Anarchists in the state: new perspectives on Russian anarchist participation in the Bolshevik government, 1917-1919.

Author:Miller, Martin A.

There have been few more shocking moments in the history of the anarchist movement than the decision of the renowned theorist Peter Kropotkin urging his comrades to join with the Allied cause against Germany in 1914 at the start of the First World War. His justification for this startling reversal of the classic anarchist rejection of siding with any state army was rooted in his belief that the revolutionary gains of the previous century would be rolled back exponentially if German military might prevailed. (1) In spite of his attempt to appeal broadly, his decision caused irreparable rifts in anarchist circles on both sides of the Atlantic.

Another moment of crisis and contradiction for anarchists occurred in 1936 in Spain when the anarchist Federica Montseny decided to accept the position of Minister of Health in the Republican government as part of the effort to prevent Francisco Franco's forces from taking control of the country's administration. Montseny had been a member since the age of seventeen of the National Confederation of Labor (CNT), which was at the time under the influence of Spain's anarcho-syndicalist party, and was herself the child of two prominent Spanish anarchists. Her decision, however, raised questions for anarchists both in and out of Spain, including Emma Goldman, who came to Spain during the Civil War to meet with Montseny and discuss the issue of how to justify an anarchist's participation in government. (2)

Long before this problem was raised in Spain, it had already been resolved by the activities of the anarchists in Russia who actively participated in the Bolshevik seizure of power and then in a variety of administrative positions which were contributions to the establishment of Soviet power and a socialist state. Although it is not well known, the fact is, in spite of the obvious ideological contradiction involved, that more anarchists were directly involved in the running of a state during the Russian revolutionary era than in any other single instance in the modern era.

Every anarchist knew that Michael Bakunin had been involved in vicious ideological combat with Karl Marx over control of the First International and further, that Peter Kropotkin, after his return to Russia in 1917, spent his last years strongly disagreeing with Lenin over a number of Bolshevik edicts, especially the seizing and detaining of political opponents as hostages of the regime, and the repression of anarchist collectives. (3) Nevertheless, many anarchists expressed great enthusiasm at the time of the overthrow of both the monarchy in February and the Provisional Government in October in 1917, at times even envisioning the nascent Bolshevik state administration as a transcendent historical event with messianic expectations.

Shortly after the Bolshevik seizure of power, Alexander Berkman wrote his 'tribute to Trotsky' from his prison cell in the federal penitentiary in Atlanta in January, 1918, where he awaited deportation proceedings. The Bolshevik leader, he stated, 'for the time being, personifying the spirit of revolutionary Russia, has in two short months done more for peace and humanity than all the diplomats and politicians of the combined governments of the world' in fostering 'a proletarian peace' amidst the carnage of the ongoing war. His comrade Emma Goldman, also jailed at the Jefferson State Prison in Missouri, wrote similarly of the recent events in Russia. In an article entitled 'The Great Hope,' she wrote that the Bolsheviks 'merely voice the inarticulate Russian people who have been oppressed and suppressed for centuries'. She saw the 'worldwide significance of the Russian revolution' in the fact that Bolshevik...

To continue reading