Не́стор Івáнович Махно́
Nestor Ivanovych Makhno
November 8, 1888
Huliaipole, Yekaterinoslav, Russian Empire
|Died||July 25, 1934 (aged 45)|
|Resting place||Père Lachaise Cemetery, Columbarium niche 6685|
|Service||Revolutionary Insurgent Army of Ukraine|
|Years of service||1918–1921|
|Battles/wars||Ukrainian War of Independence|
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Nestor Ivanovych Makhno (Ukrainian: Не́стор Івáнович Махно́, [ˈnɛstor ɪˈwɑnowɪt͡ʃ mɐxˈnɔ];[a] November 8 [O.S. October 27] 1888 – July 25, 1934), also known as Bat'ko Makhno (Ukrainian: батько Махно; [ˈbɑtʲko mɐxˈnɔ], "Father Makhno"),[b] was a Ukrainian anarchist revolutionary and the commander of an independent anarchist army in Ukraine from 1917 to 1921.
Makhno was the commander of the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine, commonly referred to as the Makhnovshchina (loosely translated as "Makhno movement"). The Makhnovshchina was a predominantly peasant phenomenon that grew into a mass social movement. It was initially centered around Makhno's hometown Huliaipole but over the course of the Russian Civil War came to exert a strong influence over large areas of southern Ukraine. Makhno and the movement's leadership were anarcho-communists and attempted to guide the movement along these ideological lines. Makhno was aggressively opposed to all factions that sought to impose their authority over southern Ukraine, battling in succession the forces of the Ukrainian National Republic, the Central Powers of Germany and Austro-Hungary, the Hetmanate state, the White Army, the Bolshevik Red Army, and other smaller forces led by various Ukrainian atamans. He is also credited as the inventor of the tachanka—a horse-drawn carriage with a mounted heavy machine gun.[c] Makhno and his supporters attempted to reorganize social and economic life along anarchist lines, including the establishment of communes on former landed estates, the requisition and egalitarian redistribution of land to the peasants, and the organization of free elections to local soviets (councils) and regional congresses. However, the disruption of the civil war precluded a stable territorial base for any long-term social experiments.
Although Makhno considered the Bolsheviks a threat to the development of an anarchist Free Territory within Ukraine, he entered into formal military alliances twice with the Red Army to defeat the White Army. In the aftermath of the White Army's defeat in Crimea in November 1920, the Bolsheviks initiated a military campaign against Makhno. After an extended period of open resistance against the Red Army, Makhno fled across the Romanian border in August 1921. In exile, Makhno settled in Paris with his wife Halyna and daughter Yelena. During this period, Makhno wrote numerous memoirs and articles for radical newspapers. Makhno also played an important role in the development of platformism and the debates around the 1926 Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (Draft). Makhno died in 1934 in Paris at the age of 45 from tuberculosis-related causes.
On November 8 [O.S. October 27] 1888, Nestor Makhno was born into a poor peasant family in Huliaipole, a town in the Yekaterinoslav Governorate of the Russian Empire (now Zaporizhzhia Oblast, Ukraine).[d] He was the youngest of five children, born to Ivan and Evdokia Makhno, a couple of former serfs that had been emancipated in 1861.
Unable to feed his family on their small plot of land, following Nestor's birth, Ivan Mikhnenko went to work as a coachman for a wealthy industrialist. When Nestor was only ten months old, his father died, leaving behind an impoverished family. Nestor was briefly fostered to a more well-off peasant couple, but he was unhappy with them and returned to his family of birth. At only seven years old, the young Nestor was put to work tending livestock. When he turned eight years old, he began his education in a local secular school, starting off as a model student before increasingly committing truancy. One day, while ditching school to go ice skating, Nestor fell through the ice and nearly drowned, being forced to walk home in frozen clothes, contributing to the beginning of his breathing problems. After returning to his studies, he went to work on the estate of a kulak, bringing home 20 rubles over the course of the summer. Nestor's brothers also worked as farmhands, all contributing to help their family subside.
When Nestor returned to school, he again proved to be a gifted student, excelling in arithmetic and reading. However, that school year proved to be his last, as his family's extreme poverty forced the ten year old Nestor to begin working in the fields full-time, which led him to develop a "sort of rage, resentment, even hatred for the wealthy property-owner". Nestor's aversion to the landlords only increased over time, nurtured by stories his mother told him of her time in serfdom and tales of the Zaporozhian Cossacks. In the summer of 1902, when Nestor was twelve, he observed a farm manager and the landlord's sons physically beating a young farmhand. He quickly alerted an older stable boy "Batko Ivan", who attacked the assailants and led a wildcat strike action against the landlord. After the affair was settled, Ivan told Nestor: "if one of your masters should ever strike you, pick up the first pitchfork you lay hands on and let him have it..." The following year, Nestor quit working in the fields and found a job in a foundry. At this time, his older brothers had left home and started their own families, leaving only the young Nestor and Grigory with their mother. Nestor moved between jobs, quitting his job at a wine merchants' within months of starting, which began his life-long distaste for alcohol. He started to focus his work on his mother's land, occasionally returning to employment to help provide for his brothers.
When the 1905 revolution broke out, the seventeen year old Nestor quickly became engaged in revolutionary politics, first distributing propaganda for the social democrats before joining the Union of Poor Peasants, an anarchist group in his hometown of Huliaipole that "[rid] his soul once and for all of the lingering remnants of the slightest spirit of servility and submission to any authority." But the Tsarist authorities were already repressing revolutionary elements, sending some Don Cossacks to pacify Huliaipole, where even teachers came under the state's attacks. Despite the political climate, the dozen-strong group continued to meet weekly, inspiring Nestor Makhno to devote himself completely to the revolution.
