Proletarian insurrection in Ukraine, 1918-1921 - ICG

Proletarian insurrection in Ukraine, 1918-1921 - ICG

The ICG on the revolutionary uprising in Ukraine.

1. Introduction

The similarities of human prehistory (the history of class struggle), within our different texts on this period, caricature themselves more than repeat themselves. Indeed, far from considering the different revolutionary centres as many elements separated one from the other, we conceive of them, to the contrary, as many distinct moments, all being part of the same dynamic and the same revolutionary attempt. It would be methodologically impossible for us to set them apart, to pull out lessons at each time distinctive, pretending here and there about objective or subjective differences, as done by several leftist schools. (1)

Therefore, it’s normal that there are a whole series of common characteristics to be found in the forces we describe of the revolutionary movement of the period, 1917-1923, in Russia, as in Germany, as in Hungary, as in Belgium, as in Great Britain, as in Argentina, in India, and in so many other places in the world at that time. We have shown in our texts the breaking points towards nationalism, trade unionism, parliamentarianism, etc. We have also tried to describe, each time, the process of organisation of the force of revolutionary minorities coming from different political ‘families’ melting into the same communist party; that process of organisation into party, culminating in the attempt to erect in one centralised and international force, the whole vanguard.

Although the multiple centres of struggle of these crucial years, ‘17-‘23, comprise enormous similarities in terms of their strengths, equally there are enormous similarities with regard their weaknesses: the limited understanding of internationalism by national parties; the limited critique of Democracy; a limited understanding of the dictatorship of the proletariat, etc. All these weaknesses crystallised in a general limitation of the period: the lack of rupture with social-democracy.

We are not here solely speaking of the formal Social Democracy that capital limited within a long string of parties federated within the 2nd International, but also all fused denominations, under any flag, of the totality of reformist forces which have had, for practice and as content, the affirmation of counter-revolution under the form of a bourgeois programme for the proletariat. By painting itself in the colours of revolution, social-democracy succeeded in imposing the capitalistic programme on workers.

Thus, many of those proposing rupture with the Second International reproduced the totality of its programme under different names. For example, this was the case with Lenin and other Bolshevik militants who, after having resolutely participated in the development of revolution in Russia, reversed the whole process of rupture with Social Democracy in terms of social-democracy as a programme and went on, finally, to assume the local reconstruction of the capitalistic state.

This reminder is fundamental to approach appropriately the matter of lessons to be drawn from the insurrectional movement in Ukraine. An ideological division has been promulgated with regards to this issue between, on one hand, those defined as ‘anarchist’ who support Makhno (one of the main leaders of the proletarian movement in Ukraine) along with his errors, and, on the other hand, self-proclaimed ‘Marxist’ militants, who, when they did not openly assert like Lenin that capitalism was better, largely refused to see the capitalist reconstruction being led by the Bolsheviks in Russia. They have likewise refused to recognise in the movement in Ukraine a moment of revolutionary rupture of our class.

This is how the bourgeoisie deals with history: once again, it imposes its stupid methodology that aims to look for some ‘all good’ and some ‘all bad’, blind masses and authoritative chiefs. Thus, it succeeds in reducing proletarian struggle in Ukraine into a war between Bolsheviks and Makhnovists, or even worse, between ‘communists’ and ‘anarchists’, instead of seeing a confrontation between revolution and counter-revolution: a confrontation that has effectively taken place between, on one side, the Red Army struggling for the defence of the Russian capitalistic state in full recomposition, and, on the other side, the Insurrectional Revolutionary Army constituted on the basis of the struggle of all proletarians in Ukraine. However, the confrontation between revolution and counter-revolution also materialised itself within the Insurrectional Revolutionary Army of Ukraine with the forces defending the front with such and such bourgeois army on one side and those opposed to such a front on the other. In the same way this contradiction – revolution and counter-revolution – was as much present within the Bolsheviks (cf. the ‘left communists’ that got free of them) as within those claiming they came from anarchism (cf. the struggle between Makhnovists and individualists or other social-democrat ‘intellectuals’ from the movement).

As an illustration, here is the comment by Arshinov, an active participant of the insurrection in Ukraine by the side of Makhno, about the indifference of many of those invoking the flag of anarchy to the insurrection:

‘Most of the Russian anarchists that had passed through the theoretical school of anarchism remained out of the way, in isolated circles, having no raison d’être at this moment,’ they were trying to get to the bottom of what this movement [the insurrection in Ukraine] was and from what perspective to view it,’ and they remained inactive, consoling themselves to their inertia with the idea that the movement appeared not to be purely anarchist.’

And further, with regard anarchist individualists:

‘But these that have no passion for the Revolution, who reflect firstly on the manifestations of their own ‘ego’: understand this idea [liberation of the individual] in their own manner. Each time that it concerns practical organisation, serious responsibility, they take refuge in the anarchist idea of individual freedom, and being based on this, attempt to avoid all responsibility and prevent all organisation.’

Arshinov, in ‘History of the Makhnovist Movement’, 1921.

Let’s explain things more clearly. When we approach the part of the history of our class struggle that constitutes the proletarian insurrection in Ukraine, the problem is not (only!) to see what constituted the avant-garde that asserted theoretically the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, but, above all, what were the real forces that attempted to impose it practically. Any Socialist Revolutionary or anarchist fractions that struggled practically – alongside Bolshevik militants in rupture with their own organisation – for the generalisation of the revolutionary war were far closer to the communist programme than the Bolsheviks despite their permanent invocation of ‘Marxism’. In Ukraine, the Red Army, under Trotsky’s orders, accomplished the worst treasons under cover of the ‘superior interests of the proletariat’, whereas in its war against the Russian state under reconstruction, proletarians themselves, in struggle against the Red Army, really attempted to impose the dictatorship of their needs, the dictatorship of the proletariat.

But things are even more complex: those imposing their needs – these thousands of armed proletarians – rebelled against all the capitalistic armies facing them and attempting to recapture control; these proletarians – ‘waging’ war against Denikin’s and Wrangel’s White armies, Trotsky’s Red Army, Austro-German armies, Grigoriev’s or Petliura’s nationalistic bands – these armed workers, when they attacked the bourgeois, looted the banks, violently reappropriated the wealth, thus, also asserted their dictatorship. Very often, they refused to call their revolutionary actions just what they were – the dictatorship of the proletariat – for the good and simple reason that this was the same term used by those busy developing capital and betraying the proletariat in order to prevent its dictatorship! And this fear of being terminologically assimilated to the enemy has, unfortunately, very often been transformed into another ideologised theorisation (pretence of anarchism) of the revolutionary practice they assumed, therefore limiting also this practice.

A t this stage and before our enemies once more transform what we say, it is imperative to emphasise the importance for the flag to coincide with the action. An indispensable moment of the strengthening of communism as a movement lies in its capacity to recognise itself theoretically, in the totality of its goal, and therefore in the totality of historical formulations by which it has asserted itself as a movement, all through the history of the struggle between classes. We insist here (and we insist always), on emphasising what the real communist movement is, although numerous flags, more or less confused, often veil it. This is because vulgar logic has an incorrigible and haunting tendency to impose ‘what appears’ as ‘what is’, to confuse the flag with the movement and, thus, to deny entire patches of the ruptures by our class.

To be brief, with these methodological warnings peppered with examples of the true contradiction between the social forces bearing communism and those defending capitalism, we want to define the framework of our rupture with the bourgeois mechanistic methodology that isolates the contradictions around the ideology, chiefs and flags:

- therefore, we will first briefly describe in this text the context within which the struggle in Russia was a part of the worldwide struggle; we will then see – also quite briefly – how, in the context of the victorious insurrection of the proletariat in this region, capital had transformed into fierce agents of its reconstruction those who some months earlier, organised as a minority within the Bolshevik Party, had constituted one vanguard of its defeat;
- then we will deal with the proletarian insurrection in Ukraine, as it faced the ‘peace’ of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, another moment of capitalistic reconstruction in Russia;
- and, in the framework of this uprising, we will see how the proletariat found one of its highest moments of its struggle for centralisation in the constitution of the Insurrectional Revolutionary Army of Ukraine, around ‘anarchist communist’ militants, the most famous of whom was Makhno.

With this quick description of the viewpoint guiding us (the proletariat before its ‘heroes’, the class struggle and not the ideological struggle, etc), we want to assert once more what really, essentially, separates revolution from counter-revolution: it is practice – the real practice of centralisation of the struggle around a revolutionary programme. As we said above, this practice found in these years of struggle, and independent of its protagonists, a huge limitation in its lack of rupture with social-democracy, understood as programme, as content. Social-democracy, understood as historical party of capital for the proletariat, is the force which sees capital defending, maintaining and developing itself by investing in the flags of its own enemies, by incarnating itself in the flesh of its enemies! Anarchists, Bolsheviks, Revolutionary Socialists – pseudo-communists – thus defended the social-¬democrat programme. These most convinced opponents to the counter-revolutionary Brest-Litovsk ‘peace’ transformed themselves into its fiercest defenders! These were the best leaders of the Insurrectional Army of Ukraine who monstrously associated themselves with the warrior capitalists of the Red Army!

The false polarisation between ‘anarchists’ and ‘communists’, as a vision of history, still dominates today: it is the triumph of the social-democrat conception. The kind of critique that confuses the social movement in Ukraine with the flag, and comes down to the critique of the flag of anarchy (critique generalised from certain social-democratic ideologies painted black to cheat better), completes perfectly the imbecilic, opposite, critique of ‘anarchists’ criticising ‘Marxists’. They merge into one all that is called ‘Marxist’, the equivalent of putting all revolutionaries in the same bag and calling them ‘Marxists’, or of transforming Marxism into a branch of the political economy – a perfectly honest state doctrine thanks to the works of the Social Democrat parties (particularly the German and French varieties). Facing this whole bloody mess of confusions, it is fundamental to reassert clearly that the real frontier delimiting the communist project from the capitalistic project is not located between ‘anarchism’ or ‘Marxism’ but between proletarian struggle and the development of capital, between revolution and counter-revolution.

Social-democracy – a product of capital aimed at workers – doesn’t give a damn about ‘anarchist’ and ‘Marxist’ labels, whatever the supporters of ideological formalism say, and there is no flag behind which it would not take refuge to cheat workers. In this sense, the communist movement, the real and practical movement for the abolition of the established order, considers as much its mortal enemies the bellicose Kropotkin and Kautsky, as it does the ministers Bela Kun in Hungary or Frederica Montseny in Spain.

2. War and revolution ... until Ukraine

The triggering of the generalised slaughter of 1914 corresponds to the necessity for the world bourgeoisie to resolve the crisis of over-production to which capital was confronted. To survive its contradictions, the bourgeoisie has to crush the proletariat: it had to physically liquidate a part of the proletariat in order to realise its need for valorisation, and by doing that, to stifle the proletariat’s communist project of destruction of money and exchange – the only alternative to capitalistic barbarity. The crushing of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie was achieved, on the one hand by the National and Sacred Union, the odious grip that social-democracy continues to impose between the proletarians of each nation in which they are exploited; on the other, by the physical liquidation of millions of proletarians forced to face each other militarily. Through these battles by which the different capitalist sides prolonged the competition between workers, they went on to conquer such and such a part of the world market in the form of colonies and territories.

Capitalist contradictions were, as usual, the crossing point of this war led by the bourgeoisie against the proletariat for four long years.

For centuries, the French and British States had constituted a gigantic empire from which they drew huge benefits. Meanwhile, the German State, in full imperialist expansion in the race for profits, kept closed within its national borders. The German bourgeoisie, unable to find new outlets in faraway colonies, had to fall back on the European continent to answer its need for expansion. The strategic objective was the road that ran from the heart of the German Empire to today’s Iraq, symbolised by the Berlin-Baghdad railway line and passing via Istanbul and the straits of Bosporus. The expansion of capital in Germany was opposed by the mercantile interests of the Empire of the Tsars in the Balkans, which was seeking a route to the Mediterranean Sea. The politico-military blocks were constituted by a series of alliances and counter-alliances. The conflagration was thus set up between, on one side, the French and British states, supported by the Empire of the Tsars which feared the up and coming Germany as a new rival on the world market; and on the other side, the German economical colossus and its Austro-Hungarian allies which sought profits at the expense of other less competitive colossuses.

