The soviet of workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ deputies

Saturday 22 October 2005, by Maximoff G.P.

The soviet of workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ deputies

I- before the “second October Revolution” the soviets were political, anarchistic, class organisation mixed with a classless intelligentsia element.

II - They served as centers in which the will of the proletariat was crystallized, without compulsion or force but by discussion, by the will of the majority without coercing the will of the minority.

III- The acts of the soviets before 24 October 1917 had a revolutionary character, for the soviets had been brought into being by the proletariat spontaneously, by revolutionary means, and with that element of improvisation which springs from the needs of each locality and which entails (a) the revolutionizing of the masses, (b) the development of their activity and self-reliance, and (c) the strengthening of their faith in their own creative powers.

IV - At that time the soviets were the best form of political organization that had ever existed, because they afforded the opportunity at any time to recall, re-elect and replace `deputies’ by others who better expressed the will of their constituents, that is, because they permitted the electors to control their elected representatives.

V - The soviets were a temporary transitional form between a representative parliamentary system and full popular rule.

Thus the soviets were a revolutionary force, alive, creative, active, alert - in a word, progressive. And the forces defending them were also revolutionary and progressive. Those forces (organizations, institutions, parties, groups, individuals) which stood to the right of the soviets were defenders of the earlier forms of government and of old institutions. They were hostile to the soviets, that is, counter-revolutionary, reactionary. Therefore, when a life-and-death struggle was being waged with these hostile forces we joined ranks temporarily with the soviets as the most revolutionary forces; joined ranks because a defeat for the revolutionary segment of democracy would have meant the defeat of the revolution itself; joined ranks in the provinces because, even though the slogan `all power to the soviets’ did not satisfy us, it was nevertheless more progressive than the demands of right-wing democracy and at least partly fulfilled our demands for the decentralization, dispersal and final elimination of authority and its replacement by autonomous and independent organizational units.

As a result of the above, during the struggle between the two sides, we have stood on the side of the revolutionary forces against the forces of reaction. We have been guided by the slogan `march apart, strike together’. But this must be our guiding slogan only until such time as those with whom we are striking together become a `real’ force, an actual authority, that is, an element of stagnation, of compulsion - in a word, of reaction. With the forces of revolution this happens immediately after their victory, when their enemies are defeated and annihilated. It happens because the throne on which the vanquished has sat, and on which the victors will now sit, cannot be put at the top of the stairway of social progress but only one step higher than under the former regime. In accordance with the inexorable laws of progress, the moment the revolutionary force becomes a ruling power it loses its revolutionary character, grows stagnant and calls into being a new force that is more revolutionary and progressive. Once the revolutionary force aspires to domination, it becomes stagnant and repressive because it strives to hold on to its power, allowing nothing and no one to limit it. As a result (and here a simple law of physics comes into play: that every action has an equal and opposite reaction) there arises a new dissatisfaction, from which emerges a new force of opposition, more alive, progressive and revolutionary in that it aims to expand the victory where the victors aim only to consolidate it then quiet things down.

This is why the Bolsheviks, before their victory over Menshevism, defencism and opportunism, were a revolutionary force. But they have now become, in keeping with the laws of progress, a force of stagnation, a force seeking to restrain the revolutionary pressures of life, a force striving to squeeze life into the artificial framework of their programme, with the result that they have given rise to a new force, progressive and revolutionary, that will seek to destroy this framework and to widen the sphere of revolutionary activity. Such a force, at the present moment, is anarchism.
Our aid to the Bolsheviks must end at the point where their victory begins. We must open a new front, for we have fulfilled the demands of progress. We will leave the present field of battle. We will go with the Bolsheviks no longer, for their `constructive’ work has begun, directed towards what we have always fought and what is a brake on progress - the strengthening of the state. It is not our cause to strengthen what we have resolved to destroy. We must go to the lower classes to organize the work of the third - and perhaps the last - revolution. And just as we earlier took part in the soviets, we must now, with the transfer of power to their hands, struggle against them as law-making and statist organs. Therefore :

1 - The soviets are now organs of power, a legal apparatus on county, district and provincial level.