After six months in the group, Makhno had "fully digested the ideals and goals of libertarian communism" and became a formal member. The group distributed libertarian propaganda among the peasantry, carried out a campaign of "Black Terror" against the Tsarist autocracy and executed "expropriations" against local businessmen. The money they stole was used either to print more propaganda or to purchase weapons and explosives. When the Stolypin reform abolished community assemblies (hromada), the kulaks grew even wealthier, leading the group to begin setting fire to the property of wealthy landowners. Makhno was arrested in September 1907, but after ten months of interrogation in prison, he was released without charges. As the rest of the group's members had been outlawed, Makhno founded another anarchist study group in a neighboring village, where two-dozen members would gather on a weekly basis to discuss anarchist theory.
This new group quickly found themselves infiltrated, seeing the execution of two spies and one of their meetings broken up by the Okhrana, which the group managed to escape after a shootout with the police. When one of their members was killed in the clash, the group responded by plotting to execute the provincial governor, but their attempts failed and Makhno was arrested following another shootout. One of the group's members confessed during interrogations, leading to 16 group members being arrested and the others fleeing into exile. One of those that fled to Belgium was Alexander Semenyuta, who soon returned to Huliaipole, where he assassinated the local police superintendent and led a failed attempt to break the other group members out of prison. But Semenyuta was eventually caught while seeking refuge at the house of Nestor's brother, where he was killed during a shootout with the police.
On March 26, 1910, Makhno was sentenced to be hanged, refusing to seek appeal. Egor Bondarenko, who had also been condemned to death, predicted that Makhno's sentence would be commuted, that he would later be freed from prison by a revolution and that he would then "hoist again the black flag of Anarchy" over Ukraine. After Bondarenko was hanged, Makhno's sentence was indeed commuted to a life sentence of hard labour, due in part to his young age. Makhno grew severely ill in prison, contracting an almost fatal bout of typhoid fever, before his eventual recovery and return to work in chains. He was moved to the prison in Luhansk, where he was briefly visited by family before being moved again to the prison in Ekaterinoslav. On August 2, 1911, he was transferred one final time to Butyrskaya prison in Moscow, where over 3,000 political prisoners were being held. Through the other prisoners he became well-read on Russian history and political theory, taking a particular interest in Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution by Peter Kropotkin. Makhno's behavior in prison earned him the nickname "Modest", due to his frequent boasting to fellow prisoners, sometimes even antagonising the guards and landing him in solitary confinement. Due to the conditions of the punishment cells, he soon fell sick again, this time being diagnosed with Tuberculosis, which kept him returning to the prison hospital throughout his sentence.
It was in Butyrskaya prison that Makhno met the anarcho-communist politician Peter Arshinov, who took the young anarchist under his wing as a student. But during this time, Makhno also became disillusioned with intellectualism after he noticed the differences between how the prison guards treated the intellectual prisoners and those inmates from the lower classes. As the years passed, Makhno began to write his own work, starting off with a poem titled Summons that called for a libertarian communist revolution. Prison did not break his revolutionary zeal, with Makhno vowing that he would "contribute to the free re-birth of his country". Although influenced by the ideas of Ukrainian nationalism, Makhno nevertheless remained hostile to nationalism, taking the internationalist position during World War I and even circulating an anti-war petition around the prison. When the prison doors were flung open during the February Revolution of 1917, Makhno was released from bondage for the first time in eight years, even finding himself off-balance without the chains weighing him down. He briefly became involved in the Muscovite anarchist movement but was eventually convinced to return to Huliaipole by his family.
Following nine years of imprisonment, in March 1917, the twenty-seven year old Makhno finally returned to Huliaipole, where he was reunited with his mother and elder brothers. He also came back into contact with his comrades from the Union of Poor Peasants, which was now mostly dedicating itself to the distribution of propaganda. Clashing with the propagandists of the group, Makhno proposed that libertarians take the role of a revolutionary vanguard in order to ignite mass action, but found his position a minority within his old group. He instead led the establishment of a local Peasants' Union on March 29, which soon came to represent the majority of Huliaipole's peasantry and even those from the surrounding region. Carpenters and metalworkers also formed their own industrial unions, electing Makhno as their Chairman against his own wishes.
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Makhno quickly became an active leading figure in Huliaipole's revolutionary movement, himself aiming to sideline any political parties that sought to seize control of the workers' organizations, justifying his leadership as only a temporary responsibility. As Huliaipole's delegate to Alexandrovsk's regional peasant congress, he called for the expropriation of large estates from landowners and their transfer to communal ownership by the peasants that worked them, becoming infamous throughout the region. Makhno also led workers in strike actions against their employers, demanding wages be doubled and vowing the continuation of work stoppages in case of their refusal, eventually resulting in the establishment of workers' control over all industry in Huliaipole. Makhno subsequently disarmed and minimized the powers of local law enforcement, before directly carrying out the expropriation of lands and redistributing them to the peasantry. All this gave him an image of social banditry, as peasants compared him to the Cossack rebel leaders Stenka Razin and Yemelyan Pugachev, rallying around the slogan of "Land and Liberty".
Although he had achieved success at home, Makhno was disappointed to discover a generalized state of disorganization among the wider Ukrainian anarchist movement, which largely dedicated itself to propaganda activities. Despite its large size, the anarchist movement found itself unable to compete with the established political parties, as it had yet to establish a coordinated organization capable of playing a leading role in the revolutionary movement. Following news of an attempted coup against the provisional government, Makhno led the establishment of a "committee for defense of the revolution" in Huliaipole. He called for the local bourgeoisie to be disarmed and their property expropriated, with all private enterprise to be brought under workers' control. Peasants withheld rent and took control of the lands they worked, large estates were collectivized and transformed into agrarian communes, with Makhno personally organizing communes on former Mennonite settlements. Himself living on a commune with his companion Nastia, Makhno worked twice a week, helping out with the farming and occasionally with fixing the machines. According to Alexandre Skirda, at this time Makhno's "responsibilities were enormous but his power small", taking on a more advisory role than a commanding one, with his advise often being challenged in the local Soviet, defense committee and even in the anarchist group.
