Victor Serge

The Counter-Revolution

The Social Revolutionary Directory of 1918

(17 March 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 21, 17 March 1922, pp. 159–160.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The history of the Russian counter-revolution, infuriated by four years of war against the workers, defeated ten times, resuming the attack ten times with the cooperation of international reaction, is full of material for the militant Communist (and still more for the militant revolutionary whom experience and study have not as yet led to Communism). We are enabled to study this history through a number of documents which have just been published. I am taking the liberty of commenting on it in a few pages; and this article will contain a summary of the memoirs published on the Social Revolutionary government of 1918, which began the civil war. The work which I have studied comes from the pen of a Social Revolutionary who attended the Ufa Conference, V.I. Utgoff. [1] He has come to some interesting conclusions on the inevitableness of the dictatorship and the role of the middle classes parties in the revolution.

November 1917 – After less than one week of struggle in the big cities, the revolution was accomplished, bringing to the people of Europe peace, giving to the peasants and workers of Russia, the land, the factories, the shops, liberty and the future. Hardly any bloodshed! No extraordinary disciplinary measures. No death penalty. The army demobilized itself. The police disappeared. All the power was with the Soviets without even pronouncing the word “dictatorship”. That was too good to be true. The class war was preparing and began. The disintegration of the old society did not bring to life a new world; but civil war.

The technicians were on strike or sabotaged. The Allied missions were hotbeds of espionage and conspiracy. There was but one thought – reestablishing the old order. The bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie organized and conspired. A big party of the middle classes called “Social Revolutionaries” armed itself for reaction. German imperialism asked itself whether it should destroy Red Russia by treading it underfoot, and while parleying and making peace, occupied the fertile Ukraine, made inroads on Central Russia and prepared an attack on Petrograd. Assassinations took place; former Social Revolutionaries killed Bolshevik commissars.

The civil war began with the revolt of the Czecho-Slovak troops. This revolt was the work of the Allied missions, and of a secret society of royalists and Social Revolutionaries (The Union for the Safety of the Country and of Liberty). M. Noulens instigated the insurrection of Yaroslav. At Samara the members of the Constituent Assembly formed a government ... In order to understand the enormous difficulties which the Russian revolution in its creative work had to encounter each day for some years, in order to call to mind the tragic social disintegration which gave birth to the proletarian state, it is sufficient to realize that at this epoch, White Russia was spread around a Red Russia still without an army and practically without administration.

In September 1918, V.L. Utgoff relates that there were no less than a score of governments in Russia. 1 – At the center, the government of the Soviets which was to be overthrown at any price; 2 – the government of the Northern regions; 3 – the government of the Don; 4 – the Kuban government; 5 – the Committee of the Constituent Assembly of Samara; 6 – the Committee of the Constituents of Kama; 7 – the autonomous government of Turkestan; 8 – the government of the Caspian regions; 9 – the Bashkir government; 10 – the Cossack government of the Urals; 11 – the government of the Urals (Ekaterinburg); 12 – the government of Western Siberia; 13 – the corps of Semenoff; 14 – the government of the Far East, formed by M. Houvat; 15 – the government of Transbaikal; 16 – the government of M. Berber (Far East); 17 – the Duma of Vladivostok; 18 – the Siberian government (military government); 19 – the National Council of Czechoslovak troops; 20 – the Autonomous Council of the region of Yakutsk. And the Turco-Tartars dispersed in Russia also obeyed a National Council, which had great influence. Six states were formed in the region occupied by German troops: 1 – the Ukraine; 2 – Crimea; 3 – White Russia; 4 – Lithuania; 5 – Latvia; 6 – Esthonia. Five states were detached from Russia and enjoyed real independence: 1 – Georgia; 2 – Armenia; 3 – Circassia; 4 – Poland; 5 – Finland.

The map of feudal Germany around 1300 is scarcely more parcelled out. And it was in this chaos, when the bandits made and remade governments every day, that the Communist republic had to defend its existence, directly threatened in the South by the occupation of the Ukraine (the most important wheat granary); in the East by the White governments of Samara, Ufa and Omsk, who occupied and devastated the country of the Volga, the Urals and Western Siberia (the second wheat granary). With these conditions what did the revolution need in order to exist? An army – but an army which, different from those of the counter-revolutionary generals would be an army of the people, permeated with a new spirit and new customs, formed by one class for the defense of that class – a red army. And in back of this army there had to be a powerful mechanism of administration and organization, centralized and provided with formidable means of interior defense, in order to survive the permanent plotting which was going on everywhere – there had to be a proletarian state, the instrument of revolutionary dictatorship.

I submit these thoughts to the militants whose legitimate aversion for the army and the State sometimes renders them unjust to the Russian Revolution.

The enemies of the revolution needed the same weapons – an army, a dictatorship. They looked for them. That could be seen from the first attempts that they made to organize themselves in a body, at the Conference of the State of Ufa (opened Sept. 8, 1918).

