Many modern-day supporters of Bolshevism, on the rare occasions when they do mention the Makhnovist movement, simply repeat the old Bolshevik (and Stalinist) slanders against them.
For example, this is what Joseph Seymour of the U.S. Spartacus League did. Their newspaper Workers Vanguard ran a series entitled "Marxism vs. Anarchism" and in part 7, during his discussion of the Russian Revolution, Seymour claimed:
"The most significant counter-revolutionary force under the banner of anarchism was the Ukrainian peasant-based army of Nestor Makhno, which carried out pogroms against Jewish communities and collaborated with White armies against the Bolsheviks." [Workers Vanguard, 8/30/1996, p. 7]
Seymour, needless to say, made these accusations without providing any documentation, and with good reason, for outside of Stalinist hagiographies, no evidence exists to support his claims. As we indicated in section H.6.9, the Makhnovists opposed anti-Semitism and did not conduct pogroms. Equally, section H.6.12 proves that the Makhnovists did not collaborate with the Whites in any way (although this did not stop the Bolshevik press deliberately spreading the lie that they had).
More recently, the UK Leninist Revolutionary Communist Group asserted in their paper that the Makhnovists "joined with counter-revolutionary White and imperialist armies against socialist Russia. This band of brigands also carried out pogroms against Jewish communities in the Ukraine." [Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, issue no. 174, p. 12] No evidence for such a claim was presented in the original review article. When an anarchist pointed out their assertion was "falling back on a long tradition of Stalinist lies" and asked for "any historical references" to support it, the paper replied by stating that while there were "several" references, it would give two: "E.H. Carr refers to it in his history of the civil war. Also the anarchist historian Paul Avrich mentions it in his work The anarchists in the Russian Revolution." [Op. Cit., no. 175, p. 15]
In reality, neither work says any such thing. Looking at the first (unnamed) one, assuming it is E.H. Carr's The Bolshevik Revolution there is no reference to pogroms carried out by the Makhnovists (looking in the index for "Makhno"). Which, perhaps, explains why the paper refused to provide a book title and page number. As far as the second reference goes, Avrich made no such claim in The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution. He did address the issue in his Anarchist Portraits, concluding such charges are false.
And the name of the original article? Ironically, it was entitled "The anarchist school of falsification"!
However, more sophisticated slanders, lies and distortions have been levelled at the Makhnovists by the supporters of Bolshevism. This is to be expected, as the experience of the Makhnovists effectively refute the claim that the Bolsheviks had no choice but to act as they did. It is hard to maintain a position that "objective conditions" made the Bolsheviks act as they did when another mass revolutionary army, operating in the same environment, did not act in the same way. This means that the Makhnovists are strong evidence that Bolshevik politics played a key role in the degeneration of the Russian Revolution. Clearly such a conclusion is dangerous to Bolshevism and so the Maknovist movement must be attacked, regardless of the facts.
A recent example of this is John Rees' essay "In Defence of October" (International Socialism, no. 52, pp. 3-82). Rees, a member of the UK Socialist Workers' Party (SWP) is at pains to downplay the role of Bolshevik ideology in the degeneration of the Russian Revolution. He argues that "objective factors" ensured that the Bolsheviks acted as they did. The "subjective factor" was simply a choice between defeat and defence against the Whites: "Within these limits Bolshevik policy was decisive." [Op. Cit., p. 30] This explains his attack on the Makhnovist movement. Faced with the same "objective factors" as the Bolsheviks, the Makhnovists did not act in the same way. As such, the "subjective factor" amounts to more than Rees' stark choice and so objective conditions cannot explain everything.
Clearly, then, the Makhnovists undermine his basic thesis. As such, we would expect a less than honest account of the movement and Rees does not disappoint. He talks about the "muddled anarchism" of Makhno, dismissing the whole movement as offering no alternative to Bolshevism and being without "an articulated political programme." Ultimately, for Rees, Makhno's "anarchism was a thin veneer on peasant rebellion" and while "on paper" the Makhnovists "appeared to have a more democratic programme" there were "frauds." [p. 57, p. 58, p. 61 and p. 70]
The reality of the situation is totally different. Ignoring the obvious contradiction (i.e. how can the Makhnovists have the appearance of a "democratic programme" and, simultaneously, not articulate it?) we shall analyse his account of the Makhnovist movement in order to show exactly how low the supporters of Bolshevism will go to distort the historical record for their own aims (see section H.5 for Rees's distortions about the Kronstadt revolt). Once the selective and edited quotations provided by Rees are corrected, the picture that clearly emerges is that rather than the Makhnovists being "frauds," it is Rees' account which is the fraud (along with the political tradition which inspired it).
Rees presents two aspects of his critique of the Makhnovists. The first is a history of the movement and its relationships (or lack of them) with the Bolsheviks. The second is a discussion of the ideas which the Makhnovists tried to put into practice. Both aspects of his critique are extremely flawed. Indeed, the errors in his history of the movement are so fundamental (and, indeed, so at odds with his references) that it suggests that ideology overcame objectivity (to be polite). The best that can be said of his account is that at least he does not raise the totally discredited accusation that the Makhnovists were anti-Semitic or "kulaks." However, he more than makes up for this by distorting the facts and references he uses (it would be no exaggeration to argue that the only information Rees gets correct about his sources is the page number).
Rees starts by setting the tone, stating that the "methods used by Makhno and Antonov [a leader of the "Greens" in Tambov] in their fight against the Red Army often mirrored those used by the Whites." [Op. Cit., p. 57] Strangely enough, while he lists some for Antonov, he fails to specify any against Makhno. However, the scene is set. His strongest piece of evidence as regards Makhno's "methods" against the Red Army come from mid-1920 after, it should be noted, the Bolsheviks had engineered the outlawing of the Makhnovist movement and needlessly started the very conflict Rees uses as evidence against Makhno. In other words, he is attacking the Makhnovists for defending themselves against Bolshevik aggression!
He quotes reports from the Ukrainian Front to blacken the Makhnovists, using them to confirm the picture he extracts from "the diary of Makhno's wife." These entries, from early 1920, he claims "betray the nature of the movement" (i.e. after, as we shall see, the Bolsheviks had engineered the outlawing of the Makhnovists). [Op. Cit., p. 58] The major problem for Rees' case is the fact that this diary is a fake and has been known to be a fake since Arshinov wrote his classic account of the Makhnovists in 1923:
"After 1920, the Bolsheviks wrote a great deal about the personal defects of Makhno, basing their information on the diary of his so-called wife, a certain Fedora Gaenko .. . . But Makhno's wife is Galina Andreevna Kuz'menko. She has lived with him since 1918. She never kept, and therefore never lost, a diary. Thus the documentation of the Soviet authorities is based on a fabrication, and the picture these authorities draw from such a diary is an ordinary lie." [Arshinov, History of the Makhnovist Movement, p. 226f]
Ironically enough, Rees implicitly acknowledges this by lamely admitting (in an end note) that "Makhno seems to have had two 'wives'" [Op. Cit., p. 78] And we should note that the source Rees uses for the fake diary entries (W.H. Chamberlin's The Russian Revolution) uses as his source the very Bolshevik documentation that Arshinov quite correctly denounced over 70 years before Rees put pen to paper. Little wonder Michael Palij, in his detailed account of the movement (The Anarchism of Nestor Makhno, 1918-1921), fails to use it. So, in summary, a major part of his account is based on falsehoods, falsehoods exposed as such decades ago. This indicates well the quality of his case against the Makhnovist movement.
As regards the "evidence" he extracts from this fake diary and Red Army reports, it simply shows that Bolsheviks were shot by Makhno's troops and Red Army troops died in combat. This went both ways, of course. In "military operations the Bolsheviks shot all prisoners. The Makhnovists shot all captured officers unless the Red rank and file strongly interceded for them. The rank and file were usually sent home, though a number volunteered for service with the Insurgents." Equally, "[o]n the occupation of a village by the Red Army the Cheka would hunt out and hang all active Makhnovite supporters; an amenable Soviet would be set up; officials would be appointed or imported to organise the poor peasants . . . and three or four Red militia men left as armed support for the new village bosses." [David Footman, Op. Cit., pp. 292-3] As such, Rees' account of Makhnovist "terror" against the Bolsheviks seems somewhat hypocritical. We can equally surmise that the methods used by the Bolsheviks against the Makhnovists also "often mirrored those used by the Whites"! And Rees lambastes socialist Samuel Farber for mentioning the "Red Terror, but not the Green Terror" in Farber's discussion of the Tambov revolt! All in all, pretty pathetic.