Following the October Revolution and the outbreak of the Ukrainian War of Independence, Makhno advised anarchists to take up arms alongside the Red Guards against the forces of the Ukrainian nationalists and the White movement. With his brother Savely dispatched to Alexandrovsk at the head of an armed anarchist detachment, Nestor oversaw the prosecution of counterrevolutionary army officers, even placing the man who had prosecuted him in the same cell that he had been imprisoned in a decade earlier. Makhno also oversaw the release of still imprisoned workers and peasants, successfully defended Huliaipole against a Don Cossack raid, and expropriated 250,000 rubles from a bank to fund the activities of the local soviet.
Following the invasion of Ukraine by the Central Powers, Makhno quickly formed a volunteer detachment to resist the occupation, joining up with the Red Guards in Alexandrovsk. But in their absence, he learnt that Ukrainian nationalists had seized control of Huliaipole from the Soviet, inviting forces of the German Empire to occupy the town. Unable to return home, Makhno and his detachment retreated to Taganrog, where a conference of Huliaipole's exiled anarchists was held. Setting July 1918 as the date for returning to retake Huliaipole, Makhno set off on a tour of Russia to rally support behind the Ukrainian anarchist cause. In Rostov-on-Don, Makhno was disappointed by the disorganization of the local anarchist movement. In Tsaritsyn, he was briefly reunited with a heavily pregnant Nastia, but was forced to leave her in order to continue his tour. As he continued his travels, he witnessed confrontations between revolutionary partisans and the newly established Cheka, which were undertaking to disarm any autonomous units and shoot those that disobeyed their decrees. This conflict between the masses and the "institutional revolutionaries" caused Makhno to consider whether "the revolution is not destined to perish by the very hand of revolutionaries".
While aboard an armored train to Moscow, Makhno prevented a Red Guard company he was travelling with from being captured by Don Cossacks, using a performative artillery exercise to disentangle the train from the cossack advance. After spending a few days in the Volga region, Makhno finally arrived in the Russian capital, where he again made contact with Peter Arshinov and others in the Muscovite anarchist movement, many of whom were now under surveillance by the Bolshevik authorities. He also discussed the situation in Ukraine with the anarcho-communist theorist Peter Kropotkin, who wished Makhno well, parting ways with him after declaring that "struggle is incompatible with sentimentality. Self-sacrifice, tough mindedness and determination triumph over all on the road to the goal that you have set yourself."
Satisfied with his time in Moscow, Makhno resolved to return to Ukraine, but required forged identity papers in order to cross the border. He thus applied to the Kremlin, where he was engaged by Yakov Sverdlov, who immediately arranged Makhno an interview with Vladimir Lenin himself. In their meeting, Lenin showered him with questions about the situation in Ukraine, which Makhno answered, even as Lenin bemoaned that the country had been "contaminated by anarchism". Makhno stuanchly defended the Ukrainian anarchist movement from charges of "counter-revolution", criticising the Red Guards for sticking to the railways while peasant partisans fought on the frontlines. Despite his criticisms of the anarchist movement for idealism and his erroneous description of Ukraine as "South Russia", Lenin expressed his admiration for Makhno and admitted his mistakes regarding the revolutionary conditions in Ukraine, where anarchists had already become the predominant revolutionary force. After a long conversation, Lenin finally fulfilled Makhno's request for papers and the young Ukrainian finally left for Oryol at the end of June, content that he had "take[n] the temperature of the revolution".
Disguised as an officer of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, he crossed the border back into Ukraine and was reunited with some Jewish comrades, who informed him of the situation in Huliaipole. The German occupying forces had shot, tortured and arrested many of the town's revolutionaries. Mistaken for Nestor, Yemelyan Makhno had been shot, while Savely Makhno was arrested and his mother's house was destroyed. Nestor himself was being hunted by the imperial German authorities, even being forced to walk 27 kilometers to Rozhdestvenskoye after his train was searched by police. After weeks in hiding, Makhno clandestinely returned to Huliaipole, where he organized peasant partisans together, counselling against individual acts of terrorism and forbidding anti-semitic pogroms. From the outset, Makhno emphasised tactical and theoretical unity, advocating a generalized insurrection only once the conditions were ripe for it. Before long his presence was discovered and he was forced to retreat after a bounty was placed on him by the authorities, only narrowly escaping capture. In Ternivka, Makhno formed a peasant detachment and led attacks against Hetmanate positions, but before long decided to return to Huliaipole while disguised as a woman. There he planned to blow up the local command center of the occupying Central Powers, but called off the attack due to the risks of killing innocent civilians.
Main article: Free Territory (Ukraine)
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Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky, head of the Ukrainian State, lost the support of the Central Powers (Germany and Austro-Hungary, which had armed his forces and installed him in power) after the collapse of the German western front. Unpopular among most southern Ukrainians, Hetman saw his best forces evaporate, and was driven out of Kiev by the Directory. In March 1918, Makhno's forces and allied anarchist and guerrilla groups won victories against German, Austrian, and Ukrainian nationalist (the army of Symon Petlura) forces, and units of the White Army, capturing many German and Austro-Hungarian arms. These victories over much larger enemy forces established Makhno's reputation as a military tactician; he became known as Batko (‘Father’) to his admirers.
