Monday 30 January 2017

Revising the Russian & Ukrainian Revolutions

While I am doing the rewrite on the Russian and Ukrainian Revolutions for Wildfire, I am struck that few records capture the excitement of those times as well as US communist journalist John Reed, collected in his seminal book Ten Days That Shook The World. Here he is, riding to Petrograd in a truck loaded with Red Guards and driven by a grizzled worker, recalling dawn breaking on the morning of the October Revolution, when anarchists and Bolsheviks had stormed the Winter Palace:

"The road was crowded with the proletarian army going home, and new reserves were pouring out to take their places… Across the horizon spread the glittering lights of the capital, immeasurably more splendid by night than by day, like a dike of jewels on the barren plain. The old workman who drove held the wheel in one hand, while with the other he swept the far-gleaming capital in an exultant gesture. ‘Mine!’ he cried, his face all alight. ‘All mine now! My Petrograd!’"

The above sketched map represents Petrograd during the October Revolution. The Vyborg District was the working-class and factory district where the anarchists had their greatest strength (though they also dominated the railways, two stations of which can be seen here), while the Kronstadt naval base on the horizon is where they had a strong presence within the revolutionary fleet.

Unfortunately, the crushing of the revolution by the Bolsheviks themselves has disjointed the anarchist narrative of organisational lineages. For instance, the Petrograd Anarchist Federation (PAF) was founded there in 1906 and survived Tsarist repression until, after having many of its militants give their lives on the front in defence of the Revolution from White reactionary forces, they were suppressed by the Bolsheviks in mid 1918. A similar fate awaited the Petrograd Anarchist Communist Federation (PACF), and Union of Anarcho-Syndicalist Propaganda (UASP). 

Meanwhile, the Bolsheviks upheld Russia's colonial exploitation of the Ukraine by not only betraying the Makhnovists and Black Guards who had repulsed the White Armies' attempts to march on Moscow, but also the Union of Black Sea Sailors (SCM), founded in 1906, and the South Russian Anarcho-Syndicalist Group (JUGAS), founded in 1905: both were suppressed in 1918/1919. There was a new sheriff in town - and he was a deceitful and murderous sonofabitch!