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

7. Makhno's National Consciousness

Although Makhno was not a Ukrainian nationalist patriot, he was an anarchist and a conscious Ukrainian in his own way. The question of his national consciousness cannot be separated from contemporary conditions. Besides his inadequate education, poverty, and the oppressive policy of the tsarist regime in Ukraine, Makhno's association with anarchist groups and his long years of imprisonment in Moscow directed him away from Ukrainian cultural and political organizations. His knowledge of Ukraine's history and her current national problems was very limited. Anarchism tied Makhno to the Russian revolutionaries and their ideas, directly and indirectly. He called Bakunin "great," "a tireless revolutionary." He not only admired Kropotkin, but visited him in Moscow and gave him material help. Although he mistrusted Lenin, he visited him and respected him as a revolutionary leader. However, he knew very little about Ukrainian national leaders. He referred to Hru-shevs'kyi as an "old man" though he was only fifty-one. He knew that Vynnychenko was a "socialist" who "participated in the life and struggle of the toilers" but he disliked him and Petliura because they helped conclude the Brest-Litovsk treaty with the Central Powers and subsequently brought Austro-German troops into Ukraine.1 However, he did not take into consideration the Bolshevik invasion that had forced the Rada to invite the Germans. As a result of Makhno's long years of imprisonment, he had almost forgotten his native language. The question of Ukrainian language did not seem to bother him for some time, but in the course of the Revolution his view changed markedly. On his train trip from Moscow to Ukraine in the summer of 1918, Makhno found that the conductors, when addressed in Russian, would not answer, but demanded that the inquiries be made in Ukrainian. "I was struck by the request, but there was nothing I could do. And, not knowing my own native Ukrainian language, I was forced to use it in such a [manner], in addressing those around me, that I was ashamed. I thought quite a bit about this incident."2 After he and his companions escaped to Romania and then to Poland, they were interned in a camp, Strzarkow, with the troops of the Ukrainian People's Republic. There Makhno very often complained that: "In that damned prison [in Butyrki, Moscow, I] completely forgot my native language." Another time he would say: "Finally I must learn my native language."3 In the preface to his memoirs that he published in Russian Makhno regretted that they appeared"not in Ukraine and not in Ukrainian." He felt, however, that "the fault is not mine, but that of the conditions in which I find myself."4

Makhno was nevertheless aware of his nationality. In certain circumstances he would avoid mentioning his political affiliation, but he never failed to admit or, if necessary, to defend, his nationality, even in complicated questions and situations. He never referred to his native land as "South Russia." When Makhno visited the Kremlin in July and an official, looking at Makhno's document, asked: "Then you, comrade, are from South Russia?", Makhno replied: "Yes, I am from Ukraine." From there he went to the office of IAkov M. Sverdlov, who asked: "But tell me what are you, Communist or Left S[ocialist] R[evolutionary] ? That you are Ukrainian I see from your discussion, but to which of these two parties you belong is difficult to understand."5 When later he met both Sverdlov and Lenin, during their discussion about anarchism in Ukraine, Makhno not only employed the proper name of his native land, but he even reproached the Bolsheviks for calling Ukraine South Russia:

The Anarchist-Communists in Ukraine—or as you, Communist-Bolsheviks, are trying to avoid the word Ukraine and are calling it "South Russia" . . . have already given too much proof that they are entirely associated with the "present."*'

In his writings Makhno always made a clear distinction between Ukraine and Russia: "The echoes of the October coup in Petrograd and in Moscow, and then in all Russia—came to us in Ukraine at the end of November and at the beginning of December 1917."7 Makhno also had his opinion about the cause of the failure of the Ukrainian Revolution. Although the idea of self-determination had strongly manifested itself in Ukraine, at this time it had not adequately developed. Among the Ukrainian people there appeared a number of different political groups, each of which interpreted the idea of self-determination in its own way, according to its own interests. The Ukrainian working masses neither sympathized with, nor followed, them.°