At this point, the emphasis on military campaigns that Makhno had adopted in the previous year shifted to political concerns. The first Congress of the Confederation of Anarchists Groups, under the name of Nabat ("the Alarm Bell Toll"), issued five main principles: rejection of all political parties, rejection of all forms of dictatorships (including the dictatorship of the proletariat, viewed by Makhnovists and many anarchists of the day as a term synonymous with the dictatorship of the Bolshevik communist party), negation of any concept of a central state, rejection of a so-called "transitional period" necessitating a temporary dictatorship of the proletariat, and self-management of all workers through free local workers' councils (soviets). While the Bolsheviks argued that their concept of dictatorship of the proletariat meant precisely "rule by workers' councils," the Makhnovist platform opposed the "temporary" Bolshevik measure of "party dictatorship." The Nabat was by no means a puppet of Makhno and his supporters, from time to time criticizing the Black Army and its conduct in the war.
In 1918, after recruiting large numbers of Ukrainian peasants, as well as numbers of Jews, anarchists, naletchki, and recruits arriving from other countries, Makhno formed the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine, otherwise known as the Anarchist Black Army. At its formation, the Black Army consisted of about 15,000 armed troops, including infantry and cavalry (both regular and irregular) brigades; artillery detachments were incorporated into each regiment. From November 1918 to June 1919, using the Black Army to secure its hold on power, the Makhnovists attempted to create an anarchist society in Ukraine, administered at the local level by autonomous peasants' and workers' councils.
Makhno was a de facto ally of Bolsheviks since 1918. In 1920 he called the Bolsheviks dictators and opposed the "Cheka [secret police]... and similar compulsory authoritative and disciplinary institutions" and called for "[f]reedom of speech, press, assembly, unions and the like". The Bolsheviks, in turn, accused the Makhnovists of imposing a formal government over the area they controlled, and also said that Makhnovists used forced conscription, committed summary executions, and had two military and counter-intelligence forces: the Kontrrazvedka, with punitive functions transferred in 1920 to the Kommissiya Protivmakhnovskikh Del (Commission for Anti-Makhnovist Activities).
The Bolsheviks claimed that it would be impossible for a small, agricultural society to organize into an anarchist society so quickly. However, Eastern Ukraine had a large amount of coal mines, and was one of the most industrialised parts of the Russian Empire.
As a revolutionary peasant leader Makhno has been called a "colourful personality" and his career "legendary". The German and Mennonite communities in Ukraine considered him to be an instigator of paramilitary banditry against innocent farmers, and an "inhuman monster whose path is literally drenched with blood." He is consistently referred to as a terrorist or bandit in Mennonite literature. At the age of 11 Makhno began working as an ox driver on a Mennonite estate. Here he began to develop a hatred for the ruling classes. In his memoirs he writes: "At this time I began to experience anger, envy and even hatred towards the landowner and especially towards his children – those young slackers who often strolled past me sleek and healthy, well-dressed, well-groomed and scented; while I was filthy, dressed in rags, barefoot, and reeked of manure from cleaning the calves' barn." Makhno also worked at the Mennonite owned Kroeger plant in Gulyai-Polye.
Makhno and his troops raided many German and Mennonite colonies and estates in the Katerynoslav Oblast. The larger rural landholdings of Mennonites were prominent targets due to their wealth and proximity to Gulyai-Polye. The Schönfeld colony, located adjacent to the Huliaipole area, was unique in that it consisted predominantly of Mennonite estate settlements across an expansive area.
While their religious beliefs did not allow them to serve in the Tsar's army, many Mennonites had assisted the Russian war effort by performing national service in non-fighting roles, notably forestry and medical units. The Mennonites' Germanic background also served to inflame negative sentiment. Makhno's own brother, Emelian—a disabled war veteran—was murdered and his mother's house burned to the ground by the Germans. The Mennonites themselves, having been stripped of their wealth and property during the revolution, embraced the occupation which promised to re-establish them as landowners. Some Mennonites accompanied punitive detachments against the peasantry, which greatly contributed to the growing bitterness between Mennonites and Ukrainians. In October 1918, Austro-Hungarian forces and German colonists burned down the pro-Makhnovist village of Bolshe-Mikholaivka and murdered many of its inhabitants. Makhno responded with a sustained campaign of retribution against German/Mennonite colonies and estates. At the same time Makhno voiced his opposition to the indiscriminate slaughter of the colonists and established "ground rules" for occupying the colonies. Throughout 1918 a total of 96 Mennonites were killed in the Schönfeld-Brasol area. By the winter 1918–19 most residents of the Schönfeld colony had fled to the relative safety of the Molotschna colony.
The Mennonites had been encouraged to form self-defence (Selbstschutz) units. Mennonite youth were trained and armed under the supervision of German officers. Breaking with nearly four centuries of pacifism, tacit approval of the Selbstschutz was given by the Mennonite leadership at the Lichtenau Conference [June 30- July 2, 1918]. Intended exclusively for the defence of the colony, with the arrival of General Denikin's White Volunteer Army the Selbstschutz was gradually drawn into offensive operations against Makhno. Later some Mennonites also formed ethnic battalions within the White Army. The Selbstschutz was initially successful in protecting their communities against Makhno's partisans but was overwhelmed once the anarchists aligned themselves with the Red Army, which had entered Ukraine in February 1919. The Mennonites of the Molotschna colony were under joint Makhnovist-Red occupation until the Whites broke through the southern front in May 1919.
Following Makhno's devastating attack on Denikin's rearguard in September–October 1919, the Mennonite colonies found themselves once more under Makhnovist occupation. The year 1919 saw the greatest number of Mennonites killed – some 827 or 67% of all Mennonite civil war deaths. The great majority of these occurred between October and December. During this period major massacres occurred in Eichenfeld (Yazykovo), Blumenort (Molotschna), Steinfeld and Ebenfeld (Borozenko) and Münsterberg (Zagradovka) while under the administrative control of the Makhnovists. The Chortitza colony also suffered a great degree of death and robbery. According to the research of Peter Letkemann 3,336 Russian Mennonites, or three percent of their total population, died between 1914 and 1923. Ninety-six percent of these deaths occurred in Ukraine.