Rees' concern for the truth can be seen from the fact that he asserts that Makhno's "rebellion" was "smaller" than the Tambov uprising and distinguished from it "only by the muddled anarchism of its leader." [Op. Cit., p. 58] In fact, the Makhnovist movement was the bigger of the two. As Michael Malet notes:
"The differences between them explain why the Makhnovshchina lasted over four years, the Antonovshchina less than one year. The initial area of the Makhno movement was larger, and later expanded, whereas the Antonov region was restricted to the southern half of one province throughout its existence. The Makhno movement became established earlier, and was well-known before its break with the soviet regime. A crucial factor was the period of peace between the Bolsheviks and Makhno during the first half of 1919, something Antonov never had. It allowed for political and social development as well as military build-up. It followed from this that Makhno attracted much more support, which was increased and deepened by the positive ideology of Makhno and the anarchists who came to help him. This was not a matter of being anti-State and anti-town -- all the Greens, including Antonov, shared this view in a less sophisticated form -- but a positive land policy and a realisation of the need to link up with the towns on a federal basis in the post-revolutionary society." [Op. Cit., p. 155]
Even in terms of troops, the Makhno movement was larger. The Antonov rebellion had "a peak of around 20,000" troops. [Read, Op. Cit., p. 268] Makhno, in comparison, had a peak of about 40,000 in late 1919 [Palij, Op. Cit., p. 112] (Read states a peak of around 30,000 [Op. Cit., p. 264]). Even by the end of 1920, a few months into the Tambov rebellion (it started in August of that year), the Makhnovists still had 10 to 15 thousand troops. [Palij, Op. Cit., p. 237]
In summary, the movement which lasted longer, covered a larger area and involved more troops is classed by Rees as the smaller of the two! Incredible -- but it does give a flavour of the scholarship involved in his essay. Perhaps by "smaller" Rees simply meant that Makhno was physically shorter than Antonov?
After getting such minor details as size wrong, Rees turns to the actual history of the movement. He looks at the relations between the Makhnovists and the Bolsheviks, accurately stating that they "were chequered." However, he is wrong when he tries to explain what happened by stating they "reflect[ed] the fast changing military situation in the Ukraine throughout the civil war." [Op. Cit., p. 58] In fact, as we will prove, the relationships between the two forces reflected the military situation refracted through the ideology and needs of Bolshevik power. To ignore the ideological factor in the Makhnovist-Bolshevik relationships cannot be justified as the military situation does not fully explain what happened.
The Makhnovists co-operated with the Red Army three times. Only two of these periods were formal alliances (the first and last). Discussing the first two pacts, Rees alleges that the Makhnovists broke with the Bolsheviks. The truth is the opposite -- the Bolsheviks turned on the Makhnovists and betrayed them in order to consolidate their power. These facts are hardly unknown to Rees as they are contained in the very books he quotes from as evidence for his rewritten history.
The first pact between the Makhnovists and the Red Army ended June 1918. According to Rees, "[c]o-operation continued until June 1919 when the Insurgent Army broke from the Red Army" and quotes Michael Palij's book The Anarchism of Nestor Makhno as follows: "as soon as Makhno left the front he and his associates began to organise new partisan detachments in the Bolsheviks' rear, which subsequently attacked strongholds, troops, police, trains and food collectors." [Op. Cit., p. 58] Rees is clearly implying that Makhno attacked the Bolsheviks, apparently for no reason. The truth is totally different. It is easy to show this -- all we need to do is look at the book he uses as evidence.
Rees quotes Palij on page 177. This page is from chapter 16, which is called "The Bolsheviks Break with Makhno." As this was not enough of a clue, Palij presents some necessary background for this Bolshevik break. He notes that before the break, "the Bolsheviks renewed their anti-Makhno propaganda. Trotsky, in particular, led a violent campaign against the Makhno movement." He also mentions that "[a]t the same time, the supplies of arms and other war materials to Makhno were stopped, thus weakening the Makhno forces vis-a-vis the Denikin troops." In this context, the Makhnovists Revolutionary Military Council "decided to call a fourth congress of peasants, workers, and partisans" for June 15th, 1919, which Trotsky promptly banned, warning the population that "participation in the Congress shall be considered an act of state treason against the Soviet Republic and the front." [Op. Cit., p. 175 and p. 176]
The Bolsheviks had, of course, tried to ban the third congress in April but had been ignored. This time, they made sure that they were not. Makhno and his staff were not informed of Trotsky's dictatorial order and learned of it three days later. On June 9th, Makhno sent a telegram informing the Bolsheviks that he was leaving his post as leader of the Makhnovists. He "handed over his command and left the front with a few of his close associates and a cavalry detachment" while calling upon the partisans to "remain at the front to hold off Denikin's forces." Trotsky ordered his arrest, but Makhno was warned in advance and escaped. On June 15-16th, members of Makhno's staff "were captured and executed the next day." Now Palij recounts how "[a]s soon as Makhno left the front he and his associates began to organise new partisan detachments in the Bolsheviks' rear, which subsequently attacked strongholds, troops, police, trains and food collectors." [Op. Cit., p. 177]
Palij "subsequently" refers to Makhno after Denikin's breakthrough and his occupation of the Ukraine. "The oppressive policy of the Denikin regime," he notes, "convinced the population that it was as bad as the Bolshevik regime, and brought a strong reaction that led able young men . . . to leave their homes and join Makhno and other partisan groups." [Op. Cit., p. 190] As Makhno put it, "[w]hen the Red Army in south Ukraine began to retreat . . . as if to straighten the front line, but in reality to evacuate Ukraine . . . only then did my staff and I decide to act." [quoted by Palij, Op. Cit., p. 190] After trying to fight Denikin's troops, Makhno retreated and called upon his troops to leave the Red Army and rejoin the fight against Denikin. He "sent agents amongst the Red troops" to carry out propaganda urging them to stay and fight Denikin with the Makhnovists, which they did in large numbers. This propaganda was "combined with sabotage." Between these two events, Makhno had entered the territory of pogromist warlord Hryhoryiv (which did not contain Red troops as they were in conflict) and assassinated him. [Op. Cit., p. 191 and p. 173]
It should also be noted that Palij states that it was the Whites who "were the main enemy that Makhno fought, stubbornly and uncompromisingly, from the end of 1918 to the end of 1919." [Op. Cit., p. 177]
Clearly, Rees's summary leaves a lot to be desired! Rather than Makhno attacking the Bolsheviks, it was they who broke with him -- as Palij, Rees's source, makes clear. Indeed, Makhno made no attempt to undermine the Red Army's campaign against Denikin (after all, that would have placed his troops and region in danger). Rather, he waited until the Bolsheviks showed that they would not defend the Ukraine against the Whites before he acted. As such, Rees misuses his source material and used Palij as evidence for a viewpoint which is the exact opposite of the one he recounts. The dishonesty is obvious. But, then again, it is understandable, as Trotsky banning a worker, peasant and partisan congress would hardly fit into Rees' attempt to portray the Bolsheviks as democratic socialists overcome by objective circumstances! Given that the Makhnovists had successfully held three such congresses to discuss the war against reaction, how could objective circumstances be blamed for the dictatorial actions of Trotsky and other leading Red Army officers in the Ukraine? Better not to mention this and instead rewrite history by making Makhno break with the Bolsheviks and attack them for no reason!
Rees moves onto the period of co-operation between the insurgents and the Bolsheviks. His version of what happened is that "Denikin's advance against Makhno's territory in autumn 1919 quickly forced a renewal of the treaty with the Bolsheviks. Makhno harassed Denikin's troops from the rear, making their advance more difficult." [Op. Cit., p. 58]
A more accurate account of what happened would be that Makhno reorganised his troops after the Bolsheviks had retreated and evacuated the Ukraine. These troops included those that had been left in the Red Army in June, who now left to rejoin him (and brought a few Red Army units along too). After conducting quick and demoralising raids against Denikin's forces, the Makhnovists were forced to retreat to the West (followed by White forces). In late September, near Peregonovka, Makhno inflicted a major defeat against the following Whites and allowed the Makhnovists to attack across Denikin's supply lines (which stopped his attack on Moscow thus, ironically, saving the Bolshevik regime). Makhno's swift attack on the rear of the Whites ensured their defeat. As the correspondent of Le Temps observed:
"There is no doubt that Denikin's defeat is explained more by the uprising of the peasants who brandished Makhno's black flag, then by the success of Trotsky's regular army. The partisan bands of 'Batko' tipped the scales in favour of the Reds." [quoted by Palij, Op. Cit., p. 208]
Palij argues that it was the "rapidly changing military situation [which] soon caused a change in the Bolsheviks' attitude toward Makhno." The two forces meet up on December 24th, 1919. However, "[a]lthough the Bolsheviks fraternised with the Makhno troops and the commander even offered co-operation, they distrusted Makhno, fearing the popularity he had gained as a result of his successful fight against Denikin." [Op. Cit., p. 209] It should also be stressed that no formal treaty was signed.
Clearly, Rees' summary leaves a lot to be desired!
