Submitted by Champion Ruby on July 7, 2017
One of my own articles. I hope it makes sense.


On May 21 2015, the Russian Information Network website reported that the statue of Lenin in the Ukrainian town of Gulyai-Pole had been torn down by an unidentified group. This was in itself not especially significant news: the destruction of Marxist monuments had at this point become commonplace throughout Ukraine, first as part of the Euromaidan revolt and then codified into law by Petro Poroshenko’s decommunisation campaign. This systematic process of removing emblems of the criminal Soviet regime has seen tens of thousands of streets and squares renamed and thousands of statues removed in recent years, including over 1000 of Lenin alone, in what had become known as the Leninopad.

What makes the removal of the statue in Gulyai-Pole significant lies in the history of the town itself. In 1888 it was the birthplace of Nestor Makhno, who would later use Gulyai-Pole as the base of operations of the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine, the Makhnovists. The RIAU was formed in the context of the destruction of the Russian Empire. In the ensuing chaos of the Russian Civil War, dozens of armies wrestled for control over the former territories of the Empire. In Ukraine, these forces included troops of the Austro-Hungarian and German Empires, local warlords, nationalists and the Red Army. The Makhnovists committed themselves to carving out the Free Territory, an area controlled not by any state, but by self-governing communes guided entirely by anarchist principles. Combatting foreign and local oppressors alike, the Makhnovists are today recognised as one of the few historical movements that came within range of the anarchist horizon. Their defeat at the hands of the treacherous Red Army is likewise recognised as a key moment in exposing the totalitarian nature of Marxist-Leninism.

Anarchists are not alone in celebrating Makhno’s legacy, however. In the aftermath of the Soviet collapse both the Ukrainian state and local fascists have capitalised on the Makhnovist’s resistance to foreign intervention, including that of the primarily Russian Red Army’s, to promote an aggressive form of ultra-nationalism. This has seen Makhno placed alongside the WWII fascist war-criminal Stepan Bandera as a nationalist icon. Deliberately ignoring the Makhnovist’s anarchist principles, both the state and the fascists have sought to turn Makhno into an anti-Russian thug on par with a Nazi collaborator. It is very true that the Makhnovists fought Russian forces, both White and Red, during the Civil War, but they also combatted Ukrainian, German and Austro-Hungarian forces. It is obvious in the White’s case that the Makhnovists should have combatted efforts to return to Tsarism. The Makhnovists entered into alliance with the Bolsheviks on several occasions, however, with Makhno even meeting Lenin in Moscow. Though the Makhnovists were prepared to honour their alliances with the Red Army, it was the Bolsheviks who cowardly betrayed these alliances and eventually destroyed the Makhnovists as a movement. This scarcely rings of xenophobic behaviour on the Makhnovist side. As one Makhnovist declaration made clear:

“Each revolutionary insurgent must remember that the enemies of himself, as well as of the entire people, are the rich bourgeoisie, Russian, Ukrainian, or Jewish; their enemies are all those who defend the unjust regime of the bourgeoisie” [2].

The Makhnovist’s current employment as anti-Russian standard-bearers in Ukraine can be identified in the context of not just the drive to consolidate Ukraine’s independence from Russia, but in Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for the separatist movement in Donbass. Historical examples of individuals and organisations that have fought Russian influence have been drawn upon from both the left and right, regardless of their goals in those struggles, and thrown together in a bizarre mish-mash of groups that would have fought one another tooth and nail had they encountered one another. Thus we see neo-Nazi Right Sector’s surreal summarisation of Ukrainian history:

“…the Ukrainian ancestry didn’t interrupt despite the barrage of wars and repressions, manifesting itself through generations and generations in worthy souls …With the first shots of World War I, in 1914, these dignitaries created the divisions of Sichovi Striltsi, died near the village of Kruty, and dashed in the Makhno wagons with devil’s breathing through the steppes fighting the whites and the reds, and the other Antanta invaders. But there was not enough power. The flame of liberty was extinguished under the Bolshevik heel. But they didn’t lower their heads and created UVO-OUN. It is exactly about them – “Executed Renaissance” in the Soviet Ukraine. They were winning in the World II under “Hurrah!” as well as under the slogan “Glory to Ukraine!” They have created the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) – the army of undefeated, the army without a state, the only one that did not surrender even after the war” [4].

It can seen here that Right Sector is attempting to establish a direct lineage from the RIAU through to the UVO(the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists) and the UPA, despite the fact that both of the latter organisations were strongly influenced by Nazism and anti-Semitism and were guided, of course, by a toxic mix of nationalism and xenophobia. While the anti-Jewish pogroms carried out by the UVO are common knowledge, the Makhnovists took a firm stance against anti-Semitism, arming Jewish groups, shooting the ringleaders of pogroms when they were discovered and on one occasion executing an RIAU member who had put up anti-Semitic posters [5]. In contrast to the modern day self-proclaimed heirs to Bandera’s legacy who proclaim ‘glory to Ukraine’, the Russian anarchist Peter Arshinov, a combatant of the RIAU, noted that “Denikin’s troops, the Austro-Germans, Petliura, the French troops in Berdyansk, Wrangel — were all treated by the Makhnovists as enemies of the workers. Each one of these invasions represented for them essentially a threat to the workers, and the Makhnovists had no interest in the national flag under which they marched” [6].

