Voline, The Unknown Revolution, 1917-1921 (1947)

Book Three
Struggle for the Real Social Revolution

Part II
Ukraine (1918-1921)

Wrangel's Offensive and Defeat

Now opens the fourth act [of our drama], that of Wrangel's expedition. The Tsarist ex-officer, Baron Wrangel, replaced Denikin at the head of the White movement. In the same areas -- Crimea, the Caucasus, the Don and Kuban regions -- he attempted to reassemble and reorganise the remnants of Denikin's troops. He was successful, and reinforced his basic troops with several successive drafts [on the population]. Since the disastrous policy of the Bolsheviks had turned increasingly wide sections of society against them, he finally succeeded in setting up a well-organised and completely loyal army.

By the spring of 1920, Wrangel began seriously to harass the Bolsheviks, and, since he was more ingenious and artful than his predecessor, he soon became dangerous. By the middle of the summer, it was evident that he was beginning to gain the upper hand. He pushed on slowly but surely, and soon his advance constituted a grave threat to the whole Donetz basin. Since the Bolsheviks were deeply involved, and undergoing reverses on the Polish front, the whole revolution was again in danger.

As at the time of Denikin's offensive, the Makhnovists decided to fight Wrangel to the full extent of their strength and ability. But each time the Red troops struck them from behind, and they had to abandon the firing line and retreat. At the same time, the Soviet authorities did not stop slandering and smearing the Makhnovists. Thus, for example, while continuing to treat them as "bandits" and "defenders of the kulaks", they spread the false news of an alliance between Makhno and Wrangel, and the representative of the Kharkov government did not hesitate to declare, at the plenary session of the Ekaterinoslav Soviet, that the authorities had written proof of this alliance. All these procedures were, to them, "tactics in the political struggle."

The Makhnovists could not remain indifferent to Wrangel's more and more menacing advance. They felt that it was important to fight him without delay, without allowing him time to consolidate and extend his conquests. But what was to be done about the Communists? In the first place, they prevented the Makhnovists from acting. In the second, their dictatorship was as evil and as hostile to the workers' liberty as Wrangel's.

After having examined the problem from all sides, the Insurgent Council and the staff of the army decided that, despite everything else, Wrangel represented the Enemy No. 1 in relation to the Revolution, and that it was necessary to try and come to an understanding with the Bolsheviks. The question was then brought before the mass of the insurgents, and the latter decided at a huge meeting that the destruction of Wrangel might have important consequences. The assembly agreed with the opinion of the Council and the staff. It was decided to propose to the Communists that hostilities between them and the Makhnovists be suspended in order that together they might wipe out Wrangel.

In July and August, dispatches to this effect were sent to Moscow and Kharkov, in the name of the Council and the Commander of the Insurrectionary Army. They received no reply. The Communists continued their war against the Makhnovists, making war on them and slandering them.

In September, Ekaterinoslav had to be abandoned by the Communists, and almost without resistance, Wrangel took Berdiansk, Alexandrovsk, Gulai-Polya and Sinelnikovo. It was only then that a plenipotentiary delegation from the Central Committee of the Communist Party, with a certain Ivanov at its head, came to Starobelsk (in the Kharkov region), where the Makhnovists were then encamped, to begin negotiations on the subject of combined action against Wrangel. These negotiations took place on the spot. They resulted in a preliminary military and political agreement between the Makhnovists and the Soviet authorities. The clauses of this preliminary agreement were to be sent to Kharkov to be officially ratified. For this purpose, and also to maintain subsequent contact with the Bolshevik staff Budanoff and Popoff left for Kharkov.

Between the 10th and 15th December, 1920, the clauses of the agreement were put into final form and adopted by the two contracting parties. In spite of our desire for brevity, this historic document should be quoted in its entirety, for its contents are very revealing, while the events that followed the conclusion of the pact cannot be understood or fully appreciated unless one knows all the details of the agreement.

"Preliminary Political and Military Agreement between the Soviet Government of the Ukraine and the Revolutionary Insurrectionary {Makhnovist) Army of the Ukraine.

"Part I -- Political Agreement.

1.    Immediate release of all Makhnovists and Anarchists imprisoned or in exile in the territories of the Soviet Republics; cessation of all persecutions of Makhnovists or Anarchists (only those who carry on armed conflict against the Soviet Government are not covered by this clause).

2.    Complete freedom for all Makhnovists and Anarchists of all forms of public expression and propaganda for their principles and ideas, by speech and the press, with the exception of anything that might call for the violent overthrow of the Soviet Power, and on condition that the requirements of the military censorship be respected. For all kinds of publications, the Makhnovists and Anarchists, as revolutionary organisations recognised by the Soviet Government, may make use of the technical apparatus of the Soviet state, while naturally submitting to the technical rules for publications.