This is not the end of it. Rees even attempts to blame the Makhnovists for the attack of General Wrangel. He argues that "by the end of 1919 the immediate White threat was removed. Makhno refused to move his troops to the Polish front to meet the imminent invasion and hostilities with the Red Army began again on an even more widespread scale." [Op. Cit., p. 58]
This, needless to say, is a total distortion of the facts. Firstly, it should be noted that the "imminent" invasion by Poland Rees mentions did not, in fact, occur until "the end of April" (the 26th, to be precise). The break with Makhno occurred as a result of an order issued in early January (the 8th, to be precise). [Michael Palij, Op. Cit., p. 219 and p. 210] Clearly, the excuse of "imminent" invasion was a cover, as recognised by a source Rees himself uses, namely Palij's work:
"The author of the order realised at that time there was no real war between the Poles and the Bolsheviks at that time and he also knew that Makhno would not abandon his region .. . . Uborevich [the author] explained that 'an appropriate reaction by Makhno to this order would give us the chance to have accurate grounds for our next steps' . . . [He] concluded: 'The order is a certain political manoeuvre and, at the very least, we expect positive results from Makhno's realisation of this.'" [Palij, Op. Cit., p. 210]
This is confirmed by Rees' other references. David Footman, whom Rees also uses for evidence against the Makhnovist movement, notes that while it was "true there were military reasons for reinforcing" the Polish frontier (although he also notes the significant fact that the war "was not to break out for another four months"), it was "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, and to split up and integrate his partisans into various Red Army formations." He notes that there were "other occasions (notably in Siberia) of the Soviet authorities solving the problem of difficult partisan leaders by sending them off to fight on distant fronts" and, of course, that "Makhno and his staff . . . were perfectly aware of the underlying Soviet motives." Footman recounts how the Makhnovist staff sent a "reasoned reply" to the Bolsheviks, that there "was no immediate response" from them and in "mid-January the Central Committee of the Ukrainian Communist Party declared Makhno and his force to be outside the law, and the Red Army attacked." [The Russian Civil War, pp. 290-1]
In other words, according to the sources Rees himself selects, the Bolsheviks started the conflict in order to eliminate opposition to their power!
Needless to say, the Makhnovists did realise the political motivations behind the order. As Arshinov notes, "[s]ending the insurrectionary army to the Polish front meant removing from the Ukraine the main nerve centre of the revolutionary insurrection. This was precisely what the Bolsheviks wanted: they would then be absolute masters of the rebellious region, and the Makhnovists were perfectly aware of this." In addition, "neither the 14th Corps nor any other unit of the Red Army had any ties with the Makhnovist army; least of all were they in a position to give orders to the insurrectionary army." Nor does Rees mention that the Makhnovists considered the move "physically impossible" as "half the men, the entire staff and the commander himself were in hospital with typhus." [Op. Cit., p. 163]
Consider what Rees is (distortedly) accounting. The beginning of 1920 was a time of peace. The Civil War looked like it was over. The White Generals had been defeated. Now the Bolsheviks turn on their allies after issuing an ultimatum which they knew would never be obeyed. Under the circumstances, a stupider decision cannot be easily found! Moreover, the very logic of the order was a joke. Would be it wise to leave the Ukraine undefended? Of course not and if Red Army units were to stay to defend the region, why not the Makhnovists who actually came from the area in question? Why provoke a conflict when it was possible to transfer Red Army units to the Polish front? Simply put, Rees presents a distorted picture of what was happening in the Ukraine at the time simply so he can whitewash the Bolshevik regime and blacken the Makhnovists. As he himself later notes, the Bolshevik-Makhnovist conflict gave the White General Wrangel the space required to restart the Civil War. Thus the Bolshevik decision to attack the Makhnovists helped prolong the Civil War -- the very factor Rees blames the degeneration of the Russian Revolution and Bolshevik ideology and practice on!
It is now that Rees presents his evidence of Makhnovist violence against the Bolsheviks (the Red Army reports and entries from the fake diary of Makhno's wife). Arguing that the entries from the fake diary "betray the nature of the movement in this period," he tries to link them with Makhnovist theory. "These actions," he argues, "were consistent with an earlier resolution of the Insurgent Army which declared that it was 'the actions of the Bolshevik regime which cause a real danger to the worker-peasant revolution." [Op. Cit., p. 59]
Firstly, given a true account of the second break between the Makhnovists and Bolsheviks, it would be fair to conclude that the resolution was, in fact, correct! However, such facts are not mentioned by Rees, so the reader is left in ignorance.
Secondly, to correct another of Rees' causal mistakes, it should be noted that this resolution was not passed by the Insurgent Army. Rather it was passed at the Second Regional Congress of Peasants, Workers and Insurgents held at Hulyai Pole on February 12th, 1919. This congress had 245 delegates, representing 350 districts and was one of four organised by the Makhnovists. Unsurprisingly, these regional congresses are not even mentioned by Rees in his account. This is for obvious reasons -- if the Makhnovists could organise congresses of workers, peasants and insurgents to discuss the progress of the revolution, then why could the Bolsheviks not manage it? Equally, to mention them would also mean mentioning that the Bolsheviks tried to ban one and succeeded in banning another.
Thirdly, the tone of the congress was anti-Bolshevik simply because the Ukraine had had a taste of Bolshevik rule. As Rees himself acknowledges in a roundabout way, the Bolsheviks had managed to alienate the peasantry by their agricultural policies.
Fourthly, the Bolsheviks had engineered the outlawing of the Makhnovists. Thus the actions of the Makhnovists were not "consistent" with the earlier resolution. They were, in fact, "consistent" with self-defence against a repressive state which had attacked them first!
Looking at the congress where the resolution was passed, we find that the list of "real dangers" was, quite simply, sensible and, in fact, in line with Leninist rhetoric. The resolution acknowledged the fact that the Bolshevik party was "demanding a monopoly of the Revolution." As we discussed in section H.6.14, it was during this period that the Bolsheviks explicitly started to argue that the "dictatorship of the party" was the "dictatorship of the proletariat." The resolution also stated:
"With deep regret the Congress must also declare that apart from external enemies a perhaps even greater danger, arising from its internal shortcomings, threatens the Revolution of the Russian and Ukrainian peasants and workers. The Soviet Governments of Russia and of the Ukraine, by their orders and decrees, are making efforts to deprive local soviets of peasants and workers' deputies of their freedom and autonomy." [quoted by Footman, Op. Cit., p. 267]
It also stated:
"the political commissars are watching each step of the local soviets and dealing ruthlessly with those friends of peasants and workers who act in defence of peoples' freedom from the agency of the central government . . . The Bolshevik regime arrested left Socialist Revolutionaries and anarchists, closing their newspapers, stifling any manifestation of revolutionary expression."
Delegates also complained that the Bolshevik government had not been elected, that it was "imposing upon us its party dictatorship" and "attempting to introduce its Bolshevik monopoly over the soviets." [quoted by Palij, [Op. Cit., p. 154]
The resolution noted that the current situation was "characterised by the seizure of power by the political party of Communists-Bolsheviks who do not balk at anything in order to preserve and consolidate their political power by armed force acting from the centre. The party is conducting a criminal policy in regard to the social revolution and in regard to the labouring masses." To top it off, point number three read:
"We protest against the reactionary habits of Bolshevik rulers, commissars, and agents of the Cheka, who are shooting workers, peasants, and rebels, inventing all kinds of excuses . . . The Cheka which were supposed to struggle with counterrevolution . . . have turned in the Bolsheviks' hands into an instrument for the suppression of the will of the people. They have grown in some cases into detachments of several hundred armed men with a variety of arms. We demand that all these forces be dispatched to the front." [quoted by Vladimir N. Brovkin, Behind the Front Lines of the Civil War, pp. 109-10]
We should also point out that Rees selectively quotes the resolution to distort its meaning. The resolution, in fact, "urges the peasants and workers to watch vigilantly the actions of the Bolshevik regime that cause a real danger to the worker-peasant revolution." [quoted by Palij, Op. Cit., p. 154] We have listed some of the actions of the Bolsheviks that the congress considered as a "real danger." Considering the truth of these complaints, only someone blinded by Bolshevik ideology would consider it strange that worker and peasant delegates should agree to "watch vigilantly" those actions of the Bolsheviks which were a "real danger" to their revolution!
Lenin (before taking power, of course) had argued that elections and recall to soviets were essential to ensure that the workers control the "workers' state" and that socialism required the elimination of "special bodies of armed men" by an armed population. To this day, his followers parrot his claims (while, simultaneously, justifying the exact opposite in Lenin's Russia). Now, is Rees really arguing that the Bolshevik monopoly of power, the creation of a secret police and the clamping down on working people's freedom were not dangers to the Russian Revolution and should not be watched "vigilantly"? If so, then his conception of revolution includes the strange notion that dictatorship by a party does not threaten a revolution! Then again, neither did the Bolsheviks (indeed, they thought calling worker, peasant and partisan congresses to discuss the development of the revolution as the real danger to it!). If not, then he cannot fault the regional congress resolution for pointing out the obvious. As such, Rees' misquoting of the resolution backfires on him.
