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

6. Nestor Makhno

Nestor Ivanovych Makhno was undoubtedly the most bold, capable leader and the most striking personality in the partisan movement during the period of the Revolution. In curious contrast to this striking personality, his physical appearance was rather unimpressive. Although strongly built, he was rather short, and his right shoulder was slightly higher than the left. He had long, blackish-brown hair, a pockmarked face of pale gray. His nose was round, slightly hooked, and the cheek bones were rather high. However, his eyes, small, dark, and penetrating, made a deep and lasting impression. One observer reported that his wife still, after years, had his face, especially his eyes, burned in her memory, while another perceived "an indomitable, an almost superhuman, will" in their expression.1 Appearance and character aside, the key to an understanding of Makhno's activities and his movement lies in his background and early life.

Makhno was born on October 27, 1889,2 in Huliai-Pole, a town of about thirty thousand inhabitants, including adjoining small villages, in the Oleksandrivs'k (Zaporizhia) district, Katerynoslav (Dnipropetrovs'ki) province.2 He was the youngest son of a poor peasant from Shahariv, a few miles north of Huliai-Pole, where his father worked as a stablekeeper on the Shabels'kyi estate. The original family name, Mikhnenko, later had become Mikhnenko-Makhno.4 By the time of Makhno's birth his parents had moved to Huliai-Pole, where his father was hired as a coachman by a Jewish industrialist and merchant, B. Kerner.5 When Makhno was eleven months old his father died, leav-mg him and three brothers, Sava, Omelian, and Hryhorii, in the care of their mother.6 [68]

Because of the family's poverty, Makhno went to work at the age of seven minding cattle and sheep for the peasants of his town. From age eight to twelve, he attended the local school, then worked full time on the estates of landowners and on the farms of rich German Mennonite colonists.7 Subsequently, Makhno worked as a painter in a local factory. As a result of the injustice he experienced at work and the terror of the Russian regime during the Revolution of 1905, Makhno, like many other people, became interested in politics. In the next year, under the influence of the local anarchists, especially of Oleksander Semeniuta, he joined the ranks of the local peasant Anarchist-Communist group. During the Revolution, there was no serious disorder, arson, or assassination of governmental officials in Huliai-Pole, yet the regime dispatched a detachment of mounted police to suppress gatherings and meetings in the town and terrorize the population. Whoever was caught on the streets was brutally whipped. Those who were arrested in their homes were led through the streets and beaten with the butts of muskets to instill fear among the people. These brutal measures left an indelible mark in the town and sowed the seeds of covert unrest that infected the people, especially the young, in Huliai-Pole.8

In 1905, under the influence of Valdemar Antoni, a peasant Anarchist-Communist group was organized in Huliai-Pole. It was associated with an anarchist group in Katerynoslav and Antoni became liaison agent between them and a leader of the local group, which consisted of about ten young men, mostly sons of poorer peasants. Antoni and Semeniuta (who had deserted from the army and was living under the assumed name of Korobka) smuggled arms and illegal literature for the group.

Soon the anarchists began to print proclamations and to expropriate money and jewelry from rich individuals and government institutions with a motivation, according to one of the anarchists, Ivan Levadnyi, that was "strictly political, in that all its actions were dictated by the idea of 'people's freedom.' "10 For about one year nobody knew that these activities, which now included murder, were conducted by the local anarchists. However, as the group intensified its activities, the police, through spies, learned on July 28, 1908, that Semeniuta had come to Huliai-Pole to meet with the anarchists in the house of Levadnyi. The chief police officer Karachentsev sent an official, Lepet-chenko, with about ten policemen to arrest the group. During the action Lepetchenko was killed and one policeman and Semeniuta's younger brother Prokip were wounded. Although his brother carried the latter away, the next morning the mounted police spotted Prokip [69] and he shot himself. The others escaped in the night to Katerynoslav. Soon after, Karachentsev followed the group and after two weeks of searching, he arrested several of them, including Naum Al'thauzen, Khshyva, Ivan Levadnyi, and Nazar Zuichenko, at Amur, a suburb of Katerynoslav.11

