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(en) Britain, *Organise! #63* - The third revolution? - Peasant resistance to the Bolshevik government

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Thu, 14 Apr 2005 07:13:01 +0200 (CEST)

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"All those who really take the social revolution to heart must
deplore that fatal separation that exists between the proletariat
of the towns and the countryside. All their efforts must be
directed to destroying it, because we must all be conscious of
this- that as much as the workers of the land, the peasants,
have not given a hand to the workers of the town, for a
common revolutionary action, all the revolutionary efforts of
the towns will be condemned to inevitable fiascos. The whole
revolutionary question is there; it must be resolved, or else
perish". Bakunin, from The Complete Works-"On German PanGermanism".
During the Civil War in Russia, Lenin's
government was faced with a number of
predominantly peasant uprisings which
threatened to topple the regime. Can the
accusation be justified that these were led by
kulaks (rich peasants), backed by White
reaction, with the support of the poorer
peasants, unconscious of their real class
interests? Or was it, as some opponents of
Bolshevism to its left claimed, the start of
the `Third Revolution'?

Orthodox Marxism discounted the
revolutionary role of the peasantry.

According to the German Marxist Karl
Kautsky, the small peasant was doomed. It
was tactically useful to mobilise the peasant
masses. In his the Agrarian Question, he
stated that the short-term objectives of
the peasants and the lower middle class,
not to mention the bourgeoisie, were
in opposition to the interest of all humanity
as embodied in the idea of socialist society.
"When the proletariat comes to try and exploit
the achievements of the revolution, its
allies-the peasantry- will certainly turn
against it...the political make-up of the
peasantry disbars it from any active or
independent role and prevents it from
achieving its own class representation...By
nature it is bourgeois and showds its
reactionary essence clearly in certain
fields... That is why the proposition before
the congress speaks of the dictatorship of
the proletariat alone supported by the
peasantry... Peasantry must assist
proletariat, not the proletariat the peasantry
in the achievement of the latter's wishes".
Leo Jogiches, " The dictatorship of the
proletariat supported by the peasantry"at
the Sixth Party Congress of the Polish
Social Democrats 1908. (and the following
discussion at the Congress where it was
stated that the "peasantry cannot play the
autonomous role alongside the proletariat
which the Bolsheviks have ascribed to it".
Rosa Luxemburg shared Jogiches' mistrust
of the peasantry, and could seethem
only as a reactionary force.

Lenin himself, extremely flexible on a tactical level,
and extremely rigid on an ideological level, was
conscious of what he was doing when his Party advanced the
slogan of the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry.
After Bolshevik triumph "then it would be ridiculous to speak
of the unity of will of the proletariat and of the peasantry, of
democratic rule...Then we shall have to think of the socialist,
of the proletarian dictatorship"(Two Tactics of Social
Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, 1905).

For his part Trotsky had a harsher attitude to the peasantry,
and was unconvinced of even a temporary alliance with them:
"The proletariat will come into conflict not only with the
bourgeois groups which supported the proletariat
during the first stage of therevolutionary struggle, but also
with the broad masses of the peasants (1905,written
in 1922).

The Bolsheviks defined `kulaks' as rich
peasants, able to sell produce on the market
as well as produce for their own use, able to
employ hired labour and to sell their surplus
products. They were seen as representing
the real petit bourgeois elements in the
countryside, ready to develop agriculture
through capitalist advances. In the second
stage of the revolution, after the initial
bourgeois stage, the kulaks (and a
`substantial part of the middle peasantry'-
Lenin) would go over to the bourgeoisie,
whilst the proletariat would rally the poor
peasantry to it. But as Ferro points out: "
The search for the kulak was partly false, a
matter of chasing shadows, for the kulaks
had often disappeared, or sunk to muzhik
level, since the Revolution of October" (1).
What is certain is that on a practical level
the Bolsheviks alienated vast masses of the
peasantry in the `War Communism' years
from 1918 to 1921, in particular with grain
requisitioning and the Chekist repression.
The Bolsheviks sought to bring class war to
the peasantry. In doing so they exaggerated
the importance and wealth of the kulaks.
Selunskaia reports that in fact only 2 per
cent could be classified as `clearly kulaks'
(2). One official statistic gives the following
figures: in 1917, 71% of the peasants
cultivated less than 4 hectares, 25% had
between 4 and 10 hectares, only 3.7% had
more than 10 hectares, these categories
changing respectively in 1920 to 85, 15, and
0.5%. Another criterion, the possession of a
horse, according to the same statistics, can
be used to show relative wealth.29% had
none, 49% had one, 17% had two, and 4.8%
had more than 3 (in 1917). By 1920, the
figures had changed respectively to 27.6,
63.6, 7.9, and 0.9%. (3)
In fact, the number of kulaks- and here we
are referring to Bolshevik norms as to what
constituted `wealthy'- was diminishing, and
the equalisation process was continuing. As
for the requisitioning, the leading Bolshevik
Kubanin admitted that half the food
collected rotted, and many cattle died on
railway carriages en route, due to lack of
water and food (4).

