Free speech for Bolsheviks in Makhnovist territory

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Lucky Black Cat's picture
Lucky Black Cat
Joined: 11-02-18
Jul 27 2021 23:58
Free speech for Bolsheviks in Makhnovist territory

There is conflicting information about whether the Makhnovists allowed freedom of speech/press for Bolsheviks in the territory that Makhnovists held in the Ukraine.

Both these quotes are from the same source: "Nestor Makhno and Rural Anarchism in Ukraine, 1917–21" by Colin Darch

So on the one hand this quote indicates that there was freedom of the press for Bolsheviks / the Communist Party:

The makhnovtsy permitted Right and Left SRs as well as the Bolsheviks to publish newspapers, and even published a proclamation on socialist freedom of the press and of association:

"1. All socialist political parties, organisations and tendencies have the right to propagate their ideas, theories, views and opinions freely, both in speech and in writing. No restriction of socialist freedom of speech or of the press will be permitted, and no persecution may take place in this respect."

Original source:

Datelined Ekaterinoslav, 5 November 1919 (Arshinov, Istoriia makhnovskogo dvizheniia, pp. 151–2).

And this indicates the opposite:

Berkman was also busy making contacts with southern anarchists. In August he visited Iosif Gotman at the Vol’noe Bratstvo (Free Brotherhood) book shop in Khar’kov. Gotman was better known under his penname, Emigrant, with which he signed articles in Nabat, and had also worked as a teacher in Makhnovite camps. Gotman disliked the Bolsheviks: ‘I consider Makhno’s povstantsy movement as a most promising beginning of a great popular movement against the new tyranny’, he told Berkman, while another anarchist who was present added that ‘there isn’t enough left of the Revolution to make a fig-leaf for Bolshevik nakedness’.[882] Gotman believed that makhnovshchina represented ‘the real spirit of October’ and that kulaks were a minority in the movement.[883] While he admitted that there was no freedom of speech for Communists in Makhnovite-controlled areas, there certainly was for Maximalists and Left SRs.[884]

Original sources:

[882] Berkman, The Bolshevik Myth, pp. 184–85.

[883] The Bolshevik Myth, p. 187.

[884] The Bolshevik Myth, p. 188.

So which is true?

The seeming contradiction could merely be due to different policies at different points in time. I admit I've only read a few excerpts of this text so the question I'm asking may be found in the text but it's very long and I'm hoping someone here will already know the answer.

R Totale's picture
R Totale
Joined: 15-02-18
Jul 28 2021 20:14

Fwiw, had a look around and the Berkman source seems to be here:

The Emigrant, whom I had formerly known as a most peace-loving man, surprised me by his militant enthusiasm regarding Makhno, whom he familiarly calls Nestor. He spent much time with the latter, and he regards him as a thorough Anarchist, who is fighting reaction from the Left as well as from the Right. Yossif was active in Makhno’s camp as educator and teacher; he shared the daily life of the povstantsi, and accompanied them as a non-combatant on their campaigns. He is deeply convinced that the Bolsheviki have betrayed the people. “As long as they were revolutionary we coöperated with them,” he said; “the fact is, we Anarchists did some of the most responsible and dangerous work all through the Revolution. In Kronstadt, on the Black Sea, in the Ural and Siberia, everywhere we gave a good account of ourselves. But as soon as the Communists gained power, they began eliminating all the other revolutionary elements, and now we are entirely outlawed. Yes, the Bolsheviki,those arch-revolutionists, have outlawed us,” he repeated bitterly.

“Could not some way of reapproachment be found?” I suggested, referring to my intention of broaching the matter to Rakovsky, the Lenin of the Ukraina.

“No, it’s too late,” Yossif replied positively. “We’ve tried it repeatedly, but every time the Bolsheviki broke their promises and exploited our agreements only to demoralize our ranks. You must understand that the Communist Party has now become a fullfledged government, seeking to impose its rule upon the people and doing it by the most drastic methods. There is no more hope of turning the Bolsheviki into revolutionary channels. Today they are the worst enemies of the Revolution, far more dangerous than the Denikins and Wrangels, whom the peasantry know as such. The only hope of Russia now is in the forcible overthrow of the Communists by a new uprising of the people.”

“I see no evidence of such a possibility,” I objected.

“The whole peasantry of the South is bitterly opposed to them,” Yossif replied, “but, of course, we must turn their blind hatred into conscious rebellion. In this regard I consider Makhno’s povstanisi movement as a most promising beginning of a great popular upheaval against the new tyranny.”

