The Russian Revolution in Ukraine

Nestor Makhno

Chapter 25: How the exchange of goods between city and village was organized and how we struggled to make it work


From the beginning of its work in organizing the peasants, the Anarchist Communist Group had insisted on the necessity of carrying on this work in an anarchist manner. We needed to apply anarchist principles consistently in a various contexts.

At first our tactics aroused protests from some members of the Group. Although entirely devoted to the cause, they were used to the old ways: negation of organization, of unity of action, of the possibility of remaining anarchists while applying its principles under a regime that was not anarchist, not even truly socialist. I was often told: "Comrade Nestor, apparently in prison you became imbued with statist ways of getting things done and now you are carried away with doing things that way and this will lead to a split in our group." In particular, this thought was often and sharply expressed to me by Comrade Moise Kalinichenko, my old friend who had been a member of our group from 1907, a self-educated worker who was ideologically rock-solid.

Nevertheless, everything I proposed was accepted by the group and put into practice among the peasants during 1917 with the greatest success. Indeed, the peasants listened to us with an attentiveness and confidence which they did not extend to any other social or political group. The peasants followed the guidance of our group in the following areas: the land question, the negation of authority over their own lives, and the struggle against oppression no matter what the source. This showed the way for our comrades: to not separate oneself from the masses but to dissolve oneself among them while remaining true to one's ideals, and then to struggle forward despite all the obstacles which the politicos put in the way and which held back the movement.

Thus the members of our group became accustomed to the principle of collective unity in action and, even more important, in action which was well thought-out and fruitful. They learned to have confidence in one another and respect one another's competence in their own area of expertise.

These characteristics, essential in the life and struggle of any organization and especially an anarchist organization allowed our group to hold together before the vicissitudes which faced the Ukrainian toilers in those years when "governments" multiplied: one in Petrograd, another in Kursk, a third in Kiev, etc. And they all tried to plant their foot on the neck of the toilers, to control them and rule over them.

The reciprocal confidence of our members led to the spontaneous enthusiasm which allowed each of them to display the energy and initiative which the Group directed towards goals established by common accord. A good example of this was the maximum of initiative shown by the comrade who directed the Provisioning Section. The Group encouraged him to make use of his authority as head of the provisioning organ to establish direct connections between Gulyai-Pole raion and workers of textile factories in Moscow and other cities for the purpose of exchanging goods. The workers would supply the population of Gulyai-Pole raion with textiles of pre-determined quality, colour, and quantity and the raion would provide them with grain and other produce needed by the workers.

Comrade Seregin sent his own agents to the cities and travelled all over the raion himself to meet worker delegations which were scouring the countryside looking to find grain they could buy. These delegations were under the control of members of the Cheka and other government functionaries. In the course of two weeks he established connections with workers of the textile factories of Prokhorov and Morozov. They agreed in a comradely way on the necessity for toilers struggling for freedom and independence to support each other: the peasants sending grain and other foodstuffs to the workers, the workers furnishing the peasants with textiles.

I recall with what great joy Comrade Seregin, upon his return to Gulyai-Pole, without taking time to stop at his own apartment, ran to find me at the Revkom and hugged me, saying: "You were right, Nestor, when you insisted to the Group on the necessity of fusing ourselves with the labouring population: explaining, advising, and moving forward with them towards our goals. All the toilers are behind us."

Then he asked to speak to the secretary of the Group Comrade Kalashnikov and the chairperson of the workers' section of the Soviet Comrade Antonov. He told them how warmly, how sincerely the worker delegation of the Moscow textile factories received our idea of the direct exchange of goods. He said the worker delegation was overjoyed to learn that the ideal of a free society was not dead in the countryside because this ideal had cost the workers many sacrifices. They had the feeling that over their cherished dream to live free and independent lives without being subject to oppression was hanging a threatening cloud.

"It's true," said the workers, "we can't let ourselves get discouraged, but we can't help but be depressed about the situation which is developing."

Comrade Seregin told us that the worker delegation was delighted to meet the peasants, delighted to make the agreement for mutual aid, but was also worried that the government's food requisitioning detachments would stop and even confiscate our shipments to the city.

The worker delegation had instructed Comrade Seregin on how to sent produce to the city. Two or three days later two members of the delegation arrived in Gulyai-Pole in order to sound out the mood of the peasants in this insurgent raion. They were met with fraternal hospitality and were assured that we were committed to defending the great principles of the Revolution liberty and the freedom to work without being subject to the authority of capital and the state.

