THE OCTOBER INSURRECTION by Paul Avrich (from ‘The Russian Anarchists’)

The bosses are often swine, but there’ll always be bosses, won’t there? What’s the good of racking your brains to try and make sense out of it? — GRANDPA BONNEMORT, ZOLA’S Germinal

Russian anarchist sailors, 1917

The anarchists set themselves apart from all other radical groups in Russia by their implacable opposition to the state in any form. Faithfully they cleaved to Bakunin’s dictum that every government, no matter who controls it, is an instrument of oppression. Nor did they exclude the “dictatorship of the proletariat” from this indictment, despite the fact that it was a basic tenet of their Bolshevik allies. Though the anarchists shared Lenin’s determination to destroy the Provisional Government, Bakunin’s warnings about the power-hungry Marxists lingered in their thoughts.

Their latent suspicions of the “socialist-careerists”1 rose to the surface in early September, after the Bolshevik party won majorities in both the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets. Svobodnaia Kommuna, organ of the Petrograd Federation of Anarchists, recollected the oft-repeated allegation of Bakunin and Kropotkin that the so-called dictatorship of the proletariat really meant “the dictatorship of the Social Democratic party.”2 Every revolution of the past, the journal reminded its readers, simply yielded a new set of tyrants, a new privileged class, to lord it over the masses; let us hope, it declared, that the people will be wise enough not to let Kerenskii and Lenin become their new masters—”the Danton and Robespierre” of the Russian Revolution.3   [The Russian Anarchists]

The fears of the Petrograd Federation were shared by the Union of Anarcho-Syndicalist Propaganda. “At the top,” wrote Volin, the new editor-in-chief of Golos Truda (Raevskii unexpectedly stepped down in August after the first issue, and thenceforth assumed a passive role in the movement), there would always sit the “obtuse politicians, empty chatterboxes, shameless renegades, and wretched cowards, who have no faith in the free range and creativity of the masses.”4 With the Bolshevik victories in the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets fresh in their minds, the Anarcho-Syndicalist leaders began to fear that the soviets might be reduced to vehicles of political power. The soviets, as the syndicalists viewed them, were nonpolitical bodies, chosen directly in the localities, without the use of party lists. Their function was to handle such matters as housing, food distribution, job placement, and education, thus resembling, in some respects, the French bourses du travail. In the very first issue of Golos Truda, Raevskii underscored the fact that the soviets had sprung spontaneously from the midst of the working people, not “from the brain of this or that party leader”; the Russian people, he wrote, would not permit them to fall under the dominion of professional revolutionaries, as Lenin apparently desired, judging from his “semi-Blanquist” statements in What Is To Be Done? The Bolshevik slogan “All power to the soviets,” said Raevskii, was acceptable to the syndicalists only if it signified the “decentralization and diffusion of power,” not the transfer of authority from one group to another.5

But how was political coercion, with its sundry guises and shapes, to be avoided? Only by achieving “complete decentralization and the very broadest self-direction of local organizations,” answered Alexander Schapiro for the Golos Truda group.6 This would entail the total destruction of the state, root and branch, and the prevention of any new government from rising in its place. In other words, the Russian Revolution had to become a true social revolution. The first step, an anarchist speaker told a workers’ conference in September, was to launch an immediate general strike. There were no “laws of history,” he declared, to hold the people back, no predetermined revolutionary stages, as the Social Democrats maintained. Marx’s disciples—both Mensheviks and Bolsheviks—were deceiving the working class with “promises of God’s reign on earth hundreds of years from now.” There was no reason to wait, he cried. The workers must take direct action —not after more centuries of painful historical development, but right now! “Hail the uprising of the slaves and the equality of income!”7

To the anarchists, no less abhorrent than the prospect of a “proletarian dictatorship” was that of a Russian parliament. In their eyes, the vote was merely a device to prevent the individual from governing himself. “I am an individual,” declared a Rostov anarchist in October 1917, echoing a pronouncement of Max Stirner’s, “and there is no authority higher than my ‘I’ “8 (Similarly, Proudhon had taught that universal suffrage was “counterrevolution.”)9 When the State Duma was elected in 1906, the anarchists had made it a target of vituperation and abuse.10 Now in 1917, with a Constituent Assembly in the offing, their attitude was as contemptuous as before. Popular sentiment was strongly in favor of the Assembly, so much so that even the Bolsheviks—hardly admirers of parliamentary democracy—thought it prudent to pay lip service to it.11 But the anarchists, never in the habit of mincing words, denounced the forthcoming parliament as a shameless fraud.

