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(en) France, Alternative Libertaire AL - Dossier 1917: August-September: The counter-revolution digs its own tomb (fr, it, pt) [machine translation]

Date Sun, 17 Sep 2017 08:05:22 +0300


The disgrace of the extreme left after the failure of July will not have been long. From the end of August, the aborted coup d'état of General Kornilov puts it in the saddle, and triggers a wave of workers' terror against the bourgeoisie. The social war has only just begun. For the Bolsheviks and their anarchist allies, the question of power is the order of the day. ---- On 25 August 1917, General Lavr Kornilov (1870-1918) sent troops from the front to take over Petrograd and " restore order ". ---- The demoralizing failure of insurrectionalism during the days of 3 and 4 July will have consequences both on the Bolshevik Party and on the anarchist movement. Bolstered by a fiasco that has caused thousands of members to flee, the Bolshevik leaders will now avoid letting themselves be carried away by the anarchists and will be more respectful of the directives of their central committee.

As for the FAC, persecuted and deprived of its headquarters of the datcha Dournovo, its influence seems to retreat to the benefit of the anarcho-syndicalists of UPAS. From July 18 to 22, a first anarchist conference held in Kharkov, with delegates from 12 cities, and a turning point in clearly pronouncing for the participation of anarchists to the Soviets [1].

At the same time, the UPAS clarifies differences with the Bolsheviks in the IV th Conference committees Petrograd factories, from August 7 to 12.

Voline (1882-1945)
This veteran of the Revolution of 1905, passed by exile, is one of the main animators of the newspaper Golos Trouda, which advocates the socialization and the self-management of the industry. After the assault of power against the anarchists, in the spring of 1918 he joined the Makhnovshchina.
All delegates want to limit competition between companies for supply ... but not in the same way. Anarcho-syndicalists believe that it is the role of federations of factory committees, to be structured by branch of industry ; the Bolsheviks believe that this will be the task of a " proletarian state " and table a motion to that effect. Voline, a delegate of the Stein factory, opposed it. But the Bolshevik majority of delegates rejected his objection, and voted the motion. In spite of everything, the anarcho-syndicalists cling, and Chatov joins Maximov at the central committees of factories of Petrograd.

During the conference, the anarcho-syndicalists distributed the first issue of their weekly, Golos Trouda, as in the time of their exile in the United States. They defend a socialist self-management based on the factory committees, not wards of the state and, unlike the FCC, see in the soviets " the only forms of organization of revolutionary democracy ", the only institutions capable of successfully " decentralization and distribution of power " [2]. Golos Trouda will reach a circulation of 25,000 copies [3]; compared to 90,000 daily copies of Pravda in June 1917, which must be added the 60,000 of Soldatskaya Pravda [4].

On the basis of their journal, anarcho-syndicalists make progress. In Moscow, led by a veteran very influenced by the French model, Nicolai Lebedev, they are implanted in bakers, typographers, postal workers, railway workers, leather workers and perfume workers. Further to the south, they gained the cement and dockers of Ekaterinodar and Novorossiisk. At the Donbass miners, in June, a conference adopted the revolutionary syndicalist program of the IWW. Finally, at the end of August 1917, UPAS is preparing to inaugurate its first workers' club in the Vyborg district of Petrograd.

It is at this moment that Russia is shaken by an event which will, again, accelerate the revolution: the attempt of putsch of General Kornilov.

In spite of himself, Kornilov revived the revolution

Since the repression of the July Days, everyone expected a coup to " finish the job ", replace Kerenski helplessly, liquidate the Petrograd Soviet, shoot the " tovaritchtchi " leading the country to its loss and restore order. The bourgeoisie hoped for it intensely, and the conservative press called it openly.

Their wishes were fulfilled when news spread on August 29 that General Kornilov was marching on Petrogard with troops brought back from the front, including the Cossacks of the " Wild Division ." In the government, Kerensky, suspected of complicity with Kornilov, can do nothing but denounce this sedition, and call for resistance.

It is then that the popular power will demonstrate all its power, far beyond what Kerensky would have liked. The peril Kornilov causes a tremendous start not only in Petrograd, but throughout the country. In Ukraine, for example, in a city of 30,000 inhabitants such as Gouliai-Polié, a Committee for the Defense of the Revolution was formed and, led by the anarchist Nestor Makhno, disarmed the bourgeoisie of the city to dissuade any attempt to Kornilov [5].

The Petrograd Soviet, which called for general mobilization, spends the day on the July Days: freeing the imprisoned militants ; the armories are opened ; arms are distributed to the workers ; trenches. The Red Guard took over the defense of the city. The anarchist Justin Jouk, who is a member of its steering committee, had a barge of grenades sent by the Central Committee of Factory Committees to be delivered to Vyborg by the Blowing of Schlüsselbourg. We wait Kornilov firm foot.

In fact, he never reached Petrograd: deprived of supplies and locomotion by railway workers on strike, his troops were immobilized and, little by little, fraternized with the Red Guards who came to meet them. In forty-eight hours, Kornilov is forced to abandon the game. The bourgeoisie is dismayed ; the working-class quarters exult. Anarchists and Bolsheviks were at the forefront of revolutionary defense ; plagued the day before, their prestige is now at the highest. For everyone, it is clear that the hour of revenge has come.

