Voline, The Unknown Revolution, 1917-1921 (1947)
Struggle for the Real Social Revolution
Denikin's Offensives and Final Defeat
"The Statists," as Archinov says with good reason, "fear the free people. They maintain that without authority the latter would lose the anchor of sociability, that they would disperse and return to the savage state. These are certainly absurd ideas, held by idlers, lovers of authority and the labour of others, or by the blind thinkers of bourgeois society."
Already, the mortal enemy of the world of labour and its freedom -- authority-^was pressing closely on the region [of the Ukraine]. It threatened from two sides at once. From the southeast the army of General Denikin was coming up. From the north the army of the Communist state was descending. Denikin arrived first
From the first days after the fall of the Hetman Skoropadsky, several counter-revolutionary detachments commanded by General Chkouro, operating as patrols, had infiltrated into the Ukraine along the Don and Kuban rivers and had approached Polugui and Gulai-Polya. This was the first threat of the new counter-revolution against the liberated region.
Naturally, the Makhnovist insurgent army moved to this side. Its infantry and cavalry were well organised and commanded, fairly well armed and full of ardour and enthusiasm. The infantry, indeed, were equipped in a very unusual and original way. They moved like cavalry with the aid of horses, not on horseback but in light carriages with springs, called tatchanka in the southern Ukraine. Travelling at a fast trot, the same speed as the cavalry, these infantry could easily move from sixty to seventy kilometres a day, and even, if necessary, ninety to a hundred. As for the Makhnovist cavalry, it was certainly among the best in the world. Its attacks were furious and irresistible.
It must not be forgotten that many of these revolutionary
peasants had fought in the 1914 war, and thus were trained and proven fighting men. This was of great importance, for it permitted the peasant population to relieve, to some extent, the fatigue of the Makhnovist fighters. In fact, at certain specially exposed sections of the front, a few hundred peasants from the neighbourhood would regularly replace the exhausted fighters. The latter turned over their arms to them and went home. After two or three weeks of rest, they returned to resume their place at the front.
We should add that the peasants also assumed responsibility, from the beginning, for regularly supplying the Insurrectionary Army with food and fodder. A central provisioning section was organised at Gulai-Polya. Supplies were brought there from every direction to be sent to the front.
Denikin did not at all anticipate the stubborn resistance of the Makhnovists. Moreover, he counted on an imminent struggle between Petlura's Directorate and the Bolsheviks. He hoped to take advantage of this state of affairs to beat both easily and establish his front -- at least for the start -- beyond the northern limits of the province of Ekaterinoslav. But he unexpectedly encountered the excellent and tenacious Insurrectionary Army.
After the first battles, Denikin's detachments had to beat a retreat in the direction of the Don and the Sea of Azov. In a short space of time, all the territory from Polugui to the sea was liberated. The Makhnovist partisans occupied several important railway stations and cities, such as Berdiansk and Mariupol. It was from this moment -- January 1919- -- that the first front against Denikin was firmly established. It was later extended for more than 100 kilometres to the east and north-east of Mariupol.
Naturally, Denikin did not give up. He continued and intensified his attacks and infiltrations. For six months, the Makhnovists held back this counter-revolutionary flood. The fighting was stubborn and fierce, for General Chkouro also had excellent cavalry. Moreover, he used the partisans' tactics; his detachments would penetrate deep into the rear of the Makhnovist army, then spread out rapidly, destroying, burning and massacring all they could reach; then they would disappear like magic, and appear suddenly in another place to commit the same destruction.
It was exclusively the labouring people who suffered from
these incursions. They [the Denikinists] took revenge for the help the peasants gave to the Insurrectionary Army, and for their hostility towards the Denikinists. They hoped thus to provoke a reaction against the Revolution. The Jewish population, which had lived for a very long time in special colonies of the Azov region, also suffered from these raids. The Denikinists massacred the Jews on every visit, thus seeking to provoke a popular anti-Jewish movement which would have facilitated their task.
However, despite their well-trained and well-armed troops, despite their furious attacks, the Denikinisls could not subdue the insurrectionary troops, full of revolutionary ardour and quite as skilful at guerilla warfare. On the contrary during the six months of furious fighting, General Chkouro more than once received such blows from the Makhnovist regiments that only precipitous retreats of from eighty to one hundred and twenty kilometres saved him from complete disaster. During this period,' the Makhnovists advanced at least five or six times almost to the walls of Taganrog. At this moment, only the lack of men and weapons prevented Makhno from destroying Denikin's counter-revolution.
The hatred and fury of the Denikinist officers towards the Makhnovists reached incredible heights. They submitted their prisoners to refined tortures. Often they mangled them by exploding shells. And several cases are known -- they were mentioned, with full details, in the insurgent press -- where prisoners were roasted alive on sheets of red hot iron.
In the course of the fighting, Makhno's military talent was revealed in a striking manner. His reputation as a remarkable war leader was recognised even by his enemies, the Denikinists. But this did not prevent General Denikin from offering half a million roubles to whomever killed or captured Makhno.
During this whole period, the relations between the Makhnovists and the Bolsheviks remained distant but amicable. One fact emphasised this. In January 1919 the Makhnovists, having thrown back the Denikinists towards the Sea of Azov after a hard fight, captured a hundred carloads of wheat from them. The first thought of Makhno and the staff of the Insurrectionary Army was to send this booty to the starving workers of Moscow and Petrograd. This idea was enthusiastically accepted by the mass of
the insurgents. The hundred carloads of wheat were delivered to Moscow and Petrograd accompanied by a Makhnovist delegation which was very warmly received by the Moscow Soviet.
The Bolsheviks appeared in the region of the Makhnovist movement much later than Denikin. The insurgents had already been fighting the latter for several months; they had driven him out of their region and established their line of defence to the east of Mariupol when the first Bolshevik divisions, coming from the north and commanded by Dybenko, arrived without interference at Sinelnikovo.
At this point Makhno himself, like the whole insurrectionary movement, was essentially unknown to the Bolsheviks. Until then he had been spoken of in the Communist press as a bold insurgent of great promise. His fight with Skoropadsky, then with Petlura and Denikin, brought him the goodwill of the Bolshevik leaders who, naturally enough, hoped to incorporate his army into theirs. So they sang Makhno's praises in advance, and devoted whole columns in their newspapers to him, without having made his acquaintance.
"The first meeting between the Bolshevik fighters and Makhno's men took place in March, 1919, under the same auspices of praise and goodwill," Peter Archinov records. "Makhno was immediately invited to join the Red Army with all his detachments in order to provide a united front for the purpose of defeating Denikin. The political and ideological differences between the Bolsheviks and the Makhnovist peasants were not considered an obstacle to a union on the basis of a common cause. The Bolsheviks let it be understood that the special characteristics of the Insurrectionary Army would not be violated.
"Makhno and his staff were perfectly aware that the arrival of Communist authority was a new threat to the liberty of the region; they saw it as a probable omen of civil war of a new kind. But neither they nor the army nor the Regional Soviet wanted this war, which might well have a fatal effect on the whole Ukrainian revolution. They did not lose sight of the open and well-organised counter-revolution which was approaching from the Don and the Kuban, and with which there was only one possible relationship -- that of armed conflict.
"This danger increased from day to day. The insurgents retained some hope that the struggle with the Bolsheviks could be confined to the realm of ideas. In this event, they could feel perfectly secure about their region, for the vigour of the libertarian theory, together with the revolutionary common sense of the peasants and their defiance of elements foreign to their free movement were the best guarantee of the region's freedom.
"According to the general opinion of the guides of the insurrection, it was necessary for the movement to concentrate all forces against the monarchist reaction and not be concerned with ideological disagreements with the Bolsheviks until that was liquidated. It was in this context that the union between the Makhnovists and the Red Army took place."
Here are the essential clauses of the agreement [that was entered into by the two armies], "i. The Insurrectionary Army will retain its internal organisation intact, ii. It will receive Political Commissars appointed by the Communist authorities, iii. It will only be subordinated to the Red supreme command in strictly military matters, iv. it cannot be removed from the front against Denikin.1 v. It will receive munitions and supplies equal to those of the Red Army. vi. It will retain its name of Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army and its black flags" (the black flag is the Anarchist flag).
1 This clause was a precaution on the part of the Makhnovists. They feared in fact, that under some pretext or another the Red command would send the Insurrectionary Army to some other front, so that they could establish the Bolshevik power in the region wihout interference. As the reader will see presently, this fear was fully justified by subsequent events.
We should specify that at the same time Makhno's army was baptised the "Third Brigade". Later it became the "First Revolutionary Insurrectionary Division", and still later it became independent again and adopted the definite name of "Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of the Ukraine (Makhnovist)."
The most important point for the Makhnovist army was naturally the retention of its internal organisation. It was thus not an act of "organic" incorporation into the Red Army that took place, but only a pact of close co-operation.
Here I will pause to discuss some of the features of this internal organisation of the Insurrectionary Army. This organisation was based on three fundamental principles: 1. Voluntary enlistment; 2. Eligibility of all for command posts; 3. Freely accepted discipline.
Voluntary Enlistment meant that the army was composed only of revolutionary fighters who entered it of their own free will.
Eligibility for Command Posts meant that the commanders of all the units of the army, including the staff, as well as all the men who held other important positions in the army, were either elected or accepted without reservation (if they happened to be appointed in urgent situations by the commander himself) by the insurgents of the unit in question or by the whole army.
Freely Accepted Discipline was achieved in the following way. All the rules of discipline were drawn up by commissions of insurgents, then approved by general assemblies of the various units. Once approved, they had to be rigorously observed on the individual responsibility of each insurgent and each commander.
The alliance between the Bolsheviks and the Insurrectionary Army was strictly military. All political questions were voluntarily excluded. This left the working people of the region free to follow, despite the alliance, the same course of economic and social evolution, or rather, revolution, that they had been pursuing, the absolutely free and independent activity of workers who accepted no power.
We shall see presently that this was the sole cause of the break between the Bolsheviks and the partisans, of the vile and cynical accusations levelled by the former against the latter, and of the armed aggression of the Communists against the free region.
Since the creation of the Regional Soviet in February, 1919, the working people [of the Makhnovist areas] considered themselves united and organised, and this feeling of solidarity induced the peasants to deal with other concrete problems of great urgency. They began by organising everywhere free local Soviets. In the circumstances of the time, this task was accomplished slowly, but the peasants held consistently to the idea, feeling that it was the only sound basis on which a really free community could be constructed.
