David Footman, Civil War in Russia, 1961.
There are a number of reasons why a study of the Russian Civil War should take account of Nestor Makhno. He was a guerrilla leader of quite outstanding ability, and made an important military contribution both to the Bolshevik defeat in South Russia in the summer of 1919 and to the subsequent collapse of Denikin and later of Wrangel. His was one of the very few revolutionary movements to be Jed and controlled throughout by members of'the .toiling masses'. /He provides one of the very few instances in history where for a period of months and over a wide area supreme power was in the hands of men who professed themselves Anarchists. And the story of his movement throws light on the feelings and aspirations of the Russian peasant, and on the difficulties that the Bolsheviks had to face in imposing their regime on the rural areas.
Makhno was born, in October, 1889, of an almost destitute peasant family at Gulyai-Polye in the Southern Ukraine. From the age of seven he earned a little money minding cattle. At twelve he became a full-time agricultural labourer, but three years later he left the land to work at a local foundry. A year or two afterwards, as a result of the local repercussions of the 1905 revolution, he became concerned with politics.
Anarchists of various groups were then comparatively numerous in the Ukraine. There were Anarchist-Communists Anarchist-Syndicalists and Anarchist-Individualists (the Anarchist- Universalists appeared later), but their ideological differences were blurred. The group to which Makhno adhered were nominally Anarchist-Communists, but first and foremost fighting revolutionaries. Their aims were to 'dispose of the myths of the other parties and lead the social revolution'. At Gulyai-Polye the immediate task was to fight, by terrorist means, against the police repression following the disorders of 1905-1906. Before he was nineteen Makhno was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment for his share in the murder of a police officer. The next nine years, up to March, 1917, he spent in the Butyrka Prison at Moscow.
Here he made friends with a fellow-prisoner, one Arshinov from Ekaterinoslav, an ex-carpenter in a railway workshop and editor of an illegal Bolshevik news-sheet and subsequently a militant Anarchist, who had arrived in the Butyrka at about the same time as Makhno. Arshinov was a man who had taken great pains to educate himself, and such political and general education as Makhno ever acquired was due to his fellow-prisoner. Not that he was an easy or an apt pupil. He never learned to speak Russian correctly. All the same, he was always writing, and his fellow-prisoners were 'bombarded' by his endless manuscripts. When not writing he was arguing. He was consumed by a restless and turbulent vitality, that earned him the sarcastic nickname of Skromny (modest). He was always in trouble with the prison authorities, and spent much of his time in irons or in the freezing punishment cells—where he probably contracted the tubercular trouble that eventually helped to kill him. He was intensely proud of being an Anarchist. He conceived a lasting horror of prisons, and at the height of his success on capturing a town one of his first acts would be to free the prison inmates and destroy the building.
On the release of the political prisoners following the February revolution of 1917 Arshinov stayed on in Moscow. Makhno remained only three weeks in order to polish up his ideological equipment and to meet the leading Moscow Anarchists. Then he returned home to carry on the work of the revolution. His ultimate aims were simple. All instruments of government were to be destroyed. All political parties were to be opposed, as all of them were working for some or other form of new government in which the party members would assume the role of a ruling class. ^All social and economic affairs were to be settled in friendly discussion between freely elected representatives of the toiling masses.
Makhno was the one political prisoner that Gulyai-Polye possessed and he returned as a hero. There was still a small Anarchist group in the village and they arranged a reception for hifti. Here he issued a firm demand for organization. This occasioned some demur: to the more meticulous Anarchists organization as such was suspect. Mass action should be spontaneous and the only permissible activity was propaganda. However, Makhno had his way, and by the end of March the Gulyai-Polye Association of Peasants was founded, with himself as chairman.
Before long he had made himself the effective political boss of the district. In August the Kornilov affair and the appeal of the Petrograd Soviet provided just the lead he had been waiting for. A Committee for the Defence of the Revolution was formed with, inevitably, Makhno as chairman, and the expropriation of all large land holdings, factories and workshops was taken in hand. The representatives of the Provisional Government at Ekaterinoslav were powerless to interfere. By comparison the Bolshevist coup d'etat of October created little stir. It took some weeks before it was possible to form a clear idea as to what had happened; and, of course, much longer before the new Petrograd regime could exercise effective control in the provinces. But the slogans 'Land to the Peasants' and 'Factories to the Workers' were perfectly acceptable. To Makhno's peasants it seemed that the inhabitants of Petrograd were doing just what they themselves had done a few weeks before. f At Gulyai-Polye the toiling masses proceeded, more or less peacefully if untidily, to consolidate their revolution. The little factories functioned, or failed to function, under the control of the workers. The estates were split up, without much incident, among the peasants. Most of the peasants, having got their land, took no further interest in outside affairs. But under the drive of a few idealists a certain number of agricultural communes were formed, where an elected committee of elders would allot the work, and then themselves work alongside their colleagues. Makhno himself became a member of one of them.
Relations with the Soviets of Aleksandrovsk and Ekaterinoslav remained friendly if somewhat reserved. They were dominated by Bolsheviks and Left S.R.s, and it was proper to support these revolutionary parties against the Whites on the Don and also against the Kiev Rada (regarded by Makhno as a gang of bourgeois chauvinists). Arms were obtained, with Bolshevik assistance, and a Gulyai-Polye militia was recruited and sent off to support the Red forces. At the same time Makhno's visits to the neighbouring towns filled him with misgivings for the future. From what he had seen of the Bolsheviks and Left S.R.S in action he felt that they were not loyal to the spirit of their slogans. There wereJtojjjn_any arrests. Whichever of the two parties attained ascendancy—he was convinced that sooner or later one would squeeze out the other —was likely to endeavour to impose its authority 'in the harsh sense of the word'. Lack of unity and lack of organization among the local Anarchists prevented them from being more than 'the tail of the Bolshevik-Left S.R. bloc'. He set his hopes on the Anarchist movement in the capitals; but his letters to them asking for advice and guidance remained unanswered.
Meanwhile there arose the problem of putting into practice the basic principle of Anarchist economy—the exchange of commodities freely arranged between free organizations of free producers. The South Ukrainian peasants had plenty of grain: what they needed was manufactured goods. Accordingly, a Gulyai-Polye comrade was sent on a tour of the towns. He seems to have been cordially received by the workers everywhere, and in Moscow he met with tangible success. Two Moscow trade union representatives arrived at Gulyai-Polye to fix details. The grain was loaded on rail cars, sent off under a Gulyai-Polye guard and duly arrived. The Moscow workers held to their part of the bargain, and a consignment of textiles and other manufactured goods was dispatched to the south. It was held up at Aleksandrovsk. There was intense indignation among the Gulyai-Polye peasants, who threatened to march on the town. The threat was enough. The Aleksandrovsk Soviet gave way, and the consignment was duly released and distributed among its rightful recipients.
The implications of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty were not immediately apparent in Gulyai-Polye. The Kiev Rada propaganda could be countered without much difficulty. But towards the end of March Ukrainian troops were across the Dnieper, with, apparently, German and Austrian detachments in support, and there was no evidence that the Red forces were putting up an effective resistance. The fainter-hearted in the region began to waver. At a mass meeting at Gulyai-Polye Makhno declared that they could now rely only on themselves and must fight for their freedom. There was a rush of volunteers. Makhno was elected Commander-in-Chief. Local intellectuals were gingered into organizing a medical service. More arms were obtained, and a sizeable detachment was moved up to reinforce the Red garrison of Aleksandrovsk.
Meanwhile it was becoming more and more apparent that there was no cohesion among the Red units. Each was acting on his own, 'often in those sectors where there was no enemy.' When they did meet the enemy they were liable to panic. Makhno was summoned for consultation to the headquarters of Yegorov, the Commander of the Red forces. When he reached the rendezvous he found that headquarters had moved eastwards, so for the next forty-eight hours he followed, over country cluttered with refugees and stragglers and drunken bands of Red sailors, after the ever-receding headquarters staff. On his way news reached him that Gulyai-Polye had been occupied by the enemy. He made desperate efforts to rally some groups of stragglers to come back with him and liberate the village. But far too few were willing, and his only course was to go on east again to Taganrog, the point for which all the stragglers seemed to be making, and collect any of his people he could find. He went on, he records, full of grief and shame at the collapse of his revolution.
Taganrog was crowded with Red Army detachments, stragglers, deserters and civilian refugees. A fortnight previously, on April 13th, Moscow had staged its anti-Anarchist drive. The Cheka had raided their premises and arrested several hundred members; and haphazard arrests of Anarchists were taking place in Taganrog. Makhno himself was not molested; he found a number of refugees from Gulyai-Polye and neighbouring villages, and in late April they held a congress to decide on future policy.
It would be wrong to consider these refugees as typical of the South Ukrainian population. The bulk of the peasantry (and, indeed, the townsmen) stayed where they were. They had their land. They were not particularly interested in politics. A few felt themselves good Ukrainians and welcomed the Rada. Others hoped that the new regime would mean the establishment of peace and order. It was mainly the convinced revolutionaries and those whose recent activities marked them out for reprisals that had evacuated. The unanimity and bellicosity of the Taganrog congress are therefore not surprising.
They were determined to re-establish their revolution in Gulyai-Polye. They now realized that they had little to hope either from the Bolshevik Government or from the Bolshevik higher command: they must fight their own battles themselves. After discussion of ways and means it was decided that late June and early July, the harvest season, was the best time for subversive work among the peasants. It was therefore agreed that the congress participants should infiltrate back to the area at that season singly or in twos and threes. Once back they would re-establish contacts; spread propaganda; organize clandestine groups of potential fighters; collect arms; and urgently and conspiratorially prepare the ground for a general peasant revolt.
'The time chosen for action meant an interval of nearly eight weeks; and Makhno decided to spend this period going round the big centres of Soviet Russia. He wanted to find out for himself what had happened to the Anarchists, and what they were intending to do. He wished to see what Bolshevik supremacy meant in practice, and what was the position and attitude of the workers in the big factories. He needed to know at first hand what help and what obstruction he might expect for his coming revolution in the south. The account of his Odyssey, which takes up the second volume of his memoirs, affords a fascinating worm's-eye view of Bolshevik Russia in the spring of 1918.
Makhno arrived in Moscow in early June after a tour that ha included Tsaritsyn, Saratov, Astrakhan and Tambov. Whil en route he heard news of the dispersal of the Ukrainian Rad and of the installation of Skoropadsky with German backing which convinced him of Lenin's error in accepting the Brest Litovsk Treaty. Later came news of the Czech revolt and th establishment of the S.R.-dominated Government at Samara. In all the cities Makhno visited administration was confused if not chaotic. In Saratov, for instance, there was a large force of Red sailors (from both Kronstadt and the Black Sea) engaged in constant friction and intermittent shooting with the Saratov Cheka—each side branding the other as counter revolutionaries. A third irreconcilable element was th 'Detachment of Odessa Terrorists', two hundred and fift, strong, who arrived about the same time as Makhno and wh~ refused either to be disarmed or to go back and fight the Hetman.
A depressing feature of his tour was to note the gener eclipse of the Anarchist movement. In some centres the groups had disintegrated. Such groups as still existed had no funds, no organization, no will to action. Members were in constant fear of arrest by the Cheka; and Makhno himself found it wiser to conceal his political affiliation and only to display his card as Chairman of the Gulyai-Polye Committee for the Defence of the Revolution. To the young man from Gulyai-Polye Moscow appeared as 'the capital of the Paper Revolution', a vast factory turning out empty resolutions and slogans while one political party, by means of force and fraud, elevated itself into the position of a ruling class.