Like the White army, the Ukrainian People's Republic and forces loyal to the Bolsheviks, Makhno's forces were accused of conducting pogroms against Jews in Ukraine, based on the Bolshevik accounts of the war. However, these claims have never been proven. Anarchist Paul Avrich writes that of Makhno's alleged antisemitism, "[c]harges of Jew-baiting and of anti-Jewish pogroms have come from every quarter, left, right, and center. Without exception, however, they are based on hearsay, rumor, or intentional slander, and remain undocumented and unproved." Avrich notes that a considerable number of Jews took part in the Makhnovist anarchist movement. Some, like Vsevolod Mikhailovich Eikhenbaum, also known as Voline, and Aron Baron were intellectuals who served on the Cultural-Educational Commission, wrote his manifestos, and edited his journals, but the great majority fought in the ranks of the Anarchist Black Army, either in special detachments of Jewish artillery and infantry, or else within the regular anarchist army brigades alongside peasants and workers of Ukrainian, Russian, and other ethnic origins. Together they formed a significant part of Makhno's anarchist army. Significantly, during the Russian civil war, the Merkaz or Central Committee of the Zionist Organization in Russia regularly reported on many armed groups committing pogroms against Jews in Russia, including the Whites, the Russian Ukrainian 'Green' nationalist Nikifor Grigoriev (later shot by Black Army troops on Makhno's orders) as well as Red Army forces, but did not accuse Makhno or the anarchist Black Army of directing pogroms or other attacks against Russian Jews. According to Peter Kenez, "[h]e was a self-educated man, committed to the teachings of Bakunin and Kropotkin, and he could not fairly be described as an anti-Semite. Makhno had Jewish comrades and friends; and like Symon Petliura, he issued a proclamation forbidding pogroms". Kenez goes on to claim that "the anarchist leader could not or did not impose discipline on his soldiers. In the name of 'class struggle' his troops with particular enthusiasm robbed Jews of whatever they had." This would be in the spirit of standards of behaviour which Makhno promoted for his troops, which called for war against "the rich bourgeoisie of all nationalities", be they Russian, Ukrainian or Jewish, as well as his explicit order not to beat or rob "peaceful Jews". Though, historian David Footman writes, "Some anti-Semitism, of course, persisted, but cases of ill-treatment or of incitement against Jews were on occasion severely punished. We hear of Makhno himself shooting a partisan of long service who had chalked up a notice: 'Defend the Revolution! Long Live Makhno! Down with the Jews!'" Overall, while conclusions cannot be drawn with certainty, reports of anti-semitism among the Makhnovists range from about average to less than usual among partisan groups in the War.
While the bulk of Makhno's forces consisted of ethnic Ukrainian peasants, he did not consider himself to be a Ukrainian nationalist, but rather an anarchist. His movement did put out a Ukrainian-language version of their newspaper and his wife Halyna Kuzmenko was a nationally conscious Ukrainian. In emigration, Makhno came to believe that anarchists would only have a future in Ukraine if they Ukrainianized and he stated that he regretted that he was writing his memoirs in Russian and not in Ukrainian. Makhno viewed the revolution as an opportunity for ordinary Ukrainians – particularly rural peasants – to rid themselves of the overweening power of the central state through self-governing and autonomous peasant committees, protected by a people's army dedicated to anarchist principles of self-rule.
Bolshevik hostility to Makhno and his anarchist army increased after Red Army defections. The Nabat confederation was banned and the Third Congress (specifically Pavel Dybenko) declared the "Makhnovschina" (Ukrainian anarchists) outlaws and counter-revolutionaries. In response, the Anarchist Congress publicly questioned, "[M]ight laws exist as made by few persons so-called revolutionaries, allowing these to declare the outlawing of an entire people which is more revolutionary than them?" (Archinoff, The Makhnovist Movement). The Bolshevik press was not only silent on the subject of Moscow's continued refusal to send arms to the Black Army, but also failed to credit the Ukrainian anarchists' continued willingness to ship food supplies to the hungry urban residents of Bolshevik-held cities.
Vladimir Lenin soon sent Lev Kamenev to Ukraine where he conducted a cordial interview with Makhno. After Kamenev's departure, Makhno claimed to have intercepted two Bolshevik messages, the first an order to the Red Army to attack the Makhnovists, the second ordering Makhno's assassination. Soon after the Fourth Congress, Trotsky sent an order to arrest every Nabat congress member. Pursued by White Army forces, Makhno and the Black Army responded by withdrawing further into the interior of Ukraine. In 1919, the Black Army suddenly turned eastwards in a full-scale offensive, surprising General Denikin's White forces and causing them to fall back. Within two weeks, Makhno and the Black Army had recaptured all of the southern Ukraine.
When Makhno's troops were struck by a typhus epidemic, Trotsky resumed hostilities; the Cheka sent two agents to assassinate Makhno in 1920, but they were captured and, after confessing, were executed. All through February 1920 the Free Territory – Makhnovist region – was inundated with Red troops, including the 42nd Rifle Division and the Latvian & Estonian Division – in total at least 20,000 soldiers. Viktor Belash noted that even in the worst time for the revolutionary army, namely at the beginning of 1920, "In the majority of cases rank-and-file Red Army soldiers were set free". Of course Belash, as a colleague of Makhno's, was likely to idealize the punishment policies of the Batko. However, the facts bear witness that Makhno really did release "in all four directions" captured Red Army soldiers. This is what happened at the beginning of February 1920, when the insurgents disarmed the 10,000-strong Estonian Division in Huliaipole. To this it must be added that the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine included a choir of Estonian musicians. The problem was further compounded by the alienation of the Estonians by Anton Denikin's inflexible Russian chauvinism and their refusal to fight with Nikolai Yudenich.