Social war begins

To paraphrase Saint-Just in 1794, it could be said that those who counter-revolutions are " only digging a tomb ." That is exactly what will happen in Russia. Distraught by the attempted putsch, the proletariat will defend itself with ferocity. " More feeling, said Jouk early August, more time to lose. The hour has come to strike the bourgeoisie at the head. " [6]

Pierre Kropotkin (1842-1921)
Russian anarchists retain affection for the old theorist, but they no longer follow him. He discredited himself by supporting the war against Germany and participating in the Democratic Conference organized by Kerenski in September 1917.
Whereas in the countryside, land ownership has increased since June, it is now in the cities that the expropriations of businesses and housing multiply. The buildings of the beautiful districts are visited by squads of the Red Guard, the bourgeois are obliged to share their vast apartments with needy families, when they are not, simply stripped of their possessions in a savage way. The Bolshevik Party launched the slogan " Pillage the plunderers " as a real incentive for individual recovery [7].

By missing his putsch, Kornilov triggered a wave of terror against the owning classes in Russia. " It was well before October that the revolutionary workers destroyed the basis of capitalism. There remained only the political superstructure , " wrote Piotr Archinov ten years later [8].

In fact, the existence of the provisional government is only one thread. Kerenski is no longer taken seriously by anyone. Especially since the soviets have let go. On August 31, Petrograd condemned his ambiguity with Kornilov and for the first time approved the motto " All Power to the Soviets ". Dismissed, the SR and Mensheviks elected resigned from the executive committee and were replaced by a Bolshevik majority, led by a triumphant Leon Trotsky.

In the following days, in the provinces, more than 50 Soviets voted for similar slogans. The Bolshevik Party, identified as the party of the social revolution, recorded a spectacular progression, winning the majority in the biggest soviets, but also in the unions where until then the Mensheviks dominated.

The insurgency is preparing

All that remains is to eliminate the moderates of the VTsIK elected in June. A II th All-Russian Congress of Soviets was convened for October. There is every feeling that the Bolsheviks will be in the majority and that the congress will proclaim, finally, the dismissal of the provisional government. There is no doubt that if coercion is to be used, the Kronstadt sailors, the soldiers and the Red Guards will be counted on. And that the Bolshevik Party will be the conductor of the operation.

Bolshevik and anarchist militants trained in the factories with the weapons recovered during the Kornilovchtichna [9]. This is again osmosis, but now under the undisputed command of the party [10].


After the "Kornilovshchina", the government is so weakened that the workers of the Red Guard train openly for the insurrection. Here a group poses for the photographer Iakov Steinberg.
In the Bolshevik press, the insurrection is openly discussed. The great question which divides the Central Committee is that of the moment. Should it be launched after the All-Russian Congress of Soviets has voted for the dismissal of the government ? Or should it be launched before, to put the congress before the fait accompli ? What is at stake, however, but of primary importance, is to determine who will go to power: directly to the Soviet Congress, or to the Bolshevik Party, who will then transfer it to the Soviets. The issue is symbolic because, in both cases, the Bolsheviks will be the armed arm of the congress, supported by their left SR allies and anarchists.

But will the armed arm resist the temptation to retain power for itself ? Anarchists are aware of the risk, but think that the Bolshevik leadership would not have the means to remain alone in power anyway.

At the approach of the congress and the insurrection announced, Golos Trouda said he was in favor of a " victory of the soviets " but warned that the " political party aspiring to power and domination would have to be eliminated after the victory and effectively gives way to a free self-organization of workers ". Otherwise, the new government would inevitably be overthrown. Then the " third and final stage of the revolution " would begin : that of a " free and natural self-organization of the masses " [11].

For its part, the FAC newspaper, Kommuna, who longs for insurrection, publishes a program signed by Bleikhman in nine essentially economic points, but which remains vague on the exercise of popular power - the word " soviet " is strangely absent [12].

Guillaume Davranche (AL Montreuil)

In the folder:

February-March 1917: After the Tsarists, drive the capitalists
Minority but galvanized, anarchists advocate expropriation all the way
A tract of the Communist Anarchist Federation of Petrograd (March 1917)
The first libertarian wave (1905-1908)
April-May: The irrepressible rise to the social explosion
Anarcho-syndicalists in factory committees
June-July: Creating insurrection is not enough
The fiasco of the Journées de juillet
August-September: The counter-revolution digs its own tomb
The Other Components of Russian Socialism in 1917
October red (and black): The assault in the unknown
A Ukrainian revolutionary: Maroussia emerges from oblivion
November 1917-April 1918: From pluralism to the confiscated revolution . Four cleavage points:
People's Power vs. State Power
Socialization against nationalization
Popular militia against hierarchical army
On requisitions and expropriations
Epilogue 1918-1921: Resistance and eradication

[1] Paul Avrich, The Russian Anarchists, Maspero, 1979, page 198.

[2] Golos Trouda No. 1, August 11, 1917.

[3] Maximov, Syndicalists in the Russian Revolution, 1940.

[4] Marc Ferro, The Revolution of 1917, Albin Michel, 1997, p. 343.

[5] Nestor Makhno, Memoirs and Writings, Ivrea, 2010, pp. 114-119.

[6] P. Gooderham, " The anarchist movement in Russia, 1905-1917 ", Bristol University, 1981, page 272.

[7] Orlando Figes, The Russian Revolution Volume 2, page 957.

[8] Piotr Archinov, " The Two October ", Diélo Trouda, Oct. 1927.

[9] Louis de Robien, Diary of a diplomat in Russia 1917-1918, Librairie Vuibert, 2017, page 149.

[10] Anatole Gorélik, quoted in Alexandre Skirda, The Russian Anarchists, the Soviets and the Revolution of 1917, Editions de Paris, 2000, p. 146.

[11] Editorial " Is it the end ? " Golos Truda, 20 October 1917. Quoted in Volin, The Unknown Revolution t. 2, page 48.

[12] Kommuna No. 6, September 1917.

http://www.alternativelibertaire.org/?Dossier-1917-Aout-septembre-La-contre-revolution-creuse-son-propre-tombeau
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