H.6.9 Were the Makhnovists anti-Semitic and pogromists?

No, they were not. Anyone who claims that the Mahnovist movement was anti-Semitic or conducted pogroms against Jews simply shows ignorance or a desire to deceive. As we will show, the Makhnovists were both theoretically and practically opposed to anti-Semitism and progroms.

Unsurprisingly, many Leninists slander the Makhnovists on this score. Trotsky, for example, asserted in 1937 that Makhno's followers expressed "a militant anti-Semitism." [Lenin and Trotsky, Kronstadt, p. 80] Needless to say, the Trotskyist editors of the book in question did not indicate that Trotsky was wrong in the accusation. In this way a slander goes unchecked and becomes "accepted" as being true. As the charge of "militant anti-Semitism" is a serious one, so it is essential that we (unlike Trotsky) provide evidence to refute it.

To do so we will present a chronological overview of the evidence against it. This will, to some degree, result in some duplication as well as lengthy quotations, however it is unavoidable. We are sorry to labour this point, but this allegation is sadly commonplace and it is essential to refute it fully.

Unsurprisingly, Arshinov's 1923 account of the movement takes on the allegations that the Makhnovists were anti-Semitic. He presents extensive evidence to show that the Makhnovists opposed anti-Semitism and pogroms. It is worth quoting him at length:

"In the Russian press as well as abroad, the Makhnovshchina was often pictured as a very restricted guerrilla movement, foreign to ideas of brotherhood and international solidarity, and even tainted with anti-Semitism. Nothing could be more criminal than such slanders. In order to shed light on this question, we will cite here certain documented facts which relate to this subject.

"An important role was played in the Makhnovist army by revolutionaries of Jewish origin, many of whom had been sentenced to forced labour for participation in the 1905 revolution, or else had been obliged to emigrate to Western Europe or America. Among others, we can mention:

"Kogan -- vice-president of the central organ of the movement, the Regional Revolutionary Military Council of Hulyai Pole. Kogan was a worker who, for reasons of principle, had left his factory well before the revolution of 1917, and had gone to do agricultural work in a poor Jewish agricultural colony. Wounded at the battle of Peregonovka, near Uman, against the Denikinists, he was seized by them at the hospital at Uman where he was being treated, and, according to witnesses, the Denikinists killed him with sabres.

"L. Zin'kovsky (Zadov) -- head of the army's counter espionage section, and later commander of a special cavalry regiment. A worker who before the 1917 revolution was condemned to ten years of forced labour for political activities. One of the most active militants of the revolutionary insurrection.

"Elena Keller -- secretary of the army's cultural and educational section. A worker who took part in the syndicalist movement in America. One of the organisers of the 'Nabat' Confederation.

"Iosif Emigrant (Gotman) -- Member of the army's cultural and educational section. A worker who took an active part in the Ukrainian anarchist movement. One of the organisers of the 'Nabat' Confederation, and later a member of its secretariat.

"Ya. Alyi (Sukhovol'sky) -- worker, and member of the army's cultural and educational section. In the Tsarist period he was condemned to forced labor for political activity. One of the organisers of the 'Nabat' Confederation and a member of its secretariat.

"We could add many more names to the long list of Jewish revolutionaries who took part in different areas of the Makhnovist movement, but we will not do this, because it would endanger their security.

"At the heart of the revolutionary insurrection, the Jewish working population was among brothers. The Jewish agricultural colonies scattered throughout the districts of Mariupol, Berdyansk, Aleksandrovsk and elsewhere, actively participated in the regional assemblies of peasants, workers and insurgents; they sent delegates there, and also to the regional Revolutionary Military Council.

"Following certain anti-Semitic incidents which occurred in the region in February, 1919, Makhno proposed to all the Jewish colonies that they organise their self-defence and he furnished the necessary guns and ammunition to all these colonies. At the same time Makhno organised a series of meetings in the region where he appealed to the masses to struggle against anti-Semitism.

"The Jewish working population, in turn, expressed profound solidarity and revolutionary brotherhood toward the revolutionary insurrection. In answer to the call made by the Revolutionary Military Council to furnish voluntary combatants to the Makhnovist insurgent army, the Jewish colonies sent from their midst a large number of volunteers.