The majority of the Russian governments were represented there. A large number of Social Revolutionaries (Volsky, Vedeniapin, Fortunatov, Rakitnikov, Minor, Avksentiev, Breshko-Breshkovskaya) met with Mensheviks (Lepski, Mayski, Kibrik), Cadets, royalist generals and the reactionary adventurers of all kinds. That was indeed the united front of reaction.

In opposition to the Social Revolutionaries representing the petty bourgeoisie and who, still haunted by their dream of a Parliamentary Democracy, wished the formation of a Constituent government, the Cadet L.A. Krol demanded:

“A power strong, supreme, personal, uncontrollable and irresponsible.”

“For”, he said, “ great tasks demand great resolutions”. In other words, safety for the bourgeoisie lies only in a military dictatorship.

The Conference of Ufa did not accept this proposal from the very first. The Social Revolutionaries, intellectual and already Parliamentary elements, coming from the middle class, whose interests can scarcely be adapted to the reign of the sabre and absolutism, preferred their own proposal, while the Red Army drove the White forces back to the crest of the Urals, took Simhirsk (Sept. 5th), Kazan, even Samara (Sept. 18th–25th), the Ufa Conference formed a Directory composed of one Cadet (N.I. Astrov), one Liberal general (Boldrev), one S.R. (Avksentiev), the old Populist-Socialist Tchaikovsky and a representative of the Siberian government, Vologodski: In reality the Social Revolutionaries had the decisive influence. Among their ministers there was the admiral – Koltchak

This Directory was not destined to have a long life. Admiral Koltchak was soon going to stop it, and in proclaiming himself “Supreme Ruler”, to realize the inevitable military dictatorship. The causes of this evolution must be noted.

The influence of the Social Revolutionaries rested partly on the temporary support of the Czecho-Slovak troops who had a “democratic” state of mind. In fact the Directory relied upon these proletarians and when they failed, it fell. The Social Revolutionaries had no men. Their inability in matters of organization was such that as Ministers they had to resort to the services of the most inferior and unsound specialists in order to maintain a semblance of order in their departments. [2] This startling intellectual poverty of the party of the middle classes is significant. It was an addition to their weakness of character: They had no more energetic leaders than administrators. In the atmosphere of conspiracy, of intrigue, of violence and murder, which prevailed then in the Urals and in counter-revolutionary Siberia, the S.R. leaders needed, above all, good will and energy.

The secret societies of officers sapped their influence, Bolshevik propaganda spread among the poorer classes; the atrocities of the reprisals detachments exasperated the peasants. The Directory was strangely passive.

However, its Minister of Justice elaborated a law, creating special tribunals consisting of three judges appointed to office having extremely extensive rights, and exclusively charged with the fight against revolutionary propaganda and the internal enemy, with the right to sentence to death.

Thus the Social Revolutionary Directory instituted the terror. But it did not have the license to apply it. More energetic reactionaries wrested the power from its hands, and caused torrents of blood to flow in the whole of Siberia.

When Koltchak had accomplished his coup de force, V.L. Utgoff met a high S.R. officer who presented the situation in these words: “We could arrest Koltchak and his friends. But who will take over the power then? The same Volskys, the same Tcherenovs who are so utterly incapable of holding it?” Incapable and weak, what did the social Revolutionaries think of the government of Ufa? “They wanted coalition with the bourgeoisie at any price.” For them the national question surpassed all others. They maintained that the economic and political reconstruction of Russia was impossible without the cooperation of the bourgeoisie. In their eyes “historic necessity would restore the bourgeoisie to power” as one of the Constituents wrote. The “grandmother of the revolution”, Breshko-Breshkovskaya, allied herself to this lamentable ideology. For this cause the “Social Revolutionaries” would have carried on, if they had any energy, a systematic regime of terror against the workers!

In 1918, parcelled-out Russia, where civil war broke out in all parts, desired by international reaction, was between two dictatorships. Reaction and revolution cannot conquer except by these old means: the army, the state, the law of the strongest Red Russia was born in chaos surrounded by a world of enemies. It will live, it will conquer because it has the sympathy of the large masses of the workers and peasants, because it has – as is usual in history with the classes which progress – an élite body of men conscious of their historic task, intelligent, erudite, inexorable.

The Ufa Conference marked first attempt to oppose the revolution through the reactionary state, the united front of all the forces of the past. These attempts enlighten us upon the role of the party of the middle classes in the counter-revolution This party appeared as the vanguard of reaction, for which its redundant phraseology, its famous ideology (Republicanism, Parliamentarism, Democracy, Socialism and ministerial coalition), particularly decisive in an epoch of social disorders, prepared the way. It was poor in men, weak, incapable of holding a power which it succeeded in taking through the prestige of democratic illusions, condemned to be ground between two forces: the revolutionary proletariat and the ancient military caste, the last rampart of the bourgeoisie. And since 1918 it has become evident that the fate of the revolution will be decided exclusively by the war between these two forces – an organized, methodical, merciless war, such as modern states wage.

* * *


1. Appeared in Byloé (The Past) No. 16, Petrograd 1921.

2. The criticisms of the incompetence of the leaders are extremely severe. “The Minister of Ways and Communications was unable to distinguish between a pressure gauge and a coat-rack.” (Utgoff)

Last updated on 4 September 2019