History of the Makhnovist Movement (1918-1921)
The Makhnovshchina (contd.)
The Bolsheviks' First Assault on Gulyai-Pole
On May 12, 1919, the following telegram was received at the Makhnovist headquarters in Gulyai-Pole:
"Gulyai-Pole, forward to Bat'ko Makhno.
"The traitor Grigor'ev has delivered the front to the enemy. Refusing to execute battle orders, he turned his guns around. The decisive moment has come: either you will march with the workers and peasants of all of Russia, or else you will in practice open the front to the enemy. There can be no hesitation. Send immediate information on the disposition of your troops and issue a proclamation against Grigor'ev, sending me a copy at Khar'kov. A lack of response will be considered a declaration of war. I have faith in the honour of revolutionaries - yours, Arshinov's, Veretel'nikov's, and that of others.
Revolutionary Military Inspector,
The Staff immediately called a session, inviting representatives of the Revolutionary Military Council, and after serious consideration of the telegram and the event which it announced, reached the following conclusion. On the eve of the Hetman's overthrow Grigor'ev, former Tsarist officer, was in the ranks of the Petliurists and commanded numerous insurrectionary troops under the Petliurist authorities. When the Petliurist army disintegrated because of the influence of class contradictions, Grigor'ev and his troops joined up with the Bolsheviks, who had just arrived from Central Russia. He collaborated with the Bolsheviks against the Petliurists, while retaining a certain autonomy and freedom of action for his troops. He was largely responsible for liberating the government of Kherson from the Petliurists. He occupied Odessa. Subsequently he and his detachments held the Bessarabian front.
Grigor'ev's insurrectionary detachments were organizationally, and particularly ideologically, retarded in comparison with the Makhnovist insurgents. Throughout the entire period, they remained in the first stages of their development. At the beginning of the general insurrection they had been imbued with a revolutionary spirit, but they, unlike the Makhnovists, were unable to find, either in themselves or in the peasant environment from which they came, the historic tasks of labour or its vivid social aspirations. In spite of their initial revolutionary impetus, their social ideals were irresolute and undetermined, and as a result they fell under the influence of Petliura, then of Grigor'ev, then of the Bolsheviks.
Grigor'ev himself had never been a revolutionary. There was a great deal of adventurism in his joining the ranks of the Petliurists and then the ranks of the Red Army. He was above all a warrior for whom the spontaneity of the popular insurrectionary movement provided a role. His temperament was extraordinarily variegated; it consisted of a certain amount of sympathy for oppressed peasants, authoritarianism, the extravagance of a Cossack chieftain, nationalist sentiments and anti-Semitism. What had induced him to turn against the Bolsheviks? The Makhnovist staff did not know. There were many indications that the Bolsheviks themselves had provoked him in order to disband his autonomous insurrectionary detachments which did not pursue independent revolutionary goals, as did the Makhnovists, but whose form and content were nevertheless hostile to the idea of Bolshevism. In any case, in the eyes of the Makhnovists, Grigor'ev's move against the Bolsheviks did not appear to be in the spirit of the revolution or the working people, but seemed purely military and political, and consequently did not merit their serious attention. This became particularly clear after Grigor'ev published his "Universal" (Appeal), filled with the notion of national hatred among the working people. The only element of this movement worthy of attention and compassion, in the view of the Makhnovists, were the insurgent masses misled into political adventure by Grigor'ev.
This was the conclusion reached by the Makhnovists after their consideration of Grigor'ev's movement. In conformity with this view, the staff of the army began to respond to the event First of all, it sent the following orders to the front:
"Mariupol'. Field Staff of the Makhnovist Army. Copies to all heads of combat units, to all commanders of regiments, batallions, companies and platoons. Order to be read to all units of the army known as Bat'ko Makhno's. Copy to Khar'kov, to the Extraordinary Plenipotentiary of the National Defence Council, Kamenev.
"The most energetic measures will need to be adopted for the defence of the front. A weakening of the external front of the revolution is absolutely inadmissible. Revolutionary honour and dignity oblige us to remain true to the revolution and to the people, and the rivalry for power between Grigor'ev and the Bolsheviks cannot be allowed to make us weaken the front which the Whites seek to penetrate in order to re-enslave the people. As long as we have not achieved victory over our common enemy personified by the Don Whites, and as long as we have not guaranteed the freedom won with our own hands and weapons, we will remain at our front and will continue to struggle for the freedom of the people, but under no circumstances will we struggle for the power or for the intrigues of charlatan politicians.
"Brigade Commander, Bat'ko Makhno
"Members of the Staff (Signatures)"
At the same time, the Staff answered Kamenev with the following telegram:
"Khar'kov. Extraordinary Plenipotentiary of the National Defence Council, Kamenev. Copy to Mariupol'. Field Staff.
