Volin, The Unknown Revolution, 1917-1921, Book III: Struggle for the Real Social Revolution, Part II: Ukraine (1918-1921)

Chapter Seven

The Fate of Makhno and Some of His Comrades;


By way of an epilogue, certain details about the final repression and also about the personal fate of certain Makhnovist militants would be in place here.

The third and last war of the Bolsheviks against the Makhnovists was also, obviously, a war against the entire Ukrainian peasantry.

Their aim was not only to destroy the Insurrectionary Army, but also to subjugate this entire rebellious mass, removing from it any chance to take up arms again and give a new birth to the movement. Their aim was to root out the very seeds of rebellion.

The Red Divisions went systematically through all the villages of the insurgent region, exterminating large numbers of peasants, frequently on the basis of information provided by rich local peasants (kulaks).

Hundreds of peasants were shot in Gulyai-Pole, Novospasovka, Uspenovka, Malaya-Tokmachka, Pologi and other large villages of the region.

In various places the Chekists, thirsting for murder, shot the women and children of the insurgents.

This "repressive" campaign was directed by Frunze, commander-in-chief of the Southern Front. "We have to finish off the Makhnovshchina by the count of two," he wrote in an order to the Army of the Southern Front before unleashing this action. And he carried himself as an old warrior, treating "this mob of muzhiks" in the manner of a conqueror, a new nobleman, sowing death and desolation around him.

And now we will give some brief notes on the personal fate of some of the participants in the Ukrainian popular movement.

Semen Karetnik was a peasant from Gulyai-Pole. One of the poorest in the village, he worked mostly as a farm labourer. He could only go to school for one year. An Anarchist from 1907, he participated in the movement from its first days. On various occasions he showed a remarkable talent for warfare. He was wounded many times in the fighting against Denikin. A member of the Council of Revolutionary Insurgents of the Ukraine, he was one of the best commanders of the Insurrectionary Army. In 1920 he often replaced Makhno as supreme commander of the army. He commanded the corps which was sent to the Crimea against Wrangel. After the latter's defeat, he was sent for by the Bolsheviks, ostensibly to attend a military council, but was treacherously seized en route and shot at Melitopol'. He left a widow and several orphans.

Marchenko was the son of a family of poor peasants from Gulyai-Pole. His education was incomplete. An Anarchist since 1907 (with Makhno and Karetnik), he was one of the first insurgents of the Gulyai-Pole region. He was wounded several times in the combats against Denikin's troops. During the last two years of the insurrection, he commanded all the Makhnovist cavalry and was a member of the council of Revolutionary Insurgents. He was killed in January, 1921, near Poltava, in the course of a battle with the Reds. He left a widow.

Grigory Vasilevsky was the son of a poor peasant of Gulyai-Pole. He received an elementary education. An Anarchist before 1917, he participated in Makhnovism from its beginning. A personal friend of Makhno, he replaced him several times at the head of the army. He was killed in December, 1920, in the course of a battle against the Reds in the Kiev region. He left a widow and some orphans.

Boris Veretel'nikov was a peasant of Gulyai-Pole origin; later he became a foundry-hand in a local works, and afterwards at the Putilov factory in Petrograd. First a Social-Revolutionary, he became an Anarchist in 1918. A very gifted orator and organizer, he actively participated in all the phases of the Russian Revolution. In 1918, he returned to Gulyai-Pole and devoted himself mostly to propaganda. Later, he entered the Insurrectionary Army, gave proof of great military qualities, and for some time performed the functions of chief of staff. In June, 1919, he marched at the head of a hastily formed unit to try and defend Gulyai-Pole against the superior forces of Denikin. Totally encircled, he fought to the end beside his comrades and perished with his whole unit. He left a widow and orphans.

Petr Gavrilenko was a Gulyai-Pole peasant, an Anarchist since the 1905 Revolution, and one of the most active militants of Makhnovism. He played a part of the highest importance, as commander of the Third Corps, in the defeat of the Denikinist troops in June, 1919. In 1921, he performed the functions of chief of staff of the Crimean Army. After Wrangel's destruction, he was treacherously seized by the Bolsheviks, like Karetnik, and shot at Melitopol'.

Vasily Kurilenko was a peasant from Novospasovka who received an elementary education. An Anarchist from the beginning of the revolution, a talented popular propagandist, a militant of the highest moral quality, he also revealed himself to be one of the best commanders of the Insurrectionary Army. Wounded many times, he won several victories over Denikin's troops. He was killed in a skirmish with the Reds in the summer of 1921 and left a widow.

Viktor Belash was a peasant from Novospasovka, who received an elementary education. He was an Anarchist, and up to 1919 he commanded a Makhnovist regiment. A very skilful strategist, he was later chief of staff of the Insurrectionary Army and drew up several remarkable plans of battle. In 1921, he fell into the hands of the Bolsheviks. His fate is un known to us.

