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

3. The Socioeconomic Background of Peasant Unrest in Makhno's Region

Partisan activity covered a wide area, bounded by the Don Basin in the east; a line running from Starobilsk to Kharkiv and Myrhorod in the north; a Myrhorod-Odessa line in the west; and the Black and Azov seas in the south. However, the Makhno movement was limited to Katerynoslav, Tavriia, and parts of Kherson, Kharkiv, and Poltava provinces. Katerynoslav province, the center of the movement, comprised a land area larger than the Netherlands. After its establishment in 1783, it formed, together with three districts of Kherson, and border strips of Tavriia and Kharkiv provinces, the Free Lands of the Zaporozhian Cossacks, whose republic, the Zaporozhian Sich, had been destroyed by Catherine II in 1775.1 Although class differences existed during the last years of the Zaporozhian Sich, the officers among the Cossacks having accumulated considerable wealth, socioeconomic conditions were far more tolerable than in the rest of Ukraine. The Zaporozhian Cossacks opposed the reduction of the peasantry to serfdom and the farther a landlord's estate lay from Zaporozhia, the heavier were the burdens of the peasants working it. The heritage of the Sich's socioeconomic order remained strong in the thinking of subsequent generations, especially as serfdom in Ukraine did not develop as a result of social conditions, as it did in Russia, but was imposed. Retaining the memory of freedom, the population preserved the tradition of struggle to achieve it. Thus serfdom in southern Ukraine was not as widespread nor as exploitative as it was in the other parts of Ukraine. For example, in Katerynoslav province during the 1780s and 1790s, there were only about six thousand male serfs out of a total population that fluctuated between five hundred thousand and one million. Even on the eve of emancipation the proportion of serfs in steppe Ukraine was lower than in most other Ukrainian provinces.

After 1775 the Cossacks who did not escape to Turkey or were not exiled by the Russian government remained as free peasants. However, after the Russo-Turkish Wars of 1769—91, Russia began to distribute Zaporozhian land, along with the new territories acquired in the war, to Russian and Ukrainian high officials, army officers, civil servants, and gentry. Fearing serfdom, many peasants fled, for the most part to the Don and Kuban basins. On May 3, 1783, the Russian government introduced serfdom. As the process of land distribution continued and serfdom penetrated deeper, the uprisings and flights of peasants in protest assumed large proportions. As early as 1799, the peasants of Kateryno-slav province staged an armed uprising against the distribution of lands and subsequently escaped to the Don Basin. In 1811, a group of three hundred armed peasants from Katerynoslav district fled to Moldavia.7 In 1815, the peasants of the village Voskresens'ke, in Pavlohrad district, refused to work for the landlord Ozerov. In 1817, a group of six hundred peasants at Huliai-Pole rebelled against the landlords, refusing to work on their estates on the ground that "they were state peasants" (Kazennogo vedomstva) during the period of the governorship of General Khorvat and in 1795 had been unjustly transformed into serfs. Furthermore, they "began to argue that they were Cossacks." Antipathy toward serfdom was constantly alive among the peasants.

After the Crimean War in 1856, thousands of peasants from Katerynoslav and Kherson provinces fled with their belongings to Crimea in search of freedom. They were encouraged by "ill-intentioned hatemongers of Russia" spreading rumors that the tsar was granting land and freedom in Crimea. There were serious clashes between the peasants and troops and many people were killed or wounded.