"Upon receipt of your and Roshchin's telegrams informing us about Grigor'ev, I immediately gave the order to maintain the front firmly and not to give an inch to Denikin or any other counter-revolutionary gang, fulfilling our revolutionary obligations toward the workers and peasants of Russia and of the entire world. But you should know that my troops and I will remain resolutely true to the workers' and peasants' revolution, but not to the institutions of violence personified by your Commissariats and your Extraordinary Commissions (Chekas) which tyrannize the working population. If Grigor'ev has actually abandoned the front and moved his troops in order to seize power, then this is a criminal adventure and a betrayal of the people's revolution, and I will widely publicize my view of this matter. But as yet I do not have exact information on Grigor'ev or on the movement linked with him; I do not know what he has done nor for what purpose; consequently for the time being I will refrain from publishing a proclamation against him, until I receive clearer information about him. As a revolutionary and an anarchist, I let it be known that I cannot in any way support the seizure of power by Grigor'ev or by anyone else; as earlier my insurgent comrades and I will continue to pursue Denikin's bands, while at the same time doing the utmost to allow the liberated region to establish networks of free unions of peasants and workers who are themselves the possessors of all power. In terms of these relations, the Chekas and Commissariats, which are only instruments of constraint and violence serving to establish a Party dictatorship - extending their violence to anarchist federations and the anarchist press - will find in us energetic adversaries.
"Brigade Commander, Bat'ko Makhno.
"Members of the Staff (Signatures).
"President of the Cultural Section, Arshinov."
A commission of representatives of the staff and the Revolutionary Military Council was formed and sent to the region of Grigor'ev's movement in order to unmask him in the eyes of the insurgents and to invite them to enlist under the revolutionary flag of the Makhnovists. In the meantime Grigor'ev, who had already occupied Aleksandriya, Znamenka, Elisavetgrad, approached Ekaterinoslav, which seriously alarmed the Communist authorities residing at Khar'kov. The Communists looked toward the Gulyai-Pole region with apprehension. Every sound from Gulyai-Pole, every telegram from Makhno, was eagerly received and printed in the Soviet press. Naturally these apprehensions had no other foundation than the profound ignorance of Soviet government functionaries, who imagined that the revolutionary anarchist Makhno would suddenly turn against them and join forces with Grigor'ev. The Makhnovshchina always held principled positions and was always guided by the ideals of social revolution, ideals of the stateless working community. Consequently the Makhnovshchina could never have united with just any anti-Bolshevik position solely on the ground that the Makhnovshchina also opposed Bolshevism. On the contrary, a movement like Grigor'ev's represented an additional threat to the freedom of the workers and, consequently, was as much an enemy to the Makhnovists as to the Bolsheviks. And in fact, during its entire existence, the Makhnovshchina did not collaborate with a single anti-Bolshevik movement, but fought with the same heroism and the same spirit of sacrifice against Bolshevism as against Petliura, Grigor'ev, Denikin, Wrangel, considering all these movements to be authoritarian groups seeking to enslave and exploit the working masses. The Makhnovshchina even turned down the advances made by certain groups of left-wing SRs (Socialist-Revolutionaries) to struggle together against the Bolsheviks; these advances were turned down because the left SR, as a political movement, in essence represented the same thing as Bolshevism, namely statist domination of the people by the socialist democracy.
Grigor'ev himself, at the time of his rebellion, had tried several times to establish ties with Makhno. But of all his telegrams to Gulyai-Polye, only one arrived, with the following content: "Bat'ko! Why are you looking toward the Communists? Thrash them! - Ataman Grigor'ev." This telegram was obviously left unanswered, and two or three days later the staff, together with representatives of the insurrectionary troops at the front, definitively condemned Grigor'ev, and published the following proclamation:
WHO IS GRIGOR'EV?
Fellow Workers! When, a year ago, we set out on a relentless struggle against the Austro-German invasion and the domination of the Hetman, and then against Petliura and Denikin, we were perfectly clear about the direction of this struggle and from the first day we marched under a banner which proclaimed: the liberation of the workers is the task of the workers themselves. This struggle led us to numerous victories which were profoundly significant: we chased out the Germans, overturned the Hetman, kept the petit-bourgeois regime of Petliura from establishing itself, and began creative work in the regions we liberated. At the same time we continually urged the vast popular masses to pay close attention to what was going on around them; we warned them that numerous beasts of prey stalked them, waiting only for the opportune moment to seize power and to attach themselves to the backs of the people. A new predator of this type has just made his appearance, the Ataman Grigor'ev who, while shouting about the sufferings, the burdens and the oppression of the people, in practice re-establishes the old regime of violence and brigandage which plunders the people's labour, increases their misery, reinforces tyranny and abolishes freedom. Let us examine the Ataman Grigor'ev himself.
Grigor'ev is a former Tsarist officer. At the beginning of the revolution in the Ukraine he fought with Petliura against the Soviet power, and then he took sides with the Soviet authorities; now he has turned against the Soviets and against the revolution in general. What does Grigor'ev have to say? In the first lines of his "Universal he says that the Ukraine is ruled by those who crucified Christ, by those who came out of the "lower depths of Moscow." Brothers, do you not hear in these words a sombre call for a pogrom of Jews? Do you not sense the desire of Ataman Grigor'ev to shatter the living fraternal links which unite revolutionary Ukraine with revolutionary Russia? Grigor'ev speaks of calloused hands, of the holy worker, etc. But who today does not speak of sacred work, of the good of the people? Even the Whites, while attacking us and our country, declare that they are fighting for the cause of the working people. But we know what kind of wellbeing they give the people when they have power over them.