After several days these two worker delegates left for Moscow.

Comrade Seregin made a report to the General Assembly of peasants, a report to which, at the request of Comrade Seregin and Anarchist Communist Group, I added some depth. I pointed out that this was the finest example in history of a reciprocal agreement between two labouring classes: the proletarians and the peasants.

The General Assembly approved the scheme with enthusiasm, not worrying that their shipments might be confiscated by government agents. The peasants helped the Provisioning Section over the course of several days to load several wagons for speedy dispatch to the workers of the textile factories.

The Anarchist Communist Group formed a detachment, commanded by Comrade Skomski, to accompany this shipment all the way. And the grain, despite all sorts of delays deliberately caused by the commandants at railway junctions on the route, eventually reached its destination.
About ten days later, the textile workers of Moscow dispatched several railway wagons of textiles to Gulyai-Pole. But en route blocking detachments of the government food organs stopped it and directed it to the Provisioning Centre in Aleksandrovsk.

"Because," said the government agents, "without the permission of the central Soviet authority, it's impossible for peasants and workers to exchange goods. Soviet power hasn't yet provided any examples of direct exchanges between workers and peasants and until it does we can't allow this to go on." This rationale was accompanied by all kinds of verbal abuse directed at the toilers of Gulyai-Pole raion and the Anarchist Communist Group.

Informed of this incident, Comrade Seregin ran to the Revkom and asked for my advice on what to do to prevent the Aleksandrovsk government organ from confiscating the textile shipment.

"For if we don't receive the textiles," he cried, "our suffering will be doubled: materially, because the grain is gone, and morally, because our beautiful social initiative will have failed. Help!" He wept, holding his head in his hands.

Keeping our calm, at least in appearance, we convoked an emergency meeting of the Revkom and Soviet and decided to sent a protest to the Provisioning Section of Aleksandrovsk in the name our two revolutionary organizations. We complained about the anti-revolutionary action of seizing a shipment which was intended to go elsewhere and we said we were prepared to label the Section as harmful to the Soviet government, if indeed it was really part of that government.

At the same time we called a General Assembly of the peasants and workers of Gulyai-Pole. I also decided to dispatch three members of the Anarchist Communist Group Moisei Kalinichenko, A. Marchenko, and P. Sokruta who also happened to be members of the Revkom, to inform the toilers of the whole raion about the seizure by the government Provisioning Section of Aleksandrovsk of the textiles sent to them by the factory workers of Moscow.

The secretary of the Anarchist Communist Group, Comrade Kalinichenko, after conferring with a number of members who had arrived for the General Assembly, told me that my initiative had been approved by the Group. I wrote down quickly the essential points that our agents would have to put across. I knew these comrades well and what they were capable of accomplishing.

Our three agents left and I went to the General Assembly, accompanied by Comrades Antonov (president of the Professional Union), Seregin, and Korostelev (president of the Soviet).

This was truly a meeting of the old "Zaporozhian Sich" as we knew it from the history books. The peasants were not as credulous as in olden times and they no longer met to discuss questions of church and faith. Now they met to talk about the violation of their rights by a handful of government officials; and they were fully conscious of those rights.

Comrade Seregin took the floor. His speech was greeted with incessant applause for his initiative and cries of indignation against the actions of Aleksandrovsk.

After Comrade Seregin, others spoke on behalf of the Soviet, the Revkom, the Trade Union, and the Anarchist Communist Group.

The population demanded an immediate march on Aleksandrovsk to drive out the authorities entrenched there authorities who were useless, indeed doing harm to the toilers. This demand was not just a matter of empty phrases: the toilers at that time had at their disposal numbers of militant youth quite sufficient to occupy the city of Aleksandrovsk and expel, if not shoot outright, the government functionaries.

"The Revolution proclaimed the principles of freedom, equality, and free labour," said the oppressed toilers of Gulyai-Pole raion, "and we intend to see these principles applied. We shall kill all who try to stop us. The government of the Left Bloc, in spite of its revolutionary character, is harmful to the creative forces of the Revolution. We will destroy it or we will die trying. We will not tolerate the obstacles this government puts in the way of the free development of our forces and the improvement of our social condition. We will not accept the humiliation and oppression which this government's agents seek to impose on us and on all that is beautiful in the Revolution."