A widely read anarchist critique of representative government came from the pen of Apollon Karelin, a noted Anarchist-Communist of scholarly temper. According to Karelin, democracy, in practice, was tantamount to “plutocracy.” For even if the workers were given the franchise, he argued, the political parties would continue to nominate the candidates for parliament; and since the party leaders would select only businessmen, professionals, and semi-educated workers seeking greener pastures outside the factory, ordinary manual laborers would never have representatives of their own in the parliamentary system. In any case, he added, representative government was essentially authoritarian, for it deprived the individual of the right to exercise his free will.12

Parliamentary democracy was rejected on similar grounds by two anarchist workmen in speeches to a conference of Petrograd factory committees. The first speaker took the Bolsheviks to task for supporting the Constituent Assembly, which was certain to be dominated by “priests and landlords.”13 Only pure workers’ organizations, he declared, only factory committees and soviets could protect the interests of the industrial proletariat. His comrade emphatically seconded these remarks. Observing that the lists of candidates for the Constituent Assembly contained few workingmen, he protested that the Assembly was bound to be monopolized by “capitalists and intellectuals.” “The intellectuals,” he warned, “in no case can represent the interests of the workers. They know how to twist us around their fingers, and they will betray us.” The working class, he thundered, can triumph only through “direct combat.” “The liberation of the workers is the task of the workers themselves!”14

During September and October, as the elections to the Constituent Assembly drew near, anarchist spokesmen poured forth a veritable torrent of invective on the subject of representative government. The Russian people, wrote Schapiro in Golos Truda, must awaken to the fact that no parliament can break the path toward liberty, that the good society can be realized only through “the abolition of all power, which only impedes and smothers revolutionary creativity.”15 A few days before the October Revolution, Bill Shatov developed this theme, displaying his considerable oratorical gifts before the All-Russian Conference of Factory Committees. Political power in any shape, he began, was “not worth a rotten egg.” The Russian Revolution, at bottom, was not a struggle for mastery among rival political parties, but an economic conflict to determine who would be the “boss” in industry and agriculture. So long as the capitalists owned the factories, Shatov went on, the workers would remain their slaves, even if a parliamentary republic were instituted. “I repeat, he declared, “political power can give us nothing.” Preparations for the Constituent Assembly were a waste of precious energy; besides, dividing the workers into political factions would only destroy their class solidarity. Instead, the workers must get ready to take over the factories, and the peasants the land. “We must create economic organizations. We must be prepared, so that on the day after the revolution we can set industry in motion and operate it.”16

Given this powerful animus against parliamentary government, it seems symbolic that an anarchist should have led the detachment that dispersed the Constituent Assembly in January 1918, ending its life of a single day. On orders from the new Bolshevik government, it was the Kronstadt sailor Zhelezniakov, now commandant of the Tauride palace guard, who unseated Viktor Chernov with the minatory announcement, “The guard is tired.”17

At the end of September, Golos Truda published a letter from an irate woman, a citizen of Petrograd. She declared that she was fed up with mere talk of overthrowing the Provisional Government and demanded direct action, without further ado. When will the “endless stream of paper and words” cease to flow? she asked. “Down with words! Down with resolutions! Long live the deed! Long live the creative work of the toiling people!”18

The writer was perhaps unaware that, for several weeks, anarchists, Bolsheviks, left SRs, and other left-wing elements had been arming themselves for an assault on Kerenskii’s regime. The buildup began at the end of August, when General Kornilov, attempting a coup d’état, advanced against the capital, forcing Kerenskii to appeal to the left for assistance. The factory committees and labor unions of Petrograd swiftly organized detachments of Red Guards, 19 consisting largely of Bolsheviks but augmented by substantial numbers of anarchists, left SRs, Mensheviks, and other radicals,20 all thrown together by the immediate threat of counterrevolution. As Kornilov’s forces approached the city, railway workers delayed trains, telegraph operators refused to transmit the General’s dispatches, and leftist agitators effectively circulated among the insurgents, undermining their morale. Iustin Zhuk, who had supervised the confiscation of the Schliisselburg Gunpowder Works, sent a bargeload of grenades to the capital, which the Central Council of Petrograd Factory Committees distributed among the laborers of the Vyborg district.21 Before any blood was shed, however, the Kornilov affair petered out. But Kerenskii’s doom had been sealed, for the workers were now armed and consolidated behind the leadership of the extreme left. Ironically, Kornilov’s march on Petrograd had paved the way for the overturn of the government by his bitterest enemies.

No sooner had the danger from the right been eliminated than the Provisional Government faced the more serious menace on the left. In the middle of September, Kerenskii, trying desperately to rally the populace behind his faltering regime, summoned representatives from the soviets, cooperatives, trade unions, and local governments to attend a “Democratic Conference” in the capital. The anarchists ridiculed the assembly as a “counterrevolutionary fiasco,” the final convulsion of a dying era.22 The Bolsheviks took part, but as an unruly opposition group; and when the Conference organized, a “pre-parliament,” at the opening session (7 October), Trotsky and his confederates voted with their feet.