Here again the Anarchists seemed cowed and demoralized, largely concerned with keeping out of trouble. His old friend Arshinov had taken on the post of Secretary of the Society for the Ideological Propagation of Anarchism. Makhno was present at some of their meetings, and was impressed by their cultural and theoretical range. But there seemed no urge for action. Again and again in his memoirs he comes back to his phrase 'paper revolution'. He attended a conference of Anarchists including a few like himself from the south, but no one present seemed to intend to go back there and fight for his convictions. The meeting would not even accept the proposal to ask Bolshevik permission to set up an organization for underground work in the Ukraine. There seemed an unbridgeable gap between what Makhno was burning to do and the general mood of the movement. Afterwards, when his revolution had flared up and been extinguished, his historian was to suggest that the Anarchist leaders 'had overslept' the Makhno movement.
During his three weeks' stay in Moscow he went to the All Russian Congress of Textile Unions, where 'were concentrated the flower of the Socialists then living in the centre of the paper revolution. They got up one after another, talked, waved their arms and screamed, each louder than the one before.' He also attended some Left S.R. meetings. He felt sympathy with the Left S.R.S: they had, he believed, not approved of the drive against the Anarchists in April, and they were ashamed of their impotence vis-a-vis Lenin. He was impressed with Kamkov and with Spiridonova. But, like the Anarchists, they had 'good will in plenty but not enough strength to tackle the enormous task of reorientating the course of the Revolution'.
One episode of Makhno's Moscow visit gave him pleasure. As a boy in prison his great hero had been the veteran Anarchist, P. A. Kropotkin, and in spite of all his disappointments with the present Anarchist leadership the admiration remained. He made a number of attempts to see the old man, and at last succeeded. They had a long conversation. No practical guidance was forthcoming; he was told that even the issue of his return to the Ukraine was one which he, Makhno, alone could decide. But he met with a sympathy that he had not before experienced. As he was leaving Kropotkin said: ;/'One must remember, dear comrade, that there is no sentimentality about our struggle. But selflessness and strength of heart and will on our way towards our goal will conquer all.' Years later, long after the defeat of his revolution, when Makhno himself was a dying man in the humiliation and penury of emigration he was to write: 'I have always remembered these words of Petr Alekseevich. And when our comrades come to know all that I did in the Russian Revolution in the Ukraine and then in the independent Ukrainian Revolution—in the vanguard of which revolutionary Makh-novshchina played so outstanding a role—they will recognize in my activities that selflessness and that strength of heart and will about which Petr Alekseevich spoke to me. I hope this precept will enable them to develop these traits of character in themselves.'
His meeting with Lenin was unplanned and unexpected. He went to the Kremlin to get himself a billeting card, blundered into Sverdlov's office; and Sverdlov found the young revolutionary from the south sufficiently interesting to arrange an appointment with Lenin for the following morning.
Makhno was received with a paternal simplicity. Lenin patted his shoulder, put him down in one chair and Sverdlov in another, told his secretary they were not to be disturbed for an hour. All through the interview he talked slowly and clearly, with frequent repetitions to make sure there was no misunderstanding in question or answer.
Lenin asked what the Ukrainian peasants made of the slogan 'All power to the local Soviets'. Makhno replied that they took it literally—assuming they were to have complete control of all affairs affecting them, and added, when Lenin asked him, that he himself felt this was the correct interpretation.Lenin: 'Then the peasants are infected with anarchism.'
Makhno: 'Do you think that is bad?'
Lenin: 'I did not say that; it may be to the good if it speeds up the victory of Communism.'
Lenin went on to observe that mere peasant enthusiasm would burn itself out—it could not survive serious blows from the counter-revolution. Makhno said that a leader should not be pessimistic or sceptical. Lenin pointed out that the Anarchists had no serious organization, they were unable to organize either the proletariat or the poor peasants, and thus unable to defend the Revolution.
Lenin showed particular interest in the military performance of the Red Guards, and questioned Makhno in very great detail. Then he asked about the propaganda in the villages, and Makhno explained that, on the revolutionary side, there was little of it and what there was was ineffective.
Lenin turned to Sverdlov and said that the true path to victory was the reorganization of the Red Guards into the Red Army. Then he asked Makhno his plans, and when Makhno said he was going home, illegally, commented that the Anarchists had plenty of fanaticism and self-sacrifice but they were short-sighted; they neglected the present for the far-distant future. Turning back to Makhno he said he must not take this too hardly: he (Makhno) was a good man, and if only a third of the Russian Anarchists were like him the Bolsheviks would 'on certain conditions' be prepared to go a long way with them in the free organization of production.
Makhno records that he was uncomfortably conscious of coming under the spell of Lenin's personality: he was beginning to feel reverence for the man he knew to be most responsible for the drive against the Anarchists. He protested that Anarchists were thorough revolutionaries. Lenin said, 'We know the Anarchists as well as you. They all think only of the distant future and pay no regard to the practical problems of the present.' Makhno replied that he was a simple, ill-educated peasant. He could not properly argue with a man like Lenin. But it was quite untrue that the Anarchists did not concern themselves with present realities. The whole revolutionary struggle in the villages against the Kiev Rada had been carried on by the Anarchists and a few S.R.s. There were no Bolsheviks in the villages and if there were any they had no influence. It was the Anarchists who had done the fighting.
Makhno tecords his feeling of frustration at this interview— he realized the enormous opportunities offered to him and he could not take them. He could not properly express himself.
Finally Lenin asked if he would like help for his journey home • Makhno said he would, and Sverdlov on Lenin's instructions telephoned to a certain Karpenko. Lenin told Makhno to take this as evidence that, after all, he was not so ill-disposed towards the Anarchists; he should go and see Karpenko who would help him across the frontier.Makhno: 'What frontier?'
Lenin: 'Don't you know that a frontier has been established between the Ukraine and Russia?'
Makhno: 'And you consider the Ukraine as Soviet Russia?'
Lenin: 'To consider is one thing, to see is another.'
In due course the Bolshevik organization in charge of illegal frontier crossings provided Makhno with a false passport in the name of Ivan Yakovliev Shepel, school-teacher and reserve officer from near Taganrog. On June 29th, Arshinov came with him to the station and saw him off. After a long, slow journey the train reached Kursk, and then Belenikino, which was the terminal. The little station was crowded with refugees, one or two from Gulyai-Polye who told Makhno that in his absence his mother's house had been burned down, one of his brothers executed and another lodged in Aleksandrovsk gaol. He hired a cab to take him across no-man's-land and reached Belgorod without incident. He found a secluded spot and put on the Ukrainian officer's uniform that had been given to him to match his passport.
Events had seen to it that the date Makhno had fixed back in Taganrog for his rendezvous with the Ukrainian Revolution was well timed. As has been mentioned, the bulk of the peasantry, in spite of Makhno's brave words to Lenin, had offered no resistance to the Rada and the German armies. In a large number of villages the invaders had been welcomed. Even the return of the landlords in their wake did not in itself make for large-scale disturbances. Reports reaching Soviet Russia tended to show that most of the peasants could have been induced to pay a small rent for the land they had taken over. But the landlords were greedy: they wanted the harvest, and the peasants were firmly convinced that the crops they had themselves sown and harvested were their personal property. On top of this came the special agreements between Kiev and the Central Powers for the bulk delivery of grain and other foodstuffs. The peasants tried to cheat. When that failed they started burning barns and sabotaging transport. There were isolated cases of small bands offering armed resistance.
In their occupation of western Russia, German troops held the northern and central areas, the whole of the territory bordering on Soviet Russia as far as the Don, and the Crimea and Tauride province in the south. The Roumanians were west of Odessa. In between, holding most of the Ekaterinoslav and Kherson provinces, were the Austro-Hungarians. It was with the latter that Makhno had mainly to do during the first few months of his activity.
The final stages of his journey back were precarious. The authorities got wind of his return and he had to jump the train to avoid arrest. He made his way on foot to a village some twenty kilometres from Gulyai-Polye where he had friends who would hide him, and there established his conspiratorial headquarters. On July 4th he issued his first secret circular, made out in ten copies and passed by safe hand to peasants he knew he could trust: in it he announced his return and warned recipients to be ready to act. An immediate reply from Gulyai-Polye urged him not to come back to the village. There was an Austrian garrison. The place was full of spies and all members of the former Soviet were under arrest. The Jews had betrayed the village back in April, and now it was the young Jews who were hunting down the revolutionaries and the Jewish bourgeoisie was encouraging them.
Makhno was worried at this evidence of anti-Semitism. His people were making the Jews to be the scapegoat of past misfortunes and the excuse for present inaction. He wrote that while the rich Jews would naturally side with the invaders against the Anarchists the poorer Jews were the peasants' friends and allies. He also composed a second circular, dated July 2nd, outlining the programme to be undertaken. Peasants must first organize, so that every small village and every quarter of each big village had its own proper fighting squad. When the squads were formed they should watch for the opportunity to start small-scale action against isolated landowners.
He continued to receive messages warning him against coming to Gulyai-Polye; his presence would inevitably become known and provoke reprisals on the poorer peasants. But he was tired of inaction. One night, escorted by two armed peasants, he arrived at the cottage of a widow on the outskirts of Gulyai-Polye. Children were sent round with messages, and all through the small hours his old friends collected in the cottage. There were many absentees—dead, deported or in prison. Of those that turned up most were dispirited; some of them urged him to leave; a few were anxious to help. He remained in hiding for three or four nights and organized some 'initiatory groups' of three to five men under his own orders. But then came news that in some of the neighbouring villages the recipients of his first circular had understood it to be a signal to act: peasants had staged some premature and ineffective attacks on landowners' houses. The authorities were alerted and there was a wave of arrests and house-searches in Gulyai-Polye itself. The pessimists seemed to have been justified. Makhno was smuggled out of the village and went into hiding with some distant cousins at Ternovka, a village fifty miles away.
If Gulyai-Polye was the Mecca of the Makhnovite movement Ternovka has some claims to be its Medina. There was plenty of fighting spirit in the village; also a small stock of arms, left behind in the spring by the retreating Red Guards and carefully hidden. Makhno organized the young men into squads. A few weeks later, as more and more evidence came in of peasant unrest, he issued the slogan 'Death to all who with the aid of German-Austrian-Hetmanite bayonets remove from peasants and workers the conquests of their Revolution', and initiated a series of attacks on landlords' country houses. Some landlords were killed, as were any guards who might be stationed there; others abandoned their properties and went off to the garrison towns to await the restoration of order. Makhno's raids covered an ever wider range, more and more volunteers joined up with his band and in mid-September he felt his resources were adequate for an attack on Gulyai-Polye. On the march towards the village he surprised and disarmed two Hetmanite detachments and thus came into possession of sufficient Hetmanite army and militia caps and overcoats to disguise his little army. For four days the Makhnovites operated in a circle of about thirty miles round Gulyai-Polye. The Austrian authorities were warned of their approach. Punitive expeditions came after them, missed them, took reprisals on the villages and the young villagers ran away to join up with the insurgents. One night Makhno with a fighting patrol ran into a company of Austrians, who took them to be Hetmanite militia so that they were able to withhold their fire until point-blank range. The Austrian company commander was among those killed. The prisoners included three Galicians who were sent back to their battalion with a letter dictated by Makhno and addressed to the Austrian rank and file: these were told to shoot their officers and make their way home to start a revolution there—otherwise they would be killed by the Ukrainian revolutionaries. A problem after this little battle was the disposal of the Austrian corpses, which, if found, would provoke reprisals on the local villagers; so a squad of peasants was called out to cart them and dump them on the nearest landlord's property.
Peasants were now rallying to Makhno in hundreds, some with rifles, *some without. There were continual councils of war as to the next move, and a wide variety of opinion. Some wanted to launch an attack on Gulyai-Polye, others to disperse and ^stigate a general rising in the villages all round. The very uncertainty and constant change of insurgent plans added to the difficulties of the Austrian Intelligence, and in the event on the night the attack was staged most of the troops had been sent off on various false scents. The attack was successful: only the garrison headquarters staff managed to get away in the darkness and confusion. The Makhnovites seized the post office, the printing press and the railway station (which was some miles out of the centre of the village). Old scores were paid. Hundreds of leaflets were rolled off calling on the peasants to rally to the revolution.