Grigor'ev says that he is fighting against the commissars for the true power of the Soviets. But in the same "Universal" he writes: "I, Ataman Grigor'ev... here are my orders - choose your commissars." And further on, declaring that he is against bloodshed, Grigor'ev announces in the same "Universal" that he is calling for a general conscription, and sends messages to Khar'kov and Kiev in which he writes: "I demand that my orders be executed; I will take care of all the rest." What is this? The direct power of the people? Tsar Nicholas also considered his authority to be the power of the people. Or does Ataman Grigor'ev believe that his orders will not represent a power over the people and that his commissars will not be commissars but angels? Brothers! Don't you see that a band of adventurers is turning you one against the other, disrupting your revolutionary ranks, and trying to enslave you behind your backs and with your own help? Be on your guard! The traitor Grigor'ev, who has struck a major blow from within against the revolution, has at the same time revived the bourgeoisie. Taking advantage of Grigor'ev's pogromist movement, Petliura is already trying to break through our front from Galicia, and Denikin from the Don. The worse for the Ukrainian people if they do not put an immediate stop to these internal and external adventures.
Fellow peasants, workers and insurgents! Many among you will wonder what to make of the numerous insurgents who loyally battled for the cause of the revolution and who, because of Grigor'ev's treachery, are now enrolled in his shameful ranks. Should they be considered counter-revolutionaries? No. These comrades are victims of deceit. We believe that their healthy revolutionary sense will inform them that Grigor'ev has misled them and they will abandon him to rejoin the ranks of the revolution.
We should also point out that the causes which gave rise to Grigor'ev's movement have their origin, not only in Grigor'ev himself, but mainly in the disorder which has plagued the Ukraine in recent times. Since the arrival of the Bolsheviks the dictatorship of their Party has been established here. As a party of statists, the Bolshevik Party everywhere set up state organs for the purpose of governing the revolutionary people. Everything has to be submitted to their authority and take place under their vigilant eye. All opposition, protest, or even independent initiative has been stifled by their Extraordinary Commissions. Furthermore, all these institutions are composed of people who are far removed from labour and from revolution. In other words, what has been created is a situation in which the labouring and revolutionary people have fallen under the surveillance and rule of people who are alien to the working classes, people who are inclined to exercise arbitrariness and violence over the workers. Such is the dictatorship of the Bolshevik-Communist Party. Among the masses this dictatorship has aroused irritation, protest and animosity toward the existing order. Grigor'ev takes advantage of this situation to carry on his adventure. Grigor'ev is a traitor to the revolution and an enemy of the people, but the Bolshevik-Communist Party is no less an enemy of labour. With its irresponsible dictatorship this Party has aroused in the masses a hatred from which Grigor'ev benefits today, and from which another adventurer will benefit tomorrow. Consequently, while unmasking Grigor'ev's treason to the cause of the revolution, we must call the Communist Party to answer for Grigor'ev's movement.
We again remind the working people that they will liberate themselves from oppression, misery and violence only through their own efforts. No change in power will help them in this. Only by means of their own free worker-peasant organizations can the workers reach the summit of the social revolution - complete freedom and real equality. Death and destruction to traitors and enemies of the people! Down with national hatred! Down with provocateurs! Long live the solidarity of the workers and peasants! Long live the universal free working commune!
Staff Council of the Military Division known as Bat'ko Makhno's. Members of the Council: Bat'ko Makhno, A. Chubenko, Mikhalev-Pavlenko, A. Ol'khovik, I.M. Chuchko, E. Karpenko, M. Puzanov, V. Sharovskii, P. Arshinov, B. Veretel'nikov.
Members of the Executive Committee of the Council of Deputies of Workers, Peasants and Red Guards of the City of Aleksandrovsk: Andryushchenko, President of the Executive Council of the District; Shpota, Head of the Administrative Section; Gavrilov, Member; A. Bondar', Member of the City Executive Committee and Political Commissar.
A large number of copies of this proclamation was distributed among the peasants and at the front; it was also printed in the main publication of the Makhnovist insurgents, Put' k Svobode, as well as in the anarchist journal Nabat (Alarm).
