The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution

Paul Avrich (editor)

translated from the Russian
Thames and Hudson 1973
A book review by Danny Yee © 2004
Anarchists played a major role in the Russian Revolution, but they were also among the earliest and most outspoken critics of the Bolsheviks. In The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution, Paul Avrich presents some fifty documents or extracts from 1917 to 1921, most of them translated from Russian and taken from articles, manifestos, speeches, letters, diaries, and poems. He supplements this with a general introduction, notes on some individual documents, and a small number of black and white photographs and political cartoons.

Avrich begins with some anarchist responses to the February Revolution. A selection of pieces then tries to convey something of the variety of anarchist ideas, on topics from atheism and anti-militarism to education and visions of the future.

"We Anarcho-Syndicalists oppose collectivism (state communism) with free anarchist communism, which recognizes the right of man to his own life and to the full satisfaction of all his needs. This right is seen not as vulgar huckstering, not as an exchange for a specific quantity of labour, but as the participation of each individual, according to his strength, in productive life." [N.I. Pavlov, "The Free Commune and the Free City", 16 September 1918]

After the February Revolution, anarchists worked for syndicalism and workers' control of factories. They urged social revolution and attacked Kerensky's Provisional Government and the Constituent Assembly.

"The Constituent Assembly is still one of the illusions we must get rid of. If the workers expect all good things to come from the Constituent Assembly and put all their hopes in it they will still remain under the old conditions. The Constituent Assembly will be filled with capitalists and the intelligentsia. What's more, the intellectuals can in no way represent the interests of the workers. They know how to twist us around their fingers, and they will betray our interests. Look over all the lists of candidates to the Constituent Assembly. You'll find scarcely a worker there. There is nothing there for us. We must win our victories through direct combat and remember that the liberation of the workers is the task of the workers themselves." [address by Renev to the Fourth Conference of Petrograd Factory Committees, 10 October 1917]

Anarchists joined with the Bolsheviks in the October insurrection and during the civil war many "Soviet anarchists" fought in the Red army. Others, however, denounced centralisation and dictatorship, though violent opposition was rare. And Bolshevik repression of anarchists intensified.

"We have reached the limit! The Bolsheviks have lost their senses. They have betrayed the proletariat and attacked the anarchists. They have joined the Black Hundred generals and the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie. They have declared war on revolutionary anarchism." [Burevestnik, 13 April 1918]
During the civil war, much of the Ukraine was controlled by the anarchist commander Nestor Makhno, who fought armies both White and Red.

Included are some pieces by anarchists held in Bolshevik prisons and two letters by Kropotkin, who died in February 1921 and whose funeral was "the last time that the black flag of anarchism was paraded through the Russian capital". The volume ends with the Kronstadt revolt of March 1921 and extracts from Alexander Berkman's The Bolshevik Myth and Emma Goldman's My Disillusionment in Russia.

The documents in Anarchists in the Russian Revolution offer a novel perspective on the Revolution and insights into the history of anarchism. Avrich does a good job with his introduction, but some familiarity with the events of the Revolution and the history of socialist thought is still assumed.

January 2004

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%T The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution
%E Avrich, Paul
%M Russian
%I Thames and Hudson
%D 1973
%O hardcover, half tones, index
%G ISBN 0500750017
%P 179pp