From that moment, events moved swiftly. The Bolsheviks and their allies redoubled their efforts to recruit militiamen and to provide them with arms and ammunition. “In the factories,” wrote John Reed, “the committee-rooms were filled with stacks of rifles, couriers came and went, the Red Guard drilled.”23 In the second week of October, the Petrograd Soviet established a Military-Revolutionary Committee, which, under Trotsky’s able leadership, was soon to engineer the overthrow of the Provisional Government. Although the Bolsheviks, with 48 members, predominated, 14 left SRs, and 4 anarchists — Shatov among them24 — were energetic participants. One of the anarchist members, a worker from the Obukhov Steel Plant, reiterated the familiar demand for “deeds and not words,” deeds that would sweep away the capitalists “like scum from the face of the earth.”25 Action was not long in coming. On 25 October, Red Guardsmen, garrison troops, and Kronstadt sailors occupied the key points in the capital, meeting no resistance except at the Winter Palace, headquarters of Kerenskii and his ministers. In sharp contrast to the spontaneous mass revolt of February, a coup d’état was carried out by a relatively small number of determined men — “hardly more than 25 or 30 thousand at the most,” according to Trotsky.26 To a great extent, this fact was to determine the character of the aftermath.

The October Revolution inspired a great resurgence of rev-olutionary idealism and faith in the impending millennium. On the day of the insurrection, the Military-Revolutionary Com-mittee issued a triumphant proclamation “To the Citizens of Russia”: “The cause for which the people have been fighting-the immediate proposal of a democratic peace, the aboli-tion of landlords’ property rights over the land, workers’ con-trol over production, the creation of a Soviet Government-that cause has been won.

Although the anarchists shared in the jubilation, they were, at the same time, troubled by the announcement of a “Soviet Government.” They had assisted the Bolsheviks in the overthrow of Kerenskii’s “bourgeois” regime, blindly hoping that the “creative masses” would prevent any new government from taking its place. Disregarding the preachments of Bakunin and Kropotkin against political coups, they had taken part in a seizure of power in the belief that power, once captured, could somehow be diffused and eliminated. But now, with the proclamation of a “Soviet Government,” their old fears of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” suddenly returned. The first jolt came on the day after the uprising, when the Bolsheviks created a central Soviet of People’s Commissars (Sovnarkom), composed exclusively of members of their own party. The anarchists immediately objected, arguing that such a concentration of political power would destroy the social revo-lution; the success of the revolution, they insisted, hinged on the decentralization of political and economic authority. “We appeal to the slaves,” declared Golos Truda on the morrow of the insurrection, “to reject any form of domination. We call upon them to create their own nonparty labor organizations, freely associated among themselves in the towns, villages, dis-tricts, and provinces, helping one another.. .”” The soviets, warned the syndicalist journal, must remain decentralized units, free from party bosses and from so-called people’s commissars. If any political group should attempt to convert them into instruments of coercion, the people must be ready to take up arms once more.” Anarchist circles in Petrograd were soon buzzing with talk of “a third and last stage of the revolution,” a final struggle between “Social Democratic power and the creative spirit of the masses . between the authoritarian and libertarian sys-tems . . . between the Marxist principle and the anarchist prin-ciple.”” There were ominous murmurings among the Kron-stadt sailors to the effect that, if the new Sovnarkom dared betray the revolution, the cannons that took the Winter Palace would take Smolny (headquarters of the Bolshevik government) as well.31 “Where authority begins,” exclaimed Golos Truda, “there the revolution ends!”32

The anarchists received the next shock scarcely a week later. On 2 November, the Soviet government published a “Declaration of the Rights of the Peoples of Russia,” which affirmed the “inalienable right” of every nationality to express its self-determination by creating an independent state.” For the anarchists, this was a step backwards, a counterrevolutionary retreat from the internationalist and stateless ideal. The editors of Golos Truda hastened to predict that the Declaration would soon become “a superfluous paper memorial in the `History of the Great Russian Revolution!’ “34 N. I. Pavlov, an Anarcho-Syndicalist leader in the Moscow Bakers’ Union, reproached the Bolsheviks for contaminating the purity of the revolution with their statist policies, and offered the following manifesto as a remedy for the “party blindness” of Russia’s new rulers:

Hail the imminent social revolution!

Down with the squabbling of political parties!

Down with the Constituent Assembly, where parties will again bicker over “views,” “programs,” “slogans”—and over power!