“I have heard many conflicting stories about Makhno,” I remarked. “He is painted either as a devil or as a saint.”

Yossif smiled. “Ever since I learned that you are in Russia,” he said earnestly, “I have been hoping you would come here.” In a lowered voice he added: “The best way to find out the truth about Makhno would be to investigate for yourself.”
“Makhno represents the real spirit of October,” Yossif replied with warmth. “In the revolutionary povstantsi, whom he leads, is the sole hope of the country. The Ukrainian peasant is an instinctive Anarchist, and his experience has taught him that all governments are essentially alike — taking everything from him and giving nothing in return. He wants to be rid of them; to be left alone to arrange his own life and affairs. He will fight the new tyranny.”

“They are kulaki with petty bourgeois ideas of property,” retorted the Pessimist.

“There is such an element,” Yossif admitted, “but the great majority are not of that type. As to the Makhno movement, it offers the greatest field for propaganda. Nestor, himself an Anarchist, affords us the fullest opportunity to work in his army, even to the extent of supplying us with printed material and machinery for the publication of our newspapers andleaflets. The territory occupied by Makhno is the only place where liberty of speech and press prevails.”

“But not for Communists,” retorted the soldier.

“Makhno justly considers the Communists as much counter-revolutionary as the Whites,” replied Yossif. “But for the revolutionists — for Anarchists, Maximalists, and Left Social Revolutionists — there is full liberty of action in the povstantsi districts.”

Looking at the dates, I think this visit must be from at least July 1920 (that conversation's Chapter 24, and Chapter 21 is dated July 1920). So yeah, could well be things souring as relationships between the Bolsheviks and Makhnovists deteriorated, plus I would be totally unsurprised if policies varied from one area of the Free Territory to another, since it's not like there was that much in the way of a central authority imposing unified standards?

Lucky Black Cat's picture
Lucky Black Cat
Joined: 11-02-18
Jul 31 2021 21:21

Thanks for looking into this! I'm not sure how decisions were made for the free speech/press issue. Perhaps through a congress of the various local soviets?

Joined: 15-05-15
Aug 1 2021 23:10

Skirda claims that Makhno "authorized the display of Bolshevik newspapers in Gulyai-Polye, Berdyansk and Mariupol" but when one of the papers "railed violently against the Makhnovist insurgents" it was suppressed. Azarov mentions that when the Bolshevik Novitsky was delegated to the Gulyai-Polye Military Revolutionary Soviet (RVS) he was "compelled to be cautious about expressing his own convictions." And Arshinov says that Bolsheviks who tried to set up revkoms (revolutionary committees) on territories controlled by Makhno were threatened with execution if they "undertook any authoritarian measures", and some revkoms were in fact dissolved. This is how Arshinov also justified the controversial execution of the Bolshevik Polonsky and his comrades - which contributed to the friction between the military (Makhno) and civilian (Volin) authorities, as the latter according to Malet "could not approve of the undemocratic and authoritarian manner in which the executions had been carried out behind the backs of the RVS, a body elected only a month before in Olexandrivske, and supposed to be the chief authority over the army."

I think all those examples are from 1919 - so at this point Bolsheviks were tolerated so long as they weren't deemed a potential threat (like the revkoms or the Bolshevik underground in the Makhnovist army). The breakdown in relations is clearly demonstrated by the fact that while the 1919 regional congress of soviets still allowed "district party organizations - the ones accepting the foundations of "soviet" rule - [to] return one delegate per organization", the call out for the 1920 congress instead declared that "representatives of political organizations have no place in workers' and peasants' soviets" (see also the 1920 Berkman source above). All of this of course raises the issue of what constitutes "authoritarian measures", or a "political organisation", etc. and who and how gets to define it and prohibit it in practice.

Joined: 27-02-06
Aug 2 2021 16:08

Lucky Black Cat's picture
Lucky Black Cat
Joined: 11-02-18
Aug 3 2021 18:20

Thanks both of you for the info. Battlescarred the website that hosts the article you shared looks like the type that might be down in a few years, so I'm just going to drop the title, etc. here for anyone browsing this thread in the future who might need to find it elsewhere online.

“Destroy the Makhno movement”
The Bolsheviks’ secret war against Nestor Makhno and his insurgents
Volodymyr Horak
2 June, 2009

Red Marriott's picture
Red Marriott
Joined: 7-05-06
Aug 4 2021 20:46

Now in library here: