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

8. Makhno, the Bolsheviks, and the Central Rada

News of the Bolshevik coup in October, which reached Huliai-Pole in early November, created relatively little stir among the local peasants. The Bolshevik slogan "land to the peasants and factories to the workers" were acceptable to them, though it seemed that the Bolsheviks were promoting a cause that had already been achieved around Huliai-Pole in August and September. According to Makhno:

When Ukrainian peasants in a number of provinces refused to pay the second part of their annual rent to the gentry and the rich peasants, and were seizing their lands and tools as public property; when they were sending their delegates from the villages to the workers in the cities, to arrange with the latter for seizure of the plants, factories, and other branches of enterprises for their own management and, weapons in hand, [were] defending their free society of toilers—at that time there was no October. . . . Thus the Great October in its strict chronological sense, appeared to the Ukrainian revolutionary village automatically as a period of the past.l

Hence, it was not so much the October coup as the subsequent Bolshevik invasion of Ukraine that turned Makhno and his followers from meetings and agitation toward partisan warfare.

For Makhno this change was an important problem because as an anarchist he did not wish to serve any one regime. He advocated destruction of any government be it native or foreign, rightist or Communist. In his opinion all forms of government represented the violence of a minority over the majority. Makhno was guided by a strong belief in freedom and in the ability of men to govern themselves. Therefore, he appealed to the peasants:

. . . we will destroy the servile regime . . . and lead our brothers upon the path toward a new order. We will establish it upon the foundation of a free society; its construction would permit all those who do not exploit the work of others to live, free and independent of the state and its bureaucracy, even of the Reds, and to build our whole sociopolitical life complete, independently at home, among our-selves.2

The Bolshevik invasion of Ukraine also determined Makhno's relationships with both the Bolsheviks and the Central Rada. Although he and his followers welcomed the overthrow of the Provisional Government, its replacement by the Bolshevik regime displeased them because "the peasants and workers saw it as a new period of governmental interference in the revolutionary work of the toilers at home and, consequently, a new war of the authorities against the people.'

Although Makhno considered the Bolsheviks an alien dictatorship, he often served as their ally because they were, as he said, for the revolutionary cause. His association with the Bolsheviks was also directed against the national authority, the Central Rada, because in his opinion, native governments were no different from foreign governments, and "the toilers have no interest in either."

When the Provisional Government first established its authority in the area of Huliai-Pole, Makhno's anarchists collaborated with the rest of the population, including the educated Ukrainians, to exclude the foreign element from the local administration. Makhno pointed out to the public the inadmissibility "of a 'Public Committee' in revolutionary Huliai-Pole that is headed by people unknown to the population, from whom the people cannot demand any responsibility for their actions."5 Simultaneously, he proposed an extra meeting of elected representatives to decide this problem. The teachers present at the meeting joined him and the superintendent of the school, who had placed his school at the disposition of the meeting. Subsequently, when the supporters of the Rada began to extend their influence in Katerynoslav province, the anarchist group at Huliai-Pole assumed a negative attitude toward the Rada, considering it a government of bourgeois nationalists. In the summer at a meeting in Huliai-Pole a Ukrainian Socialist Revolutionary exhorted the public to:

Think that in contrast to the "mean Provisional Government in Petrograd," our Ukrainian government, the Central Rada, was organized in Kyiv. It is really revolutionary, in Ukrainian territory, only it is able and authorized to establish freedom and a happy life for the Ukrainian people! . . . But the toilers of Huliai-Pole were deaf to the appeal. . . . They . . . overwhelmed him by shouting: Down from the podium! We do not need your government!1*

In September the Anarchist-Communists, the Soviet of Peasants' and Workers' Deputies, the Union of Metal and Carpentry Workers, and the Land Committee issued a joint resolution stating:

The congress of the toilers in the area of Huliai-Pole decisively condemns the claims of the governments - the Provisional Government in Petrograd and the Ukrainian Central Rada in Kyiv—to rule the lives of the toilers and calls upon the local Soviets and all the toiling population organized around them to ignore all decrees issued by these governments.''

