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The Failure Of The Russian Revolution

category russia / ukraine / belarus | history of anarchism | opinion / analysis author Wednesday January 27, 2016 07:23author by Emma Goldman Report this post to the editors

Extracts from anarchist-communist Emma Goldman's classic analysis, as presented in her 1924 "My Further Disillusionment with Russia." Goldman argued clearly that the Russian Revolution's end, in a new one-party dictatorship and new elite ruling a highly unequal society, could not be excused as a simple degeneration caused by external pressures of imperialist intervention and economic crisis (the view of defenders of the Communist Party). It also could not be explained as the inevitable result of class-based revolution that overthrew parliament and private property (the view of liberals). The programme and actions of the Communist Party, based on building a centralised state run by a single centralised party and repression, crushed democratic bottom-up proletarian and peasant initiative and self-management, worsened the economic situation, and destroyed the revolution from within. The revolution itself was actually very democratic and egalitarian, not by its nature dictatorial, and this placed it in a fatal struggle with Bolshevik / Communist rule. Revolution, to succeed, needs a total "transvaluation" of values to a "libertarian spirit" that rejects authoritarianism, and bottom-up "economic" mobilisation of the masses through steps like anarcho-syndicalism and co-operatives, that place decisions in the hands of the grassroots masses. "Means" must match "ends," and ethics and action must always be consistently based on libertarian, just principles: "Today is the parent of tomorrow. "

(Extracts from "My Further Disillusionment with Russia," 1924, as presented in George Woodcock (ed), "The Anarchist Reader," 1977, pp. 153-162)
(Digitised by Leroy Maisiri, ZACF, South Africa).

It is now clear why the Russian Revolution, as conducted by the Communist Party, was a failure. The political power of the party, organized and centralized in the State, sought to maintain itself by all means at hand. The central authorities attempted to force the activities of the people into forms corresponding with the purposes of the party. The sole aim of the latter was to strengthen the State and monopolize all economical, political and social activities - even all cultural manifestations. The revolution had an entirely different object, and in its very character it was the negation of authority and centralization. It strove to open ever-larger fields for proletarian expression and to multiply the phases of individual and collective effort. The aims and tendencies of the Revolution were diametrically opposed to those of the ruling political party.

Just as diametrically opposed were the methods of the Revolution and of the State. Those of the former were inspired by the spirit of the Revolution itself: that is to say, by emancipating from all oppressive and limiting forces; in short by libertarian principles. The methods of the State, on the contrary- of the Bolshevik State as of every government were based on coercion, which in the course of things necessarily developed into systematic violence, oppression and terrorism. Thus two opposing tendencies struggled for supremacy: the Bolshevik State against the Revolution. That struggle was a life-and-death struggle. The two tendencies, contradictory in aims and methods, could not work harmoniously; the triumph of the State meant the defeat of the Revolution.

It would be an error to assume that the failure of the Revolution was due entirely to the character of the Bolshevik. Fundamentally, it was the result of the principles and methods of Bolshevism. It was the authoritarian spirit and principles of the State which stifled the libertarian and liberating aspirations. Were any other political party in control of the government in Russia the result would have been essentially the same. It is not so much the Bolsheviki who killed the Russian Revolution as the Bolshevik idea. It was Marxism, however modified; in short, fanatical governmentalism … The Russian Revolution reflects on a small scale the century-old struggle of the libertarian principle against the authoritarian. For what is progress if not the more general acceptance of the principles of the principles of liberty as against those of coercion?

The Russian Revolution was a libertarian step defeated by the Bolshevik Party, by the temporary victory of the reactionary, the governmental idea …

The Libertarian principle was strong in the initial days of the Revolution, the need for free expression all-absorbing. But when the first wave of enthusiasm receded into the ebb of everyday prosaic life, a firm conviction was needed to keep the fires of liberty burning. There was only a comparative handful in the great vastness of Russian to keep those fires lit- the Anarchists, whose number was small and whose efforts, absolutely suppressed under the Tsar, had had no time to bear fruit. The Russian people, to some extent instinctive Anarchists, were yet too unfamiliar with true liberation principles and methods to apply them effectively to life. Most of the Russian Anarchist were unfortunately still in the meshes of limited group activities and of individual endeavour as against the more important social and collective efforts …

But the failure of the Anarchists in the Russian Revolution – in the sense just indicated – does by no means argue the defeat of the libertarian idea. On the contrary, the Russian Revolution has demonstrated beyond doubt that the State idea, State Socialism, in all its manifestations (economic, political, social, educational) is entirely and hopelessly bankrupt. Never before in all history has authority, government the State, proved so inherently static, revolutionary and even counter-revolutionary in effect. In short, the very antithesis of revolution.