Hail the soviets in the localities, reorganized along new, truly revolutionary, labor, and non-party lines!35

Alarmed by the Bolshevik appetite for power, the anarchists worried lest the new regime should interfere with the autonomy of the factory and shop committees or attempt to curb workers’ control over production. The Anarchist-Communists, in particular, had reason to be apprehensive, for Lenin, on the eve of the October uprising, had disputed their contention that the workers should not stop at mere control, but should seize the factories outright: “The key to the matter [Lenin had written in “Will the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?”] will not lie in the confiscation of capitalist property, but in statewide, all-embracing workers’ control over the capitalists and their supporters. By confiscation alone, you will accomplish nothing, for in that there is no element of organization, of accounting, of distribution.”36 In this passage, Lenin was simply repeating what he had stated shortly after his return to Russia: that workers’ control implied control by the soviets and not “the ridiculous passing of the railroads into the hands of the railwaymen or the leather factories into the hands of the leather workers,” which would result in anarchy rather than socialism.37

If the labor program drawn up by the Bolsheviks immediately after the October coup proved too meek for the Anarchist-Communists, the Anarcho-Syndicalists had little cause for displeasure. Indeed, they may well have experienced a mild sense of relief, for the first draft decree on workers’ control, set down by Lenin himself, had a strong syndicalist flavor. Published on 3 November, the draft provided for the introduction of workers’ control in all enterprises employing five or more workmen or handling a volume of business in excess of 10,000 rubles a year. The factory committee, as the executor of control, was to be given access to all company records and to all stores of materials, tools, and products. Moreover, the decisions of the committee were to be binding on the administration.38 In its final form, the decree on workers’ control made the factory committee the control organ of each industrial enterprise, though the committee was to be responsible to a local council of workers’ control, which was subordinated in turn to an All-Russian Council of Workers’ Control.39 In practice, however, real power rested with the individual factory committee, which paid scant attention to the new hierarchy of control organs. The workers’ committee, as the Petrograd Council of Factory Committees informed the director of the Urania Electric Factory, was “the supreme boss in the plant.”40

The effect of the decree was to give powerful impetus to a brand of syndicalism in which the workers on the spot rather than the overall trade union apparatus controlled the instruments of production — a brand of syndicalism bordering on total chaos. Before October, workers’ control, though widespread, had generally taken a passive, observational form; instances of actual confiscation or of direct intervention in management were scattered, especially in comparison with the numerous cases of land seizure by the peasants of the black-earth provinces. Once given official sanction, however, workers’ control spread apace, assuming a more active shape then previously.

Many workers were convinced that the new decree had delivered the means of production into their hands, and for several months following the revolution, the Russian working class enjoyed a degree of freedom and a sense of power unique in its history. But as more and more workers reached out to claim their birthrights, the country hurtled toward the brink of economic collapse. In issuing the radical decree, Lenin was by no means unaware that it might worsen the already chaotic situation, but he gave tactical priority to cementing the loyalty of the bench workers by promising them the speedy realization of their utopia.

By the end of 1917, effective management was rapidly vanishing from Russian industry.41 A British trade union delegation visiting Russia in 1924 reported, with characteristic English understatement, that workers’ control in 1917 had had “a very bad effect on production.” The workingmen, the report said, had been transformed overnight into “a new body of shareholders.”42 A similar observation was made by a Bolshevik commentator early in 1918: the workers, he wrote, considered tools and equipment “their own property!”43 Cases of pillage and theft were not uncommon. W. H. Chamberlin recounts an anecdote about a worker who was asked, “What would you do if you were the director of the factory?” “I should steal a hundred rubles and run away,” he replied.44 Individual factory committees sent “pushers” (tolkachi) into the provinces to purchase fuel and raw materials, sometimes for outrageous prices. Often they refused to share available supplies with other factories in direst need. Local committees raised wages and prices indiscriminately, and on occasion cooperated with the owners in return for special “bonuses.”45

If the British trade union delegation simply stated that workers’ control had had “a very bad effect” on production, a more vivid assessment was provided by another English observer, a reporter for the Manchester Guardian, traveling in Russia during 1917 and 1918:

It is no exaggeration to say that during November, December, and the greater part of January something approaching anarchy reigned in the industries of Northern Russia. . There was no common industrial plan. Factory Committees had no higher authority to which to look for direction. They acted entirely on their own and tried to solve those problems of production and distribution which seemed most pressing for the immediate future and for the locality. Machinery was sometimes sold in order to buy raw materials. The factories became like anarchistic communes . . . anarcho-syn-dicalist tendencies began to run riot.46

In a most revealing admission, the famous Russian-American anarchists Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, visiting Petrograd industrial establishments in 1920 (they had been deported from the United States in December 1919), noted that the Laferm Tobacco Factory was in reasonably good working order only “because the former owner and manager himself was still in charge.”47

The anarchic situation in the factories seemed a nightmare not only to the manufacturers, but to many intellectuals and workers as well. Trade unionists, whether members of the Bolshevik or the Menshevik faction, advocated state control over industry. Union spokesmen condemned the factory committees for their selfish absorption in the needs of their own enterprises, their “fanatical patriotism” in their “own hut”;48 they warned that the “local pride” of the individual committees might damage the national economy beyond repair and result in “the same sort of atomization as under the capitalist system.”’149 “Workers’ control,” wrote a Bolshevik labor leader in the metal workers’ journal, “is an anarchistic attempt to achieve socialism in one enterprise, but actually leads to clashes among the workers themselves, and to the refusal of fuel, metal, etc. to one another.”50 In a similar manner, the Menshevik-dominated Printers’ Union disdained the “anarcho-syndicalist illusions” of the less skilled and less sophisticated workmen in other industries, who could not see beyond the gates of their own factories.51 The Anarcho-Syndicalists of Golos Truda were frequently charged with inspiring this parochial outlook and “cottage-industry mentality” (kustarnichestvo) by their stubborn rejection of central authority, both economic and political.52