One group of patriotic Ukrainians, the supporters of the Rada, attempted to destroy the influence of the anarchists in Huliai-Pole. On December 25, 1917, a delegation visited IUrii Mahalevs'kyi, the commander of a Ukrainian military unit at Oleksandrivs'k, seeking assistance against Makhno. Being preoccupied with other problems, he only supplied the group with arms and ammunition. However, the subsequent Soviet Russian invasion prevented the realization of the plan.

The hostility of Makhno and his followers toward national government was put into action at the beginning of January 1918. At a meeting of the soviet in the area of Huliai-Pole it was decided to join the invading Bolshevik troops because the Rada,

though headed.by Socialist Revolutionaries and Social Democrats in its struggle against the Bolshevik-Left Socialist Revolutionary bloc, aimed not only at driving the katsaps out of their native land, mother Ukraine, but also at suppressing the signs of social revolution in general.^

In response to the appeals of the anarchist group several hundred men, mostly anarchists, joined Makhno. This combat unit, headed by Makhno and his brother Sava, joined the Bolshevik forces in Oleksandrivs'k. On January 15, 1918, the weak Ukrainian forces in Oleksandrivs'k withdrew and the Bolshevik troops, supported by the local anarchists and led by Maria Nikiforova, occupied the city. However, it was the passage of eighteen troop trains of Don Cossacks coming from the front through Katerynoslav province, by way of Kryvyi Rih, Apostolove, and Oleksandrivs'k that provided the catalyst for Makhno's call to arms. Reiterating an accusation made earlier by the Bolsheviks, Makhno denounced the Rada for shielding the Don counterrevolution of General Kaledin by allowing the Cossacks to cross Ukraine. The Bolsheviks, Makhno, and Nikiforova decided to disarm the Cossacks to prevent a strengthening of Kaledin's forces, and Makhno seized the Kichkas railroad station where there was a famous suspension bridge across the Dnieper. At first the Don Cossacks tried to force their way, but when this failed, they agreed to lay down their arms on the condition that they would be allowed to proceed to the Don. The Bolsheviks, however, broke this agreement, sent them to Kharkiv, and took their horses. Although Makhno stated that the Bolsheviks "behaved, not like revolutionaries, but like Jesuits, promising them one thing, and doing another,"13 he and his men apparently committed crimes of their own by throwing some of the Cossack officers from the Kichkas bridge into Dnieper.

During the short period of Makhno's collaboration with the Bolsheviks, he came to the conclusion that cooperation with them "even on the front of the defense of the revolution," was impossible. He was disturbed when he arrived in Oleksandrivs'k and found that not only were prisoners arrested by the Provisional Government not released by the Bolsheviks because they supposedly would not respect the Bolshevik authorities, but even more arrests had been made since the Bolsheviks' arrival. Makhno became convinced that the Revolution was in danger from all sides, including the Bolsheviks. He observed that the freedom achieved by the Revolution was not for the people but for the parties, and that "the parties would not serve the people, but people, the parties." Thus, it was necessary to prepare the people against their enemies. To Makhno, "the real spirit of revolution" existed in the village, while in the city there was "a counterrevolution." After deliberation, Makhno and his closest friends decided to break with the Bolsheviks under the pretext that the supporters of the Rada were trying to reassert authority in the area of Huliai-Pole. Makhno resigned from the Revolutionary Committee in Oleksandrivs'k and departed with his detachment to Huliai-Pole.

Although the anarchist group began to influence and lead the peasants from the end of spring 1917, it was more as underground than legal action. The Huliai-Pole soviet, which, in reality, performed administrative functions, formed a Revolutionary Committee headed by Makhno, with the aim of organizing standing revolutionary detachments. Such a formation was stimulated by an application of anarchist economy. The peasants in Huliai-Pole had more grain than they needed, but lacked manufactured goods, so they decided to send a representative on a tour to Moscow and other cities in Russia to arrange an exchange of commodities. In Moscow they met with success; two trade union representatives came to Huliai-Pole to work out details and subsequently grain was sent off under an armed guard. The Moscow workers held to their part of the bargain and a consignment of textiles and other manufactured goods was dispatched to Huliai-Pole. However, it