There was, of course, never any lack of opportunities to start a war. The constituted blocs were face to face at different times (Tangier 1905, Agadir 1911, Balkans 1912) but the main problem for the bourgeoisie was how to succeed in imposing war and death as the perspective for the proletariat of the various nations. It was the main role of social-democracy – the whole melting pot of political families, from different national Socialist parties to anarcho-trade unionists, from the Socialist 2nd International to the anarchist international, Manifesto of the Sixteen, from trade unionists of all ideologies to Socialist MPs – to make the call for participation in the war. On one side, around Germany, these social-democratic expressions claimed a democratic fight against reactionary and despotic Tsarism and, on the other side, around France, they invoked the image of the militaristic Teuton defending republican and democratic France with flowered rifles.

This is not the right place to describe the whole process used by social-democracy to impose, through its anti-war democratic rhetoric, the need to be slaughtered on the battlefields. We’ll come to that issue shortly when we talk about revolution and counter-revolution in Germany.

The murder of an obscure Austro-Hungarian Archduke by a more obscure Serbian nationalist was enough to trigger the conflict. Sure of a rapid victory, German generals decided to hit westward first although other bourgeoisies were not yet ready militarily to face a generalised war. In a few weeks, the German bourgeoisie hoped to realise the victorious masterstroke of Bismarck which, in 1870, put an end to Napoleon III and unified in Versailles under the Prussian King’s authority the whole German Empire. By crushing the French, Germany could face with all its military and industrial potential the huge Russian human tide that was on the eve of an invasion.

In two weeks time, the deals should have been done; but the German bourgeoisie lost its bet: its French homologue was not beaten and it was in tears that the billions of marks it had hoped to gain in booty were lost in the cost of the adventure. No doubt it was an adventure for the bourgeoisie, but certainly not for the millions of proletarians who, for the benefit of the bourgeoisie, were crushed, torn to shreds, killed under tons of iron and steel for four long and terrible years in the cold, rain, sun, mud, disease...

To the extent that the bourgeoisie, worldwide, had succeeded in making proletarians believe in the need to be killed for its interests, it was on the condition that the carnage would be merry and brief; but this was not the case. After two years of mutual massacres, proletarians in uniforms refused to go and be killed to the rhythm of the national anthem. With strikes at the rear, refusals to carry out orders, fraternisation on the front between German and French proletarians (Champagne 1915, Verdun 1916, Aisne 1917...), mutinies, revolutionary defeatism negated the carnage. By common agreement, both staffs had to restore ‘order’: the same bourgeois order which consists of sending class brothers to kill each other. But after two years of butchery, the proletariat was no longer prepared to go whistling on the battlefields.
Therefore, the year 1916 marked a qualitative change. From the mass grave emerged the most outstanding revolutionary wave this planet had ever known, leading to the October insurgency in Russia, jeopardising the different fractions of capital and forcing an end to the butchery in order to repress the proletariat which was about to reconsider years of exploitation and misery.

No one can imagine today the effect of the announcement of the success of the proletarian insurgency in Russia among the working class worldwide. All around the globe the communist movement found a new impulse. That achieved insurrection took place in a full revolutionary rise, at a time when successive years of sweat and blood for work and war had pushed proletarians to reconsider everything.

We’ll avoid here how more and more determined (and numerous!) minorities got constituted and gathered everywhere in the world, to definitively dismantle the old world; we won’t develop the links those minorities made and their efforts to constitute in an international organisation aiming at the violent overthrow of the old world. However, we direct our readers to our different texts developed in the presentation of this issue. In these texts we go thoroughly into how, after taking an active part in the organisation and leading of the insurrection, the Bolshevik Party progressively got rid of its whole revolutionary element, on the basis of the democratic illusions of this old Social Democratic organisation and became the agent of a powerful counter-revolution in Russia.

The transformation of the Bolshevik Party into a fierce agent of the capitalistic reconstruction found one of its first and more important crystallisations in the victory that Lenin obtained over all his rivals by imposing the signing of the Brest-Litovsk agreement with Germany.

At that time – early 1918 – the contradiction between revolution and counter-revolution was taking place between the partisans of peace and the partisans of revolutionary war. Lenin, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin were exerting heavy pressure on the majority of their organisation and the whole proletariat opposed to them, in order to end the development of the revolution. For revolutionaries, it’s clear that the insurrection in Russia was only the continuation of worldwide proletarian revolution, and all knew that if revolution were to go no further, capital would re-impose its dictatorship. The pursuit of the revolutionary war put all this at stake.

But the capitalistic necessity for reconstruction of the state in Russia found its fiercest defenders around the pacifist ideology of Lenin who aimed to preserve Russia, as economy, as nation, as government, as ‘stronghold’ as Lenin justified it. So, under the pretext of not having the necessary combativeness to pursue a revolutionary war, Lenin forced the signing in March 1918 of a peace treaty that recognised the occupation by the German state of the regions of Latvia, Byelorussia, Lithuania and Estonia; the same treaty abandoned lateral Ukraine to the imperialistic butchers. It was bourgeois order in the area that was ratified and countersigned by the peace treaty between Bolshevik Russia and Imperial Germany, and it was the whole proletarian movement that received a terrible blow: capitalistic peace, the r peace of the graves, social peace, was the real winner of these negotiations. Moreover, the treaty gave the German command the opportunity to pull immense numbers of troops from its eastern front and proceed with a huge assault against France, an assault which was stopped only 60 kms from Paris with bloody results for the proletarians of that region. The bourgeoisie breathed again: the imperialistic war was to go on for a little while yet, pushing away the revolutionary developments.

We have a general tendency to underestimate the opposition, which manifested itself against these agreements. Nevertheless, it was a powerful and violent one, a concentration of general contradictions. Most proletarian organisations and the majority of the Bolshevik organisation were against the agreement. Trotsky, who played a determining role in the signing of these agreements, reported:

‘The council of commissioners of people having invited the local soviets on their opinion on war and peace, more than 200 soviets replied before 5th March. Only two of the most important, that of Petrograd and that of Sebastopol, pronounced that they were for peace (with reservations). On the other hand, a series of large workers’ centres (Moscow, Ekaterinbourg, Karkhov, Ekaterinoslav, Ivanovo, ¬Voznessensk, Kronstadt, etc.) declared, with an amazing majority, for the break-up of the discussions. The same moods prevailed in our party organisations. It is useless to talk of left socialist-revolutionaries.

Trotsky, in ‘My Life’:

The Left Socialist Revolutionary Party was particularly virulent and organised; after the signing, an attempted assassination on the German ambassador broke, in practice, the conclusion of the sinister signature. Soon after in Petrograd, they lead a riot against the peace agreements. Anarchists created the Black Guard in Moscow to try to organise the resistance to these agreements. And inside the Bolshevik Party, Radek and Boukharin seem to have even seriously considered arresting Lenin with the help of the Left Socialist Revolutionary Party!

Obviously the Brest-Litovsk agreements did not only result from the subjective will of the Bolshevik leaders who imposed them; it was largely the fact of an objective balance of forces still not favouring the proletariat. This balance of forces was marked at the time by the delay of the German insurrection (the proletariat in that country being unable to prevent the continuance of war!) and, more globally, by the limited rupture with the pacifist and reformist ideologies that were deployed by the bourgeoisie to counter the revolutionary inclination of the proletariat. We have developed this matter at length in the article, ‘La paix, c’est toujours la paix du Capital: in issues 22 and 23 of our central review in French.


We end this introduction on the development of the war and its revolutionary antagonism by giving a few elements of the stake Ukraine represented in imperialistic terms for the different blocs and nations present.

Ukraine played a pivotal strategic role in the gigantic chaos that was represented by the mutual tearing apart of capitalistic nations in war at that time. As the ‘granary’ of Europe, the possession of these vast superfluities would enable Germany to face the maritime blockade imposed by Great Britain. Its conquest was the primary strategic factor necessary for German capital to feed ‘it’s’ proletarians on the frontline as well as maintaining social peace on the home front.

Along the same lines, the mineral resources of the coal and iron mines in Ukraine would replace the colonial imports seized by the French and British navies.

From the very first days of the war, Ukraine constituted a fundamental stake that all fractions of capital had their eyes on. Thus, we see all the armies in the region literally marching one behind the other to loot this gigantic region and to contend ferociously for it: Russians against Austro-Hungarians and Germans, the bloc around Germany against the government of Kerensky; and later, the same bloc along with Ukrainian nationalists against the armies of the Russian state painted Red; and later still, this Red Army against the White armies…

In this contradictory context – in which the development of the revolution was still the order of the day through the struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeois war and the progressive affirmation of its perspectives, yet, at the same moment counter-revolution was spreading through agents useful to its development within the Bolsheviks – the proletariat of the region of Ukraine rose up and organised an insurrection which lasted almost three years, against all the bourgeois armies attempting to take control of it.

3. Revolutionary war in Ukraine, against Brest-Litovsk (March 1918- December 1918)

The revolutionary struggle in Ukraine pre-dates reactions against the war. These reactions are only a part of a particularly rich history of class struggle. Here we can only devote a few lines to this history.

The great famine of 1891 and the cholera epidemic that followed it awoke the wrath of the rural proletariat against the exactions of the bourgeoisie. And it was on this encouraging ground that anarchist revolutionary minorities got organised, acting and asserting communism as the perspective.

In 1902, the proletarian insurrection of Kharkov and Poltava started: the countryside’s proletarians refused to pay taxes carried out massive reappropriations, expropriations and redistristributions of landed property.

In 1905, proletarian revolts in the countryside – where Socialist Revolutionary minorities had enormous influence (cf. self-proclaimed groups of Zemlia i Volia. Land and Freedom) – opened the revolutionary era. In the cities, workers’ riots followed one behind the other, particularly in Ekaterinslav. In the countryside real attacks took place: arson of properties and of large landowners’ estates, destruction of accountabilities, expropriation and redistribution of land (the Black Share, or ‘Land to those who work it’).

The decree of Stolypin in 1906 tried – like the Bolsheviks later – to break the solidarity of the rural proletarians against the big landowners, by creating a peasant ‘middle class’ (the kulaks) in an attempt to end definitively the permanent turmoil in the countryside.

The story of these very violent clashes with the bourgeoisie and the maintenance of the extremely harsh living conditions despite these struggles did not lead to a ‘merry’ entry into the war. A lot of proletarians jibed at leaving their tiny plot of land to go and be killed thousands of kilometres away for a cause that seemed quite obscure to them. The declaration of war with Germany, on 2nd August 1914, arrived shortly before the harvest season, and the rural proletariat were mobilised with troops on its back.

As we have seen above, two years of war was enough to break social cohesion. To be French, Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian, etc, became nullified. In 1916-1917 everything exploded and in February 1917 similar movements to that in Petrograd rose against the government of Kerensky, including its local administration in Ukraine. Soviets bloomed everywhere. The nationalist tendencies of the local bourgeoisie found tribune in a Ukrainian parliament – the Rada. The Petliurists (3), the Ukrainian nationalists, were the most active within the Rada. Nevertheless, in the countryside the Socialist Revolutionaries and the different anarchist fractions stayed predominant. The anarchists, under the leadership of Semeniuta, had until 1910 led a huge propaganda work and was proceeded by other demonstrations of workers’ direct action: looting of banks, expropriation against important landowners, vengeance against little bosses, etc (4).

With the confusion following the October insurgency and the changes involved in it, several national bourgeoisies tried to reply to the local revolutionary movements through the constitution of independent nations: Finland, Poland, Ukraine, Georgia ... In February 1918, Austro-German armies invaded Ukraine and, passing up through the Baltic States, came to within 150 kms of Petrograd. It was then that the Bolsheviks ratified the ‘peace’ of Brest¬-Litovsk which, as we briefly described above, signalled the reconstruction of the state in Russia and allowed the progressive smashing of all revolutionary will, allowing other bourgeois fractions to finish the job in other regions. And so struggling proletarians were bound hand and foot and left to the Ukrainian and Austro-German bourgeoisies, momentarily freed from the pressure of revolution.

As a result, the proletariat could only rise up and fight. It is fundamental to remind ourselves of this fact: from its own materialistic interests the proletariat could do nothing but rise up! There was no way at any moment that they could accept the Bolshevik programme imposed by the Brest-Litovsk treaty. Facing all the classic counter-revolutionary justifications of the leftist organisations, from the Trotskyists to the Maoists, not to mention the leftists of Programme Communiste or Battaglia Communista and others, who argue the necessities of these peace agreements ‘because the proletariat had to feed themselves’(!!!), the facts must be reiterated that the only thing the agreements gave the proletariat in Ukraine (here leaving aside other questions) was bullets and shells! The ‘peace agreements’ resulted in the German army looting the fields and the grain stores reappropriated by the proletariat and allowed the Ukrainian landowners to return having been kicked out several times before; it left famine for the proletariat and bullets if they tried to resist.