Soon the problem of direct and solid union between the peasants and the urban workers arose. In the opinion of the former, such a union should be established directly with the workers' enterprises and organisations, outside of political parties, of the organs of the state or intermediary functionaries. They felt intuitively that this was indispensable for the consolidation and subsequent development of the Revolution. At the same time, they were perfectly aware that its accomplishment would inevitably provoke a struggle with the state and government party, the Communists, who would certainly not renounce their hold over the masses without a struggle. However, the peasants did not feel that this danger was too serious, for they considered that once they and the workers were united they could easily defy any political power that tried to subdue them. In any event, the free and direct union of the peasants and workers seemed the only natural and fruitful way of finally achieving a true and emancipatory revolution and of eliminating all those elements that might impede, deform or stifle it. It was in this context that the problem of union with the city workers was raised and discussed, until it finally became an objective of the whole insurrectionary region.
It goes without saying that with such an attitude on the part of the people and with plans of this kind being made, the political parties, and especially the Communists, could have no success in the Makhnovist area. When these parties appeared there with statist programmes and plans of organisation, they were received coldly, indifferently, sometimes even hostilely. Often their militants and agents were criticised openly as people who came uninvited to meddle in other people's affairs. The Communist authorities who infiltrated into all parts of the region and who posed as masters were made to understand clearly that they were considered intruders and imposters.
At first the Bolsheviks hoped to overcome this passive resistance by absorbing the Makhnovist army into the ranks of the Red Army and then having their hands free to reduce the population to obedience. They soon learned that this hope was in vain. The peasants of the region did not want to have anything to do with Bolshevik government agents. They ignored and boycotted them; sometimes they even maltreated them. In certain
places the armed peasants drove out of their villages the "Extraordinary Commissions" (Cheka), and at Gulai-Polya the Communists never even dared to establish such an institution. In other places, the attempts to implant Communist administration resulted in bloody collisions between the population and the authorities, whose situation became very difficult. As for the Makhnovist army, it was intractable.
It was [when they realised the true nature of the situation] that the Bolsheviks began an organised and methodical fight against Makhnovism, both as an idea and as a social movement. As usual, the press started the campaign. When the order was given, it began to criticise the insurrectionary movement, treating jt more and more as a movement of rich peasants (kulaks), describing its ideas and slogans as counter-revolutionary, and condemning its activities as harmful to the Revolution. Direct threats addressed to the guides of the movement appeared in the papers as well as in the speeches and orders of the central authorities.
Soon the region was practically blockaded. In certain places, the Communist authorities established road barriers, and soon all the revolutionary militants going to Gulai-Polya or returning from it were arrested on the way; often they disappeared. In addition, the supplies of ammunition for the Insurrectionary Army were considerably reduced.
It was under the shadow of these new complications and threats that the Third Regional Congress of Peasants, Workers and Partisans met at Gulai-Polya on April 10th, 1919.
Its purpose was to fix precisely the immediate tasks ahead, and to consider the perspectives of revolutionary life in the region. The delegates of 72 districts, representing more than two million people, took part in the work of the congress. I regret that I have no transcript of the proceedings, for from this one would have been able to see clearly with what warmth and at the same time with what wisdom and clarity the people sought their own course in the Revolution and their own popular forms for the new life.
It was towards the end of this Third Congress that the drama which had been anticipated for some time began. A telegram from Dybenko, commander of the Bolshevik forces, arrived at the meeting place of the congress. It brutally declared the congress
"counter-revolutionary" and its organisers "outlaws". This was the first direct assault of the Bolsheviks on the freedom of the region, and it was at the same time a declaration of war against the Insurrectionary Army.
The congress understood perfectly its full significance. It voted immediately an indignant protest against the telegram, which was printed straight away and distributed among the peasants and workers.
Several days later, the Revolutionary Military Council drew up and sent to the Communist authorities, in the person of Dybenko, a detailed reply in which they emphasised the true part played by the region in the Revolution, and unmasked those who were really responsible for dragging it in a reactionary direction. This reply is lengthy, but we are taking the liberty of reproducing it in full, since it indicates admirably the respective positions of the two parties:
" 'Comrade' Dybenko declares that the congress called at Gulai-Polya for the 10th April is counter-revolutionary, and puts its organisers outside the law. According to him, the severest repression should strike them. We quote his telegram verbatim: 'Novo-Alexeivka, No. 283, 10th April, at 2.45 p.m. Forward to Comrade Father Makhno,1 General Staff of the Alexandrovsk Division . . . Any congress called in the name of the Revolutionary Military General Staff, which is now dissolved by my order, shall be considered manifestly counter-revolutionary, and its organisers will expose themselves to the severest repressive measures, to the extent of their being declared outlaws.1 order that steps be taken immediately so that such steps may not be necessary. Signed: Dybenko, Division Commander.'
1 The nickname "Father Makhno" was given after the unification of the movement. The term "Father" (Batko) is frequently added to a name in the Ukraine, when a person is old or respected. It does not have any authoritarian significance.
"Before declaring the congress counter-revolutionary, 'Comrade' Dybenko has not even taken the trouble to find out by whom and for what purpose this congress was called. Thus he says that it was called by the 'dissolved' Revolutionary Staff of Gulai-Polya, whereas in reality it was called by the executive committee of the Military Revolutionary Council.
"Consequently, having called the congress, the members of the Council do not know whether they have been declared outlaws, or whether the congress is considered counter-revolutionary by 'Comrade' Dybenko. If this is the case, permit us to explain to Your Excellency by whom and for what purpose this congress -- in your opinion counter-revolutionary -- was called. And then it might not seem so terrible as you represent it.
"As has already been said, it was called by the executive committee of the Military Revolutionary Council of the Gulai-Polya region, at Gulai-Polya itself. It was the Third Regional Congress called for the purpose of determining the future free conduct of the Military Revolutionary Council (you will see, 'Comrade' Dybenko, that three of these 'counter-revolutionary' congresses have taken place). ,
"A question now arises -- where does the Military Revolutionary Council come from, and for what purpose was it created? If you do not already know that, 'Comrade' Dybenko, we are going to tell you. The Regional Military Revolutionary Council was formed following a resolution of the Second Congress which took place at Gulai-Polya on February 12th of this year (you see that it was a long time ago -- you were not even here yet). The Council was created to organise the fighting men and proceed to a voluntary mobilisation, for the region was surrounded by Whites and the insurrectionary detachments composed of the first volunteers did not suffice to hold a very extended front.
"There were no Soviet troops in our region at that time. Furthermore, the population did not count very much on their intervention, considering that the defence of its region was its own duty. It is for this purpose that the Revolutionary Council was created. It was composed, following the resolution of the Second Congress, of a delegate from each district; in all, there were 32 members, each representing the districts of the departments of Ekaterinoslav and Tauride.
"We will give you later some more details of the Revolutionary Military Council. For the moment, the question arises: where did the Second Regional Congress come from? Who called it? Who authorised it? Were those who called it outlawed? And, if not, why not? The Second Regional Congress was in fact called at Gulai-Polya by an initiating group composed of five persons elected by the first Congress. This Second Congress took place on February 12th. And, to our great astonishment, the persons who called it were not outlawed. For, you see, there were not yet [in the region] any of those 'heroes' who dare to suppress the rights of the people, rights conquered with their own blood.
"Thus a new question arises. Where did the First Congress
come from? Who called it, etc.? 'Comrade' Dybenko, you are still, it seems, rather new in the revolutionary movement of the Ukraine, and we shall have to tell you about its very beginnings. That is what we are going to do. And after learning these facts, you will perhaps shift your sights a little.
"The First Regional Congress took place on January 23rd of this year in the insurrectionary camp at Great Mikhailovka. It was composed of delegates from the districts situated near the Denikin front. The Soviet troops were then far away, very far away. Our region was isolated from the whole world, on the one side by the Denikinists and on the other by the Petlurists. There were only the insurrectionary detachments with Father Makhno and Stchouss at their head, and these returned blow for blow with both the enemy armies. The organisations and social institutions in the various towns and villages did not at that time always bear the same names. In one town there was a Soviet, in another a Popular Office, in a third a Revolutionary Military Staff, in a fourth a Provincial Office, and so forth. But the spirit was equally revolutionary everywhere.
"The First Congress was organised to consolidate the front and create a certain uniformity of organisation and action in the whole region. No one called it -- it met spontaneously, by the wish and with the approval of the people. At this Congress, the proposal was made to rescue from the Petlurist army our brothers who had been mobilised by force. To this end, a delegation composed of five persons was elected. It was given the task of presenting itself to Father Makhno's staff and to other staffs if need be, and of entering the army of the Ukrainian Directorate (Petlurist) in order to explain to our brothers that they had been fooled and that they should leave that army. In addition, the delegation was instructed, upon its return, to call a second, larger Congress, for the purpose of organising the whole region delivered from the counter-revolutionary bands and of creating a more powerful defence front.
"The delegates, on returning from their mission, therefore called the Second Regional Congress, outside of any 'party' or any 'power' or any 'law'. For you, 'Comrade' Dybenko, and the other lovers of laws like you, were then far away! And since the heroic guides of the insurgent movement did not want power over the people who had just broken with their own hands the chains of slavery, the Congress was not proclaimed counter-revolutionary and those who called it were not declared outlaws.
"Let us return to the Regional Council. At the time of the creation of the Revolutionary Military Council in the Gulai-Polya region, the Soviet Power appeared in our area. Following the resolution passed by the Second Congress, the Regional Council
did not drop its work on the appearance of the Soviet authorities. It had to carry out the instructions of the Congress. The Council was not an organ of command but an executive. It thus continued to work to the best of its ability and has always followed the revolutionary course in its work.
"Little by little, the Soviet authorities began to erect obstacles to the activity of the Council. The Commissars and other high functionaries of the Soviet government began to treat the Council as 'counter-revolutionary'. It was then that the members of the Council decided to call a third Regional Congress on April 10th at Gulai-Polya to determine the future conduct of the Council or to liquidate it if the Congress considered this necessary. And so the congress took place.
"They were not counter-revolutionaries who came to it, but men who were the first to raise the standard of the insurrection and the social revolution. They came to it to help co-ordinate the general fight of the region against all oppressors. The representatives of the seventy-two districts as well as those of several insurgent units participated in the Congress. All of them found that the Military Revolutionary Council was necessary; they even enlarged its executive committee and instructed the latter to carry out a voluntary and equalitarian mobilisation of the region.