There was a new truce between Makhnovist forces and the Red Army in October 1920 in the face of a new advance by Wrangel's White army. While Makhno and the anarchists were willing to assist in ejecting Wrangel and White Army troops from southern Ukraine and Crimea, they distrusted the Bolshevist government in Moscow and its motives. However, after the Bolshevik government agreed to a pardon of all anarchist prisoners throughout Russia, a formal treaty of alliance was signed.
By late 1920, Makhno had halted General Wrangel's White Army advance into Ukraine from the southwest, capturing 4,000 prisoners and stores of munitions, and preventing the White Army from gaining control of the all-important Ukrainian grain harvest. Upon the signing of a truce in the Polish–Soviet War further west, additional Red Army were freed to also participate in the southern campaign that pursued Wrangel and the remainder of his forces down the Crimean peninsula. To the end, Makhno and the anarchists maintained their main political structures, refusing demands to join the Red Army, to hold Bolshevik-supervised elections, or accept Bolshevik-appointed political commissars. The Red Army temporarily accepted these conditions, but within a few days ceased to provide the Makhnovists with basic supplies, such as cereals and coal.
When General Wrangel's White Army forces were decisively defeated in November 1920, the Communists immediately turned on Makhno and the anarchists once again. After refusing a direct order by the Bolshevik government to disband his anarchist army, Makhno intercepted three messages from Lenin to Christian Rakovsky, the head of the Bolshevik Ukrainian Soviet based in Kharkiv. Lenin's orders were to arrest all members of Makhno's organization and to try them as common criminals. On November 26, 1920, less than two weeks after assisting Red Army forces to defeat Wrangel, Makhno's headquarters staff and many of his subordinate commanders were arrested at a Red Army planning conference to which they had been invited by Moscow, and executed. Makhno escaped, but was soon forced into retreat as the full weight of the Red Army and the Cheka's Special Punitive Brigades was brought to bear against not only the Makhnovists, but all anarchists, even their admirers and sympathizers.
On July 23, 1921, the Mikhail Frunze demanded the "definitive liquidation" of the Makhnovist movement. Despite having suffered several wounds, Makhno continued to carry out raids in the Don river basin, even attacking Voronezh. But by August 13, Makhno's wounds had forced him to flee abroad for treatment, taking his wife and 100 loyalists with him in a retreat to Poland, leaving Viktor Belash in command of the Insurgent Army. With Red Army attacks following them, Makhno took a bullet in the neck on August 22 and a number of his old friends died in battle on August 26. After a scout was captured by the Reds, Makhno diverted his forces towards Romania. On August 28, the Makhnovists ambushed and disarmed the Soviet border guards, then after crossing the Dniester, they were in turn disarmed by the Romanian border guards and taken to an internment camp. Makhno and his wife were soon released from the camp and granted permission to stay in Bucharest, under police surveillance, while Makhno recovered from his wounds.
In September 1921, Georgy Chicherin and Christian Rakovsky demanded that the Kingdom of Romania extradite Makhno back to Ukraine. The Romanian government of Take Ionescu did not accept their demand, as the two states had no extradition treaty, also pointing out that capital punishment had been abolished in Romania and reminding the Bolshevik diplomats of international law on the matter, but the Bolsheviks continued to push the subject. By this time, Makhno had come into contact with the exiled Ukrainian nationalists around Symon Petliura, themselves allies of both Romania and Poland. In the face of the conditions in Ukraine, Makhno called for an alliance between the Makhnovists and the Petliurists, which he believed could together reignite an insurgency in Ukraine.
With Romania still caught up in the extradition demands, Makhno decided to make a break for Poland, getting caught between the border before finally being shipped to a Polish internment camp on April 12, 1922. Makhno subsequently attempted to secure permission to move on to Czechoslovakia or Germany, but the Polish government refused, as they were attempting to force the dissolution of the Makhnovists into the Ukrainian nationalist movement. The Soviet government sent an agent provocateur to entrap Makhno, themselves attempting to force the extradition of Makhno from Poland, fabricating a Makhnovist plan to launch an insurgency in Galicia. Makhno and his wife were arrested by the Polish authorities and for over a year were held in pre-trial detention, where Halina gave birth to their daughter on October 30, 1922. In prison, Makhno drafted his memoirs which he passed on to Peter Arshinov, who published them in his Berlin-based publication The Russian Messenger. Makhno also sent out open letters to exiled Don Cossacks and the Ukrainian Communist Party, and began to learn German and Esperanto, before the prison's conditions caused another resurgence of his tuberculosis.
Makhno received support from throughout the European anarchist movement, with Polish and Bulgarian anarchists even threatening violence in the event of extradition. At his trial in November 1923, Makhno was acquitted on all charges and given permission to stay in Poznań. The following month he and his family moved to Toruń, where he fell under close police surveillance, being arrested and interrogated a number of times in the wake of Vladimir Lenin's death. Unable to secure a visa to travel to Germany and facing a severe strain on his marriage with Halyna, on April 14, 1924, Makhno attempted suicide and was hospitalized by his injuries.
In July 1924, Makhno and his family were allowed to move to the Free City of Danzig, where he was struck again by tuberculosis and held in hospital by the police, before escaping and making plans to move on to Berlin before he could be recaptured. Leaving Halyna behind in Poland, he arrived in Berlin towards the end of 1924, where he was reunited with other Ukrainian anarchist exiles. With Voline acting as his interpreter, Makhno met with a number of prominent anarchists that were also living in the city, such as Rudolf Rocker and Ugo Fedeli. After a botched attempt to kidnap Makhno, Soviet agents reported him to Prussian police, with Makhno again being imprisoned and falling sick. German anarchists managed to help Makhno escape from prison and clandestinely cross the border into Germany, before finally moving to Paris in April 1925. Upon arrival he wrote that "I am now staying in Paris, amongst a foreign people and political enemies whom I have so often declaimed against."