As a result of the peasant emigration, the Cossacks' lands became more and more sparsely populated. The new landowners were able to induce many peasants, especially from Left Bank Ukraine, to settle on their lands by promising them freedom from all obligations for twenty or more years. Also the transfer of peasants by landlords who moved from northern Ukraine to the south played an important role in the process of colonization. In 1843, for example, 145,000 peasants were transferred from Poltava province to the south. Another large group of settlers consisted of foreigners who came, spontaneously at first, and later under the influence of a system of special grants and privileges, including complete religious tolerance, offered by the Russian government. Two manifestoes issued by the government on December 4, 1762, and on June 22, 1763, which were widely circulated in Europe by Russian agents, promised all foreigners most liberal terms and "the Monarchical favor." Consequently, large numbers of Armenians, Bulgarians, Georgians, Germans, Greeks, Italians, Jews, Moldavians, Russians, Serbs, and Wallachians settled in southern Ukraine. During the first phase of settlement the largest ethnic group, the Serbs, came from Austria as early as 1751 and later settled within the borders of the Sich directly under Russian administration. Old Believers of Russian origin, who came mainly from Right Bank Ukraine, Moldavia, Bessarabia, and Poland, were granted wide privileges, including exemption from military service. They, the Armenians, and the Greeks were the only groups that settled and lived in close-knit communities. Although the colonists were their own masters, in the course of time many of them mixed with the local population. On the other hand, the colonists' freedom, religion, ideas, and traditions of previous struggle for national liberation had greatly affected the local Ukrainian population.

The largest and most successful groups of settlers were the German religious sects, the Hutterites and Mennonites. The Hutterites came from Austria via Transylvania (1755) and Wallachia (1767) and settled in Chernyhiv province in 1772. In 1842, they moved south where they established several villages. The Hutterites received extensive privileges, including religious toleration, exemption from military service, and financial aid. As they began to lose their privileges they decided to move to the United States and settled in the Dakotas in 1874.7

The settlement of the Mennonites on the Cossacks' land was more successful and lasting. In 1789, 228 families came from East Prussia and settled on the Khortytsia, a tributary of the Dnieper. In 1797, 118 more families in the colony grouped into eighteen villages. The continuing immigration was so successful that by 1845 there were 100,000 Mennonites settled in Katerynoslav, Kherson, and Tavriia provinces.8 By that time, the government had practically ceased to offer its earlier generous inducements to prospective colonists, but immigration continued throughout the nineteenth century.

The early Mennonites received most generous grants and privileges. Transportation and construction of their villages were financed by the government; each family was granted sixty-five dessiatines (or little more than 175 acres) of the best black soil land and a loan of five hundred rubles ($250.00), and other necessary economic support. Also each village was granted a large free pasture and forest for its use. Moreover, each family was granted, like the nobility, monopoly of distilleries and breweries. As conscientious objectors, Mennonites were exempted from military duties; they were also exempt from taxation for thirty years.9 Finally, the colony was granted self-government, including the rights to establish its own churches, schools, and other cultural, economic, and political organizations in which only the German language was used. These privileges and grants to the German colonists were all the more extraordinary in that they were given simultaneously with the destruction of Ukrainian political autonomy and the introduction of serfdom in Left Bank Ukraine by the Russian government.

The settlement of southern Ukraine changed the agricultural patterns and economic conditions of the peasants. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the raising of sheep for wool was supplanted by the cultivation of grain; by the end of the century metallurgical and coal industries augmented the economy. Transportation expanded, facilitating grain export and the development of heavy industry. The growing labor force, coupled with the turn toward industry, further heightened Ukrainian rejection of serfdom. Tsar Alexander II's Manifesto of February 19, 1861, abolishing serfdom, was not successful in its goal of providing land of their own to peasants, for little land left the landlord's hands, and that turned over to peasants in Katerynoslav province, for .example, was given for community landholding, often at an inflated price.

Nor did all peasants receive land—household servants and serfs of small landowners were emancipated without it. Further, liberation was incomplete: ex-serfs were under state supervision, could not leave their villages without permission, and could not send their children to secondary schools.

The peasants hardly understood the allotment and compensation provisions and found it difficult to believe that they had received freedom without free use of the land, pasture, and forest resources. During the first decade of the postreform period there were eighty-eight uprisings involving 188 villages in Katerynoslav.13 Since the income of many peasants from their allotments was not enough to make the payments, desertion was frequent, although those who remained were then additionally burdened by the requirement for collective redemption.