"This Congress was somewhat astonished to receive 'Comrade' Dybenko's telegram declaring it 'counter-revolutionary', inasmuch as this region was the first to raise the standard of insurrection. That is why the Congress voted a lively protest against this telegram.
"Such are the facts, which should enlighten you, 'Comrade' Dybenko. Think! Have you the right -- you alone -- to declare counter-revolutionary a population of a million workers, a population which by itself, with its own calloused hands, threw off the chains of slavery and which is now in the process of building its own life according to its own will. No! If you are really a revolutionist, you will come to help it in its fight against the oppressors and in its work of building a new, free life.
"Can there exist laws made by people calling themselves revolutionists, which permit them to outlaw a whole people who are more revolutionary than they are themselves? For the executive committee of the Council represents the whole mass of the people.
"Is it permissible, is it admissible that they should come and establish laws of violence to subjugate a people who have just overthrown all lawmakers and all laws?
"Does there exist a law according to which a 'revolutionary' has the right to apply the most severe penalties to a revolutionary
mass, of which he calls himself the defender, simply because this mass has taken, without waiting for his permission, the good things which the revolutionist has promised them: freedom and equality?
"Should the mass of revolutionary people perhaps be silent when the 'revolutionist' takes away the freedom which they have just conquered?
"Do the laws of the Revolution order them to shoot a delegate because he believes he ought to carry out the mandate given him by the revolutionary mass which elected him?
"Whose interest should the revolution defend? Those of the party, or those of the people who set the revolution in motion with their blood?
"The Revolutionary Military Council of the Gulai-Polya region holds itself above all pressure, all influence of the parties; it only recognises the people who elected it. Its duty is to accomplish what the people have instructed it to do, and to create no obstacles to any Left Socialist party in the propagation of ideas. Consequently, if one day the Bolshevik idea succeeds among the workers, the Revolutionary Military Council -- the 'manifestly counter-revolutionary' organisation -- will be necessarily replaced by another organisation -- 'more revolutionary' and Bolshevik. But meanwhile, do not interfere with us, do not try to stifle us.
"If you and your like continue, 'Comrade' Dybenko, to carry on the same policy as before, if you believe it good and conscientious, then carry your dirty little business to its conclusion. Declare all the organisers of the Regional Congresses called when you and your party were at Kursk outlaws. Proclaim counterrevolutionary all those who first raised the standard of the insurrection, of the Social Revolution in the Ukraine, and who thus acted without waiting for your permission, without following your programme to the letter. Also declare all those who sent their delegates to the 'counter-revolutionary' congresses outlaws. Finally, outlaw all the vanished comrades who, without your permission, took part in the insurrectionary movements for the emancipation of the workers. Proclaim forever illegal and counter-revolutionary any Congress called without your permission. But know that truth will end by conquering force. Despite your threats, the Council did not relinquish its duties, because it has not the right to, and because it has no right to usurp the rights of the people.
The Revolutionary Military Council of the Gulai-Polya region.
Signed: Tchernoknijny, president; Kogan, vice-president; Kardbet, secretary; Koval, Petrenko, Dotzenko and other members of the council."
The reply of the Council maddened the Bolshevik authorities.
It proved to them that they had to abandon all hopes of peacefully subjugating the Ukraine to their dictatorship. And from this point on the Bolsheviks planned an armed attack on the region.
The newspaper campaign against Makhnovitchina redoubled in intensity. The worst vices, the most abominable crimes were imputed to the movement. The Red troops, the Communist Youth and the Soviet population in general were systematically aroused against the "Anarcho-bandits" and the kulaks in revolt. As earlier in Moscow and later in the Kronstadt revolt, Trotsky personally led a violent campaign against the free region. Having arrived in the Ukraine to take the forthcoming offensive in hand, he published a series of offensive articles, the most violent of which appeared in No. 51 of his paper On the Road under the title Makhnovitchina. According to Trotsky, the insurrectionary movement was only a camouflaged revolt of the rich peasants (kulaks) seeking to establish power in the region. All the talk of the Makhnovists and the Anarchists about the free workers' commune was merely a tactic of war, according to Trotsky. In reality, the Makhnovists and the Anarchists hoped to establish in the Ukraine their own "Anarchist Power" which would amount, in the last analysis, to "that of the rich peasants".
This was the same Trotsky who, a little later, made his famous pronouncement that it was necessary, before anything else, to get rid of Makhnovism. "It would be better", he explained, "to yield the whole Ukraine to Denikin, a frank counter-revolutionary, who could be easily compromised later by means of class propaganda, while the Makhnovitchina developed in the depths of the masses and aroused the masses themselves against us."
He made this proposal at the meetings of the commanders and the military leaders. And he thus proved, on one hand, that he was perfectly aware of the popular revolutionary nature of the Makhnovist movement and, on the other, that he was not at all aware of the real character of Denikin's movement.
At the same time, the Bolsheviks undertook a series of reconnoitering expeditions and investigations inside the region. High functionaries and rank-and-file militants -- Kamenev, Anto-noff-Ovselenko and others -- visited Makhno and, in an apparently friendly way, made inquiries and criticisms; sometimes, however,
they went as far as insinuations and even undisguised threats.
The putsch of the Tsarist ex-officer Grigoriev -- we will not discuss it in detail, although it presents a certain interest -- which was liquidated by the Makhnovists in collaboration with the Bolsheviks, halted this campaign for a while. But it was soon resumed in all its vigour.
In May, 1919, the Bolsheviks tried to assassinate Makhno. The plot was foiled by Makhno himself, thanks to his usual strategy and also to a fortunate accident. Another accident and the promptness of his reaction permitted him to get his hands on the organisers of the plot. They were executed.
More than once, moreover, Makhno was warned by comrades employed in the Bolshevik institutions not to go to either Ekater-inoslav, Kharkov or anywhere else if he were called, since any official summons would be a trap where death would await him.
But the worst thing was that just at the moment when the "White danger" became serious, Denikin having received considerable reinforcements, precisely in the Makhnovist sector, through the arrival of a large body of Caucasians, the Bolsheviks completely stopped supplying the insurgents with munitions. All requests, all warnings, all protests were in vain. The Bolsheviks were firmly determined to blockade the Makhnovist sector in order to destroy, before anything else, the armed strength of the region. Their plan was very simple: to let Denikin wipe out the Makhnovists while preparing to throw out the former, subsequently, with their own forces.
As will be seen, they were seriously mistaken in their calculations, for they were not at all aware of Denikin's real strength or of his long-range plans. He was raising important contingents in the Caucasus, in the Don region, and in the Kuban, with the aim of a general campaign against the Revolution. Thrown back against the sea a few months previously, by the Makhnovist insurgents, Denikin undertook with great energy and care, the reorganising, arming and preparation of his troops. Before anything else, he had to destroy the Makhnovist army for the insurgents of Gulai-Polya constituted a permanent danger to his left wing. The Bolsheviks did not know anything about all this -- or rather, they did not want to know anything about it, being
preoccupied with the struggle against Makhnovism.
At the end of May, 1919, having completed his preparations, Denikin started his second campaign whose scope and vigour surprised not only the Bolsheviks but even the Makhnovists. Thus, at the beginning of the month of June, the free region and the whole Ukraine was threatened on two sides at once; on the south-west by the powerful offensive of Denikin; from the north by the hostile attitude of the Bolsheviks, who, without the slightest doubt, were going to let Denikin wipe out the Makhnovists and were even going to make the job easier for him.
It was in these troubled conditions that the Revolutionary Military Council of Gulai-Polya, in view of the gravity of the situation, decided to call an extraordinary congress of peasants, workers, partisans, and Red soldiers of a number of regions in the departments of Ekaterinoslav, Kharkov, Kherson, Tauride and the Donetz basin.
This Fourth Regional Congress -- dramatic in its very preparations -- was called for June 15th. It was primarily to examine the general situation and means for averting the mortal danger hanging over the country both because of Denikin's advance and the inability of the Soviet authorities to realise what they were up against.
The Congress also had to consider the problem of the rationing of food among the population of the region, and, finally, that of local self-administration in general.
Here is the text of the call to this Congress which was issued by the Revolutionary Military Council to the workers of the Ukraine:
"Convocation of the Fourth Extraordinary Congress of Workers', Peasants' and Artisans' Delegates (Telegram No. 416).
"To all the Executive Committees of the districts, cantons, communes and villages of the departments of Ekaterinoslav, Taurid and neighbouring regions; to all the units of the 1st Insurrectionary Division of the Ukraine, known as Father Makhno's; to all the troops of the Red Army located in the same region!
"In its session of May 30, the Executive Committee of the Revolutionary Military Council, after having examined the
situation at the front created by the offensive of the White bands and also the situation in general -- political and economic -- of the Soviet power, reached the conclusion that only the working masses themselves could find a solution. That is why the Executive Committee of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Gulai-Polya region has decided to call an extraordinary Congress for June 15 at Gulai-Polya.
"Method of election: 1. The peasants and workers will send a delegate for each 3,000 toilers; 2. The insurgents and Red soldiers will delegate a representative from each unit of troops; 3. The staffs: that of Father Makhno's division, two delegates; the brigades, one delegate from each brigade staff; 4. The executive committees of the districts -- those which recognise the Soviet as a base -- will send one delegate for each organisation.
"Remarks: a. the elections of delegates of workers will take place at general assemblies of the villages, cantons, factories and workshops; b. the special meetings of the Soviets or the committees of the various units will not send delegates; c. since the Revolutionary Military Council does not have the necessary means, the delegates should be provided with food and money.
a. report of the Executive Committee of the Revolutionary Military Council and reports of the delegates;
b. the existing situation;
c. the role, tasks and aims of the Gulai-Polya region;
d. reorganisation of the Revolutionary Military Council of the region;
e. military organisation of the region; f. the problem of food supply; g. the agrarian problem; h. financial questions;
i. union of the working peasants and the workers;
j. public security; k. exercise of justice in the region;
l. new business.
Done at Gulai-Polya, May 31, 1919."
As soon as this call was sent out, the Bolsheviks decided to attack the region of Gulai-Polya. While the insurgent troops were marching to their death, resisting the furious assault of Denikin's Cossacks, the Bolshevik regiments invaded the insurgent region from the north, striking the Makhnovists in the rear. Invading the villages, the Bolsheviks seized the militants and executed them on the spot; they destroyed the free communes and other local organisations.