By these concrete considerations, which have nothing to do with the so-called historical considerations of the leftists, the proletariat could not for a single moment materially accept the ‘peace agreements’ that disarmed them and pushed them to famine. It was not an ideological question but a practical matter!

Indeed, in the Ukraine, given by the Bolsheviks to the White armies, the German troops put the hetman Skoropadsky – a rich landowner – at the head of the state. With the assent of this new government, the German army proceeded in the looting of the region appropriating everything needed to keep its war campaign going and bringing back raw materials (wheat, cattle, etc) to its rear and even to Germany. Hundreds of thousands of trucks were not enough to carry all that the emissaries of the German bourgeoisie had taken.

On the other side, as payment for the looting committed by their Austro-German homologues, the Ukrainian bourgeois got back the goods expropriated by the revolutionary movement several times before. The landowners retook their property and persecuted all who opposed them. When proletarians resisted and tried to defend the goods they had retaken from the bourgeoisie, they were executed without any kind of trial. It is important to note again here that, independent of all speeches about liberation or national independence, the Austrian, Ukrainian, Russian or German bourgeois all agreed to crush the proletarians, to send them back to work, to submit them to exploitation and to execute them if they resist.

But from June 1918, the limitless repression to which the proletarians were submitted, forced them to react to the bourgeois assaults. Combined with the generalised revolutionary offensive in Russia, which reinforced their own combativeness, from every side insurrectional acts emerged against the Ukrainian landowners and against the Austro-German armed forces. Proletarians from the cities as well as those from the countryside confronted them, evicting landlords, and arming themselves against the work of the police of the Austro-German army.

Opposed to these proletarian reactions was the unmerciful White terror. In the villages, proletarians were massacred by the hundreds. Houses were burnt and all possessions destroyed. But the determination of the bourgeois forced the proletariat in Ukraine to realise its first qualitative change in its struggle against those that massacre them: they organised into gun-toting groups and resorted to a war of ambush. From everywhere, as they were animated by an invisible leader – the communist movement – a surprising number of proletarians organised in groups to lead a war of partisans against the landowners and the Austro-German military protecting them. Without any technical co-ordination at the beginning, but very organically, emerging as it did from the desire to not die without fighting to the end, units of 20,50 or 100 well armed proletarians, moving with horses, assaulted property by surprise, attacked the National Guard and confronted alI their enemies. The big landowners that victimised those they exploited were denounced to the groups of partisans and threatened with suppression if they persisted in their exactions. The German cops and officers were promised certain death. All these actions of red counter-terror were daily realised in the whole of Ukraine during the summer of 1918, from June until August.

The wild repression used by the combined forces of the hetman Skoropadsky and the German staff only made the armed fighters of the proletariat determined to realise a second qualitative step in their fight, regrouping more and more, and progressively centralising themselves around their most combative fractions. Great armies of partisans then constituted around proletarian militants like Korilenko in the region of Berdiansk, Stchuss and Petrenko-Platonov in the regions of Dibrivka and of Grichino...

In southern Ukraine, around the region of Gulyai-Pole, the unification of units of partisans was not set up only for defence against White terror. Here, proletarians were organised with the aim of definitively defeating the counter-revolution led by the big landowners. The centralism of the insurrectional forces asserted, as its main objective, the constitution of the revolutionary workers, of the countryside and the cities, into one organised force to demolish the whole present bourgeois society: their programme was communist revolution; their flag – black – is a classless one. The most important role in the unification of the partisans and the assertion of a revolutionary programme was the work of a young communist militant, 29 years of age, who came from this region: Nestor Makhno.

A bit later, in November 1918, the revolutionary movement in Germany and Austria reinforced the defeatist movement amongst the German and the Austrian troops in Ukraine. This lead to a withdrawal of these troops and the appearance of a new enemy on the horizon, in the form of the nationalistic armies of Petliura and, more so, the terrible White armies of Denikin. From that point onwards, the insurgency in Ukraine - mainly the southern part - is naturally organised, centralised and unified around the revolutionary programme of Makhno, and of other communist militants, finally forming a single Insurrectional Revolutionary Army.


The process, by which the insurrection in Ukraine gradually got organised around a revolutionary programme, shows clearly the importance in similar movements of revolutionary militants’ presence, of an already constituted avant-garde, formed and determined to revolutionise the world in its totality. As one can see, these communist nuclei crystallise the struggle of thousands of proletarians, by clarifying its perspective, by revealing the programme it contains and by organising the social movement. They do not create the struggle, they lead it. Yes, they lead the struggle, they give direction, and they impose the dictatorship of the needs of the social class within which they fight with all due respect to all the reformists bleating ‘Marxism’ or ‘anarchism’ in the fields of democracy (5).

Contrary to idealistic romanticism, the Ukrainian insurrection is obviously not the subjective fact of a lonely brilliant combatant capable of convincing people to struggle: it was first and foremost a spontaneous reaction of proletarians in struggle in the face of bourgeois terror, often at the initiative of fractions of more determined combatants.

But although revolutionaries do not create the struggle, they do crystallise it and allow the realisation of several qualitative jumps:

- through the constant assertion of the necessity for stronger centralisation, until the class is composed of one great common force facing its enemy;
- by formulating, each time more strongly, the social revolution and communism as the only perspective to definitively put an end to the world of the wage;
- by tracing, each instant, the class frontier separating revolution from counter-revolution;

We will see further the immense weaknesses and the huge illusions that were present in the programme of the Insurrection Revolutionary Army of Ukraine led by Makhno; but in the framework of the unification realised around the struggle against the numerous attempts to break the revolutionary movement in Ukraine, it is necessary to underline the force of these militants who, with their guns, managed to formulate the communist revolution as the only perspective. Through this perspective, they denounced and organised the struggle against Petliura’s and Grigoriev’s nationalistic bourgeois alternatives; they advocated revolutionary defeatism within the Austro-Hungarian armies; they exerted red terror against the White armies and landowners; they even revealed the Bolshevik Red Army for what it was: an army for capitalistic reconstruction in Russia!


In November 1918, therefore, the Austro-German troops began to withdraw while remaining subject to the combatative pressure of the Insurrectional Revolutionary Army. This pressure consisted of simultaneously advocating the defeatist movement within these armies through revolutionary propaganda, whilst repeatedly attacking these forces militarily.

Revolutionary defeatism is a decisive factor in the framework of the communist reply to bourgeois war. For communists, war is only the continuation of capitalistic peace, or, better said, another moment in the permanent war of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat. But this ‘other moment’ of the dictatorship of capital over our class, requires of the worker struggle, precise orders for action, clear perspectives. In this way, Lenin, Liebknecht and many other revolutionary militants reaffirmed, in the years 1914-1915, the necessity to struggle against ‘ones own’ bourgeoisie by means of explicit orders and resolutions against the soft and unfocused pacifism of the Social Democrats.

Where the pacifists were bleating ‘stop the war’, without any other proposal, the communists opposed the war with the revolutionary perspective that called for fraternisation between soldiers of the various armies, by proposing that guns be turned against ‘their own’ officers and by denouncing as the real enemy of the proletariat, ‘its own bourgeoisie’. In a word, by encouraging the defeat of ‘its’ own country – the ‘homeland’ that places policemen on its back!

Revolutionary defeatism is thus the direct realisation of the revolutionary confrontation against war by which the proletariat attacks those holding guns to its own throat. It continues by means of revolutionary war that aims to lead the confrontation within a bourgeois army, by always distinguishing more between those commanding and those receiving and hence suffering from orders. By these means the permanent existence of class contradiction within the bourgeois army is clarified and the development into class war of the bourgeois war is encouraged; until the contradiction existing within the bourgeois military institution explodes openly, obliging everybody to choose his camp; then transforming itself into a violent crisis highlighted by the decomposition of the military structure; finally, by its utter destruction.

Returning to the revolutionary war in Ukraine, each time detachments of the Makhnovist army attacked the Austro-German troops and won, which became increasingly frequent at this moment of full decomposition of the German imperialist armies, they proceeded in the same way and obeyed the same rules: they killed officers – as relentless defenders of the bourgeois army – and often even killed their own soldiers, they liberated private soldiers taken captive with the exception of those guilty of violence towards proletarians. To all others they proposed returning ‘home’ and told of the social revolution taking place in Ukraine. Revolutionaries also distributed pamphlets and texts to encourage soldiers to join the revolution in Germany and Austria. Here is the testimony of Arshinov (6) – an ‘anarchist communist’ militant who fought by the side of Makhno – about the tasks the Makhnovist detachments had assumed in the framework of acts of resistance that took place in the region:

‘Tasks of his company were: (a) actively undertaking propaganda and organisation work among peasants; (b) to lead an implacable struggle against their enemies. At the basis of this struggle was found the principle: all proprietor landowner persecuting peasants, all agent of police of the hetman, all German and Russian officer, as mortal and implacable enemies of peasants, had to meet no mercy and be suppressed ... In two or three weeks time, this detachment already became the terror, not only of the middle class, but also Austro-German authorities.’

Pamphlets in German and in several dialects were printed by the revolutionaries to serve as a tool of defeatist propaganda, and to disorientate Austro-German troops serving as watchdogs to the local bourgeoisie. From that time on, the resolutely internationalist side of the movement reveals its forces.

Several detachments of partisans were composed of proletarians of Ukraine, but there were also detachments of proletarians native to Greece (there are important Greek colonies around the Black Sea), Germany, Austria-Hungary and greater Russia; and also Jewish detachments. Indeed, the defeatist propaganda, because its aim was to generalise revolution, also realised the important function of unifying the proletariat around its real tasks. Therefore, several Bolshevik detachments sent from Russia where they were based, once dispatched, also struggled against the hetman Skoropadsky, submitting themselves to the Makhnovist discipline and so disobeyed the Bolshevik orders (7). Later, all the Red Army regiments in the region, won over by the defeatist propaganda, went over to the Insurrectional Army of Ukraine.

This way of proceeding is the concrete and clear materialisation of the revolutionary war, advocated some months earlier by all the revolutionary forces of the proletariat, against the Bolshevik minority gathered around Lenin, during the Brest-Litovsk negotiations. The activity of the proletarian militants in this region of Russia is material proof of the possibilities of leading the international revolutionary war: it is the practical negation of all the arguments, advanced by Lenin, for signing that shameful, demobilising and counter-revolutionary peace with the armies of the bourgeoisie!


AII this took place between November and December 1918. As soon as the Austro-German troops withdrew, the government of Skoropadsky ran away and provoked the fall of his regime.

The ‘Makhnovchtchina’ (8) was then found facing a new enemy that took advantage of the anti-Austro-German nationalistic wave in order to organise. This enemy was Petliura’s Ukrainian nationalists.

The social basis underlying the ‘Petliurovchtchina’ was the Ukrainian national bourgeoisie in search of independence – for Ukrainian patriotic organisation of work and exploitation. As always, this kind of independence movement was mainly organised around the liberal bourgeoisie, through a conciliation of the interests of the rural bourgeoisie and the ‘intelligentsia’, while using local proletarian revolts and diverting them for their own gain.

Anyway, it was on the basis of the immense enthusiasm that followed the departure of the Austro-German armies and Skoropadsky that this nationalistic movement boomed. Petliura did everything to put himself at the centre of the victories won over the imperialistic Austro-German armies, and thus quickly gathered huge masses throughout Ukraine around his own figure of national hero. The southern regions, where proletarian revolts had organised in force around their own programme – around the flag of social revolution – were the only regions in which the nationalistic movement gained only a loose grip and was directly denounced for what it was: a new recipe for submitting the proletariat to labour.

But Petliura’s Government of the National Republic did not have a long time to take advantage of his popularity. His new government having hardly been set up, Petliura had to run away in January 1919, after Skoropadsky withdrew a month earlier. The social basis, on which his power was based, vanished at the same time as the illusions of proletarians regarding his capacity to deeply change their situation. Petliurism collapsed as quickly as it had been built. The majority of proletarians who had rejoined its army now withdrew, hostile to the new established power, often rejoining the forces of the Insurrectional Revolutionary Army of Ukraine, gathered around ‘anarchist communists’. The rest of its army, nevertheless, remained sufficiently active to confront the Red Army when this army began to make its way towards Ukraine to lay the foundations for the reconstruction of the Russian state.

4. Doctrinaire anarchism at the service of capitalism (November 1918-June 1919)

Meanwhile in this unsettled time, between November ‘18 and June ‘19, ‘anarchist communist’ militants (9), gathered around Makhno, tried to manage the ‘liberated region’ (with a radius of 100 kms around Gulyai-Pole, and a population of more or less two million inhabitants). And it is here that the insurrectional movement shows its weaknesses and its contradictions because it did not break the links with capital through its lack of programmatical rupture with social-democracy.