Gradually, the situation of the peasants deteriorated as per capita land allotments diminished with the increase of population. Thus, between 1880 and 1900, the average allotment decreased from 3.6 to 2.3 dessiatines. In addition, the peasantry began to be differentiated into the rich, the middle, and the village proletariat. New holdings gained either from landlords or other peasants went largely to those who were already relatively better off. As the size of land allotments decreased, the peasants tried to solve the problem by renting land and pastures from the landlords. The owners, however, were often reluctant, judging that the poorer the peasants were, the cheaper would be the labor force. From 1881 to 1900 there were uprisings in more than forty villages in Katerynoslav, frightening both the regime and the landowners.14

The Marshal of the Nobility of Katerynoslav province, on September 20, 1883, reported to Minister of Interior D. A. Tolstoi that panic existed among the nobility of the province, because of the peasant disturbances in Novomoskovs'k district.

The peasants firmly declared that they would take the land they considered theirs away from the landlords. They reasoned that even if the land was appropriated to the landlords in the past, this was unjust because it [the land] was acquired by the blood of their parents and their peasant ancestors.^

The marshal tried to convince the minister that the peasant uprisings might spread to other provinces or even to the entire empire.

Toward the end of the century the peasant mass movement against the landlords intensified and several radical groups were drawn together to form the Socialist Revolutionary party, which subsequently tried to divert the peasants' revolutionary energy from economics to politics. The peasants' dissatisfaction with the emancipation land settlement erupted in the spring of 1902, mainly in the provinces of Kharkiv and Poltava. More than 160 villages were involved in the disturbances and some eighty estates were attacked within a few days. Only military force was able to put down these uprisings.

The peasant uprisings of 1902 recurred in 1905 in the aftermath of the unsuccessful Russo-Japanese War. During the spring, disturbances took place in two districts of Katerynoslav province; in the summer, in four; and in the fall, in all eight districts. There were strikes and demonstrations in the city of Katerynoslav that led to clashes with the police. Although the Revolution of 1905 was a failure, it did induce the government to make some concessions, the most important of which, in its effect on the peasants, was a series of land reforms introduced by Prime Minister Peter A. Stolypin with the decree of November 9, 1906; the law of June 14, 1910; and the Land Settlement Act of May 29, 1911. The aim was to abolish communal tenure, enclose scattered strips into compact holdings, and establish the peasants as individual farmers, owners of their allotments. Stolypin's measures were dictated by far-reaching political aims and economic reasons; they were designed to favor a landed middle class that by its nature would be conservative, and on which the regime could rely. Because these reforms coincided to a considerable extent with traditional Ukrainian peasant land usage, the wealthier peasants gladly accepted them and began to consolidate their lands into single units, providing for a more rational farm economy. In Katerynoslav province in 1905, there were 270,000 peasant land-holdings, and during the period from 1907 to 1914 over 142,000 peasants left the village communes. The Stolypin reforms, however, gave no relief to the poorer peasants because their lack of farm implements compelled them to sell their land. Judging from Stolypin's statement in the Third Duma that "the government had placed its wager not on the needy but on the strong—the sturdy individual proprietor," he had no intention of doing otherwise. This statement was interpreted by his critics as evidence of the determination to sacrifice the interests of the poorer peasants to those of a well-to-do minority. Stolypin's land reform, however, cannot be evaluated because it would have required a score of years to produce lasting results. In Ukraine the acuteness of the agrarian problem had not subsided by 1917, but had grown even worse, becoming a major issue during the Revolution.


1. M. Kubanin, Makhnovshchina, pp. 3—4; IUrii Mahalevs'kyi, "Bat'ko Makhno," KD 1930, p. 60; Bolshaia Sovetskaia entsyklopediia (Moscow: "Sovet-skaia entsyklopedia," 1938), 38 : 500; Akademiia nauk URSR, Kiev. Instytut istorii a arkheolohii, Narys istorii Ukrainy (Ufa: vyd-vo Akademiia nauk URSR, 1942), p. 176; V. V. Rudnev, Makhnovshchina, p. 3; D. Doroshenko, Narys istorii Ukrainy, 2:231.