Anarchist group from Huliai-Pole. Front row, from left: Nestor Makhno, Waldemar Antoni, Petro Onyshchenko, Nazar Zuichenko, Luka Korostyliv; back row: Oleksander Semeniuta?, Luka Kravchenko, Ivan Shevchenko, Prokip Semeniuta, Ihor Bondarenko, Ivan Levadnyi. was held up by the Bolshevik authority in Oleksandrivs'k. This action brought about intense indignation among the peasants and they threatened

to march on the city to disperse the useless authorities harmful to the work of the toilers, who sat there. The demand of the peasants was not an empty phrase: the toilers at this time had . . . cadres of revolutionary youth, completely sufficient to militarily occupy the city of Oleksandrivs'k and to disperse, if not to shoot, all the governmental officials. 16

The Bolsheviks, however, gave way and the consignment was duly released and distributed among its rightful recipients. This incident made the peasants more aware of the necessity of their own armed detachments. They also found a source of arms (rifles, machine guns, and hand grenades) at the Oleksandrivs'k Anarchist Federation, and to augment their arsenal Makhno and Nikiforova jointly disarmed a battalion of Ukrainian troops stationed in Orikhiv near Huliai-Pole.17

The Brest-Litovsk peace treaty between the Central Powers and Ukraine concluded on February 9, 1918, and the Rada's subsequent request for Austro-German aid in expelling the Russian forces from the country had repercussions in Huliai-Pole and its area. The supporters of the Ukrainian government there were encouraged by the news and consequently increased their activities. The anarchists, who vehemently opposed the Rada's invitation of Austro-German troops into Ukraine, and feared that they might lose ground in Huliai-Pole, turned to "terror against all who dare now or are preparing in the future, following a victory of the counterrevolution over the revolution, to persecute the anarchist idea and its nameless bearers." Makhno's first victim was one of the Ukrainian leaders in Huliai-Pole, a Socialist Revolutionary and former military officer, Pavlo Semeniuta (Riabko), who publicly supported the Rada's policy. He was assassinated by the anarchists, and later their secretary, Kalashnikov, stated that "it [the anarchist group] killed him and [is] ready to kill in the future such an unworthy."

In the meantime the Austro-German and Ukrainian troops were moving deeper into Ukraine and Makhno began to urge the Revolutionary Committee to organize all its existing detachments in Huliai-Pole and its area into free battalions and to supplement them, especially with anarchists. This action was carried out under the slogan:

Revolutionary toilers, form free battalions for the defense of the revolution! The Socialist State supporters betrayed the revolution in Ukraine and are bringing against it forces of a black reaction from foreign countries.*9

Makhno succeeded in forming several military units under his command, consisting of over seventeen hundred men, and a medical service unit. Toward the end of March the Ukrainian troops supported by the German and Austrian forces approached the Dnieper and on April 14 they took Oleksandrivs'k.20 The Bolshevik troops gave no effective resistance and their retreat became a general flight. However, they did try to arm the pro-Bolshevik elements in Ukraine, and handed over to Makhno six artillery pieces and three thousand rifles with eleven cars of ammunition. Makhno dispatched several detachments, including cavalry, to the Oleksandrivs'k front to assist the Bolshevik troops. Although more units were soon ready for the front, they failed to get expected arms from the Bolsheviks because a wire connection with their headquarters was broken.

Meanwhile, when the commander of the Bolshevik southern front, Aleksander T. Egorov, was informed of Makhno's military activities, he summoned him to his headquarters at Fedorivka for consultation. When Makhno reached Egorov's headquarters, however, he found that he had moved eastward and while searching for Egorov Makhno learned that Huliai-Pole had been taken by the Ukrainian and German troops. The military authorities burned his mother's house and shot his elder brother Omelian, who was an invalid war veteran. Some of the anarchist leaders who did not escape were arrested by the local supporters of the Ukrainian government with the assistance of the Jewish detachment organized earlier. Also an active member of the anarchist group, Lev Shneider, joined the supporters of the Rada. Makhno made an effort to rally some retreating military units, including Nikiforova's detachment, but failed.