Significantly, Rees fails to mention that during this period (the first half of 1920), the Bolsheviks "shot ordinary soldiers as well as their commanders, destroying their houses, confiscating their properties, and persecuting their families. Moreover the Bolsheviks conducted mass arrests of innocent peasants who were suspected of collaborating in some way with the partisans. It is impossible to determine the casualties involved." The hypocrisy is clear. While Rees presents information (some of it, we stress, from a fake source) on Makhnovist attacks against the Bolshevik dictatorship, he remains silent on the Bolshevik tactics, violence and state terrorism. Given that the Bolsheviks had attacked the Makhnovists, it seems strange that that Rees ignores the "merciless methods" of the Bolsheviks (to use Palij's phrase) and concentrates instead on the acts of self-defence forced onto the Makhnovists. Perhaps this is because it would provide too strong a "flavour" of the Bolshevik regime? [Op. Cit., pp. 212-3 and p. 213]
Rees makes great play of the fact that White forces took advantage of the conflict between the Makhnovists and the Bolsheviks, as would be expected. However, it seems like an act of ideological faith to blame the victims of this conflict for it! In his attempts to demonise the Makhnovists, he argues that "[i]n fact it was Makhno's actions against the Red Army which made 'a brief return of the Whites possible.'" In defence of his claims, Rees quotes from W. Bruce Lincoln's Red Victory. However, looking at Lincoln's work we discover that Lincoln is well aware who is to blame for the return of the Whites. Unsurprisingly, it is not the Makhnovists:
"Once Trotsky's Red Army had crushed Iudenich and Kolchak and driven Deniken's forces back upon their bases in the Crimea and the Kuban, it turned upon Makhno's partisan forces with a vengeance . . . [I]n mid-January 1920, after a typhus epidemic had decimated his forces, a re-established Central Committee of the Ukrainian Communist Party declared Makhno an outlaw. Yet the Bolsheviks could not free themselves from Makhno's grasp so easily, and it became one of the supreme ironies of the Russian Civil War that his attacks against the rear of the Red Army made it possible for the resurrected White armies . . . to return briefly to the southern Ukraine in 1920." [Red Victory, p. 327]
Ignoring the fact that Rees does not bother to give the correct quote (a problem that re-occurs frequently in his essay), it can be seen that he does paraphrase the last sentence of Lincoln's work correctly. Strange, then, that he ignores the rest of his account which clearly indicates that the Bolsheviks "turned upon" the Makhnovists and "declared Makhno an outlaw." Obviously such trivial facts as the initial Bolshevik attacks against the Makhnovists are unimportant to understanding what actually happened in this period. Informing his readers that it was the Bolsheviks' betrayal of the Makhnovists which provoked the resistance that "made it possible for . . . the White armies . . . to return briefly" would confuse them with facts and so it goes unmentioned.
Lincoln, it must be stressed, concurs with Rees's other main sources (Palij and Footman) on the fact that the Bolsheviks betrayed the Makhnovists! Clearly, Rees has rewritten history and distorted all of his main references on the Makhnovist movement. After reading the same fact in three different sources, you would think that the Bolshevik betrayal of the Makhnovists which provoked their resistance against them would warrant some mention, but no! In true Stalinist fashion, Rees managed to turn a Bolshevik betrayal of the Makhnovists into a stick with which to beat them with! Truly amazing.
Simply put, if the Bolsheviks had not wanted to impose their rule over the Ukraine, then the conflict with the Makhnovists need not have taken place and Wrangel would not have been in a position to invade the Ukraine. Why did the Bolsheviks act in this way? There was no "objective factor" for this action and so we must turn to Bolshevik ideology.
As we proved in section H.6.14, Bolshevik ideology by this time identified Bolshevik party dictatorship as the only expression of "the dictatorship of the proletariat." Does Rees really believe that such perspectives had no impact on how the Bolsheviks acted during the Revolution? The betrayal of the Makhnovists can only be understood in terms of the "subjective factor" Rees seeks to ignore. If you think, as the Bolsheviks clearly did, that the dictatorship of the proletariat equalled the dictatorship of the party (and vice versa) then anything which threatened the rule of the party had to be destroyed. Whether this was soviet democracy or the Makhnovists did not matter. The Makhnovist idea of worker and peasant self-management, like soviet democracy, could not be reconciled with the Bolshevik ideology. As such, Bolshevik policy explains the betrayals of the Makhnovists.
Not satisfied with distorting his source material to present the Makhnovists as the guilty party in the return of Wrangel, he decides to blame the initial success of Wrangel on them as well. He quotes Michael Palij as follows: "As Wrangel advanced . . . Makhno retreated north . . . leaving behind small partisan units in the villages and towns to carry out covert destruction of the Bolshevik administrative apparatus and supply bases." [Op. Cit., p. 59] He again sources Palij's work on the "effective" nature of these groups, stating that White Colonel Noga reported to headquarters that Makhno was critical to Wrangel's advance.
As regards the claims that Makhno was "critical" to Wrangel's advance, Colonal Noga actually states that it was "peasant uprisings under Makhno and many other partisan detachments" which gave "the Reds no rest." [quoted by Palij, Op. Cit., p. 214] However, what Rees fails to mention is that Palij argues that it was the Bolshevik "policy of terror and exploitation" which had "turned almost all segments of Ukrainian society against the Bolsheviks, substantially strengthened the Makhno movement, and consequently facilitated the advance of the reorganised anti-Bolshevik force of General Wrangel from the Crimea into South Ukraine, the Makhno region." [Palij, Op. Cit., p. 214] Again, Makhno is blamed for the inevitable results of Bolshevik policies and actions!
It should also be reported that Noga's comments are dated 25th March 1920, while Palij's summary of Makhno's activities retreating from Wrangel was about June 1920 -- 2 months later! As regards this advance by Wrangel, Palij argues that it was the "outbreak of the Polish-Bolshevik war at the end of April" which "benefited Wrangel" and "enabled him to launch an offensive against the Bolsheviks in Tavriia on June 6th." Indeed, it was after a "series of battles" that Wrangel "penetrated north, forcing a general Bolshevik retreat." Now, "[a]s Wrangel advanced deeper into the Left Bank, Makhno retreated north to the Kharkiv region, leaving behind small partisan units in the villages and towns to carry on covert destruction of the Bolshevik administrative apparatus and supply bases." [Op. Cit., p. 219] Again, Rees' account has little bearing to reality or the source material he uses.
Rees continues to re-write history by arguing that "Makhno did not fight with the Reds again until October 1920 when Wrangel advanced on Makhno's base." [Op. Cit., p. 59] In fact, it was the Makhnovists who contacted the Bolsheviks in July and August in 1920 with a view to suspending hostilities and co-operating in the fight against Wrangel. This decision was made at a mass assembly of insurgents. Sadly, the Bolsheviks made no response. Only in September, after Wrangel had occupied many towns, did the Bolsheviks enter into negotiations. [Arshinov, Op. Cit., pp. 176-7] This is confirmed by Footman, who states that it is "agreed that the initiative for joint action against Wrangel came from the Makhnovists" [Op. Cit., p. 294], as well as by Palij, who notes that "Makhno was compelled to seek an understanding with the Bolsheviks" but "no reply was received." It was "Wrangel's success [which] caused the Bolshevik leaders to reconsider Makhno's earlier proposal." [Op. Cit., pp. 222-3] Obviously indicating that the Makhnovists placed the struggle against the White counter-revolution above their own politics would place the Bolsheviks in a bad light, and so Rees fails to give the details behind the agreement of joint action against Wrangel.
As regards this third and final break, Rees states that it was ("unsurprisingly") a "treaty of convenience on the part of both sides and as soon as Wrangel was defeated at the end of the year the Red Army fought Makhno until he have up the struggle." [Op. Cit., p. 59] Which, as far as it goes, is true. Makhno, however, "assumed [that] the forthcoming conflict with the Bolsheviks could be limited to the realm of ideas" and that they "would not attack his movement immediately." [Palij, Op. Cit., p. 231] He was wrong. Instead the Bolsheviks attacked the Makhnovists without warning and, unlike the other breaks, without pretext (although leaflets handed out to the Red Army stated that Makhno had "violat[ed] the agreement"! [Palij, Op. Cit., p. 236]).
It would be a good idea to reproduce the agreement which the Bolsheviks ripped up. There were two parts, a military and a political one. The military one is pretty straight forward (although the clause on the Makhnovists refusing to accept Red Army detachments or deserters suggests that the Makhnovists' democratic army was seen by many Red Army soldiers as a better alternative to Trotsky's autocratic structure). The political agreement was as follows:
"1. Immediate release, and an end to the persecution of all Makhno men and anarchists in the territories of the Soviet Republics, except those who carry on armed resistance against Soviet authorities.
