The Russian Revolution in Ukraine

Nestor Makhno

Chapter 29: Consolidation of the detachments; formation of a single Front with the Left Bloc

Things were happening fast. The German and Austro-Hungarian armies, led by General Eichorn, were already approaching Ekaterinoslav; from another direction shells were fired on Aleksandrovsk from near the Kichkass Bridge, about 80 kilometres from Gulyai-Pole.

Opposing them were the Red Guard detachments commanded by General Egorov as well as numerous independent detachments which received weapons and ammunition from Egorov and the chief of the reserve Red Army of the "South of Russia" Belenkevich. These autonomous units acted at their own risk and peril – most often in sectors where there were no enemies. These forces were recalled urgently from Crimea to the region of Verkhnij Tokmak and Pologi. But there was no longer any question of disembarking these troops from their echelons. They had been withdrawn from the Front too soon, which had clearly influenced their fighting spirit. They now talked only of getting as far as possible from the Front, to branch stations such as Yasnovataya or Ilovajsk. In reality, two days later these forces were pushed forward to meet the enemy forces which, incidentally, were still on the right bank of the Dnepr.

Some of the independent detachments and a group of Left Bloc soldiers heroically repulsed the attempts of the enemy to cross the Dnepr. But there was considerable attrition in the defending forces due to exhaustion and a shortage of ammunition. This gave rise to increasing anxiety in Gulyai-Pole and the neighbouring raions.

The agents of the Counter-Revolution raised their heads a little higher and spoke more confidently against the Soviets, against the Revolution, and against the toilers who saw in the Revolution their own emancipation and therefore put everything into furthering its development.

This circumstance had a dolorous effect on the toilers. In numerous hamlets and villages confusion reigned as it always does when the masses are not kept informed in a timely fashion about the position occupied by their revolutionary vanguard.

The confusion which reigned in the raion gave rise to weakness and hesitation even in Gulyai-Pole. Meetings of the Soviet, the Professional Union, the Revkom, and the Anarchist Communist Group went on night and day. All the representatives of these organizations asked me for advice and insisted that I tell them what they should do.

In this grave situation I could only tell them to pull themselves together and oppose the Counter-Revolution with actions which were as energetic and resolute as their words.

I insisted to the representatives at an emergency meeting on the necessity of immediately issuing an appeal in the name of the various organizations which they represented, explaining to the toilers of the raion the real state of the Revolution and what they had to do to save it. It would invite the toilers to organize armed resistance against the phoney liberation promised by the Central Rada and the German armies.

The whole population of the raion responded to this appeal. Everywhere young people and seniors flocked to their local soviets in order to enlist and immediately form volunteer battalions. The inhabitants of Gulyai-Pole itself formed a battalion comprised of six companies with 200 to 220 persons each.

The Jewish population furnished a company also as part of the Gulyai-Pole battalion. The Anarchist Communist Group formed a detachment from its members and candidate members. This detachments was composed of several hundred persons armed with rifles, revolvers, and sabres. About half of them had horses and saddles. This detachment was put at the disposition of the Revkom.

The intelligentsia of Gulyai-Pole, on the initiative of the very well-respected doctor Abram Isaakovich Los, organized medical units, improvised field hospitals, and handed out job assignments for the medical service required by the Revolutionary Front.

Meanwhile I went to Pologi for a day to the headquarters of the commander of the reserve Red Army of the "South of Russia" Belenkevich. I informed him of the current goals of the Gulyai-Pole Revkom and brought him up to date on our organization in defence of the Revolution which was the number one priority of the Revkom and the Anarchist Communist Group.

Comrade Belenkevich showed great interest in what I told him and promised to go to Gulyai-Pole the next day to see what he could do to help the Revkom and the Anarchist Communist Group. But I wasn't satisfied with this promise. I insisted that Comrade Belenkevich give me his answer immediately: could he supply weapons to the volunteers in Gulyai-Pole?