Grigor'ev's adventure sank as quickly as it had risen. It caused several pogroms of Jews, among which one, in Elisavetgrad, was extremely widespread. As a result, a large number of insurgents quickly abandoned Grigor'ev. The peasantry could not support him for long because it realized how superficial he was. Grigor'ev retained only a few thousand men; they entrenched themselves in the district of Aleksandriya in the government of Kherson. Nevertheless this adventure caused great anxiety among the Bolsheviks. But as soon as they learned the attitude of the Gulyai-Polye region, they breathed freely and regained their assurance. The Soviet authorities loudly announced that the Makhnovists had condemned Grigor'ev's revolt. The Soviets sought to take advantage of the Makhnovists' attitude in order to launch a vast propaganda campaign against Grigor'ev. Makhno's name was cited constantly by the Soviet press. His telegrams were continually reprinted. He was praised as a real guardian of the workers' and peasants' revolution. They even sought to frighten Grigor'ev by making up the story that Grigor'ev was surrounded on all sides by Makhno's troops and would either be imprisoned or completely annihilated by them.
However, all this admiration of Makhno was two-faced and did not last long. As soon as the danger from Grigor'ev disappeared, the previous propaganda of the Bolsheviks against the Makhnovists resumed. At this time Trotsky arrived in the Ukraine; he set the tone of this propaganda: -- the insurrection is nothing but a movement of rich kulaks trying to establish their power in the country; all the Makhnovist and anarchist talk about the stateless workers' commune is merely a tactic of war; in practice the Makhnovists and the anarchists hope to establish their own anarchist power which is the power of the rich kulaks (from the newspaper V Puti (On the Road), No. 51, Trotsky's article, "The Makhnovshchina."). Together with this deliberately false agitational campaign, the blockade of the region was carried to the limit. Revolutionary workers from the furthest localities of Russia - from Ivanovo-Voznesensk, Moscow, Petrograd, from the Volga, the Urals and Siberia, who were attracted to the region by its independence and pride, were able to penetrate the blockade only with the greatest difficulty. The provisioning of shells, cartridges and other indispensable equipment which was used up daily at the front, ceased completely. Two weeks earlier, at the time of Grigor'ev's revolt, Grossman-Roshchin had come to Gulyai-Polye from Khar'kov and had been told about the difficult situation at the front which resulted from the lack of shells and cartridges. Roshchin attentively received this information and committed himself to do his utmost in Khar'kov so that the indispensable equipment would be sent to the front immediately. But two weeks passed, no shipment of munitions arrived, and the situation at the front became catastrophic. And this at a time when Denikin's troops were being reinforced on this front by the arrival of Cossacks from Kuban and contingents formed in the Caucasus.
Did the Bolsheviks realize what they were doing and what results their line of action would have on the complicated Ukrainian situation?
They obviously realized what they were doing. They had adopted the tactic of the blockade for the purpose of destroying, annihilating, the military power of the region. It is easier to struggle against disarmed adversaries than against armed ones. Insurgents without cartridges and facing Denikin's solid front would be easier to subdue than the same insurgents armed with cartridges. But at the same time the Bolsheviks were not at all aware of the situation in the entire Donets region. They did not have any notion of Denikin's front or of Denikin's forces. They were also completely ignorant of Denikin's immediate plans. Yet large and well trained contingents had been formed in the Caucasus, in the Don region and in the Kuban, with the aim of a general campaign against the revolution. The four-month long resistance of the Gulyai-Pole insurgents had prevented Denikin's troops from carrying out their northern offensive, since the Gulyai-Pole insurgents constituted a permanent danger to their left flank. All the desperate attacks of General Shkuro, carried on for four months, failed to decrease this danger. Thus the Whites prepared their second campaign with all the more energy; this campaign began in May, 1919, and its scope surprised even the Makhnovists. The Bolsheviks knew nothing of all this, or rather they did not want to know anything about it, being preoccupied with the struggle against the Makhnovshchina.
Thus the free region, as well as the rest of the revolutionary Ukraine, were threatened from two sides at once. It was then that the Revolutionary Military Council of Gulyai-Pole, in view of the gravity of the situation, decided to call an extraordinary congress of peasants, workers, insurgents and red soldiers from several regions: Ekaterinoslav, Khar'kov, Tauride, Kherson and the Donets. This congress was to examine the general situation in view of the mortal danger represented by Denikin's counter-revolution and in view of the inability of the Soviet authorities to undertake any action at all to avert this danger. The congress was to determine the immediate tasks and the practical measures to be taken by the workers to remedy this state of affairs.
Here is the text of the call to this congress issued by the Revolutionary Military Council to the workers of the Ukraine:
THE FOURTH EXTRAORDINARY CONGRESS
OF WORKERS', PEASANTS',
AND INSURGENTS' DELEGATES.
Telegram No. 416.
To all the Executive Committees of the districts, towns and villages of the governments of Ekaterinoslav, Tauride and neighbouring regions; to all the units of the First Insurrectionary Division known as Bat'ko Makhno's; to all the troops of the Red Army located in the same region. To all! To all!
In its session of May 30, the Executive Committee of the Revolutionary Military Council, after having examined the situation at the front, created by the offensive of the White bands, and also the situation in general - political and economic - of the Soviet power, reached the conclusion that only the working masses themselves could find a solution, and not individuals or parties. That is why the Executive Committee of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Gulyai-Pole region has decided to call an extraordinary congress for June 15, 1919, at Gulyai-Pole.
Method of Election:
- The peasants and workers will send a delegate for each three thousand inhabitants.
