets. But in practice, it did not always work.

In 1917, Soviets and factory committees appeared in all large industrial centers of Russia. However, these systems of self-government were just forming and slowly gaining strength. Grassroots meetings, called upon to make the most important decisions and tightly control the delegates of the Soviets, were not regular. Large centralized political parties, which were governed by their Central Committees (CC), the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, controlled a significant portion of the delegates. In practice, many delegates to the Soviets did not carry out the will of the workers, but the decisions of their Central Committee, that is, the leading party bureaucratic apparatus and party management. From the point of view of some of the anarchists, this management was a hostile working-class management class and pursued its own class goals. He wanted to become the head of state, taking into his own hands (supposedly, “on behalf of the workers”) all management functions, state resources, factories and plants centuries Vaclav Mahaisky, in modern Russia, these issues are investigated by the historian Dmitry Rublev).

Lev Fishelev, like another prominent anarchist, Alexander Atabekyan did not support in 1917 the idea of ​​participation in the uprising against the Provisional Government, which was then popular among anarchists and other revolutionaries. And not because they loved VP – they did not love him very much.

State Museum of the USSR Revolution.  Painting by P. Sokolov-Skal "V. Lenin
State Museum of the USSR Revolution. Painting by P. Sokolov-Skal “V. Lenin’s Arrival in Petrograd on April 3, 1917”. (Photo: TASS)

Fishelev proceeds from an obvious idea – an anarchist and, more broadly, an anti-authoritarian socialist (a supporter of labor self-government, denying bureaucracy, a follower Mikhail Bakunin) cannot act on the side of the state. For example, if you defend one state against another in a war, you are not an anarchist or a socialist. Moreover, such protection implies refusal to resist the state that you are defending, i.e. loyalty to him and cooperation with his officials, factory owners, managers. Fishelev, like the absolute majority of anarchists, was an “internationalist”, that is, He had a negative attitude towards the First World War of 1914-1918, believing that workers on both sides of the front should resist it. The Provisional Government, which encouraged and directed the war, Fishelev, like almost all anarchists, considered an enemy.

Anarchists advocated transferring the functions of managing society to the hands of voluntary associations (federations, associations) of local Soviets and factory committees, and to their congresses. But they didn’t like the idea of ​​socialist parties in power.

Fishelev believed that the labor self-government of the working class in 1917 (Soviets, factory committees etc.) underdeveloped (for example, factory committees did not cover even half of all factories). In addition, even these structures of self-government of labor collectives were highly dependent on the parties (from the Bolsheviks, Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, governed by party management). Therefore, society itself, or rather, the movement of the majority, the movement of workers, will not be able to take power in the course of the uprising against the temporary: it is too poorly organized.

Under existing conditions, an armed uprising against the Provisional Government will only become a change of parties at the helm of power. Moreover, the strong centralized government of Vladimir Lenin may turn out to be much more dangerous for social movements than the relatively weak government of the Socialist Revolutionary Alexander Kerensky… Having taken power, the party minority, the Bolsheviks, together with the entire state apparatus, will not be interested in the workers and their associations to independently govern the country, its politics and economy. The state apparatus, by virtue of its desire to control everything, will crush any activity that is not subordinate to it. And, perhaps, Lenin, the head of the Bolsheviks, a strong and talented politician, will do it better and faster than the weak, insecure Kerensky, the head of the Provisional Government.

Therefore, the non-party workers, Soviets, factory committees and all organized forces of supporters of workers’ self-government should not overthrow the Provisional Government so far (in 1917). They need to expand their movement, strengthen their independence from parties, and accumulate skills for collectively resolving economic and political issues. It will be necessary to overthrow the temporary ones, but this should be done only when the Soviets, and not the parties, are strong enough to rule the country themselves.

If Lev Fishelev hesitated (either to support the course of an uprising against the Provisional Government, since it is supported by a part of the working class, or to heed his own warnings), then Alexander Atabekyan, one of the most famous Russian anarchists, described the October events as “a massacre caused by strife between socialists of different persuasions ”. In his opinion, the cause of the October Revolution is the struggle of the socialists-statists of different parties for power, for ministerial chairs and other warm places in the bureaucratic apparatus. He emphasizes the indifferent attitude of the majority of the population of Moscow to the events taking place. Atabekyan bluntly called the October events a coup that would serve to establish an authoritarian regime. And so it happened.

During 1918, the party management of the Bolsheviks will head all the ministries and departments (“People’s Commissariats” or “People’s Commissariats”), largely staffed by the old tsarist bureaucracy. Old and new cadres of officials will work closely together. A Red Army subordinate to Lenin’s government will be created (February 23, 1918), where illiterate peasant youth will be forcibly mobilized (in the army, young peasant soldiers will be taught to read and write, at the same time, in the process of training, instilling them loyalty to the new government). The army will be led by 20,000 former tsarist officers and government-appointed Bolshevik officials – commissars.

In conditions of poor economic performance and hunger, the masses of peasants and workers will quickly become disillusioned with the Bolshevik party (however, it never had the support of the majority of the population, even at its peak of popularity, during the elections to the Constituent Assembly in November 1917, the Bolsheviks received only 25% of the vote) … In 1918, outraged by the famine and industrial shutdowns, the skilled workers of the largest enterprises would begin to recall the Bolsheviks from the Soviets and factory committees.

In response, the Bolshevik Party will ban elections to the Soviets or disperse them where they managed to elect non-Bolshevik delegates. The factories will be nationalized, i.e. subordinated to the state apparatus, elections to factory committees will be practically eliminated, volunteer workers’ militias (Red Guard) will be disbanded, opposition parties, including all socialist and anarchist groups, will be banned. Until 1989 there will be no real elections in the country. In fact, Soviet power was ended in 1918-1919. The Soviets became a screen behind which stood the power of an unselected Bolshevik party. Opponents will call this system “commissarism” by analogy with the tsarist autocracy.

For strong statesmen, supporters of a strong government, the Bolshevik regime will become a real embodiment of the ideal of an almighty state – a reliable support and replacement for the relatively weak tsarist power. Stalin will continue the work of Lenin, further strengthening the state vertical and developing industry in the country in the course of industrialization. But the dreams of 1917-1918 about workers’ self-government and the rule of the laboring popular majority will have to be forgotten for many decades.

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