Vdovichenko was an Anarchist peasant from Novospasovka, who received an elementary education. One of the most active participants in the revolutionary insurrection, he commanded the special unit of the Makhnovist troops. He played a considerable part in the defeat of Denikin's forces at Peregonovka, in September, 1919. In 1921, taken prisoner by the Bolsheviks, he disdainfully turned down their proposal to transfer to their service. His fate is unknown to us.

Petr Rybin (Zonov) was a lathe worker, originally from the province of Orel. A revolutionist since 1905, he emigrated to America, where he took an active part in the exiled Russian revolutionary movement. In 1917 he returned to Russia, established himself in Ekaterinoslav, and accomplished considerable popular work in the field of reorganizing industry and transport. He first worked with the Bolsheviks as a professional specialist, but in 1920 he felt it was impossible to continue this collaboration, the activities of the Bolsheviks, in his view, running counter to the real interests of the workers and peasants. In the autumn of 1920 he joined the Makhnovist movement and devoted all his strength and knowledge to it. In 1921 he was arrested at Khar'kov by the Cheka and shot. His comrade and friend, Dvigomirov, who also returned from America and worked as a propagandist among the peasants of the Chernigov region, was treacherously seized and shot around the same time.

Kalashnikov was the son of a worker who received some education and became a second lieutenant in the Tsarist army before the revolution. In 1917, he became secretary of the Anarchist group at Gulyai-Pole. Later he entered the Insurrectionary Army and became one of its most eminent commanders. He was principal organizer of the uprising of Red troops at Novy-Bug in 1919, when the Makhnovist regiments, temporarily incorporated into the Bolshevik Army, were called to rejoin the Insurrectionary Army and brought several Red regiments with them. He led all these troops into the insurgent region. He was killed in 1920 in combat with the Reds. He left a widow and an orphan.

Mikhalev-Pavlenko was the son of a peasant from Central Russia. In 1917 he was a member of an Anarchist group in Petrograd, and arrived in Gulyai-Pole at the beginning of 1919. Possessing a good professional education, he organized and commanded the engineering troops of the Insurrectionary Army. On the 11th and 12th of June, 1919, while serving on an armoured train which was engaged in the fight against Denikin's troops, he was treacherously seized, with his comrade, Burbyga, by the order of Voroshilov (who commanded the Fourteenth Bolshevik Army) and was executed on June 17th at Khar'kov.

Makeev was a worker of Ivanovo-Voznesensk, near Moscow, and a member of the Anarchist group in that city. At the end of April 1919 he arrived at Gulyai-Pole with thirty-five comrades. He first devoted himself to propaganda and later he entered the Insurrectionary Army. He was elected a member of the staff and was killed in November, 1919, fighting the Denikinists.

Shchus' was a poor peasant from the village of Bolshaya-Mikhailovka, who served in the Tsarist navy as a seaman. In the beginning of the Revolution he became one of the first and most active insurgents of the southern Ukraine. With a group of partisans, he carried on a fierce struggle against the Austro-German troops and those of the Hetman Skoropadsky. Later he joined the Insurrectionary Army and occupied various important posts. He was mortally wounded in June, 1921, in the course of a battle with the Bolshevik troops.

Isidor Lyuty was one of the poorest peasants of Gulyai-Pole. He worked as a house-painter. An Anarchist and an intimate friend of Makhno, he took part in the insurrection from its beginning. He was killed in the battle of Peregonovka against the Denikinists in September, 1919.

Foma Kozhin was a revolutionary peasant, and, as a remarkable commander of the machine-gun section of the Insurrectionary Army, he played a part of the first importance in all the defeats inflicted on Denikin and Wrangel. He was seriously wounded during a battle with the Reds in 1921. His subsequent fate is unknown to us.

The brothers Ivan and Aleksandr Lepetchenko were Anarchist peasants from Gulyai-Pole. They were among the first insurgents against the Hetman Skoropadsky and participated actively in all the fighting of the Makhnovist army. Alexander Lepechenko was seized and shot by the Bolsheviks at Gulyai-Pole in the spring of 1920. The fate of his brother is unknown to us.

Seregin was a peasant and an Anarchist since 1917. He took part in the insurrection from the beginning and was for most of the time chief of the supply section of the Makhnovist army. We do not know what became of him.

Nestor Makhno's brothers, Grigory and Savva, both participated actively in the insurrection. Grigory was killed during; the fighting against Denikin in September 1919; Savva, the eldest son of the family, was seized by the Bolsheviks at Gulyai-Pole, not in the course of a battle., but in his house and shot.

Other Makhnovists we should mention briefly are: Budanov, anarchist worker (fate unknown), Chernoknizhny, schoolteacher (fate unknown), the Chubenko brothers, workers; (fate unknown), Serada, peasant (seriously wounded in a battle against Wrangel and hospitalized by the Bolsheviks before their break with Makhno, he was shot by them under particularly odious circumstances, after the break in March 1921); Garkusha (killed in 1920); Kolyada (fate unknown); Klein (fate unknown); Dermendzhi (fate unknown); Pravda (fate unknown); Bondarets (killed in 1920); Brova (killed); Zabud'ko (killed); Petrenko (killed); Maslak (fate unknown); Troyan (killed); Golik (fate unknown); Teheredniakov (shot); Dotsenko (fate unknown); Koval (fate unknown); Parkomenko (killed); Ivanyuk (killed); Taranovsky (killed); Popov (shot); Domashenko (fate unknown); Tykhenko ((fate unknown); Buryma (fate unknown), Chumak, Krat, Kogan and so many others whose names escape us.