Yes, the labouring population of Gulyai-Pole on that day was ready to rise up against the government of Aleksandrovsk. And who was against this idea? Why no one! We, who had been militants from the first days of the Revolution, would not recoil from such an act because we weren't the kind of revolutionaries who need a party membership card in their pocket to prove their militancy. We were revolutionaries because we were dedicated to the idea of the triumph of justice the idea the Revolution had chosen as its credo. We couldn't allow this inspirational idea to be soiled by compromise with the authorities. We considered it our duty to keep this credo from being soiled by the two parties ruling at that time the Bolsheviks and the Left SRs. We strove to broaden, deepen, and develop further the Revolution in the lives and struggles of the toilers.

Certainly we did not have sufficient forces for such a momentous task. Nevertheless we wanted to make the attempt with the forces we had at our disposal, knowing full well what would be the real results of such an effort.

That's why there was not one comrade among us who spoke against marching on Aleksandrovsk on the contrary, everybody was up for it.
I was personally convinced that the time was ripe for myself and several comrades (Kalinichenko, Marchenko, Petya Isidor, Lyutyi, S. Karetnik, Savva Makhno, Stepan Shepel) to become first among equals and lead the revolutionary forces into combat. And it seemed, indeed, that this was really going to happen.

Some cries rang out from the crowd: "Nestor Ivanovich, tell us your opinion! We must respond to this shameful provocation directed against us by the agents of the government in Aleksandrovsk."

I, as the chief of the revolutionary troops of the raion, knew what these troops were capable of. I said what I had to say: that the decision of the toilers in this case reflected their beliefs, that I shared their beliefs, and would carry out their wishes.

At this moment Comrade Seregin received a telegram from the Aleksandrovsk Government Provisioning Section. This telegram announced that the Provisioning Section of Aleksandrovsk had received the telegram from the Gulyai-Pole Revkom and Soviet, and acknowledged that the textiles re-directed to the Section had already been paid for by the toilers of Gulyai-Pole. Therefore the Section, in agreement with other Soviet organs in Aleksandrovsk uyezd, had decided to allow the textiles to be released to Gulyai-Pole. It was only a matter of sending some people to receive the shipment and accompany it to Gulyai-Pole.

When this telegram was read out to the General Assembly, the audience rejoiced but they by no means abandoned the idea of preparing for armed resistance. The meeting expressed the wish that Comrade N. Makhno organize the armed forces so that if Comrade Seregin had not received the textiles within two days, the troops could be mobilized within a day and the city of Aleksandrovsk occupied.

"We have no reason to march at the moment," said the peasants. "We're not looking to pick a fight over nothing. But we should be ready to march whenever it's necessary that's what we think now and that's how we will think in the future."

Within a day Comrade Seregin told the Revkom that he had received news from the agents he had dispatched to the effect that they had received the goods and they had now arrived at the Gulyai-Pole station. Therefore he called another General Assembly of peasants and workers at which he was empowered to ask the peasants to help organize the transport of the textiles to the provisioning depot and also to arrange for distributing the textiles to the population of Gulyai-Pole.

Comrade Seregin asked me, as well as other comrades from the Revkom and the Anarchist Communist Group to attend the meeting and help him explain to the population the advantages of such exchanges between city and country, exchanges which ought to be carried out on a greater scale and extended to all branches of consumption.

The General Assembly proceeded under the following theme: how to arrange the exchange of goods between city and country without the intermediary of state power.

The example was before our eyes: without the intermediary the country would get to know the city better and city would get to know the country better. This was a necessary condition for successfully unifying the two class forces of labour for the common goal to relieve the State of all power over public functions and abolish its social authority; in short, to abolish it.

To the extent that this great idea developed itself among the toilers in Gulyai-Pole and its raion, to the extent that they adopted it, they took up the struggle against the authoritarian principles which were impeding them. The toilers grasped the importance of these exchanges of goods and affirmed their right to carrying out these exchanges.

At the same they also saw such exchanges as a way of undermining the bases of capitalism in the Revolution, vestiges which remained from tsarist times. That's why, after all the textiles had been distributed, the population of Gulyai-Pole considered how they might extend the exchanges to all essential objects of consumption. This would prove that the Revolution was not just about destroying the bases of the bourgeois-capitalist system, but also about planning the construction of a new society on a basis of equality in which would grow and develop the free consciousness of the toilers. Their lives would then be devoted to the struggle for a "higher justice" in place of the injustice which now prevailed and which was rooted in people exploiting and oppressing one another.