2. Makhno men and anarchists were to have complete freedom of expression of their ideas and principles, by speech and the press, provided that nothing was expressed that tended to a violent overthrow of Soviet government, and on condition that military censorship be respected. . .
3. Makhno men and anarchists were to enjoy full rights of participation in elections to the soviets, including the right to be elected, and free participation in the organisation of the forthcoming Fifth All-Ukrainian Congress of Soviets . . ." [cited by Palij, Op. Cit., p. 224]
Needless to say, the Bolsheviks delayed the publication of the political agreement several until several days after the military one was published -- "thus blurring its real meaning." [Palij, Op. Cit., p. 225] Clearly, as it stands, the agreement just gave the Makhnovists and anarchists the rights they should have had according to the Soviet Constitution! Little wonder the Bolsheviks ignored it -- they also ignored their own constitution. However, it is the fourth point of the political agreement which gives the best insight into the nature of Bolshevism. This last point was never ratified by the Bolsheviks as it was "absolutely unacceptable to the dictatorship of the proletariat." [quoted by Palij, Ibid.] This clause was:
"One of the basic principles of the Makhno movement being the struggle for the self-administration of the toilers, the Partisan Army brings up a fourth point: in the region of the Makhno movement, the worker and peasant population is to organise and maintain its own free institutions for economic and political self-administration; this region is subsequently federated with Soviet republics by means of agreements freely negotiated with the appropriate Soviet governmental organ." [quoted by Palij, Op. Cit., p. 224]
Clearly, this idea of worker and peasant self-management, like soviet democracy, could not be reconciled with the Bolshevik support for party dictatorship as the expression of "the dictatorship of the proletariat" which had become a Bolshevik ideological truism by that time. Little wonder the Bolsheviks failed to ratify the fourth clause and violated the other agreements. Simply put, a libertarian alternative to Bolshevism would give the Russian and Ukrainian working masses hope of freedom and make them harder to control. It is unsurprising that Rees fails to discuss the treaty -- it would, yet again, undermine his case that the Bolsheviks were forced by objective circumstances to be dictatorial.
And, of course, let us not forget the circumstances in which this betrayal took place. The country was, as Rees reminds us, in a state of economic disruption and collapse. Indeed, Rees blames the anti-working class and dictatorial actions and policies of the Bolsheviks on the chaos caused by the civil war. Yet here are the Bolsheviks prolonging this very Civil War by turning (yet again!) on their allies. After the defeat of the Whites, the Bolsheviks preferred to attack the Makhnovists rather than allow them the freedom they had been fighting for. Resources which could have been used to aid the economic rebuilding of Russia and the Ukraine were used to attack their former allies. The talents and energy of the Makhnovists were either killed or wasted in a pointless conflict. Should we be surprised? After all, the Bolsheviks had preferred to compound their foes during the Civil War (and, indirectly, aid the very Whites they were fighting) by betraying their Makhnovist allies on two previous occasions (once, because the Makhnovists had dared call a conference of working people to discuss the civil war being fought in their name). Clearly, Bolshevik politics and ideology played a key role in all these decisions. They were not driven by terrible objective circumstances (indeed, they made them worse).
Rees obviously distorted the truth about the first two agreements between the Makhnovists and the Bolsheviks. He portrayed the Makhnovists as the guilty party, "breaking" with the Bolsheviks when in fact it was (in both cases) the Bolsheviks who broke with and betrayed the Makhnovists. That explains why he fails to present any information on why the first break happened and why he distorts the events of the second. It cannot be said that he was unaware of these facts -- they are in the very books he himself references! As such, we have a clear and intended desire to deceive the reader. As regards the third agreement, while he makes no pretence that the Makhnovists were the guilty party however, he implies that the Bolsheviks had to act as they did before the Makhnovists turned on them. Little wonder, then, that he does not provide the details of the agreement made between the Bolsheviks and Makhnovists -- to do so would have been to expose the authoritarianism of the Bolsheviks. Simply put, Rees'distortions of the source material he uses comes as no surprise. It undermines his basic argument and so cannot be used in its original form. Hence the cherry-picking of quotations to support his case.
After distorting Makhnovist relations with the Bolsheviks, Rees moves on to distorting the socio-political ideas and practice of the Makhnovists. As would be expected from his hatchet-job on the military history of the movement, his account of its social ideas leaves much to be desired. However, both aspects of his critique have much in common. His account of its theoretical ideas and its attempts to apply them again abuse the source material in disgraceful ways.
For example, Rees states that under the Makhnovists "[p]apers could be published, but the Bolshevik and Left Socialist Revolutionary press were not allowed to call for revolution" and references Michael Palij's book. [Op. Cit., p. 60] Looking at the page in question, we discover a somewhat different account. According to Palij's work, what the Makhnovists actually "prohibited" was that these parties should "propagate armed uprisings against the Makhnovist movement." A clear rewriting of the source material and an indication of how low Leninists will sink. Significantly, Palij also notes that this "freedom of speech, press, assembly and association" was implemented "[i]n contrast to the Bolshevik regime" and its policy of crushing such liberties. [Op. Cit. pp. 152-3] Ironically, the military-political agreement of late 1920 between the Reds and Makhnovists included a similar clause, banning expression that "tended to a violent overthrow of the Soviet government." [quoted by Palij, OP. Cit., p. 224] Which means, to use Rees' distorted terminology, that the Bolsheviks banned calls for revolution!
However, this distortion of the source material does give us an insight into the mentality of Leninism. After all, according to Palij, when the Makhnovists entered a city or town they "immediately announced to the population that the army did not intend to exercise political authority." The workers and peasants were to set up soviets "that would carry out the will and orders of their constituents" as well as "organis[e] their own self-defence force against counter-revolution and banditry." These political changes were matched in the economic sphere as well, as the "holdings of the landlords, the monasteries and the state, including all livestocks and goods, were to be transferred to the peasants" and "all factories, plants, mines, and other means of production were to become property of all the workers under control of their professional unions." [Op. Cit., p. 151]
In such an environment, a call for "revolution" (or, more correctly, "armed uprisings against the Makhno movement") could only mean a Bolshevik coup to install a Bolshevik party dictatorship. As the Makhnovists were clearly defending working- class and peasant self-government, then a Bolshevik call for "armed uprisings" against them also meant the end of such free soviets and their replacement with party dictatorship. Little wonder Rees distorts his source! Arshinov makes the situation clear:
"The only restriction that the Makhnovists considered necessary to impose on the Bolsheviks, the left Socialist Revolutionaries and other statists was a prohibition on the formation of those 'revolutionary committees' which sought to impose a dictatorship over the people. In Aleksandrovsk and Ekaterinoslav, right after the occupation of these cities by the Makhnovists, the Bolsheviks hastened to organise Revkoms (Revolutionary Committees ) seeking to organise their political power and govern the population . . . Makhno advised them to go and take up some honest trade instead of seeking to impose their will on the workers . . . In this context the Makhnovists' attitude was completely justified and consistent. To protect the full freedom of speech, press, and organisation, they had to take measures against formations which sought to stifle this freedom, to suppress other organisations, and to impose their will and dictatorial authority on the workers." [Op. Cit., p. 154]
Little wonder Rees distorts the issues and transforms a policy to defend the real revolution into one which banned a "call for revolution"! We should be grateful that he distorted the Makhnovist message for it allows us to indicate the dictatorial nature of the regime and politics Rees is defending.
All of which disproves Rees' assertion that "the movement never had any real support from the working class. Neither was it particularly interested in developing a programme which would appeal to the workers." [Op. Cit., p. 59] Now, Rees had obviously read Palij's summary of Makhnovist ideas. Is he claiming that workers' self-management and the socialisation of the means of production do not "appeal" to workers? After all, most Leninists pay lip-service to these ideas. Is Rees arguing that the Bolshevik policies of the time (namely one-man management and the militarisation of labour) "appealed" to the workers more than workers' self-management of production? Equally, the Makhnovists argued that the workers should form their own free soviets which would "carry out the will and orders of their constituents." [Palij, Op. Cit., p. 151] Is Rees really arguing that the Bolshevik policy of party dictatorship "appealed" to the workers more than soviet democracy? If so, then heaven help us if the SWP ever get into power!
Luckily, as Jonathan Aves' book Workers Against Lenin proves, this was not the case. Working-class resistance to Bolshevik policies was extremely widespread and was expressed by strikes. It should be noted that the wave of strikes all across Russia which preceded the Kronstadt revolt also raised the demand for soviet democracy. The call for "free soviets" was raised by the Kronstadt revolt itself and during the "mini-Kronstadt" in Katerinoslav in June 1921 where the demands of the workers "were very similar in content with the resolutions of the Kronstadt rebels" and telegraph operators sent "messages throughout the Soviet Republic calling for 'free soviets.'" [Jonathan Aves, Workers Against Lenin, p. 172 and p. 173]
Clearly, the Makhnovists did create a "programme that would appeal to the workers." However, it is true that the Makhnovists did fail win over more than a minority of workers. This may have been due to the fact that the Makhnovists only freed two cities, both for short periods of time. As Paul Avrich notes, "he found little time to implement his economic programs." [Anarchist Portraits, p. 121] Given how Rees bends over backwards to justify Bolshevik policies in terms of "objective factors," it is significant that in his discussion of the Makhnovists such "objective factors" as time fail to get a mention!