Seeing my impatience to resolve this question as quickly as possible, Comrade Belenkevich returned with me that very day to Gulyai-Pole.
He was thus able to verify what I had told him and promised the Revkom that as soon as he got back to Pologi he would confer with his staff and let us know what the reserve Red Army could do to help revolutionary Gulyai-Pole.

In returning from Gulyai-Pole to Pologi I got Comrade Belenkevich to visit Commune No.1 and led him to the fields where the free "communards" were working. He watched them work, asked them why they had adopted this way of life, and was profoundly moved.

In walking from the fields to the dining hall of the commune for the evening meal, Belenkevich shook my hand and said: "I felt, from the moment I first met you, great confidence in you, Comrade Makhno, and I say to you right now: send your people this very night to my headquarters and they will receive the rifles, machine guns, and other weapons needed by your battalion in Gulyai-Pole."

This promise by Comrade Belenkevich pleased me and I immediately phoned Comrade Polonski, commander of the battalion of volunteers of Gulyai-Pole, and Comrade Marchenko, member of the Revkom, and told them to go to Pologi and get the weapons and ammunition from Belenkevich's headquarters and transport them to Gulyai-Pole.

As we parted, Comrade Belenkevich and I promised to help each other in revolutionary endeavours. He promised, in the case of retreat, to make available to the "communards" some echelons so they could be evacuated in time.

So passed these troubled days...

On the next day I went with several artillery specialists to the Gulyai-Pole railway station to inspect what we had received from Belenkevich's headquarters. We saw six cannons (four of the French kind and two Russian howitzers), three thousand rifles, two wagons of cartridges, and nine wagons of ammunition for the cannons.

Our joy was indescribable. We immediately transported what was urgently needed to the Revkom for distribution to the companies. Then we prepared to leave for the front to fight the Central Rada and its allies, the German and Austro-Hungarian emperors.

The appeal launched by the Revkom of Gulyai-Pole, the Soviet, and the Anarchist Communist Group, inviting the toilers of the raion to quickly form battalions of volunteers to fight the counter-revolutionaries, came to the attention of the headquarters of the Red Guards who immediately sent by special train an envoy to meet with me and find out what forces the Revkom of our proud raion could muster and when these troops, inspired by anarchist ideals, could be sent to the front.

I met with with him on the night of April 8, 1918, at the same moment when Lenin and Trotsky were having a discussion in the Kremlin about annihilating the anarchists groups, first in Moscow, then in the whole of Russia (they had already lost interest in Ukraine and so didn't touch the anarchists there). I found the envoy from the Red Guard headquarters in Ekaterinoslav was distressed by the fact that the Red Guard detachments, in accord with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, were being withdrawn from the front lines of the revolutionary front in the direction of the Russian border, while the detachments made up of Ukrainian toilers, hastily organized, were not yet ready for combat and were falling back everywhere. I assured him that I would do everything possible to ensure that our troops would be advancing on the morrow to the Front.

After this envoy had left, I received news that the Red Guards had also retreated in the Aleksandrovsk sector. The military command in Aleksandrovsk implored the Gulyai-Pole battalions to come to their aid. After consulting with the Revkom and the Anarchist Communist Group, I sent to Aleksandrovsk the detachment formed by the Anarchist Communist Group and a mixed battalion formed from the peasants of hamlets closest to Aleksandrovsk.

The detachment formed by the Anarchist Communist Group was a cavalry formation. The Red Guards had almost no cavalry. Our detachment was soon required in the Ekaterinoslav military sector. In due course it was also redeployed, on my orders, in the Chaplino sector. Meanwhile we successfully prepared the Gulyai-Pole, Konsko-Pazdorskij, Shanzharo-Turkenovskij, and other "free battalions" for action at the front.

On to Chapter 30 Egorov’s urgent summons; the loss of our military sector

Back to Chapter 28 The successes of the German-Austrian armies and the Ukrainian Central Rada against the Revolution; Agents of the Counter-Revolution and the struggle against them

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