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

9. Makhno's Visits with Kropotkin and Lenin

Of the Russian centers that Makhno wanted to visit, Moscow, Petrograd, and Kronstadt, the first was of special interest because "he had a vision of meeting many and diverse revolutionaries in the center of the paper revolution" to gain ideological inspiration and advice from them that he would subsequently turn into practice. He wanted to find out the fate and future plans of the anarchists; he also wanted to ascertain what Bolshevik supremacy meant in practice and the attitude of the workers toward the regime. Moreover, Makhno needed to know at first hand what assistance and what opposition he might expect from Moscow in his future struggle in Ukraine. Makhno's odyssey through Soviet Russia was a long list of depressing features: anarchy, persecution, and disappointment. When the Bolshevik troops moved north into the Don territory and Russia under German pressure, Makhno, like many others, joined them. On his way he observed the military weakness of the Red Guards and their plunder of the local population.

In Tikhoretskaia, north of Rostov, Makhno and one of his companions were arrested and sentenced to death by the local authority for participating in a requisition of food for the troop train. Only Makhno's violent protest and a document identifying him as chairman of the Huliai-Pole Committee for the Defense of the Revolution saved them from execution.

In Tsaritsyn (Volgograd) most of the pro-Bolshevik armed detachments coming from Ukraine were disarmed and integrated into the Red Guards. Some of them, especially those consisting of Ukrainian elements, were dealt with very roughly. For example, the detachment headed by Petrenko refused to be disarmed. After a few skirmishes the Bolsheviks arrested Petrenko and executed him while his men were put into Bolshevik units. This and other acts of the Bolshevik authorities deeply depressed Makhno; he felt that "the government is persecuting revolutionary goals altogether." Because of his close association with the Petrenko men, Makhno feared he would be arrested. He traveled down the Volga to Saratov, where he encountered new trouble connected with the arrival of a well-armed anarchist detachment of two hundred and fifty men, known as "the Odessa Terrorists," who had forced their way to Saratov, but refused to be disarmed. Armed clashes ensued between the unit and the Cheka. The intention of the Odessa Terrorists, like the Petrenko detachment, was to go back into Ukraine via Voronezh-Kursk to fight the Austro-German troops. Again in close contact with the terrorists, Makhno hastily escaped to Astrakhan where he entered the propaganda department of the local soviet, but the Bolshevik authorities soon became suspicious of his activities among the troops. Makhno gave up his job and went to Moscow via Tsaritsyn, Saratov, and Tambov.

Arriving in Moscow at the beginning of June, he visited a number of Russian anarchists, among them Aleksander A. Borovoi, Lev Cherny, T. Grosman-Roshchin, A. Shapiro, and his old friend Peter Arshinov. He had, as well, lengthy discussions with people of other political affiliations. He also attended a number of anarchist, socialist, and Bolshevik lecture meetings and conferences, including the All-Russian Congress of Textile Unions. Although Makhno found some of his contacts and meetings impressive for their cultural and theoretical range, he felt that, though it was a critical time, the majority of anarchists were idling without purpose. In contrast to the revolutionary work of the Ukrainian peasants, in Moscow there was much talk, writing, and advice to the crowds at the meetings but neither the will nor the courage to face the task of reorienting the course of the Revolution. As a result of this disappointment he decided to go back to Ukraine sooner than planned and to instigate an uprising of the peasants against the Austro-German troops and the hetman regime. He felt that his activity in Ukraine would "manifest to all friends of the paper revolution where to seek vital and healthy strength for our anarchist movement."4

While thinking about the discouraging state of affairs of the Russian anarchists, Makhno decided to visit their nominal leader Peter A. Kropotkin, from whom he expected answers on all vital questions. Makhno visited Kropotkin on the eve of his departure. Kropotkin received him politely and they spoke at length concerning the tangled situation in Ukraine, including the Austro-German occupation, the hetman government, and the anarchist method of struggle against all forms of counterrevolution. Makhno felt that he received satisfactory answers to all the questions he posed; however, "when I asked him to give me advice concerning my intention to go back into Ukraine for revolutionary work among the peasants, he categorically refused to advise me, saying: 'This question involves great risk to your life, comrade, and only you yourself can solve it correctly.' " As Makhno was leaving, Kropotkin said: "One must remember, dear comrade, that our struggle knows no sentimentality. Selflessness and strength of heart and will on the way toward one's chosen goal will conquer all."5 Years later Makhno wrote:

I have always remembered these words of Peter Aleksandrovich. And when our comrades come to know all that I did in the Russian Revolution in Ukraine and then in the independent Ukrainian Revolution, in the vanguard of which the revolu-tion-Makhno movement played so outstanding a role, they will recognize in my activities that selflessness and that strength of heart and will about which Peter Aleksandrovich spoke to me.6