All these men, like the thousands of anonymous combatants, came from the lowest levels of the working population; all of them revealed themselves at the moment of revolutionary action and served the true cause of the workers with all] their strength and until their last breath. Outside this cause, they had nothing in life. Their personal existence, and almost; always their families and their meagre possessions; as well were destroyed. It is necessary to have the presumption, the insolence, the baseness of the Bolsheviks - those parvenus of the ignoble race of "statesmen"- to describe this sublime, popular revolutionary movement as a "kulak uprising" and "banditry."

We should mention yet another individual case, one which is heinous to us.

Bogush was a Russian anarchist who had emigrated to America. He returned to Russia in 1921, after he was expelled from the United States together with other emigrants.[1]

At the time of the agreement between the Makhnovists and the Bolsheviks, Bogush was in Khar'kov. Having heard a great deal about the legendary Gulyai-Pole, he had wanted to study the Makhnovshchina on the spot. Unfortunately, he was only able to see free Gulyai-Pole for a few hours. Immediately after the rupture, he returned to Khar'kov. There he was arrested by the order of the Cheka, and was shot in March, 1921.

This execution can only have one explanation: the Bolsheviks did not want to leave alive a single person who had connections abroad, who knew the truth of their aggression against the Makhnovists, and who could have exposed it outside of Russia.

As for Nestor Makhno: he arrived in Rumania in August, 1921, where he and his comrades were interned. Makhno managed to escape to Poland. There he was arrested and tried for pretended crimes committed in the Ukraine against the interests of Poland, and was acquitted. He went on to Danzig, and was again imprisoned. He managed to escape once again, with the help of comrades, and finally settled in Paris.

Sick, and suffering bitterly from his many wounds, ignorant of the country's language and adapting himself with difficulty to surroundings which were so different from those he was accustomed to, he led in Paris a life which was as difficult materially as it was psychologically. His existence abroad was little more than a long and miserable agony, against which he was powerless to struggle. His friends helped him support the weight of these sad years of decline.

At times he attempted a certain activity; in particular, he started a history of his struggles and of the revolution in the Ukraine. But he could not finish it; it terminated at the end of 1918. Three volumes appeared, the first (in Russian and French) while the author was still alive, and the second and third (in Russian only) after his death.

His health declined rapidly. Admitted to the Tenon Hospital, he died there in July, 1935. He was cremated at Père-Lachaise Crematorium, where one can still see the urn containing his ashes. He left a widow and a daughter.

Before ending, it is necessary finally to refute the slanders - Bolshevik and otherwise - by which it has been sought to discredit the Makhnovist movement and to sully the reputation of the Insurrectionary Army and of Makhno himself. It is also necessary to examine more closely the real weaknesses and defects of Makhnovism and of those who animated and guided it.

We have spoken already of the Bolshevik attempts to represent the Makhnovist movement as a manifestation of banditry and Makhno himself as a bandit on a large scale. The information that has been given will, I hope, allow the reader to judge the truth of these slanders for himself, and I would not stress this point any further if it were not necessary to examine certain facts which have given this version a semblance of veracity and which have been utilised very skilfully by the Bolsheviks.

Despite its very widespread nature, the Makhnovist movement remained enclosed within its own borders and isolated from the rest of the world. Being a movement which arose from the popular masses themselves, it remained untouched by any manifestation of showmanship, publicity, or so-called glory. It accomplished no political action and gave rise to no directing elite. As a genuine, concrete and living movement, rather than a compound of red tape and the exploits of "genial leaders", it had neither the time nor the possibility, nor even the need, to assemble documents that would preserve its ideas and acts "for posterity".

Surrounded by implacable enemies on all sides, attacked without truce or quarter by the ruling party, submerged by the deafening voices of "statesmen" and their henchmen, and losing in the struggle at least nine-tenths of its best militants, this movement was doomed to remain in the shadows. And so it is not easy to uncover its fundamental nature. Just as thousands of modest heroes of all revolutionary periods remain for ever unknown, so it is almost inevitable that the Makhnovist movement should remain a scarcely known epic of the workers. It goes without saying that the Bolsheviks took advantage of these circumstances and the ignorance which sprang from them to say what they wanted about the movement.

In this connection another important point must be considered. During the confused and chaotic struggles which completely disorganised the life of the Ukraine between 1917 and 1921, there were numerous armed formations in operation, composed of unclassed and disoriented elements and led by adventurers, looters and bandits. These formations did not hesitate to make use of camouflage, and their "partisans" frequently wore a black ribbon and called themselves "Makhnovists". Naturally, this gave rise to many regrettable confusions.