"In the army of the Makhnovist insurgents there was an exclusively Jewish artillery battery which was covered by an infantry detachment, also made up of Jews. This battery, commanded by the Jewish insurgent Shneider, heroically defended Hulyai Pole from Denikin's troops in June, 1919, and the entire battery perished there, down to the last man and the last shell.

"In the extremely rapid succession of events after the uprising of 1918-19, there were obviously individuals who were hostile to Jews, but these individuals were not the products of the insurrection; they were products of Russian life. These individuals did not have any importance in the movement as a whole. If people of this type took part in acts directed against Jews, they were quickly and severely punished by the revolutionary insurgents.

"We described earlier the speed and determination with which the Makhnovists executed Hryhoriyiv and his staff, and we mentioned that one of the main reasons for this execution was their participation in pogroms of Jews.

"We can mention other events of this nature with which we are familiar.

"On May 12, 1919, several Jewish families - 20 people in all - were killed in the Jewish agricultural colony of Gor'kaya, near Aleksandrovsk. The Makhnovist staff immediately set up a special commission to investigate this event. This commission discovered that the murders had been committed by seven peasants of the neighbouring village of Uspenovka. These peasants were not part of the insurrectionary army. However, the Makhnovists felt it was impossible to leave this crime unpunished, and they shot the murderers. It was later established that this event and other attempts of this nature had been carried out at the instigation of Denikin's agents, who had managed to infiltrate the region and had sought by these means to prepare an atmosphere favourable for the entry of Denikin's troops into the Ukraine.

"On May 4th or 5th, 1919, Makhno and a few commanders hurriedly left the front and went to Hulyai Pole, where they were awaited by the Extraordinary Plenipotentiary of the Republic, L. Kamenev, who had arrived from Khar'kov with other representatives of the Soviet government. At the Verkhnii Tokmak station, Makhno saw a poster with the words: 'Death to Jews, Save the Revolution, Long Live Batko Makhno.'

"'Who put up that poster?' Makhno asked.

"He learned that the poster had been put up by an insurgent whom Makhno knew personally, a soldier who had taken part in the battle against Denikin's troops, a person who was in general decent. He presented himself immediately and was shot on the spot.

"Makhno continued the journey to Hulyai Pole. During the rest of the day and during his negotiations with the Plenipotentiary of the Republic, he could not free himself from the influence of this event. He realised that the insurgent had been cruelly dealt with, but he also knew that in conditions of war and in view of Denikin's advance, such posters could represent an enormous danger for the Jewish population and for the entire revolution if one did not oppose them quickly and resolutely.

"When the insurrectionary army retreated toward Uman in the summer of 1919, there were several cases when insurgents plundered Jewish homes. When the insurrectionary army examined these cases, it was learned that one group of four or five men was involved in all these incidents -- men who had earlier belonged to Hryhoriyiv's detachments and who had been incorporated into the Makhnovist army after Hryhoriyiv was shot. This group was disarmed and discharged immediately. Following this, all the combatants who had served under Hryhoriyiv were discharged from the Makhnovist army as an unreliable element whose re-education was not possible in view of the unfavorable conditions and the lack of time. Thus we see how the Makhnovists viewed anti-Semitism. Outbursts of anti-Semitism in various parts of the Ukraine had no relation to the Makhnovshchina.

"Wherever the Jewish population was in contact with the Makhnovists, it found in them its best protectors against anti-Semitic incidents. The Jewish population of Hulyai Pole, Aleksandrovsk, Berdyansk, Mariupol, as well as all the Jewish agricultural colonies scattered throughout the Donets region, can themselves corroborate the fact that they always found the Makhnovists to be true revolutionary friends, and that due to the severe and decisive measures of the Makhno visits, the anti-Semitic leanings of the counter-revolutionary forces in this region were promptly squashed.