Makhno was reunited with his wife and daughter in the city, where French anarchists like May Picqueray provided the family with lodgings and healthcare. On June 21, 1926, they moved into an apartment at 18 Rue Jarry in Vincennes, before moving on to another apartment on Rue Diderot, in the same building as Peter Arshinov's family. Makhno attempted to find work at a local foundry and later at a Renault factory, but was forced to leave both jobs due to his health problems, with a bullet wound in his right ankle even threatening amputation. His health care was overseen by the anarcha-feminist Lucile Pelletier, who described his body as being "literally encased in scar tissue" and advised his family to move out, in order to prevent them from being infected with tuberculosis. His debilitating illness, combined together with homesickness and a strong language barrier (due to his inability to learn the French language), caused Makhno to fall into a deep depression. According to Alexander Berkman, Makhno particularly despised living in a big city and dreamed of returning to the Ukrainian countryside, where he could "tak[e] up again the struggle for liberty and social justice."
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Instead of manual labor, Makhno undertook to write his Memoirs, but the books sold poorly due to their high price. He also collaborated with other exiled Russian anarchists to establish the bi-monthly libertarian communist journal Dielo Truda (Russian: Дело Труда, English: The Cause of Labour), in which Makhno published an article in each issue over three years. His articles were apparently poorly-written and criticised as such by the journal's editor Arshinov, which greatly upset Makhno and exacerbated his anti-intellectualism. The theoretical developments of the journal eventually culminated in the publication of the Organizational Platform of the Libertarian Communists, which called for the reorganization of the anarchist movement into a more cohesive structure, based on the experiences of revolutionary Ukraine and the defeat by the Bolsheviks. The Platform attracted criticism from the synthesists, such as Voline, who regarded it as a Bolshevization of anarchism. On March 20, 1927, a meeting was held in L'Haÿ-les-Roses to discuss the Platform, attracting anarchists from Russia, Poland, Bulgaria, Italy and China. When the meeting was raided by police, Makhno was arrested and threatened with deportation, but this was prevented by Louis Lecoin and Henri Sellier, who both vouched for him.
During this period, he often met with anarchist friends in cafes and restaurants, reminiscing over a bottle of wine about the "good old days" in Ukraine, one time even celebrating the fall from power of his old rival Leon Trotsky and hoping that the fall of Joseph Stalin would soon follow. In June 1926, during a meal with Alexander Berkman and May Picqueray in a Russian restaurant on Rue de l’Ёсоlе de Medicine, Makhno met with the Ukrainian Jewish anarchist Sholem Schwarzbard, who went pale upon seeing the Ukrainian nationalist leader Symon Petliura walk into the room. Schwarzbard immediately informed the Batko of his intentions to assassinate Petliura, in revenge for the pogroms carried out in the Ukrainian People's Republic. Makhno attempted to dissuade him but the deed was carried out anyway, with Schwarzbard's subsequent trial bringing to light a trove of documentary evidence that confirmed Petliura's role in the pogroms, exonerating the assassin. Around this time, rumors began to circulate about Makhno's own relationship to antisemitism, resulting in a number of public debates on the matter. Citing stories of Makhno told by White émigrés, Joseph Kessel published a novel that portrayed a fictionalized version of Makhno as an Orthodox Christian and antisemite, an accusation which Makhno categorically denied. Makhno defended himself by speaking up about the pogroms in Ukraine: in To the Jews of all Countries, published in Le Libertaire, he asked for evidence of antisemitism in the Makhnovist ranks; at an open debate on June 24, 1927, Makhno claimed that he had defended Ukrainian Jews from persecution, an assertion that was backed up by Russian and Ukrainian Jews in attendance.
By this time, Makhno was succumbing to physical and mental illness, with his wounds and tuberculosis getting worse, and his relationships with fellow Ukrainian exiles deteriorating. His wife grew to resent him, causing the couple to separate on multiple occasions, with Halyna even unsuccessfully attempting to apply for permission to return to Soviet Ukraine. He quarreled with Ida Mett over the editing of his memoirs, with Mett eventually quitting out of frustration with Makhno's "indecipherable and meandering manuscripts." Makhno also came into a serious personal and political conflict with Voline, which would last until their deaths, resulting in the later volumes of Makhno's memoirs only being published posthumously. As gossip spread about Makhno, he became increasingly defensive against any criticisms of himself, no matter how minor. In the pages of Dielo Truda, he published categorical denials of anything from allegations of antisemitism to whether or not the Makhnovists had used a pirate flag.
Neglected by the Russian and French anarchists in Paris, Makhno turned his attention towards Spain. Following the release of a number of Spanish anarchists from prison, Makhno met with Francisco Ascaso and Buenaventura Durruti on July 21, 1927. The Spaniards expressed their admiration for Makhno, who himself displayed a sense of optimism about the Spanish anarchist movement and predicted an anarchist revolution in Spain. Makhno was particularly impressed by the revolutionary traditions of the Spanish working classes and the tight organization of the Spanish anarchists, declaring that if revolution broke out in Spain, then he would join the fight. With some Spanish anarchists suggesting he assume command of their guerrilla revolutionary movement, Makhno devoted himself to studying the events in Spain, which had just overthrown the monarchy and declared a republic. With his experiences of the war in mind, he warned the Spaniards against collaboration with the Bolsheviks, declaring: "May the calamity of Bolshevik communism never take root in the revolutionary soil of Spain!"
Due to the threats of deportation, he mostly kept to writing about libertarian communist political theory, as he was no longer able to attend meetings or engage in active organizing. In great pain, increasingly isolated and financially precarious, Makhno got a number of odd jobs as an interior decorator and shoemaker. He was also supported by the income of his wife, who worked as a cleaner, and in April 1929, May Picqueray and a number of other French anarchists established a "Makhno Solidarity Committee" to raise funds. Much of the money was contributed by the Spanish anarchists of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), which greatly admired Makhno, with the fundraiser in Le Libertaire eventually securing Makhno's family with an allowance of 250 francs per week, barely one-third of the living wage. Makhno spent most of this money on his daughter, neglecting his own self-care, which contributed further to his declining health. However, Makhno's ideological conflict with the synthesis anarchists escalated and, in July 1930, Le Libertaire suspended his allowance. Individual fundraising attempts ended up being unsuccessful.