2. N. D. Polons'ka-Vasylenko, The Settlement of the Southern Ukraine, 1750—1775 (New York: Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences in the U.S.A., 1955), pp. 326—27; E. I. Druzhinina, Severnee Prichernomore'e v 1775—1800 gg. (Moscow, 1959), p. 260.

3. D. Doroshenko, Narys istorii Ukrainy, 2:238—40; Dnipropetrovs'ka oblast' (Kiev, 1969), p. 13; Kharytia Kononenko, "Dvi manifestatsii," LHKD 1937, p. 12; Krypiakevych [Kholms'kyi], Istoriia Ukrainy, p. 307; Krest'ianskoe dvizhenie v Rossiiv 1796—1825 gg., p. 855; Dnipropetrovs'ka oblast', p. 15.

4. Krest'ianskoe dvizhenie v Rossii v 1 796—1825 gg., pp. 449, 452.

5. A. A. Romanov, "V Tavriiu za volei: Vospominaniia ochevidtsa," Istori-cheskii vestnik 84 (1901): 264-65, 273.

6. Borschak, "Ukraine in the Russian Empire," 1 :669; Polonska-Vasylenko, Settlement of the Southern Ukraine, pp. 201, 241—43; S. D. Bodnar, Sekta Men-nonitov v Rossi (Petrograd: V. D. Smirnov, 1916), pp. 1—2.

7. A. Bondar, "Kto takoi Grigor'ev?" PS, no. 3, pp. 6-7, 12; C. H. Smith, The Story of the Mennonites, pp. 377—78.

8. D. Doroshenko, Narys istorii Ukrainy, 2 :239.

9. Smith, Story of Mennonites, p. 23; Druzhinina, Severnee Prichernomor'e, p. 166; W. Ohnesseit, "Die deutschen Bauemkolonien in Sildrussland von ihrer Grundung bis zur Gegenwart," Preusussische Jahrbiicher, no. 206 (1926), p. 169.

10. Harry Schwartz, Russia's Soviet Economy (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1950), p. 63.

11. Kononenko, "Dvi manifestatsii ' p. 136.

12. D. Doroshenko, Narys istorii Ukrainy, 2 : 292.

13. N, N. Lashchenko, Krest'ianskoe dvizhenie na Ukraine v sviaziprovedeniem reformy 1861 goda. 60-e gody XIX st. (Kiev, 1959), p. 520.

14. V. P. Teplysts'kyi, Reforma 1861 roku i agrarni vidnosyny na Ukraini (Kiev, 1959), p. 292, as quoted in Dnipropetroys'ka oblast', p. 17; Krest'ianskoe dvizhenie v Rossi v 1881—1889 gg., pp. 780 ff.; Krest'ianskoe dvizhenie v Rossi v 1890 1900gg., pp. 601 ff.

15. Krest'ianskoe dvizhenie v Rossii v 1881—1889 gg., p. 741.

16. Geroid Tanquary Robinson, Rural Russia under the Old Regime: A History of the Landlord-Peasant World and a Prologue to the Peasant Revolution in 1917 (London: Longmans, Green, 1932), pp. 138—40; Ivanov, " Revoliutsiia 1905," pp. 28 29.

17. Herbert J. Ellison, History of Russia (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1966), pp. 264—66; Kononenko, "Dvi manifestatsii," pp. 97—100; Vasyl' Prokhoda, Zapysky nepokirlyvoho: Istoriia nastional'noho usvidomlennia, zhyttia i diial'nosty zvychainho ukraintsia (Toronto: "Proboiem," 1967), p. 122; S. M. Dubrovskii, Stolypinskaia zemel'naia reforma: Iz istorii sel'skago khoziaistva i krest'ianstva Rossii v nachaie XX veka (Moscow: 1963), pp. 5 72, 580.