War communism

In reaction to war communism, a number of
insurrections broke out. In the West
Ukraine, the Makhnovist movement,
inspired and militarily led by the
peasant Nestor Makhno, was one of the
more ideologically developed movements.
It must be remembered that the
Makhnovists had controlled this part of the
Ukraine before the arrival of the Red Army
and had successively defeated Austro-
German and White troops. The Makhnovists
invited a number of anarchists fleeing from
the North and Bolshevik persecution or
returning from foreign exile, to work
through the Nabat (Alarm) Confederation of
Anarchists in propaganda, cultural and
educational work among the peasantry. The
Makhnovists saw the White threat as a
greater danger than the Bolsheviks, and
concluded a series of alliances with the
latter in a united front against the White
leaders, Denikin and Wrangel. In fact, there
seems to be much evidence that Wrangel
would have smashed through the Ukraine
and taken Moscow and destroyed the
Bolshevik government, if not for the efforts
of the Makhnovists. At the end of a joint
campaign against the Whites in the Crimea,
Makhnovist commanders were invited to
Red Army headquarters and summarily
shot. Makhno himself fought on for several
months, before being forced to retire over
the border (5).
The Cheka and the prodrazverstksa (food
requisition squads) never showed
themselves in the Makhnovist centre of
Hulyai-Polye before 1919, but peasants
living in the Ekaterinoslav and
Alexandrovsk areas had plenty of
experience of them. In other areas of
insurrection the initial opposition was more
directly a result of the `War Communism'
policies of Bolshevism.
In West Siberia, (and indeed throughout the
whole of Siberia - see Organise! 62 and the
article A Siberian Makhnovschina?) The
regime was faced with probably their worst
threat, and it is possible that it was this,
more than the Kronstadt insurrection of the
same year, that forced it to change course.
Krasnaya Armiya (Red Army, published
by the Military Academy, and aimed at a
small circle of Communist readers) had to
admit in its edition of December 1921 that
the carrying out of the grain collections in
spring 1920 roused the Siberian peasantry
against the Communists and that "the
movement in the Ishimsk region was
proceeding under the same slogans which at
one time were put forth by the Kronstadt
sailors". Red Army had to admit that
ineptitude, economic mismanagement, and
`criminal' seizure of property had been
amongst the causes of peasant
dissatisfaction. The journal recognised the
effect on the morale when they saw at first
hand the food requisitioned from them
rotting in carloads. `Provocatory acts' by
government representatives in the tax-
gathering agencies had frequently brought
about risings of entire villages. The journal
also reported on `a very unique' movement
in the Don and Kuban regions, headed by
Maslakov, an ex-Commander of the Red
Army, with the aim of declaring war on "
the saboteurs of the Soviet power, on the
`commissar-minded' Communists". (6) In
fact, this was a whole brigade of the Red