- The insurgents and Red soldiers will delegate a representative from each unit (regiment, division, etc.).
- The staffs: Bat'ko Makhno's division, two delegates; the brigades, one delegate from each brigade staff.
- The executive committees of the districts will send one delegate from each faction.
- The district party organizations which adhere to the program of the Soviet regime will send one delegate from each organization.
- the elections of delegates of peasants and workers will take place at general assemblies of villages, towns, factories and workshops;
- separate meetings of members of soviets and factory committees will not take place;
- since the Revolutionary Military Council does not have the necessary means, the delegates should come provided with food and money.
- Report of the Executive Committee of the Revolutionary Military Council and reports of the delegates;
- the current situation;
- the role, tasks and aims of the Soviet of Peasants', Workers', Insurgents', and Red Soldiers' Delegates of the Gulyai-Pole Region;
- reorganization of the Revolutionary Military Council of the region;
- organization of military activity in the region;
- the problem of food supply;
- the agrarian problem;
- financial questions;
- union of working peasants and workers;
- public security;
- exercise of justice in the region;
- current matters.
Executive Committee of the Revolutionary Military Council.
Gulyai-Pole, May 31, 1919.
As soon as this call was sent out, the Bolsheviks began a military campaign against the Gulyai-Pole region.
While the insurgent troops were marching to their death, resisting the furious assault of Denikin's Cossacks, Bolshevik regiments invaded the insurgent region from the north, striking the Makhnovists in the rear. Invading the villages, the Bolsheviks seized the militants and executed them on the spot; they destroyed the free communes and similar organizations. Trotsky, who arrived in the Ukraine at this time, played a leading role in this attack. It can easily be imagined how he felt when he got a good view of a perfectly independent region, when he heard the language of people who lived freely and did not pay the slightest attention to the new power, when he read the newspapers of these people who spoke of him, without fear or respect, as nothing more than a State functionary. Trotsky, who was going to rid Russia of anarchism with an "iron broom," could only have felt the fierce and blind hatred appropriate to statists of his type. This hatred pervades a whole series of orders issued by Trotsky against the Makhnovshchina.
With an unbelievable lack of constraint, Trotsky set out to liquidate the Makhnovist movement.
First of all, he issued the following order in response to the call of the Gulyai-Pole Revolutionary Military Council:
ORDER NO. 1824
OF THE REVOLUTIONARY MILITARY COUNCIL
OF THE REPUBLIC.
KHAR'KOV, JUNE 4, 1919.
To all Military Commissars and to all Executive Committees of the districts of Aleksandrovsk, Mariupol', Berdyansk, Bakhmut, Pavlograd and Kherson.
The Executive Committee of Gulyai-Pole, with the collaboration of the staff of Makhno's brigade, is trying to call, for the 15th of this month, a congress of Soviets and insurgents of the districts of Aleksandrovsk, Mariupol', Berdyansk, Melitopol', Bakhmut and Pavlograd. This congress is squarely directed against the Soviet Power in the Ukraine and against the organization of the southern front, where Makhno's brigade is stationed. This congress can have no other result than to excite some new disgraceful revolt like that of Grigor'ev, and to open the front to the Whites, before whom Makhno's brigade can only retreat incessantly, on account of the incompetence, criminal designs and treason of its commanders.
- By the present order this congress is forbidden, and will in no case be allowed to take place.
- All the peasant and working class population shall be warned, orally and in writing, that participation in the said congress shall be considered an act of high treason against the Soviet Republic and the Soviet front.
- All the delegates to the said congress shall be arrested immediately and brought before the Revolutionary Military Tribunal of the 14th, formerly 2nd, Army of the Ukraine.
- The persons spreading the call of Makhno and the Gulyai-Pole Executive Committee shall likewise be arrested.
- The present order shall have the force of law as soon as it is telegraphed. It should be widely distributed, displayed in all public places, and sent to the representatives of the executive committees of towns and villages, as well as to all the representatives of Soviet authority, and to commanders and commissars of military units.
Trotsky, President of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic;
Vatsetis, Commander in Chief;
Aralov, Member of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic;
Koshkarev, Military Commissar of the Khar'kov region.
This document is truly classic. Whoever studies the Russian revolution should learn it by heart. How farsighted and discerning had the Gulyai-Pole revolutionary peasants been two months earlier when, in their famous reply to Dybenko (cited earlier) they virtually foresaw this order! They had unceremoniously asked the Bolsheviks the following questions: (p. 103)
"Can there exist laws made by a few people who call themselves revolutionaries which permit them to outlaw a whole people who are more revolutionary than they are themselves?"
Article 2 of Trotsky's order replies clearly that such laws can exist, and that Order No. 1824 is proof of this.
"Does there exist a law," had asked the Gulyai-Pole insurgents, "according to which a revolutionary has the right to apply the most severe penalties to a revolutionary mass, of which he calls himself the defender, simply because this mass has taken the good things which the revolution has promised them, freedom and equality, without his permission?"