These groups had nothing in common with the Makhnovist movement, which fought and destroyed them. The Bolsheviks, needless to say, were well aware of the difference between the Insurrectionary Army and these bands without faith or morals. But the confusions served their purpose admirably, and as "experienced statesmen", they exploited it for their own ends.

Here we should emphasise that the Makhnovists were extremely concerned for the good reputation of their army. Carefully, but in a very friendly way, they watched the conduct of each combatant, and behaved correctly towards the general population. Elements who could not rise to the general mental and normal level were not retained within the ranks.

This is illustrated by an episode which took place in the Insurrectionary Army after the defeat of the adventurer Grigor'ev in the summer of 1919. This former Tsarist officer managed to involve several thousand deluded young Ukrainian peasants in a fairly extensive uprising against the Bolsheviks - an uprising that was reactionary, pogromist and partly inspired by a simple desire for loot. In July, 1919, at the village of Sentova, Makhno and his friends unmasked Grigor'ev before a public meeting to which they had invited him. Brutal, ignorant and not at all aware of the mentality of the Makhnovists, he spoke first and delivered a reactionary speech. Makhno replied in such a way that Grigor'ev saw that he was lost and tried to use his weapons. In the course of a short fight he and his bodyguard were beaten.

It was decided that Grigor'ev's young peasants, of whom the overwhelming majority were, in spite of everything, imbued with a revolutionary spirit that had been abused by their chief, could enter the Makhnovist Insurrectionary Army if they wished. But nearly all of these recruits had to be dismissed later on. Having acquired bad habits in Grigor'ev's detachments, these soldiers could not rise to the moral level of the Makhnovist combatants. To be sure, the latter thought that in time they could have educated them, but in the existing conditions they could not concern themselves with such matters, and so, in order not to prejudice the good name of the Insurrectionary Army, they discharged them.

One especially shameful slander has been perpetrated by many writers of all shades of opinion against the Makhnovist movement in particular and Makhno personally. Some have spread it intentionally, but the majority have repeated it without bothering to check the sources or examine the facts closely.

It is alleged that the Makhnovists, and Makhno, were impregnated with anti-Semitic feeling, that they pursued and massacred the Jews, that they supported and even organised pogroms. The more prudent reproach Makhno with having been a "secret" anti-Semite, with having tolerated and closed his eyes to the acts committed by his bands, even if he did not sympathise with them.

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 directed 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. In such cases Makhno did not hesitate to react personally and violently.

One of the reasons for the execution of Grigor'ev by the Makhnovists was his anti-Semitism and the immense pogrom he organised at Elisavetgrad, which cost the lives of nearly three thousand persons. And the main cause of the dismissal of those of his partisans who had joined the Insurrectionary Army was the anti-Semitic spirit which their former chief had managed to instil into them.

We could cite a whole series of similar facts, but we do not find it necessary to enlarge too much on this subject, and will content ourselves with mentioning briefly the following essential facts:

  1. A fairly important part in the Makhnovist Army 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 artillerymen 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', Berdyansk, Aleksandrovsk, 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.

Several years ago, in Paris, I had the occasion to interview the eminent Jewish writer and historian, M. Cherikover, about the question of the Makhnovists and anti-Semitism. I reproduce his statement below.

M. Cherikover is neither a revolutionary nor an Anarchist. He is simply a scrupulous, meticulous and objective historian. For years he has specialized in research on the persecutions of the Jews in Russia. He has published several basic and extraordinarily well-documented and precise works on this subject. He has received documents of every kind from all parts of the world. He has heard hundreds of depositions, both official and private, and he has checked all the facts rigorously before using them.

Here, verbatim, is what he replied to my question whether he knew anything precise about the attitude of the Makhnovist Army and Makhno himself with regard to the Jewish population:

"I have concerned myself repeatedly with this question," he told me. "Here are my conclusions, with the usual reservations in case more exact testimony should reach me in the future. An army is always an army, and armies inevitably commit culpable and reprehensible acts, for it is materially impossible to control and supervise every individual making up these masses of men who are taken away from their healthy and normal lives, who are thrown into an existence and into surroundings which release their evil impulses, and who are authorized to use violence, very often with impunity. You certainly know this as well as I do. The Makhnovist army was no exception to this rule. It also committed some reprehensible acts now and then. But I am glad to be able to say 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 Russia 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 to 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 let us speak of pogroms alleged to have been organized by Makhno himself. This 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 presence of a Makhnovist unit at the place where a pogrom against the Jews took place. Consequently, the pogroms in question could not have been the work of the Makhnovists."

This testimony, which is impartial and precise, is one of the first importance. It confirms, among other things, a fact we have already mentioned, the presence of bands, committing all kinds of misdeeds and not disdaining the profits to be gained from a pogrom against the Jews, who covered themselves with the name of "Makhnovist". Only a scrupulous examination can sort out the confusion that occurred. There is no doubt that, in certain cases, the population itself was mistaken.