So what did the Makhnovists march for? Makhno describes the goal: “Anarchism’s outward form is a free, non-governed society, which offers freedom, equality and solidarity for its members. Its foundations are to be found in man’s sense of mutual responsibility, which has remained unchanged in all places and times. This sense of responsibility is capable of securing freedom and social justice for all men by its own unaided efforts. It is also the foundation of true communism” [7]. There is little in this to indicate any sympathy for nationalist sentiment.

Makhno had little sympathy for nationalists at all, in fact. He recalls how in August 1920, “two detachments of Petliurist nationalist leanings, under the command of Levchenko and Matyansha, encircled by us, sent emissaries to us to suggest that they be incorporated into our ranks. The Staff and I received them and agreed that they could be enlisted: however, as soon as we realized that the nationalistic elements from these detachments were engaging in looting and blatant anti-Semitism, we shot them out of hand, in the village of Avereski, in Poltava province” [8].

With regards to state-based attempts to co-opt Makhno, Makhno’s rebuttal is resounding: the “fact that the modern State is the organizational form of an authority founded upon arbitrariness and violence in the social life of toilers is independent of whether it may be “bourgeois” or “proletarian.” It relies upon oppressive centralism, arising out of the direct violence of a minority deployed against the majority. In order to enforce and impose the legality of its system, the State resorts not only to the gun and money, but also to potent weapons of psychological pressure. With the aide of such weapons, a tiny group of politicians enforces psychological repression of an entire society, and, in particular, of the toiling masses, conditioning them in such a way as to divert their attention from the slavery instituted by the State” [9].

It should be clear from these quotes that Makhno and his followers in the RIAU held values absolutely opposed to his would-be rehabilitators in the Ukrainian state and nationalist movement. Though they combatted invaders encroaching on the territory of Ukraine, they did not do it out of a love of nation and flag, but for freedom from oppression at the hands of the very kind that today seek to use him to further their statist agendas. While they may fantasise that Makhno would somehow approve of their projects, it is far more likely that he would have had them placed against a wall and shot. While anarchists should rejoice at the smashing of the symbols of Marxist-Leninist tyranny, we must remain wary of the motivations and reject attempts to coopt our movement’s history for statist aims. It’s not unusual for the right to coopt anarchist symbolism and rhetoric. After all, as the Czech Anti-Fascist Action notes:

-Neo-Nazis suffer from the lack of creative people inside their own movement.
-Neo-Nazis need to put their radical views in a nice and acceptable package.
-For neo-Nazis, it is not the views, political agenda or coherent ideals that are important. They care more about gaining political influence, power and action of any kind – even senseless.
-Neo-Nazis want to confuse the public and make it hard to tell who is on which side of the barricade.
-Neo-Nazis have gotten into a situation where any change is better than none [10].
-In the face of right-wing attempts to coopt Makhno, we should point out that the Makhnovist’s project remains the project of all anarchists today:

“Anarchistic Communism is a great community in total harmony. It is formed voluntarily by free individuals who form associations and federations according to their needs. Anarchist Communism fights to secure man’s freedom and his right to boundless development; it fights against all the evils and injustices that are inherent in governments.

The free, non-governed society aims to embellish life with its intellectual and manual work. It will have as its resources all that nature gave man as well as nature’s own inexhaustible riches; it makes man drunk with the beauty of the earth and exhilarated by his own, self-made freedom. Anarchist Communism will let man develop his creative independence in all directions; its adherents will be free and happy with life, guided by brotherly work and reciprocity. They will need no prisons, hangmen, spies, or agents, which are products of the bourgeoisie and socialists, for they will have no need of the idiot robber and murderer that is the State” [10].


4 years 10 months ago

In reply to by

While they may fantasise that Makhno would somehow approve of their projects, it is far more likely that he would have had them placed against a wall and shot. While anarchists should rejoice at the smashing of the symbols of Marxist-Leninist tyranny, we must remain wary of the motivations and reject attempts to coopt our movement’s history for statist aims.

Nice piece. It's puzzling why fascists would want to associate themselves with Makhno, who clearly stated in his account of visiting Lenin that he was an "anarcho-communist of the Bakunin-Kropotkin stripe." You could extend this Right distortion of leftists and their beliefs to people like Orwell as well, who many on the Right for some reason look up to.


4 years 10 months ago

In reply to by

Interesting article. It demonstrates the nationalist (of any nation) tendencey to appropriate anyone that could be considered 'iconic' or heroic and use them to build upon their core belief, that their nation is exceptional/superior to all others.
The actual historic details are irrelevent in this narrative as the target audience are not people with any knowledge of history, it is aimed at those who want to believe that they are heirs to a noble heritage.
In this case there is the added twist that the anti-Russians will, no doubt use Trotsky's propaganda against Makhno to support their claims about him.

