View Full Version : Anarchist Ukraine ( The Makhnovshchina )

06-11-2007, 06:09 AM
Makhno was born into a poor peasant family in Hulyai Pole, Ukraine, the youngest of five children. Makhno's parents registered his date of birth as 1889 (as an attempt to postpone conscription. Some suggest it was done later to avoid execution after his arrest in 1910 for belonging to the Anarchist group and robberies). However, church files show October 27, 1888. He studied at a parochial school between ages of eight and twelve. Soon after the Russian Revolution of 1905 Makhno joined a group of anarchists and was engaged in robberies, money extortions and killings of wealthy merchants and policemen. In 1910 Makhno was sentenced to death by hanging but was sent to Butyrskaya prison in Moscow instead, where he spent 6 years. The time spent in prison allowed him to improve his education, aided by intellectual cellmates (notably Piotr Arshinov). In 1917, after the February Revolution, Makhno was released from prison. He joined the revolutionary movement in Ukraine and helped organize expropriation of property from wealthy landlords and capitalists.

In early 1918, the new Bolshevik government in Russia signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk making peace with the Central Powers, but ceding large amounts of territory to them, including Ukraine. The people living in Ukraine did not want to be ruled by the Central Powers, and so rebelled. Partisan units were formed that waged guerilla war against the Germans and Austrians. This rebellion soon took an anarchist political tone. Nestor Makhno was one of the main organizers of these partisan groups, who united into the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine (RIAU), also called the Black Army (because they fought under the anarchist black flag), "Makhnovists" or "Makhnovshchina". The RIAU also battled against the Whites (counter-revolutionaries) and anti-semitic pogromists. In areas where the RIAU drove out opposing armies, villagers (and workers) sought to abolish capitalism and the state through organizing themselves into village assemblies, communes and free councils. The land and factories were expropriated and put under nominal peasant/worker control, but mayors and many officials were drawn directly from the ranks of Makhno's military, rather than local toilers. It is debatable whether Makhno's government or the RSFSR was more democratic in this period.

Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky, head of a criticized Ukrainian State — considered by some as a puppet Republic, had difficulty trying to occupy Ukraine as he was confronted by Makhno's Insurrectional Army. Thus, he was finally called back to Germany after the collapse of the German western front. In March 1918, the RIAU succeeded in defeating the Germans, Austrians and multiple regiments of the White Army.

At this point, the military role Makhno had adopted in his early years shifted to an organizing one. The first congress of the Confederation of Anarchists Groups, under the name of Nabat ("the Bell"), issued five main points: suspicion of all political parties, rejection of all dictatorships (mainly those organizing over people), negation of any State concept, rejection of any "transitory period" or "proletarian dictature", self-management of all workers through free workers councils (soviets). While the Bolsheviks argued that their concept of "proletaian dictatorship" meant precisely "rule by workers' councils," the Makhnovist platform opposed the "temporary" Bolshevik measure of "Party dictatorship."

From November 1918 to June 1919, the Makhnovists claimed to be creating an anarchist society in Ukraine in which the peasants and workers reigned democratically. "The agricultural most part of these villages was composed of peasants, someone understood at the same time peasants and workers. They were founded first of all on equality and solidarity of his members. All, men and women, worked together with a perfect conscience that they should work on fields or that they should be used in housework... Working program was established in meetings where all participated. They knew then exactly what they had to make."

New relationships and values were generated by this new social paradigm, which lead Makhnovists to formalize the policy of free communities as the highest form of social justice. Education was organised on Francisco Ferrer's principles, and the economy was based upon free exchange between rural and urban communities, from crop and cattle to manufactured products, according to the theories of Peter Kropotkin.