It was one thing to seize Gulyai-Polye, but quite another to hold it. Some of the hotheads wished to hold on at all costs, but Makhno*realized he had no prospect of successfully defending the village against regular troops. When news was received from the local stationmaster of the approach of enemy troop trains, Makhno moved out his little army; fought a successful rearguard action; undertook a forced march of eighty miles and then paused to refit.
The successful seizure and evacuation of Gulyai-Polye was Makhno's first important military operation. The second was the engagement at Dibrivka which took place a few days later. While at rest in the forest near this village he was joined by another insurgent force under one Shchus, whom he had met during the fighting in the spring and who had attended the Taganrog congress. The combined army now totalled nearly i ,500 men. Makhno planned a long-range raid (of which he was later to conduct so many) across the southern Ukraine to the Sea of Azov. One problem was that a number of Shchus's men were wounded, but these had found girls in the village, and when the girls heard of the proposed expedition they all volunteered to ride with their men with the army on peasant carts and look after them en route.
There were busy days of preparation. It was here that the , Makhnovite pattern of feeding the army first took shape. At a mass meeting the peasants would indicate the richest households. These (not unnaturally) would agree to provide one sheep each. All peasants gave bread, according to their capacity. There was recruiting: but no volunteers were accepted over and above those for whom arms were available; the others were put on a register. And there were continuous mass meetings and speeches at which Makhno was at pains to emphasize the danger not only from the Hetman and the Germans but also from the White generals in the south-east.
And then one night the Austrians attacked. A few partisans held up their advance while the wounded were loaded on to carts and taken off to the forest. The villagers panicked and implored Makhno not to retreat, but he knew that withdrawal was essential. All that night and most of the next day his men hid in the forest. Then, when the enemy were reported to be on parade in the main square they launched their counter-attack. They moved in surreptitiously, in small groups. One girl tried to give the alarm, but she was caught and knocked on the head to stop her screaming. The partisans climbed over the back walls and occupied the shops and houses overlooking the square. The enemy troops were resting. Their rifles were stacked; some men were lying down. Makhno opened fire at eighty yards' range. It was a massacre rather than a battle. Some of the enemy got away. Some barricaded themselves in houses, and the houses were set on fire. The village woke up 'like an ant heap'. Peasants swarmed out of the houses with axes and hammers, chasing after the fugitives and beating the prisoners. There had been one Austrian battalion, detachments of Hetmanite and German colonist volunteers and a contingent of militia. Makhno saved some twenty Austrians from lynching, tied up their wounds, fed them and sent them off to tell the story to their companions. All other prisoners were killed, as was the girl who had tried to give the alarm. Next day Austrian reinforcements arrived with a number of field guns. The makhnovtsi were shelled out of the village and shelled again when jthey took up positions in the forest. Makhno and Shchus were both hit, Shchus seriously. Frightened peasants streamed after them out of the village. But Makhno had no means of helping the peasants. He had no alternative but to withdraw again, this time right out of the area. Next night, already miles away, he could see the glow in the sky from the burning houses of Dibrivka.
In the next three weeks Makhno's raids covered many hundreds of miles, and were marked by an extreme ferocity. The slogan was 'Death, death, death to all on the side of the Hetman'. He wrote afterwards that this was 'not a slogan thought out by those that sit in offices . . . but dictated by factual reality'. His detachments operated round Berdyansk, Maryupol and Pavlo-grad, exterminating landlords and militia. His main force once came up against a Hungarian battalion and was badly mauled; he told his partisans they would have to learn to fight like Magyars. But mostly he was able to avoid the occupying armies who were tending more and more to concentrate in the urban centres and big railway junctions.
The sphere and scope of his operations widened. He felt himself no longer a mere guerrilla leader but, once again, the instrument of a social revolution. The policy of vengeance and destruction was ceasing to be adequate. The revolution must build up its stores of arms, horses, money and essential supplies. Measures were thought out, and approved at a mass meeting of the insurgent army, tor a system of organized requisitions. Revolutionary Tribunals were set up; public enemies were no longer to be shot out of hand but to be ' executed publicly after some show of court proceedings. The main insurgent army came to be followed by a long column of carts carrying cash and stores, and it was now possible to offer immediate relief to any^destitute villages on the route.
In early October the Austrians evacuated Gulyai-Polye and the insurgent army marched in, this time to stay there, except for one brief interval, for some months. Makhno's first act was to send an ultimatum to the (Hetmanite) Town Commandant of Aleksandrovsk, demanding the release of all the prison inmates. When, eventually, the Gulyai-Polye Anarchists (including Makhno's brother) came back home they were given a resounding welcome and afforded a much-needed reinforcement of the military and administrative staffs.
Makhno was in the field when the momentous news came from Kiev that Hetman Skoropadsky was no longer in power and that a Directory, of the same political colour and largely of the same personnel as the former Rada, had assumed the government of the Ukraine. There was much jubilation among the peasants, but Makhno had misgivings. He regarded the Directory, as he had regarded the Rada, as an instrument of bourgeois chauvinism. At the same time there was need for caution: his infant revolution had already a great many enemies and not nearly sufficient armed forces. When he returned to Gulyai-Polye there were days of anxious deliberation as to the policy to be adopted. Makhno's own account of this period is incomplete; he was a dying man when he reached this stage of his memoirs and there are long gaps in his record. But it is certain that at one stage a decision was made to maintain, for the moment, an attitude of cautious neutrality; and that a few days later the decision was reversed in favour of war. Makhno's memoirs give no indication of the reason for this change. It may have been the hope of coming to some working alliance with the Bolsheviks.
In the late autumn and winter of 1918 the Red Army's counter-offensive on the Eastern front of the Civil War carried Bolshevik power as far as Ufa and Orenburg. But in the south the Red offensive against the Cossacks and the White Volunteer Army petered out: there were disturbances in the Red rear and disaffection among certain subordinate Red commanders. In addition the Red troops were badly hit by typhus. In November, Denikin captured Stavropol and a few weeks later the north Caucasian Red army was completely broken.
In the Ukraine the withdrawal of the German and Austro-Hungarian occupation armies meant the removal of the one force capable of enforcing some kind of order. In the coastal area and the Crimea a number of weak and transient local authorities came into being; Denikin sent his representatives to the main centres, and the French were soon to land in some force. At Kiev the Directory made desperate efforts to raise and maintain an army capable of defending its existence. The Bolsheviks made ready to stage a second invasion. In the interior, throughout the countryside, there operated a wide variety of petty war lords and band leaders, some with nationalist or political slogans and some mere bandits. Makhno's position was exceptional on account of the strengf of his army, of the hold he had established on the loyalty of th peasants of his area, and of the nature of his political ideals and programme.
The German-Austrian retirement offered Makhno a unique opportunity to build up a reserve of arms and stores, and his memoirs are full of incidents with German retreating units. There was some fighting. There was a good deal of negotiation, and a fair amount of doublecrossing. These few weeks saw an appreciable increase both in the effective strength of the Makhnovite Army and in Makhno's own personal reputation. This last was no longer merely local. In the Soviet Russian Press he came to be frequently and favourably featured as a true revolutionary fighter. In mid-December, 1918, he received and accepted an invitation from the underground Bolshevik committee at Ekaterinoslav to take part in an attempt to seize the town from the Petlurist garrison and to assume command of all the insurgent forces.
Makhno brought up his troops at night to a working-class suburb on the west bank of the Dnieper, and they came into town, their arms concealed under their great-coats, on an early morning workmen's train. The station was seized at once. Some Bolshevik workers' detachments and a few S.R.s also came into action. A Pethirist^ artillery officer changed sides, with a number of his guns and gun teams. After three or four days of confused fighting the insurgents had occupied the greater part of the town. Makhno seized the prison and released the inmates; he arrested and shot the prosecutor who had secured his conviction ten years before; and he issued proclamations forbidding looting. A new Soviet was installed as the governing authority, but it functioned for only twenty-four hours as the Petlurists brought up reinforcements and the Makhnovites were forced to withdraw. A few days later the Red Army pressed out the Petlurists.
We have an account of the fighting in Ekaterinoslav from a professor of law at the University, who with his wife occupied one floor in a house overlooking a square that became a no-man's-land between the opposing forces. Shells screamed overhead, and spent bullets pattered down on the roof. The unbellicose occupants of the professor's house gathered together in the first floor, which seemed to them to be the least unsafe, and 'waited in silence for death'. On the evening of the fourth day the shooting died down. Then there was knocking, and some ten men pushed in through the street door, insisting that they required the house. The landlord pleaded and argued: eventually they agreed to take the front rooms and leave the back to the residents. So the residents retired to the back, but their visitors pushed in after them and more crowded in from the street. A meal had been laid on the table and the partisans sat down to it; the ladies of the house made haste to serve them.
They were members of a Makhnovite machine-gun section. Their dress was varied—uniforms of every kind, peasant dress; some wore expensive civilian fur coats. All were armed to the teeth and hung about with hand-grenades. One, who was very drunk, kept giving accounts of the bourgeoisie he had shot. 'They were very stupid,' he said. 'They squeaked all the time.' The men were not unfriendly. One produced a pair of stockings which he offered to the professor's wife. She was convinced they had just been pulled off a dead woman's legs and refused in horror: there was an ugly moment, but the landlord accepted them on behalf of his daughter. One elderly peasant was awestruck at the splendour of the first urban interior he had ever seen, and offered formal thanks between each mouthful.
The commander of the detachment joined them. He would not eat or drink, but he sat at the table and talked. He was anti-Semite. He described his leader Makhno as 'a real Communist, not like the Petlurists who have sold themselves to the Jews'. He went on to explain that when they occupied a town Makhno allowed his men to take one pair of whatever he needed, provided the man could carry it himself. Whoever took more than that was shot. Peaceful inhabitants need not be frightened, as the Makhnovites only killed Germans and Jews; these, after all, were the main bourgeois.
In due course the squad went on to relieve their companions. The commander gave permission for the door between the front and back rooms to be bolted. During the night men came in and rattled at the inner door. In the square in front there was intermitent shouting and bursts of machine-gun fire. Next morning it was quiet with the men at their posts in the square. In the front room a cupboard had been broken open and all the linen stolen, and a sack of hand-grenades was lying under a bed. The landlord called to a partisan who came and collected the bombs. When, later, firing began again it was from the Petlurist reinforcements, and the Makhnovites retreated.
After the fighting at Ekaterinoslav the Makhnovtsi went back towards Gulyai-Polye. For the first few weeks of 1919 the advancing Red Armies by-passed this area, where Makhno and his staff went ahead with their work of military and social organization. This period saw the beginnings of what might be called the Makhnovite Government in that two Congresses were held, the first in January at Velikaya Mikhailovka and the second three weeks later at Gulyai-Polye. They were composed of delegates of peasants, workers and of the insurgent army, and were intended to clarify and record the decisions of the toiling masses and to be regarded as the supreme authority for the liberated area. This area, for the time being, was exclusively rural and the workers' representation was insignificant. Peasant delegates, however, came in from thirty-two volosts.
There were rousing revolutionary speeches, and tirades against European and American imperialists and their instruments such as Denikin, Kolchak and Petlura. There was also in the general resolution a warning: 'With deep regret the Congress must also declare that apart from external enemies a perhaps even greater danger, arising from its internal shortcomings, threatens the Revolution of the Russian and Ukrainian peasants and workers. The Soviet Governments of Russia and of the Ukraine, by their orders and decrees, are making efforts to deprive local Soviets of peasants and workers' deputies of their freedom and autonomy.' The Bolshevik Party, the resolution went on, was 'demanding a monopoly of the Revolution'. .
