The Makhnovshchina is a colossal event in contemporary Russia. By the breadth and profundity of its ideas, it transcends all the spontaneous working class movements known to us. The factual material about it is enormous. Unfortunately, in the conditions of present day - Communist - reality, one cannot even dream of collecting all the material which could shed light on the movement. This will be the work of the future.
I began to work on the history of the Makhnovist movement four times. All the material relating to the movement was collected for this purpose. But four times the work was destroyed when it was half finished. Twice it was lost at the front during a battle, and two other times in peaceful lodgings during searches. Exceptionally precious documentation was lost in Khar'kov in January, 1921. This material contained everything one could have wanted to know about the front, the Makhnovist camp and the personal archives of Makhno: it included Makhno's memoirs containing a great quantity of facts, most of the publications and documents of the movement, a complete collection of the newspaper Put' k Svobode, detailed biographical notes on the most devoted participants of the movement. It is absolutely impossible to reconstruct the lost documentation even partially. Thus I had to complete the present work lacking many of the necessary materials. Furthermore, the work was at first carried out between battles, and later in the extremely unfavourable repressive conditions of contemporary Russia, where I wrote the same way as convicts in Tsarist prisons wrote each other, namely by hiding in any corner or behind a table, with constant fear of being discovered by the guard.
For these reasons it is natural that the work should appear hasty and should contain several gaps. However, the current state of affairs demands that a work on the history of the movement should be issued, even if it is incomplete. Consequently this work is not definitive. It is only a beginning and should be continued and further elaborated. But for this purpose it will be necessary to collect all the materials that relate to the movement. All comrades who possess any of this material are urged to pass them on to the author.
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In this preface I would like to say a few words to comrades-workers in other countries. Many among them, arriving in Russia to attend some congress, see contemporary Russia in an official framework. They visit the factories of Petrograd, Moscow and other cities and learn about their conditions on the basis of data furnished by the governmental party or political groups related to it. Such an acquaintance with Russian reality has no value. The guests are everywhere shown a life which is very far from reality. For example. In 1912 or 1913 a scientist from Amsterdam (Israel Van Kan, if I'm not mistaken) came to Russia to investigate Russian jails and prisons. The Tsarist government gave him the opportunity to observe prisons in Petrograd, Moscow and other cities. The professor strolled from cell to cell, informing himself about the situation of the convicts, and talking with them. In spite of the fact that he established illegal relations with some political prisoners (Minor and others), in the Russian prisons he saw no more than what the prison administration wanted to show him; that which was specific to Russian prisons escaped him. Foreign comrades and workers who come to Russia hoping to become familiar with Russian life in a short time with the help of data furnished by the governing party or by rival politicians, find themselves in the same situation as Israel Van Kan. They unavoidably commit gross errors.
In order to experience Russian reality, it is indispensable to go to the country as a simple agricultural worker, or to a factory as a labourer, to receive the economic and political payok (ration) granted to the people by the Communist government, to demand the sacred rights of workers and struggle to obtain them when they are not granted, and to struggle in a revolutionary manner, since revolution is the supreme right of workers. Only then will the actual and not the staged Russian reality be visible to such a daring observer. And then he will not be surprised by the history recorded in this book. With horror and shock he will see that in Russia today, as everywhere else, the great truth of the working class is persecuted and tortured and the heroism of the Makhnovist movement which defended this truth will be clear to him.
It seems to me that every thinking proletarian concerned with the fate of his class will agree that only in this way can one become familiar with Russian - or any other - life. Everything that has until today been the common practice of foreign delegations who came to study Russian life has consisted of trifles, illusions, picnics abroad, a pure waste of time.
P.S. I consider it a pleasant comradely obligation on my own part and on the part of the other participants of the movement, to express my gratitude to all organizations and comrades who helped or tried to help in the work of publishing this book: the Federation of Anarcho-Communist Groups of North America, as well as Italian and Bulgarian comrades.