It was Trotsky personally who ordered the attack. Could he tolerate an independent region a few steps away from "his State"? Could he repress his anger and hatred when he heard the frank language of a population which lived freely and which,
in their newspapers, spoke of him without fear or respect, as a simple State functionary; he, the great Trotsky, the superman as his acolytes in France and elsewhere still call him?
This man of limited qualities, but of immeasurable pride and malevolence, this good orator and polemicist, who had become -- thanks to the miscarriage of the Revolution -- the "infallible" military dictator of an immense country, this "demigod", could he tolerate as neighbours a free people, influenced and helped by the "Anarcho-bandits" whom he considered and treated as his personal enemies?
Yet any statesman, any Socialist pontiff, even if less pretentious and spiteful, would have acted as he did. We must not forget that he worked in perfect agreement with Lenin.
Unlimited pride and seething rage show in every line of the many orders that he issued against the Makhnovitchina. Here, first of all, is his famous Order No. 1824, which he issued in response to the call of the Revolutionary Military Council of Gulai-Polya.
"Order No. 1824 of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic. Kharkov, June 4, 1919.
"To all Military Commissars. To all the Executive Commissars. To all the Executive Committees of the districts of Alexandrovsk, Mariupol, Berdiansk, Bakhmut, Pavlograd and Kherson.
"The Executive Committee of Gulai-Polya, with the collaboration of the staff of Makhno's brigade, is trying to call, for the 15th of this month, a congress of Soviets, and insurgents of the districts of Alexandrovsk, Mariupol, Bakhmut, Berdiansk, Melitopol and Pavlograd. This Congress is squarely directed against the Soviet Power in the Ukraine, and against the organisation of the southern front where Makhno's brigade is stationed.
"This Congress can have no result other than the exciting of some new, disgraceful revolt like that of Grigoriev, and the opening of the front to the Whites, before whom Makhno's brigade can only retreat incessantly, on account of the incompetence, criminal designs and treason of its leaders.
1. By the present order, this Congress is forbidden. In no case shall it take place.
2. All the peasant and working-class population shall be
warned, orally and in writing, that participation in the said Congress shall be considered an act of high treason against the Soviet Republic and the front.
3. All the delegates to the said Congress shall be arrested immediately and brought before the Revolutionary Military Tribunal of the 14th (formerly 2nd) Army of the Ukraine.
4. The persons who spread the call of Makhno and the executive committee of Gulai-Polya shall likewise be arrested.
5. The present order shall have the force of law as soon as it is telegraphed. It should be widely diffused, displayed in all public places and sent to the representatives of the Soviet authorities, to the commanders and commissars of the military units.
Signed: Trotsky, President of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic; Vatzetis, Commander in Chief; Araloff, member of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic; Kochkareff, Military Commissar of the Kharkov region."
"This document is truly classic," says Archinov. "Whoever studies the Russian Revolution should learn it by heart. It represents such a crying usurpation of the rights of the workers that it is pointless to insist further on this subject."
"Can there exist laws made by people calling themselves revolutionists, which permit them to outlaw a whole people who are more revolutionary than they are themselves?" Such was one of the questions asked by the revolutionary peasants, two months previously, in their famous reply to Dybenko. Article 2 of Trotsky's Order replies clearly that such laws can exist and that Order No. 1824 is the proof of it.
"Does there exist a law" asked the revolutionists of Gulai-Polya in the same document, "according to which a 'revolutionist' has the right to impose the most severe penalties on the revolutionary mass of which he calls himself the defender, only because this mass has taken, without waiting for his permission, the good things that this revolutionist has promised them: Freedom and Equality?" The same article 2 replies in the affirmative. The entire peasant and labouring population are declared guilty of high treason if they dare to participate in their own free congress.
"Do the laws of the Revolution order the shooting of a delegate because he believes he ought to carry out the mandate
given him by the revolutionary mass who elected him?" Trotsky's order (Articles 3 and 4) declares that not only delegates carrying out their mandates, but even those who have not yet begun to carry them out, should be arrested and "brought before the Revolutionary Military Tribunal," which we must emphasise was tantamount to a death sentence. Several young revolutionary peasants, Kostin, Polonin, Dobrolubov and others were brought before the military tribunal and shot, on the charge of having discussed the call of the Revolutionary Military Council of Gulai-Polya.
It is said that in posing their questions to Dybenko, the insurgents foresaw Trotsky's order No. 1824. Even if this were not the case, they showed great perspicacity in framing them.
Trotsky considered Makhno personally responsible for all that happened at Gulai-Poiya. He did not even take the trouble to find out that Congress was called neither by the "stall of Makhno's brigade" not the executive committee of Gulai-Polya, but by an organ perfectly independent of the two: the Revolutionary Military Council of the region.
It is significant that in this order Trotsky already harped on the "treachery of the Makhnovist leaders" whom he accused of "retreating incessantly before the Whites." He forgot to add that he himself had ordered on the very eve of Denikin's advance that no more munitions be supplied to Makhno's brigade. This was a tactic. It was also a signal. A few days later, Trotsky and the whole Communist press expatiated on the pretended "opening of the front" to Denikin's troops. And Order No. 1824 was followed by numerous others in which Trotsky commanded the army and the Red authorities to destroy Makhnovism by every method and at its very source. Moreover, he gave secret orders to capture at any cost not only Makhno and the members of his staff, but even the peaceful militants who were only carrying on purely educational activity in the movement. The instructions were to bring them all before the Council of War and execute them.
Trotsky knew that the front against Denikin had been formed only because of the efforts and sacrifices of the insurgent peasants themselves. This front arose at a particularly stirring moment of their revolt -- when the region was free from all forms of authority. It was established in the south-east, as the sentinel for the freedom
they had won. For more than six months, the revolutionary insurgents maintained an unbreakable barrier to the most vigorous assaults of the monarchist counter-revolution. They sacrificed several thousand men there. They placed all their resources at the disposal of the cause and prepared to defend their freedom to the end.
Yes, Trotsky knew all that. But he needed a formal justification for his campaign against the revolutionary people of the Ukraine. And it was with monstrous cynicism, with unimaginable insolence and hypocrisy that he let this front collapse, depriving it of arms and ammunition, taking away all means of organisation, so as to be able to accuse the insurgents of having betrayed the revolution and opened the way for Denikin's troops.1
1 Later, in Spain (1936-9) the Communists employed the same tactics. A case is known to me in all its details. Below Teruel, a Communist brigade held the front against Franco, alongside an Anarchist brigade of about 1,500 men. To permit the destruction of the latter, the Communists withdrew secretly and voluntarily during the night. The next morning, the Fascists advanced into the breach and encircled the Anarchist brigade. Of the 1,500 men, only 500 were able to escape, beating a passage through with grenades and revolvers. The other 1,000 lighters were massacred. The next day the Communists accused the Anarchists of treachery and of opening the front to Franco!
The Fourth Regional Congress, projected for June 15th, could not take place. Well before that, the Bolsheviks and the Denikinists were already active in the region.
In the areas where they were already established, or in neighbouring districts which they invaded, the Bolsheviks set about carrying out Trotsky's orders. At Alexandrovsk, for instance, all the workers' meetings planned for the purpose of discussing the call of the Council and the agenda of the Congress were forbidden under pain of death. Those which were organised in ignorance of the order were dispersed by armed force. In other cities and towns, the Bolsheviks acted in the same way. As for the peasants in the villages, they were treated with still less ceremony; in many places militants, and even peasants "suspected of acting in favour of the insurgents and the Congress" were seized and executed after a semblance of a trial. Many peasants carrying the call were arrested, "tried" and shot, before they could even find out about
Order No. 1824.
Neither Makhno himself nor his staff received any communication about this order. The Bolsheviks wanted to avoid alarming them too soon, in the hope of catching them by surprise, and it was only by chance that they heard of the order, three days after its publication. Makhno reacted immediately. He sent a telegram to the Bolshevik authorities in which he declared that he wanted, by reason of the situation that existed, to give up his post as commander. They sent him no answer.
We have now reached the first of a series of exceptionally dramatic turns in the Makhnovist epic, a turn which subjected Makhno himself, the commanders of the various units of his army, the insurgents as a whole, and even the whole population of the free region, to a very severe test. If this situation was resolved to everybody's credit, it was largely due to the exceptional qualities, the extreme valour and the remarkable self-discipline of all who participated in it.
Some days before the publication of Trotsky's order No. 1824, Makhno discovered that the Bolsheviks had weakened the front in the Grichino sector and that they were thus offering Denikin's troops free access by the north-east flank into the Gulai-Polya region. He informed the staff and the Council directly.
In fact, hordes of Cossacks had over-run the region, not through the Insurrectionary front, but to its left, where the Red troops were stationed. The situation became tragic. The Makhnovist army, which held the front on the Mariupol-Kuteinikovo-Taganrog line, was bypassed by Denikin's troops which, in enormous masses, invaded the very heart of the region.
Since the month of April, the peasants of the whole country had vainly sent great numbers of volunteers to Gulai-Polya. There was nothing with which to arm them, since, as we have seen, the Bolsheviks, contrary to their promises and the agreement they concluded, had cut off all supplies to the insurgents and thus sabotaged the defence of the region. With rage in their hearts, the Makhnovist staff were obliged to send the volunteers home. The advance of the Denikinists was the inevitable result.
"In a single day," Archinov records, "the peasants of Gulai-Polya formed a regiment to try and save their village. They armed themselves with axes, picks, old carbines, shot guns, and set out to meet the Whites, seeking to dampen their spirits. About 15 kilometres from Gulai-Polya, near the village of Sviatodukhova, they encountered a considerable number of Don and Kuban Cossacks. The Gulai-Polyans engaged in a heroic and murderous battle with them, and were nearly all killed, including their commander, B. Veretelnikoff, a worker from the Putilov Works in Petrograd, who had originally come from Gulai-Polya. Then a regular avalanche of Cossacks fell upon Gulai-Polya, and occupied it on June 6th, 1919. Makhno, with his staff and a detachment of troops, with only one battery, retreated to the railway station, situated about seven kilometres from the village, but in the evening he was forced to abandon the station as well. Having regrouped during the night all the forces he could still muster, Makhno vigorously counter-attacked next morning, and succeeded in dislodging the enemy from Gulai-Polya. But he only remained master of the village a short while, and Denikinist reserves coming to the rescue of their forces, obliged him to abandon it completely."
