The ever-recurring lie
The ever-recurring lie of Makhno being a "pathologically cruel" anti-semite and carrying out pogroms was invented by Yaroslavsky, the Bolshevik 'historian' of the anarchist movement. It was accepted even by some Anarchists, in particular Sh. Yanovsky, editor fo the Yiddish language "Freie Arbeiter Stimme". However when Makhno died, Yanovsky published the following tribute in "The Watchman" (Aug 1934, trans "Freedom" November 1934).
In the personality of Nestor Makhno who died last week, the revolutionary world in general and the Russian Revolution in particular, have lost one of its greatest heroes, who will during the course of time be more and more valued. And the more so after being misunderstood and shamefully calumniated, not only by his opponents, but by some of his own comrades.
I wish to acknowledge now that I too formed an antipathy to the personality of Makhno, although I knew that he was an Anarchist-Communist. But now I cannot forgive myself that I could so misjudge a man merely on the basis of calumny by his bitter enemies who more than once shamefully betrayed him, and against whom he fought so heroically.
I am glad I recognised before he died that I did him and the Makhno movement a great injustice. I am glad to add that I declared this openly in the 'Freie Arbeiter Stimme', in which paper I published a note seven years ago "that even Makhno is not free of guilt in that he made pogroms on Jews". I feel terribly guilty about Comrade Makhno, both that I ignored his appeal to me and that I should have believed he had taken part in a pogrom. So strongly biassed was I against him at that time I did not think it necessary to find out whether my serious accusation was founded on any real facts during nthe period of his great fight for real freedom in Russia. Now I know that my accusations of anti-semitism against Makhno were built entirely on the lies of the Bolsheviks and to the rest of their crimes must be added this great crime of killing his greatness and the purity of this fighter for freedom.
It is true that Makhno and the whole of his revolutionary work was misunderstood by many Anarchists, who were misled by the Bolsheviks at that period, but there was one Anarchist in Russia who could not be misled by Bolshevik lies and who had a very good opinion of Makhno. This was Peter Kropotkin, who in 1919 when Makhno developed his great fight for the freeing of the Russian workers and peasants, said to some comrades, "Let him know from me that comrade Makhno should look after himself, because such persons as he are very few in Russia". I am certain that had there been the slightest suspicion on Makhno of anti-semitism, Peter Kropotkin would never have said that.
Regretfully I have just discovered this. It has also become known to me that a great many Jewish comrades were heart and soul with Makhno and the whole Makhno movement. Amongst them was one whom I knew well personally, Joseph Zutman of Detroit (1), and I know that he would not have had anything to do with persons, or a movement, which possessed the slightest leaning towards anti-semitism.
Just lately I have taken the trouble to read the proclamation which Makhno published against the curse of anti-semitism, and it has become clear to me that in the nature of the great fight for freedom, there was not even a trace of jingoism which could have made him into an enemy of the Jews.
1. Others included his fellow-partisan and biographer Voline, and the young Leah Feldman, possibly the last survivor of his army, who died in London in 1993.
Back to Index
Back to The Nestor Makhno Archive