2 - Russia, having recognized a new form of social life, a Republic of (completely autonomous) soviets, has not yet jettisoned as unnecessary baggage the principle of statehood. The state remains, for the soviets are organizations of power, a new type of (class) parliament, each a miniature half-free state at the county, district and provincial level.

3 - The soviets are legal, state organs, organs of a modernized representative system, and we know, as Kropotkin has said, that `every representative system, whether called a parliament, a convention or something else, whether established by the prefects of a Bonaparte or elected by a rebellious people on the basis of the fullest possible liberty, will always seek to widen its powers, increase its authority in every way and suppress the independence of the individual or group by means of the law." (1)

This tendency of representative bodies, I should add, in no way depends on their make-up. Whatever the composition of the soviets, they will surely follow the above path; to turn the soviets from this path is inconceivable. Thus to take part in the soviets with the aim of achieving a majority and guiding their activities in the direction we desire would be to accept parliamentary tactics and to renounce the revolution. It would mean becoming statist anarchists who believe in the power of laws and decrees, having lost their faith in the independence and creativity of the masses. It would mean, finally, that we believe in the liberating force of the state.

No, we must fight, and fight relentlessly, against this existing form of the soviets, because :

1 - The soviets have become organs of power in which the misguided proletariat has accepted the forms of law. As a result, the soviets have been transformed from revolutionary organizations into organizations of stagnation, of the domination of the majority over the minority, and obstacles on the road towards the further development of progress and freedom.

2 - Their acts are now acts of law which kill the spirit of the revolution and of the revolutionary creativity of the masses, encouraging sluggishness, inertia, complacency and apathy, and fostering a belief not in their own creative powers but in the might of their elected officials: Peter, Ivan, Sidor, Karp and so on.

3 - They are not organs linking together autonomous local organizations of workers.

4 - They are now organs of political struggle and intrigue among the socalled workers’ and socialist parties, and adversely affect the cause of the liberation of the workers.

Thus we must now wage a struggle against the soviets not as forms in general, not as soviets per se, but as they are presently constituted. We must work for their conversion from centres of authority and decrees into non-authoritarian centres, regulating and keeping things in order but not suppressing the freedom and independence of local workers’ organizations. They must become the centres which link together these autonomous organizations. The struggle for such soviets must be conducted, for the most part, outside the confines of the soviets and among the broad masses. But bearing in mind that not all soviets have the same clearly defined (that is, twisted and authoritarian) character, it is by no means forbidden, at least in some cases, to carry on this struggle inside the soviets. However, the main struggle for the creation of non-authoritarian soviets must be conducted outside the soviets, and it is to this struggle that first priority must be given.

But now that we have a Constituent Assembly, what must we do if this `lofty gathering’, this `Star Chamber’, should go against the soviet organization? If this indeed should happen, then our cause and our duty is that of faithful revolutionaries - to close ranks with the defenders of the soviets and brand the attempt to destroy them as counter-revolutionary. We must cooperate to disperse the forces behind such an attempt as well as the institution in which the attempt originated. If the Constituent Assembly should go against the people’s will, if it should show a tendency to deprive the people of their rights, then it will reveal itself as an enemy of the people, and must be treated as such - the Constituent Assembly must be dispersed.

Although the soviets do not completely satisfy the principles of anarchism, they nevertheless stand much closer to the realization of these principles than any other forms. Thus in any future struggle between the soviets and the Constituent Assembly - if such is in the offing - we shall go with the soviets, guided again by the principle of `strike together’.

G. Lapot’ [Maksimov], Sovety rabochikh, soldatskikh i krest’ianskikh deputatov i nashe k nim otnoshenie [Soviets of workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ deputies and our relations with them ](New York, 1918), reprinted from Golos Truda, 22 December 1917, slightly abridged. (The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution,London, 1973, pp. 102-106)

1) The quotation comes from `Representative Government’, in Kropotkin’s Paroles d’un revolté (Paris, 1885), pp. 181-182.