Although in this way they had opened the front to the Whites and given confidential orders directed against the Makhnovists, the Bolsheviks continued to feign friendship towards the insurgents, as though nothing in the situation had changed. This was a manoeuvre to capture the guides of the movement, and especially Makhno. On June 7th, two days after sending the local authorities the telegram containing Order No. 1824, the Bolshevik supreme commander sent Makhno an armoured train, bade him resist "to the end", and promised him other reinforcements. In fact, two days later, several detachments of Red Army troops arrived at the station of Gaichur, near Tchaplino, twenty kilometres from Gulai-Polya.
The commander-in-chief, Voroshilov (the future People's Commissar for War), the Commissar of the Armies, Mejlauk, and other high Communist functionaries arrived with these detachments. Close contact was established, in appearance, between the Red command and that of the insurgents. A kind of joint staff was created, and Mejlauk and Voroshilov invited Makhno to move on to their armoured train, in order, they said, to direct operations jointly.
All this was only a cynical comedy. At that very moment
Voroshilov had in his pocket an order signed by Trotsky, commanding him to capture Makhno and all the other responsible leaders of the movement, to disarm the insurgent troops and to shoot without quarter all those who attempted the least resistance. Voroshilov was only awaiting a propitious moment to carry out this order.
Faithful friends warned Makhno in time of the danger which he was running personally and which threatened his whole army and the revolutionary movement. His situation became increasingly difficult. On the one hand, he wanted to avert at all costs the bloody struggle [between the Makhnovists and the Bolsheviks] which it appeared would develop in the face of the enemy. But, on the other hand, he could not sacrifice without a struggle his comrades, his armed forces and his whole cause.
He found a satisfactory solution. Weighing everything, he came to two important decisions. 1. He resolved to abandon, for the moment, the post of commander of the Insurrectionary Army. 2. He decided to ask all the units of his army to remain where they were and accept -- temporarily -- the Red command, while they waited for the propitious moment to resume the struggle for emancipation.
Two days later, with extraordinary coolness and skill, he carried out this double manoeuvre. He quietly left Voroshilov and Mejlauk, and declared to his staff that, for the time being, his work as a simple fighter in the ranks would be more useful. To the Soviet High Command he sent the following statement:
"To the Staff of the 14th Army, Voroshilov to Trotsky, President of the Revolutionary Military Council, Kharkov, to Lenin and Kemenev, Moscow.
"As a result of Order No. 1824 of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic, I sent the staff of the 2nd Army, and Trotsky, a telegram requesting that I be relieved of the post I now occupy. I repeat my request. Here are the reasons which I believe should justify it. Although I have made war, with the insurgents, against the White bands of Denikin, preaching nothing to the people other than the love of freedom and free action, the whole official Soviet press, as well as that of the Communist-Bolshevik Party, has spread rumours about me which are unworthy of a revolutionist. They wish to make me seem a bandit, an
accomplice of Grigoriev, a conspirator against the Soviet Republic for the purpose of re-establishing capitalism. Thus, in an article entitled Makhnovism (On the Road, No. 51), Trotsky poses the question: 'Against whom did the Makhnovist insurgents arise?' and all through his article he occupies himself with demonstrating that Makhnovism is nothing but a battle front against the power of the Soviets. He does not say a word about the real front against the Whites, more than a hundred kilometres long, where the insurgents have been suffering enormous losses for the last six months.
"Order No. 1824 calls me 'a conspirator against the Soviet Republic' and the 'organiser of a rebellion like Grigoriev.' 1 consider it an inviolable right of the workers and peasants -- a right conquered by the Revolution -- to call Congresses on their own account to discuss their affairs. That is why the prohibition by the central authorities of the calling of such Congresses, and the declaration proclaiming them illegal (Order 1824) represent a direct and insolent violation of the rights of the working masses.
"I understand perfectly the attitude of the central authorities with regard to me. I am absolutely convinced that these authorities consider the Insurrectionary movement incompatible with their Statist activity. At the same time, they believe that this movement is closely tied to me personally and they honour me with all the resentment and hatred they feel for the whole Insurrectionary movement. Nothing could demonstrate this better than the article by Trotsky mentioned above, in which, deliberately accumulating lies and slanders, he gives evidence of personal animosity towards me.
"This hostile attitude -- which now becomes aggressive -- of the central authorities towards the Insurrectionary movement leads unavoidably to the creation of a special internal front, on both sides of which are the working masses who have faith in the Revolution. I consider this eventuality an immense, unpardonable crime against the workers, and I believe it my duty to do what I can to avert it.
"The most effective means of preventing the central authorities from committing this crime is, in my opinion, evident. I must leave the post I occupy. I presume that, having done this, I and the revolutionary insurgents will cease to be suspected of engaging in anti-Soviet conspiracies by the central authorities, and the latter will come to consider the insurrection in the Ukraine an important phenomenon, a living, active manifestation of the social revolution of the masses, and not a hostile movement with which they can only have, as they have shown up to now, relations of mistrust and deception going as far as unworthily bargaining for every case
of munitions and even sometimes sabotaging supplies, which has cost the insurgents innumerable losses in men and territory won by the Revolution, losses which would easily have been avoided if the central authorities had adopted another attitude.
"I request that someone come to take over my post.
Gaichur Station, June 9th, 1919. Signed: Batko Makhno."
On receipt of Makhno's statement, the Bolsheviks, supposing him still at Gaichur, sent men with orders not to take over his post, but to seize him. At the same moment, they treacherously captured the chief of staff of the Insurrectionary Army, Oseroff, the staff members Mikhaleff-Pavlenko and Burbyga, and several members of the Revolutionary Military Council. All these men were put to death on the spot. This was the signal for many other executions of Makhnovists who had fallen into the hands of the Bolsheviks.
But Makhno himself escaped. Having adroitly disengaged himself from the tentacles with which the Bolsheviks enveloped Gaichur, he arrived unexpectedly among his troops at Alexan-drovsk. He knew from the friends who had warned him of his predicament that the Bolsheviks, believing him to be at Gaichur, had named his successor at Alexandrovsk.
There, without losing an instant, he officially turned over the affairs of the division and his command to this new chief, who, having just been assigned, had not yet received any orders concerning Makhno personally. "He did this," says Archinov, "because he desired to leave his post openly and honestly, so that the Bolsheviks could have no pretext for accusing him of anything with regard to the affairs of the division he commanded. He wished to play prudently."
After this transfer of command, he addressed to the Insurrectionary Army an explanatory proclamation in which he described the new situation. He declared that he had to leave his post of commander for the time being, and called on the insurgents to fight with the same energy against Denikin's troops, without being disturbed by the fact that they would temporarily be under the command of the Bolshevik staff.
The insurgents understood. Nearly all their units remained where they were, declaring that they recognised the Red commander
and accepted their incorporation into the Bolshevik army.
The Bolsheviks believed they had triumphed. But they did not know that at the same time -- in agreement with Makhno -- several of the more devoted regimental commanders of the insurgents had met secretly and taken a solemn oath to wait for the propitious moment to return again under Makhno's command, so long as this act did not put the external front in danger. No word of this decision leaked out
After doing all this, Makhno, accompanied by a small detachment of cavalry, disappeared. Meanwhile the insurgent regiments, transformed into Red units and remaining under their regular commanders -- Kalachnikoff, Kurilenko, Budanoff, Klein, Dermendji and others -- continued to hold off Denikin's troops, preventing them from taking Alexandrovsk and Ekaterinoslav.
As we have said, the Bolshevik leaders were not aware of the true proportions of Denikin's undertaking. Only a few days before the fall of Ekaterinoslav and Kharkov, Trotsky declared that Denikin did not represent a serious threat, and that the Ukraine was not at all in danger. He had to change his views the next day, when he realised that Kharkov was seriously threatened. It was high time [that he should come to his senses]. Ekaterinoslav succumbed at the end of June, and Kharkov fell into Denikin's hands two weeks later.
The Bolshevik authorities did not try to regain the offensive or even to organise a defence; they were only concerned with evacuating the Ukraine. Nearly all the Red troops were involved in this operation; they retreated to the north, taking with them as many men and as much rolling stock as possible. Clearly, they were abandoning the Ukraine to its fate; they were delivering it whole to the reactionaries.
It was now that Makhno considered that the opportune moment had come to regain the initiative in the struggle and to act again as guide to an independent revolutionary force. This time, he was obliged to act against both Denikin and the Bolsheviks.
The insurgent detachments who had remained provisionally under Bolshevik command received the instruction they had been
patiently awaiting, to remove their Bolshevik superiors, leave the Red Army, and regroup themselves under Makhno's command. Yet even before they could carry out this instruction and rejoin their guide, a new insurrectionary army had formed around Makhno.
The new situation recalled the events following the Austro-German invasion. As we have said, the attitude of the Denikinists and their masters, the former lords who returned with the army, was insolent and brutal in the extreme towards the working population. As soon as they were re-established, these gentlemen set about restoring the feudal absolutist regime. A pitiless "White terror" of terrible reprisals descended on the villages and cities of the Ukraine.
The reply was not long in coming. In great numbers the peasants fled from the reaction and sought out Makhno, whom they naturally considered the man capable of taking up the struggle against the new oppressors.
In less than two weeks, a new army was formed under his direction. The arms they possessed were inadequate, but at this moment the "basic" regiments which had left the Red Army began to arrive. They appeared one after another, not only full of vigour, enthusiasm and fighting spirit, but also well supplied with arms and ammunition. For in leaving the Red Army they had carried off all the arms they could get hold of. The retreating Bolshevik command, which was taken unawares and feared mutiny among its own troops could not oppose this audacious act. [In addition to the returning Anarchist battalions], several Red regiments made common cause with the Makhnovists and enlarged the ranks of the Insurrectionary Army.
With these new troops, Makhno first attempted to halt [the advance of] Denikin's divisions. He retreated step by step, seeking to orient himself in his new surroundings and to take advantage of the first favourable opportunity to resume the offensive. But the Denikinists were on their guard. They had not forgotten the losses and defeats which the Makhnovists had caused them during the preceding winter. Their command assigned a whole army corps -- several regiments of cavalry, infantry and artillery -- to fight the insurgents.