Apart from Makhno's sentiment for his native land, "the wide Ukrainian steppes and the plentiful green grain,' and the national tradition, the most significant influences that increased Makhno's national consciousness and the success of his movement were certain elements among his partisans and his wife. In the summer of 1919 Makhno married Halyna Kuz'menko, the daughter of a police official. She was born about 1895 in Pishchanyi Brid, in the IElysavethrad (Kirovohrad) district, Kherson province. She studied at a teacher's college for women at nearby Dobrovelychkivka and in 1918 was employed by the Ministry of Labor in Kyiv and later the same year she was assigned to a new state gymnasium at Huliai-Pole to teach Ukrainian and history. There she became acquainted with Makhno. She impressed people as being courageous, literate, and beautiful. According to an eyewitness, she was: "very handsome, a brunette, tall, slender with beautiful dark eyes and fresh though dark complexion. [She] gave the impression of being a good woman. . . . [She] participated in attacks fighting-and shooting a machine gun.' These traits were also noted by Goldman and Berkman when Makhno's wife visited them in Kyiv in peasant dress to hide her identity from the Bolsheviks.'

Makhno's wife was also a good conversationalist; she liked to debate and she held strongly to a position she considered right. According to Goldman:

She possessed considerable information and was intensely interested in all cultural problems. She plied me with questions about American women, whether they had really become emancipated and enjoyed equal rights. . . . Did the American woman believe in free motherhood and was she familiar with the subject of birth control? ... I mentioned some of the literature dealing with these subjects. She listened eagerly. "I must get hold of something to help our peasant women."15

She had strong political convictions and a definite concept of the role of the partisans in the struggle against the Bolsheviks and Denikin:

'I regard the povstantsi movement," she said, "as the only true proletarian revolution. Bolshevism is the mastery of the Communist Party, falsely called the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is very far from our conception of revolution. . . . Their aim is State Communism, with the workers and farmers of the whole country serving as employees of the one powerful government master. Its result is the most abject slavery, suppression, and revolt, as we see on every hand. . . . Our aim is the class organization of the revolutionary toiling masses. That is the sense of the great Ukrainian movement and its best expression is to be found in the Makhnov-shchina."'6

Makhno's wife continued to be interested in national problems after she left the country. When she, together with Makhno and his associates, was brought into the Ukrainian troops' internment camp in Poland, she became an active member of an Association of Ukrainian Women Teachers in the camp.17

During most of 1919 and after, the Left Bank, where the Makhno partisans operated, was the main arena of the Russian Civil War. Hence it was largely in the hands of either the Bolshevik or anti-Bolshevik Russian forces. The warring of the two occupying forces and their suppressive policy aroused the people's national-political consciousness and resistance. As an eyewitness observed:

The announced mobilization by the Volunteer Army failed. Peasants liable for conscription went into the forests with arms in their hands and hid from the punitive detachments of the state police. . . . On the surface of life in the village began to appear the Petliura movement, which soon inclined to the anarchist slogans of Makhno, who was accepting into his ranks all who were ready for an open struggle against the Volunteer Army as an authority that was hanging peasants. 18

Patriotic Ukrainians on the Right Bank joined the Ukrainian regular army but on the Left Bank, in the later stage of the Revolution, many patriotic Ukrainians, prevented by the presence of the Russian forces from joining the Ukrainian Army, joined either Makhno or other partisan groups. According to a Ukrainian officer, when some Makhno men who were captured by the Ukrainian troops were asked why they had joined Makhno, they replied: "There is nobody else [to join]." According to another partisan, the main motive for joining Makhno was the unbearable conditions in the villages and towns: "I joined the Makhno army . . . because the Denikin men came and looted the village, taking horses and ruining homesteads. So I took arms and went to fight; if perish, then perish."20 The increasing number of nationally conscious Ukrainians among the Makhno partisans gradually gave the group's ideology a more national character, which was marked by a change in the name of the partisan army from "Revolutionary Partisan Detachments of Bat'ko Makhno" to "The Revolutionary Partisan Army of Ukraine (Makhnovites)" in the summer of 1919.21