While the trade unionists attacked workers’ control from the right as a syndicalist illusion, the Anarchist-Communists on the left damned it as a compromise with the capitalist system, and continued to clamor for the outright expropriation of the factories, mines, ports, and railroads by the workers on the spot. So long as the capitalist framework remained, wrote Apollon Karelin in Burevestnik (the newspaper of the Petrograd Federation of Anarchists), the worker was a worker and the boss was the boss; a token role in managing production or a reduction in working hours could not alter the fundamental master-slave relationship.53 More extreme measures were required, declared Burevestnik. It was necessary to demolish the bourgeois world completely, and inaugurate entirely new forms of labor, “rooted in freedom rather than slavery.”54 The working masses were exhorted to unfurl the black banner of anarchism and mount the barricades against the new government of “cannibals and man-eaters.” “Expose the lie of the Constituent Assembly, the nonsense of ‘control over production,’ and the harm and danger of state centralization,” Burevestnik exclaimed, “and summon all the oppressed to the Social Revolution.”55 Rumblings of discontent were audible again in Ekaterinoslav, a center of anarchist violence during the early years of the century. In December, the Anarchist-Communists circulated an incendiary manifesto among the factory workers of the city:

You have not arisen for the purpose of safeguarding someone else’s welfare, for the purpose of controlling pro-duction belonging not to you but to your enemy—the capitalist. Or are you his watchdog?

All production to the workers!

Down with socialist control!

Down with the Constituent Assembly!

Down with all authority!

Down with private property!

Hail the Anarchist Commune and with it Peace, Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity!56

The Bolsheviks, of course, had no intention of placing their seal of approval on the random seizure of factories. Nor did they intend to tolerate workers’ control—even in the limited sense of bookkeeping and inspection—for an indefinite period. Lenin had legalized workers’ control in order to consolidate the support of the working class behind his insecure regime, but he could hardly allow the workers to wreck the Russian economy and his new government in the process. Determined to forestall a new kind of “anarchy of production,” he initiated a series of measures designed to bring the workers’ committees under state control and to place the regulation of industry in the hands of a central authority.

As his first move, on 1 December, Lenin created the Supreme Economic Council (Vesenkha), assigning it the mission of working out “a plan for the regulation of the economic life of the country.”57 The new body absorbed the All-Russian Council of Workers’ Control and laid plans for the overall regulation of the national economy. Although the syndicalist tide could not be stemmed overnight—indeed, local control by workers’ committees was to flourish until the summer of 1918 —an important step had been taken towards the “statization” (ogosudarstvlenie) of economic authority.

Before the regulation of the economy could be transferred to the government, it was necessary to curb the unbridled freedom of the industrial workers. Thus the official cry was raised for “iron discipline” in the factories and mines,58 and the trade unions, which Lenin until now had given a back place to the factory committees, were chosen to bring order to the chaotic proletarian world. It was to be the mission of the unions, as an Odessa Anarcho-Syndicalist (Piotrovskii) had earlier prophesied, to “devour” the factory committees and to convert workers’ control into state control.59

Decisive measures to “statize” the Russian labor movement were taken at the First All-Russian Congress of Trade Unions, which met in Petrograd from 7 to 14 January 1918, immediately following the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly. Of the 416 voting delegates representing some 2,500,000 trade union members, the Bolsheviks commanded a large majority — 273, not counting the 21 left SRs who voted with them. The Mensheviks had 66 delegates, while the Anarcho-Syndicalists —who had generally shunned the unions in favor of the factory committees—had only 6.60 The remaining delegates consisted of 10 right SR’s, 6 Maximalists, and 34 nonparty workmen.61

The debates at the Congress centered on the nature of the Russian Revolution. In a lengthy address, Iulii Martov set forth the Menshevik view that Russia was undergoing a “bourgeois-democratic” revolution, in which “the fundamental preconditions for the achievement of socialism” were absent.62 His colleague Cherevanin elaborated upon this theme at a later session of the Congress. Russia was a comparatively backward country, he declared, and “the more backward countries, from the Marxist point of view, are the least able to pass on to socialism.” On this question and many others, Cherevanin said, his party and the Anarcho-Syndicalists held “diametrically opposite points of view.”63 The well-known Marxist scholar D. B. Riazanov, though a recent convert to Bolshevism, found himself in general agreement with the Menshevik speakers on this point. His statement that “we do not as yet have the preconditions for socialism” was greeted by applause from the right and center of the hall. Socialism, after all, could not be achieved “overnight,” said Riazanov, echoing a phrase in Lenin’s The State and Revolution.64