Zugzwang said

You could extend this Right distortion of leftists and their beliefs to people like Orwell as well, who many on the Right for some reason look up to.

I think this is because most people on the right are only aware of Animal Farm and 1984, both of which are seen by those on the right as 'anti-communist'.


4 years 10 months ago

In reply to by


Interesting article. It demonstrates the nationalist (of any nation) tendencey to appropriate anyone that could be considered 'iconic' or heroic and use them to build upon their core belief, that their nation is exceptional/superior to all others.

e.g. steve bannon and lenin, and iirc when castro died some alt-rightist/s spoke well of him.


4 years 10 months ago

In reply to by

Didn't read the anecdotes about Mahkno executing anti Semites and also the Nationalist Denikin in front of his own followers?These Nationalist dickheads will claim anything if it happens to be born on its territory-Shallow mugs


4 years 10 months ago

In reply to by

Good article! would you mind if we can do this forum post into a library article?


4 years 8 months ago

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Great article! Makhno would not take kindly to his legacy being co-opted by nationalists. The picture of the Right Sector fascists at the Makhno memorial makes me want to puke.

Regarding the image of the banner with the skull and crossbones, there is some debate around its origin. Yuriy Kravets, an anarchist researcher from Zaporozhye, writes:

According to a widespread viewpoint, in 1918-1921 Makhno’s detachments used black banners with images of a skull and crossbones. Thus, a contemporary Russian author in an article devoted to this symbol, wrote: “On the banners of the ‘anarcho-communists’ of the Bolshevik ally ‘Batko’ Makhno, disrupting Deniken’s liberation ‘March on Moscow’, was depicted a … ‘death’s head’ and the inscription ‘Death to all who prevent working people from obtaining their freedom’.”33

The source of this assertion can be traced to a widely known photograph in which is depicted, supposedly, a “Makhnovist banner”.34 This photo shows a rectangular piece of cloth, black (?) in colour, with an image of a human skull above two crossbones with the inscription: “DEATH // TO ALL WHO WOULD BLOCK// THE ATTAINMENT OF FREEDOM // BY WORKING PEOPLE”. Such a piece of cloth, attached to a horizontal pole, would be used primarily in a demonstration or fixed to the wall of a building.

To whom this banner really belonged and to what period it relates to – is not known for certain. However, in practically all publications where it has been reproduced it is identified as having a direct connection with the Makhnovist movement.35 Duplicates of the banner, based on this photograph, are found today in the exhibits of several regional museums of Ukraine. They are made of black material and the images and inscription are in white.

In 1927, in the Paris journal “Delo Truda”, N. Makhno published an article entitled “To the Jews of All Nations”. In it he mentioned an illustration in one of the books published by a Jewish society in USSR: “Thus, for example, the photograph ‘The Makhnovshchina on the march’, besides the fact that it has nothing to do with pogroms, is totally not Makhnovist since banners with the emblem of a skull were not part of the Makhnovist movement. Yet these alien photographs in the document of the ‘Jewish society’ are represented as being Makhnovist.”36 Unfortunately it is not known what photo Makhno is referring to as the publication he was discussing has not been found.


4 years 8 months ago

In reply to by

Progress in studies of the Makhnovist movement is slow and painful partly because of the persistence of Soviet disinformation. The photo below has been reproduced so many times in connection with the Makhnovists, that it is accepted without question as representative of the movement:

And yet it was first published in a rather dubious source: the book Jewish Pogroms: 1917–1921, ed. Z. S. Ostrovsky (Moscow, 1926). This is a typical atrocity book, with lots of gruesome photos of victims, which depicts the Makhnovists as inveterate pogromists. As mentioned above, Makhno specifically repudiated the photo, found on page 100 of the book. Makhno was particularly incensed that the book made no mention of the well-documented pogrom activity perpetrated by the Red First Cavalry Army in 1920 in Ukraine.

It was only in 2011 that another photo was published, showing the reverse side of the banner:

The lettering on the reverse side transliterates as: “Naddnipryansʹkyy Kish,” or Dnieper [Cossack] Headquarters. This indicates that the banner is associated with the Free Cossacks, formations which functioned as an internal police force during the First Ukrainian Government (Central Rada) of 1917–1918. So, despite the slogan, not necessarily a progressive bunch. The Ukrainian Wikipedia page for this outfit includes a photo from their convention held in October 1917 which shows a number of officers in uniforms similar to those in the banner photo:

Nestor Makhno did not have access to the documents he needed to counter this type of propaganda, but that is not true of researchers today.

Champion Ruby

4 years 8 months ago

In reply to by

Sorry for the very late reply re putting this in the library- yes, please do!

Thanks for the feedback everyone, I've only been getting back into the habit of writing again lately (you can probably tell by my choppy prose)

Hm, might consider changing the image above on the blog- that's an interesting twist on things.