From the fall of 1919 onward, Makhno widened the scope of his activities and increased his resistance to both the Bolshevik and anti-Bolshevik Russian forces. Under the influence of patriotic partisans, he not only entered into negotiations with the Ukrainian Army command, but also occasionally coordinated his activities with the Ukrainian troops. In addition, during the winter campaign of 1919—20, many of Makhno's partisans joined the Directory's troops and the Ukrainian Galician Army, with which Makhno maintained liaison. He also began to render assistance to partisan groups that recognized the Directory, including partisan leaders Petro Petrenko, Hladchenko, Diakivs'kyi, and others. He made peace with all of them, entered into agreements of nonaggression, and cooperated in coordinated actions against the Bolsheviks. A number of other partisan detachments joined Makhno.2 The partisan leader Khrystovyi headed a delegation that visited Makhno in August of 1920 at Zinkiv, in Poltava province. His group consisted of about six hundred partisans with a regular army organization. At Khrystovyi's headquarters were official liaison personnel, distinguished senior officers, from the Ukrainian Army. Khrystovyi proposed unification with Makhno under the condition that Makhno would transfer his activities to the Khrystovyi territory. Although Makhno declined Khrystovyi's offer, he aided Khrystovyi by supplying him with machine guns and ammunition, and also sent him a machine-gun detachment consisting of 170 men to fight against a brigade of internal security troups (VOKhR).24

Moreover, Makhno's slogans assumed a more pro-Ukrainian, patriotic, and, at the same time, a more anti-Russian tone. Makhno began to brand the Bolsehviks not only as social, but also as national enemies; at the same time, his newspapers blamed the Bolsheviks for preventing the Ukrainian people from "creating their own life by themselves" and urged them to "take the authority into their own hands."25 Also, the newspapers and Makhno himself appealed to the people to fight against the "Moscovite oppressors" and to "liberate our native Ukraine from the Russian yoke." According to information given to the Bolsheviks by Makhno's associate Viktor Bilash, Makhno was preparing a proclamation (a "Universal") announcing his intention of joining the Ukrainian Army to liberate "mother Ukraine."26 Teper, another Bolshevik author and a former anarchist, confirmed Makhno's intentions. According to him, Makhno decided to put aside

• . . all earlier declarations and began to work out a new declaration in a completely different spirit. Basically he outlined a project for national liberation of Ukraine. Subsequently, Makhno intended to draw into the ranks of the Makhno movement the nationally minded Ukrainian intelligentsia and through them the Petliura bands operating on the Right Bank. However, part of the commanding staff strongly protested this declaration and he had to put it aside.27

According to the representative of the Directory, Panas Fedenko, "Makhno's minister," Shpota, who in September 1919 visited the Directory at Kamianets', admitted that the mass of the Makhno partisans wished to join the Ukrainian Army. However, the Russian anarchists working with Makhno, such as Arshinov, Volin, and Zinkovskii (Zadov), who were influential at Makhno headquarters, obstructed such a unification.28

Although at the beginning of his movement Makhno cooperated with the Bolsheviks twice for brief periods on a local level against the Ukrainian troops, he resisted all attempts by them to establish their authority in Ukraine. At the end of December 1918, Lenin wired the Bolsheviks in Katerynoslav, appointing Makhno commander in chief of Soviet troops in the Katerynoslav province. Makhno rejected this emphatically:

There are no Soviet troops here. The main forces here are the revolutionary partisan Makhno men whose aims are known and clear to all. They are fighting against the authority of all political governments and for liberty and independence of the working people.29

Moreover, Makhno's socioeconomic programs attracted not only the upper economic stratum of the young peasants, but also poorer peasants and workers, as well as many non-Ukrainian elements, including the Russians, Jews, Greeks, Bulgarians, and Poles of the region and outside. Many of these men, especially the non-Ukrainians, would otherwise have been drafted by one or the other of the Russian armies and would have been fighting against Ukraine. Trotsky voiced his concern over this circumstance, declaring that the Makhno partisans were a greater threat than Denikin because "the Makhno movement developed in the depths of the masses and aroused the masses themselves against us."30

The presence of Makhno's educated, patriotic, and active wife in the partisan army, as well as a large number of patriotic Ukrainians, made Makhno and his associates more aware of Ukrainian national problems and later compelled them not only to assume neutrality toward the Ukrainian Army, but, to some extent, to cooperate with it against the common enemies, the Bolshevik and anti-Bolshevik Russian forces in Ukraine.