Mensheviks joined Bolsheviks in upbraiding the anarchists for their premature efforts to inaugurate a stateless society. By pressing for “industrial federalism” at this time, declared the Bolshevik trade-unionist Lozovskii, the Anarcho-Syndicalists were engaging in an “idyllic” quest for the “bluebird of happiness”; a realistic appraisal of the current situation in the factories clearly indicated that Russia required “the centralization of workers’ control” in conformity with a general plan.65 A Menshevik delegate deplored the fact that an “anarchist wave” in the shape of factory committees and workers’ control was “sweeping over our Russian labor movement.”66 Joining in these strictures, Riazanov advised the factory committees to “commit suicide” by becoming “an integral element” of the trade union structure.67

The half-dozen Anarcho-Syndicalist delegates fought a desperate battle to preserve the autonomy of the committees. It was “absurd,” exclaimed Grigorii Maksimov, to maintain that Russia was in the bourgeois stage of revolutionary development. Thanks to the factory committees, capitalism as well as autocracy had already been “seized by the throat.” The present revolution was “clearing the way towards the realization of the ultimate goal, when the proletariat will be completely free, when there will be neither groans nor inequality.” Maksimov claimed that he and his fellow Anarcho-Syndicalists were “better Marxists” than either the Mensheviks or the Bolsheviks —a declaration which caused a great stir in the hall.68 He was alluding, no doubt, to Marx’s appeal for the liberation of the working class by the workers themselves, for a permanent revolution that would replace the state with a libertarian society modeled on the Paris Commune.

Excitement in the Congress reached a climax when Bill Shatov characterized the trade unions as “living corpses,” and urged the working class “to organize in the localities and create a free new Russia, without a God, without a tsar, and without a boss in the trade union.”69 When Riazanov protested Shatov’s vilification of the unions, Maksimov rose to his comrade’s defense, dismissing Riazanov’s objections as those of a white-handed intellectual who had never worked, never sweated, never felt life.70 Another Anarcho-Syndicalist delegate, Laptev by name, reminded the gathering that the revolu-tion had been made “not only by the intellectuals, but by the masses”; therefore, it was imperative for Russia “to listen to the voice of the working masses, the voice from below. . . “71

But the Bolshevik leaders felt that it was no longer expedient to listen to the destructive voice from below. The time was ripe, they believed, to align themselves with the proponents of state control over industry, a central economic plan, and a statewide apparatus of trade unions. During the spring and summer, when Lenin’s goal was to topple the Provisional Government, he had joined forces with the anarchists—particularly the Anarcho-Syndicalists—in support of the factory committees and workers’ control. Now that the Bolshevik revolution had been secured, he abandoned the forces of destruction for those’ of centralization and order, siding with the trade unionist advocates of state control. Consequently, the First Congress of Trade Unions, with its overwhelming Bolshevik majority, voted to transform the factory committees into primary union organs.72 The Bolshevik leadership, however, parted company with those trade unionists who demanded that the unions remain “neutral” organizations, that is, unions existing independently of the government. Trade union neutrality was labeled a “bourgeois” idea, an anomaly in a workers’ state.73

With the “statization” of the unions and the conversion of the factory committees into local union cells (if only on paper, at first), the committees became “state institutions,” as Lenin desired.74 Furthermore, the Congress emphasized that workers’ control did not mean the local “transfer of the enterprises into the hands of the workers,” but was “inseparably tied to a general system of regulation,” operating under an overall economic plan. The “centralization of workers’ control” was made the task of the trade unions.75 In effect, the workers’ committees had been ordered to commit suicide—as Riazanov had suggested—by leaping into the jaws of the union apparatus. Thus was Piotrovskii’s fearful prophecy that the trade unions would “devour” the factory committees borne out.

Though disheartened by these reverses, the anarchists did not consider themselves defeated, nor did they abandon their search for the Golden Age. Their bitter charge that the Bolsheviks were a caste of self-seeking intellectuals who had betrayed the masses rang forth louder than ever. The anarchists insisted that it was the masses (as Laptev had told the Trade Union Congress) who had made the revolution in the first place, that Lenin and his party had merely ridden to power on the spontaneous tide from below.

Here was the outcry of frustrated idealists, who feared that the good society was being snatched from their grasp. And, indeed, it was a protest with a kernel of truth. The Bolshevik feat lay not in making the revolution, but in slowing it down and diverting it into Communist channels, or, as Maksimov was to write 20 years later, in forcing it into the “Procrustean bed” of Marxism.76 The extraordinary achievement of the Bolsheviks lay in checking the elemental drive of the Russian masses towards a chaotic utopia.