There is one further fact of which the reader should never lose sight. The Makhnovist movement was far from being the only revolutionary movement of the masses in the Ukraine. It was merely the most important and conscious of these movements, the most deeply popular and revolutionary. Other movements of the same type, less widespread, less clearly-defined and less well-organised were constantly arising in various places until the day when the last cry of freedom was stifled by the Bolsheviks. Such, for example, was the movement of the "Greens" which the foreign press occasionally mentioned and which was frequently confused with the Makhnovist movement. Less conscious of their real task than the Gulyai-Pole insurgents, the combatants of these various formations frequently committed regrettable errors and excesses, and very often the Makhnovist movement was held responsible for such misconduct. Among other things, the Bolsheviks reproached the Makhnovists for not having reduced these various "chaotic bands" to a single movement, for not having organised them, etc. This reproach is a sample of Bolshevik hypocrisy, for what really bothered the Soviet government most was precisely the possibility that all the popular revolutionary forces of the Ukraine might be assembled under the aegis of the Makhnovist movement. Therefore, the Bolsheviks did their best to prevent this, and for them to reproach the Makhnovists for not achieving the unification was like reproaching someone for not being able to walk after you have tied his feet. [If they had been allowed to do so] the Makhnovists would certainly have ended by uniting under their standard all the popular revolutionary movements of the country.

The Makhnovist insurgents, and the population of the insurgent region as a whole, paid no attention to the nationality of the workers. From the beginning, the movement known as Makhnovitchina embraced the impoverished masses of all the nationalities inhabiting the Ukraine. The majority naturally consisted of peasants of Ukrainian nationality, but six per cent, or thereabouts were of Great Russian origin and there were also smaller proportions of Greeks, Jews, etc.

"Peasants, workers and partisans," said a Makhnovist proclamation in May, 1919, "you know that the workers of all nationalities - Russians, Jews, Poles, Germans, Armenians, etc. - are equally imprisoned in the abyss of poverty. You know how many honest and valiant revolutionary Jewish militants have given their lives in the course of the struggle for liberty. The revolution, and the honour of the workers, oblige us all to declare as loudly as possible that we make war on the same enemies, on Capital and the principle of Authority, which oppress all workers equally, whether they be of Russian, Polish, Jewish or any other nationality. We must proclaim everywhere that our enemies are the exploiters of all 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."

Formed by the exploited, and merged into a single mass by the natural union of the workers, the Makhnovist movement was impregnated from the beginning with a deep feeling of fraternity for all peoples. Not for an instant did it appeal to national or "patriotic" sentiments. The whole struggle of the Makhnovists against the Bolsheviks was conducted solely in the name of the rights and interests of Labour. National prejudice had no hold on the Makhnovist movement. Nobody was interested in the nationality of this or that combatant or disturbed by it. It must also be remembered that the true revolution fundamentally changes individuals and masses alike. If only the masses effectively achieve that revolution for themselves, if only their freedom of thought and action remain intact, if only no force succeeds in obstructing their path, the enthusiasm of the people in revolt can be unlimited. And it is then that one sees with what simplicity, with what ease, this natural enthusiasm carries away all prejudices, all artificial notions, all the ghosts that have accumulated for thousands of years - national ghosts, religious scarecrows, authoritarian chimeras.

The final accusation that the Bolsheviks levelled against Makhno was that, if he was not a bandit, he was at least an adventurer like Grigor'ev, though more intelligent, cunning and polished than the latter. They claimed that Makhno pursued personal goals within the movement, under the guise of anarchist ideology, that he acted like a "little prince", disregarding all the committees, commissions and councils, that he in fact exercised a complete personal dictatorship, by which the idealistic militants who participated in the movement allowed themselves - wittingly or unwittingly - to be fooled. It was further stated that he assembled around him a camarilla of "commanders" who were allowed to commit secret and disgraceful acts of violence, debauchery and depravity, and that he himself condoned these acts and participated in them, laughing up his sleeve at the ideologues, whom, as well as their ideas, he despised and mocked.

Here we touch on an admittedly delicate question. For here also there are facts which gave these accusations a semblance of truth, and of which the Bolsheviks took advantage. These facts were connected with certain real faults and weaknesses of which a closer examination is needed for the sake of the libertarian cause itself.

In a close examination of the Makhnovist movement, it is necessary to distinguish three categories of faults. First come those of a general nature, which did not depend on the will of the participants and for which nobody can be blamed. The most important of these were (i) the almost perpetual necessity of fighting and of being on the move, without being able to settle down anywhere, or, for that very reason, to consecrate themselves to sustained positive work; (ii) the existence of an army, which inevitably became more and more professional and permanent in character; (iii) the lack of a vigorous and organised workers' movement to support the insurrection; (iv) the inadequacy of the intellectual forces in the service of the movement.

Next come certain faults of individuals, for which again they cannot be blamed - the lack of education, the inadequacy of theoretical and historical knowledge and of a broad view of society as a whole on the part of the animators of the movement. An unfortunate result of these inadequacies was the excessively trusting attitude of the Makhnovists towards the Communist state and its actions.