At the end of 1906, Makhno was arrested and accused of killing officials but was released for lack of evidence. A year later he was again arrested and, along with others, accused of a "number of political assassinations and expropriations."12 During the judicial inquiry no evidence was found and after a few months he was released on bail. However, in August 1908, on the basis of the denunciation of a member of the group, Al'thauzen, who was, according to Makhno, a police informer, Makhno was arrested and put in jail in Oleksandrivs'k.13 In March 1910, Makhno and thirteen others were tried by the Odessa district military court in Katerynoslav and sentenced to death by hanging.14 After fifty-two days, because of his youth and through the efforts of his mother, the death penalty was commuted to life imprisonment at hard labor. He served his sentence in the Butyrki central prison in Moscow.15

The Butyrki prison was one of the worst penitentiaries in Russia. Known for its unusually severe regulations because major revolutionaries or criminals were confined there, these regulations were made even more severe after the Revolution of 1905. Butyrki served not only as a prison, but also as a place where prisoners were gathered prior to transportation to Siberia. It was within the walls of Butyrki that Makhno served more than eight years.

Makhno was a restless and turbulent prisoner, stubborn and unable to accept the complete denial of freedom. Always in conflict with the prison authorities, he spent much of his time in chains or in damp and freezing confinement, which probably contributed to his contraction of pulmonary tuberculosis. Although prison life was very difficult, Makhno, thanks to the rich library at the prison and the companionship of political prisoners, especially the anarchist Peter Arshinov, acquired a general and political education, learning Russian grammar and literature, history, geography, mathematics, and political economy.16 Makhno's prison experience shaped his later life and activities. It was there that he became a confirmed anarchist, hardened by years of suffering, learning, and introspection. He also developed an intense hatred of prisons and all authority. Later, during the Revolution, whenever he seized towns and cities, one of his first acts was to release all prisoners and burn the prison. On March 2, 1917, after eight years and eight [70] months in prison, Makhno was released, along with all the other political prisoners, under the Provisional Government amnesty. After spending three weeks in Moscow to meet the leading Moscow anarchists, Makhno returned to Huliai-Pole, "the place of my birth and life."17

In Huliai-Pole Makhno, as the only ex-prisoner repatriate, became a most respected personage. The remaining members of the anarchist group, as well as many peasants, came to visit him the day he returned home. After an exchange of information, Makhno proposed to begin organizational work immediately. He sought to organize peasants in Huliai-Pole and its region and associate them with an anarchist group. He wished to forestall other political groups, such as Socialist Revolutionary and Social Democrats, from dominating the peasants. Although the other members demurred, pointing out that their aim was to spread anarchist propaganda, Makhno had his way, and on March 28-29 a Peasant Union was established with Makhno as chairman. Subsequently, he organized such unions in other villages and towns of the area. Makhno had no faith in the local authority because it was headed by foreign elements who, in his opinion, would not be responsible to the people for their actions,18 and appealed for reorganization of the administrative body, urging the local intelligentsia, peasants, and workers to take the local government into their own hands. Consequently Makhno succeeded in bringing six representatives of the Peasant Union into the Public Committee, with himself as its vice-chairman. In the meantime, he also became chairman of the Agricultural Committee, chairman of the Union of Metal and Carpentry Workers, and chairman of the Medical Union.19 Thus, from the outset Makhno, the ex-prisoner, by force of his personality assumed a leading role in Huliai-Pole with a determination to carry on the work of the Revolution among the masses.

The problem that concerned Makhno most was that of organizing and uniting the peasants into an alliance in his territory to make them a formidable force capable of driving out the landowners and the political authorities. His ultimate objective was the transfer of all lands owned by the gentry, monasteries, and the state into the hands of the peasants or to organize, if they wished, peasant communes. This would be accompanied by the disappearance of the state as a form of organized society. Makhno and his associates devoted time and energy to intensive propaganda activities among the peasants within and outside the province by means of calling regional peasant assemblies both at Huliai-Pole and elsewhere. The Peasant Union and the peasant-dominated Public Committee at Huliai-Pole were recommended as examples to the [71] delegates of the meetings. Thus Makhno and his associates brought sociopolitical issues into the daily life of the people, who in turn supported his efforts, hoping to expedite the expropriation of large estates because they feared that "the revolution would be destroyed, and we would again remain without land." On August 5-7, the provincial congress at Katerynoslav decided to reorganize the Peasant Unions into Soviets of Peasants' and Workers' Deputies. This change was duly carried out at Huliai-Pole and Makhno remained the chairman.20

