to Lenin’s assistance, Makhno was able to return to the Ukraine after a long
and dangerous journey. The Bolsheviks provided him with the passport of a
schoolteacher; they also tried to recruit him as one of their agents in the
Ukraine, but he refused their offer. Arriving at his native Gulai-Polye, Makhno
learned that in his absence his mother’s house had been burned to the ground
and his older brother, a war invalid, murdered by the forces of reaction. (14)
is little evidence that Makhno’s interview with Sverdlov and Lenin were of any
historical significance. The Bolsheviks continued to pursue an unenlightened
policy towards the Ukraine. Completely misjudging their strength in the
countryside, they called for a mass uprising on August 7th, 1918,
which resulted in a fiasco. (15) And when they invaded the
Ukraine for the second time at the end of 1918 they repeated all the same
mistakes in their dealings with the peasants with all the same results. (16)
Ironically, Makhno’s ideas on waging a ‘people’s war’ in the countryside
were eventually to be emulated (unwittingly) by Marxist-Leninist leaders in the
Third World – for very different ends.
went on to organise the movement which bears his name, the Makhnovschins, which
struggled for three years to establish an anarchist society in the south-eastern
Ukraine. From a purely military point of view, Makhno’s partisan army had a
great deal to do with the outcome of the Civil War: many of the anarchist
militants gave their lives in a desperate battle with the armies of the
‘White’ General Deniken and succeeded in cutting his supply lines just as
his forces were closing in on Moscow.
and Trotsky followed Makhno’s activities with the greatest interest. (17)
At one point they even considered ceding part of the Ukraine to the anarchists
to carry out their social experiment. (18) But in the end the
Makhnovschina was drowned in the blood of thousands of executed peasants. (19)
Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman visited Lenin in 1920 to plead the case of
anarchists in Russian prisons, Lenin expostulated: “Anarchists? Nonsense! We
do have bandits in prison, and Makhnovites, but no ideological anarchists.” (20)
Notes (use your browser's BACK button to return to text)
The Latvian riflemen, 17,000 strong, were one of the mainstays of early Bolshevik power. They took part in the first Bolshevik invasion of the Ukraine in January 1918. John Erickson “The Origins of the Red Army” in Richard Pipes (ed.) “Revolutionary Russia”.
This committee was set up at Gulai-Polye in September 1917 in response to the attempted rightist coup by General Kornilov. The committee carried out revolutionary expropriations in the area of Gulai-Polye. Palij, “Anarchism of Nestor Makhno”, p.71
Prussian Junkers – aristocratic landowners who dominated the officer corps of the German Army. The alliance between the Ukrainian landowners backing Skoropadsky and the German officers was a natural one.
The Red Guards, the Bolshevik regime’s first military force, were phased out and replaced by the Red Army in the spring of 1918. The Red Guard featured voluntary service and elected officers; the Red Army was based on conscription and control from above. Compulsory military service for the Russian working class was introduced on May 29 1918 and the first Red Army divisions were deployed about the time of Makhno’s visit. Erickson, as before.
Bolshevik Russia was officially at peace with Germany and Austria-Hungary. A Bolshevik invasion of the Ukraine would also be likely to provoke intervention by France and Great Britain.
The anarchists in Russia were split into various factions, the main groupings being the anarcho-syndicalists and the anarchist-communists. Both tendencies drew inspiration from the writings of Bakunin and Kropotkin. Avrich, “The Russian Anarchists”.
Peter Arshinov, a fellow alumnus of Batyrki Prison, had a great influence on Makhno. He joined Makhno in the Ukraine in 1919 and later wrote the standard anarchist account of the Makhnovshchina.
Makhno is referring to the Central Rada, which was dominated by members of the several Ukrainian socialist parties.
The episode Makhno is referring to came about when the Central Rada allowed several troop trains of Cossacks to pass through the Ukraine on their way from the German front to their home in the Don basin, where an anti-Bolshevik uprising was in progress. Makhno’s anarchist partisans collaborated with local Bolsheviks in seizing a railway bridge over the Dneipr and disarming the Cossacks. Palij, “Anarchism of Nestor Makhno” pp.83-84.
The original Haidamaks were Ukrainian rebels of the 18th century who rose against the Russian tsar and the Polish king. The name was revived by the nationalists of the Central Rada.
Maria Nikiforova was an anarchist partisan leader whose career closely parallels Makhno’s up to the point of her capture and execution by the Whites in the autumn of 1919. In April 1918 she received a commendation from the Bolshevik general Antonov for her revolutionary activities. Palij, "Anarchism of Nestor Makhno", pp 87-88.
|12.||Better known as the Cheka. According to the head of this organ, Felix Dzerzhinsky, "Simultaneously with the disarmament of the anarchists, crime in Moscow decreased 80 per cent." Quoted in Palij, same place, p.63.|
|13.||On June 12 1919 the Bolsheviks signed an armistice with the Hetman's government, which involved recognition of the Ukrainian state. Same place, p.37.|
|14.||Peter Arshinov, "History of the Makhnovist Movement 1918-1921" (Detroit, 1974) p.54.|
|15.||Adams, "The Great Ukrainian Jacquerie", in Hunczak, mentioned before, p.254.|
|16.||Arthur E. Adams, "Bolsheviks in the Ukraine: The Second Campaign 1918-1919" (New Haven, 1963)|
|17.||M. Malet, "Makhno and his Enemies", META Vol.1, p.14.|
|18.||Victor Serge, "Memoirs of a Revolutionary" (London 1963) p.119.|
|19.||G.P. Maximoff, "The Guillotine at Work" (Chicago 1940), chap.7.|
|20.||Emma Goldman, "Living My Life" (Garden City NY 1931) p.765|
On to Appendix
Return to Index
Return to The Nestor Makhno Archive