Last come the personal shortcomings of Makhno and his immediate friends, which were reprehensible in so far as they could have been avoided.

As for the first two categories, there is not much point, after what we have already said, in our enlarging to any great extent upon them, except for one circumstance that deserves special attention - the prolonged existence of an army.

Any army, of whatever kind, is an evil, and even a free and popular army, composed of volunteers and dedicated to the defence of a noble cause, is by its very nature a danger. Once it becomes permanent, it inevitably detaches itself from the people and the world of labour. Its members lose the inclination and the ability to lead a healthy working life. With an imperceptible and therefore all the more dangerous gradualness, it becomes a collection of idlers who acquire anti-social, authoritarian and even dictatorial leanings, who acquire also a taste for violence as a thing in itself, for the use of brute force even in cases where recourse to such means is contrary to the very cause it purports to defend.

These defects develop most strongly among the leaders, but the rank-and-file is ever more disposed to follow their example, almost without thinking, even when they are in the wrong. It is in this way that all armies which have become permanent have tended in the last resort to become instruments of injustice and oppression. They end by forgetting their original purposes and come to feel that they are ends in themselves.

Did Makhno and the other initiators and organisers of the insurrectionary movement and its army possess these qualities? Did they rise above all corruption? I regret to say that the moral qualities of Makhno himself and of many of his friends and collaborators were not entirely equal to the strains that were imposed upon them.

During my stay with the Insurrectionary Army, I often heard it said that certain commanders - Kurilenko was especially mentioned - were morally better equipped than Makhno to inspire and guide the movement as a whole. It was sometimes added that even in military qualities Kurilenko was Makhno's equal, and that he certainly surpassed him in the breadth of his views. When I asked why, in this case, Makhno remained where he was, the reply was that, for certain traits of his character, Makhno was better liked and more highly esteemed by the mass of the army. They knew him better, they had been used to him for a long time and he enjoyed their absolute confidence, which was important to the movement. He was simpler, bolder, more comradely and more of a peasant.

It is certainly true that Makhno and several of his friends were remiss in certain moral duties which in their position they should have fulfilled without the least defection, and it is here that we touch on those weaknesses of the movement and those personal defects of its initiators which gave the Bolshevik assertions a semblance of veracity and which greatly damaged both the movement itself and its reputation.

Makhnovism was produced and led by men, and, like all human works, it has not only its light, but also its shadows. It is indispensable that we should look into these shadows, not only to satisfy our desire for truth and impartiality, but also to reach a better understanding of the movement as a whole and to draw from its experiences the necessary lessons and conclusions.

First, I will quote what Peter Arshinov said on the subject:

"Makhno's personality," he tells us, "contained many superior characteristics - spirit, will, hardihood, energy and activity. The traits, taken together, created an imposing impression, and made him remarkable even among revolutionists. At the same time, he lacked the theoretical knowledge needed to understand politics and history. That is why he frequently could not reach the necessary revolutionary generalisations and conclusions -- or did not even perceive their necessity.

"The vast movement of the revolutionary insurrection imperatively demanded that new social and revolutionary formulas should be found that would be adequate to its nature. By reason of his lack of theoretical training, Makhno was not always equal to this task, and in view of his position at the centre of the revolutionary insurrection, this defect had repercussions on the movement as a whole. We believe that if Makhno had possessed more extensive knowledge in the fields of history and the political and social sciences, the revolutionary insurrection would have recorded, instead of inevitable defeats, a series of victories which would have played an enormous and perhaps decisive role in the development of the Russian Revolution.

"Besides, Makhno possessed one characteristic that sometimes diminished his dominant qualities. At times a certain heedlessness took possession of him. Though full of energy and will, he occasionally showed, in times of exceptionally serious crisis, a frivolity that was incompatible with the degree of perspicacity demanded by the gravity of the situation. To give one example, the results of the victory in the Autumn of 1919 over Denikin's counter-revolution were not sufficiently exploited in the direction of developing a pan-Ukrainian insurrection, although the moment was particularly favourable for such a task. The reason for this was a certain intoxication of victory, as well as a strong, and erroneous, sense of security and a measure of inattentiveness; the guides of the insurrection with Makhno at their head, installed themselves in the liberated region without guarding sufficiently against either the persistence of the White danger or the peril of Bolshevism, which was descending from the North."

These criticisms are perfectly true. But they are not all that needs to be said, and we must complete what Arshinov has barely hinted in mentioning Makhno's "heedlessness". For this heedlessness was itself very often the consequence of a deeper weakness, which at times brought Makhno to a state of moral collapse that undoubtedly affected the movement.

The paradox of Makhno's character was that, despite his superior power of will and character, he was never strong enough to resist certain temptations, and with him he dragged down several of his friends and collaborators. Sometimes, however, it was the latter who dragged him down, and he was unable to oppose them resolutely.