This lack of rupture should be understood objectively, in the context of the widespread inability at that time to conceive of the dictatorship of the proletariat as the definitive effort to abolish value and exchange. This fact was due, amongst other things, to the work of occultation accomplished by the Second International, in contradiction to Marx’s conception of our dictatorship. But it also important to denounce this lack of rupture with reformism in its subjective form; that is to say, in the anarchist and managerial ideologies that have been used as justification to proletarians, and more specifically to the Makhnovist militants, to carry on concretely the non-destruction of the economy (the organised expression of value) and the state (the organised expression of politics).

The proletariat in Ukraine prevented itself, therefore, drawing benefit from the victories won against the bourgeoisie. With the bourgeoisie locally defeated, the proletariat had the power in its hands. It assumed despotic control of the means of production (in areas of the countryside and of the cities that capital had been expropriated and the bourgeoisie banished), but it did not know what to do with it and stayed paralysed. Not only did it not try to generalise, geographically, the struggle, but also faced by the economy, it stayed without initiative and did not assume its real destruction, the realisation of communism. From then on, incapable of evincing a real direction and a programme for destroying capital, anarchist ideology, under its self-managerial and federalist aspects, consolidated the proletariat’s weaknesses by erecting its reformist principles as the authority. The proletariat’s incapacity to join together with communist forces worldwide, and its lack of links with the history of communism as a programme, allowed social-democracy (in the guise of anarchist ideology) to empty ferociously the torrent of the social revolution, to bring it to the sweet and calm waters of assimilation. The concept of improvement of wages survived but the real destruction of the wage did not. Instead of destroying waged labour, the very source of capital, the Makhnovists, by calling upon their ‘libertarian principles’ were going to manage it by means of ‘peasant communes’, called variously, ‘Communes of Work’ (sic), ‘Free Communes’ and ‘Commune Rosa Luxembourg’.

In these territories where governmental order had disappeared and where the disorganisation of capital reached its height, the Makhnovists crystallised the recomposition of the economy by advocating its democratic management. Worse still, on the pretext of not wanting to impose authority they advocated the federated organisation of free agricultural Communes and the self-management of factories and other means of manufacture; they proposed to rural and urban proletarians that they base their relationships on barter – the mutual exchange of respective goods. Hence, both the phenomena of exchange and of value were retained: money is abolished but it is substituted by an alternative means of quantifying the labour crystallised into each commodity. In other words, these proposals were the authority and strengthened the rule of law, in so far as they had influence. This influence was based on the justified trust proletarians had in the Makhnovists because of their vanguard role in their victory over the Austro-German armies.

The occurrence of this federated social organisation obviously did not continue the struggle that proletarians were leading against work and for the immediate satisfaction of their human needs (the struggle against value, for the extension of revolution worldwide...) but, rather, constituted the self-managed reorganisation of the existing system of exploitation (10).

The revolutionaries gathered around Makhno understood very well the necessity of opposing the bourgeoisie as military force, with authority, force and terror; but this comprehension stopped as soon as they faced the bourgeois programme in the form of exchange – the state organised under the dictatorship of value. The economy took back all of its rights! The Makhnovists, whose anarchist ideology restricted their vision to bourgeois liberalism, proposed to proletarians that they freely take their destiny into their own hands by deciding themselves the quantity of time they wanted to work and the way they wanted to manage the product of their labour! As if proletarians had the time to freely face the laws of exchange!!!

The economy, as abstracted organisation of the movement for valorisation, was the great winner of the self-management reforms realised through the initiative of the Makhnovists.

Faced with the social organisation of work, the Makhnovists did nothing but impose (possibly through the influence of the ordinary ‘good advice’ they put out, as seen earlier) its self-management: capital continued to prevail but now it was workers who managed their own exploitation by it. They could thus decide, themselves, the exchangeable rate (value) between various products (commodities) and delude themselves that prices had disappeared. However, the foundation of value – the regulation of exchange by means of the quantifying of work crystallised in each commodity – remained and thus, in reality, they determined the quantitative relations between products.

The monstrosity so created, was finally to camouflage the reality of waged labour, exploitation and capital: real forces that were perpetuated behind hazy pseudo-communist ideologies. Volin’s libertarian proposals here rhymed with Lenin’s socialist decrees. While the Bolshevik thought of suppressing money by decreeing the abolition of the currency, the libertarian believed communism could be realised by federating value and imposing barter.

And if militants like Arshinov were quite capable of confusingly disclosing (11) the traps of the Bolshevik economy,

‘...we have to deal with a simple substitution of private capitalism by a capitalism of the State. Communist nationalisation of industry represents a new type of relationship in production, with which the slavery, the economic subjection of the working class is concentrated in one hand: the State. In fact, that does not in the least improve the situation of the working class. Obligatory work (for the workers, of course) and its militarisation – this is national manufacture’s own spirit. ‘(12)

....they were, on the other hand, incapable of making more than a lamentable apology for the Makhnovist limits:

‘The peasants’ and workers’ liberty, told the Makhnovists, belongs to themselves and can suffer no restriction.... As for the Makhnovists, they can only help them by the one or the other, advice or opinion, and by putting at their disposal the military or intellectual force necessary, but they in neither case want to prescribe what that is…Volin, admired by the peasants, translated their thoughts and aspirations: the idea of free Soviets, working in agreement with the desires of the laborious population, links between peasants and city workers, based on the mutual exchange of the respective products of labour, the idea of a libertarian and egalitarian organisation of life .... ‘(13)

Arshinov, in ‘History of the Makhnovist movement’, 1921.

As we see particularly well in the first paragraph of this quotation, one only has to replace Volin with Lenin, and ‘libertarian’ by ‘socialist’, and we have the same bourgeois democratic apology for the Soviets. In the face of all these evasions regarding democratic and free organisation of the Soviets, what the proletariat needed most, was for its vanguard to show as much determination imposing the liquidation of valorisation, exchange and the international generalisation of revalorization, as it had in leading the armed insurrection against those that personified it!

The key matter is the centralised organisation of production according to human needs, and therefore against profit. Had this been carried out, it would have immediately allowed for a reduction in the quantity of work (in extension and in intensity), by immediately dispensing with all that is not useful to human being. From then on, through the application of the principle, ‘who does not work does not eat’, state officials and other bourgeois would be forced to take part in the collective effort against generalised market production. The suppression of all needless administration and the liquidation of all production with no useful value to the communist project with a view to increasing the well-being of proletarians, involves the growing automation of all tasks of production; these measures are necessary and unavoidable to fundamentally attack waged ‘slavery’. These measures (yet insufficient but marking out the way!) would thus deliver a growing number of proletarians from productive work so they can devote themselves again, with more force, to the extension of worldwide social revolution.

The Makhnovists did not do this. As we have seen they were content with recreating the separation between city and countryside, between ‘workers’ and ‘peasants’, also between ‘intellectuals’ and ‘labourers’, while pushing each of these categories under capital to ignore each other, to understand social revolution only as the federated and fragmentary management of each ones own small misery.

The federalist ideology of anarchism allowed only one thing: the isolation and dislocation of the revolutionary movement, its dispersion in localist self-management mirages. Makhno’s own regionalist and federalist ideology was a curb to the generalisation of the revolution. Thus, when in 1920, he had to define the ‘Makhnovchtchina’s Aspirations’ (extract from a pamphlet written by Makhno: ‘What is a Makhnovchtchina?’ he says:

As we can see, the social-democrat idea of socialism in one region only, later with Stalin and Boukharin to become the ‘theory of socialism in one country’, was as dear to Makhno as to the Bolshevik governmental right wing.

Even worse, as a revolutionary leader Makhno stayed captive to the Stalinist programme before Stalinism ever existed and that, in the heat of a worldwide revolutionary wave in a time when from Berlin to Patagonia, from Bombay to Mexico, from Budapest to Toronto, the proletariat struggled for one worldwide revolution!

Limiting of the insurrection in Ukraine thus found in this period, beyond objective problems of relative force, new agents in the lack of generalisation of the revolutionary war. The ‘anarchist communists’ in Ukraine had criticised the weapons in their hands – the refusal of generalised revolutionary war through the Brest-Litovsk agreements – but they were incapable of understanding how the generalisation of the revolution had to pass through both dictatorial and violent struggle against the economy, against value.

The ascendancy of the anarchist ideology over revolutionaries in Ukraine, and more largely in Russia, found its roots, as it did a bit everywhere in this period, in the attempt to give a theoretical substance to the will of revolutionary militants to assume direct action, against the reformist proposals advocated by most of the social-democratic organisations that had transformed Marxism into an ideology. This true impulse to break with reformism was going to lead a lot of these militants to theorise their actions, some programmes in a more idealistic form than others, from self-management and federalist Proudhonism to examplary terrorism as catechism (see Hetchaiev) in passing through anarcho-trade-unionism.

Therefore, often under the same flag direct action and reformism, revolution and counter¬revolution, confronted each other.

Anarchism in Ukraine, as a reaction to the legalistic goals of the Social Democrats began, as in the rest of Russia, in the 19th century, and was established by the end of the century during the famine of 1891. The first group, Bor’ba (Combat), dates from 1903. The monthly, ‘Bread and Liberty’, issued by the followers of the bourgeois anarcho-trade-unionism developed by Kropotkin, then circulated clandestinely in Ukraine.

The movement then reached Moscow and the capital St Petersburg, with groups as important as Tchernoe Znamia (Black Flag), Kleb I Voilia (Bread and Liberty) and Beznatchalie (Without Authority). Different groups embraced different practices: Black Flag acknowledged communism as finality; Bread and Liberty, on the other hand, was a typical reformist group that were considering ‘a society’ in which capitalism would be banished to give way to a gigantic federation of producers directed by labour professional organisations (trade unions)! As one sees, self-management illusions of a pure capitalism rid of its darkest edges make the revolutionary movement gangrenous, on both sides of the false polarisation, ‘Marxists’ and ‘anarchists’, that social-democracy encloses it within. As for the militants of Without Authority, they used a more literary and romantic phraseology without hesitating to make bombing raids upon all that could represent ‘the so-hated authority’.

It is within the self-defined ‘anarchist communist’ groups that the ruptures were going to be most coherent. Against the triumphant Kropotkinian pacifism one thus sees anarchist militants from Moscow and St Petersburg, gathered around Grossman-Rochtchin, assuming a powerful rupture mainly with trade unionism. This kind of very determined rupture, the organisation of these-militants around very disassociated positions, as well as their efforts for real centralisation of proletarians in struggle were, most of the time, in deep contradiction with the referred to doctrine – anarchism – and its ‘anti-authoritarian’ claims.

Communist revolutionary militants, organised under the anarchist flag, took part in the October insurrection at the side of other avant-garde proletarian forces: Left Socialist Revolutionaries, Bolsheviks, the 'without Party', etc. In Ekaterinoslav in Ukraine, for example, 80,000 proletarians ran through the streets and marched behind black flags, showing their participation in the current social revolution.

Crushed by the Bolsheviks in 1918 at the same time as the Left Revolutionary Socialists (after their armed struggle against the Brest-Litovsk treaty), those that escaped from jail or the firing squad returned to Ukraine – the historical cradle of the movement – where they founded various centralised organisations within Nabat (the Alarm), and organised the 1st Anarchist Organisations Conference of Ukraine in November 1918.

Unfortunately, this organ played no centralising role in the struggle that opposed proletarians to all forces of reaction. As Arshinov and Makhno criticised later, Nabat was only an organisation of 'theorists', 'phrasers' and 'glib talkers', being more contented with making propaganda 'of ideas' by means of conferences, discussions, literary circles or libraries, than taking a really active part in the struggle of the proletariat.

In this whole context and in the history of these struggles, the movement in Ukraine became centralised around these anarchist militants more than the Bolsheviks or the Revolutionary Socialists, although the latter enjoyed a large audience.

The determining element of the organisation of the Insurrectional Revolutionary Army around the black flag was the assumption of the tasks of agitation and revolutionary organisation by anarchist militants – with Makhno in the lead – who returned to Ukraine from their liberation from Tsarist jail.

Makhno was welcomed as a hero after his ten-year stay in Russian jails. He went on to found the first Soviet of Peasants and Workers of Gulyai-Pole, that decreed from the end of August 1917 (that is, three months before October 1917) that the bourgeoisie be disarmed and there be an ‘abolition of its rights over the people’.