While retreating slowly before the superior forces of the enemy, the Insurrectionary Army gradually took on a strange appearance. Irritated by the revival of stubborn resistance on the part of the Makhnovists -- a resistance that impeded and seriously delayed his advance -- Denikin not only made war on the army as such, but also on the whole peasant population. In addition to the usual persecutions and beatings, the villages he occupied were burnt and wrecked. The greater part of the peasants' dwellings were looted and then destroyed. Hundreds of peasants were shot. The women were maltreated, and nearly all the Jewish women, who were fairly numerous in the Ukrainian villages, were raped, notably at Gulai-Polya.
This kind of warfare obliged the inhabitants of the villages threatened by the approach of the Denikinists to abandon their hearths and flee. Thus the Makhnovist army was joined and followed in its retreat by thousands of peasant families in flight from their homes with their livestock and belongings. It was a veritable migration. An enormous mass of men, women and children trailed after the army in its slow retreat towards the west, a retreat which gradually extended over hundreds of kilometres.
Arriving at Makhno's army at the beginning of its withdrawal, I saw this picturesque "kingdom on wheels", as it was later called, and followed its fantastic movements. The summer of 1919 was exceptionally dry in the Ukraine. Over the dusty roads and the neighbouring fields this human sea moved slowly, with thousands of cattle, with wagons of every kind, with its own food supply, administration and health service. It became a virtual supply-train for the army.
But the army did not allow its movements to be influenced by this mass of fugitives. It kept strictly to its course, except for the units which went off to protect the main body; the cavalry, in particular, were almost always away fighting.
The infantry, when it was not fighting, led the march of the army. [As I have already said], it was carried in tatchankas. Each of these vehicles, which were drawn by two horses, carried the driver on the front seat and two soldiers behind them. In some sections a machine gun was installed on the seat between them. The artillery brought up the rear. A huge black flag
floated over the first carriage. The slogans "Liberty or Death" and "The Land to the Peasants, the Factories to the Workers" were embroidered in silver on its two sides.
Despite the circumstances under which they lived, despite the constant danger and the almost daily combats, all these people were full of spirit and courage. Each of them felt responsible for all, and all for each. Every now and then a popular or a revolutionary song would ring out from some part of the line, and soon it would be taken up by thousands of voices. Arriving at a village, this mass of fugitives would camp until the order came to take the road again. Then, without waiting, they would resume the march, always towards the west, always to the echo of battles |hat took place all around them.
In the course of this retreat, which lasted for four months, thousands of these refugees left the army, set out on their own and dispersed over the entire Ukraine. Most of them lost their homes and possessions for ever. Some, indeed, managed to establish new homes, but many lost their lives, through exhaustion, sickness, or falling into the hands of the Whites.
At first the insurgent army tried to dig in on the Dnieper near the city of Alexandrovsk. For some time it remained master of the famous Kitchkass bridge (one of the most important in Russia). But it was soon overwhelmed by the greatly superior numbers of the enemy, and had to abandon the river, retreating first towards Dolinskaia, and later towards the city of Elizabethgrad.
Meanwhile, the few Red troops who remained here and there in the Ukraine and in the Crimea were completely demoralised by the attitude of the Bolshevik command, and lost all military significance. They considered the flight of the Communist authorities from the Ukraine to be a defection from the revolutionary cause. For these men, who were stagnating in inactivity and doubt, Makhno was the only revolutionary hope in the country. Finally, in July, nearly all the Red regiments in the Crimea mutinied, deposed their commanders and set out to join Makhno's army. This action was deliberately prepared and carried out by Makhno-vists who had remained provisionally in the ranks of the Red army and now departed, taking with them nearly all the Bolshevik troops. By forced march, carrying their former commanders with
them as prisoners, and bearing a large quantity of arms and ammunition, these numerous and fresh regiments, who were well organised and full of enthusiasm after their revolt, advanced in search of Makhno. Their defection was a blow to the Bolsheviks, for it reduced to almost nothing their forces in the Ukraine.
The meeting took place at the beginning of August, at Dobrovelitchkovka, an important village in the department of Kherson. Makhno's army, as a result of this action, became powerful again. From now on it was possible to envisage military action on a large scale. It was even possible to look towards victory.
Soon afterwards Makhno halted his retreat. He did so primarily in order to regroup his forces, for which volunteers were coming from all sides. Having set pickets all around the occupied territory, which lay between Pomostchnaia, Elizabethgrad and Voznessensk -- he proceeded to a complete reorganisation of his army: It now numbered about 20,000 combatants. They were divided into four brigades of infantry and cavalry, a division of artillery and a regiment of machine-gunners.
The cavalry, which was commanded by Stchuss, numbered between two and three thousand sabres. The machine-gun regiment had about five hundred guns. The artillery was adequate. A squadron of 150 to 200 horsemen was formed into a special unit which would always accompany Makhno in his travels, his raids and various other military actions.
Once the regrouping was completed, Makhno began a vigorous offensive against Denikin's troops. The fighting was extremely fierce, and the Denikinist army was repeatedly thrown back many kilometres to the east. But very soon the Makhnovists began to run out of ammunition, so that two attacks out of three were only to capture supplies. Moreover, Denikin sent great numbers of fresh reserves into battle. He wanted to wipe out the Insurrectionary Army at all costs, so as to be able to march on Moscow in complete security. As a further complication of their misfortunes, the Makhnovists had to face at the same time some Bolshevik troops who were coming up from Odessa and the Crimea, forcing a passage across the Ukraine to the north.
Finally the situation became untenable and Makhno was
forced to abandon the Pomostchnaia-Elizabethgrad-Voznessensk region and retreat towards the west. Thus began his famous withdrawal over a line of more than six hundred kilometres, into the territory of the department of Kiev, a withdrawal which lasted almost two months, from August to the end of September, 1919.
Denikin's manifest plan was to encircle the Makhnovist army and to annihilate it. He sent against it several of his best regiments, some of which were composed entirely of young officers who particularly hated the "mujik rabble". Among them, the 1st Simferopol and the 2nd Labinsky regiments had distinguished themselves everywhere by their bravery, their combativeness and their furious energy.
Fierce fighting, of an unprecedented violence, took place almost every day; in fact, it was an uninterrupted battle which lasted for two months, and in which both sides fought exceptionally hard.
I was with Makhno's army during this whole retreat (five comrades, including Archinov and myself, constituting the Commission for Propaganda and Education) and I recall this long series of days as if it were an interminable nightmare.
Those summer nights, which only lasted a few hours, hardly allowing a brief rest to the men and horses, vanishing suddenly with the first glimmer of daylight, the rattle of machine guns, the explosion of shells and the gallop of horses! It was the Denikinists who, attacking from all sides, sought once again to enclose the insurgents in a vice of iron and fire.
Every day they began this manoeuvre again, pressing Makhno's troops always closer together, drawing their circle always tighter, leaving the insurgents less and less space in which to move.
Every day savage combats, going as far as atrocious hand-to-hand fighting, took place on the front and on the flanks of the Makhnovist army, and did not end until nightfall. And every night the army found itself forced to retreat, barely escaping through an increasingly narrow passage, so as not to let the Denikinist vice close on it completely. And at sunrise, it had once more to face the implacable enemy which again sought to encircle it.
The insurgents lacked clothing, shoes and sometimes also
food. Through torrid heat, under a leaden sky, and a hail of bullets and shells, they went further and further away from their own country toward an unknown destination and fate.
At the end of the month of August, Denikin's army corps, which already weighed so heavily on Makhno, was reinforced by new troops from near Odessa and Voznessensk, Denikin, who with the bulk of his forces was already marching on Orel (not far from Moscow), driving back the Red Army, wanted to get rid of the Makhnovists as quickly as possible. For as long as they existed in his rear, he could not feel secure.
The situation got worse and worse every day. But Makhno did not despair. For the moment, he imperturbably continued his skilful retreat. And the fighting men, animated by their ideal, conscious of their task, knowing that they fought for their own cause, every day accomplished veritable miracles of courage and resistance.
It was finally decided to abandon the vicinity of the railroads by which the retreat had up to then been carried out. [Before doing this the insurgents] blew up the armoured trains recently sent to the Denikinists, one of which, the more powerful, was the famous "Invincible".
The retreat continued by country roads, from village to village, and became more and more difficult for the panting, exhausted fugitives. Yet not for an instant did the insurgents lose courage. They all retained hope of triumphing over the enemy. They all valiantly endured the rigours of the situation. With inexhaustible patience, their will stretched to the limit, they rallied under the continued and terrible fire of the enemy around their beloved guide and comrade, [Makhno].
And as for him, on his feet day and night, scarcely interrupting his main activity by a few hours sleep, covered with dust and sweat, but indefatigable, constantly surveying the front, keeping an eye on everything, encouraging the fighters, and often throwing himself furiously into the battle, he thought only of the moment when, taking advantage of some mistake on the enemy's part, he could strike a decisive blow against them.
He watched with a piercing eye all the movements, all the acts
of the Denikinists. He incessantly sent out reconnaissance patrols in every direction. Exact reports were brought to him at every hour. For he knew only too well that the slightest error of command on his part could be fatal to the entire army and hence to his whole cause. He also knew that the more Denikin's troops advanced to the north, the more vulnerable they became in their rear, by reason of the great extension of the front. He took stock of this circumstance and awaited his hour.
Towards mid-September the Insurrectionary Army reached the city of Uman in the department of Kiev. They found it in the hands of the Petlurists. Petlura was in a state of war with Denikin. In his march on Moscow, the latter was neglecting the western Ukraine, expecting to take it easily after the defeat of the Bolsheviks.
What would be the attitude of the Petlurists towards the Makhnovists? And how should the latter act? Should they attack the Petlurists? Should they ask for free passage across their territory and through the city, without which it was impossible to continue the retreat? Should they propose that they fight the Denikinists side by side with the Makhnovists? Or should they simply propose that the Petlurists remain neutral and take the best possible advantage of the situation later on? Everything considered, the last solution seemed the most sensible.
We should mention that the Insurrectionary Army had about 8,000 wounded. In the circumstances these men were deprived of all medical aid. Moreover, they comprised an enormous train in the rear of the army, which seriously hindered its movements and its military operations. The staff intended to ask the Uman authorities to take at least the most seriously wounded into the city hospitals for treatment.