The political crisis that developed in Russia in the second half of August and culminated on September 8-9 in a conflict between the commander in chief of the Russian army, General Lavr G. Kornilov, and the prime minister of the Provisional Government, Kerensky, had strong repercussions in Huliai-Pole and its area.21 On the eve of open conflict, Makhno assembled all the landowners and rich peasants (kulaks) of the area and took from them all official documents relating to their land, livestock, and equipment. Subsequently an inventory of this property was taken and reported to the people at the session of the local soviet, and then at the regional meeting. It was decided to allow the landowners to share the land, livestock, and tools equally with the peasants. The soviet also organized a Committee of the Poor to control the landed gentry. Simultaneously, Makhno had the local police neutralized by depriving them of their authority to arrest.22 However, the realization of these decisions was delayed because dissatisfied elements organized and began to protest and denounce Makhno to the provisional authorities.

When the conflict broke out Makhno received two telegrams from Petrograd recommending that he organize local defense. In response, the soviet organized a Committee for the Defense of the Revolution headed by Makhno. Subsequently, the committee decided to disarm all the bourgeoisie, the landowners, rich peasants, and the wealthy German colonists in the area of Huliai-Pole as well as "to expropriate its rights to the people's wealth: the land, factories, plants, printing shops, theaters, coliseums, movies, and other forms of enterprises in its possession."23 Some of the idealists among the anarchists formed a number of -/ free agricultural communes consisting of volunteer peasants and workers where an elected committee of elders would allot the work alongside their fellow farmers. Makhno became a member ofACommune No. I.24

In order to strengthen the anti-bourgeois position of the Makhno group the committee and the soviet decided to call a regional gathering in collaboration with the Anarchist-Communists and jointly with the

Makhno and partisans. Left, Semen Karetnyk; center, Makhno; right, Fedir Shchus'. [73] Union of Metal and Carpentry Workers at Huliai-Pole. The aim of the meeting was to deprive the Huliai-Pole Public Committee of its authority to decide any problem of importance without the approval of the people.25 In reality this decision transformed these institutions into advisory bodies while the group of anarchists became a major power in the area. Moreover, it accustomed people to the ideas of a stateless society.

As Makhno's power increased, his activities among the peasants in the Huliai-Pole region gradually extended beyond propaganda to armed raids on estates of landlords and rich peasants, including German colonists. These expeditions to "expropriate the expropriators" were often excessively violent. Those who resisted the seizure of their properties, or tried to hide valuables or money, were intimidated, terrorized, or even shot, although usually the owners did not resist. Gradually Makhno extended his raids to railways and depots, holding up freight and passenger trains. The raiders expropriated everything they needed, especially arms, ammunition, and military equipment, while other goods were distributed among the peasants of the surrounding villages.26 Personal property of train passengers was confiscated and those who did not cooperate were executed, especially if they were landlords or officers, whom Makhno saw as standard-bearers of an old, foreign servitude. Although Makhno's methods as an agent of vengeance were violent, his men rarely molested poor peasants or workers. Hence Makhno's popularity grew among a considerable part of the peasantry and his following increased. Some, including a criminal element, joined Makhno for the sake of adventure, others to get rich. Most of Makhno's followers, however, were young men from both the rich and the poor peasantry.

Makhno's activities were, to a great extent, influenced by socially radical forces. Although Makhno had no serious competition from patriotic Ukrainians, who stood for law and order, he was under strong pressure from the fast spreading propaganda of the Bolsheviks, who used such slogans as "take everything, everything is yours" and "expropriate the expropriators." Makhno tried to be more extreme than the Bolsheviks -- his appeals to the peasants were simple and effective: "Divide the land among yourself, justly and like brothers, and work for the good of everyone."27