It remains true, as it has through all progress, that only libertarian spirit and method can bring man a step further in his eternal striving for the better, finer and freer life … all political tenets and parties notwithstanding, no revolution can be truly and permanently successful unless it puts its emphatic veto upon all tyranny and centralization, and determinedly strives to make the revolution a real revaluation of all economic, social and cultural values.

Not mere substitution of one political party for another in control of the Government, not the making of autocracy by proletarian slogans, not political scene shifting of any kind, but the complete reversal of all these authoritarian principles will alone serve the revolution.
In the economic field this transformation must be in the hands of the industrial masses: the latter have the choice between an industrial State and anarcho-syndicalism. In the case of the former the menace to the constructive development of the new social structure would be as great as from the political State. It would become a dead weight upon the growth of the new forms of life.

For that very reason syndicalism (or industrialism) alone is not, as its exponents claim, sufficient unto itself. It is only when the libertarian spirit permeates the economic organizations of the workers that the manifold creative energies of the people can manifest themselves and the revolution be safeguarded and defended. Only free initiative and popular participation in the affairs of the revolution can prevent the terrible blunders committed in Russia. For instance, with fuel only a hundred versts from Petrograd there would have been no necessity for that city to suffer from cold had the workers’ economic organizations of Petrograd been free to exercise their initiative for the common good. The peasants of the Ukraine would not have been hampered in the cultivation of their land had they had access to the farm implements stacked up in the warehouses of Kharkov and other industrial centres awaiting orders from Moscow for their distribution. These are characteristic examples of Bolshevik governmentalism and centralization, which should serve as a warning to the workers of Europe and America of the destructive effects of Statism.

The industrial power of the masses, expressed through their libertarian associations - anarcho-syndicalism- is alone able to organize successfully the economic life and carry on production. On the other hand, the co-operatives, working in harmony with the industrial bodies, serve as the distributing and exchange media between city and country and at the same time link in fraternal bond the industrial and agrarian masses. A common tie of mutual service and aid is created which is the strongest bulwark of the revolution – far more effective than compulsory labour, the Red Army, or terrorism. In that way alone can revolution act as a leaven to quicken the development of new social forms and inspire the masses to greater achievements.

But libertarian industrial organizations and the co-operatives are not the only media in the interplay of the complex phases of social life. There are the cultural forces which, thought closely related to the economic, actives have yet their own functions to perform … In Russian this was impossible almost from the beginning of the October Revolution, by the violent separation of the intelligentsia and the masses. It is true that the original offender in this case was the intelligentsia, which in Russia tenaciously clung- as it does in other countries – to the coat-tails of the bourgeoisie. This element, unable to comprehend the significance of revolutionary events, strove to stem the tide by wholesale sabotage.

But in Russian there was also another kind of intelligentsia – one with a glorious revolutionary past of a hundred years. That part of the intelligentsia kept faith with the people, though it could not unreservedly accept the new dictatorship. The fatal error of the Bolsheviki was that they made no distinction between the two elements. They met sabotage with whole sale terror against the intelligentsia as a class, and inaugurated a campaign of hatred more intensive that the persecution of the bourgeoisie itself – a method which created an abyss between the intelligentsia and the proletariat and reared a barrier against constructive work.

Lenin was the first to realize that criminal blunder. He pointed out that it was a grave error to lead the workers to believe that they could build up the industries and engage in cultural work without the aid and co-operation of the intelligentsia. The proletariat had neither the knowledge nor the training for the task, and the intelligentsia had to be restored in the direction of industrial life. But the recognition of one error never safeguarded Lenin and his party from immediately committing another. The technical intelligentsia was called back on terms which added disintegration to the antagonism against the regime.

While the workers continued to starve, engineers, industrial experts and technicians received high salaries, special privileges, and the best rations. They become the pampered employees of the State and the new slave drivers of the masses. The latter, fed for years on the fallacious teachings that muscle alone is necessary for a successful revolution and that only physical labour is productive, and incited by the campaign of hatred which stamped very intellectual a counter revolutionist and speculator could not make peace with those they had been taught to scorn and distrust.