  1. Golos Truda, No. 11, 20 October 1917, p. 3.
  2. Svobodnaia Kommuna, No. 2, 2 October 1917, p. 2. In 1917, the “Social Democratic party” still officially embraced both the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks; the latter changed their name to the Communist party in March 1918.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Golos Truda, No. 9, 6 October 1917, p. 1.
  5. Ibid., No. 1, 11 August 1917, p. 2. Cf. Vol’nyi Kronshtadt, No. 3, 23 October 1917, p. 1.
  6. Golos Truda, No. 5, 8 September 1917, p. 1.
  7. Oktiabeskaia revoliutsiia i fabzavkomy, n, 23.
  8. Anarkhist (Rostov), No. 11, 22 October 1917, p. 2. “For me, nothing is higher than myself (Mir geht nichts über mich),” wrote Stirner in his most famous work, Der Einzige and sein Eigenthum (Leipzig, 1845), p. 8.
  9. P.-J. Proudhon, Idées révolutionnaires (Paris, 1849), p. 23; quoted in Nomad, Aspects of Revolt, p. 142.
  10. See, for example, A. Grossman, “Est’ li u nas soiuzniki?” Burevestnik, No. 2, 20 August 1906, pp. 3-5; Al’manakh, p. 56; and “Pered vyborami v 4-iu Dumu,” Rabochii Mir, No. 2, 1 September 1912, pp. 1-2.
  11. In private, Lenin expressed disdain for the Constituent Assembly, but his views remained unpublished until several years after the revolution. Lenin, Sochineniia, X3CI, 329.
  12. A. Kochegarov (Karelin), Polozhitel’nye i otritsatel’nye storony demokratii s tochki zreniia anarkhistov-kommunistov (Geneva, n.d.), pp. 1-4; Karelin, Gosudarstvo i anarkhisty (Moscow, 1918). Cf. Pis’mo anarkhista bratu rabochemu (Moscow, 1917), p. 11.
  13. Oktiabr’skaia revoliutsiia i fabzavkomy, II, 127.
  14. Ibid., II, 128.
  15. Golos Truda, No. 4, 1 September 1917, p. 3.
  16. Oktiabr’skaia revoliutsiia i fabzavkomy, II, 165-166.
  17. Voline, La Révolution inconnue, p. 211; Goneniia na anarkhizm v sovetskoi Rossii, p. 18; Gorelik, Anarkhisty v rossiiskoi revoliutsii, p. 15; Alexander Berkman, The Bolshevik Myth (Diary 1920-1922) (New York, 1925), p. 116; Maximoff, The Guillotine at Work, p. 352; Golos truzhenika, No. 9-10, July-August 1925, p. 21.
  18. Golos Truda, No. 8, 29 September 1917, p. 4.
  19. D. A. Tseitlin, “Fabrichno-zavodskie komitety Petrograda v fevrale-oktiabre 1917 gods,” Voprosy Istorii, 1956, No. 11, pp. 94-95.
  20. Velikaia Oktiabr’skaia sotsialisticheskaia revoliutsiia: dokumenty i materialy; Revoliutsionnoe dvizhenie v Rossii v avguste 1917 g.-raz-grom Kornilovskogo miatezha (Moscow, 1959), p. 485.
  21. Oktiabr’skaia revoliutsiia i fabzavkomy, II, 48.
  22. Golos Truda, No. 7, 22 September 1917, p. 1.
  23. Reed, Ten Days that Shook the World, p. 49.
  24. Ibid., p. 37.
  25. Oktiabr’skoe vooruzhennoe vosstanie v Petrograde, p. 235.
  26. Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, III, 294.

27 Lenin, Sochineniia, XXII, 3; Reed, Ten Days that Shook the World, p. 134.

  1. Golos Truda, No. 13, 3 November 1917, p. 1.
  2. Ibid., No. 15, 6 November 1917, p. 1; No. 17, 8 November 1917, p. 1.
  3. Voline, La Révolution inconnue, pp. 190-191.
  4. Ibid., p. 200.
  5. Golos Truda, No. 14, 4 November 1917, p. 1.
  6. Reed, Ten Days that Shook the World, p. 345.