Thus Rees's attempt to paint the Makhnovists as anti-working class fails. While this is the core of his dismissal of them as a possible "libertarian alternative to the Bolsheviks," the facts do not support his assertions. He gives the example of Makhno's advice to railway workers in Aleksandrovsk "who had not been paid for many weeks" that they should "simply charge passengers a fair price and so generate their own wages." He states that this "advice aimed at reproducing the petit-bourgeois patterns of the countryside." [Op. Cit., p. 59] Two points can be raised to this argument.
Firstly, we should highlight the Bolshevik (and so, presumably, "proletarian") patterns imposed on the railway workers. Trotsky simply "plac[ed] the railwaymen and the personnel of the repair workshops under martial law" and "summarily ousted" the leaders of the railwaymen's trade union when they objected." The Central Administrative Body of Railways (Tsektran) he created was run by him "along strictly military and bureaucratic lines." In other words, he applied his ideas on the "militarisation of labour" in full. [M. Brinton, The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control, p. 67] Compared to the Bolshevik pattern, only an ideologue could suggest that Makhno's advice (and it was advice, not a decree imposed from above, as was Trotsky's) can be considered worse. Indeed, by being based on workers' self-management it was infinitely more socialist than the militarised Bolshevik state capitalist system.
Secondly, Rees fails to understand the nature of anarchism. Anarchism argues that it is up to working class people to organise their own activities. This meant that, ultimately, it was up to the railway workers themselves (in association with other workers) to organise their own work and industry. Rather than being imposed by a few leaders, real socialism can only come from below, built by working people, through their own efforts and own class organisations. Anarchists can suggest ideas and solutions, but ultimately its up to workers (and peasants) to organise their own affairs. Thus, rather than being a source of condemnation, Makhno's comments should be considered as praiseworthy as they were made in a spirit of equality and were based on encouraging workers' self-management.
Ultimately, the best reply to Rees is simply the fact that after holding a "general conference of the workers of the city" at which it was "proposed that the workers organise the life of the city and the functioning of the factories with their own forces and their own organisations" based on "the principles of self-management," the "[r]ailroad workers took the first step in this direction" by "form[ing] a committee charged with organising the railway network of the region." [Arshinov, Op. Cit., p. 149]
Even more amazing (if that is possible) is Rees' account of the revolution in the countryside. Rees argues that the "real basis of Makhno's support was not his anarchism, but his opposition to grain requisitioning and his determination not to disturb the peasant economy" [Op. Cit., p. 59] and quotes Palij as follows:
"Makhno had not put an end to the agricultural inequalities. His aim was to avoid conflicts with the villages and to maintain a sort of united front of the entire peasantry." [M. Palij, Op. Cit., p. 214]
However, here is the actual context of the (corrected) quote:
"Peasants' economic conditions in the region of the Makhno movement were greatly improved at the expense of the estates of the landlords, the church, monasteries, and the richest peasants, but Makhno had not put an end to the agricultural inequalities. His aim was to avoid conflicts within the villages and to maintain a sort of united front of the entire peasantry." [M. Palij, Op. Cit., p. 214]
Clearly, Rees has distorted the source material, conveniently missing out the information that Makhno had most definitely "disturbed" the peasant economy at the expense of the rich! And, we are sure that Rees would have a fit if it were suggested that the real basis of Bolshevik support was not their socialism, but their opposition to the war and the Whites!
Amazingly, Rees also somehow manages to forget to mention the peasant revolution which had started in 1917 in his attack against Makhno:
"Makhno and his associates brought socio-political issues into the daily life of the people, who in turn supported the expropriation of large estates . . . On the eve of open conflict [in late 1917], Makhno assembled all the landowners and rich peasants (kulaks) of the area and took from them all official documents relating to their land, livestock, and equipment. Subsequently an inventory of this property was taken and reported to the people at the session of the local soviet, and then at the regional meeting, It was decided to allow the landlords to share the land, livestock, and tools equally with the peasants." [Palij, Op. Cit., p. 71]
Obviously, Rees considers the expropriating of the landlords and kulaks as an act which "did not disturb the age-old class structure of the countryside"!
Let us not forget that the official Makhnovist position was that the "holdings of the landlords, the monasteries, and the state, including all livestock and goods, were to be transferred to the peasants." [Palij, Op. Cit., p. 151] At the second congress of workers, peasants and insurgents held in February, 1919, it was resolved that "all land be transferred to the hands of toiling peasants . . . according to the norm of equal distribution." [quoted by Palij, Op. Cit., p. 155] This meant that every peasant family had as much land as they could cultivate without the use of hired labour. The Makhnovists argued with regards to the kulaks:
"We are sure that . . . the kulak elements of the village will be pushed to one side by the very course of events. The toiling peasantry will itself turn effortlessly on the kulaks, first by adopting the kulak's surplus land for general use, then naturally drawing the kulak elements into the social organisation." [cited by Michael Malet, Op. Cit., pp. 118-9]
Thus, just to stress the point, the Makhnovists did "disturb" the "age-old class structure of the countryside."
Clearly, Rees is simply taking nonsense. When he states that Makhnovist land policies "did not disturb the age-old class structure of the countryside," he is simply showing his utter and total disregard for the truth. As the Bolsheviks themselves found out, no mass movement could possibly exist among the peasants without having a positive and levelling land policy. The Makhnovists were no exception.
Rees then states that "[i]n 1919 the local Bolshevik authorities made mistakes which played into Makhno's hands." Unsurprisingly enough, he argues that this was because they "tried to carry through the socialisation of the land, rather than handing it over to the peasants." [Op. Cit., p. 60] In fact, the Bolsheviks did not try to implement the "socialisation" of land. Rather, they tried to nationalise the land and place it under state control -- a radically different concept. Indeed, it was the Makhnovists who argued that the "land, the factories, the workshops, the mines, the railroads and the other wealth of the people must belong to the working people themselves, to those who work in them, that is to say, they must be socialised." [contained in Arshinov, Op. Cit., p. 273] The Bolsheviks, in contrast, initially "decreed that all lands formerly belonging to the landlords should be expropriated and transformed into state farms." [Palij, Op. Cit., p. 156] The peasants quite rightly thought that this just replaced one set of landlords with another, stealing the land which rightfully belonged to them.
After distorting the source material by selective quoting, Rees does it again when he argues that "by the spring of 1920 they [the Bolsheviks] had reversed the policy towards the peasants and instituted Committees of Poor Peasants, these 'hurt Makhno . . . his heart hardened and he sometimes ordered executions.' This policy helped the Bolshevik ascendancy." [Op. Cit., p. 60]
Rees quotes Palij as evidence. To refute his argument we need simply quote the same pages:
"Although they [the Bolsheviks] modified their agricultural policy by introducing on February 5, 1920, a new land law, distributing the former landlords', state and church lands among the peasants, they did not succeed in placating them because of the requisitions, which the peasants considered outright robbery . . . Subsequently the Bolsheviks decided to introduce class warfare into the villages. A decree was issued on May 19, 1920, establishing 'Committees of the Poor' . . . Authority in the villages was delegated to the committees, which assisted the Bolsheviks in seizing the surplus grain . . . The establishment of Committees of the Poor was painful to Makhno because they became not only part of the Bolshevik administrative apparatus the peasants opposed, but also informers helping the Bolshevik secret police in its persecution of the partisans, their families and supporters, even to the extent of hunting down and executing wounded partisans . . . Consequently, Makhno's 'heart hardened and he sometimes ordered executions where some generosity would have bestowed more credit upon him and his movement. That the Bolsheviks preceded him with the bad example was no excuse. For he claimed to be fighting for a better cause.' Although the committees in time gave the Bolsheviks a hold on every village, their abuse of power disorganised and slowed down agricultural life . . . This policy of terror and exploitation turned almost all segments of Ukrainian society against the Bolsheviks, substantially strengthened the Makhno movement, and consequently facilitated the advance of the reorganised anti-Bolshevik force of General Wrangel from the Crimea into South Ukraine, the Makhno region." [M. Palij, Op. Cit., pp. 213-4]
Amazing what a ". . ." can hide, is it not! Rees turns an account which clearly shows the Bolshevik policy was based on informers, secret police and the murder of rebels as well as being a total disaster into a victory. Moreover, he also transforms it so that the victims are portrayed as the villains. Words cannot do this re-writing of history justice. Yes, indeed, an organisation of informers to the secret police in every village can aid the "ascendancy" of a one-party dictatorship (aided, of course, by overwhelming military force), but it cannot aid the ascendancy of freedom, equality and socialism.