"Anti-Semitism exists in Russia as well as in many other countries. In Russia, and to some extent in the Ukraine, it is not a result of the revolutionary epoch or of the insurrectionary movement, but is on the contrary a vestige of the past. The Makhnovists always fought it resolutely in words as well as deeds. During the entire period of the movement, they issued numerous publications calling on the masses to struggle against this evil. It can firmly be stated that in the struggle against anti-Semitism in the Ukraine and beyond its borders, their accomplishment was enormous." [Arshinov, Op. Cit., pp. 211-215]

Arshinov then goes on to quote an appeal published by Makhnovists together with anarchists referring to an anti-Semitic incident which took place in the spring of 1919. It is called


"During the painful days of reaction, when the situation of the Ukrainian peasants was especially difficult and seemed hopeless, you were the first to rise as fearless and unconquerable fighters for the great cause of the liberation of the working masses. . . This was the most beautiful and joyful moment in the history of our revolution. You marched against the enemy with weapons in your hands as conscious revolutionaries, guided by the great idea of freedom and equality. . . But harmful and criminal elements succeeded in insinuating themselves into your ranks. And the revolutionary songs, songs of brotherhood and of the approaching liberation of the workers, began to be disrupted by the harrowing cries of poor Jews who were being tormented to death. . . On the clear and splendid foundation of the revolution appeared indelible dark blots caused by the parched blood of poor Jewish martyrs who now, as before, continue to be innocent victims of the criminal reaction, of the class struggle . . . Shameful acts are being carried out. Anti-Semitic pogroms are taking place.

"Peasants, workers and insurgents! You know that the workers of all nationalities -- Russians, Jews, Poles, Germans, Armenians, etc. -- are equally imprisoned in the abyss of poverty. You know that thousands of Jewish girls, daughters of the people, are sold and dishonoured by capital, the same as women of other nationalities. You know how many honest and valiant revolutionary Jewish fighters have given their lives for freedom in Russia during our whole liberation movement. . . The revolution and the honour of workers obliges all of us to declare as loudly as possible that we make war on the same enemies: on capital and authority, which oppress all workers equally, whether they be Russian, Polish, Jewish, etc. We must proclaim everywhere that our enemies are exploiters and oppressors of various nationalities: the Russian manufacturer, the German iron magnate, the Jewish banker, the Polish aristocrat .. . . The bourgeoisie of all countries and all nationalities is united in a bitter struggle against the revolution, against the labouring masses of the whole world and of all nationalities.

"Peasants, workers and insurgents! At this moment when the international enemy -- the bourgeoisie of all countries -- hurries to the Russian revolution to create nationalist hatred among the mass of workers in order to distort the revolution and to shake the very foundation of our class struggle - the solidarity and unity of all workers -- you must move against conscious and unconscious counter-revolutionaries who endanger the emancipation of the working people from capital and authority. Your revolutionary duty is to stifle all nationalist persecution by dealing ruthlessly with all instigators of anti-Semitic pogroms.

"The path toward the emancipation of the workers can be reached by the union of all the workers of the world." [quoted by Arshinov, Op. Cit., 215-7]

Arshinov also quotes an order issued by Makhno to "all revolutionary insurgents without exception" which states, in part, that the "goal of our revolutionary army, and of every insurgent participating in it, is an honourable struggle for the full liberation of the Ukrainian workers from all oppression." This was "why every insurgent should constantly keep in mind that there is no place among us for those who, under the cover of the revolutionary insurrection, seek to satisfy their desires for personal profit, violence and plunder at the expense of the peaceful Jewish population." [quoted by Arshinov, Op. Cit., pp. 217-8]

Unsurprisingly, as an anarchist, Makhno presents a class analysis of the problem of racism, arguing as follows:

"Every revolutionary insurgent should remember that his personal enemies as well as the enemies of all the people are the rich bourgeoisie, regardless of whether they be Russian, or Jewish, or Ukrainian. The enemies of the working people are also those who protect the unjust bourgeois regime, i.e., the Soviet Commissars, the members of repressive expeditionary corps, the Extraordinary Commissions which go through the cities and villages torturing the working people who refuse to submit to their arbitrary dictatorship. Every insurgent should arrest and send to the army staff all representatives of such expeditionary corps, Extraordinary Commissions and other institutions which oppress and subjugate the people; if they resist, they should be shot on the spot. As for any violence done to peaceful workers of whatever nationality - such acts are unworthy of any revolutionary insurgent, and the perpetrator of such acts will be punished by death." [quoted by Arshinov, Op. Cit., p. 218]