The main civil achievement was the establishment of a Regional Revolutionary Military Soviet of Peasants, Workers and Insurgents, a permanent committee with no powers to initiate policy but designed merely to implement the decisions of the periodic congresses. Otherwise the re-establishment of the former agricultural communes was approved. A resolution was passed urging the setting up of 'free', i.e. non-political, Soviets of toilers in all districts; and another urging 'direct union' between peasants in the country and workers in the towns. This last remained academic; communications were too bad and there was too great a variety of military occupation to allow any real contact between villagers and big town labour. But the Makhnovites did at least make the considerable gesture of dispatching a large consignment of grain to the hungry factory workers of Petrograd and Moscow.
However, the main emphasis of the two Congresses was upon defence. Makhno had learned the lesson of the spring of 1918: a social revolution must have an effective military force to protect it. All'through the early weeks of 1919 Makhnovite detachments were fighting the Whites in the south, and this continuous campaigning was bringing home to Makhno the shortcomings of volunteerism. The flow of volunteers did not dry up: sometimes there were more than he could arm. But it was spasmodic and unpredictable. Individuals and groups were apt to get tired of the war and return to their homes. It was essential to put the manpower question on a regular basis.
Accordingly, at Makhno's insistence, the second Congress passed a resolution in favour of 'general, voluntary and egalitarian mobilization'. The orthodox Anarchist line, expressed at an Anarchist gathering of this period, was that 'no compulsory army . . . can be regarded as a true defender of the social revolution', and debate ranged round the issue as to whether enlistment could be described as 'voluntary' (whatever the feelings of individuals) if it took place as the result of a resolution voluntarily passed by representatives of the community as a whole. Makhno gained his point. A Soviet writer (Kubanin) suggests that the issue proved that Makhno knew his peasants better than did the Anarchist intellectuals: peasants held back from volunteering because they knew that the Whites shot all Red volunteers. As mobilized men they would be safer.
The first contact between Makhno's staff and that of Dybenko, the local Red Army commander, took place at the end of February. Relations were friendly. Each side needed the military alliance. Makhno continued to be featured in the Soviet Press as a champion of the toiling masses. When the Red Army proposed, in March, a unification of military forces against Denikin (now in supreme command of all the Whites in the south), it took little time to come to an agreement.
This first of the three agreements to be negotiated by Makhno with the Bolsheviks laid down that the Makhnovite Army was to maintain its own internal organization, but would be subordinate for operational purposes to the Red Army Higher Command, and would furthermore accept Red Army nominees as Political Commissars down to regimental level. It was to receive, from the Bolsheviks, arms and supplies on the same level as the neighbouring Red Army units. It was to keep its name of Insurgent Army [later it was to adopt the title of 'Insurgent Revolutionary Army of the Ukraine (Makhnovites)'] and to retain its (Anarchist) black flags. Nothing was said about the civil administration of the areas of Makhnovite occupation.
The agreement with Makhno marked the beginning of a number of Red successes in the south. In late March, Grigoriev (an ex-Tsarist officer who had served the Petlurists and then defected with his partisan army to the Bolsheviks) captured Kherson. In April the French hurriedly evacuated Odessa and the Reds marched in. The same month the Red Army occupied the Crimea. But, in spite of this, the Bolsheviks were meeting difficulties in their attempts to assimilate and reintegrate the newly reoccupied southern provinces. Bolshevik policy, while approving the distribution to the poorer peasants of some of the landowners' estates, laid down that the rest was to be administered as State farms. Vineyards and sugar-beet plantations were to be State property, as was all livestock and equipment belonging to the dispossessed gentry. The peasants, on the other hand, maintained that all property of the former landlords was now by right their own, as had been arranged at Gulyai-Polye (Makhno's agricultural communes had been entirely voluntary). Furthermore, the Red Armies lived off the country and that meant requisitions and mobilization orders. Red commissars and Cheka officials (who often happened to be Jews) soon became objects of hatred. Bolshevik Party organization and propaganda was weak enough in most of the towns, and non-existent in the rural areas. Attempts were already being made to form committees of poor peasants, but these were ineffective. Poor peasants had no time for committees which were often packed with kulaks. In any case there was little incentive for the poorer peasant to co-operate with his new rulers. The villagers, rich and poor alike, were united in their opposition. Some of them believed that a new party had come into power in Moscow. They were, they proclaimed, for the Bolsheviks I who had given them the land, but they were against the Communists who were now trying to rob them. Recent experience seemed to have shown that authority could be successfully resisted and throughout the area there were refusals to deliver, arsons, lynchings, and action by armed bands. Trouble began to spread to the locally recruited Red units. The Second Ukrainian Red Army Division was confidentially reported to be riddled with indiscipline, drunkenness, card-playing, anti-Communism, anti-Semitism, pro-Makhno and Black Flag slogans.
The reference to the Black Flag is not isolated. Anarchist influence was reported from Aleksandrovsk and other centres. Anarchists were holding a conference in Kursk at about this time and in one of their resolutions it was stated that 'the Ukrainian Revolution will have great chances of rapidly becoming Anarchist in its ideas'. The position called for renewed Bolshevik measures against the Anarchists. Nabat, the main Anarchist newspaper in the Ukraine, was suppressed, and its editorial board dispersed under threat of arrest. Some of them came to Makhno at Gulyai-Polye; Voline, the most eminent intellectual, was delayed en route but arrived there in the summer and was elected chairman of the Revolutionary Military Soviet. Arshinov had already arrived (in April) from Moscow and had assumed charge of Makhnovite education and propaganda. There was some justification for suspecting Gulyai-Polye of becoming a centre of ideological opposition.
Relations between Bolsheviks and Makhnovites were already deteriorating when in April the Revolutionary Military Soviet at Gulyai-Polye convoked the Third Congress of Peasants, Workers and Insurgents. When the Congress was in session a telegram was received from Dybenko denouncing it as counterrevolutionary. Makhno was away at the front; but the newly arrived intellectuals sent back a long reply, arguing out that the Congress was the expression of the will of the toiling masses. Meanwhile military co-operation continued. Antonov-Ovseenko paid a friendly visit to the Makhnovite headquarters on April 29th, and S. S. Kamenev on May 4th. Kamenev suggested that it might be wise to dissolve the Revolutionary Military Soviet; he was told that unlike similarly titled bodies elsewhere, which were instruments of a political party, the local R.M.S. was the creation of the people themselves.
It was now that favourable mention of Makhno ceased to appear in the Soviet press; an increasingly critical note became apparent. Supplies failed to get through to Makhno-vite units and areas. It may be significant that Trotsky (to whom Makhno's ideas and methods were bound to be anathema) was now paying more personal attention to the southern front. But in May the whole military position was completely changed when Grigoriev, main Soviet commander in the southwest, staged a revolt against his Bolshevik masters and proclaimed himself Ataman of Kherson and the Tauride.
Red garrisons in some centres remained true to Moscow; in others they declared themselves neutral. Many Soviet troops came over to Grigoriev. The peasants (in so far as they counted) were anti-Bolshevik. The Soviet south-western front collapsed, and it seemed possible that if Makhno defected the southeastern front would collapse as well. On May 12th Kamenev telegraphed the news of Grigoriev's revolt to Makhno: 'The decisive moment has come—either you stand with the workers and peasants of all Russia, or you in fact open the front to the enemy ... I rely on your revolutionary honour.' Makhno replied that he did not know what were Grigoriev's intentions: if he were trying to set up a government he was a common adventurer. Meanwhile, the Makhnovite Army remained 'unchangeably true to the Revolution of the Peasants and Workers, but not to instruments of violence like your Commissars and Chekas'. At the same time he issued a general order to his troops facing Denikin: all at the front should stand fast, without regard to the quarrels between the Bolsheviks and Grigoriev. However, it soon became apparent that Grigoriev was not an important factor. His troops carried out savage pogroms and considerable looting; but he had no constructive ability and was unable to keep his army together. Within a few weeks he was little more than a bandit leader with some two or three thousand guerrillas. The Bolsheviks once more felt able to take a firmer line.
In the latter part of May the Cheka sent over two agents to assassinate Makhno; one lost his nerve and confessed to the Insurgent razvedka. Both were executed. By this time the secret services both of the Makhnovites and the Soviet authorities were busy penetrating the opposite party—a state of affairs which lasted till 1921. Makhno received warning not to venture into any Bolshevik-held town. The Red hold-back of supplies for the Insurgents developed into a blockade of the area. Makhnovite units at the front ran short of ammunition. (Makhno's people, incidentally, never learned to conserve their arms or munitions; despite the huge stocks they acquired by one means or another they were always running short.)
The cause of the open break was a decision to convoke a Fourth Congress of Peasants', Workers' and Insurgents' Representatives at Gulyai-Polye. The deterioration in relations with the Bolsheviks had coincided with the onset of Denikin's big spring offensive: and the R.M.S. announced on May 30th that the situation was such that 'it could be handled only by the toiling masses themselves and not by individual persons or political parties'. The rank and file of the Red Army were publicly invited to send representatives on the same basis as the Makhnovite units.
Trotsky, then at Kharkov, may or may not have been informed of the text of the convocation when he wrote the denunciation of Makhnovshchina in his train newspaper Ma Puti on June 2nd. In any case, the approach to the Red Army rank and file (whose dubious loyalty had been shown up in the Grigoriev affair) called for far more drastic measures. Order No. 1824, signed by Trotsky at Kharkov on June 4th, forbade the holding of the Congress, declared that any participation amounted to high treason against the Soviet State and ordered the arrest of all delegates and all concerned with the distribution of the invitations. There is reason to believe that a further (secret) order called for the arrest of Makhno.
No copy of Order No. 1824 was sent direct to Makhno. Meanwhile, the White offensive was gathering momentum. Gulyai-Polye was captured by Cossacks on June 6th. The following day a Red Army armoured train was sent to Makhno as a reinforcement, with a message that his units were expected to resist to the end; and he himself received an invitation to come and confer with Voroshilov and Mezhlauk at their headquarters. By this time Makhno was in possession of Order 1824 and of a subsequent order under which he was to hand over his command. On June gth he sent off a long telegram to Voroshilov with copies to Lenin and to Trotsky. He rebutted the charges made against him, maintained that the Bolsheviks found Insurgent methods to be incompatible with their dictatorship, but added that in view of the gravity of the situation and of Bolshevik hostility to himself he proposed to resign from his command.
It is difficult, on the evidence available, to trace the exact sequence of events in this confused period. But in.any case Makhno went to Aleksandrovsk and handed over his command to a Red Army officer temporarily out of touch with Kharkov. He instructed the commanders of his units in Red Army formations to remain at their posts. He himself with a small force of picked cavalry crossed the Dnieper. While on the east of the river the Bolsheviks were losing successively Ekaterinoslav and Kharkov, Makhno, on the right bank, was fighting small engagements with any Red units that opposed him, liquidating Bolshevik and Cheka organizations in the villages, and encouraging the peasants to form free Soviets. Towards the end of the month he came into contact with Grigoriev.
Makhno believed Grigoriev to be an adventurer, and therefore a counter-revolutionary (as all adventurers were ipso facto counter-revolutionary). At the same time he was more than ever obsessed with the necessity of building up his army and he felt the Grigoriev force contained good potential material. He therefore agreed to hold a conference, and in mid-July Grigoriev arrived at Makhno's headquarters. He made a bad first impression by commenting adversely on the Jews there, and followed this up by his attitude throughout the conference. The Makhnovites held that the object of joint action was to fight against the Whites and the Bolsheviks, but that to fight the Bolsheviks was a counter-revolutionary act unless this was done in the name of the Social Revolution. Grigoriev's line was that the Bolsheviks and the Petlurists were swine: he had had experience of them and he knew. He implied it would be admissible to join up with any ally against the Bolsheviks. As for the Whites, he had had no experience of them and so did not know what they were like.
The association was a brief one. Two White Army emissaries called at Makhno's headquarters with a letter for Grigoriev. The emissaries were discreetly liquidated, and a few hours later Grigoriev and his bodyguard were shot at a private meeting by members of Makhno's staff. A subsequent joint congress of both armies was harangued by Makhno and his senior officers, and approved of what had taken place on the ground that it was 'historically necessary'. All partisan detachments formerly under Grigoriev were incorporated in the common Insurgent Makhnovite Army.