Makhno then returned to Moscow (14) to meet his comrade Arshinov and, more generally, to consider the possibilities of taking part in the revolutionary movement. After a short stay, in which he witnessed the repression of anarchists by Bolsheviks and denounced the central proceedings as a caricature of revolution (Moscow appears to him as ‘the capital of a paper revolution, a vast factory producing resolutions and senseless slogans, while only one political party rises by force and fraud’), he returned to Gulyai-Pole to organise resistance on bases contradictory to those of the Bolsheviks.

The Bolsheviks founded their activity on the more important influence they had within the great cities but their influence was almost entirely absent in the countryside. This dichotomy of the proletarian movement was one of the great problems the various revolutionary fractions (Bolshevik as well as Left Socialist Revolutionary and anarchist) were not able to solve in Russia and this strengthened the capitalist division, between city and country, maintained by the bourgeoisie.

5. Against Denikin. First alliance with the Bolsheviks (March 1919-June 1919)

As we have seen, in a short time the Insurrectional Revolutionary Army repulsed definitively the Austro-German troops and their set up Ukrainian ally, Skoropadsky. Similarly, the nationalistic Petliura had seen his social basis crumble once he’d started governing. In January 1919, therefore, a short year after the uprising began, the various bourgeois armies had been repulsed and defeated.

But although Makhno had managed to gather isolated bands to defeat the remains of the Austro-German troops in full rout, the same was not true for the Bolshevik power that was threatened from all sides. In addition to the ‘sanitary cordon’ imposed by the Allied troops, the White troops equipped and organised by the French, American and British, threatened invasion from the east (Koltchak’s troops in Siberia), from the south (Denikin’s troops in Crimea, the Black Sea, Sea of Azov) and from the West (Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia...). Moreover, in the north of Ukraine, the remainder of Petliura’s troops continued fighting and gave the Bolsheviks a lot of trouble.

Denikin and his White army chose this moment to enter Ukraine, hoping to rapidly progress north, due to the fact that the Bolsheviks were grappling with Petliura’s nationalists. He was quite surprised to come across the determined and well-organised army of Ukraine insurgents. From there, the Insurrectional Army succeeded in organising a front of more than 100 kms against Denikin’s Whites, even though they were much superior in terms of numbers of men and materials.

It is also at this moment, with the threat from both Denikin’s White armies and the Petliurists becoming urgent, that the Gulyai-Pole Soviet concluded a first alliance, considered as purely a military one, with the Bolsheviks through Dybenko and Antonov-Ovseenko (Red Army military commanders for the Ukrainian front).

This first compromise is one more time marked by the difficulty of assuming to the end the importance of, on no account, forming a front with the enemy of revolution: in this instance with the Red Army, continuing the work of reconstruction of the state in Russia, of the development of capital. By making defence of Ukrainian territory primary (ideologically justified through its assimilation to defence of the revolution), the revolutionaries of the Insurrectional Revolutionary Army made the same error as was contained in the Brest-Litovsk negotiations: the abandonment of the revolutionary war taken up by the armed proletariat, into assimilation of revolutionary energy into a ‘red army’, mechanically constituted on the same principles as any bourgeois army (compulsory enlistment, military hierarchy and discipline, etc).

This alliance materialised in a kind of inter-classist front in which the revolutionary movement tends to dilute itself in the defence of the national interests. The Insurrectional Army was incorporated into the Red Army, but the insurgents nevertheless kept there own units, as well as their own discipline, command, organisation, etc. As we will see further on, this front did not succeed, and the Makhnovist insurgents later regained all of their autonomy.

It is so clear that for Moscow, in total coherence with its policy, the alliance of the insurgents with the Red Army meant the allegiance of the Revolutionary Insurrectional Army to Bolshevik power and at the same time the crushing of all focuses with a claim to continuing the social revolution.

The insurgents of Ukraine, by adhering to this alliance, supported the defence of the Ukraine: the revolutionary movement diluted itself in defence of the armed policy of capital, and this marks the point of non-rupture with the bourgeois (yet considered ‘revolutionary’) policy of the Bolsheviks. It is only in the attempts at rupture and in the denunciation of the Bolsheviks’ counter-revolutionary character, that the revolutionary movement regains its strongest moments; opposite, it suffered only massacres, isolation and dispersion.

Effectively, the ‘War Communism’ the Bolsheviks planned to impose found no support in Ukraine. Very quickly, the insurgent proletarians no longer acknowledged Bolshevik authority – newly established through the agreements with the Makhnovists. They opposed requisitions and dispersed the ‘extraordinary commissions’ (Tchekas), entrusted with the ‘struggle against sabotage and counter-revolution’, but in fact led against the insurgents themselves. In reply to Kamenev, entreating him to take a stand against Grigoriev – a band chief who turned against the Red Army (see below) in the province of Kherson, to the west of the Makhnovist army – Makhno, barely confronting Denikin’s offensive, already wanted to disassociate himself from the Bolshevik policy:

‘...My troops and I will remain unshakeably faithful to the workers and peasants Revolution, but not to the institutions of violence, such as your commissariats and your Tchekas that practice the arbitrary upon the laborious population.’

It was in the alliance and the front (the usual tactics of the bourgeoisie to dissolve, democratically, antagonistic interests) that Bolsheviks were going to try to liquidate the Makhnovist insurrectional movement, which they distrusted and wanted to destroy, just as the White army did. They sent weapons only sparingly; they refused to send machine-guns and cannons; they tried to dissolve Makhno’s brigade into the Red Army; they outlawed the Military Revolutionary Soviet that directed the activity of the Makhnovist army; they tried to assassinate Makhno; and in June, because this sabotage was considered insufficient, Trotsky kept Antonov-Ovseenko (15) away from the local command of the Red Army because he was suspected of sympathies for the Makhnovists since he had denounced these practices of sabotage.

In front of all these wrangles and the ever-greater danger of the White armies toppling the Red Army, the Revolutionary Military Soviet decided to re-form in an autonomous way the Revolutionary Insurrectional Army (while communicating its ruptures, and by continuing momentarily to submit to the necessities of the general strategy of the Red Army’s senior staff).

But the Bolshevik repression intensified with Trotsky’s arrival in Ukraine. Antonov-Ovseenko was dismissed; the ‘anarchists’, accused of ‘conspiracy against the state’ were executed, without consideration of the campaign of calumny led against them. Decimated and disorganised by the Bolshevik repression and lacking weapons the Makhnovists were outflanked by the White armies that successively took Mariupol and even Gulyai-Pole.

Faced with this terror falling on them, within the framework of the agreement the Bolsheviks had proposed, the Makhnovists denounced the Red state’s force of reconstruction, although they preserved till the end illusions about the Bolshevik’s ‘honesty’. In this way, Makhno, because he naively thought Bolshevik hate was directed at him personally, decided to withdraw from his position of command within the Red Army, while he left Ukrainian combatants ‘to prove’ their combativeness and adherence to the revolution in the face of Trotsky’s slander:

‘In an article entitled “The Makhnovchtchina” (in the newspaper, Forward, No.55), Trotsky asks the question: “Against who do the Makhnovist insurgents rise up?” And he is occupied throughout his article to demonstrate that the Makhnovchtchina do nothing other than form a battlefront against the power of the Soviets. He says no word about the effective front against the Whites, extending more than one hundred kilometres where the insurgents have suffered for six months and always under innumerable losses. The order No.1824 declares I am a conspirator and an organiser in the manner of Grigoriev… This hostile attitude, which becomes more aggressive, from central authorities against the insurrectional movement leads inescapably to the creation of a particular internal front, on both sides of which are found the labouring masses who have faith in the Revolution…The most sure means of avoiding that the authorities do not commit this crime consists, in my opinion, in that I quit the post that I occupy.’

Letter from Makhno, to Trotsky and the Staff of the 14th Army, 9th June 1919.

Despite the pressure of the White armies, Trotsky puts a price on Makhno’s head, preferring that Ukraine falls into the hands of Denikin, rather than see the Makhnovchtchina acquiring a force that could turn against the Bolsheviks.

The Insurrectional Revolutionary Army then recalls Makhno. Escaping a trap laid by the Bolsheviks (a trap into which chiefs of staff from the Insurrectional Revolutionary Army headquarters fell, and in which Mikhailov-Pavlenko is executed), Makhno withdrew a small group of cavalrymen to the vicinity of Alexandrovsk.

The White armies’ offensive, and Trotsky’s total disorganisation of the revolutionary forces, provoked the Red Army’s rout, during the month of July 1919. It withdrew to 300 kms short of Moscow, completely abandoning the proletarians of Ukraine to themselves.

The situation was completely chaotic. Denikin’s Whites won victory after victory. Makhnovist insurgents received the order from the Insurrectional Revolutionary Army headquarters to leave the Red Army’s troops on the run and scatter in the countryside. On the other hand, Grigoriev, ally of the Bolsheviks, decided to turn against the Red Army at the moment when Trotsky had proposed to this chief of a bourgeois band.... to show internationalism towards Hungarian proletarians while going to struggle against the Romanian Army that sought to crush them!

This same Grigoriev proposed a little later to Makhno that he join his imperialistic war against the Bolsheviks. Despite all the treacheries and treasons his army had been submitted to from the Bolsheviks, Makhno proudly kept the flag of social revolution as the combat objective of the Insurrectional Revolutionary Army. To the proposal 9J a pact from the bourgeois Grigoriev – made on 27th July 1919 during a congress organised by the Makhnovists – he replied by firing shots and proclaiming very strongly that ‘the struggle against the Bolsheviks will be truly revolutionary only on the one condition that it is led in the name of Social Revolution!’

Whole units deserted the Bolshevik army to rejoin the Makhnovists. Up to 15,000 soldiers from the Red Army, disgusted with the tactics of their ‘Napo’, Leon Trotsky (16), thus rejoined the Makhnovist battalions; for example, the Bolshevik battalions from Crimea led by the Makhnovist chiefs Kalachnikov, Derndji and Budanov. Other important detachments of the Red Army, from Novo Bug, dismissed their chiefs and went in search of Makhno’s scattered and disorganised army. The junction of these troops was made in August 1919, at Dobrovelitchkovka. The dispersed combatants of the Insurrectional Revolutionary Army converged in large numbers in this district, near Odessa. At this moment, only the army could restructure itself, around 15,000 combatants, formed into four infantry and cavalry brigades, an artillery division and a regiment of machine-guns.

6. The victorious Insurrectional Army (September 1919). Revolutionary terror and attempts at social organisation

The divorce with the Bolsheviks seemed total and definitive. When Makhno was again asked, by Bolshevik commissioners, to join forces under the command of Red officers, he replied:

‘You have deceived Ukraine (sic!) and, more serious, you have executed my comrades in Gulyai-Pole; your units will go over to my side anyway, then I will proceed with all of you, the authorities, in the same manner that you have proceeded with my comrades.’

Although it is clear that the revolutionary movement remained dominated by great weaknesses – the defence of Ukraine at all costs – it did begin to determine more clearly who were its enemies and to denounce them as such. From then on, the Insurrectional Revolutionary Army turned its weapons against the Bolsheviks as well as against Denikin’s Whites.

Faced with the Red Army’s complete rout and the Makhnovist army’s disorganisation following the front with the Bolshevik forces, the White fraction of the bourgeoisie, with Denikin’s assistance, had reinstalled itself in Ukraine. Repression against the proletariat intensified, with its procession of lootings, massacres and rapes. Perpetually on the run from the White armies, men, women and children rejoined the Insurrectional Revolutionary Army. There was a gigantic caravan of some one hundred and twenty thousand people stretching over nearly 40 kms, which somehow resisted attacks from various bourgeois fractions for more than 600 kms.

From a last victorious burst, at Pregonovka (near Uman), on September 25-26th 1919, the Insurrectional Revolutionary Army reversed the situation in ten days. By defeating Denikin’s rear, it liberated, at the same time, Moscow from the White armies’ growing hold (17). Indeed, Denikin, having underestimated the Makhnovists, had thrown the bulk of his troops on Moscow. Cut off from his rear bases, his means of communication, his supply routes, Denikin’s army suffered a real rout. We must see in this rout the real starting point of the defeat of the White armies in Russia; this runs contrary to the legend of the Red Army’s victory, thanks to Trotsky’s ‘military science’ (18).

Sweeping away the White army which had carried out a last wave of repression, the Makhnovists, by means of the revolutionaries’ Pregonovka victory, liberated the cities from the bourgeois grasp and thus annihilated in the autumn of 1919, by a real revolutionary terror, Denikin’s counter-revolution:

‘The landowners, large farmers, policemen, priests, mayors, shirked officers…all was swept away on the victorious path of the Makhnovchtchina. Jails and police stations, in brief, all symbols of popular servitude were destroyed. All those known to be active enemies of peasants and workers were doomed to death. Especially large landowners and large farmers, exploiters of the people, the‘kulaks’, perished then in great numbers.’