3.    Free participation in elections to the Soviets; and the right of Makhnovists and Anarchists to be elected thereto. Free participation in the organisation of the forthcoming Fifth Pan-Ukrainian Congress of Soviets, which shall take place next December.

Signed (By mandate of the Soviet Government of the Ukrainian SSR): Yakoleff. Plenipotentiaries of the Council and the Commander of the Revolutionary Insurrectionary (Makhnovist) Army of the Ukraine: Kurilenko, Popoff.

"Part II -- Military Agreement.

1.    The Revolutionary Insurrectionary (Makhnovist) Army of the Ukraine will join the armed forces of the Republic as a partisan army, subordinate, in regard to operations, to the supreme command of the Red Army. It will retain its established internal structure, and does not have to adopt the bases and principles of the regular Red Army.

2.    While crossing Soviet territory, at the front, or going between fronts, the Insurrectionary Army will accept into its ranks neither detachments of nor deserters from the Red Army.


a. The units of the Red Army, as well as isolated Red soldiers, who have met and joined the Insurrectionary Army behind the Wrangel front, shall re-enter the ranks of the Red Army when they again make contact with it.

b. The Makhnovist partisans behind the Wrangel front, as well as all men at present in the Insurrectionary Army, will remain there, even if they were previously mobilised by the Red Army.

3.    For the purpose of destroying the common enemy -- the White Army -- the Revolutionary Insurrectionary (Makhnovist) Army of the Ukraine will inform the working masses that collaborate with it of the agreement that has been concluded, it will call upon the people to cease all action hostile to the Soviet power; for its part, the Soviet power will immediately publish the clauses of the agreement.

4.    The families of combatants in the Insurrectionary (Makhnovist) Army living in the territories of the Soviet Republic shall enjoy the same rights as those of soldiers of the Red Army and for this purpose shall be supplied by the Soviet government of the Ukraine with the necessary documents.

Signed: Commander of the Southern Front: Frunze; Members of the Revolutionary Council of the Southern Front: Bela Kun, Gussev; Plenipotentiary Delegates of the Council and Commander of the Makhnovist Insurrectionary Army: Kurilenko, Popoff."

In addition to the above mentioned three clauses of the political agreement, the representatives of the Council and Commander of the Makhnovist Army submitted to the Soviet Government a fourth special clause as follows:

"Fourth Clause of the political agreement.

"One of the essential principles of the Makhnovist movement being the struggle for self-administration of the workers, the Insurrectionary Army believes it should insist on the following fourth point: 'In the region where the Makhnovist Army is operating, the worker and peasant population will create its own free institutions for economic and political self-administration; these institutions will be autonomous and joined federatively -- by means of agreements -- with the governmental organs of the Soviet Republics.'"

In practice it was a question of reserving for the Makhnovist insurgents two or three departments of the Ukraine in which they could carry out their social experiments in complete freedom, while maintaining federative connection with the USSR. Although this special clause did not constitute part of the signed agreement, the Makhnovists naturally attached very great importance to it.1

We urge the reader to examine closely the text of this agreement. It clearly distinguishes the two opposed tendencies: the one, statist and defending the usual privileges and prerogatives of authority; the other, popular and revolutionary, defending the usual demands of the subjugated masses. It is extremely significant that the first part of the agreement -- which contains the political clauses and demands the natural rights of the workers -- contains only Makhnovist theses. In this matter, the Soviet authorities had the classic attitude of all tyrannies: they sought to limit the demands formulated by the Makhnovists, bargained on all points, did everything possible to reduce the rights of the working people, rights which were inalienable from and indispensable for their real freedom.

Under various pretexts, the Soviet authorities delayed for a long time publishing this agreement. The Makhnovists felt that sign augured little good, and aware of the lack of sincerity of the Soviet authorities, they declared firmly that as long as the Agreement was not published, the Insurrectionary Army could not act according to its clauses. It was only after this direct pressure that the Soviet government finally decided to publish the text of the agreement. But they did not do the whole thing at once. They first published part II (the military agreement); then, after an interval, part I (the political agreement). The real meaning of the pact was thereby obscured. The greater proportion of the readers did not understand it precisely, which was what the Bolsheviks wanted. As for the special political clause (No. 4), the Ukrainian authorities separated it from the agreement, pretending that they had to confer with Moscow on this subject. Between October 15th and 20th, the Makhnovist army set out to attack Wrangel. The battle front extended from Sinelnikovo to Alexandrovsk-Pologui-Berdiansk. The direction (of the attack) was towards Perekop.2

In the first battles, between Perekop and the city of Orekov, an important group of. Wrangel's troops, commanded by General Drozdoff, was beaten and 4,000 soldiers taken prisoner.3 Three weeks later, the region was liberated from Wrangel's troops. They withdrew towards the Crimea, and at the beginning of November, the Makhnovists, together with the Red Army, were already before Perekop.

