The Russian Revolution in Ukraine

Nestor Makhno

Chapter 19: Counter-Revolution of the Ukrainian Central Rada

At the end of the Congress, the delegates dispersed to their homes. We, Comrade Mironov and I, went to the Anarchist Federation with the intention of finding some good propagandists we could take back with us to the countryside. The Federation was in a better state than when I visited it in August while attending the Provincial Congress of Peasants and Workers. At that time I visited its various sections (the club, etc.). The Federation was still rather weak it was barely able to tend to the city and its adjacent settlements Amur, Nizhne-Dneprovsk, and Kaidaki. And yet the Federation was rich in armaments: carbines, rifles, and cartridges. In view of the unusual situation holding sway in the city, the Bolshevik - Left-SR authorities had freely issued weapons to the Ekaterinoslav Federation of Anarchists, without any control whatsoever.

The Bloc saw the Federation of Anarchists as true revolutionaries who spurned the Ukrainian nationalists, backed up as they were by the bourgeoisie and generally in the camp of the Counter-Revolution. The Bloc used the enthusiasm, firm belief, and devotion to the Revolution of the Ekaterinoslav anarchists in every serious revolutionary crisis.

Having these weapons at its disposal, the Federation issued several boxes of rifles to us for the Gulyai-Pole Anarchist Communist Group. We loaded these weapons on the train and travelled back to Gulyai-Pole.

In Gulyai-Pole we made a series of reports about the Congress and all the obstacles which stood in its way. Subsequently we made similar reports in other villages and settlements.

From this time Gulyai-Pole raion began to arm itself in earnest and exercise vigilance towards the new revolutionary masters. The notion that these new masters the Bolsheviks and the Left S-Rs would also hinder the creative development of free thought and action by the toilers of the oppressed villages little by little began to be confirmed even in the minds of those toilers who wanted to believe in the Left Bloc.

The peasants and workers learned from their delegates that the Bolshevik Epstein stated at the Congress: "The urban proletariat has come to power and one must hope that it will create its own state a Proletarian State. We, the Bolsheviks, will devote all our strength to helping it create such a State, because this is the only way the proletariat will achieve the happiness it seeks."

The toilers of Gulyai-Pole interpreted these words as saying that the Bolshevik Party, abandoning all scruples, would build its own "proletarian" State at the expense of the peasants. They began anxiously to follow the course of events in the cities.

In the villages, the peasants began to teach each other how to handle rifle.

"Our enemies, the authorities," they said, "are armed, and if they decide to deprive us of our right to an independent existence and the right to create new social structures, then they will launch an attack on us. Consequently, we must be prepared to reply in kind."

So the peasants prepared. In Gulyai-Pole itself there were people from the poor peasantry who had received serious military training. They took young people out into the fields and taught them shooting, manoeuvres, etc.

Among those who knew how to handle weapons and were always ready to share this knowledge with others, one stood out especially Yakov Domashenko. He inspired both young and old and stuck with the peasants till the very end. When armed struggle broke out, he was several times wounded in battle, fighting with the peasants for Bread and Liberty.

Events were developing rapidly.

Every day we heard rumours that the Ukrainian Central Rada could not come to an agreement with the Left Bloc (over who would be in charge) and, dragging the toiling masses into the fray, they were going to embark on a bloody struggle against the Bloc.

In Gulyai-Pole and its raion more and more often appeared dozens of agents of the Central Rada, who preached "perpetual war with the katzaps".

The inhabitants of the raion became even more anxious.

Representative from the villages and hamlets of the raion daily appeared in Gulyai-Pole at the office of the Anarchist Communist Group in the building of the Soviet of Workers' and Peasants' Deputies. They consulted with the anarchists and with the Soviet about what to prepare for in the near future, what they needed to do to preserve their right to land, bread, and liberty which might by curtailed by the programs of one or other government.

The Gulyai-Pole Anarchist Communist Group equipped two of its members N. Makhno and Antonov so they could travel round the whole raion and share with the population the opinion of our group about what was troubling them.

Simultaneously, the Group pressured the Soviet (through our members N. Makhno, Sokruta, Kalinichenko, Antonov, Seregin, and Krat) to send their members from outlying districts back home to find out the mood of the inhabitants. They were also to inform people about what was happening at the Soviet and what the raion should do in case the stories about the Counter-Revolution were confirmed.