By a fortunate coincidence, at the very moment when these problems were being discussed in the insurgent camp, a Petlurist delegation arrived and declared that, since they were at war with Denikin, they desired to avoid the formation of a new front by opening hostilities with the Makhnovists. This corresponded perfectly with the latter's desires, and a pact was concluded between the two parties, according to which they agreed to maintain a strict military neutrality towards each other. Furthermore, the
Petlurists consented to take the wounded Makhnovists into their hospitals.
The pact stipulated that this strictly military neutrality, which applied only to the immediate situation, did not impose on either party any political or ideological restrictions. Since I was a participant in the parleys, I expressly emphasise the importance of this clause. The Makhnovists knew that the mass of the Petlurists had a great deal of sympathy for them and would listen to their propaganda. It was therefore a question of having the freedom to carry it on without interference, and the Makhnovists published a pamphlet entitled Who is Petlura?, in which the latter was unmasked as a defender of the privileged classes and an enemy of the workers.
As for the Petlurist authorities, while they were resolute enemies of the Makhnovists, they had many reasons for preserving an attitude of extreme prudence towards them. Nevertheless, the insurgents knew that the Petlurist "neutrality" was purely superficial, and that the latter might very well unite secretly with the Denikinists to wipe out the Makhnovists. It was, however, a question of the Insurrectionary Army gaining a few days' respite, of getting rid of their wounded, of averting an immediate attack from the rear, in order not to be caught unawares in a trap. All these goals were attained. But, on the other hand, the suspicions of the Makhnovists soon received striking confirmation.
According to the "neutrality" pact, the Insurrectionary Army had the right to occupy a territory of ten square kilometres near the village of Tekutcha in the vicinity of Uman. Petlura's forces were dispersed to the north and west, Denikin's to the east and south, around Golta. But a few days after the conclusion of the pact the Makhnovists were informed by sympathisers that parleys were being held between the Petlurists and the Denikinists to work out a plan for co-operating to surround and exterminate the Insurrectionary Army. And indeed, a few days later, on the night of September 24th, the Makhnovist scouts reported that four or five Denikinist regiments were in their rear in the west. They could only have got there by passing through the territory occupied by the Petlurists, with the help or at least the acquiescence of the latter. On the evening of September 25th, the Makhnovists were
completely surrounded by Denikin's troops. The bulk of his forces remained concentrated to the east, but a strong barrier was established behind the Makhnovists* and the city of Uman was in the hands of the Denikinists, who were already seeking out and killing the wounded who had been distributed among the hospitals and in private homes.
An order issued by the Denikinist command, which found its way to the Makhnovist staff, read as follows: "Makhno's bands are surrounded. They are completely demoralised, disorganised, starving and without ammunition. I order that they be attacked and destroyed within three days." It bore the signature of General Slastchoff, commander-in-chief of the Denikinist forces in the Ukraine (he later went over to the Bolsheviks).
All retreat was now impossible for the insurgent troops, and the moment for the decisive battle had come. The fate of the whole Insurrectionary Army, the whole movement, the whole cause depended on this supreme battle.
And at this moment Makhno declared with the greatest simplicity that the retreat up to that day had only been a forced strategy, that the real war was about to begin, not later than the next day, September 26th. He made all the necessary preparations for this last fight, and immediately commenced his first manoeuvres.
On the evening of September 25th, the Makhnovists, who up to then had been marching west, suddenly changed direction and began moving east, towards the bulk of the Denikinist army. The first encounter occurred late in the evening, near the village of Krutenkoi. The Makhnovist First Brigade attacked Denikin's advance guard there, the latter retreated to take up better positions and draw the enemy after them towards the bulk of the army. But the Makhnovists did not pursue them.
As Makhno had hoped, this manoeuvre fooled the enemy, who considered the attack a reconnaissance or a diversion, and gained the impression that the march of the insurgents still lay towards the west. He made ready to get behind them at Uman and to wipe them out in the trap that had been prepared. He did not for an instant expect that the Insurrectionary Army would dare to attack his main force, and he did not prepare for the possibility of a frontal attack.
But this was precisely Makhno's plan. His reasoning was very simple. To break through the enemy lines represented the only chance of safety for the army, and it was therefore necessary to try it, to throw themselves against Denikin's forces to the east, in the hope of wiping them out. The manoeuvre of the day before had been merely to distract the enemy.
In the middle of the night of September 26th, all the Makhnovist forces started marching east. The main enemy forces were concentrated near the village of Peregonovska, which was occupied by the Makhnovists. (Here is Peter Archinov's description of the battle which now took place):
"The fighting started between 3 and 4 a.m. It kept mounting in intensity, and reached its peak by 8 a.m., in a regular hurricane of machine-gun fire on both sides. Makhno himself, with his cavalry escort, had disappeared at nightfall, seeking to turn the enemy's flank. During the whole battle that ensued there was no further news of him.
"By 9 o'clock the outnumbered and exhausted Makhnovists began to lose ground. Already they were fighting on the outskirts of the village, and from all sides the enemy reinforcements that were coming up brought new bursts of fire to bear upon them. They retreated slowly, and the staff of the Insurrectionary Army, as well as everyone in the village who could handle a carbine, armed themselves and joined in the fighting.
"This was the critical moment. It seemed that the battle, and with it the whole cause of the insurgents, was lost. The order was given for everyone, even the women, to be ready to fire on the enemy in the village streets. All prepared for the supreme hour of the battle and of their lives.
"But suddenly the machine-gun fire of the enemy, and their frantic cheers, began to grow weaker and then to recede into the distance. The defenders of the village realised that the enemy was retreating and that the battle was now taking place some distance away. It was Makhno who, appearing unexpectedly, at the very moment when his troops were driven back and were preparing to fight in the streets of Peregonovska, had decided the fate of the battle. Covered with dust and fatigued from his exertions, he reached the enemy flank through a deep ravine. Without a cry, but with a burning resolve fixed on his features, he threw himself on the Denikinists at full gallop, followed by his escort, and broke into their ranks.
"All exhaustion, all discouragement, disappeared like magic
from the Makhnovists. 'Batko is here! Batko is playing with his sabre!' could be heard everywhere. And with redoubled energy they all pushed forward, following their beloved guide who seemed doomed to death. A hand-to-hand combat of incredible ferocity, a 'hacking', as the Makhnovists called it, followed.
"However valorous the 1st Officers' Regiment of Simferopol may have been, they were thrown into retreat, at first slowly and in an orderly manner, trying to halt the impetus of the Makhnovists, and then in ever greater precipitation and disorder. They ended by fleeing for their lives. The other regiments, seized by panic,
followed them, and finally all of Denikin's troops were routed, leaving their arms and trying to save themselves by swimming the River Siniukha, about fifteen kilometres from Peregonovska. They still hoped to be able to dig in on the opposite bank.
"But Makhno hastened to take advantage of the situation, which he understood perfectly. He sent his cavalry and artillery at full speed in pursuit of the retreating enemy, and himself went at the head of the best mounted regiment by a short cut which would enable him to catch the fugitives from behind. It was a trip of about twelve or fifteen kilometres.
"At the very moment when Denikin's troops reached the river, they were overtaken by the Makhnovist cavalry, and hundreds of them perished there. Most of them, however, had time to cross to the other bank, but there Makhno himself was awaiting them. The Denikinist staff, and a reserve regiment which was with it, were surprised and taken prisoner. Many officers hanged themselves with their leather belts from the trees in a nearby wood in order to avoid falling into the hands of the Makhnovists. Only an insignificant part of these troops who had raged for months in the stubborn pursuit of Makhno managed to save themselves. The 1st Simferopol Regiment of officers and several other were entirely cut down by insurgent sabres. The route of their retreat was strewn with corpses for a distance of two or three kilometres.1
At nightfall I myself went slowly on horseback and a little to the rear of my comrades over this Calvary of the Denikinist regiments. I shall never forget the fantastic spectacle of those hundreds of human bodies, savagely cut down in their prime, lying under the starry sky, isolated or piled in heaps along the road, and in infinitely strange and varied positions, undressed to their underwear or even naked, covered with dust and blood, but themselves bloodless and greenish in the starlight. Many of them lacked arms, others were horribly mutilated, some had no heads, some were split into two almost separate halves by terrible sabre blows. From time to time, I got down from my horse, bent anxiously over these mute and immobile bodies, which were already stiff, as if I hoped to penetrate an impossible mystery. "This is what all of us would now be if they had won," I thought. "Is it Fate? Luck? Justice?" The next day the local peasants buried all this debris in a vast common grave beside the road.
And, however horrible this spectacle was to some, it was only the natural outcome of the duel between Denikin's army and the Makhnovists. During the whole pursuit, the former had no thought except to exterminate the insurgents. The slightest error on Makhno's part would inevitably have meant the same fate for the Insurrectionary Army. Even the women who supported that army or fought alongside their men would not have been spared. The Makhnovists were experienced enough to know that." (Op. cit., pp. 229-232).
Once Denikin's main force had been wiped out, the Makhnovists lost no time and, following three routes at once, they set off towards the Dnieper and their own country. This return was accomplished at a wild pace. The day after the defeat of Denikin's troops, Makhno was already more than a hundred kilometres from the battlefield. Accompanied by his escort, he moved forty kilometres ahead of the bulk of the army. A day later, and the Makhnovists were masters of Dolinskaia, Krivoi-Rog and Nikopol. The next day the Kitchkass Bridge was taken at full speed and the city of Alexandrovsk fell into the hands of the insurgents.
In their furious advance it seemed as though they were entering the enchanted kingdom of a Sleeping Beauty. No-one had yet heard of the events at Uman. No-one knew the fate of the Makhnovists. The Denikinists had taken no precautions for defence, they were plunged in the lethargy that is customary in the depths of rear echelons. Like spring lightning the Makhnovists struck their enemies. After Alexandrovsk, it was the turn of Pologai, then Gulai-Polya, Berdiansk, Mariupol. At the end of ten days, the whole of Central Ukraine was free of troops and authorities.
But it was not only a matter of troops and authorities. Like a gigantic broom, passing through cities, towns, villages and hamlets, the Insurrectionary Army swept away every vestige of exploitation and servitude. The returned gentry, who did not
expect anything of the kind, the rich peasants (kulaks), the big industrialists, the police, the priests, the Denikinist mayors, the officers lying in ambush -- all these were swept out of the victorious path of Makhnovitchina. The prisons, the police stations and posts, all these symbols of the people's servitude were destroyed, and all those who were known to be active enemies of the peasants and workers were condemned to death. Everywhere the big landowners and the kulaks perished in great numbers. This fact suffices to give the lie to the myth spread by the Bolsheviks about the so-called "kulak" character of the Makhnovist movement.