About that time he met a number of his anarchist friends and his brother Sava, who advised him not to return to Huliai-Pole because the military authority had put a price on his head. They decided to join Petrenko's troop train and move eastward toward Taganrog, the rallying center of the Bolshevik troops and their administrative agents.25 While approaching Taganrog the Huliai-Pole anarchists, learning that the Bolshevik authorities had begun to disarm all independent combat detachments, decided to disperse into small groups and to infiltrate the city. Some of them, including Sava Makhno, returned to the front zone to locate other friends and direct them to the others.

In Taganrog Makhno and his friends had to face another disappointment. The Bolshevik authorities arrested Nikiforova and disarmed her detachment, accusing her of committing robberies in IElesavethrad. The men of the detachment not only refused to join the Bolshevik units but demanded the release of Nikiforova. Other detachments and the Tagan-og anarchists supported their demands while Makhno and Nikiforova iromptly sent a telegram to Vladimir A. Antonov-Ovseenko protesting he action and demanding her release. His prompt reply gave them some atisfaction but did not provide her release: "Both the detachment of he anarchist Maria Nikiforova and comrade Nikiforova herself are well nown to me. Instead of being engaged in disarming such revolutionary ombat units I would advise that they be created."26 In spite of pro-ests, Nikiforova's trial was held at Taganrog on April 20.

At the trial, Garin, the commander of the Katerynoslav-Briansk narchist armed train, declared that

. . he was convinced that comrade Nikiforova, if she indeed has been called to le witness stand, then it is only because she sees in most of the jurors real revolu-onaries, and believes that once she is released, she will be given back her own and er detachment's arms and will go to battle against the counterrevolution. If she ad not believed in this and had foreseen that the revolutionary court would follow i the footsteps of the government and its provocateurs, then I would have known so about this and liberated her by force.^

nder such a threat the court released Nikiforova and the arms were turned to her unit.

The persecution of the anarchists launched in Taganrog and its area y the Bolsheviks was not an isolated case. During April—May 1918, le Bolshevik regime staged an antianarchist drive, disarming and de-roying all anarchist groups in Soviet Russia. With these events in ind, Makhno realized the anarchists could not depend upon the olsheviks whose apparent aim was "to exploit the Anarchists-Revolu-onaries in the struggle against counterrevolution so that those bearers an unreconciled spirit of revolution remained at the war front until :ath."28

Taking into account these persecutions, the Huliai-Pole group at iganrog recommended that Makhno and Borys Veretelnyk organize a inference to decide on future policy. At the end of April, they met at e Taganrog Anarchist Federation and after discussion of the recent istakes, failures, and the existing situation, decided that late June and rly July, the harvest season, was the best time for meeting the peases in the fields and learning about their feelings concerning their emies. It was agreed that the participants in the conference should filtrate back to their area a few at a time. On reaching their destina->ns the first arrivals would send information to the others left behind.

After learning about conditions in Huliai-Pole and the surrounding area, they were to organize small combat units of five to ten men each chosen from the peasants and workers. By drawing others into these units, they would create potential fighting units in Huliai-Pole and eventually in the whole area with the aims of committing acts of individual terror against the military commanders and organizing collective peasant attacks against returning landlords who had left their estates in the previous year. A secondary mission was to collect arms from the enemies and prepare the group for a general peasant uprising against the Austro-German troops, reestablishing the order that was brought by the Revolution. Finally they agreed that Makhno, Borys Veretelnyk, and a few others would make a two-month trip to Soviet Russia to see at first hand what had happened to the anarchists under the Bolshevik regime and what their plans were for the future. Makhno also wanted to find out what help and what obstruction he might expect for his revolutionary action at home.

The negative attitude of the Makhno group toward the national government cannot be explained by anarchist ideology alone. Although the population of Katerynoslav province was about 80 percent Ukrainian, the commercial, political, and cultural organizations, administration, press, and schools, especially in the cities, were largely in non-Ukrainian hands. There was a relatively small percentage of educated patriotic Ukrainians to provide leadership in all spheres of national life. Most of the workers' leaders were either non-Ukrainian or denationalized ones, while many workers and some peasants were under the influence of Bolshevik ideologies. Consequently, political education and national consciousness among the population were low.