The chaotic conditions in the region nurtured another anarchist leader, Maria Nikiforova, who exercised a substantial influence upon Makhno from the very beginning of their acquaintance. A member of a local anarchist group, she was engaged in terrorist activities in the years [74] 1905-6, which led to a sentence of death, later commuted to life imprisonment. She served part of her sentence in the Petropavlovsk prison in Petrograd, and in 1910 was then exiled to Siberia, whence she escaped, first to Japan, and then to the United States. In the summer of 1917, she returned to Oleksandrivs'k, where she soon organized a combat detachment and began to terrorize people in the city. She especially hunted army officers and landlords, killing them. Later she moved to Elysavethrad, organizing and commanding a combat regiment "Black Guard," which fought each succeeding regime, including the Germans and Denikin. Her main goal was the destruction of all state institutions. In August 1917, she seized and robbed a military storehouse at the station of Orikhiv. Subsequently, she attacked the regiment in the town, disarmed and dispersed it, executing all captured officers. Part of the confiscated spoils she delivered to Makhno.28

The division of the lands of the gentry, the church, and the state, as well as the neutralization of the local police and Public Committee, proceeded largely unopposed and without bloodshed. The peasants and workers felt they had, for the time being, consolidated their revolutionary achievements; they took little further interest in outside affairs. The Central Rada exercised little effective control there because the province was separated from Ukraine, while the Provisional Government was powerless to interfere. Although the conflict between the peasants and the wealthy class did not develop into an open war, it planted the seeds of a sociopolitical conflict" that would ripen the following summer, when the troops of the Central Powers were invited into Ukraine. [276]


1. N. Klassen, "Makhno und Lenin," Der Bote, March 1, 1966, p. 12; Pietro Quaroni, "Makhno," in Diplomatic Bags, p. 11; F. Meleshko, "Nestor Makhno ta ioho anarkhiia," LCK, no. 1 (1935), p. 12; V. Kalyna, "V Umani," SV, January 19, 1953; V. Belash, "Makhnovshchina," LR, no. 3 (1928), p. 212; M. Gutman, "Pod vlast'iu anarkhistov," Russkoe proshloe, no. 5 (1923), p. 67; Mahalevs'kyi, "Bat'ko Makhno," p. 61; Mikhail Kiselev, Agitpoezd, p. 29.

2. Makhno, "Zapiski Nestor Makhno," AV, no. 1 (1923), p. 16; G. Kuz'-menko, "Vidpovid' na stattiu 'Pomer Makhno' v 'Novii pori,'" PRO, nos. 50-51 (1934), p. 17; "N. I. Makhno," Seiatel', no. 6 (1934), p. 20; Mahalevs'kyi, "Bat'ko Makhno," p. 61. There is a discrepancy concerning Makhno's birth. Some authors give 1884, but Makhno and those who knew him personally give the date 1889. Judging from the commutation of the death penalty to life imprisonment in 1910 because he was underage in 1906 when he committed die crime, the second date must be correct.

3. Interview with Vasyl' Luzhnyi (born 1906, near Huliai-Pole) by author, on July 21, 1970, Idaho Springs, Colo.; Woodcock, Anarchism, p. 416; V. A. Auerbakh, "Revoliutsionnoe obshchestvo po lichnym vospominaniiam," ARR 16 (1925), p. 98. Huliai-Pole was established in 1785 and subsequently became [278] an administrative, industrial, and commercial center, with two churches, one synagogue, three schools, a hospital, a post office, two steam mills and a few dozen windmills, two factories of agricultural machinery, many artisan workshops, stores, grain market, and distilleries, as well as great fairs. A few kilometers from the town was a railroad station on the Chapline-Berdians'k line (Hak, "Pravda pro Huliai-Pole," p. 66; Peters, Nestor Makhno, pp. 16-17).

4. Voline (V. M. Eichenbaum), "Nestor Makhno," DT, no. 82 (1934), p. 4. In Paris Makhno lived under the name Mikhnenko.

5. Kerner owned an agricultural machinery factory, a mill, a large store, and 500 dessiatines of land near Huliai-Pole that he rented to German colonists. One of his sons, Hryhorii, known as Kernenko, who received higher education in Kharkiv and Munchen, Germany, was a Ukrainian poet and translator (Hak, "Pravda pro Huliai-Pole," p. 67).