Unfortunately Russian is not the only country where this proletarian attitude against the intelligentsia prevails. Everywhere political demagogues play upon the ignorance of the masses, teach them that education and culture are bourgeois prejudices, that the workers can do without them, and that they alone are able to rebuild society. The Russian Revolution has made it very clear that both brain and muscle are indispensable to the work of social regeneration. Intellectual and physical labour are closely related in the social body as brain and hand in the human organism. One cannot function without the other …

In previous pages I have tried to point out why Bolshevik principles, methods, and tactics failed, and that similar principles and methods applied in any other country, even of the highest industrial development, must fail. I have further show that it is not only Bolshevism that failed, but Marxism itself. That is to say, STATE IDEA, the *authoritarian principle, has been proven bankrupt by the experience of the Russian Revolution. If I were to sum up my whole argument in one sentence I should say: the inherent tendency of the State is to concentrate, to narrow, and monopolize all social activities, the nature of revolution is, on the contrary, to grow, to broaden, and disseminate itself in ever wider circles in other words, the state is institutional and static, revolution is fluent, dynamic. These two tendencies are incompatible and mutually destructive. The State idea same result in all other revolutions, unless *the libertarian idea prevails.

Yet I go much further. It is only Bolshevism, Marxism, and Governmentalism which are fatal to revolution as well as to all vital human progress. The main cause of the defeat of the Russian Revolution lies much deeper. It is to be found in the whole Socialist conception of revolution itself.
The dominant, almost general, idea of revolution – particularly the Socialist idea – is that revolution is a violent change of social conditions through which one social class the working class, becomes dominant over another class, the capitalist class. It is the conception of a purely physical change, and as such it involves only political scene shifting and institutional rearrangements. Bourgeois dictatorship is replaced by the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’- or by that of its ‘advance guard’, the Communist Party; Lenin takes the seat of the Romanovs, the Imperial Cabinet is rechristened Soviet of People’s Commissars, Trotsky is appointed Minister of War, and a labourer becomes the Military Governor General of Moscow. That is, in essence, the Bolshevik conception of revolution, as translated into actual practice. And with a few minor alterations it is also the idea of revolution held by all other Socialist parties.

This conception is inherently and fatally false. Revolution is indeed a violent process. But if it is to result in a change of dictatorship, in a shifting of names and political personalities, then it is hardly worthwhile. It is surely not worth all the struggle and sacrifice, the stupendous loss in human life and cultural values that result from every revolution. If such a revolution were to even to bring social well-being (which has not been the case in Russia) then it would also not be worth the terrific price paid: mere improvement can be brought about without bloody revolution. It is not palliatives or reforms that are the real aim and purpose of revolution, as I conceive it.

In my opinion a thousand fold strengthened by the Russian experience – the great mission of revolution, of the SOCIAL REVOLUTION, is a *fundamental transvaluation of values*. A transvaluation is not only of social, but also of human values. The latter are even pre-eminent, for they are the basis of all social values. Our institutions and conditions rest upon deep-seated ideas. To change those conditions and at the same time leave the underlying ideas and values intact means only a superficial transformation, one that cannot be permanent or bring real betterment. It is a change of form only, not of substance, as so tragically proved by Russia.

It is at once the great failure and the great tragedy of the Russian Revolution that it attempted (in the leadership of the ruling political party) to change only institutions and conditions while ignoring entirely the human and social values involved in the Revolution. Worse yet, in its mad passion for power, the Communist State even sought to strengthen and deepen the very ideas and conceptions which the revolution had come to destroy. It supported and encouraged all the worst antisocial qualities and systematically destroyed the already awakened conception of the new revolutionary values.

The sense of justice and equality, the love of liberty and of human brotherhood- these fundamentals of the real regeneration of society – the Communist State suppressed to the point of the extermination. Man’s instinctive sense of equity was branded as weak sentimentality; human dignity and liberty became a bourgeois superstition; the sanctity of life, which is the very essence of Social reconstruction, was condemned as unrevolutionary, almost counter-revolutionary. This fearful perversion of fundamental values bore within itself the seed of destruction. With the conception that the Revolution was only a means of securing political power, it was inevitable that all revolutionary values should be subordinate to the needs of the Socialist State; indeed, exploited to further the security of the newly acquired governmental power. ‘Reasons of State’, masked as the ‘interests of the Revolution and of the People’, became the sole criterion of action, even of feeling. Violence, the tragic inevitability of revolutionary upheavals, become an established custom, a habit, and was presently enthroned as the most powerful and ‘ideal’ institution. Did not Zinoviev himself canonize Dzerzhinsky, the head of the bloody Tcheka, as the ‘saint of the Revolution’? Were not the greatest public honours paid by the State to Uritsky, the founder and sadistic chief of the Petrograd Tcheka?