A few days later, with the Red Army blocking Perekop, a part of the Makhnovist troops, following the orders of the staff, went thirty kilometres to the left of the isthmus and set out over the ice of the Sivach Strait, which at this time was frozen. The cavalry, commanded by Martchenko (an anarchist peasant, originally from Gulai-Polya) marched at the head, followed by a machine-gun regiment commanded by Kojin (a revolutionary peasant and a very brave commander). The crossing was made under violent and continuous fire from the enemy, which cost many lives. But the boldness and perseverence of the attackers finally broke the resistance of Wrangel's troops, who took flight. Then another Makhnovist army, the Crimean, under the command of Simon Karetnik (another anarchist peasant from Gulai-Polya) moved to the right towards Simferopol, which was taken by storm on the 13th and 14th of November. At the same time, the Red Army forced Perekop.

It is incontestable that, having entered the Crimea by [crossing the Strait of] Sivach, the Makhnovists contributed greatly to the taking of the Perekop Isthmus, hitherto reputed impregnable, by forcing Wrangel to retreat into the interior of the Crimea in order to avoid being surrounded in the gorges of Perekop. Wrangel's adventure was over. The remnants of his troops embarked in all haste from the southern shore of the Crimea and left for abroad.

We have mentioned that, with the abandonment of Ekaterinoslav and the second conflict with the Bolsheviks, followed by Wrangel's expedition, events of a military nature once again prevented all creative activity on the part of the labouring masses of the insurgent region. An exception can, however, be made of the village of Gulai-Polya.

We should here note that, while considered a village, Gulai-Polya is really a city and even a fairly large city. To be sure, at the time we are considering, its population was composed almost entirely of peasants, but it numbered from 20,000 to 30,000 inhabitants. The village had several primary schools and two high schools. Its life was active, and the mentality of its population was very advanced. A number of intellectuals -- teachers, professors and others -- had been established there for some time.

Although, during the bitter struggle against Denikin, the Bolsheviks and Wrangel, Gulai-Polya changed hands many times, and although the Soviet government, despite the agreement, maintained a semi-blockade of the region and did as much as it could to prevent the free activity of the workers, the active core of the Makhnovists residing at Gulai-Polya carried on very energetic constructive work, with the help and enthusiastic support of the whole population.

First of all, they were concerned with the organisation of a free local workers' Soviet. This Soviet was to lay the foundations of the new economic and social life of the region, a life based on the principles of liberty and equality, free from all political authority. To this end the inhabitants of Gulai-Polya organised several preliminary meetings and ended by creating a Soviet which functioned for a few weeks. It was later destroyed by the Bolsheviks. At the same time, the Insurgents' Council drew up and published the Fundamental Laws of the Free Soviet.

They also devoted themselves actively to academic instruction and public education. This work was very urgent since the repeated armed invasions had involved terrible repercussions in the field of education. The teachers, having received no remuneration for a long time, had dispersed, and the school buildings were abandoned. In so far as circumstances permitted, the Makhnovists and the whole population of Gulai-Polya undertook the task of rebuilding the educational system.

What deserve special attention are the leading ideas on which the initiators based this work. [They were as follows]:

1.    The workers themselves should supervise the process of educating the younger generation of workers.

2.    The school should not merely be a source of indispensable knowledge, but also a means of developing conscious and free men, capable of struggling for a truly human society, and of living and acting in accordance therewith.

3.    To fulfil these two conditions, the school should be independent and therefore separate from the Church and the State.

4.    The teaching of the youth should be the wqrk of those with the ability, aptitude, knowledge and other qualities necessary for this purpose. Naturally, it should be placed under the effective and vigilant control of the workers.

At Gulai-Polya there were some intellectuals who were supporters of the principles of the Free School of Francisco Ferrer.4 Under their guidance, a lively movement developed and rapidly began to sketch out a widespread educational enterprise. The peasants and workers undertook the maintenance of the necessary teaching personnel for all the schools of the village and its environs, and a mixed commission, composed of peasants, workers and teachers, was created in order to take charge of providing for all the needs, economic as well as pedagogical, of the academic life. This commission drew up, in record time, a plan for free education, inspired by the ideas of Francisco Ferrer. At the same time, special courses for adults were organised and classes in "political" or rather social and ideological subjects began to function.

Soon many persons who had previously abandoned their activity as teachers and even left Gulai-Polya, became aware of the revival and returned to their posts, while a number of specialists, who lived elsewhere, came to the village to take part in the movement. In this way the work of education was restarted on a new basis. We should also mention the resumption of theatrical performances which were inspired by the new ideas and accomplished some very interesting results.