Given the actual record of the Bolsheviks' attempts to break up what they considered the "age-old class structure" of the villages with the "Committees of the Poor," it is clear why Rees distorts his source.
It does seem ironic that Rees attacks the Makhnovists for not pursuing Bolshevik peasant policies. Considering the absolute failure of those policies, the fact that Makhno did not follow them is hardly cause for condemnation! Indeed, given the numerous anti-Bolshevik uprisings and large-scale state repression they provoked, attacking the Makhnovists for not pursuing such insane policies is equally insane. After all, who, in the middle of a Civil War, makes matters worse for themselves by creating more enemies? Only the insane -- or the Bolsheviks!
That Makhnovist land policy was correct and the Bolshevik one wrong can be seen from the fact that the latter changed their policies and brought them into line with the Makhnovist ones. As Palij notes, the Bolsheviks "modified their agricultural policy by introducing on February 5, 1920, a new land law, distributing the formers landlords', state, and church lands among the peasants." This, of course, was a vindication of Makhnovist policy (which dated from 1917!). Makhno "initiated the peasants' movement, confiscating and distributing landlords' land and goods" (and, unlike the Bolsheviks, "encouraging the workers to take over factories and workshops"). As regards the Bolsheviks attempts to break up what they considered the "age- old class structure" of the villages with the "Committees of the Poor," it was, as noted above, a complete disaster and counter-productive. [Op. Cit., p. 213 and p. 250] All in all, the Makhnovist policies were clearly the most successful as regards the peasantry. They broke up the class system in the countryside by expropriating the ruling class and did not create new conflicts by artificially imposing themselves onto the villages.
Lastly, we must also wonder just how sensible it is to "disturb" the economy that produces the food you eat. Given that Rees, in part, blames Bolshevik tyranny on the disruption of the economy, it seems incredible that he faults Makhno for not adding to the chaos by failing to "disrupt the peasant economy"! However, why let logic get in the way of a good rant!
As well as ignoring the wealth of information on Makhnovist land policy, Rees turns to their attempts to form free agrarian communes. He argues that Makhno's attempts "to go beyond the traditional peasant economy were doomed" and quotes Makhno's memoirs which state "the mass of the people did not go over" to his peasant communes, which only involved a few hundred families. [Op. Cit., p. 59]
Looking at Makhno's memoirs a somewhat different picture appears. Firstly, Makhno states that there were "four such agricultural communes within a three- or four-mile radius of Hulyai-Pole," but in the whole district "there were many" in 1918 (the period being discussed in his memoirs). Makhno recounts how each "commune consisted of ten families of peasants and workers, totalling a hundred, two hundred or three hundred members" and the "management of each commune was conducted by a general meeting of all its members." He does state that "the mass of people did not go over to it" but, significantly, he argues that this was because of "the advance of the German and Austrian armies, their own lack of organisation, and their inability to defend this order against the new 'revolutionary' and counter-revolutionary authorities. For this reason the toiling population of the district limited their real revolutionary activity to supporting in every way those bold spirits among them who had settled on the old estates [of the landlords] and organised their personal and economic life on free communal lines." [quoted by Paul Avrich, The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution, pp. 130-2]
Of course, failing to mention the time period Makhno was recounting does distort the success of the communes. The Bolsheviks were evacuating the Ukraine as part of their treaty with German and Austrian Imperialism when the communes were being set up. This left them in a dangerous position, needless to say. By July, 1918, the area was occupied by Austrian troops and it was early 1919 before the situation was stable enough to allow their reintroduction. One commune was named "Rosa Luxemburg" (after the Marxist revolutionary martyr) and was mostly destroyed by the Bolsheviks in June 1919 and completely destroyed by the Whites a few days later. In such circumstances, can it be surprising that only a minority of peasants got involved in them? Rather than praise the Makhnovists for positive social experimentation in difficult circumstances, Rees shows his ignorance of the objective conditions facing the revolution. Perhaps if the peasants did not have to worry about the Bolsheviks as well as the Whites, they would have had more members?
All in all, Rees account of Makhnovist ideas on the peasant economy are, to put it mildly, incorrect. They paint a radically different picture of the reality of both Makhnovist ideas and practice as regards the peasantry. Ironically, the soundness of Makhnovist policy in this area can be seen from the fact that the Bolsheviks changed their land policy to bring it into line with it. Not, of course, that you would know that from Rees' account. Nor would you know what the facts of the Bolsheviks' land policy were either. Indeed, Rees uses Michael Palij's book to create a picture of events which is the exact opposite of that contained in it! Very impressive!
Intent on driving the final nail into the coffin, he tries to apply "class analysis" to the Makhnovists. Rees actually states that "given this social base [i.e the Makhnovists' peasant base] . . . much of Makhno's libertarianism amounted to little more than paper decrees." [Op. Cit., p. 60]
Ironically enough, the list of "paper decrees" Rees presents (when not false or distorted) are also failings associated with the Bolsheviks (and taken to even more extreme measures by the Bolsheviks)! As such, his lambasting of the Makhnovists seems deeply hypocritical. Moreover, his attempt to ground the few deviations that exist between Makhnovist practice and Makhnovist theory in the peasant base of the army seems an abuse of class analysis. After all, these deviations were also shared by the Bolsheviks. As such, how can Rees justify the Bolshevik deviations from socialist theory in terms of "objective factors" yet blame Makhnovist ones on their "social base"? Do "objective factors" only afflict Leninists?
Take for example his first "paper" decree, namely the election of commanders. He states that "in practice the most senior commanders were appointed by Makhno." In other words, the Makhnovists applied this principle extensively but not completely. The Bolsheviks abolished it by decree (and did not blame it on "exceptional circumstances" nor consider it as a "retreat", as Rees asserts). Now, if Rees' "class analysis" of the limitations of the Makhnovists were true, does this mean that an army of a regime with a proletarian base (as he considers the Bolshevik regime) cannot have elected commanders? This is the logical conclusion of his argument.
Equally, his attempt to "give a flavour of the movement" by quoting one of the resolutions adopted by a mass meeting of partisans also backfires (namely, "to obey the orders of the commanders if the commanders are sober enough to give them"). Firstly, it should be noted that this was, originally, from a Red Army source. Secondly, drunkenness was a big problem during the civil war (as in any war). It was one of the easiest ways of forgetting reality at a time when life was often unpleasant and sometimes short. As such, the "objective factor" of civil war explains this resolution rather than the social base of the movement! Thirdly, Rees himself quotes a Central Committee member's comment to the Eighth Party Congress that there were so many "horrifying facts about drunkenness, debauchery, corruption, robbery and irresponsible behaviour of many party members that one's hair stands on end." [Op. Cit., p. 66] The Eighth Congress was in 1919. Does this comment give a "flavour" of the Bolshevik regime under Lenin? Obviously not, as Rees defends it and blames this list of horrors on the objective factors facing the Bolsheviks. Why does the drunkenness of the Makhnovists come from their "social base" while that of the Bolsheviks from "objective factors"? Simply put, Rees is insulting the intelligence of his readers.
The Makhnovist resolution was passed by a mass assembly of partisans, suggesting a fundamentally democratic organisation. Rees argues that the civil war resulted in the Bolshevik vices becoming institutionalised in the power of the bureaucracy. However, as can be seen, the Makhnovists practised democracy during the civil war, suggesting that the objective factors Rees tries to blame for the Bolshevik vices simply cannot explain everything. As such, his own example (yet again) backfires on his argument.
Rees claims that "Makhno held elections, but no parties were allowed to participate in them." [Op. Cit., p. 60] This is probably derived from Palij's comment that the free soviets would "carry out the will and orders of their constituents" and "[o]nly working people, not representatives of political parties, might join the soviets." [Op. Cit., p. 151] This, in turn, derives from a Makhnovist proclamation from January 1920 which stated:
"Only labourers who are contributing work necessary to the social economy should participate in the soviets. Representatives of political organisations have no place in worker-peasant soviets, since their participation in a workers' soviet will transform the latter into deputies of the party and can lead to the downfall of the soviet system." [contained in Peter Arshinov's History of the Makhnovist Movement, p. 266]
Rees' comments indicate that he is not familiar with the make-up of the Russian Soviets of 1917. Unlike the soviets from the 1905 revolution, those in 1917 allowed "various parties and other organisations to acquire voting representation in the soviet executive committees." Indeed, this was "often how high party leaders became voting delegates to" such bodies. It should "be underlined that these party delegates were selected by the leadership of each political organisation, and not by the soviet assembly itself. In other words, these executive committee members were not directly elected by the representatives of the producers" (never mind by the producers themselves). [Samuel Farber, Before Stalinism, p. 31]
In addition, Russian Anarchists had often attacked the use of "party lists" in soviet elections, which turned the soviets from working-class organs into talking-shops. [Paul Avrich, The Russian Anarchists, p. 190] This use of party lists meant that soviet delegates could be anyone. For example, the leading left-wing Menshevik Martov recounts that in early 1920 a chemical factory "put up Lenin against me as a candidate [to the Moscow soviet]. I received seventy-six votes he-eight (in an open vote)." [quoted by Israel Getzler, Martov, p. 202] How would either of these two intellectuals actually know and reflect the concerns and interests of the workers they would be "delegates" of? If the soviets were meant to be the delegates of working people, then why should non-working class members of political parties be elected to a soviet?