Makhno's other significant meetings in Moscow were with IAkov M. Sverdlov, chairman of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviets, and with V. I. Lenin, in mid-June. The problem of living quarters brought Makhno to the Kremlin and to the office of Sverdlov, who became interested in Ukrainian problems. It is hard to believe that it was only housing that brought him to the Kremlin. It is more likely that Makhno tried to meet some of the Bolshevik leaders and to find 3ut for himself what assistance or opposition he might expect from the Bolsheviks in his future struggle at home.7

Sverdlov and Makhno had a brief discussion concerning the recent Bolshevik invasion of Ukraine. According to Sverdlov, the Red Guard's :haotic withdrawal from Ukraine was owing to the hostility of the seasants. He maintained that the "majority of the peasants in the South ire 'kulaks' and supporters of the Central Rada." Makhno denied this :harge, using the Huliai-Pole anarchists' activities as proof. Sverdlov, lowever, was not convinced: "Then why did they not support our Red \rmy units? We have testimonies that the southern peasants are poi-ioned by extreme Ukrainian chauvinism and everywhere they were velcoming German expeditionary forces and the units of the Central ilada with a special joy as their liberators."8 Subsequently, Sverdlov jffered to arrange a meeting for Makhno with Lenin, who he felt would ike to hear about "the real feelings of peasants" in Ukraine.

The next day at one o'clock Makhno along with Sverdlov was received by Lenin with paternal simplicity. Lenin, shaking hands and clasping Makhno's shoulder with the other, seated his two visitors and told his secretary they were not to be disturbed for one hour. Lenin sounded out Makhno on the attitude of the peasantry toward the Soviets, the Austro-German forces, and the differences between the Bolshevik and anarchist conceptions of revolution. He tried to discuss the problems in great detail. Lenin wanted to know what the Ukrainian peasants in Makhno's area made of the slogan "All power to the local Soviets." Makhno replied that they took it literally, assuming they were to have complete control of all affairs affecting them, to which he added that he felt this was the correct interpretation. In response, Lenin said: "In this case, the peasants from your area are infected wifh anarchism." Makhno responded: "Do you think that is bad?" Lenin replied: "I did not say that. On the contrary, it may be to the good, for it would speed up the victory of communism over capital and its authority."9

He went on to observe that mere peasant enthusiasm would burn itself out and could not survive serious blows from the counterrevolution. Makhno pointed out "that a leader should not be a pessimist or a sceptic." Subsequently Lenin observed that the anarchists had no serious organization, they were unable to organize either the proletariat or the poor peasants, and thus were unable to defend them.

Lenin was particularly interested in the performance of the Red Guards. He asked about the Bolshevik propaganda in the village, to which Makhno replied that there were few propagandists in the villages and that they were helpless. Then Lenin turned to Sverdlov, saying: "[By] reorganization of the Red Guard into the Red Army, we are following the true path to victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie."10 He asked Makhno about his plans in Moscow, and when Makhno told him that he was going home illegally, Lenin commented to Sverdlov that the anarchists had plenty of fanaticism and self-sacrifice but they were shortsighted; they neglected the present for the far distant future. Then he told Makhno he must not take this too personally: "You comrade, I think, have a realistic attitude toward the burning evils of the day. If only one third of the Anarchist-Communists in Russia were such, we, the Communists, would be prepared to make a certain compromise and cooperate with them for the sake of the free organization of producers."11

Makhno protested that the Revolution and its achievements were dear to all anarchists. Lenin retorted: "We know the anarchists as well as you. . . . Most of the anarchists think and write about the future, without understanding the present: that is what divides us, the Communists, from them."12 Makhno stated that as a simple, ill-educated peasant, he could not properly argue about such complicated questions. However, he added:

I would say, comrade Lenin, that your assertion that the anarchists do not understand "the present" realistically, have no connection with it, and so forth, is basically wrong. The Anarchist-Communists in Ukraine—or as you Communist-Bolsheviks are trying to avoid the word "Ukraine" and are calling it "South Russia"—at this point, "South Russia" has already given too many proofs that they are entirely associated with "the present." The entire struggle of the revolutionary Ukrainian village against the Ukrainian Central Rada proceeded under the ideological leadership of the Anarchist-Communists and, partly, the Russian Socialist-Revolutionaries —who, of course, had entirely different aims in their struggle against the Rada, than we Anarchist-Communists. You Bolsheviks did not exist in the villages, or when you did, you had absolutely no influence.^

Finally Lenin asked if Makhno would like help for his illegal journey to Ukraine, and receiving an affirmative answer, instructed Sverdlov to call upon Mr. Karpenko or Volodymyr P. Zatons'kyi to make arrangements. Then he told Makhno to go, the next day or the day after, to Karpenko, who would help him across the frontier. Makhno asked: "What frontier?" Lenin replied: "Don't you know that a frontier has been established between Ukraine and Russia?" "But you consider Ukraine as 'South Russia,' " noted Makhno. Lenin responded: "To consider is one thing, comrade, and to see in reality is another."