Arshinov, in ‘History of the Makhnovist movement’: 1921

The Makhnovists, having drawn lessons, refused the proposition of shared power with the Bolsheviks (in fact the disarmament of the proletariat) with the army to be controlled by the Red bourgeois and the administration and charge of the cities to the Makhnovists.

They tried self-organising (banks were emptied, a ‘Free Commune’ was organised, etc, cf. above) but it was a failure. Their non-rupture with anarchist social-democracy, their self-managementism and federalism, their refusal to really put themselves at the head of the open struggle against the Red repainted state, but also the gigantic agreed war effort (the army was decimated by typhus), all of this, and also the refusal to generalise the struggle beyond southern Ukraine, led straight to disaster.

Thus, in the cities, during this short period in October and November 1919, in which the Insurrectional Revolutionary Army was in control of Alexandrovsk and particularly Ekaterinoslav, all the contradictions of its anti-authoritarian ideology broke through. Forgetful of the correct methods by which they had, authoritatively, led the class war against the various bourgeois armies, the Makhnovists now decreed, democratically, the total freedom of the press and of association. This allowed all the pseudo-socialists – who had tried to strangle revolution by any means – to get reorganised:

‘1. All the parties, organisations and socialist political currents have the right to propagate freely their ideas, theories, viewpoints and opinions, orally as well as in writing. No restriction of the liberty of socialists, the Press and expression will be admitted, and they will not be the subject of prosecutions for that.’

Revolutionary Military Council of Makhnovist Guerrillas, Ekaterinoslav, 5th November 1919.

But on the other hand, the same Makhnovists, having confusingly perceived the absurdity of exerting red terror on the battlefields and not on economical, ideological and political ground, ‘forgave all parties for the imposition of any political authority against the worker masses’, going as far as executing those that infringe this rule!!!(19)

It is at this moment of disarray over the quandary of ‘how to continue the struggle’, that the Red Army benefited by coming and reinstalling itself in the region, bringing with it a new White repression. Counter-revolution triumphed again: faced with the Insurrectional Revolutionary Army leaders’ criminal inconsistencies – bogged down as they were by the imbecile anti-authoritarian and anti-substitutionist ideology – the Bolshevik rectifiers of the state had all the time needed to reconquer the insurgent regions of Ukraine, and imposed their programme as early as January 1920.

7. Nine months of new Red repression

Weakened in all aspects, the Makhnovists, deluded as to the nature of the Red Army allowed it to occupy the land considering it to be the last chance to definitively get rid of Denikin by preventing his return.

The Makhnovists could not, in fact, break with their tendency to come closer to the Bolsheviks. In them, they saw only bad workers’ leaders and not the future bourgeois state charged with the role of reorganisation of capital. Moreover, after refusing the revolutionary directorship role, they actually organised the withdrawal of proletarians by advocating self-organisation!!! Thus, they left them isolated and vulnerable in the face of Bolshevik repression.

Some long discussions had brought the insurgents to these criminal conclusions. Revolution and counter-revolution had confronted each other within the Insurrectional Revolutionary Army, as we noted at the beginning of this text. Indeed, during the struggles against Denikin, some of the forces ‘considered it necessary to continue the revolutionary war by generalising the movement. They argued the situation correctly by describing the revolutionary state of mind, not only of the proletariat in the region but in the whole of Russia, as ready to accomplish what they called, the ‘Third Social Revolution’.(20)

Indeed, during this war against Denikin many detachments of insurgents rallied to the Makhnovists, having spontaneously considered that in them there would be the directorship of a force capable of submerging difficulties and the blows struck at the revolution by the various bourgeois social forces. Some detachments of the Red Army even flocked from central Russia to join the flag of the Makhnovchtchina: for example, a large number of Bolshevik troops, commanded by Ogarkov from the government of Orel, came to struggle for social revolution alongside the proletarian insurgents in Ukraine.

As well as the large number of proletarians from the region that rallied to the side of the Insurrectional Revolutionary Army, many other organised forces of the revolution rejoined. Besides the ex-Bolsheviks, ex-Left Socialist Revolutionaries like Victor Popov – one time sailor from the Black Sea who had led the uprising against the Bolsheviks in July 1918 – joined the ‘anarchist communists’.

But all these forces favourable to the generalisation of the revolutionary war were, as with Brest-Litovsk, defeated by a majority of glib talkers like Volin. These advocated the positive construction of anarchist federated communes and invited the revolutionaries in the ‘liberated’ areas around their bastion, Gulyai-Pole, to withdraw leaving one part of the proletariat to the repression and terror of the Bolshevik agents of capitalistic reconstruction in Russia.

The social-democratic ideological anarchist version and its non-directorial position thus facilitated the repressive nine-month campaign of the Bolsheviks. Everywhere that the Red Army occupied land vacated by the Makhnovists, the authority of capital was established. Jails were reconstructed and filled; police and Tcheka arrested and executed revolutionaries as well as all those who were viewed as likely to aid the Makhnovists, accused of being ‘traitors of the Ukrainian people’.

This was the beginning of a civil war between Bolsheviks and Makhnovists. To avoid fraternisations between the Red Army and its ‘enemy’, the Bolsheviks sent Estonian, Letton and Chinese soldiers to take part in the repression (although it did not prevent all fraternisation and desertion). It was real slaughter. The lowest estimates spoke of 200,000 dead, and many more deported to Siberia, just in the year 1920. Cattle and crop requisitions resulted in famine in what has been called ‘the wheat granary of Europe’. Thus, during 1920, the year the policy of War Communism was introduced, hate against the Bolsheviks strengthened. In spite of this onslaught, the Red Army still suffered reversals when faced by armed proletarians once again leading a merciless irregular war against those perpetuating the situation of exploitation.

For several months the struggle between the Bolsheviks and the Makhnovists was relentless and without mercy from either side. However, their methods of combat were fundamentally different. The Red Army proceeded like any other bourgeois army of so-called ‘occupation’: in the villages, executions were carried out on a massive scale and indiscriminately as the Bolshevik command knew that it was mostly there that the Makhnovists found support. When ‘anarchist communists’ were arrested, they were immediately executed – whether or not they were members of the Insurrectional Revolutionary Army – or they were thrown into jails and submitted to torture and blackmail to force them to renounce their adherence to the Makhnovist movement or to give information; alternatively, they were used as double agents.

On the Makhnovist side, the proletarian revolutionary war remained the means of struggle against the enemy army (the same means that had been used during the Austro-German occupation). Bolshevik commanders and Red Army officers were executed without pity, while soldiers had the choice between rejoining the insurgents’ army or returning ‘home’ disarmed. They also promoted the defeat of the enemy by means of propaganda and other materials of defeatist propaganda:

‘Brothers Red soldiers!...

Now, one sends you anew to fight us, we “Makhnovist insurgents”: in the name of a
so-called “worker-peasant” power, that again brings you chains and slavery! Riches and joys go to this gang of bureaucrat-parasites that suck your blood…

Are you again going to shed your blood for the newly blossomed bourgeoisie and for the commissioners it created, and who send you, as livestock, to the slaughter! Have you again not understood that we, “Makhnovist insurgents”: we fight for the complete economical and political emancipation of labourers, for a free life without these commissioners and other agents of repression?...

Each time you meet us, so as to avoid fraternal bloodshed, send us delegates for a parley, but if it is not possible and the commissioners nevertheless oblige you to fight us, fling your guns and come to our fraternal encounter.

Down with the war of fratricide between labourers!

Peace and fraternal union of labourers of all countries and all nations, live!’

‘Down with the fratricidal combat!’; tract of the Makhnovist insurgents, May 1920.

The calls of the revolutionaries sometimes had spectacular effects on soldiers of the Red Army. Here is an extract from the appeal launched by soldiers from the 522nd regiment of the Red Army, when they decided to desert and rejoin the Insurrectional Revolutionary Army:

‘We, Red soldiers from the 522ndregiment, we have passed across on 25th June 1920, without any gunfire and with all our equipment and our weapons to the Makhnovist insurgents’ side. The communists have pestered us and have attributed our passing to the Makhnovist insurgents’ side to rage and a tendency to banditry. All that is a low and cowardly lie by the commissioners who have used us simply as cannon fodder. During our two years service within the Red Army, we came to the conclusion that the whole social regime of our lives is based only on the domination of the commissioners and that it will bring us in the end to a slavery never seen before in history…

‘The Red soldiers of the 522nd regiment: now Makhnovists.’
Faced with the growing defeatism of the Red Army’s soldiers, and in reply to the revolutionary methods of the Makhnovists, the Red generals installed commissions especially instructed to recuperate soldiers released by the Insurrectional Revolutionary Army, and to reincorporate them into other units.

8. The new White offensive (April 1920), the defeat (November 19203 and the exile (August 1921)

Wrangel took the leadership of the White army and his success, strengthened by the extreme weakness of the Red Army (defeated by Piludsky’s army outside of Warsaw) pushed the Red Army to once more ask for an alliance with the Makhnovists.

For their part, the Makhnovists were exhausted by the war against the Bolsheviks and by their resistance to the successive White offensives and decimated by their repression; they were also isolated by the slander spread by the Bolsheviks about a so-called alliance between Makhno and Wrangel. They reached breaking point under Wrangel’s assault during the summer of 1920 with which, in the north, the Polish Army and the Ukrainian nationalists are associated.

Then several months later, in October 1920, they signed a new military and political agreement with the Red Army.(21) The ‘anarchist communist’ army succumbed to the same logic that had led them to the earlier alliance with the Bolsheviks – the idea that this alliance with the Soviet State was somehow a ‘lesser pain’ than being killed by the White armies.

Thus, all recent lessons and experience were unheeded. The decision to once again collaborate with a fraction of the enemy equalled suicide. Remains of the revolutionary movement were quickly destroyed both psychologically and physically. Under this alliance, the Bolsheviks refused the insurgents any rest and continually sent them to the front line; firstly, to eliminate them under the White advance, secondly, to control them better (in the rear there was more opportunity to propagandise subversively within the Red Army).

The Makhnovists were decimated little by little, notably because their units of revolutionaries – known for their combativeness – did not retreat when faced by losses. The Bolshevik four-star generals knew this! So, for example, they sent them on a ten kilometre unprotected charge on the Isthmus of Crimea, estimated to give them a one in a hundred chance of success. They achieved victory but at a cost of huge human losses. The Whites were beaten but the Makhnovist movement ended drained of blood.

The Russian State then turned against the Makhnovists and in mid-November 1920, the Bolsheviks attacked the Makhnovist headquarters and their troops in Crimea. At the same time, they seized Makhnovist representatives of Kharkov, attacked the ‘anarchist communists’ of Gulyai-Pole and destroyed their organisations all over Ukraine.

A little later, liberated from the pressure of Wrangel’s armies that had been repulsed out of Russia, the Red Army could devote itself to the definitive defeat of the Makhnovists. With an infinitely superior army in terms of men, it nevertheless took more than six months to defeat them.

In early 1921, the situation became particularly perilous for the Bolshevik regime. In Petrograd big strikes broke out and in Kronstadt the proletariat rose up. During this period, many armies of organised proletarians struggled throughout Russia against the Bolshevik reconstruction of the state. In Tambov, Antonov – the Socialist Revolutionary – organised an army of 50,000 men; 60,000 proletarians rose up in a district of western Siberia; in Carelia in the Caucuses, in central Asia one force physically asked the new Kremlin masters for an explanation. Their reply – this ‘small civil war’ as Soviet historians named it – produced nearly 200,000 dead.

At this moment, the Makhnovists’ revolutionary defeatist propaganda still found many echoes. On 9th February 1921, the 1st Brigade, 4th Cavalry Division of the Red Army, rejoined a Makhnovist detachment near Pavlograd. And, it is at this time, that the Makhnovists really tried to generalise the revolution. Brova and Maslakov went to the Don and Kouban region; Parkhomento took a detachment to the Voronej region of Russia; a third group, of one thousand insurgents, headed by another Makhnovist combatant, Ivaniuk, made its way to Kharkov.

But unfortunately it was too late. The proletariat was getting beaten everywhere it rose up. Another period of White terror began – as it did each time revolution was defeated – throughout Russia, especially in the insurgent region of Ukraine. The Red Army passed systematically through each village and city in the region, exterminating all those suspected of any sympathy towards the Makhnovist movement.

During the summer of 1921, the last nuclei gathered around Makhno (separated from any revolutionary movement) were cornered and forced to flee to Romania, where they dispersed definitively.