In this connection a typical episode which I witnessed comes to my memory. On their return, several Makhnovist regiments took a fairly important village. They halted to let the men and horses rest and recuperate. Our Propaganda Commission, which arrived with them, was accommodated by a peasant family who lived in the village square, just opposite the church.
We had hardly entered when we heard movement and shouting outside. Going out, we saw a crowd of peasants who were explaining something to the Makhnovist partisans. "Yes, indeed, Comrades, the swine drew up a list of all the names, forty of them, and sent it to the authorities. All these men were shot . . ."
We learnt that they meant the village priest. According to the peasants, he had denounced a number of the inhabitants to the Denikinist authorities as suspects or sympathisers with Makhnovism. A rapid investigation which some of the insurgents carried out on the spot demonstrated that the peasants were telling the truth.
They decided to go to the priest's house, but the peasants said that it was locked and he was not there. Some thought that the pope had fled, and others believed he was hiding in the church itself. A crowd of peasants and insurgents went there. The door was closed and a great locked padlock hung outside.
"Look," cried some, "he cannot be there if the door is locked on the outside." But others who were better informed said that the pope, not having time to flee, had induced his sacristan to lock him in the church to make it appear that he had fled. In order to make sure, some of the insurgents broke open the lock with blows of their rifle butts, and entered the church. They
explored the interior thoroughly, and found no-one. But they did discover a chamber pot that had been used and a supply of food.
They were now sure that the pope was hiding in the church. Having heard the crowd enter, he had climbed into the tower, hoping that his pursuers, not finding him below, would give up looking. The belfry was reached by a narrow wooden staircase, and the insurgents rushed up it with angry cries and a great clatter of sabres and guns.
Those who were watching from the square suddenly saw the tall figure of a man in a black cassock, gesturing and crying desperately, and clearly very much afraid, appear from under the roof of the bell-tower. He was young, and his long, straw-coloured hair floated out in the wind. His face was contorted with terror, and he stretched out his arms towards the square and cried plaintively: "Little brothers! Little brothers! I have done nothing, I have done nothing. Have pity, little brothers!"
But already vigorous arms were seizing him from behind and dragging him down by the tail of his cassock. They pushed him out of the church and across the square into the courtyard of our host. Many peasants and insurgents entered. Others remained in the square, in front of the open gate.
Immediately an improvised people's trial was organised. Our Commission was not part of it, but we remained as witnesses. We let the people do it themselves. "Well," they shouted to the priest, "What do you have to say? You'll have to pay now. Make your farewells, and say your prayers if you wish!"
"My little brothers, my little brothers," he repeated, trembling all over. "I am innocent, I am innocent, I have done nothing, little brothers."
"What do you mean, you have done nothing?" shouted several voices. "Didn't you denounce young Ivan, and Paul, and Serge the hunchback, and others as well? Wasn't it you who drew up the list? Do you want us to take you to the cemetery and show you the graves of your victims? Or to go and search for the papers in the police station? We might still find the list in your handwriting."
The pope fell on his knees and continually repeated, with
haggard eyes and his body dripping with sweat: "Little brothers, pardon me, pity me, I have done nothing." A young woman who belonged to our commission happened to be near him. Still on his knees, he seized the hem of her skirt, brought it to his lips, and begged: "My little sister, protect me. I am innocent. Save me, little sister!"
"What do you want me to do?" she asked him. "If you are innocent, defend yourself. These men are no wild animals. If you are really innocent, they will not harm you. But if you are guilty, what can I do?"
An insurgent on horseback entered the courtyard, pushing his way through the crowd. Informed of what was happening, he stopped behind the pope, and from his horse, began furiously whipping the unfortunate's back. At each blow of the whip he repeated: "That is for having fooled the people! That is for having fooled the people!" The crowd watched him impassively.
"Enough, Comrade," I said softly. "After all he was not a torturer."
"Oh yes," they cried ironically around me, "they never tortured anyone, did they?"
Another insurgent advanced. He shook the pope roughly. "Well, get up! Enough of this comedy! Stand up!"
The accused did not cry out any more. Very pale, hardly conscious of what was happening, he stood up. His gaze was lost in the distance, and he moved his lips without speaking.
The insurgent signalled to several comrades, who immediately surrounded the pope. "Comrades," he cried to the peasants, "you all say that this man, a proved counter-revolutionist, has drawn up and sent to the White authorities a list of 'suspects' and that as a consequence of this denunciation several peasants were arrested and executed. Is that right?"
"Yes, that is the truth!" roared the crowd. "He had forty of us assassinated. The whole village knows it."
And again they mentioned the names of the victims and called upon definite witnesses. Several relatives of the executed men came to confirm the facts. The authorities themselves had spoken to them of the list drawn up by the priest in explanation of their actions.
The priest said no more. "Are there any peasants here to defend this man?" asked the insurgent. "Does anyone doubt his guilt?" No one moved.
Then the insurgent seized the pope. Brutally he took off his cassock. "What fine cloth!" he said. "With this, we can make a beautiful black flag. Our's is all worn out."
Then he said to the pope. "Now get on your knees and say your prayers without turning round."
The condemned man did so. He went down on his knees, and with folded hands began to murmur. "Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come . . . ." Two insurgents came up behind him. They drew their revolvers, aimed and fired several bullets into his back. The shots rang out, dry and implacable. The body fell over. It was finished. The crowd disbanded slowly talking about the event.
Makhno told of several other dramatic episodes in which he had taken part during his thunderous return. Toward evening, accompanied by several horsemen, all dressed like Denikinist officers, he would present himself to some big nobleman, known to be a fierce reactionary, an admirer of Denikin, and an executioner of the peasants.
The apparent officers, returning from a mission, wished to rest a bit, to pass the night on the estate and leave again next morning. Naturally, they were received enthusiastically. "Messieurs the officers" could take their ease. The estate was well guarded by a detachment of Denikinists. They had nothing to fear.
A feast would be organised in honour of the visitors. The officer of the guard and several faithful friends would attend. Delicious foods, rare wines and fine liqueurs would be served. Tongues would be loosened. Everyone would talk effusively, cursing the "Makhnovist bandits" and all the rebels, wishing for their speedy and complete suppression, drinking the health of Denikin and the White Army. Sometimes the over-trusting noble would show his guests his magnificent arms depot, ready for every eventuality.
Towards the end of the feast, Makhno would brutally reveal his identity and an indescribable scene of surprise, terror and
confusion would follow. "The property is surrounded by Makhno-vists, the guard is disarmed. You must pay."
Neither cries, nor supplications, nor attempts to flee would have any effect. The lord, his friends and faithful agents, the officers of the guard, would be executed on the spot. The soldiers of the guard would be thoroughly questioned and treated accordingly. The episode over, they would carry off the arms and go on to another nest of feudalism.
The occupation of the central Ukraine by the Makhnovists was a mortal danger to Denikin's whole counter-revolutionary campaign. In fact, it was between Volnovakha and Mariupol that the supply base of his army was located and immense stores of munitions were accumulated in all the cities of this region. To be sure, all these supplies did not fall immediately into the hands of the Makhnovists; around Volnovakha, for example, the battle between them and Denikin's numerous reserves raged for five days. But, since all the railroads of the region were in the insurgents' hands, not a shell could get out, and no war material could reach Denikin's troops, either in the north or elsewhere.
As at Volnovakha, several other groups of Denikinist reserves in various places fought the Makhnovists but soon they were all conquered and annihilated. Then the flood of Makhnovitchina rolled towards the bottom of the Donetz basin and the north. In October the insurgents took the city of Ekaterinoslav.
Denikin was forced to abandon his march on Moscow. In haste, he sent his best troops to the Gulai-Polya front. But he was too late. The fire was raging throughout the whole country from the shores of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov to Kharkov and Poltava. Thanks to reinforcements, especially a great number of armoured cars and the excellent cavalry commanded by Mamontov and Chkouro, the Whites succeeded for the moment in making the Makhnovists retreat from Mariupol, Berdiansk and Gulai-Polya, the Makhnovists at the same time took Sinelnikovo, Pavlograd, Ekaterinoslav and other cities and localities; so that Denikin could not gain any advantage from his few purely local successes.
In the course of October and November, Denikin's main forces, descending from the north, carried on a furious fight with Makhno. At the end of November, the Makhnovists, half of whom, more-
over, were stricken by a terrible epidemic of typhus, were forced to abandon Ekaterinoslav and regroup again in the south. But Denikin could no longer consolidate himself. The Makhnovists continued to harrass him in every direction. Moreover, the Red Army, coming down from the north on his tracks, was constantly jostling him. His army was on the point of collapse. Soon the best elements of his troops -- the Caucasians -- refused to continue fighting against Makhno. They abandoned their positions -- the command could not stop them -- and set out for their own country. This was the beginning of the complete downfall of the Denikinist army.
It is necessary to emphasise here the historic fact that the honour of having annihilated the Denikinist counter-revolution in the autumn of 1919, belongs entirely to the Makhnovist Insurrectionary Army. If the insurgents had not won the decisive victory of Peregonovka, and had not continued to sap the bases in Denikin's rear, destroying his supply service for artillery, food and ammunition, the Whites would probably have entered Moscow in December 1919 at the latest.
Having learned of the retreat of Denikin's best troops, the Bolsheviks, who at first were surprised and only later found out the real reason for this about-face (the defeat at Peregonovka and its consequences) quickly recognised the advantages which they could gain from it. They attacked Denikin near Orel and precipitated his general retreat. But this battle, as well as several others between the retreating Whites and the Reds who were pursuing them, had a distinctly secondary importance. The resistance on the part of the Whites was only to protect their retreat and the evacuation of munitions and supplies. Along the whole length of the route from Orel, through Kursk and to the shores of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, the Red Army advanced almost without resistance. Its entry into the Ukraine and the regions of the Caucasus, on the tracks of the retreating Whites was effected exactly the same way as, a year earlier, the fall of the Hetman Skoropadsky cleared the way for the Bolshevik advance.
It was the Makhnovists who bore the brunt of the White army's retreat from the north. Until its final collapse, it gave
much trouble to the Insurrectionary Army. The Bolsheviks, saved indirectly by the revolutionary partisans, returned to the Ukraine to harvest the laurels they had not won.