Michael Palij, The Anarchism of Nestor Makhno, 1918-1921: An Aspect of the Ukrainian Revolution, 1976.

16. The Bolsheviks Break with Makhno

Although the Bolsheviks appreciated Makhno's struggle against Denikin, they also recognized his movement as an organized force opposing Bolshevik dictatorship in Ukraine. Even before Makhno destroyed Hryhor'iv, the Bolsheviks renewed their anti-Makhno propaganda. Trotsky, in particular, led a violent campaign against the Makhno movement. He published a series of defensive articles in his paper Vputi [On the road] in which he charged that all the Makhnovites' talk of "down with the party, down with the Communists, long live the nonparty Soviets!" was only a cunning device to conceal the anarchists' ambition to establish a government of the "kulaks."1 At the same time, the supplies of arms and other war material to Makhno were stopped, thus weakening the Makhno forces vis-a-vis the Denikin troops. Trotsky, an advocate of extreme centralized discipline, concluded that Makhno's army was more of a menace than the Denikin army and declared in June of 1919, according to Emma Goldman, that

... it were better to permit the Whites to remain in the Ukraina than to suffer Makhno. The presence of the Whites . . . would influence the Ukrainian peasantry in favor of the Soviet Government, whereas Makhno and his povstantsi would never make peace with the Bolsheviki; they would attempt to possess themselves of some territory and to practice their ideas, which would be a constant menace to the Communist Government.2

In his speech delivered at the Tenth Congress of the Russian Communist Party in March 1921, Lenin, though not referring specifically to Makhno, obviously had him in mind when he said: "This petty bourgeois counterrevevolution is, no doubt, more dangerous than Denikin, IUdenich, and Kolchak put together because we have to deal with a country where proletarians constitute a minority.' In view of Bolshevik hostility and the Denikin offensive, the partisans' Revolutionary Military Council decided to call a fourth congress of peasants, workers, and partisans of Katerynoslav and Tavriia provinces and the adjacent districts in Kherson and Kharkiv provinces. The Council sent telegrams to these places informing them of the calling of an extraordinary congress on June 15, 1919, at Huliai-Pole.4

Trotsky's response was an order issued on June 4:

To all Military Commissars and the Executive Committees of the districts of Olek-sandrivs'k, Mariupil', Berdians'k, Bakhmut, Pavlohrad, and Kherson. . . . This Congress is directed squarely against the Soviet government in Ukraine and against the organization of the southern front, which includes Makhno's Brigade. The result of this congress can be only a new disgraceful revolt in the spirit of Hryhor'iv, and the opening of the front to the Whites, before whom Makhno's Brigade incessandy retreats because of the incompetence, criminal designs, and treason of its leaders.

1. This Congress is forbidden and in no case shall it be allowed.

2. All the worker-peasant population shall be warned orally and in writing that participation in the Congress shall be considered an act of state treason against the Soviet Republic and the front.

3. All the delegates to this Congress shall be arrested immediately and brought before the Revolutionary Military Tribunal of the Fourteenth, formerly Second, Army.

4. Those who would spread the call of Makhno and the Executive Committee on Huliai-Pole shall be arrested.

5. The present order shall take effect as soon as it is telegraphed and shall be widely distributed locally, displayed in all public places, and sent to the representatives of district and village authorities, in general to all Soviet authorities, and also to the commanders and commissars of the military units.5

The Fourth Regional Congress, called for June 15, could not take place. Neither Makhno nor his staff received any communication about this order, and found out about it only three days after its publication. On June 9 Makhno sent a telegram from the Haichur station to the Fourteenth Army, to Voroshilov, Trotsky, Lenin, and Kamenev:

The whole official press, and also the Communist-Bolshevik party press, has spread rumors about me that are unworthy of a revolutionist. They wish to make me seem a bandit, and accomplice of Hryhor'iv, a conspirator against the Soviet Republic for the purpose of reestablishing capitalism. . . . This hostile attitude of the central authorities toward die partisan movement, which is now becoming aggressive, leads unavoidably to die creation of a special internal front. . . . 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.6

Subsequently Makhno handed over his command and left the front with a few of his close associates and a cavalry detachment. However, he called upon the partisans to remain at the front to hold off Denikin's forces. At the same time his regimental commanders promised to await the proper moment to return under his command. Meanwhile, Trotsky, instead of sending a replacement for Makhno, ordered Voroshilov and Commissar Valerii Mezhlauk to arrest him, but Makhno was warned in advance and escaped. However, on June 1516, members of Makhno's staff, Mykhalev-Pavlenko, Burbyha, and several members of the Revolutionary Military Council, including Oliinyk, Korobka, Kostyn, Polunyna, and Dobroliubov, were captured and executed the next day.8

As soon as Makhno left the front he and his associates began to organize new partisan detachments in the Bolsheviks' rear, which subsequently attacked strongholds, troops, police, trains, and food collectors. At about the same time, the Makhno movement was seriously threatened by the major offensive of the Volunteer Army. This was the main enemy that Makhno fought, stubbornly and uncompromisingly, from the end of 1918 to the end of 1919. Its social and anti-Ukrainian policies greatly antagonized all segments of Ukrainian society. The result of this was an increased resistance to the Volunteer Army and its regime and a substantial strengthening of the Makhno movement.


1. "Makhnovshchina," V puti, no. 51, June 2, 1919; in L. Trotskii, Materialy i dokumenty po istorii Krasnoi armii, 2, pt. 1:190.

2. Goldman, My Disillusionment in Russia, pp. 99100; see also Berkman, Bolshevik Myth, p. 189; Voline, Unknown Revolution, p. 124; Makhno, Makhnovshchina, p. 59; N. Makhno, "Otkrytoe pis'mo t-shchu Maksymovu," p. 11.

3. Lenin, Sochineniia, 26:214; see also "Makhnovshchina," in Bol'shaia sovetskaia entsiklopediia, cols. 500501.

Notes, Chapters 16, 17


4. Arshinov, Istoriia makhnovskogo dvizheniia, pp. 11718; see also Kubanin, Makhnovshchina, p. 77; Akademiia nauk URSR, Kiev, Instytut istorii, Radians'ke budivnytstvo na Ukraini v roky hromadians'koi viiny, Iystopad, 1918-Serpen, 1919, p. 142.

5. Arshinov, Istoriia makhnovskogo dvizheniia, pp. 11920; see also Mazepa, Ukraina v ohni, 2:111; Averin, "Do borot'by proty hryhor'ievshchyny ta denikin-shchyny za Dnipropetrovs'ke," LR, no. 3 (48) (1931), p. 122; Berkman, "Nestor Makhno," p. 17.

6. Arshinov, Istoriia makhnovskogo dvizheniia, pp. 12627.

7. Kubanin, Makhnovshchina, p. 78; Voline, Unknown Revolution, pp. 136-37.

8. Arshinov, Istoriia makhnovskogo dvizheniia, pp. 12728; Makhno, Makhnovshchina, p. 55; Gorelik, Goneniia na anarkhizm, pp. 28, 31; Trotskii, Materialy i dokumenty po istorii Krasnoi Armii, 2, pt. 1: 210.