The Personal Side of Nestor Makhno


"Between 1918 and 1921, in the anarchist Ukraine, one of the greatest victories of the anti-hierarchical struggle inside the man class took place. Nestor Makhno - who was nicknamed 'Batko', that is, 'Father' - made some elegant speeches during the insurrection: (...) But when Makhno spoke of the emancipation of humanity, that did not prevent him, in his everyday behaviour, from restricting membership of humanity. Voline, who took part in Makhno's insurrectionary campaign, writes: 'The second shortcoming of Makhno and many of his close associates - commanders and others - was their attitude towards women. Especially when inebriated, these men indulged in inadmissible acts - hateful would be more exact - going so far as to force certain women to participate in orgies.' Women then were so little a part of the 'humanity' of the Ukraine libertarians that Voline considered raping them a mere 'shortcoming', and a secondary one at that, less serious than Makhno's 'great fault' which he considered to be 'alcohol abuse'." (Emmanuel Reynaud, "Holy Virility", Pluto 1983.)

This is a rare look at Makhno from an uncompromisingly anti-patriarchal angle. Generally Makhno and the insurrectionary movement in the Ukraine are presented superficially and in very positive terms in anarchist media. Material in English dealing with Makhno's personality, his relationships, etc., is very scarce. This motivated me to translate some biographical pieces looking at this side of the revolutionary. The four pieces presented here paint a vivid picture and will hopefully help dispel the romantic aura which still enshrouds Makhno and his movement in the eyes of many anarchists. My aim in publicising these pieces is to encourage a critical glance behind the scenes - without detracting from the movement's achievements.

The first piece, Gulyai-Polye in 1918, helps set the historical context. The second piece, Agafya Andreyevna, is about Makhno's de-facto wife from 1919 onwards. It should be said here that the author of these two pieces, N. Sukhogorskaya, was not an anarchist. Her assessment of Makhno and his movement is quite negative, even cynical, but she was a contemporary and an eyewitness of events in Gulyai-Polye and I think her colourful accounts can be enjoyed with caution. The third piece, Memoirs, is a short autobiographical note by Makhno's de-facto wife. The picture is rounded off by the fourth piece, Makhno in Paris by Ida Mett, a Russian anarchist. Her observations partly contradict and partly corroborate those of the first two authors. All four pieces were published in Russian in "Nestor Ivanovich Makhno. Vospominaniya, materialy i dokumenty", Dzvin publishers, Kiev, 1991.

This translation was made possible by a grant from the Institute for Anarchist Studies

Will Firth, translator

February 2002


1. Gulyai-Polye in 1918, N. Sukhogorskaya

2. Agafya Andreyevna, N. Sukhogorskaya

3. Memoirs, Agafya A. Kuzmenko

4. Makhno in Paris, Ida Mett

Thanks to Will Firth for permission to include this translation on this site.

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