It should also be noted that the chairmen of three Makhnovist regional congresses were Jewish. The first and second congresses had a Jewish chairman [Palij, Op. Cit., p. 293], while Voline was the chair for the fourth one held at Aleksandrovsk. Similarly, one of the heads of the army's counter-espionage section was Jewish. [Arshinov, Op. Cit., p. 212] Little wonder both Arshinov and Voline stress that an important role was played by Jews within the movement.

The Jewish American anarchists Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman were also in Russia and the Ukraine during the revolution. Between 1920 and 1921, they were in contact with anarchists involved with the Makhnovists and were concerned to verify what they had heard about the movement from Bolshevik and other sources. Berkman recounts meeting the Jewish anarchist Yossif the Emigrant (shot by the Bolsheviks in late 1920). Yossif stated that "Nestor is merciless toward those guilty of Jew-baiting. Most of you have read his numerous proclamations against pogroms, and you know how severely he punishes such things." He stressed that any stories of atrocities and pogroms committed by the Makhnovists were "lies wilfully spread by the Bolsheviks" who "hate Nestor worse than they do Wrangel." For Yossif, "Makhno represents the real spirit of October." [quoted by Berkman, Op. Cit., pp. 187-9] He also notes that Halyna Makhno, Nestor's wife, would "slightly raise her voice in indignation when reports of Jew-baiting by povstantsi [partisans] were mentioned. These stories were deliberately spread by the Bolsheviki, she averred. No-one could be more severe in punishing such excesses than Nestor. Some of his best comrades are Jews; there are a number of them in the Revolutionary Soviet and in other branches of the army. Few men are so loved and respected by the povstantsi as Yossif the Emigrant, who is a Jew, and Makhno's best friend." [Berkman, Op. Cit., pp. 238-9] Both Goldman and Berkman became friends with Makhno during his exile in Paris.

After his exile, Makhno himself spent time refuting allegations of anti-Semitism. Two articles on this subject are contained in The Struggle Against the State and other Essays, a collection of Makhno's exile writings. In the article "The Makhnovshchina and Anti-Semitism" he recounts various examples of the "uncompromising line on the anti-Semitism of pogromists" which the Makhnovists took "throughout its entire existence." This was "because it was a genuinely revolutionary toilers' movement in the Ukraine." He stressed that "[a]t no time did the movement make it its business to carry out pogroms against Jews nor did it ever encourage any." [The Struggle Against the State and Other Essays, p. 38 and p. 34] He wrote another article (called "To the Jews of All Countries"):

"In my first 'Appeal to Jews, published in the French libertarian newspaper, Le Libertaire, I asked Jews in general, which is to say the bourgeois and the socialist ones as well as the 'anarchist' ones like Yanovsky, who have all spoken of me as a pogromist against Jews and labelled as anti-Semitic the liberation movement of the Ukrainian peasants and workers of which I was the leader, to detail to me the specific facts instead of blathering vacuously away: just where and just when did I or the aforementioned movement perpetrate such acts? . . . Thus far, no such evidence advanced by Jews has come to my attention. The only thing that has appeared thus far in the press generally, certain Jewish anarchist organs included, regarding myself and the insurgent movement I led, has been the product of the most shameless lies and of the vulgarity of certain political mavericks and their hirelings." [Op. Cit., p. 28]

It should be noted that Yanovsky, editor of the Yiddish language anarchist paper Freie Arbeiter Stimme later admitted that Makhno was right. Yanovsky originally believed the charges of anti-Semitism made against Makhno, going so far as ignoring Makhno's appeal to him out of hand. However, by the time of Makhno's death in 1934, Yanovsky had learned the truth:

"So strongly biased was I against him [Makhno] at that time I did not think it necessary to find out whether my serious accusation was founded on any real facts during the 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."