The same Article 2 replies in the affirmative. The entire peasant and labouring population are declared guilty of high treason if they dare to participate in their own free congress.
"Do the laws of the Revolution order the shooting of a delegate because he believes he ought to carry out the mandate given him by the revolutionary mass which elected him?"
Articles 3 and 4 of Trotsky's order declare that not only delegates carrying out their mandates, but even those who have not yet begun to carry them out, should be arrested and brought before the Revolutionary Military Tribunal of the Army; which means they are to be shot (as in fact happened to Kostin, Polynin, Dobrolyubov and others who were brought before the military tribunal and shot on the charge of having discussed the call of the Revolutionary Military Council of Gulyai-Pole).
This entire document represents such a crying usurpation of the rights of the workers that it is pointless to comment further on it.
Guided by institutional clichés, Trotsky considered Makhno the culprit who was responsible for all that happened in Gulyai-Pole, and for all the measures that were taken in the region. He had even failed to notice that the Congress had not been called by the Staff of Makhno's brigade nor by the Executive Committee of Gulyai-Pole, but by an organ completely independent from these - the Revolutionary Military Council of the Region. It is significant that in this order Trotsky already harped on the treachery of the Makhnovist commanders, whom he accused of "retreating incessantly before the Whites". A few days later Trotsky and the entire Communist press loudly proclaimed that the Makhnovists had opened the front to Denikin.
We already know that this front had been formed only through the efforts and sacrifices of the insurgent peasants themselves. It was born at a heroic moment of their history - at the moment when the region was liberated from all forms of authority. The front was established in the southeast as a heroic sentinel and defender of the freedom they had won. For more than six months the revolutionary insurgents maintained an unbreakable barrier against the most vigorous assaults of the monarchist counter-revolution, sacrificing several thousand of their best sons. They mobilized all the resources of the region and prepared to defend their freedom to the end, by resisting the counter-revolution which was unleashing a general offensive. The extent to which the front was held mainly by the insurgents - during the entire period - is shown by L. Kamenev's telegram about Grigor'ev's revolt, cited earlier. In it this Extraordinary Plenipotentiary from Moscow had asked Makhno to tell him about the disposition of the insurrectionary troops at the front against Denikin. He obviously addressed such a question to Makhno only because in Khar'kov, where he was at the time, he was unable to obtain this necessary information from the Military Commissariat or from the Commander at the front. It is obvious that Trotsky, who arrived in the Ukraine when it was being attacked from several sides by the counter-revolution, had even less of an idea of what was happening at the southern front against Denikin. But Trotsky needed a formal justification for his criminal campaign against the revolutionary people, and it was with monstrous cynicism and unimaginable insolence that he declared the congress of peasants, workers and insurgents, projected for June 15, harmful to the organization of the southern front. Thus it would appear that the peasants and insurgents who were doing everything in their power to maintain this front, who had invited all who were capable of carrying arms to voluntarily and immediately enlist in the front against Denikin (Resolutions adopted by the Second Regional Congress of February 12, 1919, on voluntary and egalitarian 10-year mobilization) -- it would appear that these same peasants and insurgents were organizing a conspiracy against their own front. It might be thought that such assertions are made by mentally deranged individuals. No, they are the assertions of individuals who are sane, but who are accustomed to treating the people with unbounded cynicism.
This order of Trotsky's was not communicated by the Soviet authorities to the staff of the Makhnovist army, and the Makhnovists only heard of it by chance two or three days later. Makhno immediately sent a telegram declaring that he wanted to give up his post as commander in view of the awkward and impossible situation. Unfortunately we do not have the text of this telegram.
Trotsky's order acquired the force of law by telegram. The Bolsheviks set out to execute every point in Trotsky's order in a militaristic fashion. Workers from Aleksandrovsk factories who met to discuss the call issued by the Revolutionary Military Council of the Gulyai-Pole region were dispersed by force and declared outlaws. The peasants were threatened with shooting and hanging. In various places individuals - Kostin, Polynin, Dobrolyubov and others - were seized, accused of having publicized the call of the Revolutionary Military Council, and were executed after a summary trial by the Revolutionary Military Tribunal. This order was followed by numerous others in which Trotsky commanded the units of the Red Army to destroy the Makhnovshchina by every method and at its very source. Moreover, he gave secret orders to capture, at any cost, not only Makhno and the members of his staff, but even the peaceful militants of the cultural section. The instructions were to bring them all before the Revolutionary Military Tribunal, i.e., to execute them.
According to an individual who commanded several divisions of the Red Army, and to several Bolshevik military leaders who held high posts, Trotsky formulated his relationship to the Makhnovshchina in the following terms: it would be better to yield the whole Ukraine to Denikin than to permit a further development of the Makhnovshchina. Denikin's movement, being frankly counter-revolutionary, can be undermined later by means of class propaganda, whereas the Makhnovshchina develops in the depths of the masses and arouses the masses themselves against us...