All this creative spirit of the masses was brutally destroyed by a new and furious Bolshevik attack, which was unleashed over the whole Ukraine on November 26th, 1920.

After all that had happened, no one among the Makhnovists believed in the revolutionary integrity of the Bolsheviks. They knew that only the danger of Wrangel's offensive had forced the latter to deal with Makhno. And they were certain to find some pretext for a new campaign against the Makhnovitchina. No one believed in either the solidity or the continuation of the agreement. But in general the Makhnovists supposed that, the alliance would last for three or four months, and they hoped to take advantage of this lapse of time to carry on energetic propaganda in favour of the Makhnovist and libertarian ideas and movements. This hope was illusory.

The way in which the Bolshevik government had applied the clauses of the agreement was already significant and suspicious. It was evident that they had no idea of fulfilling the treaty honestly or effectively. They released only a trifling number of imprisoned Makhnovists and Anarchists, and they continued to prevent, by all possible methods, the ideological activity of the libertarian militants.

Absorbed by their military tasks, the Makhnovists could not for the moment concern themselves with this irregular situation. However, a certain amount of Anarchist activity was reborn in the Ukraine. Some propaganda was resumed and a few newspapers reappeared.

The interest and sympathy of the labouring population for the libertarian ideas and movement surpassed all expectation. Coming out of prison in Moscow and returning to the Ukraine, I was surprised to see crowds filling our meeting hall in Kharkov, every evening and for every lecture that was announced. Each time, we had to turn away hundreds of people. And in spite of the already intense cold at that season, many people would remain outside, listening to every word through the half-open door.

Soon the ranks of the Ukrainian Anarchists were enlarged by a number of militants who came from Great Russia, where the Bolsheviks paid hardly any attention to the agreement concluded with Makhno, and every day the movement gained strength. This state of affairs could only hasten the reaction of the Bolsheviks, who were enraged at such success [for the Anarchists].

The Makhnovists counted heavily on the effects of the famous Fourth Clause of the political agreement. They insisted on the urgency of examining it and reaching a decision, for they were anxious to obtain the Bolsheviks' recognition of the right of economic and social self-government by the workers and the peasants. They demanded that the Soviet authorities choose between two possibilities; either to sign the article in question or to explain frankly why they were against it.

Little by little, it was on this question that the Anarchist propaganda concentrated. By the middle of November, this Fourth Clause had attracted public attention everywhere, and promised to assume capital importance in the future. But it was precisely this clause which seemed absolutely unacceptable in the eyes of the Bolsheviks.

It was around this time that an Anarchist congress was planned at Kharkov to establish the type of Anarchist activity to be carried on in the new circumstances. And it was around the same time that Lenin, reassured by the liquidation of Wrangel's adventure, began to prepare slyly for a new attack on the Makhnovists and the Anarchists, and ended by sending, one after another, his famous secret telegrams, of which the Anarchists were warned too late.

"As soon as Simon Karetnik's dispatch -- announcing that he was with the insurrectionary troops in the Crimea and marching on Simferopol -- had been sent to Gulai-Polya, Gregor Vassilevsky, Makhno's aide-de-camp, exclaimed: 'This is the end of the agreement. I wager that in a week the Bolsheviks will be on our backs.' That was said on November 16th, and on the 26th of the same month, the Bolsheviks treacherously attacked the Makhnovist staff and troops in the Crimea; they threw themselves at the same time on Gulai-Polya, seized the Makhnovist representatives at Kharkov, destroyed all the recently established Anarchist organisations there, and imprisoned all the Anarchists, of whom several had come for the congress. They proceeded in the same way all over the Ukraine." (P. Archinov, op. cit. pp. 297-8.)


1 It is significant that after the conclusion of the pact with the Makhnovists, the Bolsheviks felt obliged to declare, through the Central Commissariat for War, that Makhno had never dealt with Wrangel, that the statements spread about were an error based on false information, etc. These declarations were published by the Central Commissariat for War under the title Makhno and Wrangel in the Proletarian and other Kharkov papers around October 20th, 1920.

2 Perekop is a very narrow and hilly isthmus which connects the near-island of Crimea with the mainland.

3 This was the moment that Makhno demanded, by telegram, the immediate release of Tchubenko and myself -- I had been imprisoned at the end of December 1919. At this time the Bolsheviks praised to me the fighting qualities of the Makhnovist army.

4 Francisco Ferrer, famous Spanish free-thinker, founder of a system of free education. An object of fierce hatred by the Catholic Church, he was falsely accused on its instigation of having taken part in revolutionary plots, and was shot in 1909. His execution gave rise to vast movements of protest throughout the whole world. Francisco Ferrer called himself an Anarchist.