This article aims to translate into lessons the general teachings of this proletarian attempt at assuming revolution, as the alternative to the reorganisation of the state by the Bolsheviks. In such an article, it is difficult to portray the combativeness that animated these militants of our class, these true vanguard fighters struggling to impose communism.

To have a more complete and precise picture we can only refer comrades to the works that describe, at length, the smallest details of this struggle over more than three years against the armies of Skoropadsky, Petliura, Grigoriev, Denikin, Dybenko, Trotsky, Wrangel… Independent of the weaknesses and illusions of their authors the stories of revolutionary fighters, such as Makhno and Arshinov, have left us with crude material for better animating the combativeness and intensity of this tremendous communist wave that broke upon the world between 1917 and 1923.

As one will see by reading these documents, the communist movement in Ukraine is absolutely not reducible to the personality of Makhno. We have resituated in this text the context in which this ‘anarchist communist’ militant succeeded in crystallising the revolutionary direction, while at the same time passing on to the movement his own programmatical weaknesses. It is important to see Makhno’s combativeness (23), in the context of the general willingness of thousands of nameless proletarians to fight it out with the state.

Finally, we simply quote here the names of other historical leaders (listed at the end of Arshinov’s book) who were at the vanguard of the insurrection in Ukraine: Simon Karetnik, Martchenko, Gregoir Vassilevsky, Zonov, Kalachnikov, Mikhalev Pavlenko, Makecv, Basil Danilov, Tchernoknijny, Stchuss, Isidor Luty, Thomas Kojin, Lepetchenko, Sereguin... Most of these were ‘anarchist communist’ militants that prolonged their years of militancy through their leading function in the insurrectionary period. Only a few survived the various battles against the bourgeois armies.

Those Makhnovists who survived the battles and escaped the terrible Stalinist repression against the revolution were exiled.


It should be noted that Arshinov and Makhno tried to organise the revolutionary movement around an ‘organisational platform’ (24) published in Paris, October 1926, in the newspaper, Dielo Truda (Cause of Work), on behalf of the Group of Anarchist Communist Russians Abroad (GARE) of which they were the main organisers. Their will was to assume rupture with the ambience of anti-organisationalism and to gather ‘anarchist communist’ militants around this project. The organisational platform was the result of discussions and debates, led by these militants since 1925 (the year they could gather in Paris), around the lessons to be learnt and the perspectives to draw from the failure of the revolutionary struggles they had participated in: in Ukraine, in Russia and around the world, during these years 1917-‘23. The publication of the platform was followed by a real will, organised around the flag of anarchy, to break with the social-democrat programme, and it raised a general outcry from all the partisans of ideological anarchism.

This was how these Russian militants linked up with other exiled comrades in France and tried to set up an international opposition to break with the ‘anarchist family milieu’. To this purpose, they organised an international meeting in March 1927, preceded by a preliminary meeting a month earlier. The content of rupture and the efforts at programmatical clarification these comrades intended to realise were undeniable, this at the moment when all around the world the communist movement collapsed markedly. Arshinov insisted on the necessity ‘to seek to organise the revolutionary forces that labour in the worker vanguard… to create an homogenous movement based on the principle of collective responsibility and which agitates within national and international organisations’; it must also, ‘make a selection of forces’ that no longer recognises anarcho-syndicalism nor individualism as currents linked to the movement. The militants – French (Odeon, Dauphin-Meunier…), Spanish (Carbo, Fernandez…), Italian (Ugo Fedeli, who presided at the preliminary meeting), Polish (Ranko), Chinese (Chen), and others – marked their agreement by organising an international union on the basis of rupture with anarchist democratism.‘Our goal is to gather all militants of our tendency and to struggle against the Anarchist Sacred Union.’ Ranko.

Sharp discussions took place between participants at the international meeting but a clarification began to occur. The meeting was interrupted by the arrival of the police.

The discussion between ‘platformists’ and ‘anti-platformists’, during this whole time, polarised all kinds of organisations, provoking many splits, some producing more clarity than others. Once under way, the organisers of the meeting did assume some continuity to their proposals but then, completely exhausted by international repression, by the decline of proletarian struggle, by their own weaknesses and by the insults conveyed against them by followers of ideological anarchism, the initiative disappeared in the long night of counter¬revolution.

From the start, the glib talkers of ideological anarchism, denounced this project from their parlours and lounges, going as far as to call the platform and its main author, Arshinov, ‘ Bolshevik’) – Arshinov who had fought, gun in hand by Makhno’s side, against the Red Army, for nearly four years!!! The anarchist men of letters, such as Volin and Nettlau, played the same slanderous role towards the ‘anarchist communist’ revolutionary militants as their Stalinist brother enemies had against the ‘left communists’! All this brought Makhno and Arshinov to break off from Volin, Sebastien Faure and other democrats disguised as revolutionary. With counter-revolution rescued, Arshinov returned to Russia and so recognised the Stalinist regime, allowing his former friends to confirm that he was really mistaken with his organisational platform.

As for Makhno, he remembered until the end the lesson he had drawn in the very heat of class struggle, as he declared on the occasion of a meeting with ‘expropriator anarchists’, Ascaso, Durruti and Jover:

‘It is organisation that ensures triumph in the depth of all revolution.’

May all those who wish to transform Makhno into an inoffensive icon, meditate on this sentence; or cease to lay vain claim to the tradition of the Makhnovchtchina!

9. Strengths and weaknesses

During this whole worldwide revolutionary wave, from 1916 to more or less the early Twenties, the epicentre of revolution often moved about, sometimes coexisting in several places. And while it is often recognised that in 1917, the main revolutionary centre spread throughout the Russian Empire and that, as more burning embers consumed Moscow and St Petersburg, other centres of the revolution were born, more often than not these other centres are denied, hidden, forgotten and voluntarily disfigured by counter-revolution.

And even when revolutionary movements are recognised and glorified, it is only in so far as their subversive aspects are curtailed, falsified defused. Only by imposing its ideology, did the bourgeoisie recognise proletarian revolution in Russia (it could not hide the fact as the effect was so universal!): only by totally misrepresenting it, by establishing a formal and direct affiliation between the communist movement and the capitalistic state-painted-Red of the Bolsheviks.

On the other hand, the bourgeoisie concealed, until an extreme falsification had been formulated, the movements it judged to be most explosive, so as to reduce the class struggle to an individual ‘battle for power’. Proletarian insurrections and attempts at destruction of the state become mere putsches, by pulling out unilaterally a network of facts strayed from their global context.

One of the methods used to ideologically empty a revolutionary movement of its content, is to make these class movements appear as great acts by ‘brilliant’ or ‘barbarian’ individuals: history highlights these figures to better hide the antagonism between revolution and counter-revolution. The insurrection in Ukraine is no exception to the rule.

This reduction of events merely to the personality of Makhno, is a misrepresentation, used by the Bolsheviks – whose stated view of proletarians in struggle against their power is as a gang ‘of anarcho-bandits, counter-revolutionaries’, indeed of ‘anti-Semites’ (25) – and by the anarchist apologues that salute Makhno as ‘saviour of the social revolution’. Ideological anarchism is kinder to Makhno today than it was yesterday during his Parisian exile, when he was harangued as ‘an anarcho-Bolshevik’, as we touched on earlier.

Indeed, when Makhno and other ‘anarchist communists’ (Russian, Italian, French, Spanish...) evoke the necessity to lead the movement, the necessity to ask questions of ‘the anarchist organisation’ – not questions for their own sake but as a necessity resulting from the lessons drawn from the insurrection in Ukraine – ideological anarchism reacts with an outcry and a general banishment.

Therefore, beyond the personality of Makhno, as brilliant and clear-sighted a military strategist as he was, the situation was, as usual, much more complex, more contradictory. Above and beyond those that would personalise the matter, an authentically proletarian movement was asserting itself, with strengths and weaknesses.

The great force of the Makhnovchtchina came from its capability to centralise and organise proletarians in struggle, against the White armies, as against the Red Army. It is once again necessary to assert, beyond the scholastic debate between ‘anarchists’ and ‘Marxists’, that this centralisation of proletarian forces was gathered from a wide variety of militant sources: these included Bolsheviks, one of whom, Novitsky, was even elected in October 1919 as a member of the Military Revolutionary Soviet; Left Socialist Revolutionaries such as Victor Popov and Veretelnikov; revolutionaries ‘without a party’ such as Kojin and many others; along with ‘anarchist communists’ and diverse other proletarians. This is a sign, if one is necessary, that the Makhnovchtchina was the real expression of an organised force of gathered militants determined to make a final assault on the state.

This organisation is the centralisation of the struggle of proletarians against the bourgeoisie. The arming, the discipline and the rigour of the bourgeois army, is answered by the enthusiasm and revolutionary fervour of the insurgents of Ukraine.

This enthusiasm alone was enough to compensate for the lack of weapons and military rigour: of an army numbering approximately one hundred thousand, only thirty thousand were armed – others sometimes intervened with pitchforks and clubs. Just when the red guards in Russia were being exposed to Bolshevik repression – disorganised, disarmed and finally dissolved – and replaced by the Red Army (restructured by former officers of the Tsarist army, under the leadership of ‘comrade’ Trotsky), the composition of the Insurrectional Revolutionary Army of Ukrainian proletarians sounded as a scathing and vivacious denial to the claims of Bolshevik chiefs regarding the impossibility of organising a proletarian army in any other way than by bourgeois methods.

The forced mobilisation (on pain of death) and the reinstitution of bourgeois (disguised for the circumstance with the word ‘revolutionary’) discipline, formed the bourgeois basis for the foundation of the Red Army; at the same moment, young revolutionary militants, without any military experience, organised an army of proletarians from cities and countryside that, without hierarchy, without bourgeois officers and without imposed discipline, gave each \ Red or White army it confronted« a good hiding! This is the most beautiful lesson, of this period, that the armed proletariat has left us for the necessity to destroy as a process of revolution the bourgeois army from top to bottom – its rules, its methods, its discipline, its chief and its make-up.


All through this text we have described the weaknesses of the insurrectional movement in Ukraine. To briefly remind and summarise, they are: a lack of clear direction as for the ends of the movement, which led to the dictatorship of the proletariat being substituted by a glorification of management (self-management) of capitalist exploitation; lack of centralisation, even though, in fact, practice by ‘federalists’ often contradicted the ideology of federalism; lack of generalisation of the revolution; anti-substitutionism that led the Makhnovists to leave the ‘masses’ to assume the dictatorship of the proletariat, a real resignation of the directorship of the movement; frontism, through the successive alliances with the Bolshevik ‘red’ regime; anti-authoritarianism and refusal of ‘power’…

Nevertheless, the insurrection testifies in many respects to the existence of the class struggle against the bourgeois state. By militarisation of the economy (through the policy of War Communism), capital reorganised in order to physically liquidate the embodiment of revolution, the revolutionaries.

The strength and the interest of the movement – organised around the Insurrectional Army – came from the fact that its revolutionary practice often exceeded, when it was not the actual negation of, its protagonists’ avowed theory:

- thus, their principle of anti-statism was continually denied by their practice of installing elements of the proletarian ‘state’ (they institute red terror, organise expropriations and attempt to socialise production), even if these attempts fail because of repression and the pressure of the class struggle more generally, or also because of practical and theoretical limits to what was required;
- equally, their anti-organisationalism, as well as their refusal to submit to the least authority, was in fact denied in practice: their army was flagrant proof. Not only was it very organised and well-disciplined but, besides, it was subordinated to the Military Revolutionary Soviet, which was also the central organ to several other regional congresses. We see, therefore, an embryo of proletarian ‘power’.

The revolutionary practice remains decisive as long as it confronts and exceeds the contradictions present in its watchwords and its flags; on the other hand, when it is necessary to take a step forward in the affirmation of the communist project, but theories that confuse this project with the occupation of the existing order by democratic institutions – managementism and anti-authoritarianism in this case – are not exceeded, then, these same flags violently assert a practical barrier that seizes the masses, transforms into a counter- revolutionary force and curbs physically the development of our movement!!!

Unfortunately, we find this process, many times, with combatants organised under the flag of anarchy, up to the point of absurdity. Anarchists like Volin have more than once provided a solid parody.

In October 1920, several delegations of the Red Army came to Kharkov, where militants of Volin and Nabat were gathered, to call for them to ‘take power’ and arrest the central committee of the local Bolshevik party that had just executed Makhnovists; these anarchists of Nabat, refused to assume any direction by declaring that the masses had to act on their own behalf and that ‘anarchists’ did not want ‘power’: the poverty of democracy and anti-¬authoritarianism! It’s a shame that the violent break with Volin by some Makhnovists in 1926, was not materialised with bullets a few years earlier on the occasion of this criminal and imbecile irresponsibility.

