ANARCHIST COMMUNISTS: A QUESTION OF CLASS
Ukraine (1917-1921; an idea)
The revolution in Ukraine has remained an unknown episode to this day thanks to the thick veil of disinformation which Soviet propaganda draped over it and thanks also to the complicity of official Western historiography. The real facts of the matter have so far escaped serious historical analysis. The vastness of the event (around two million people were involved) and its duration (its fortunes waxed and waned over a period of about four years) make it, however, a key episode in the history of Anarchist Communism. Any reflection on its development and final results can only provide an enormous font of practical and theoretical stimuli for Anarchist Communist theory. The reader is, as usual, advised to study the texts specifically regarding this event in order to find detailed accounts of the events and information on how they fitted into the immense and complicated panorama of the 1917 Russian Revolution. We will limit ourselves here to reflecting on its theoretical influences.
The first point of reflection is in fact its size and duration. What happened was not due solely to the "immense libertarian soul" of the Ukrainian people, for their atavistic intolerance of any sort of dominator (something already noted by Bakunin), or for their peasant traditions and their strong ties to the earth, the font of all life. All this obviously had an influence but they are conditions which have historically existed in other times and places without producing the same results. Instead, there was a detonator, a catalyst of confused aspirations, something which channelled the people's unheeded needs. That something was an organization of comrades who had already been militants for a long time, who were well versed in the practice of struggle and in theory and who had a firm point of reference in the personality of Nestor Ivanovich Makhno (1888-1934).
The Makhnovist experience provides us with two distinctive points for consideration. The first is the particular role which the revolutionary vanguard played. Secondly, there are the ideas that resulted from contemplation of its defeat.
We have said that Anarchist Communism does not see the role of the vanguard in the revolutionary process as one of direction or management, but as one of orienting the process from within, guarding against any deviations it might fall victim to either through any lack of clarity on the part of the masses involved or, and above all, those caused by erroneous recipes introduced from without which might poison the whole process. In the case of the Ukrainian revolution, the Anarchist Communist vanguard placed great emphasis on this second aspect, even to the point of taking on that most thankless of tasks of all time - the creation of an army of defence. This choice, which was nonetheless unavoidable, was responsible for the more expert comrades (such as Makhno) being seen more as an ideal point of reference rather than as a real part of the social evolution which was taking place. On the one hand, this confirmed that idea that the spontaneous development of the masses, not deviated by ideologies which propose models claiming to be solutions to every problem and for this reason referring to themselves as scientific, naturally tends towards collectivism and self-management. On the other hand, however, it is exactly by acting as a physical barrier to any external influences that the idea takes root that the enemies of the revolution are to be found on the outside, both counter-revolutionaries and those who set themselves up as the proletariat's only revolutionary party, giving in this case a visible, palpable form to the role of safeguarding the integrity of the revolutionary process which was played by the Anarchist Communist vanguard.
Unfortunately, the external difficulties (civil war - the main theatre of which was in Ukraine itself, the sacrifice of the region by the Bolshevik government as part of the peace of Brest-Litovsk and the consequent arrival of German troops, the hostility of the Bolsheviks towards an experiment which challenged their theories on the workers' state and the guiding party) placed the possibility of revolution in doubt along with any territorial or chronological continuity and threatened the chances of success. The treaties between the Makhnovist army and Lev Davidovich Trotsky's Red Army, which were made in order to defeat the various White generals who threatened the area (Anton Ivanovich Denikin, Pėtr Nikolaevich Vrangel, etc.), were not an act of faith in the central government of Moscow but were rather an attempt to confront one enemy at a time, starting with the most threatening and imminent. The confrontation with the Bolsheviks was put off until later as they were further away, they had not yet established themselves socially, there were difficult contradictions with the peasant masses all over Russia, they had internal divisions in the party and a section of their militant base (the sailors and factory workers) were potentially closer to anarchist positions. On the other hand, Lenin had managed to carry through the October Revolution with more-than-dubious means: the slogan "All power to the soviets!", which had upset the Bolsheviks' own ideas in April 1917, came from the Anarcho-Syndicalists and was responsible for a large section of the workers' movement deciding to lend their support to the party. This was, however, a very damaging conflict for the movement, and reflection on the reasons for defeat was the subject of careful reconsideration which later led the Paris-based Group of Russian Anarchists Abroad to propose the "Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists - Project", which we have already mentioned.
The analysis was simple and profound. The Bolsheviks had won because they had a compact organization which had a sense of direction and branched into every area which the revolution had reached. The Anarchists were divided into little groups which were often in disagreement with each other and did not have a common plan. They could not possibly have the same political weight. The Makhnovshchina remained isolated (as happened during the Paris Commune) and Lenin's party had no difficulty in methodically tightening the noose around their necks. The question of Anarchist Communist organization had by now become unavoidable.
2.3. Spain (1936-1939; a project)