Indeed Maslakov's uprising in February
1921 in eastern Ukraine quickly linked with
the Makhnovists through the detachment of
the Makhnovist commander Brova. Other
Red Army Commanders revolted, as with
the battalion at Mikhailovka led by Vakulin,
and then Popov, in the Northern Don
Cossack territory.(from December 1920)
Vakulin appears to have had a force of
3,200, six times the amount he had started
out with, when he moved east into the Ural
region. He succeeded in taking prisoner a
Red Army force of 800.But on 17th
February 1921 he lost a battle in which he
died, and the Don Cossack F.Popov, a
Social Revolutionary, took over. The Popov
group moved back into Samara and then
Saratov provinces, picking up strength as it
went along. It was estimated by the Red
Army that it numbered 6,000 by now. It
managed to capture an entire Red Army
battalion. It appears to have been eventually
crushed, if we believe Bolshevik sources. In
Samara a Left-Social Revolutionary officer,
Sapozhkov, in the Red Army revolted at the
head of `anarchistic and SR elements'
(according to the Soviet historian Trifonov).
He was himself the son of a peasant in this
province. This uprising began on 14th or 15th
July 1920 with a force of 2700. Sapozhkov
fell in battle on 6th September after 2
months of fighting. His place was taken by
Serov, who was still able to gather 3,000
combatants and who fought on until
summer of 1923, the longest time than any
rebel band had fought on, apart from
In the Tambov region another serious
insurrection began in August 1920 under
the guidance of Alexander Stepanovitch
Antonov. Here again the revolt was sparked
off by grain requisition. Antonov himself
was an ex-Social Revolutionary, who spoke
of defending both workers and peasants
against Bolsheviks. Other leading lights in
this movement included, Socialist
Revolutionaries, Left Socialist
Revolutionaries and Anarchists. The
Antonovists were able to assemble 21,000
combatants at one time. The Anarchist
Yaryzhka commanded a detachment of the
Antonovist movement under the black flag
of anarchism. Whilst serving in the Army
during World War I, he had struck an officer
in 1916,was imprisoned, and had converted
to anarchism as a result of his experiences.
He began operations in autumn 1918,
fighting on till killed in action by the
Bolsheviks in autumn 1920.
It can be seen that all these risings or
oppositional movements to Leninism
amongst the peasantry occurred around
about the same time, over the period 1920-
1921. Indeed, taken with the rising of the
sailors at Kronstadt in 1921, they formed in
toto a grave threat to Bolshevik rule. The
aims of the Kronstadt insurgents seem to
have had an echo in the peasant movements.
This is hardly surprising considering many
Kronstadt sailors had peasant origins. The
west Siberia uprising adopted the Kronstadt
demands, as noted by Krasnaya Armiya.
After the Tambov insurrection, the Soviet
authorities found the Kronstadt resolutions
at an important Antonovist hiding place.
Antonov himself was so saddened by the
news of the crushing of the Kronstadt
uprising that he went on a vodka binge, so it
is alleged. It appears that some Kronstadt
sailors escaped the crushing of the
insurrection and linking up with the
Antonovschina. On 11th July Bolshevik
cavalry fought an engagement with a small
but elite band of Antonovists, Socialist-
Revolutionary political workers and sailors.
They fought with "striking steadfastness"
until the end according to the Chekist
Smirnov, when the few survivors shot first
their horses and then themselves. One
Bolshevik noted in 1921 that " the
anarchist-Makhnovists in the Ukraine
reprinted the appeal of the Kronstadters,
and in general did not hide their sympathy
for them" (7)


It is clear that the Kronstadters were
opposed to Tsarist restoration, and had been
instrumental in bringing down the Kerensky
regime. The Makhnovists were equally
implacable towards the Whites. No alliance
was even considered with them against the
Bolsheviks, and indeed the Makhnovists
formed anti-White alliances with the
Bolsheviks, the last of which was to prove
their downfall, as seen above. The
movement was deeply influenced by
anarchism, and hardly likely to countenance
collaboration with one of its mortal foes. As
for Maslakov, he had been a trusted Red
Commander, and seems to have been
fighting for a communism without
commissars. Krasnaya Armiya admitted that
the insurgents in the Don and Kuban
regions `disapprove of and fight against
White Guardist agitation'. As for Antonov,
he "undertook no embarrassing action
against the Bolsheviks such as cutting
communications behind the front lines, but
contented himself with combating punitive
detachments sent out against the peasants"
(8). Antonov had been imprisoned under
Tsarism for his activities as a Socialist
Revolutionary during and after the 1905
Revolution with a 12 year sentence in
Siberia, and his peasant movement was
unlikely to have favoured a return to the old
Another accusation against the peasant
movements was that they were kulak-led,
dragging the rest of the peasantry in their
wake. An analysis of leading lights within
the Makhnovist movement at least
disproves it in their case. Trotsky implied
that the "liquidation of Makhno does not
mean the end of the Makhnovschina, which
has its roots in the ignorant peasant
masses". But all the leading Makhnovists
that we have biographical information on
came from the poor peasantry, including
Makhno himself, and in a few cases the
middle peasantry. As Malet says: "the
Bolsheviks have totally misconstrued the
nature of the Makhno movement. It was not
a movement of kulaks, but of a broad mass
of the peasants, especially the poor and
middle peasants". (9)
We have little empirical evidence for the
composition of the peasant uprisings in the
Don and Kuban areas. Radkey has provided
some information on the Tambov
insurrection through research under difficult
conditions, and has found that Antonov was
the son of a small-town artisan-hardly a
kulak! There is evidence that some leading
Antonovists were of kulak origin, (based on
Bolshevik archives) yet one Cheka historian
had to admit that a " considerable part of
the middle peasantry" supported the
insurrection (10). There is evidence that
Antonov had the support of the poor
peasantry and some workers in the province