Given that the people elected to the free soviets would be delegates and not representatives, this would mean that they would reflect the wishes of their workmates rather than the decisions of the party's central committee. As such, if a worker who was a member of a political party could convince their workmates of their ideas, the delegate would reflect the decisions of the mass assembly. As such, the input of political parties would not be undermined in any way (although their domination would be!).
As such, the Makhnovist ideas on soviets did not, in fact, mean that workers and peasants could not elect or send delegates who were members of political parties. They had no problems as such with delegates who happened to be working- class party members. They did have problems with delegates representing only political parties, delegates who were not workers and soviets being mere ciphers covering party rule.
That this was the case can be seen from a few facts. Firstly, the February 1919 congress resolution "was written by the anarchists, left Socialist Revolutionaries, and the chairman." [Palij, Op. Cit., p. 155] Similarly, the Makhnovist Revolutionary Military Soviet created at the Aleksandrovsk congress in late 1919 had three Communists elected to it. There were 18 delegates from workers at that congress, six were Mensheviks and the remaining 12 included Communists [Malet, Op. Cit., p. 111, p. 124] Clearly, members of political parties were elected to both the congresses and the Revolutionary Military Soviet. As such, the idea that free soviets excluded members of political parties is false -- they simply were not dominated by them (for example, having executives made up of members of a single party or delegating their power to a government as per the national soviet in Russia). This could, of course, change. In the words of the Makhnovist reply to Bolshevik attempts to ban one of their congresses:
"The Revolutionary Military Council . . . holds itself above the pressure and influence of all parties and only recognises the people who elected it. Its duty is to accomplish what the people have instructed it to do, and to create no obstacles to any left socialist party in the propagation of ideas. Consequently, if one day the Bolshevik idea succeeds among the workers, the Revolutionary Military Council . . . will necessarily be replaced by another organisation, 'more revolutionary' and more Bolshevik." [quoted by Arshinov, Op. Cit., pp. 103-4]
As such, the Makhnovists supported the right of working- class self-determination, as expressed by one delegate to Hulyai Pole conference in February 1919:
"No party has a right to usurp governmental power into its hands . . . We want life, all problems, to be decided locally, not by order from any authority above; and all peasants and workers should decide their own fate, while those elected should only carry out the toilers' wish." [quoted by Palij, Op. Cit., p. 154]
Thus, Rees fails to present an accurate account of Makhnovist theory and practice as regards "free soviets." Rather than oppose party participation within their soviets and congresses, the Makhnovists opposed the domination of soviets and congresses by political parties, a radically different concept. Like the Kronstadt rebels, they argued for all power to the soviets and not to parties.
Lastly, Rees attacks the Makhnovists for having two security forces, the Cheka-like razvedka and the Punitive Commission. How this is an expression of the Makhnovist "social base" is hard to explain, as both the Bolsheviks and Whites also had their security forces and counter-intelligence agencies.
While Rees quotes Footman's statement that "we can safely assume [!] these services were responsible for frequent injustices and atrocities," he fails to mention that Footman does not provide any examples (hence his comment that we can "assume" they occurred!). Footman himself notes that "[o]f the Makhnovite security services . . . we know very little." [David Footman, Op. Cit., p. 288] Rees himself only lists one, namely the summary shooting of a Bolshevik cell discovered in the Army. Given the bloody record of the Bolshevik Cheka (which, again, Rees defends as necessary to defend against the Whites!), this suggests that the crimes of the Makhnovist counter-intelligence pale in comparison.
Rees also quotes the historian Chamberlin that "Makhno's private Cheka . . . quickly disposed of anyone who was suspected of plotting against his life." [Op. Cit., 60] Strangely enough, Rees fails to mention the Bolshevik attempts to assassinate Makhno, including the one in the latter part of May 1919 when, it should be noted, the Makhnovists and Bolsheviks were meant to be in alliance. Nor does he mention that the Cheka "would hunt out and hang all active Makhnovites." [David Footman, Civil War in Russia, p. 271 and p. 293]
As regards the last conflict with the Red Army, it should be noted that while "generalised accusations of Makhnovist atrocities are common" the facts are it was "the Makhnovists who stood to gain by liberating prisoners, the Bolsheviks by shooting them." This was because "the Red Army soldiers had been conscripted from elsewhere to do work they neither liked nor understood" and the "insurgents had their own homes to defend." [Malet, Op. Cit., p. 130] Thus, while Rees quotes Footman's opinion that "Makhno's later campaigns [were] among the most bloody and vindictive," these facts suggest that we cannot "safely assume that these [security] services were responsible for frequent injustices and atrocities." Clearly, if the Makhnovists were releasing Red Army prisoners (and many of whom were joining Makhno), the picture of an atrocity inflicting army can hardly be a valid picture.
And it should be stressed that Bolshevik terror and violence against the Makhnovists is strangely absent from Rees's account.
Rees presents just one concrete example of Makhnovist "Cheka-like" violence, namely, the execution of a Bolshevik cell in December, 1919. It should be noted that the Bolsheviks had been explicitly arguing for Party dictatorship for some time by then. The reason why the Bolsheviks had been "denied an open trial" was because they had already been shot. Unfortunately, Makhno gave two contradictory reasons why the Bolsheviks had been killed. This led to the Makhnovist Revolutionary Military Soviet setting up a commission of three to investigate the issue. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the commission exonerated Makhno although Voline, out of the members, seemed to have been genuinely embarrassed by the affair. [Malet, Op. Cit., pp. 51-2] Needless to say, Rees fails to comment on the Bolshevik summary killing of Makhnovist staff in June 1919 or, indeed, any other summary executions conducted by the Bolsheviks against the Makhnovists (including the shooting of prisoners).
Given the summary justice handed out by the Bolshevik Cheka, it seems strange that Rees dismisses the Makhnovist movement on assumptions and one event, yet he does. Obviously, the large-scale and continuous Bolshevik killings of political enemies (including Makhnovists) is irrelevant compared to this one event.
All in all, Rees' attempts to blame the few deviations the Makhnovists had from anarchist theory on the "social base" of the movement are a joke. While justifying the far more extreme deviations of Bolshevik theory and practice in terms of "objective factors," he refuses to consider this possibility for the Makhnovists. The hypocrisy is clear, if not unexpected.
One last point. Taking Rees' "class analysis" of the Makhnovists seriously, the logical conclusion of his argument is clear. For Rees, a movement which compromises slightly with its principles in the face of extreme "objective factors" is "petty bourgeois." However, a movement which compromises totally (indeed introduces and justifies the exact opposite of its original claims) in face of the same "objective factors" is "proletarian." As such, his pathetic attempt at "class analysis" of the Makhnovists simply shows up the dictatorial nature of the Bolsheviks. If trying to live up to libertarian/democratic ideals but not totally succeeding signifies being "petty-bourgeois" while dismissing those ideals totally in favour of top-down, autocratic hierarchies is "proletarian" then sane people would happily be labelled "petty-bourgeois"!
And Rees states that "[n]either Makhno's social programme nor his political regime could provide an alternative to the Bolsheviks"! [Op. Cit., p. 60] Little wonder he distorts that social programme and political regime -- an honest account of both would see that Rees is wrong. The Makhnovist movement clearly shows that not only did Bolshevik policies have a decisive impact on the development of the Russian Revolution, there was a clear alternative to Bolshevik authoritarianism and party dictatorship.
In summary, Rees' attack on the Makhnovists fails. It can be faulted on both factual and logical grounds. His article is so riddled with errors, selective quoting and downright lies that it is factually unreliable. Similarly, his attempt to attack the Makhnovist political theory and practice is equally factually incorrect. His attempt to explain the deviations of Makhnovist practice from its theory in terms of the "social base" is simply an insult to the intelligence of the reader and an abuse of class analysis.
A far more compelling analysis would recognise that the Makhnovists were not a perfect social movement but that the deviations of its practice from its theory can be explained by the objective factors it faced. Equally, the example of the Makhnovists shows the weakness of Rees' main argument, namely that the objective factors that Bolshevism faced can solely explain its authoritarian politics. That the Makhnovists, facing the same objective factors, did not act in the same manner as the Bolsheviks shows that Bolshevik ideology played a key role in the failure of the revolution. This explains Rees' clumsy attempts to rewrite the history and theory of the Makhnovshchina.
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