His greatest fault was certainly the abuse of alcohol. He became addicted gradually, but at certain periods his condition was disgraceful in its manifestations. The effects of his drunkenness were primarily in the moral field. Physically he did not change, but under the influence of alcohol he became over-excited, mischievous, unjust, intractable and violent. Often, during my stay with the army, I left him in despair, unable to get anything reasonable out of him even when matters of some importance were concerned, because of his abnormal condition. (At certain periods, indeed, it became almost his "normal" condition!)

The second fault of Makhno and of many of his intimates - both commanders and others - was their behaviour towards women. Especially when drunk, these men let themselves indulge in shameful and even odious activities, going as far as orgies in which certain women were forced to participate. It goes without saying that these acts of debauchery produced a demoralising effect on those who knew about them, and Makhno's good name suffered from this.

Such moral misconduct led inevitably to other excesses and abuses. Under the influence of alcohol, Makhno became irresponsible in his actions; he lost control of himself. Then it was personal caprice, often supported by violence, that suddenly replaced his sense of revolutionary duty; it was the despotism, the absurd pranks, the dictatorial antics of a warrior chief that were strangely substituted for the calm reflection, perspicacity, personal dignity and self-control in his attitude to others and to the cause which a man like Makhno should never have abandoned.

The inevitable result of these disorders and aberrations was an excess of "warrior sentiment" which led to the formation of a kind of military clique or camarilla about Makhno. This clique sometimes made decisions and committed acts without taking account of the opinion of the Council or of other institutions. It lost its sense of proportion, showed contempt towards all those who were outside it, and detached itself more and more from the mass of the combatants and the working population.

To support my view, I will mention an episode from among several I witnessed. One evening, when the Council had complained of the misconduct of certain commanders, Makhno entered in the middle of a session. He was drunk, and extremely excited. He drew his revolver, pointed it at the gathering, and, waving it to and fro before the members of the assembly, insulted them grossly. After that he went out without listening to any explanation. Even if the complaint had been unfounded, his way of replying to it was itself deserving of even greater complaint. I could add other episodes of the same kind.

Yet, having avoided overemphasising the highlights of the Makhnovist movement, we should take care not to exaggerate the shadows. In the first place, as Arshinov says: "Makhno's personality grew and developed with the revolution. Each year he became more profound and more conscious of his task. By 1921 he had gained considerably in depth of character, in comparison with the years of 1918 and 1919." Furthermore, the misconduct of Makhno and some of his friends was, on the whole, sporadic and largely compensated for by all their highly meritorious exploits. It could not be considered a "line of conduct"; it was nothing more than a series of digressions. It was not - and this is important - a question of the calculated, permanent and rigid attitude of a government, which, regularly supported by coercive force, imposes itself permanently upon the whole community. In the general atmosphere of liberty, based on a vast and conscious popular movement, the evil could only be a localised wound, whose festering could not poison the whole organism.

In fact a serious resistance soon grew up against the deviations of Makhno and his "clique", both among the commanders themselves and among the mass of the insurgents. Repeatedly, Makhno was called to order and made to feel the gravity of his misconduct. It must be said to his credit that he usually paid attention and tried to improve himself.

"One should not forget," Peter Arshinov rightly remarks, "the unfavourable conditions in which Makhno had lived from infancy, the environmental disadvantages he experienced from his first years, the almost complete lack of education of those who surrounded him, and, finally, the absence of experienced and enlightened help in his social and revolutionary struggle.

"What was most important was the general atmosphere of the movement. In the last analysis, it was neither Makhno nor the commanders who counted; it was the masses. They retained all their independence, all their freedom of opinion and action. One can be sure that, in this general atmosphere of a free movement, the activity of the masses would have ended by correcting the errors of the 'chiefs'.

"Precisely in order that this brake, this resistance to the deviations of individuals, this localisation of the evil may always be possible, the complete freedom of opinion and action of the masses should be and remain the most important, absolute and unalterable conquest of the Revolution.

"How many times, during my stay in the Ukraine, could I observe, in contrast to the culpable attitude of certain 'chiefs', the simple and healthy reaction of the masses, when they were still free! And how many times I reflected: 'It is not the chief, it is not the commander, it is not the professional revolutionary, it is not the elite that counts in a real revolution, it is the revolutionary mass. It is in them that truth and health reside. The role of the animator, of the real chief, of the real revolutionary, of the elite, is to aid the masses and remain worthy of the task."

In view of these considerations, there is no reason to magnify the weaknesses of the Makhnovist movement to the proportions they assume under the pens of the Bolsheviks. The latter deliberately exaggerated and distorted the faults of any individual for the purpose of discrediting the whole movement. Yet the Bolshevik leaders have only to look at themselves!

Nevertheless, certain of the faults and inadequacies we have mentioned undoubtedly weakened the movement at the time. Who knows what might have been the turn of events, despite all the obstacles and difficulties, had the movement been guided from the beginning in a manner that was more far-sighted, broader in vision and, in a few words, more worthy of the task?

"The efforts of the Makhnovists in their struggle against Denikin were enormous," Arshinov declares. "The heroism they showed during the last months was admired by everyone. In all the wide sweep of the liberated regions, they were the only ones to preserve the thunder of the revolutionary cause, they alone were the grave-diggers of the Denikinist counter-revolution. It was thus that the masses of the people understood events, both in the cities and in the country.