6. Makhno, "Zapiski," no. 1, pp. 16-17, and Russkaia revoliutsiia, 1:9; Hak, "Pravda pro Huliai-Pole," p. 70; Arshinov, Istoriia makhnovskogo dvizheniia, p. 49; Komin, Anarkhizm v Rossii, p. 219; Max Nomad, Apostles of Revolution, p. 303; Peters, Nestor Makhno, p. 15.

7. The Mennonite Encyclopedia, 3 :431.

8. Hak, "Pravda pro Huliai-Pole," pp. 66-67, 70; Dotsenko, Zymovyipokhid, p. 205; Novopolin, "Makhno i guliai-pol'skaia gruppa anarkhistov," pp. 70-71; Teper, Makhno, p. 22; Rudnev, Makhnovshchina, p. 16; Kuz'menko,"Vidpovid' na stattiu 'Pomer Makhno' v 'Novii pori,"' p. 17; Anatol' Hak, VidHuliai-Polia do N'iu Iorku, p. 23.

9. Novopolin, "Makhno i guliai-pol'skaia gruppa anarkhistov," pp. 71, 75; Str[uve] , "Istoricheskie materialy i dokumenty," p. 228.

10. Novopolin, "Makhno i guliai-pol'skaia gruppa anarkhistov," p. 75.

11. Ibid., pp. 72-74; Hak, "Pravda pro Huliai-Pole," pp. 70-71; Novopolin, "Makhno i guliai-pol'skaia gruppa anarkhistov," p. 74. In the fall of 1909 Se-meniuta avenged his brother by killing Karachentsev. In 1911 when he went home, the police surrounded the house and before they could get him, he shot himself (Hak, "Pravda pro Huliai-Pole," pp. 71-72). '

12. Makhno, "Zapiski," no. 1,'p. 18.

13. Novopolin, "Makhno i guliai-pol'skaia gruppa anarkhistov," p. 75. Makhno was locked in cell no. 8, where he was allowed to have visitors once a month and change of linens and bath every two weeks (Makhno, Russkaia revoliutsiia, p. 127).

14. Ihor and Antin Bondarenko, Klym Kyrychenko, IUkhym Orlov, Fylyp Cherniavs'kyi, Ivan Shevchenko, Fylyp and Petro Onyshchenko, Serhii Zablods'kyi, Mariia Martynova, Naum Althauzen, Lev Gorelik, and Kazymyr Lisovs'kyi. According to Makhno's account the group consisted of sixteen. Not all, however, were brought to trial because Antoni escaped abroad. Khshyva was executed on June 17, 1909, and Levadnyi escaped from prison in Oleksandrivs'k in the winter, but on his way to Huliai-Pole he died from cold (Novopolin, "Makhno i guliai-pol'skaia gruppa anarkhistov," pp. 71, 77; Hak, "Pravda pro Huliai-Pole," p. 71; Makhno, "Zapiski," no. 1, p. 18). Hak and Peters maintained that Makhno was not directly associated with the conspirators; however, they do not elaborate on the reason for Makhno's death sentence (Hak, "Pravda pro Huliai-Pole," p. 71; Peters, Nestor Makhno, p. 22).

15. Makhno, "Zapiski," no. 1, p. 18; Alexander Berkman, The Bolshevik Myth, 190-91; Rudnev, Makhnovshchina, p. 17; "N. I. Makhno," p. 20. According to Arbatov, Makhno was not exiled to hard labor in Siberia because of his illness at the time of his arrival at Butyrki. However, in the same article, the author makes no comment while quoting Makhno, whom he visited in the Warsaw prison in 1922: "The illness in my lungs I acquired at the time of my imprisonment in the Butyrki prison" (Z. Arbatov, "Bat'ko Makhno," Vozrozhdenie, 29 [1953] :104, 114).

16. Voline, Unknown Revolution, p. 86; Arshinov, Istoriia makhnovskogo dvizheniia, p. 50; Makhno, "Zapiski," no. 1, p. 18; Max Nomad, "The Epic of Nestor Makhno," The Modern Monthly 9, no. 6:335; Berkman, Bolshevik Myth, p. 191; L. Lipotkin, "Nestor Makhno," Probuzhdenie, nos. 5051 (1934), p. 15.