Due to this, he could not forgive himself for "so misjudg[ing] 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." He also notes that it had "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, 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." ["appendix," My Visit to the Kremlin, pp. 36-7]

However, by far the best source to refute claims of anti-Semitism the work of the Jewish anarchist Volin. He summarises the extensive evidence against such claims:

"We could cover dozens of pages with extensive and irrefutable proofs of the falseness of these assertions. We could mention articles and proclamations by Makhno and the Council of Revolutionary Insurgents denouncing anti-Semitism. We could tell of spontaneous acts by Makhno himself and other insurgents against the slightest manifestation of the anti-Semitic spirit on the part of a few isolated and misguided unfortunates in the army and the population. . . One of the reasons for the execution of Grigoriev by the Makhnovists was his anti-Semitism and the immense pogrom he organised at Elizabethgrad . . .

"We could cite a whole series of similar facts, but we do not find it necessary . . . and will content ourselves with mentioning briefly the following essential facts:

"1. A fairly important part in the Makhnovist movement was played by revolutionists of Jewish origin.

"2. Several members of the Education and Propaganda Commission were Jewish.

"3. Besides many Jewish combatants in various units of the army, there was a battery composed entirely of Jewish artillery men and a Jewish infantry unit.

"4. Jewish colonies in the Ukraine furnished many volunteers to the Insurrectionary Army.

"5. In general the Jewish population, which was very numerous in the Ukraine, took an active part in all the activities of the movement. The Jewish agricultural colonies which were scattered throughout the districts of Mariupol, Berdiansk, Alexandrovsk, etc., participated in the regional assemblies of workers, peasants and partisans; they sent their delegates to the regional Revolutionary Military Council.

"6. Rich and reactionary Jews certainly had to suffer from the Makhnovist army, not as Jews, but just in the same way as non-Jewish counter-revolutionaries." [The Unknown Revolution, pp. 967-8]

However, it could be claimed that these accounts are from anarchists and so are biased. Ignoring the question of why so many Jewish anarchists should defend Makhno if he was, in fact, a pogromist or anti-Semite, we can turn to non-anarchist sources for confirmation of the fact that Makhno and the Makhnovist movement were not anti-Semites.

First, we turn to Voline, who quotes the eminent Jewish writer and historian M. Tcherikover about the question of the Makhnovists and anti-Semitism. Tcherikover had, for a number of years, had specialised in research on the persecutions of the Jews in Russia. The Jewish historian states "with certainty that, on the whole, the behaviour of Makhno's army cannot be compared with that of the other armies which were operating in Russian during the events 1917-21. Two facts I can certify absolutely explicitly.

"1. It is undeniable that, of all these armies, including the Red Army, the Makhnovists behaved best with regard the civil population in general and the Jewish population in particular. I have numerous testimonies to this. The proportion of justified complaints against the Makhnovist army, in comparison with the others, is negligible.

"2. Do not speak of pogroms alleged to have been organised by Makhno himself. That is a slander or an error. Nothing of the sort occurred. As for the Makhnovist Army, I have had hints and precise denunciations on this subject. But, up to the present, every time I have tried to check the facts, I have been obliged to declare that on the day in question no Makhnovist unit could have been at the place indicated, the whole army being far away from there. Upon examining the evidence closely, I established this fact, every time, with absolute certainty, at the place and on the date of the pogrom, no Makhnovist unit was operating or even located in the vicinity. Not once have I been able to prove the existence of a Makhnovist unit at the place a pogrom against the Jews took place. Consequently, the pogroms in question could not have been the work of the Makhnovists." [quoted by Voline, Op. Cit., p. 699]