The Makhnovite propagandists gave the fullest publicity to the execution of Grigoriev, and a copy of the circular telegram announcing the event was sent to the Kremlin in Moscow. The accretion of military strength was not, however, as great as Makhno had hoped. The Grigorievtsi had seen little serious fighting for many weeks, and unlimited looting, pogroms and drunkenness had demoralized them. As Voline puts it 'they were ignorant, and, having contracted bad habits during their time with Grigoriev, they were unable to raise themselves to the moral level of the Makhnovite partisans'.
The summer of 1919 was one of sustained military disaster for the Soviet Armies in the south. Denikin's advance was continuous. In July the Red Army had to be pulled out of the Crimea. In August Denikin captured Kherson, Nikolaev and Odessa along the Black Sea coast, and Kiev to the north. Further east, General Mamontov started his spectacular raid behind the Red lines. Arshinov records Makhno's 'disgust' at Bolshevik feebleness. Indeed, the general picture was reminiscent of the early months of 1918 when the Germans were advancing. The Red Armies in the south, ineffective and demoralized, seemed to be disintegrating. In July Makhno sent messages to his former units now with the Red Armies that they should return. Most of them joined up with him near Elizavetgrad in August. A number of Red Army soldiers came with them. Makhno spent a few days reorganizing his force, which now amounted to more than 15,000 with four infantry brigades, one cavalry brigade, a detachment of artillery and a special machine-gun regiment equipped with five hundred machine-guns.
The inception of this new phase of his activities was marked by the issue of his Order No. 1 of August 5th, 1919. This laid down the general principles for Insurgent conduct. Their enemies were listed as the rich bourgeoisie—whether Russian, Ukrainian or Jewish—furthermore, all those who upheld an unjust social order of a bourgeois nature such as Bolshevik Commissars, the Cheka, or members of punitive detachments. All these last were to be arrested and sent to headquarters or shot on the spot if they tried to resist. Insurgents must renounce any consideration of personal profit: there must be no beating up or robbing of peaceful Jews; there must be no arbitrary or independent requisitioning. Behaviour must be orderly and disciplined. Drunkenness was a crime, especially to be seen drunk in the streets. An insurgent must always be ready for battle; but he must be considerate to the local population. Following the issue of this order the Insurgent Army captured Elizavetgrad from the Whites and pressed on towards Odessa.
There is good evidence that the Whites soon came to regard Makhno's new army as their toughest immediate opponent. Special troops were detailed for use against him—officers' battalions and picked cavalry, whose fighting qualities earned Makhno's respect. There was a set battle to the north of Odessa and the Insurgents were beaten: their opponents were in too great strength, and, as always, they themselves ran short of ammunition. White pressure increased, and Makhno was forced to retire northwards and then north-westwards.
Voline, who took part in it, has left a vivid picture of the retreat of the main column through the heat and dust of an exceptionally dry autumn. The cavalry were away to the rear or on the flanks, in almost continuous brushes with White patrols. The infantry were carried in two-horse peasant carts (tachankas)—two partisans and a driver on each—the first cart of all bearing the black flag with the slogans 'Liberty or Death' and 'Land for the Peasants, Factories for the Workers'. There were innumerable carts carrying wounded, and the column was swelled by peasant families, with all their belongings and livestock—refugees from White brutalities.
One attempt was made to make a stand, but the enemy was too strong and the retreat continued. In late September the column made contact with a strong Petlurist force near Uman and Peregonovka. The Whites were hard on their heels and the position was critical. Negotiations were started with the Pet-lurists, with the inevitable reserves and suspicions on both sides. An agreement was reached by which the Petlurists undertook to take care of Makhno's wounded and to observe neutrality as between him and the Whites. The Makhnovites at once attempted to win over the Petlurist rank and file, and leaflets were hurriedly printed on the portable press and distributed. But before any effect became apparent Makhno received secret information that the Petlurists were negotiating behind his back with the White Command. He was completely surrounded.
On September 26th he launched a counter-attack with all his force against the White positions. It was the bloodiest engagement of all Makhno's campaigns. After twenty-four hours of fighting the Whites were beaten (they lost twenty guns and a hundred and twenty machine-guns), and the Insurgents were driving westwards. The speed of their advance, through the thinly held White rear, is almost incredible. Within a fortnight they successively captured Krivoi Rog, Nikopol, Aleksandrovsk, Gulyai-Polye; and Melitpol, Berdyansk and Mariupol on the Sea of Azov. On October 20th they took Ekaterinoslav. There is some justification for the claim that Peregonovka was one of the decisive battles of the Civil War in the south.
The three or four months from October, 1919, marked the peak of Makhno's career. Denikin's White armies were committed to the supreme gamble of the drive towards Moscow, reaching Orel, their furthest point north, shortly after Makhno's breakout at Peregonovka. But the Whites had failed to build up reserves, and there were no troops available effectively to hold the rear areas. To dislodge Makhno from one centre entailed withdrawing the garrison from another. During these weeks many towns changed hands several times. The operations covered almost the whole area of the White communications. Huge stocks of stores were seized when Makhno captured the big railway junctions, and the supply lines from the Black Sea ports to the Whites in the north were cut again and again.
Makhno was not the only guerrilla leader operating against Denikin; there were a number of smaller bands, some proclaiming themselves pro-Makhno, some pro-Petlurist. But these were insignificant in comparison with the Makhnovites, who for some months constituted what amounted to a free republic covering most of the southern Ukraine. The peasants were solidly behind Makhno; the State farm system and the enforced grain collections had made them anti-Soviet, and the behaviour of the Whites had made them even more anti-Denikin. Soviet attempts to split the peasantry and isolate the kulak had so far failed. Back in February the Gulyai-Polye Congress had declared 'it is essential not to split the toilers into parties and into mutually hostile groups . . . ways and means of our new agricultural order must be devised by the free and natural decision and initiative of the peasantry as a whole'. The existence of kulachestvo was recognized, but that, it was felt, was a problem that would solve itself in the course of time. At the end of the year the general feeling in the villages was still very ready to support this Makhnovite line.
Makhno and his Revolutionary Military Soviet had no need for misgivings regarding the villagers. The towns, however, presented a more complicated, but extremely important, problem. In early October when Makhno's partisans were approaching Berdyansk he issued an order: 'Comrade Insurgents ! Every day that passes sees an extension of the area of activity of the Revolutionary Insurgent Army. Probably the hour is not far distant when the Insurgents will liberate some or other town from the grip of Denikin. This will be a town [underlined in the original] set free by the Makhnovite Insurgents from any kind of government. This will be a town in which, under the protection of the Revolutionary Insurgents, a free life will spring into being, in which there will grow up a free organization of Workers in union with the Peasants and Insurgents.' A fortnight later, in front of Ekaterinoslav, there appears perhaps to be a note of anxiety in the order of the day: 'The nature of our behaviour in the towns we capture is a question of life and death for the whole of our movement.' In all towns captured notices were posted up to inform the inhabitants that the place was, for the time being, occupied by the Makhnovite Insurgent Revolutionary Army, a force in the service of no government, no political party and no dictatorship. The Army's sole aim was to protect the liberty of the toilers against all. This liberty of the toilers was their own possession and subject to no restriction whatever. It was now for the peasants and workers to organize themselves as they wished. The Army was willing to help and to advise, but would not govern and would not give orders.
The most serious Makhnovite attempt to sponsor free organizations of industrial workers took place at Aleksandrovsk, where two trade union conferences under Insurgent auspices were held in mid-October, 1919. Both Voline and Arshinov, who were there at the time, admit that their practical results were negligible. Arshinov suggests that the workers were bewildered at the novelty of the ideas put to them; also that the town was too near the front. Voline speaks of fears that the town would soon be recaptured either by the Whites or by the Bolsheviks. But in fact the workers were primarily concerned with wages. The railwaymen on the line from Aleksandrovsk to Melitpol had had no pay for weeks. Makhna advised them to come to an equitable understanding with those that used the railway, and recoup themselves out of the proceeds. In point of fact, Makhno did later allot certain funds seized at Ekaterino-slav to paying the railwaymen, but workers in other branches were less fortunate; it was pointless to exhort them to organize a free economic order from below. The only union that made a serious attempt to work on Makhnovite lines was that of the bakers (in which the Anarchists had long had a strong footing): the union appointed a committee of five to draw up a scheme for the socialization of bread grains and for the baking of bread for the whole population.
There was plain speaking at the workers' conferences in Aleksandrovsk and at a further meeting held in Ekaterinoslav. Menshevik speakers were so critical of the Insurgent handling of affairs that Makhno referred to them as 'bourgeois mongrels'. The Mensheviks then left the meeting, the S.R. representatives with them, and a number of trade unions passed resolutions protesting at the insult to the working class. Makhno explained that he was referring only to the Menshevik Party.
Makhnovite ideas on industrial affairs were, of course, Utopian nonsense; but they accentuated their difficulties with the workers by their financial measures. The villages could subsist for long periods on what they produced themselves; but the worker, unless in receipt of rations, must be paid a sufficient wage in an acceptable currency to enable him to cover his basic needs. It was the general practice of the opposing sides in the Civil War to refuse to recognize the enemy's currency (though the Bolsheviks for a time accepted Ukrainian Petlurist roubles). Makhno proclaimed all Russian currencies as valid, and when he levied contributions on monied classes and institutions he would accept currencies annulled by the previous occupant. The result, accentuated by the manoeuvres of the black bourse operators, was a fantastic wave of inflation in which the town worker was the main sufferer.
At the end of October there took place in Aleksandrovsk a General Congress of Peasants, Workers and Insurgents. To prevent manoeuvres by the political parties, election campaigning was forbidden. It was hurriedly convened, and the representation could not claim to cover the whole of the area under Makhnovite influence. Some three hundred delegates were present of whom a hundred and eighty were peasants. There were seventeen worker delegates including eleven Mensheviks and two Bolsheviks (one of the latter was subsequently shot by the Cheka on a charge of spying for Denikin). The workers' delegates played little part in the proceedings.
Matters dealt with included the perennial question of manpower; there was the old argument as to whether or not a 'voluntary' enlistment should be enforced. In the end this Congress also accepted Makhno's plea for a general mobilization in all liberated areas. The maintenance of the Army was discussed, and it was agreed that supplies be obtained by means of free contributions, requisitions from the rich, and war booty. It was decided to hold a further General Congress at an early date in Ekaterinoslav. Finally a resolution was passed to speed up by every means, and in every town and village, the establishment of free Soviets and of free associations and committees for the unconstrained and amicable settlement of all social and economic problems. There were a few doubting voices. A peasant from the Melitpol area asked: 'If there is a bridge between two of our villages and the bridge gets broken, who is to repair it? If neither village wishes to do the work, then we will not have a bridge and we will not be able to go to town.' But such objections did not seem worth taking into account. Voline had laid down months before (in the Kharkov Nabat of March 2nd, 191 9) that for Anarchists there was 'no such thing as determined possibility or determined impossibility', and the simple revolutionaries of the Aleksandrovsk Congress were flushed with victory and filled with the vista of their community of free associations spreading ever wider, over the whole Ukraine, over Soviet Russia, over the West.
At the final session delegates were invited to raise any questions they wished, not excluding grievances or complaints against the Insurgent Army. One delegate pointed out the unsatisfactory state of the medical arrangements; a commission was appointed to inquire and to suggest means of improvement. Another, after some hesitation, complained of irregularities on the part of the Makhnovite razvedka; again a commission was appointed. A third speaker went so far as to complain against no less a person than the commandant of Insurgent troops in Aleksandrovsk, one Klein, who, after pasting the town with notices demanding sobriety, had himself got publicly and riotously drunk. A message was sent to ask Klein to appear before the Congress. Those who knew Klein's forceful and violent personality felt anxious. But when Klein arrived he at once confessed to the charge and expressed his regrets. He was, he said in mitigation, a simple soldier; an administrative post in a town made him bored and frustrated; he wished to go back to the front. The Congress accepted this explanation, and passed a resolution requesting the Makhnovite staff to transfer Klein to a combatant post.