17. Makhno, Russkaia revoliutsiia, 1:8; Nikolai N. Golovin, Rossiiskaia kontr'-revoliutsiia, 3, pt. 6:37.

18. It is interesting to note that "there were no Bolsheviks at all in the villages at that time" (Makhno, Russkaia revoliutsiia, 1:42; Emelian lAroslavskii, History of Anarchism in Russia, p. 61). Makhno, Russkaia revoliutsiia, 1:13-14, 18-20. At that time the Eighth Regiment of the Serbian Army was stationed'in Huliai-Pole; it was joined by a company of the Russian Army. A few officers from these units headed the local administration.

19. Makhno, "Zapiski," no. 1, p. 22; Makhno, Russkaia revoliutsiia, 1:27-29; Nomad, Apostles of Revolution, p. 304; Mahalevs'kyi, "Bat'ko Makhno," p. 62.

20. Makhno, Russkaia revoliutsiia, 1: 32, 33, 57.

21. At the end of July, Kornilov was appointed commander in chief of the Russian Army, succeeding General Brussilov, who had failed to restore the army's discipline and capacity to fight. Kerensky hoped that Kornilov, who had a reputation for great energy and iron will, might be more effective. He was also known for his more liberal outlook upon social and political problems than most high officials. Before taking the office, Kornilov demanded: full power for the commander; no governmental interference in his military orders; and the restoration of military discipline. Although these terms were accepted, soon it became obvious that conflict between Kornilov and Kerensky was inevitable because Kornilov was backed by Monarchists, right wing groups, and, above all, officers representing the old order. When Kornilov attempted to restore discipline by reinstating death penalty for military offenses, it brought him into an open opposition to Kerensky. Consequently, Kerensky dismissed Kornilov; however, the latter not only refused to resign, but issued a proclamation to the people asking for support against the government. Moreover, he instructed the cavalry to advance to the capital. After abortive efforts at compromise, Kerensky, with the help of the Mensheviks, Socialist-Revolutionaries, and Bolsheviks, succeeded in neutralizing the conspirators without bloodshed and arrested them, including Kornilov, Lukomskii, and Romanovskii. They were brought to the Bikhov monastery near Mogilev where they were soon joined by Denikin, Markov, and others. After the October counterrevolution, the generals easily escaped from Bikhov to the Don Territory where they subsequently played a prominent role in the organization of the Volunteer Army (Stewart, White Armies of Russia, pp. 12-15; Chamberlin, Russian Revolution, 1:212 ff.).

22. Makhno, Russkaia revoliutsiia, 1 :40; Makhno, "Zapiski," no. 1, pp. 22-23; Arshinov, Istoriia makhnovskogo dvizheniia, p. 51; Nomad, Apostles of Revolution, p. 304; Mahalevs'kyi, "Bat'ko Makhno," p. 65.

23. Makhno, Russkaia revoliutsiia, 1:64; see also Nestor Makhno, "Velikii Oktiabr' na Ukraine," DT, no. 29 (October 1927), p. 10.

24. Footman, "Nestor Makhno," p. 81; Makhno, Russkaia revoliutsiia, 1: 203.

25. Makhno, Russkaia revoliutsiia, 1:68-69.

26. Mahalevs'kyi, "Bat'ko Makhno," p. 66.

27. Alexander Berkman, "Nestor Makhno: The Man Who Saved the Bolsheviki," personal recollection, p. 12.

28. Mahalevs'kyi, "Bat'ko Makhno," pp. 63-66; Osyp Humin, 1storiia Liegionu Ukrains'kykh Sichovykh Stril'tsiv, p. 254; Dotsenko, Zymovyi pokhid, p. 209; Belash, "Makhnovshchina," p. 194; Kiselev, Agitpoezd, pp. 31-32. In the fall of 1919 Nikiforova was captured and hanged by General Slashchov in Symferopil' (Mahalevs'kyi, "Bat'ko Makhno," p. 66). According to Makhno, it was his and Nikiforova's detachments that disarmed a battalion stationed at Orikhiv; it was part of the Forty-Eighth Regiment stationed in Berdians'k (Makhno, Russkaia revoliutsiia, 1:152).