A few days before these events, Makhno reported to the staff and to the Council that the Bolsheviks had withdrawn some of their troops in the Grishino sector, and had thus offered Denikin's troops free access to the Gulyai-Pole region from the northeast. And in fact, hoards of Cossacks had overrun the region, not through the insurrectionary front but from the left flank where the Red Army was stationed. As a result, the Makhnovist army, which held the front on the Mariupol'-Kuteinikovo-Taganrog line, was bypassed by Denikin's troops, who invaded the very heart of the region with enormous forces.
We said earlier that the peasants throughout the region anticipated a general attack by Denikin; that they were preparing for it with a voluntary ten-year mobilization. Already in April peasants in numerous villages sent large numbers of new fighters to Gulyai-Pole. But weapons were lacking in the region. Even the older units at the front were out of cartridges and often attacked Denikin's troops solely in order to obtain them. The Bolsheviks, who were obliged by their treaty to provide supplies to the insurgents, already in April began their blockade and sabotage. This is why, in spite of the arrival of volunteers, it was impossible to organize new units in time, and now the region had to pay for this.
In a single day the peasants of Gulyai-Pole formed a regiment to try to save their village. They armed themselves with domestic utensils: axes, picks, old rifles, shotguns, etc. They set out to meet the Cossacks with the aim of breaking their thrust. About ten miles from Gulyai-Pole, near the village of Svyatodukhovka in the district of Aleksandrovsk, they encountered a considerable number of Don and Kuban Cossacks. The Gulyai-Pole insurgents engaged in a heroic and murderous battle with them, and were nearly all killed, including their commander B. Veretel'nikov, a worker from the Putilov Works in Petrograd who was born in Gulyai-Pole. Then an avalanche of Cossacks swooped down on Gulyai-Pole and occupied it on June 6, 1919. Makhno, with the army staff and a small detachment of troops with only one battery, retreated to the railway station situated about five miles from the village, but in the evening was forced to abandon the station as well. Regrouping all the forces he could still muster, Makhno vigorously counter-attacked the next day and succeeded in dislodging the enemy from Gulyai-Pole. However, a new wave of Cossacks forced him to abandon the village once again.
It should be pointed out that the Bolsheviks, although they had directed several orders against the Makhnovists, feigned friendship with them during the first days, as if nothing had happened. This was a tactic to capture the leaders of the Makhnovshchina. On June 7 they sent Makhno an armoured train, asking him to resist to the end, and they promised other reinforcements. In fact, two days later, several detachments of Red Army troops arrived at the station of Gyaichur near Chaplino, thirteen miles from Gulyai-Pole. With them arrived the military Commissars Mezhlauk, Voroshilov and others. Contacts were established between the Red command and the insurgents; a kind of joint staff was created. Mezhlauk and Voroshilov were on the same armoured train with Makhno, and they directed the military operations together with him. But at the same time Voroshilov had in his hand an order signed by Trotsky commanding him to capture Makhno and all the other responsible leaders of the Makhnovshchina, to disarm the insurgent troops, and to shoot anyone who resisted. Voroshilov was only waiting for the most appropriate moment. Makhno was warned in time, and knew what he had to do. He took account of the situation, saw that a bloody struggle could break out at any moment, and sought a satisfactory way out. He thought it would be best for him to abandon his post as commander of the insurrectionary army. He informed the staff of the insurrectionary army of this decision, and added that for the time being his work as a simple fighter in the ranks of the insurgents would be more useful under the circumstances. This is what he did. He sent the Soviet high command a written explanatory statement, which follows:
To Voroshilov, Staff of the 14th Army. To Trotsky, President of the Revolutionary Military Council, at Khar'kov. To Lenin, Kamenev, in Moscow.
As a result of Order No. 1824 of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic, I sent the Staff of the 2nd Army and Trotsky a telegram requesting that II be relieved of the post I now occupy. I repeat my request. Here are the reasons which I believe should justify it. .Although I have made war with the insurgents against the White bands of Denikin, preaching nothing to the people other than the love of freedom and self-activity, the entire official Soviet press as well as that of the Communist-Bolshevik Party has spread rumours attributing to me actions which are unworthy of a revolutionary. They wish to make me seem a bandit, an accomplice of Grigor'ev, a conspirator against the Soviet 'Republic, whose aim is to re-establish capitalism. Thus in an article entitled "The Makhnovshchina," published in V Puti (On the Road) No. 51, Trotsky poses the question: "Against whom did the Makhnovist insurgents arise?" and throughout his article he occupies himself with demonstrating that the Makhnovshchina is nothing but a battlefront against the power of the Soviets. He does not say a word about the real front against the Whites, which is more than seventy miles long, where the insurgents have been suffering enormous losses for the last six months. Order No. 1824 calls me a conspirator against the Soviet Republic and the organizer of a revolt like Grigor'ev's.
I consider it an inviolable right of the workers and peasants, a right won by the revolution, to call congresses on their own account, to discuss their affairs. That is why the prohibition by the central authorities on the calling of such congresses, and the declaration proclaiming them illegal (Order No. 1824), represent a direct and insolent violation of the rights of the workers.