The reciprocal respect and trust between the anarchist-communists and the toiling population of the raion became stronger and broader.

In my capacity as chairperson of the Gulyai-Pole Soviet I was empowered to do whatever was necessary to clarify the difficult situation of the revolution. So I sent two members of the Soviet to Odessa and Kiev (places where the troops of the Central Rada and the Left Bloc were clashing). When they returned and reported on what was happening, we immediately convened a Congress of Soviets.

At this Congress of the Soviets of Gulyai-Pole rayon we examined all the facts about the activities of the Central Rada and the Left Bloc. It was clear that the Central Rada, although lead by socialist-revolutionaries and social democrats, had as its goal not only driving the "katzaps" out of "Motherland Ukraine", but also wiping out all every last trace of the Social Revolution.

The Congress passed the following resolution: Death to the Central Rada.

(This resolution of the Congress was rigorously put into practice.)

Several days after this, when the delegates had dispersed to their homes, the Soviet received a telegram from Aleksandrovsk announcing that units of the Central Rada had occupied the city in order to secure the Kichkass Bridge for the trains which were transporting Cossack troops from the external front to join General Kaledin on the Don.

When this telegram was received and understood the whole population of the raion, including the young and old, were on their feet.

I immediately received telephone messages and letters from all the villages of Gulyai-Pole raion. Most of these messages were brief, but clearly revolutionary. They expressed the readiness of the population to empower me to handle this crisis with the assistance of the best members of the Anarchist Communist Group who had done such a good job organizing the peasants.

The sincere and absolute confidence which the peasantry demonstrated towards me I found worrisome. (I say peasantry, not mentioning the workers because in Gulyai-Pole raion the chief role in the Revolution was played by the peasants; the workers at that time mostly took a wait-and-see position vis--vis the Revolution.) I had been working like crazy, never taking any rests, but never felt tired. But the trust of the peasants worried me I feared setting out on the path of war.

Only a clear awareness that revolutionary work must be devoid of any sentimentality (which had infected my comrades) sustained me and I thrust any anxiety from my thoughts.

I posed the following question to myself and to my comrades of the Anarchist Communist Group: if I am an adherent of revolutionary anarchism, would it not be a great crime to limit myself in this time of great popular events to a secondary role? Would this not require me to trail after other groups and parties which would probably be hostile to our own views? An anarchist revolutionary must be in the vanguard of the fighting masses in order to win them over to the real struggle of Labour with Capital, not sparing oneself in the process.

I recall what I said at the meeting of our Group:

"It's time to put an end to meetings. The times demand action. This remark really isn't applicable to our group but we should keep it in mind.

Sixty to seventy percent of those comrades who call themselves anarchists are diverting themselves by seizing the gentry's' fancy homes in the cities and nothing gets done among the peasantry. Their way is the wrong way. They can't influence the course of events sitting in those mansions. It's sad, but that's the way it is! Our group will have to work even harder among the peasants. Any day now the haidamaks of the Central Rada will descend on our region. These brutes bear, at the tips of their bayonets, the death of the Revolution and life of its enemies.

Our Group must form the vanguard of the struggle with these hirelings of the Counter-Revolution and lead against them the all toiling population of the rayon...

So, comrades, let's get ready: some of you for local actions, others for the Congress which our Soviet has called for the day after tomorrow.

We must prove ourselves worthy of the trust the toilers of our raion have in us. And we can only do this by dedicating ourselves to their struggle for freedom and independence."

The Group knew what it had to do at such a moment. Tirelessly, in the course of several months of revolution, it had moved itself and moved the peasantry in the same direction. And I would never have dared to speak about it if my opinion had not been requested on this question.

We prepared ourselves. A day later the delegates from the peasants arrived at the Congress.

At the Congress I decline the office of chairperson offered to me and took the floor with a report on behalf of the Gulyai-Pole Soviet and the Anarchist Communist Group. The Congress discussed my report thoroughly and resolved as follows: to put in order our weak forces, where they existed; and where they did not exist, to organize them immediately. And at the first summons from the Gulyai-Pole Soviet to muster in Gulyai-Pole or some other assembly point indicated by Gulyai-Pole.

This was at the end of December 1917.


On to Chapter 20 With the Left Bloc against the Counter-Revolution

Back to Chapter 18 Provincial Congress

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