H.6.12 Did the Makhnovists support the Whites?

No, they did not. However, black propaganda by the Bolsheviks stated they did. Victor Serge wrote about the "strenuous calumnies put out by the Communist Party" against him "which went so far as to accuse him of signing pacts with the Whites at the very moment when he was engaged in a life-and-death struggle against them." [Memoirs of a Revolutionary, p. 122]

According to Arshinov, "Soviet newspapers spread the false news of an alliance between Makhno and Wrangel" and in the summer of 1920, a representative of the Kharkov government "declared at the Plenary Session of the Ekaterinoslav Soviet, that Soviet authorities had written proof of the alliance between Makhno and Wrangel. This was obviously an intentional lie." Wrangel, perhaps believing these lies had some basis, sent a messenger to Makhno in July, 1920. "Wrangel's messenger was immediately executed" and the "entire incident was reported in the Makhnovist press. All this was perfectly clear to the Bolsheviks. They nevertheless continued to trumpet the alliance between Makhno and Wrangel. It was only after a military-political agreement had been concluded between the Makhnovists and the Soviet power that the Soviet Commissariat of War announced that there had never been an alliance between Makhno and Wrangel, that earlier Soviet assertions to this effect were an error." [Op. Cit., pp. 173-5]

Needless to say, while the Bolsheviks spread the rumour to discredit Makhno, the Whites spread it to win the confidence of the peasants. Thus when Trotsky stated that Wrangel had "united with the Ukrainian partisan Makhno," he was aiding the efforts of Wrangel to learn from previous White mistakes and build some kind of popular base. [quoted by Palij, Op. Cit., p. 220] By October, Trotsky had retracted this statement:

"Wrangel really tried to come into direct contact with Makhno's men and dispatched to Makhno's headquarters two representatives for negotiations . . . [However] Makhno's men not only did not enter into negotiations with the representatives of Wrangel, but publicly hanged them as soon as they arrived at the headquarters." [quoted by Palij, Ibid.]

Trotsky, of course, still tried to blacken the Makhnovists. In the same article he argued that "[u]ndoubtedly Makhno actually co-operated with Wrangel, and also with the Polish szlachta, as he fought with them against the Red Army. However, there was no formal alliance between them. All the documents mentioning a formal alliance were fabricated by Wrangel . . . All this fabrication was made to deceive the protectors of Makhno, the French, and other imperialists." [quoted by Palij, Op. Cit., p. 225]

It is hard to know where to start in this amazing piece of political story-telling. As we discuss in more detail in section H.6.13, the Makhnovists were fighting the Red Army from January to September 1920 because the Bolsheviks had engineered their outlawing! As historian David Footman points out, the attempt by the Bolsheviks to transfer Makhno to Polish front was done for political reasons:

"it is admitted on the Soviet side that this order was primarily 'dictated by the necessity' of liquidating Makhnovshchina as an independent movement. Only when he was far removed from his home country would it be possible to counteract his influence" [Op. Cit., p. 291]

Indeed, it could be argued that by attacking Makhno in January helped the Whites to regroup under Wrangel and return later in the year. Equally, it seems like a bad joke for Trotsky to blame the victim of Bolshevik intrigues for defending themselves. And the idea that Makhno had "protectors" in any imperialist nation is a joke, which deserves only laughter as a response!

It should be noted that it is "agreed that the initiative for joint action against Wrangel came from the Makhnovites." This was ignored by the Bolsheviks until after "Wrangel started his big offensive" in September 1920 [Footman, Op. Cit., p. 294 and p. 295]

So while the Bolsheviks claimed that the Makhnovists had made a pact with General Wrangel, the facts are that Makhnovists fought the Whites with all their energy. Indeed, they considered the Whites so great a threat to the revolution they even agreed to pursue a pact with the Bolsheviks, who had betrayed them twice already and had subjected both them and the peasantry to repression. As such, it could be argued that the Bolsheviks were the only counter-revolutionaries the Makhnovists can be accurately accused of collaborating with.

Every historian who has studied the movement has refuted claims that the Makhnovist movement made any alliance with the counter-revolutionary White forces. For example, Michael Palij notes that Denikin "was the main enemy that Makhno fought, stubbornly and uncompromising, from the end of 1918 to the end of 1919. Its social and anti-Ukrainian policies greatly antagonised all segments of Ukrainian society. The result of this was an increased resistance to the Volunteer Army and its regime and a substantial strengthening of the Makhno movement." He also notes that after several months of "hard fighting" Denikin's troops "came to regard Makhno's army as their most formidable enemy." Makhno's conflict with Wrangel was equally as fierce and "[a]lthough Makhno had fought both the Bolsheviks and Wrangel, his contribution to the final defeat of the latter was essential, as is proved by the efforts of both sides to have him as an ally." [Op. Cit., p. 177, p. 202 and p. 228] According to Footman, Makhno "remained to the end the implacable enemy of the Whites." [Op. Cit., p. 295] Malet just states the obvious: "The Makhnovists were totally opposed to the Whites." [Op. Cit., p. 140]

We will leave the last word to the considered judgement of the White General Denikin who, in exile, stated that the Makhno movement was "the most antagonistic to the idea of the White movement." [quoted by Malet, Op. Cit., p. 140]

In summary, the Makhnovists fought the White counter-revolution with all their might, playing a key role in the struggle and defeat of both Denikin and Wrangel. Anyone who claims that they worked with the Whites is either ignorant or a liar.


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