This perversion of the ethical values soon crystallized into the all dominating slogan of the communist Party: THE END JUSTIFIES ALL MEANS. Similarly in the past Inquisition and Jesuits adopted this motto and subordinated to it all morality. It avenged itself upon the Jesuits as it did upon the Russian Revolution. In the wake of this slogan followed lying, deceit, hypocrisy and treachery, murder, open and secret. It should be of utmost interest to students of social psychology that two movements as widely separated in time and ideas as Jesuitism and Bolshevism *reached exactly similar results* in the evolution of the principle that the end justifies all means. The historic parallel, almost entirely ignored so far, contains a most important lesson for all coming revolutions and for the whole future of mankind.

There is no greater fallacy that the belief that aims and purposes are one thing, while methods and tactics are another. This conception is a potent menace to social regeneration. All human experience teaches that methods and means cannot be trough individual habit an social practice, part and parcel of the final purpose; they influence it, modify it, and presently the aims and menas become identical. From the day of my arrival in Russian I felt it, at first vaguely, then ever more consciously and clearly. The great and inspiring aims of the Revolution became so clouded with and obscured by the methods used by the ruling political power that is was hard to distinguish what was temporary means and what final purpose. Psychologically and socially the means necessarily influence and alter the aims. The whole history of man is continuous proof of the maxim that to divest one’s methods of ethical concepts means to sink into the depths of utter demoralization. In that lies the real tragedy of the Bolshevik philosophy as applied to the Russian Revolution. May this lesson not be in vain.

No revolution can ever succeed as a factor of liberation unless the MEANS used to further it be identical in spirit and tendency with the PURPOSES to be achieved. Revolution is the negation of the existing, a violent protest against man’s inhumanity to man with all the thousand and one slaveries it involves. It is the destroyer of dominant values upon which a complex system of injustice, oppression, and wrong has been built up by ignorance and brutality. It is the herald of NEW VALUES, ushering in a transformation of the basic relations of man to man, and of man to society. It is not a mere reformer, patching up some social evils; not a mere changer of forms and institutions, not only a re-distributor of social well- being. It is all that, yet more, much more. It is first and foremost, the TRANSVALUATOR, the bearer of *new* values. It is the great TEACHER of the NEW ETHICS, inspiring man with a new concept of life, and its manifestations in social relationships. It is the mental and spiritual regenerator.

Its first ethical percept is the identity of means used and aims sought. The ultimate end of all revolutionary social change is to establish the sanctity of human life, the dignity of man the right human being to liberty and well- being. Unless this be the essential aim of revolution, violent social changes would have no justification. For *external* social alteration can be, and have been, accomplished by the normal processes of evolution. Revolution, on the contrary, signifies not merely *external* change, but *internal*, basic, fundamental change. That internal change of concepts and ideas, permeating ever-larger social strata, finally culminates in the violent upheaval known as revolution. Shall climax reverse the process of transvaluation, turn against it, betray it? That is what happened in Russian. On the country, the revolution itself must quicken and further the process of which it is the cumulative expression; its main mission is to inspire it, to carry it to greater heights, give it fullest scope for expression. Only thus is revolution true itself.

Applied in practice it means that the period of the actual revolution, the so-called transitory stage, must be the introduction, the prelude to the new social conditions. It is the threshold to the NEW LIFE, the new HOUSE OF MAN AND HUMANITY. As such it must be of the spirit of the new life, harmonious with the construction of the new edifice.

Today is the parent of tomorrow. The present casts its shadow far into the future. That is the law of life, individual and social. Revolution that divests itself of ethical values thereby lays the foundation of injustice, deceit and oppression for the future society. The means used to prepare the future become its *cornerstone*. Witness the tragic condition of Russia. The methods of State centralization have paralysed individual initiative and effort; the tyranny of the dictatorship has cowed the people into slavish submission and all but extinguished the fires of liberty; organized terrorism has depraved and brutalized the masses and stifled every idealistic life, and all sense of dignity of man and the value of life has been eliminated; coercion at every step has made effort bitter, labour a punishment, has turned the whole of existence into a scheme of mutual deceit, and has revived the lowest and most brutal instincts of man. A sorry heritage to begin a new life of freedom and brotherhood.

It cannot be sufficiently emphasized that revolution is in vain unless inspired by its ultimate ideal. Revolutionary methods must be in tune with revolutionary aims. The means used to further the revolution must harmonize with its purposes. In short, the ethical values which the revolution is to establish in the new society must be *initiated with the revolutionary activities of the so-called transitional period. The latter can serves as a real and dependable bridge to the better life only if built of the same material as the life to be achieved. Revolution is the mirror of the coming day …

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