34 Golos Truda, No. 14, 4 November 1917, p. 1.

  1. Ibid., No. 19, 10 November 1917, p. 4.
  2. Lenin, Sochineniia, xxi, 261.
  3. Ibid., XX, 473.
  4. Ibid., XXII, 25-26.
  5. Sbornik dekretov i postanovlenii po narodnomu khoziaistvu (25 oktiabria 1917 g.-25 oktiabria 1918 g.) (Moscow, 1918), pp. 171-172.
  6. Rabochii kontrol’ i natsionalizatsiia promyshlennykh predpriiatii Petrograda, p. 261. 161
  7. John Maynard, Russia in Flux (New York, 1951), p. 223, estimates that, within a few months after the October Revolution, only about one-fifth of the enterprises continued to operate under their old ownership and management. The rest, says Maynard, were about evenly divided between nationalization and workers’ control, which in practice were not very different.
  8. Russia: The Official Report of the British Trades Union Delegation to Russia and Caucasus, Nov. and Dec. 1924 (London, 1925), p. 138.
  9. R. Arskii, in Izvestiia VTsIK, 27 March 1918, pp. 1-2.
  10. Chamberlin, The Russian Revolution, I, 416.
  11. Pankratova, Fabzavkomy v bor’be za sotsialisticheskuiu fabriku, p. 238; Rabochii kontrol’ i natsionalizatsiia promyshlennykh predpriiatii Petrograda, pp. 284-285; T. Shatilova, Fabzavkomy i profsoiuzy v 1917-1918 gg. (Leningrad, 1927), p. 17; I. A. Gladkov, Ocherki sovetskoi ekonomiki, 1917-1920 gg. (Moscow, 1956), pp. 49-52; S. 0. Zagorsky, La République des soviets (Paris, 1921), p. 19.
  12. M. Philips Price, My Reminiscences of the Russian Revolution (London, 1921), p. 212.
  13. Goldman, Living My Life, n, 791.
  14. Moskovskii Metallist, No. 6, 29 November 1917, pp. 18-22.
  15. R. Arskii, “Professional’nye soiuzy i zavodskie komitety,” Vestnik Narodnogo Komissariata Truda, 1918, No. 2-3, p. 125; Protokoly I-go vserossiiskogo s”ezda professional’nykh soiuzov tekstil’shchikov i fabrich-nykh komitetov (Moscow, 1918), p. 30; Oktiabr’skaia revoliutsiia i fabzavkomy, r, 230.
  16. Ia. Boiarkov, “Rabochii kontrol’ iii regulirovanie promyshlennosti?” Metallist, No. 6, 30 November 1917, p. 3.
  17. Lozovskii, Rabochii kontrol’, pp. 77-79.
  18. See, for example, Oktiabr’skaia revoliutsiia i fabzavkomy, 1, 215.
  19. A. Karelin, “Zametka o sindikalizme,” Burevestnik, 21 November 1917, pp. 2-3.
  20. Ibid., p. 1.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Ibid., 3 December 1917, p. 2.
  23. Natsionalizatsiia promyshlennosti v SSSR: sbornik dokumentov i materialov, 1917-1920 gg. (Moscow, 1954), p. 499.
  24. Izvestiia VTsIK, 27 October 1917, p. 2; Metallist, No. 7, 16 December 1917, p. 2; Rabochii kontrol’ i natsionalizatsiia promyshlennykh predpriiatii Petrograda, pp. 264-265; Natsionalizatsiia promyshlennosti v SSSR, p. 189.
  25. Oktiabr’skaia revoliutsiia i fabzavkomy, n, 191.
  26. The unions in which the Anarcho-Syndicalists had a significant influence were the bakers, the river transport, dock, and shipyard workers, the Donets miners, the food-industry workers, the postal and telegraph workers, and, to a lesser degree, the metal and textile workers and the railwaymen.
  27. Pervyi vserossiiskii s”ezd professionarnykh soiuzov, 7-14 ianvaria 1918 g. (Moscow, 1918), p. 338.
  28. Ibid., p. 82.
  29. Ibid., pp. 200, 225.
  30. Ibid., pp. 26-27. Lenin, quoting a passage from Engels’ Anti-Dühring, had accused the anarchists of naively desiring to abolish the state “overnight.” Lenin, Sochineniia, xxi, 410.
  31. Ibid., pp. 192, 229.
  32. Ibid., p. 48.
  33. Ibid., p. 235.
  34. Ibid., pp. 55, 82-86, 213-214.
  35. Ibid., pp. 101-102. Similarly, at the First Congress of Textile Unions and Factory Committees held later in January, a delegate (probably an anarchist) spoke of “the dead trade unions” and declared that “it is impossible to have centralized organizations every time.” Protokoly 1-go vserossiiskogo s”ezda tekstil’shchikov, p. 38. Lozovskii observed that the Anarcho-Syndicalists had “created a whole theory that the trade unions have died.” Lozovskii, Rabochii kontror, pp. 35-36.
  36. Pervyi vserossiiskii d’ezd professional’nykh soiuzov, pp. 237, 240.
  37. Ibid., p. 50.
  38. Ibid., p. 374.
  39. Ibid., p. 364.
  40. Lenin, Sochineniia, x, 50.
  41. Pervyi vserossiiskii s”ezd professionarnykh soiuzov, pp. 369-370.
  42. Maximoff, The Guillotine at Work, p. 346. Cf. Emma Goldman, Living My Life, it, 826: “Yet as a matter of fact the Russian Revolution had been à la Bakunin, but it had since been transformed à la Karl Marx.”