1. Makhno, Ukrainskaia revoliutsiia, 3 :154.

2. Makhno, Pod udarami kontr-revoliutsii, 2:153.

3. Omelianovych-Pavlenko, Zymovyi pokhid, 2:29; see also M. Irchan, "Makhno i makhnivtsi," IKCK 1936, p. 120.

4. Makhno, Russkaia revoliutsia, 1:6.

5. Makhno, Pod udarami kontr-revoliutsii, 2: 124, 212.

6. Ibid., p. 132.

7. Makhno, Russkaia revoliutsiia, 1: 93.

8. Makhno, "Neskol'ko slov o natsional'nom voprose na Ukraine," DT, no. 19 (December 1926), pp. 4-5.

9. Makhno, Pod udarami k'ontr-revoliutsii, 2:39.

10. According to Emma Goldman who met Makhno's wife in 1920, in Kyiv: "She was a woman of twenty-five" (Goldman, Living My Life, p. 148).

11. Meleshko, Nestor Makhno ta ioho anarkhiia, no. 1, pp. 10—11; Irchan, Makhno i makhnivtsi, p. 19.

12. Natal'ia Sukhogorskaia, "Vospominanie o makhnovshchine," Kandal'nyi zvon, no. 6 (1927), pp. 54-55.

13. Goldman, Living My Life, pp. 147—48. Berkman, Bolshevik Myth, pp. 235-36.

14. Meleshko, "Nestor Makhno ta ioho anarkhiia," no. l,p. 11.

15. Goldman, Living My Life, pp. 150—51.

16. Berkman, Bolshevik Myth, p. 236.

17. Omelianovych-Pavlenko, Zymovyi pokhid, 2:29.

18. Z. Arbatov, "Ekaterinoslav 1917-22 gg.,"ARR 12 (1923): 95.

19. Tsapko, "Partyzany na Skhidnii Ukraini," p. 8.

20. Gutman, "Pod vlast'iu anarkhistov," p. 64.

21. Omelianovych-Pavlenko, Zymovyi pokhid, 2:27; Dotsenko, Zymovyi pokhid, p. CXXXIV; Arshinov, Istoriia makhnovskogo dvizheniia, p. 95.

22. Omelianovych-Pavlenko, Zymovyi pokhid, 2:27.

23. Kubanin, Makhnovshchina, p. 165; Holubnychyi, "Makhno i makhniv-shchyna," p. 1494; N. P-pa, ed., "Protybol'shevyts'ki povstannia na Ukraini v 1921 r.," LCK, no. 6 (1932), p. 22; "Povstancheskoe dvizhenie na Ukraine," Revoliutsionnaia Rossiia, no. 11 (192—), p. 23; "1919 god v Ekaterinoslave i Aleksandrovske," LR, no. 4 (13) (1925), p. 9; V. I. Miroshevskii, "Vol'nyi Ekaterinoslav," PR, no. 9 (1922), p. 199.

24. Teper, Makhno, pp. 20, 87; Erde, "Politychna prohrama anarkho-makhnov-shchyny," no. 2, p. 39.

25. Holos makhnovtsia, no. 1 (November 1, 1920), as quoted in Erde, "Politychna prohrama anarkho-makhnovshchyny," no. 2, p. 39.

26. Kubanin, Makhnovshchina, pp. 165—66.

27. Teper, Makhno, p. 114.

28. Fedenko, "Mynulo pivstolittia," SV, no. 221 (December i, 1971), p. 2.

29. Makhno, Makhnovshchina, pp. 9—10.

30. Voline, Unknown Revolution, p. 124; see also N. Makhno, "Otkrytoe pis'mo t-shchu Maksymovu," DT, no. 15 (1926), p. 11.