The Makhnovites implemented their promises of freedom of the Press, and soon after their capture of Ekaterinoslav a number of papers began to appear, including organs of Right S.R.s, Left S.R.s and Bolsheviks (Zvezda). The only restriction was in the military field: all papers had to follow the communiques of the Makhnovite Put k Svobode. But while expression was free 'the preparation or organization of enforcement on the masses of any regime affecting their complete freedom' was forbidden. Any serious work by the local Bolshevik cells had thus to be conducted conspiratorially.
That such work was, in fact, undertaken we know from the record of one Miroshevsky, a Communist Party official sent to Ekaterinoslav shortly before the Insurgent Army arrived. Underground work was based on the editorial office of Zvezda. The task was twofold: to work on 'neutral' industrial workers and win them over to the Soviet cause, and to split the Makhno-vites. The policy of instigating class struggle in the villages, of setting the poor peasants against the kulaks was being vigorously and not unsuccessfully pursued in Soviet Russia, and it was for the litde group of Bolsheviks in Ekaterinoslav to prepare the ground, not only in the surrounding villages but also in the ranks of the Insurgent Army. Some progress was made: secret Bolshevik cells were formed in the Insurgent Iron Division, and the Divisional Commander himself, Polonsky, was won over. But the Makhnovite razvedka discovered what was happening and Polonsky and others were arrested. The Bolsheviks instigated an appeal for their trial in open court. This was refused and all were summarily shot. It was the first serious case of treachery that the Makhnovite movement had experienced.
Altogether Makhno's brief stay in the provincial capital was an unhappy one. His hold on the town remained precarious: the Whites were still on the opposite bank of the Dnieper and the town was intermittently shelled by their artillery. The project of a Second General Congress had to be abandoned. The town remained throughout under the control of the officer commanding the troops and the razvedka. Only negligible progress was made with the formation of free associations. But the main feature of the occupation was the full impact of the typhus epidemic upon troops and civilians alike. Makhno himself was soon to fall sick of it. Doctors were pressed into service and desperate attempts were made to organize hospitals: but survivors had nightmare stories to tell of the filth, confusion, lack of medicines and equipment, and appalling death-rate. On the approach of the retreating White armies from the north it was decided to evacuate.
Makhnovite apologists like Arshinov and Voline are extremely sensitive to Bolshevik jibes that neither in Ekaterinoslav nor anywhere else did the movement show any constructive achievement. Their answer is that they never had time for it: they were always being forced out of their centres by some greatly superior enemy army. Military considerations were paramount, and often incompatible with civilian aspirations: Voline, with his strict Anarchist conscience, went so far as to lay down that 'Every army, of any kind, is an evil'.
As we have seen, the movement now included some Anarchist intellectuals. Arshinov had arrived early in 1919 and started the newspaper Put k Svobode. In June the Federation of Anarchist Organizations in the Ukraine, much harried by the Bolsheviks, had decided to shift their headquarters to Makhno's area. This coincided with the Bolshevik break with Makhno and with Denikin's summer advance. Voline did not reach Makhno till August, and some of his colleagues never got through at all. Of those that did succeed in arriving only Voline and Arshinov remained loyal to Makhno to the end; the others, in a few months, found it impossible to reconcile Anarchist theory with partisan practice and left him. But for a time at least the weekly journal JVabat, the most important Anarchist organ in the Ukraine, was edited at the Insurgent headquarters and the new arrivals did much to improve the quality of the Makhnovite papers and leaflets.
In one or two areas some progress was made towards the establishment of schools. The aim was to put into practice the educational ideas of the Spanish Anarchist, Francisco Ferrer. Schools were to be the possession of the toiling masses themselves and to be entirely independent of any influence from Church or State. Teachers were to receive their livelihood from the communities they served. We hear of commissions being appointed, who were to work out plans. There is no available evidence to show whether such schools actually started to function.
Makhnovite opposition to any form of racial or national discrimination was frequently and clearly expressed. The Petlurists were opposed because they were bourgeois. Makhnovite ideas on Ukrainian independence were defined by the Revolutionary Military Soviet in a declaration of October, 1919: independence meant the free association of workers and peasants, and had nothing to do with 'independence of a nationalistic type'. Jews held leading positions in the movement throughout its existence, and anti-Semitism was regularly denounced in orders and proclamations and in articles in Put k Svobode. Some anti-Semitism, of course, persisted, but cases of ill-treatment or of incitement against Jews were on occasion severely punished. We hear of Makhno himself shooting a partisan of long service who had chalked up a notice: 'Defend the Revolution! Long Live Makhno! Down with the Jews!'
The Makhnovite attitude to the administration of justice was laid down in a declaration of tlie Gulyai-Polye Congress of February, 1919: 'On the question of the need to organize a judicial administrative apparatus -we suggest as a basic principle that any rigid permanent court and police machinery and any definitive codification of laws co nstitute infringements of the population's rights of self-defence . . . True justice cannot be administratively organized but must come as a living, free, creative act of the community . . . Law and order must be upheld by the living force of the; local community, and must not be left to police specialists.'
It seems irrelevant to argue "the question of Makhnovite capacity for constructive achievement. Many of their ideas made sense to Ukrainian peasants whose one political obsession was to be rid of any outside interference. Most of their ideas make nonsense when applied to any larger or more developed administrative unit. If left to themselves, Makhno and his advisers might, by trial and error., have so modified their ideas so as to make possible some more or less workable social order. But they had too many enemies and were always on the run. They had no constitutional apparatus. Their supreme authority was the Congress, but they were oFten chased out of their centres before the Congress sessions coulol be held. The Revolutionary Military Soviet was merely the instrument of the Congress, and in point of fact the R.M.S- was largely ignored by the military staff. In the emotional a.nd physical circumstances of the time Makhnovshchina could not be an organized political movement. It was an army—an outstanding partisan army—-with great powers of arousing peasant enthusiasm and a number of rather muddled ideas.
There were very wide fluctuations in the numerical strength of the Insurgent Army. The peak period was late 1919 when Makhno's prestige was at its highest and when he had a very wide area from which to draw recruits. Soviet estimates at this period vary from 40,000 infantry and 15,000 cavalry to 14,000 infantry, 6,000 cavalry, 5,000 gunners and machine-gunners: Makhno then possessed 48 field guns, 4 armoured trains, 4 armoured cars and 1,000 machine-guns. In any case, his force represented at least the same effective fighting strength as an average Soviet army on the Southern front.
No posts of command were held by former Tsarist officers, or by anyone of middle- or upper-class birth. Voline lists thirteen of Makhno's principal subordinate commanders, of whom eleven were peasants and two workers. A similar list of eighteen given by Arshinov breaks down into fourteen peasants, three workers and one village school-teacher. Voline gives the racial composition of the Army as 85 per cent Ukrainian, 8 per cent-Great Russian, and the remainder Jews, Greeks, Tartars and Germans from the southern Ukraine. It is agreed that a high proportion of both officers and men came from Gulyai-Polye and the surrounding areas. The main weapons were sawn-off rifles and machine-guns—the latter for the most part mounted on tachankas. Dress was very variegated. A man would wear what he had till he could take something better. At Ekaterinoslav, Miroshevsky saw many insurgents dressed in British uniforms captured from the Whites, He noted that morale at that time was high and bellicose: the men were determined to liquidate Denikin, then to liquidate the Moscow Commissars, and then march westwards against the European bourgeois. The Insurgents were pitiless fighters and gave no quarter to the Whites, unless there was reason to believe that the prisoners were willing to change sides. There were incessant orders against looting and drunkenness, and intermittent drastic punishments: a Brigade Commander was shot for looting in October, 1919, and a Regimental Commander in the summer of 1920. But the trouble was never eradicated: the peasant insurgents had been brought up to regard townsmen as their enemies and conceived it their right to take what they wanted from towns.
The Army was organized into divisions of three brigades, with three regiments to a brigade and three battalions to a regiment. Each unit had a Political Commissar, elected by the rank and file. Makhno nominated the officers commanding independently operating task forces. Other commanders were sometimes elected, sometimes nominated. Makhno retained the right to annul an election if he disapproved of the candidate selected; at the same time, if a unit was dissatisfied with a nominated commander the man was usually transferred. In late 1919 in the war against Denikin the Army operated mostly as a whole; in 1920 the circumstances of the fighting against the Bolsheviks brought about an increasing tendency to detach independent task forces; when these had completed their mission they would return to a given rendezvous, or await further orders by courier.
The enforcement of discipline was a matter of ever-recurring difficulty, in particular the problem of how to make units obey unwelcome orders. Here, of course, the personality of the commanding officer was of enormous importance: Makhno issued an order in December, 1919, laying the blame for certain lapses upon the commanders. There were cases in which units were punished for disobeying orders by having their horses and arms taken from them. Regimental and battalion mass meetings played a certain role. We hear of a regimental meeting which passed a resolution against all card-playing and against the issue of hard liquor either to partisans or to their commanding officers. The same meeting passed a resolution that all orders must be obeyed provided that the commanding officer was sober at the time of giving it.
Makhno must have shown remarkable judgment in his selection of his subordinate commanders. The qualifications were exacting. Apart from acquiring and keeping the absolute confidence of their troops they needed initiative, resource, flexibility and indefatigable physical toughness. Speed and surprise were the essence of Makhnovite tactics. Infantry were carried in carts and both infantry and cavalry could move at twice the speed of regular army troops. Makhno would seize every opportunity of getting behind his enemy. If attacked he would retreat, leave a small unit in front of the enemy to act as decoy, pass his main body round the flanks, and counterattack from the rear. The partisans made use of every trick that peasant cunning could devise—ambushes, use of enemy uniforms, pretended surrenders. If surrounded with no chance of a break-out a unit would bury its arms and stores and disappear, as peasants, into the surrounding villages, waiting to re-form as soon as the enemy had passed on. At the peak of Makhno's hold on village loyalties it was almost impossible for the enemy to locate Insurgent formations: the peasants would not talk. Intelligence and communications were comparatively simple matters for the Insurgents.
Though the question of supply was always appearing on the agenda of Makhnovite Congresses it does not appear that any serious attempt was made to establish an organized supply department. There is no record of the setting-up of repair shops or S.A.A. factories as was done by the Red Army, and even by most of the partisan movements in Siberia. For one thing the Insurgents were too frequently on the run; for another, small amateur workshops could have done nothing to make good the enormous wastage of small arms and ammunition. In the course of his career Makhno captured huge quantities of stores of all kinds from his various enemies. Much was distributed to the local villagers. Of the rest, Makhno's habit was to bury, in great secrecy, such arms as it was not feasible or convenient to carry away. Later on the Bolsheviks dug up a number of these caches. We also hear of Makhno burying gold. Food and horses were provided by the villages. One secret of Makhnovite speed was that his men could always exchange tired horses for fresh ones en route. Later on, when the incessant passage of fighting bands and armies had drained the Ukrainian villages of their resources, the question of food and horses became more difficult. Throughout their campaigns the Makhnovites showed extreme concern for their sick and wounded, and long trains of carts of wounded and typhus cases followed the main body of the Army: but their circumstances allowed no opportunity for the setting up of any effective medical service.
Of the Makhnovite security services—the Razvedka and the Kommissiya Protivmakhnovskikh Del—we know very little. Their excesses were violently arraigned by the Bolsheviks, and the Soviet historian, Kubanin, cites them as proof of Makhnovite hypocrisy in vilifying the Cheka. Makhno's later campaigns are among the most vindictive and bloody in history, and in the circumstances one can safely assume that these services were responsible for frequent injustices and atrocities. Voline is witness to the fact that they were under no effective control. But, like their opposite number the Cheka, they seem to have been not unsuccessful in carrying out the task which they were set.