Makhno had resisted the White Army's attempts to invade Ukraine from the South-West for three months before the Bolshevik Red Army units joined the war effort of Makhnovshchina. But even after joining forces with the Red Army, the anarchists maintained their main political structures and refused to accept Bolshevik-appointed political commissars. The Red Army temporarily accepted these conditions, but soon Bolsheviks ceased to provide the Makhnovists with basic supplies, such as cereals and coal. The Nabat paper was banned and the Third Congress (specifically Pavel Dybenko) declared the Makhnovschina outlaw and counter-revolutionary, in response to which the Anarchist congress publicly questioned, "[M]ight laws exist as made by few persons so-called revolutionaries, allowing these to declare the outlawing of an entire people which is more revolutionary than them?" (Archinoff, The Makhnovist Movement). The justifications provided by the Bolshevik press for their break with the Anarchists were that Makhno's "anarchist state" was a warlord regime with civilian posts appointed (not elected) by Makhno and other military leaders, that Makhno himself had refused to provide food for Soviet railwaymen and telegraph operators, the "special section" of the anarchist constitution provided for secret executions and torture, that Makhno's forces had raided Red Army convoys for supplies, stolen an armored car from Briansk when asked to repair it, and that Nabat was responsible for deadly acts of terrorism in Russian cities.

Lenin soon sent Lev Kamenev to Ukraine, who conducted a cordial interview with Makhno. After Kamenev's departure, Makhno intercepted two Bolshevik messages, the first an order to the Red Army to attack the Makhnovists, the second ordering Makhno's assassination. Soon after the Fourth Congress, Trotsky sent the clear order to arrest every congress member, then supposedly declared that "it's better to cede the entire Ukraine to Denikin (White Army) than to allow an expansion of Makhnovism" (quoted by Archinoff in The Makhnovist Movement). It is questionable that Trotsky would have preferred another White force to a non-aligned peasant army on the Ukrainian front, as the Reds were dealing with White and foreign invasions from all directions. Makhno's answer to the Red assault was to escape with his closest associates. Trotsky's forces were thereafter beaten by Denikin and so forced to withdraw from Ukraine. Makhno reformed his forces and pushed back Denikin's weakened White forces, saving the RIAU.

Makhno's groupHaving become powerful and popular, Makhnovshchina turned again to the self-organization of the country, and pursued anarchist principles by destroying prisons and guardhouses and by granting freedom of speech, conscience, association, and the press.[citation needed] When nearly a half of Makhno's troops was struck by typhus epidemic, Trotsky resumed his hostility.

There was a new truce between Makhno forces and the Red Army in October 1920 when both forces came close to the territories held by Wrangel's White army. Makhnovshchina still agreed to help the Red Army, but when the Whites were decisively eliminated in the Crimea, the communists turned on Makhno again. Makhno intercepted three messages from Lenin to Christian Rakovsky, the head of the Bolshevik government of Ukraine. Lenin's orders were to arrest all members of Makhno's organization and to try them as common criminals.

After the White Army in the Crimea was defeated the leadership of the Red Army issued an order to relocate Makhnovists to the South Caucuses. Nestor Makhno refused to obey suspecting it to be a trap. The Soviets responded with a military campaign designed to crack down the Ukrainian insurgency. Makhno didn't have enough forces to resist the Red Army alone. Makhnovists started to retreat to the west fighting through the numerous units of Bolsheviks and escaping pockets.

In August 1921, an exhausted Makhno was finally driven by the Bolsheviks into exile, fleeing to Romania; then Poland; and finally to Paris. In 1926, joining other Russian exiles in Paris as part of the group "Dielo Truda" (Дело Труда, The Сause of Labour), Makhno co-wrote and co-published The Organizational Platform of the Libertarian Communists, which put forward ideas on how anarchists should organize based on the experiences of revolutionary Ukraine and the defeat at the hand of the Bolsheviks. The document was initially rejected by most anarchists, but today has a wide following. It remains controversial to this day, continuing to inspire some anarchists because of the clarity and functionality of the structures it proposes, while drawing criticism from others (including, at the time of publication, Voline and Malatesta) who view its implications as too rigid and hierarchical. (See Platformism)

At the end of his life Makhno lived in Paris, and worked as a carpenter and stage-hand at the Paris Opera and film-studios.

Makhno died in Paris in 1934. He was cremated three days after his death, with five hundred people attending his funeral at the famous cimetière du Père-Lachaise in Paris.

Makhno's widow and daughter were deported to Germany for forced labor at the end of the WW2. After the end of the war they were arrested by the NKVD and taken to Kiev for trial in 1946 and sentenced to eight years of hard labor