Makhno left Lenin with mixed feelings of reverence and resentment. Although Lenin made a Strang impact upon Makhno by his personality, his interest in details, and political devices, Makhno knew that it was Lenin who was most reponsible for the drive against the anarchists in Moscow and other cities. During their discussion, however, Lenin told Makhno that the "Soviet government launched a campaign in the centers of revolution not against anarchism but merely against the banditism that had penetrated its ranks." Makhno felt that "it would be difficult to find in any other political masters a greater insincerity and hypocrisy than that displayed by Lenin in this case, especially with reference to anarchism."16

Makhno's experience in Russia, especially in Moscow, was also depressing. He was not only disgusted at the Bolshevik mistreatment of the anarchists, but also disappointed at seeing a general eclipse of the movement. In some centers the anarchist groups had either disintegrated or were disorganized and ineffective. He felt that those groups that remained active were spending their time in theoretical discussions, infatuated with their own words and resolutions, but lacking the will to fight for their ideals. Makhno's anarchist friends were vague and left him ideologically in the air and even Kropotkin gave him encouragement and sympathy, but no practical guidance.

Makhno decided to rely on his own intuition. In contrast to the Russian anarchists, who were divided into a number of groups, Makhno stood for the unity of all anarchists, which he felt was a mark of strength. This feeling only confirmed his conviction that he should return to Ukraine and his followers as soon as possible. He felt that the toiling peasants and workers should depend upon their own strength and devices to liberate themselves from the Austro-German forces.

A few days after Makhno visited Lenin, Zatons'kyi provided Makhno with a false passport in the name of Ivan lAkovlevich Shepel, a schoolteacher and a reserve officer from Matviiv-Kurhan county, Taganrog district, Katerynoslav province. On June 29, Arshinov accompanied Makhno to the Kursk station in Moscow and saw him off. Although the train was crowded and hot, Makhno felt better than in Moscow, which was alien to his spirit and temperament.17 Makhno's trip was slow and difficult, but he reached Kursk and then Belenkino, the terminal, and crossed the frontier without incident. The final stage of his train trip was dangerous because the authorities apparently were informed of his return, and at one place he had to jump from the train to avoid arrest. From there he made his way on foot for twenty-five versts to the village of Rozhdestvenka, about twenty versts from Huliai-Pole, where he hid at the home of a peasant, Zakhar Kleshnia.19 There he established his conspiratorial headquarters and made contact with his friends at home. Subsequently Huliai-Pole and its area became the center of the Makhno partisan movement against the Austro-German troops and the landlords' punitive detachments.


1. Makhno, Pod udarami kontr-revoliutsii, 2:89.

2. Ibid., pp. 32-35.

3. Ibid., pp. 61 ff.

4. Ibid., p. 102.

5. Ibid., p. 107.

6. Ibid. Makhno remembered not only Kropotkin's words but also Kropotkin himself. Makhno supplied him with necessary food in time of need. Kropotkin admitted that "the anarchists of the Ukraine have been trying to make his life easier by supplying him with flour and other products. Makhno, also, when still friendly with the Bolsheviki, had sent him provisions" (Berkman, Bolshevik Myth, p. 75).

7. Footman, Civil War in Russia, p. 83.

8. Makhno, Pod udarami kontr-revoliutsii, 2:122.

9. Ibid., pp. 127-28.

10. Ibid., p. 130.

11. Ibid., p. 131.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid., p. 132.

14. Zatonskyi was a prominent Ukrainian Communist who later occupied important positions in the Soviet Ukrainian government, including the post of minister of education. In 1937 he and his wife were liquidated by Stalin (Entsyklo-pediia ukrainoznovstve: Slovnykova chastyna, 2: 759-60).

15. Makhno, Pod udarami kontr-revoliutsii, 2 : 134—35.

16. Makhno, "K 10-i godovshchine revoliuts.," p. 3.

17. Makhno, Pod udarami kontr-revoliutsii, 2 :140, 149.

18. One verst equals 3,500 feet.

19. Makhno, Pod udarami kontr-revolutsii, 2:154—55.