Makhno himself at the height of his power retained many of the characteristics of the young man who, three years before, had come home from the Butyrka Prison to make the Ukrainian revolution a reality. He retained his remarkable physical vitality. In spite of his lung affection and the aftermath of typhus and many wounds he could outride and outwork any of his colleagues. He would never go to bed till the task he had set himself was finished, and two hours later he would be tapping at the windows of his sleeping staff to bring them back to their work. He lived like a peasant himself and was always accessible to his peasants. He would always make time to talk to peasants, drink with them, take a hand with a flail. He would book the date two weeks in advance for a village wedding. Hence his enormous popularity. It was said that some of his subordinates, Kurilenko in particular, were at least as good soldiers and probably better administrators than Makhno; but no one could carry the countryside as he could.
He became increasingly engrossed in military matters, and it was harder and harder to keep him away from the front line when military operations were in progress. When sick or severely wounded he insisted on being carried in a cart with the front troops till he was well enough to ride a horse again. He was daring, persistent and resourceful; whatever the crisis that faced him he was never nervy or panicky. Nerves only became apparent in his office. As time went on he grew impatient of administrative details, and also of the theoretical disquisitions of his articulate Anarchist friends. He could not be bothered with the wordy resolutions of the Revolutionary Military Soviet. Voline, in his deposition when in Bolshevik hands, wrote that 'Makhno's personal attitude to the R.M.S. was partly to ignore it'. The Nabat Anarchists who left him in 1920 carried a resolution at their conference later that year to the effect that 'Bat'ko Makhno, as leader of the Makhnovshchina, while possessing many valuable revolutionary qualities, belongs, unfortunately, to that class of person who cannot always subordinate their personal caprices to the good of the movement'. Voline in later years was to say of him that 'he had no theoretical or historical political knowledge; he was thus unable to make the necessary revolutionary generalizations and deductions.' Arshinov makes the same complaint.
Makhno was a heavy drinker, increasingly so as time went on. Kubanin quotes a number of extracts from the diary of his 'wife', Fedora Gaenko (which was alleged to have been captured by the Red Army and preserved in the archives at Kharkov), giving instances of his drunkenness. Arshinov disputes the diary's authenticity, pointing out that his legal wife, Galina Andreevna (who escaped abroad with him), neither kept nor lost a diary. There is, however, plenty of independent evidence of his drinking habits. Voline considers the influence of alcohol to have been deplorable. 'It had little effect on his physical constitution. But alcohol made him ill-disposed, bad-tempered, excitable, unjust, intractable, violent. How often during my time with the Army I was in a state of despair when I left him, having been able to get no sense out of the man because of his abnormal state. Indeed, at certain periods it almost became his normal state.' Voline goes on: 'The second failing of Makhno and of many of his close associates was their attitude towards women. These men, especially when intoxicated, could not refrain from behaviour that was improper— disgusting would often be the correct adjective—amounting almost to orgies in which certain women were obliged to participate.'
Makhno became less and less inclined to take advice. As he became increasingly dictatorial he developed a false sense of security. His decisions were capricious, made on the spur of the moment. He refused to think things out or to calculate possible future developments. It would have been easy to foretell the Bolshevik attack at the beginning of 1920, and their second attack at the end of that year. But in neither case did Makhno make any counter-preparations.
The Red Army captured Kharkov and Kiev in December, 1919. They marched into Ekaterinoslav a month after Makhno withdrew. A few weeks later they took Tsaritsyn and Rostov. The Whites were decisively beaten: by the end of March they had been driven into the Crimea, and Denikin was about to hand over to Wrangel.
The Red Army advance guard first contacted the Makhnovite Army in Aleksandrovsk in December. Relations at first again were friendly: there was a sense of solidarity in the victories over the Whites, and there were fraternal meetings and greetings. But shortly afterwards, at the turn of the year, the headquarters of the Fourteenth Red Army (under Voroshilov) sent Makhno formal instructions that he should proceed with the whole of his Army to take up positions on the Polish frontier. It is true that there were military reasons for reinforcing this sector, though the Polish war was not to break out for another four months. But it is admitted on the Soviet side that this order was primarily 'dictated by the necessity' of liquidating Makhnovshchina as an independent movement. Only when he was far removed from his home country would it be possible to counteract his influence, and to split up and integrate his partisans into various Red Army formations.
There were other occasions (notably in Siberia) of the Soviet authorities solving the problem of difficult partisan leaders by sending them off to fight on distant fronts. Makhno and his staff, however, were perfectly aware of the underlying Soviet motives. A reasoned reply was sent to the Fourteenth Army: the Insurgent Army, more revolutionary than any other army, would stay in the Ukraine where it belonged; the proposed transfer to "the Polish frontier was pointless, and in any case impossible until the typhus had abated. At the same time an appeal was made, over the heads of the Red Command, to the Red Army rank and file that they should not be party to this 'provocation'. There was no immediate response from the Bolshevik side. But in mid-January the Central Committee of the Ukrainian Communist Party declared Makhno and his force to be outside the law, and the Red Army attacked. There followed eight months of the most savage fighting in which the Makhnovites were ever engaged.
In their new campaign to assimilate the southern Ukraine the Bolsheviks were in a far stronger position than they had been in the spring. With Denikin beaten and the Polish War not yet started they had far more troops at their disposal. Trotsky's reconditioning of the Red Army had had time to take effect. Subsidiary services, not least the Cheka, had been reinforced and improved. Experience of the White Armies had made the peasants less hostile towards the Reds, and the Soviet Government were now in a better position to work to a set policy rather than on a series of hasty improvisations. In February regulations were passed to assure a further distribution of land to the poorer peasants, and within a few months the unpopular State farms had been cut down by half in numbers and by two-thirds in acreage. More land was taken from the richer peasants and handed over to the poorer. An intensified drive was undertaken to split the peasantry and to secure the active co-operation of the bednyaks against the kulaks.
The war of 1920 was not a war of large-scale battles. There were a few engagements, and Gulyai-Polye changed hands several times with considerable bloodshed. Insurgent strength at this period was certainly less than in late 1919, and Makhno's offensives were necessarily confined to surprise attacks on isolated Red formations. The Bolshevik objective was twofold— to round up Makhno, and to eradicate his influence in the countryside. In the first they failed; in the second by weight of numbers and consistent ruthlessness they achieved a partial success. One of the first Makhnovite casualties was Voline: he was lying sick with typhus when overrun by the Reds and sent back to prison in Moscow.
On the occupation of a village by the Red Army the Cheka would hunt out and hang all active Makhnovite supporters; an amenable Soviet would be set up; officials would be appointed or imported to organize the poor peasants and to arrange for the deliveries of produce; and three or four Red militia men left as armed support for the new village bosses. This method did not always work. Though the Sovkhoz system had been appreciably modified, War Communism remained. There were requisitions, mobilization and forced labour. The enforced deliveries of produce were harsh, haphazard and bitterly resented. Peasant obstruction and resentment again came into play. Newly appointed members of Soviets (and even of poor peasant committees) would sometimes reveal themselves as kulaks. Bolshevik nominees would be murdered, driven out, or terrorized into refraining from carrying out their jobs. At any moment a Makhnovite band might appear, out of the blue, and all the new bosses would be rounded up and shot.
It is impossible to estimate the casualties involved. Voline and Arshinov give a figure of 200,000 peasants killed by the Reds—a large proportion being Cheka executions. The Makhnovites killed all Bolshevik Party activists they could catch, all Cheka and Militia members, and all officials of forced delivery and poor peasant organizations. In the military operations the Bolsheviks shot all prisoners. The Makhnovites shot all captured officers unless the Red rank and file strongly interceded for them. The rank and file were usually sent home, though a number volunteered for service with the Insurgents. Red Army reports complain of poor morale; certain Red commanders and political commissars were arrested for the unsatisfactory showing of their units. It is certain that numbers of the Red Army rank and file had little heart in this particular phase of the Civil War. The Reds used a number of Lettish and Chinese troops to decrease the risk of fraternization.
The outbreak of the Polish War did not cause a serious depletion of the Red Army in the southern Ukraine. Red superiority in numbers continued to be overwhelming. Makhno and his main body were pursued hither and thither across the country. On occasion he was brought to fight and was beaten; but always he would elude his opponent, re-form and reappear to strike a blow when least expected. We hear of his capturing half a battery, a supply train, a whole Red infantry regiment. All the resources of Bolshevik propaganda and misinformation were called into play. There were frequent reports of his death or capture. The Cheka staged further abortive attempts to assassinate him.
However, Bolshevik strength and methods began to tell. Makhno was appreciably weaker in the late summer of 1920 than he had been in the spring. The successive occupation of village after village by the Red Army and the Cheka meant the successive elimination (or terrorization) of all anti-Bolshevik activists. Furthermore, the continued years of fighting and requisitions had left the villagers exhausted and destitute. They wanted peace, any sort of peace. They had no supplies or horses left for even the much-reduced Makhnovite armies. They had nothing to give, and they resented demands made on them. The question of horses was all-important for Makhno's tactics were based on speed, and speed depended on fresh horses.
As opposed to the Polish War, the Wrangel campaign directly affected the Insurgent Army. Wrangel was determined to make use of any available ally. As early as May 13th, 1920, he issued an order that his troops should, where possible, co-ordinate with Makhno and other anti-Bolshevik groups, whereupon Bolshevik papers published allegations of Makhno-Wrangel collaboration. On June 18th the White Command dispatched a couple of emissaries (a colonel and a captaia) with formal proposals to Makhno for joint operations against the Reds. The matter was considered at a meeting of the Insurgent Command on July 9th: the colonel was shot and the captain hanged with a placard bearing the legend 'There never was and never will be any association on the part of Makhno with White-Guardists, and if any other White Headquarters wish to send a further envoy he will meet with the same fate as this one.' Makhno issued a proclamation stating what he had done, as refutation of Bolshevik slanders.
It is agreed that the initiative for joint action against Wrangel came from the Makhnovites. Proposals to this end were telegraphed by Makhno to Kharkov and Moscow in July and again in August. Soviet historians suggest that Makhno was forced to make this approach by the pressure of general peasant opinion; and Arshinov makes the rather significant remark that if Makhno had to choose between Wrangel and the Bolsheviks the important factor was that the masses would prefer the Bolsheviks—it was true that the Bolsheviks had lied to them and cheated them, but the main enemy of the masses was still Wrangel. Kubanin suggests that Makhno's aims in making the approach were firstly to ensure the defeat of Wrangel, and' secondly to have the chance to infiltrate into the Red Army, and subvert and win over an appreciable portion of the Red troops. The second point may be true. But by this time Makhno was less than ever inclined to work out a long-term programme; he may just have blindly relied on his luck. In any case, it is certain he would have run any risk in order to annihilate Wrangel. He remained to the end the implacable enemy of the Whites.
Makhno's approach to the Reds was left unanswered till September. Then Wrangel staged his big offensive: Berdyansk was overrun, then Gulyai-Polye, Aleksandrovsk, Sinelnikovo and Ekaterinoslav. Towards the end of the month a Bolshevik representative arrived at Makhnovite headquarters; then two Makhnovite delegates were sent to Kharkov and an agreement was negotiated between October ioth and 15th.
The agreement was in two parts, military and political. The Military Section contained four clauses, (i) The Insurgent Army would retain its own internal organization, but would be subordinate operationally to the Red Higher Command, (ii) The Insurgent Army would not recruit or accept as volunteers any Red Army deserters, (iii) Makhno was to issue a signed proclamation to be published and distributed by the Soviet authorities, calling upon the population to take no action detrimental to the Red Army or to the Soviet Government. (iv) The families of members of the Insurgent Army living in Soviet-held areas were to enjoy the same rights as Red Army families.