The toilers of Gulyai-Pole conferred with the toilers of other villages and raions in order to bring about the exchange of goods between city and country and to coordinate this with the existing situation where the Revolution had to be defended. But the defence of the Revolution will be steadfast and durable only if the non-exploiting classes recognize its essentially creative character. This can only happen when, after casting off the yoke of the bosses the factory owner and the estate owner and that of the supreme boss the State the people organize themselves for their new social and political life and that they defend it. Consequently, it is essential that the toilers of the villages, in order to better understand and defend more effectively the creative principles of the Revolution, draw closer to the city workers. The village toilers will thus have a better sense of their role in creating the Revolution.

The destructive period of the Revolution will be completed only when the creative phase begins, the phase which will involve not only the revolutionary vanguard (and its detachments), but the whole population, Inspired by the flame of the Revolution, the people will try to help it, in acts and in words, to overcome the obstacles which turn up.

During the ten or eleven months of their active participation in the Revolution, the toilers of Gulyai-Pole raion had many occasions to verify the correctness of this scheme and apply it to develop their own lives in a free and healthy way forged by them daily in their own practical activity.

This healthy social phenomenon in the life and struggle of the toilers generally and of the toilers of Gulyai-Pole raion in particular could not help but be noticed by the Left Bloc headed by Lenin. The Left Bloc noticed this phenomenon from the first days of its appearance on the revolutionary scene. And this so-called ultra-left socialist power entered into open struggle with it. First this affected communications between city and country, and then the authorities took on the role of determining the degree of revolutionary character and legal rights not only of individuals, but of the whole working class. We're talking here about the right to use their own intelligence, their own will, about their very participation in the Revolution on whose behalf it was supposedly being carried out.

Thus the textiles, coming from the city factory workers to the peasants in exchange for the products of agriculture produced through the peasants' labour, were distributed among the population of Gulyai-Pole and its raion by the Gulyai-Pole Co-operative and the Food Board. The raion Soviet, together with the provisioning organizations, decided it was necessary to broaden and deepen the concept of exchanging goods between city and country without the usual intermediaries agents of the state and their functionaries.

Delegates were sent to several cities to investigate various questions concerning the practical side of goods exchange. Meanwhile the peasants began to build up stocks of wheat, flour, and other food products in a special warehouse which henceforth was designated to store goods destined for future exchange. This time, however, our delegates returned for the most part with empty hands. The authorities of the Left Bloc had, in all the workplaces, categorically forbidden the proletarian organizations from entering into any sort of direct relationship with the villages. For this purpose there existed according to the authorities proletarian organizations: Prodorgans. These statist entities were charged with organizing the industrial and agricultural development of the cities and villages, thereby consolidating socialism in the whole country.

Only in Moscow were the revolutionary workers of the textile factories able to obtain from the ruling socialists the right to exchange once more their goods against the products of Gulyai-Pole raion. But the shipment of textiles was extremely difficult. It was stopped several times en route. The government "prodorgans" shunted them from one railway siding to another for over two weeks until rail transport came to a complete halt because of the war situation. Powerful German armies, accompanied by detachments of the Central Rada and the Ukrainian SRs and SDs, were advancing on Kiev and Odessa. The leaders of the Ukrainian SRs and SDs, Professor Hrushevsky and the publicist O. Vinnichenko respectively, had concluded an alliance with the German and Austrian emperors directed against the Left Bloc. Now these Ukrainian SRs and SDs were leading their allies onto Ukrainian soil and showing them the shortest and most practical routes towards the Dnepr and the Revolutionary Front.

To the agents of the Left Bloc regime there was a choice: either abandon the textile shipment somewhere on the railway, thus leaving it to the new authorities who would receive their marching orders from the Germans and Austrians; or send it to its proper destination, thereby showing the toilers of the cities and villages that, despite the retreat and the scoundrels who were taking over, their needs still counted.
The shipment finally arrived in Gulyai-Pole and was shared out according to the wishes of the inhabitants.
 


On to Chapter 26 New members of our Group

Back to Chapter 24 Suppression of the zemstvo territorial units; formation of a Revkom by members of the Soviet; search for funds

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