One must reservations over the allegations
of the `kulak character' of these uprisings.
Even if it is admitted that some kulaks took
parting the risings, it must be granted, from
the little evidence available, that other
sections of the peasantry took an active part.
What can be made of the allegations that far
from being counter-revolutionary, the
peasant uprisings were the start of a `Third
Revolution' (leading on from the February
and October Revolutions). This term
appears to have been developed by
Anarchists within the Makhnovist
movement, appearing in a declaration of a
Makhnovist organ, the Revolutionary
Military Soviet, in October 1919. It
reappeared during the Kronstadt
insurrection. Anatoli Lamanov developed it
in the pages of the Kronstadt Izvestia, the
journal of the insurgents, of which he was
an editor. Lamanov was a leader of the
Union of Socialist-Revolutionary
Maximalists in Kronstadt, and saw
Kronstadt as the beginning of a `Third
Revolution' which would overthrow the
"dictatorship of the Communist Party with
its Cheka and state capitalism" and transfer
all power "to freely elected Soviets" and
transform the unions into " free associations
of workers, peasants and labouring
intelligentsia" (12). The Maximalists, a split
from the Socialist-Revolutionaries,
demanded immediate agrarian and urban
social revolution, a Toilers Republic of
federated soviets, anti-parliamentarism and
distrust of parties. There is little evidence
on the links between them and the
Makhnovists, though it would be unlikely
that this slogan emerged in two places
totally independently. " Here in Kronstadt,
has been laid the first stone of the Third
Revolution, striking the last fetters from the
labouring masses and opening a broad new
road for socialist creativity", proclaimed the
Kronstadters (13).
The term `Third Revolution' however,
seems vague, with no clear idea of how to
bring this Revolution about. It had its
adherents in Makhnovist circles, and
possibly in West Siberia and with Maslakov,
but never operated in a unified approach to
a development of its implementation.
What distinguished the Makhnovist
movement from Tambov was the former's
specific ideology. The Antonov movement
had no ideology, "knew what they were
against....but only the haziest of notions as
to how to order Russia in the hour of
victory" (14). The Antonovists were a local
movement with local perspectives. The
Makhnovists were wide-ranging, and links
were formed with Maslakov. Makhno
himself campaigned as far as the Volga,
going around the Don area linking up
similar bands. A Makhnovist detachment
under Parkhomenko was sent off to the
Voronezh area in early March 1921 and it
might have been attempting to link up with
Antonovist detachments under Kolesnikov.
But the vast expanse of the Soviet Union
curtailed link-ups between the movements.
There seems to have been widespread
mutual ignorance of either the existence or
the aims of the differing peasant
Where there was an awareness, there seems
to have been little effort to combine the
movements for a unified onslaught against
the Bolshevik government. The Kronstadt
insurrection was later deemed as several
months premature by some of its leading
lights (15). Localism and lack of a more
global strategy similarly hamstrung
Antonov and the movements in the Don,
Kuban and west Siberian regions, as did the
very spontaneity of the risings. The
Makhnovists may have had a better grasp of
the situation, but they failed to unite the
opposition, going into alliance once more
with the Bolsheviks, despite previous
unhappy experiences. Nevertheless, the sum
of these risings presented a very grave
threat to the regime, forcing it to at least
move from War Communism to the New
Economic Policy.

1. p.138 Ferro
2. Izmeniia 1917-20, in Atkinson.
3. L Kritsman, The Heroic Period of the Great Russian
Revolution, 1926 in Skirda.
4. Kubanin `The anti-Soviet peasant movement during the
years of civil war (war communism) 1926, in Skirda.
5.Palij, Malet, Skirda all cite evidence of Makhnovist
achievement in saving the Bolshevik capital
6. p.148, Maximoff
7. Lebeds, quoted by Malet.
8. p.82 Radkey
9. p122 Malet
10. Sofinov, in Radkey. p106.
11. p107-110 Radkey
12. See Getzler
13. p243 Avrich
14. p.69 Radkey
15. see Avrich


Avrich, P. Princeton (1970) Kronstadt 1921
Atkinson,D. Stanford (1983) The end of the Russian Land Commune 1905-1930
Lewin, M. Allen & Unwin (1968) Russian Peasants and Soviet power
Mitrany, D. Weidenfeld & Nicholson (1951) Marx and the Peasant.
Malet, M. MacMillan (1982). Nestor Makhno in the Russian Civil War
Palij, M. Washington (1976) The Anarchism of Nestor Makhno.
Radkey, O. Hoover (1976) The Unknown Civil War in Soviet Russia.
Maximoff, G. P. Cienfuegos (1976) The Guillotine at Work.
Skirda, A. Paris (1982) Nestor Makhno, Le Cosaque de l'Anarchie.
Ferro, M. RKP (1985) The Bolshevik Revolution, A
SocialHistoryof the Russian Revolution.
Getzler, I. Cambridge University Press (1983) Kronstadt
1917-1921, the Fate of a Soviet Democracy.


Kulak - a better off peasant
Muzhik - the poorer peasants
Whites - the reaction to the Russian Revolution, gathered around the Tsarists
Socialist-Revolutionaries - revolutionary party that saw a
key role for the peasants and thought that Russian society
could avoid capitalism and go straight to a socialist
Left Socialist-Revolutionaries - a more radical split from the SRs.

* Organise! #63 - Winter 2004 FOR REVOLUTIONARY ANARCHISM -
the magazin of the anarchist federation

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