But this very circumstance contributed to the development in many Makhnovists of the firm belief that they were from now on guaranteed against all provocation on the part of the Bolsheviks, that the Red Army which at the moment was coming down from the North, understood that the slanders of the Communist Party with regard to the Makhnovists were unfounded, that this army would not listen to a new fraud, a new provocation, that on the contrary it would make common cause with the Makhnovists when it met them face to face. Indeed, the optimism of some Makhnovists went as far as the belief that the Communist Party would probably not dare to organise a new outrage against the free people, since the Makhnovist tendency had manifestly been accepted by the broad masses of the country.

The military and revolutionary activity of the Makhnovists was dominated by this state of mind. They confined themselves to occupying a part of the Dnepr and Donets region. They did not seek to advance North and consolidate themselves there. They thought that when the two armies met, the policy to be adopted would by itself become apparent. This optimism did not correspond to the situation that existed in the Ukraine. And that is why the results were not those for which the Makhnovists hoped . . .

It is true that, in the Autumn of 1919, the annihilation of Denikin's counter-revolution constituted one of the principal tasks of the Makhnovist movement and of the whole Russian Revolution. This task was performed entirely by the Makhnovists. But it did not constitute the whole of the mission which they had to fulfil during this tragic period for the sake of the revolution. The country in revolt, liberated from Denikin's troops, urgently required an immediate organisation of defence over its whole territory. Without that defence, the country and all the revolutionary possibilities opened to it by the liquidation of Denikinism were every day in danger of being wiped out by the Statist armies of the Bolsheviks, which had been sent to the Ukraine in pursuit of Denikin's retreating troops...

In any event, Bolshevism would never accept the free existence of a popular movement, like Makhnovism, based on the masses themselves. Whatever the opinion of these masses, this would not prevent Bolshevism from doing everything to strangle and destroy the movement. That is why the Makhnovists, who were at the heart of events and popular movements in the Ukraine, should have taken in advance all the steps necessary to be secure against such an eventuality...

It is therefore incontestable that in the Autumn of 1919 one of the historic tasks imposed on Makhnovism by the course of events was the creation of a revolutionary army of sufficient strength to permit the people in revolt to defend their liberty, not only in an isolated and limited area, but in the whole territory of the Ukrainian insurrection. At the moment of the fierce struggle against Denikin, this would certainly have not been an easy task, but it was historically necessary and entirely possible, since the major part of the Ukraine was in the midst of revolution and was leaning towards Makhnovism. The units of insurgents who flocked to join the Makhnovists came not only from the southern part of the country, but also from the north (e.g. the troops of Bibik who occupied Poltava). Certain detachments of the Red Army, came from Central Russia, thirsting to fight for the social revolution under the banner of Makhnovism - among others, the fairly numerous troops who came from the department of Orel under the command of Ogarkov. They arrived at Ekaterinoslav towards the end of October, having fought battles on the way against both the Bolshevik armies and those of Denikin.

The standard of Makhnovism rose up spontaneously and floated over the whole Ukraine. It was only necessary to take the measures needed to organise the whole, to merge all the numerous armed formations which were wandering over the whole Ukraine into a single powerful popular and revolutionary army that could have mounted guard around the territory of the revolution. Such a force, defending the whole territory and not merely a narrow and limited region, would have been the most persuasive argument against the Bolsheviks, accustomed as they were to work and deal with force.

However, the intoxication of the victories that had been won, plus a certain heedlessness, prevented the Makhnovists from creating a force of this sort at the opportune time. That is why, from the time the Bolsheviks entered the Ukraine, the Insurrectionary Army was obliged to withdraw into the limited area of Gulyai-Pole. It was a serious military error; an error which the Bolsheviks were not slow in turning to their advantage and whose consequences fell heavily on the Makhnovists and with them on the whole revolution in the Ukraine." (Op. cit. pp. 253-9).

Without being obliged to concur with Arshinov on all points, we must agree with him that, because of certain grave weaknesses, problems of capital importance were not envisaged and imperative tasks were not performed. Before I end this chapter, which I consider the most important and suggestive of my book, I want to address a few words to those who, by reason of their situation or for other reasons, are contemplating collaboration in the initial organisation of a popular movement in such a way as to give it animation and assistance. Let them not confine themselves to a simple reading of the epic of the Ukrainian masses. Let them reflect seriously on the weaknesses and errors of that popular revolution; there is no lack of lessons for them to learn.

Their task will be hard. Among other problems which must be solved now, among other difficulties which as far as possible should be surmounted and eliminated in advance, they must envisage the means of reconciling the need to defend the true revolution with that of avoiding the evils which an armed force engenders. Yes, let them reflect well, and to this end let them try to establish now the fundamental principles to guide their future action. Time is pressing. Their conclusions may be needed sooner than they think.



1. He arrived in Russia at the same time as Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman, two well-known old anarchists whom we mentioned in the chapter on Kronstadt.


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