The Political Section contained three clauses, (i) All Makhno-vites and all Anarchists under arrest in Soviet hands were to be set free forthwith, (ii) Makhnovites and Anarchists were to have full liberty of expression, subject to the requirements of military censorship and provided that nothing was expressed that tended towards the overthrow of Soviet Power. The Soviet authorities would provide Makhnovites and Anarchists with technical facilities for the expression of their views, (iii) Makhnovites and Anarchists were to enjoy full rights of participation in elections to local Soviets, including the right to be elected. They were to have the right to participate in the organization of the forthcoming Fifth All-Ukrainian Congress of Soviets.
There was, in addition, a fourth clause in the Political Section, which occasioned a great deal of argument, and-which the Bolshevik negotiators refused to sign, but referred back to their higher authorities. It was to the effect that in areas occupied by the Insurgent Army the population was to create and maintain its own free and autonomous social and economic order—these areas subsequently to be federated with Soviet Russia by means of agreements to be freely negotiated with the appropriate Soviet Government organs.
The Makhnovites pressed for the full agreement to be published at once. The Military Section appeared in the Bolshevik papers fairly promptly, but the Political Section only after some delay. Nothing more came of the draft fourth political clause which, as Kubanin points out, was obviously quite unacceptable to the Bolsheviks. But an official Soviet communique was issued to the effect that Makhno had never helped Wrangel and that allegations that he had done so had been untrue. And a start was made with the implementation of the rest of the Political Section. A number of Makhnovites and Anarchists in Soviet prisons were, in fact, released. These included Voline, who came to Kharkov, started up JVabat again and made preparations for another Anarchist conference to be held in Kharkov at the end of the year.
The Bolsheviks obviously felt these measures necessary in order to ensure the full co-operation of the Makhnovite Army. They did not underestimate Wrangel and they wished to rally all the resources available for what might prove to be a hard and prolonged campaign. A Soviet historian writes that the agreement with Makhno was 'justified by the strategic conditions'. But, as Kubanin states flatly, there was never the slightest intention on the Bolshevik side of keeping to the agreement once its military value had passed. Months later, when Voline was in prison again, he was told by his Cheka interrogator: 'When we had need of Makhno we knew how to make use of him, and when we no longer had need, when in fact he was becoming a nuisance, we knew how to get rid of him once and for all.'
It would be idle to pretend that there was good faith on the Makhnovite side. They were all perfectly aware that a further clash would come, and they were determined that their own ideas, and not the Bolsheviks', should in the end prevail. But they do not seem to have made any practical plans. The loudly voiced Bolshevik accusations of treachery may well be justified on the score of ultimate intention, but not on the score of serious conspiratorial work. Makhnovite hopes seem to have laid on a crescendo of popular feeling in their favour both in the villages and in the rank and file of the Red Army. But this needed time, and events moved much too fast for them.
Makhno did not on this occasion accompany his units to the front. He went back to Gulyai-Polye—his first chance of returning home in any security after nine months of hard fighting. With him went his headquarters staff and some 3,000 Insurgents.
The Red Army counter-offensive against Wrangel was spectacular in its speed and success. By early November the Whites had been driven off the mainland and the Perekop positions defending the Crimea had been forced. In mid-November news reached Gulyai-Polye that the Red Army, together with some Insurgent units under Karetnik, were marching on Simferopol; and a member of Makhno's staff remarked: 'This is the end of the agreement. Within a week the Bolsheviks will be attacking us.'
The importance that the Bolsheviks attached to Makhno is evidenced by the scope, the speed, the thoroughness and the secrecy of the preparations they made for his liquidation. (Voline, on seemingly good authority, reproduces copies of telegrams showing Lenin's personal interest.) On November 23rd, nine Bolshevik security service agents were captured by the razvedka in Gulyai-Polye. They confessed under interrogation that they had been sent by the commander of the 42nd (Red Army) Division, with the assignment to locate and watch the place of residence and movements of Makhno and his principal officers: they were to remain there till the arrival of the Red Army which was expected in a couple of days. Makhno's Chief of Staff contacted Kharkov on the direct telegraph line, made a strong protest and demanded the arrest of the O.C. 42nd Division and any others responsible. Kharkov replied that there must be some misunderstanding: they would institute inquiries. In a further telegraphic conversation a day or two later Kharkov promised that the incident would be settled to Makhnovite satisfaction. When pressed on the matter of Clause 4 of the Political Agreement (the Makhnovites were impatiently awaiting its approval by Moscow), Kharkov replied that here too a satisfactory solution was imminent.
In Kharkov on November 25th Voline secured an interview with Rakovsky, head of the Ukrainian Soviet Government. There had been some police persecution of Nabat readers, contrary to the agreement of October. Voline also pressed for a speedy approval of Clause 4. Rakovsky promised early satisfaction on both counts. That night Voline, together with other Anarchists, was arrested and Nabat suppressed. The Makhnovite negotiators of the October Agreement, who were staying on in Kharkov pending settlement of Clause 4, were seized, removed to Moscow and there executed.
At Red Army Headquarters at Melitpol on November 23rd Frunze signed Order 00149 requiring complete integration in the Red Army of all Insurgent units. This order was not made public till mid-December. On the 25th or 26th the commander of the Makhnovite forces in the Crimea was invited to a Red Army command post where he was seized and shot. The Makhnovite units were surrounded, but 250 cavalry broke through and eventually joined up with Makhno.
On November 26th the Red Army attacked Gulyai-Polye in force. Makhno was completely surrounded. But he fought his way out, collected some reinforcements, counter-attacked and recaptured the village. In this engagement the 42nd Red Army Division was routed, losing (according to Arshinov) 6,060 prisoners, of whom 2,000 agreed to serve under Makhno and the rest sent to their homes. Three days later Makhno defeated two further Red divisions, again with a huge haul of prisoners of whom a large proportion volunteered to join him. This development caused serious concern to the Red Army authorities, and a special catchment corps was organized, with firing squads, to pick up stragglers and prevent news spreading. For a few days there was considerable optimism at Makhnovite headquarters: it was felt that ajl that was needed was another victory or two and the war against the Bolsheviks would be won. But the Red Army continued to bring up further reinforcements : twice again the Insurgent Army was encircled and had to fight its way out, and each time the victory was more •dearly won. Reports brought by peasants made it apparent that no less than four Red Army Corps were being assembled. At a meeting of the Soviet of Revolutionary Insurgents it was agreed that there was no prospect of being able to hold the Gulyai-Polye area, and the Makhnovite Army retreated northwards.
It was an extremely severe winter. The Red Army held all important road junctions in force, and for the most part the Insurgents moved over the frozen fields. Up north, not far from Kiev, they had to abandon their artillery and heavy baggage in the snow. In the following eight months of almost continuous fighting, Makhno covered the whole of the Ukraine. From the Kiev province he struck east, skirting Poltava, Kursk and Khartov. It was at this period that, a thousand miles to the north, the Kronstadt sailors were fighting under slogans somewhat similar to his own; but we do not know whether news of Kronstadt ever reached him. He was badly wounded and when, in early March, he came south again he had to be carried in a cart. He passed through the Gulyai-Polye area, reached the Black Sea coast and turned east along the Sea of Azov. On his way north again he was wounded once more near Gulyai-Polye; but was sufficiently recovered to ride a horse at the rendezvous of his troops he had fixed for April in the Poltava province.
In 1921 the Soviet Armies were still on a war footing, and there was no external enemy. The whole of the military machine in south Russia was available for the elimination of Makhno, and for the support of the State and Party organizations and Cheka in their work on the integration of the Ukrainian" villages. It was the story of 1920 all over again, but this time with the scales weighted far more heavily on the side of the Soviet Power. It is remarkable too that, in spite of the introduction, in early 1921, of the N.E.P. measures to remove most of the peasants' grievances, Red Army reports should still complain of the support afforded to Makhno by the villagers.
Arshinov reproduces a letter written later by Makhno to a friend in which he describes the 'nightmare' of those last few months. There were victories; more often than not he got the better of his brushes with the Bolsheviks. Now and then he captured a small town, when his first move would be to seize the local printing press and run off leaflets demanding free Soviets. There were moments of encouragement, as when a delegation of Chernigov peasants came to one of his columns to offer their support. But in the unequal struggle his resources progressively dwindled. He himself in this last period was wounded six times, twice seriously. Of the thirteen principal subordinate commanders listed by Voline (who included Makhno's closest personal friends), four were dead before the final break with the Bolsheviks in November, 1920. During the next six months Makhno lost all the nine survivors: two were seized and shot in the Crimea; two were taken prisoner—their subsequent fate unknown; one was executed by the Cheka and the remaining four killed in battle. Casualties among the rank and file were very heavy.
Owing to the intensity of the pursuit and the difficulties of supply it became necessary to operate in ever smaller units. Small detachments were sent off to operate independently—þ and mostly disappeared. In early August, Makhno realized he could do no more, and on August 13th he crossed the Dnieper for the last time, between Orlik and Kremenchug, making for the West. On the 16th he was cornered by the Reds but fought his way out, capturing thirteen Maxims and three Lewis guns. His own losses were seventeen men. There was another battle on the 22 nd when he was hit again, this time badly, and had once more to be carried on a cart. On the 26th, almost in sight of the frontier, there was a final engagement. On the evening of the 28th the survivors, numbering two hundred and fifty men, crossed the Dniester into Roumania.
Arshinov did not accompany Makhno to Roumania. He went back to the Anarchist undergrounds of the Ukraine and Great Russia where he wrote his history of the Makhnovite movement. In due course the manuscript was smuggled out for publication in Berlin.
Voline meanwhile was lodged in the Taganka Prison in Moscow. In the summer of 1921 he staged a hunger strike which came to the knowledge of an international Red Trades Union Congress then in session in Moscow. French and Spanish Anarchist delegates made representations on his behalf, in consequence of which the Soviet Government released him and expelled him from Soviet territory.
Makhno and his little force were disarmed and interned by the Roumanians, and there followed a series of acrimonious diplomatic notes from Moscow demanding his extradition. There is reason to believe that the Roumanian authorities connived at his escape across the Polish frontier. Here he was arrested and brought to trial on a charge of 'anti-Polish activities' in the Ukraine. He was acquitted, went on to Danzig and was arrested again. All this time international Anarchist organizations had been vocal on his behalf, and he was eventually allowed to move to Paris and settle there.
His final period was an unhappy one. He was miserably poor. Before leaving the Ukraine he had dug up one of his hidden stocks of gold, but that was soon spent. His turbulent life had worn him out and his health was broken. He never learned to speak any French. Voline speaks of his 'difficulty in adjusting himself to circumstances so very different from his former way of life'. He was moody, quarrelsome, subject to fits of extreme depression. He started to work on his memoirs and Voline attempted to help set in order his illiterate manuscript. A first volume was completed and issued during his lifetime, but then he quarrelled with Voline, and two further parts, edited by Voline, appeared only after his death. He died in 1935 and his ashes were buried in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery.
The main sources for Chapter VI are:
Antonov-Ovseenko, V. A., Zapiski O Grazhdanskoi Voine (Moscow, 1933).
Arshinov, P., Istoriya Makhnovskovo Dvizheniya 1918-1921 gg. (Berlin, 1923).
Grazhdanskaya Voina 1918-1921 gg. Vol. III (Moscow, 1928-1930).
Kubanin, M., Makhnovshchina (Leningrad, n.d.).
Makhno, Nestor, Vol I: Russkaya Revolyutsiya na Ukraine (Paris, 1929)-
Vol. II: Pod Udarami Kontrrevolyutsiye (Paris, 1936).
Vol. III: Ukrainskaya Revolyutsiya Iul-Dekabr 1918 (Paris, 1937).
Voline, V. M. (Eichenbaum), La Revolution Inconnue (Paris, n.d.).
Other works consulted include:
Igrenev, C, in Arkhiv Russkoi Revolyutsii, Vol. Ill (Berlin, 1921),
Miroshevsky, V., in Proletarskaya Revolyutsiya, Vol. IX (Moscow. 1922).
Yaroslavsky, History of Anarchism in Russia (London, n.d.).