Around this same time, Makhno learnt that Peter Arshinov had defected to the Soviet Union, which left him even more isolated from the Ukrainian exiles. Makhno spent his last years writing criticisms of the Bolsheviks and encouraging other anarchists to learn from the mistakes of Ukrainian experience. His final article was an obituary to his old friend Nikolai Rogdaev, but he was unable to afford the postage, so it was not published until after he died. Suffering from malnutrition, Makhno's tuberculosis worsened to the point that he was hospitalized on March 16, 1934. Operations failed to help and Makhno finally died in the early hours of July 25, 1934. He was cremated three days after his death, with five hundred people attending his funeral at the cimetière du Père-Lachaise in Paris.
Makhno's widow and his daughter Yelena were deported to Nazi Germany for forced labor during World War II. After the end of the war they were arrested by the NKVD and taken to Kiev for trial in 1946. For the crime of "anti-Soviet agitation", Halyna was sentenced to eight years of hard labor in Mordovia and Yelena was sentenced to five years in Kazakhstan. Following the death of Stalin, the two were reunited in Taraz, where they spent the rest of their lives: Halyna would die in 1978, followed by Yelena in 1993. Makhno's relatives in Huliaipole faced harassment by Ukrainian authorities up until the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
In 1919, Nestor Makhno married Agafya (aka Halyna) Kuzmenko, a former elementary schoolteacher (1892–1978), who became his aide. They had one daughter, Yelena. Halyna Kuzmenko personally carried out a death sentence of Nikifor Grigoriev, a subordinate commander who committed a series of anti-semitic pogroms (according to other accounts, Grigoriev was killed by Chubenko, a member of Makhno's staff or Makhno himself).
Nestor's brothers were also anarchists and active partisans of the Makhnovist movement. In 1918, Emilian was executed by the Austro-Hungarian Army; in September 1919, Grigory was killed in Uman by the Volunteer Army; and in February 1920, Savely was killed by the Red Army in Huliaipole.
According to Paul Avrich, Makhno was "a thoroughgoing anarchist, who practiced what he preached insofar as conditions permitted. A down-to-earth peasant, he was not a man of words, not a phrasemaker or an orator, but a lover of action who rejected metaphysical systems and abstract social theorizing".
Voline, one of his biggest supporters who was active for several months in the movement, reports that Makhno and his associates engaged in sexual mistreatment of women: "Makhno and of many of his intimates – both commanders and others... let themselves indulge in shameful and even odious activities, going as far as orgies in which certain women were forced to participate." However, Voline's allegations against Makhno in regards to sexual violations of women have been disputed by Alexandre Skirda on the grounds that the allegations are unsubstantiated, do not stand up to eyewitness accounts of the punishment meted out to rapists by the Makhnovists, and were originally made by Voline in his book The Unknown Revolution which was first published in 1947, long after Makhno's death and following a bitter falling-out between Makhno and Voline. Voline and Makhno fell out due to Kuzmenko and Voline having an affair, which is later corroborated by Ida Mett after Makhno had died in Paris. Mett asserts that not only had they stolen effects from Makhno, such as his diary, but they had instantly started sleeping together openly after Makhno's demise.
Makhno was portrayed as a heavy drinker by some. Voline wrote that "[Makhno's] greatest fault was certainly the abuse of alcohol...Under [its influence], Makhno became irresponsible in his actions; he lost control of himself." This charge by Voline, like the aforementioned accusations, was not made until years after Makhno's death. Alexandre Skirda notes that Bulgarian comrades who knew him throughout his life categorically deny this charge. Skirda further notes that he was unable to unearth any first-hand evidence of Makhno's alcoholism. Other historians (Paul Avrich, Peter Marshall) seem to[clarification needed] adopt the narrative that Makhno had drinking issues.
Nestor Makhno was the main antagonist in the 1923 Soviet adventure film Krasnye dyavolyata a.k.a. Red Devils. He was portrayed by Odessa gangster and part-time actor Vladimir Kucherenko. The film gives an extremely negative portrayal of Makhno and the Makhnovists. Makhno, played by Vladimir Stutyrin, also featured in the sequel Savur Mogila (1926).
Played by the famous Soviet actor Boris Chirkov, Makhno was also a character in the 1942 epic film Alexander Parkhomenko where he sang the "Lyubo, bratsy, lyubo".
Michael Moorcock's A Nomad of the Time Streams/The Nomad of the Air: volume 3: The Steel Tsar (1981) is an alternate history/steampunk novel where Makhno, still alive in 1941, is an important supporting character. Makhno appears also in a short episode of Moorcock's Breakfast in the Ruins.
A song by Lyube, "Batko Makhno" (1989) was a smash hit, as its lyrics carried a suggestive theme of the times of Red Terror. The song was released soon before the fall of the Soviet Union.
In 2005, Makhno was portrayed by Pavel Derevyanko in the Nine Lives of Nestor Makhno (Russian: Девять жизней Нестора Махно), a 12-part Russian miniseries about his life.
In the 2017 Russian TV series, The Road to Calvary (based on Aleksey Tolstoy's trilogy of novels) Nestor Makhno appears as a minor character in the series, being the leader of the Black Army. He is played by actor Yevgeny Stychkin, and is portrayed negatively as a brutal warlord who executes his loyalists when they fail his tasks, while also being involved with looting civilian trains, plus raping women he holds as sex slaves. This is an unhistorical representation of Nestor Makhno's life.