I understand perfectly the attitude of the central authorities with regard to me. I am absolutely convinced that these authorities consider the insurrectionary movement incompatible with their statist activity. At the same time they believe that this movement is closely tied to me personally and they honour me with all the resentment and hatred they feel for the whole insurrectionary movement. Nothing could demonstrate this better than the article by Trotsky mentioned above, in which, deliberately accumulating lies and slanders, he gives evidence of personal animosity towards me.
This hostile attitude - which now becomes aggressive - of the central authorities toward the insurrectionary movement leads unavoidably to the creation of a special internal front, on both sides of which are the working masses who have faith in the revolution. I consider this circumstance an immense, unpardonable crime against the workers and I believe it my duty to do what I can to avert it. The most effective means of preventing the central authorities from committing this crime is, in my opinion, evident. I must leave the post I occupy. I presume that, having done this, I and the revolutionary insurgents will cease to be suspected of engaging in anti-Soviet conspiracies by the central authorities, and the latter will come to consider the insurrection in the Ukraine an important phenomenon, a living, active manifestation of the social revolution of the masses, and not a hostile movement with which they can only have, as they have shown up to now, relations of distrust and deception, going as far as to haggle over every case of munitions and even sabotaging necessary supplies, which has caused the insurgents innumerable losses in men and territory won by the revolution, losses which would easily have been avoided if the central authorities had adopted another attitude. I request that I be relieved of my post and my duties.
June 9, 1919.
* * *
At this time the insurgent detachments stationed near Mariupol' retreated to Pologi and Aleksandrovsk. Makhno unexpectedly joined them, saving himself from the trap which the Bolsheviks had set for him at Gyaichur. The Bolsheviks immediately seized and executed Ozerov, Chief of Staff of the Makhnovist Army, staff members Mikhalev-Pavlenko and Burbyga, as well as several members of the Revolutionary Military Council. This was the signal for the execution of numerous other Makhnovists who fell into the hands of the Bolsheviks at this time.
Makhno's situation became increasingly untenable. He either had to completely abandon his detachments, with whom he had lived through the most difficult moments of the Ukrainian revolution, or else call them to a struggle against the Bolsheviks. But the second course was impossible because of Denikin's powerful offensive. With his usual farsightedness and revolutionary sensitivity, Makhno found a way out of this predicament. He turned to the insurrectionary army with an explanatory proclamation in which he described the new situation, explaining that he had to leave his post as commander for the time being, and calling on the insurgents to continue fighting with the same energy against Denikin's troops without being disturbed by the fact that they would temporarily be under the command of the Bolshevik Staff.
In answer to this appeal the majority of the Makhnovist units remained where they were, accepting the Red command and their incorporation into the Bolshevik Army.
But at the same time the commanders of insurrectionary detachments agreed to wait for the opportune moment to reunite themselves under Makhno's command, so long as this act did not endanger the external front. (As we will see below, this moment was chosen by the insurgents with amazing foresight and accuracy.)
After this, Makhno disappeared with a small cavalry detachment.
The insurgent regiments, transformed into Red units and remaining under their regular commanders - Kalashnikov, Kurilenko, Klein, Dermendzhi and others - continued to hold off Denikin's troops, preventing them from taking Aleksandrovsk and Ekaterinoslav.
* * *
Until the last moment the Bolshevik high officials were not aware of the true proportions of Denikin's invasion. Only a few days before the fall of Ekaterinoslav and Khar'kov, Trotsky declared that Denikin did not represent a serious threat, and that the Ukraine was not at all in danger. It is true that the following day, on the basis of new information, he was forced to retract his previous assertions and to recognize that Khar'kov was seriously threatened. But he only admitted this after it was already obvious to everyone that the entire Ukraine was threatened. Ekaterinoslav fell at the end of June, and Khar'kov fell two weeks later.
The Bolsheviks did not try to regain the offensive or even to organize a defence; they hurriedly evacuated the Ukraine. All the Red Army units were involved in this operation. The entire Ukraine was delivered to the reaction literally without a blow being struck.
It was then, when it became clear to everyone that the Bolsheviks were abandoning the Ukraine and were concerned only with taking with them as many men and as much rolling stock as possible, that Makhno decided that the time had come to once again take up the initiative in the struggle against the counter-revolution, and to act as an independent revolutionary force against both Denikin and the Bolsheviks. The word was given to the insurgent detachments who had temporarily been under the command of the Red Army to rid themselves of the Red commanders and to regroup under Makhno's general command.
1. In addition to L. Kamenev's telegram, a telegram addressed to Makhno was received from Grossman-Roshchin (Soviet anarchist), referring to the same event.
2. [Cossack chieftain.]
On to Chapter 7: The Long Retreat of the Makhnovists and their Victory; Execution of Grigor'ev; Battle of Peregonovka; Rout of Denikin's Troops; Period of Freedom
Back to Index
Return to The Nestor Makhno Archive
Other pages connected to this site:
Anarchist Groups & Organizations
An Anarchist Reader