While, despite the challenge of intensive Bolshevik propaganda, the local Ukrainian leaders carried on successful enlightening work among the officers and soldiers in the cities of the province, the so-called Kerensky July offensive against the Central Powers removed the best and most nationally conscious men from the barracks to the front; those who remained were badly demoralized by the Bolshevik and anarchist propaganda and the local national leaders could not find needed support. Moreover, the separation of Katerynoslav province from Ukraine and the obstacles posed to the Rada's work by the Provisional Government and its supporters created adverse conditions. Thus, after the fall of the Provisional Government, it was difficult for the Rada either to establish strong authority in the province that would prevent harmful elements from influencing the course of the Revolution, or to introduce a healthy policy to gain public confidence and support.


1. Makhno, "Velikii Oktiabr' na Ukraine," p. 10; see also his Russkaia revo-liutsiia, 1:99-100.

2. Makhno, Ukrainskaia revoliutsiia, 3:7—8; see also his "Put' bor'by protiv gosudarstva," DT, no. 17 (October 1926), pp. 5—6.

3. Makhno, Russkaia revoliutsiia, 1:96.

4. Makhno, "Neskol'ko slov o natsional'nom voprose na Ukraine," p. 6.

5. Makhno, Russkaia revoliutsiia, 1:14.

6. Ibid., p. 47.

7. Ibid., p. 71.

8. Mahalevs'kyi, "Bat'ko Makhno," p. 67.

9. Makhno, Russkaia revoliutsiia, 1:110.

10. Ibid., pp. 114-15.

11. Mahalevs'kyi, "Bat'ko Makhno," p. 67.

12. V. A. Antonov-Ovseenko, Zapiski o grazhdanskoi voine, 1:23.

13. Makhno, Russkaia revoliutsiia, 1:136.

14. Mahalevs'kyi, "Bat'ko Makhno," p. 67; Belash, "Makhnovshchina," p. 196.

15. Makhno, Russkaia revoliutsiia, 1:141.

16. Ibid., p. 164.

17. Ibid., pp. 152, 160-63.

18. Ibid., pp. 189, 192.

19. Ibid., pp. 193-94.

20. Istoriia ukrains'koho viis'ka, p. 417.

21. Makhno, Russkaia revoliutsiia, 1:181; Mazepa, Ukraina v ohni, 1:48.

22. Makhno, "Zapiski," no. 1, p. 24; Rudnev, Makhnovshchina, p. 18.

23. To undermine Makhno's effective assistance of the Bolshevik troops, the agriculturist Dmytrenko, a Socialist Revolutionary, who was the chairman of the Huliai-Pole Prosvita association, together with two young men, P. Kovalenko and M. Konoplia, in behalf of the Ukrainian troops cut all the wires leading to Huliai- Pole. When Makhno after four or five months later discovered this action, his men assassinated Dmytrenko (Makhno, Russkaia revoliutsiia, 1: 210—11).

24. Ibid., pp. 206-8.

25. Makhno, Pod udarami kontr-revoliutsii, 2:11; Arshinov, Jstoriia makhnov-skogo dvizheniia, p. 52; Footman, Civil War in Russia, p. 82.

26. Nestor Makhno, "Pechalnye stranitsy russkoi revoliutsii," Rassvet, January 29-February 18, 1932, p. 6.

27. Ibid., pp. 6-7.

28. Makhno, Pod udarami kontr-revoliutsii, 2:14.

29. Nestor Makhno, "K 10-i godovshchine revoliuts. povstanchestva na Ukraine-makhnovshchiny," DT, nos. 44—45 (1929), p. 4; Makhno, Pod udarami kontr-revoliutsii, 2:18—24; Makhno, "Zapiski," no. 1, p. 24; Footman, Civil War in Russia, pp. 82-83.

30. Mazepa, Ukraina v ohni, 1:24; Mykhailo Omelianovych-Pavlenko, Na Ukraini 1917-18, pp. 12-14.