This conclusion is confirmed by later historians. Paul Avrich notes that "[c]harges of Jew-baiting and of anti-Jewish pogroms have come from every quarter, left, right, and centre. Without exception, however, they are based on hearsay, rumour, or intentional slander, and remain undocumented and unproved." He adds that the "Soviet propaganda machine was at particular pains to malign Makhno as a bandit and pogromist." Wishing to verify the conclusions of Tcherikover proved by Voline, Avrich examined several hundred photographs in the Tcherikover Collection, housed in the YIVO Library in New York and depicting anti-Jewish atrocities in the Ukraine during the Civil War. He found that "only one [was] labelled as being the work of the Makhnovists, though even here neither Makhno himself nor any of his recognisable subordinates are to be seen, nor is there any indication that Makhno had authorised the raid or, indeed, that the band involved was in fact affiliated with his Insurgent Army." Avrich then states that "there is evidence that Makhno did all in his power to counteract anti-Semitic tendencies among his followers" and that "a considerable number of Jews took part in the Makhnovist movement." He also points out that the Jewish anarchists Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman, Sholem Schwartzbard, Volin, Senya Fleshin, and Mollie Steimer did not criticise Makhno as an anti-Semite, they also "defended him against the campaign of slander that persisted from all sides." [Anarchist Portraits, pp. 122-3] It should be noted that Schwartzbard assassinated the Nationalist leader Petliura in 1926 because he considered him responsible for pogroms conducted by Nationalist troops during the civil war. He shot Petliura the day after he, Makhno and Berkman had seen him at a Russian restaurant in Paris. [Malet, Op. Cit., p. 189]

Michael Malet, in his account of the Makhnovists, states that "there is overwhelming evidence that Makhno himself was not anti-Semitic." [Op. Cit., p. 168] He indicates that in the period January to September 1919, the Central Committee of Zionist Organisations in Russia listed the Nationalists as creating 15,000 victims of pogroms, then the Denikinists with 9,500 followed by Hryhoriyiv, Sokolovsky, Struk, Yatsenko and Soviet troops (500 victims). Makhno is not mentioned. Of the pogroms listed, almost all took place on the western Ukraine, where the local otamany (warlords) and the Nationalists were strong. Very few took place where Makhno's influence predominated, the nearest being in Katerinoslav town and Kherson province; none in the provinces of Katerinoslav or Tavria. It should also be noted that the period of January to June of that year was one of stability within the Makhnovist region, so allowing them the space to apply their ideas. Malet summarises:

"Even granted the lower level of Jewish involvement in left-bank trade, the almost total lack of anti-Semitic manifestations would show that Makhno's appeals, at a time when anti-Semitism was fast becoming fashionable, did not go unheeded by the population. There were a number of Jewish colonies in the south-east Ukraine." [Op. Cit., p. 169]

Unsurprisingly, Malet notes that apart from certain personal considerations (such as his friendship with a number of Jews, including Voline and Yossif the Emigrant), "the basis of Makhno's hostility to anti-Semitism was his anarchism. Anarchism has always been an international creed, explicitly condemning all forms of racial hatred as incompatible with the freedom of individuals and the society of equals." And like other serious historians, he points to "the continual participation in the movement of both intellectual Jews from outside, and Jews from the local colonies" as "further proof . . . of the low level of anti-Semitism within the Makhnovshchina." [Op. Cit., p. 171 and pp. 171-2]

Anarchist Serge Cipko summarises the literature by stating that the "scholarly literature that discusses Makhno's relationships with the Jewish population is of the same opinion [that the Makhnovists were not anti-Semitic] and concur that unlike the Whites, Bolsheviks and other competing groups in Ukraine during the Revolution, the Makhnovists did not engage in pogroms." ["Nestor Makhno: A Mini-Historiography of the Anarchist Revolution in Ukraine, 1917-1921," pp. 57-75, The Raven, no. 13, p. 62]

Historian Christopher Reed concurs, noting that "Makhno actively opposed anti-Semitism . . . Not surprisingly, many Jews held prominent positions in the Insurgent movement and Jewish farmers and villagers staunchly supported Makhno in the face of the unrestrained anti-Semitism of Ukrainian nationalists like Grigoriev and of the Great Russian chauvinists like the Whites." [Op. Cit., pp. 263-4] Arthur E. Adams states that "Makhno protected Jews and in fact had many serving on his own staff." [Bolsheviks in the Ukraine, p. 402]

We apologise again for labouring this point, but the lie that Makhno and the Makhnovists were anti-Semitic is relatively commonplace and needs to be refuted. As noted, Trotskyists repeat Trotsky's false assertions without correction. Other repeat the lie from other sources. It was essential, therefore, to spend time making the facts available and to nail the lie of Makhnovist anti-Semitism once and for all!


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