Another big limitation of the movement was the difficulty of extending the revolution. The same question that was asked of militants by the Brest-Litovsk treaty was asked of militants of the ‘Third Social Revolution’. The Makhnovists tried in concrete ways to extend the revolutionary movement – of which they were one of the centres within the wave that surged worldwide at the time – but it was the eve of the defeat of the movement and much too late.

It was only in 1921 that they came into contact with other fractions of the revolutionary movement, particularly from Krondstadt, Kiev, Moscow and the other side of the Urals. They proposed a ‘collaboration’ against the Red state ‘that had betrayed workers and peasants’.

But the myth of ‘the Bolsheviks and their revolutionary state’ was so powerful at the time that even for revolutionaries as consistent as the insurgents of Ukraine or Krondstadt rupture could not be made so brutally. The illusion of being able to return the Bolshevik tendency voluntarily towards revolution, acted out its full role in the counter-revolution. The insurgents could not believe that the Bolsheviks, with Lenin as their leader, could represent the start of a complete counter-revolution. The weight, which is precisely what it was, of the memories of October 1917, of the Bolsheviks as part of the vanguard, meant that few that perceived and struggled in an intransigent and consequent way, did so against the Bolsheviks as agents freshly co-opted for the reconstruction of the bourgeois state in Russia. (26)

The almost mystical retreat of the Makhnovists of Ukraine served, not to maintain a revolutionary ‘centre’ against the state that symbolised active counter-revolution, but on the whole to the contrary, it allowed capital to isolate them and defeat the ‘centres’ one after the other, piece by piece.

It is true that the great weakness of the insurgents in Ukraine was their federalism and their objective incapacity (and it seems, their subjective will) to extend the movement, right from the start, beyond Ukraine. But revolutionary defeatism, the basis on which they fought, contained the internationalist dimension, against all homelands, of all those who have confronted, at one moment or another of history, the imbecile persecutions of the world of exploitation.

‘The exploited of all nationalities, whether they are Russians, Poles, Lettons, Armenians, Jews or Germans have to unite in a great workers and peasants community in solidarity, then by a powerful attack, carry the last decisive blow to the class of capitalists, of the imperialists and their servants, so as to definitively get rid of the chains of economic slavery and spiritual servitude.
Down with Capital and power!
Down with religious prejudice and national hatred!
Social Revolution live!’

Report of the 2nd Soviets regional congress, in Gulyai-Pole, February 1919.


1. We draw the reader’s attention, notably, to all the idiotic things distilled by various schools of social-democracy that find in these events justification for their counter-revolutionary positions. As an example, the trauma of some cockroaches stays blocked to the subjective role of the Bolshevik party, viewed as the monolithic and unique actor of the Russian Revolution, while it had often been crossed by currents in total opposition (as with Miasnikov’s Worker Group); it was, in fact, towed behind the real revolutionary movement materialising at quite different levels. It is similar to the pitiful subtleties of the thinking developed about an opposition between a ‘peasant’ Russia, stuck in the feudal stage, and a ‘modern industrial capitalist’ Germany with a strong proletariat but unfortunately ‘without a party of the same kind as the Russian Social Democratic Party’; hence, the even more idiotic conclusion drawn from it: ‘Bolshevik parties everywhere.’ At the other end of the leftist spectrum, the councilist and other anarchist thinking goes that, as the Russian Revolution resulted in the foundation of the petty, transitory and bourgeois Communist Party – the final attempt to resurrect capitalism – the solution, as a reaction against the (social) ‘democratic centralism’ of the Bolshevik party, is to advocate worker parliamentarianism under the guise of ‘the freedom of opinion of all proletarians’, and to refuse all organisation that aims at revolutionary violence to end the hell that we daily suffer.
2. From the name of Petliura, the boss of that movement.
3. We will later briefly describe the origins of anarchism in Ukraine and how the anarchists gained such influence.
4. Regarding this, it would be good for the anarchist ideologues, these libertarians gazing at their own navels, these free-thinkers and inconsistent individualists – violently denounced by Makhno and Arshinov – to break once and for all from the opportunism made after the battle and pronounce that the dread Makhno was leading the unveiling of a red terror that announces the progamme of communism! All these libertarian intellectuals boast of Makhno only for his fight against the Bolsheviks and to pin the poster of old Nestor onto their sad reformist ideologies to try and add an idol to their democratic project! As such they are to Makhno what Stalinists have made of Marx by hanging his portrait on the walls of their bourgeois ideologies painted red!
5. Arshinov was no fair weather travelling companion of Makhno. He formed politically while still in prison several years before. Arshinov was a communist militant (he would prefer we say ‘anarchist communist’) who continued all his life to give organisation to the struggle, to revolutionaries. For this he was criticised as ‘an anarcho-Bolshevist’ by large circles of Parisian anarchists – the sad equivalent of the Kropotkinian intellectuals in Russia – denounced by Makhno as indifferent pedants.
6. Revolutionaries, whatever their background, organise themselves instinctively around the strongest revolutionary fraction, the fraction that really manages to centralise revolutionary activity. Thus the detachment of Bolshevik partisans known as ‘Kolossov’s detachment’ (from the name of its commander) often acted alongside Makhnovist detachments in the struggle against Austro-German troops. It was exactly the same revolutionary practice as when Makhno’s detachment came close to the small village of Nijne-Dnieprovsk (near Ekaterinoslav), and the Bolshevik tending local committee handed over command of the worker detachment and of the party to Makhno.
7. The suffix ‘-vchtchina’ has a derogatory connotation and was attached to the Insurrectional Revolutionary Army by the bourgeois (both Red and White) in order to criminalize it – to reduce it to ‘an association of criminals’. However, proletarians positively reappropriated the expression and claimed it for themselves. The same attempt to negate the political content of those that confront the state is found in the media’s favourite expression to describe proletarians in revolt: as a ‘gang’ (as the Red Army Faction in Germany is referred to as ‘Baader Meinhof’s gang’ and ‘Bonnot’s gang’, so the anarchist expropriators of France of the early 20th century are referred to).
8. It is important to notice that this denomination of anarchist communist is the Makhnovist militants’ own denomination. Arshinov uses it abundantly in his book on the insurrection in Ukraine to disassociate himself from the lounge anarchists; these fundamentally anti-communist theorists and the democratic roamings of their ‘free-will’, have no more to do with the communist movement than the democratic centralism of their Stalinist brother enemies.
9. For a deeper critique of this conception, we refer the reader to the magnificent critique of Proudhonism by Marx, ‘The Poverty of Philosophy: as well as our critique of self-managementism, in French in Le Communiste, issue 28: ‘The social-democrat conception of transition to socialism’.
10. We say, ‘confusingly’, because state management of the economy, by the Bolshevik regime, had not modified deeply in any way the nature of production relations, there was no ‘new type of relationship in production’ (as Arshinov presents it) but the old familiar capital-labour opposition with the state as capital’s notary; capitalism under Bolshevik directorship perpetuated itself with the same essential character. To describe Stalinist management as ‘State Capitalist’, besides being a confused pleonasm [the use of more words than are needed to give the sense], opens the door to all leftist separations that try to confirm by use of the term, nuances of pseudo-objective difference between ‘capitalisms’.
11. We let the rest of the quotation, exemplify the point made by Arshinov: ‘Let’s cite an example. In the month of August 1918, workers of the ancient manufacture of Prokhorov, in Moscow, agitated and threatened to revolt against the insufficiency of wages and the police regime established by the factory. They organised in the same factories many meetings, they hunted the factory committee (which was only a cell of the party) and took as wages a part of what they had produced. Members of the central administration of the textile workers’ union (NDLR union), after the mass of workers had refused to deal with them, declared: “The conduct of workers of the Prokhorov plant throws a shadow on the prestige of soviet power; all ulterior action of these workers defames the soviet authorities in the eyes of the workers of other establishments; this is inadmissible; consequently, the factory must be closed, the workers laid off; a commission must be created which is capable of establishing at the factory a firm regime; after which, it must recruit new managerial workers.” ’
12. Later, in exile in Paris, Arshinov (and other exiled Russian militants, including Makhno) made a profound critique of the ideology that hung over the Makhnovist movement like a bad smell, and ended up having a violent confrontation with Volin. In 1927, in the ‘Response to the confusionists of Anarchism’, provoked by a previous response from Volin and others to the ‘organisational platform’ of the GARE (more details further on in the text), this group writes: ‘A whole category of individuals proclaiming themselves anarchist have nothing in common with anarchists. To gather these peoples (and on what bases?) in “a family” and to designate this gathering, “anarchist organisation”, would be not only nonsense, but absolutely harmful... This is not the universal blend, but much to the contrary a selection of sane anarchist forces and their organisation in an anarchist communist party that is indispensable to the movement... To stabilise the movement, it is necessary to get rid of these trends and deviations; but this stabilisation is in a very important measure to prevent precisely the frank or disguised individualists who form part of the movement. The authors of the “Response to the platform” indubitably belong to this last category.’
13. Makhno was going to find Lenin on this occasion, doubtless blinded (like Szamuelly, for instance, who went to Moscow from Budapest to ask Lenin to correct the politicking of Bela Kun in Hungary!) by the idea that he could not be in agreement with the development of the Bolshevik party as a force for reconstruction of the state.
14. Antonov-Ovseenko had denounced the punitive measures planned against Makhno and for this reason was kept away by Trotsky, on 15th June. At the end of April 1919, Antonov-Ovseenko wrote to the editorial staff of the Karkhov, Izvestia: ‘In your 5th April issue, you have published an article entitled “Down with the Makhnovchtchina”. This article is full of untrue facts and contains an openly provocative tone. Such attacks harm our struggle against the counter-revolution. In this struggle, Makhno and his brigade have demonstrated and demonstrate an extraordinary revolutionary bravery, they merit not the insults on the part of officials, but the fraternal recognition of all worker and peasant revolutionaries.’ Antonov-Ovseenko will unfortunately not always have the same attitude towards the revolutionaries: he was one of the main perpetrators of the Stalinist repression in Spain, 1936.
15. More Stalinist than Stalin himself, Trotsky intended ‘to put order back in the Donets basin’ with an iron grip on behalf of the Soviet state. In the midst of the clampdown, Trotsky decreed a congress of Makhnovist peasants and workers, the event that was the pretext to start the repression against partisans of the Insurrectional Army. Trotsky concluded: ‘I order... to seize all traitors voluntarily abandoning their units to rejoin Makhno and to defer them to the revolutionary courts as deserters... I proclaim order will be restored with an iron hand. Enemies of the worker and peasant Red Army, profiteers, kulaks, rioters [it only lacks ‘hooligans’!!!], Makhno’s or Grigoriev’s agents will be pitilessly eliminated by sure and firm regular units. Long live revolutionary order, discipline and struggles against enemies of the people!’
16. Lenin thought at this moment that all was lost and had requested and been granted asylum in Finland!
17. If the Red Army had won some victories thanks to Trotsky’s so-called ‘military science’, this bourgeois science had its foundations in the White terror (Red painted, and widely described in his famous book, Terrorism and Communism) which he imposed on the troops and he has summarised well it seems by asserting that if, ‘moving forward carried with it possible death, retreating led to certain death.’
18. In this same month, November 1919, the commander of the 3rd Makhnovist Insurrectional Regiment, Crimea Polonsky, was executed with some other members compromised like him in ‘an authoritarian organisation’!
19. To speak of the ‘Third Social Revolution’ is obviously an absurdity if one considers – as we do – that there is only one communist social revolution, only one passage from worldwide bourgeois dictatorship: this passage being, the dictatorship of the proletariat. However, in the context of the reconstruction of the Russian state by the same Bolshevik party that had taken part in the insurrection of October 1917, the assertion of the necessity for a ‘Third Social Revolution’ concentrates proletarian criticism of the limitations of February and October, and denounces the new ‘Communist Party’ government as bourgeois through and through.
20. Point 2 of this agreement stipulated that, ‘the Insurrectional Revolutionary Army (Makhnovist) of Ukraine, in passing through the territory of the Soviets, and encountering the front, or crossing the fronts, will not accept in its ranks detachments of the Red Army, nor deserters of this same army.’ As one sees, the Bolsheviks experienced enormous difficulties struggling against the numerous ranks of their troops going over to Makhno’s army!
21. Makhno was considered as a real death-dodger; he personally led on horseback, in more than two hundred assaults against enemy armies, the detachments he commanded; he crossed the Romanian border with the ossicles of one foot shattered and his thigh, appendix, chin and cheek shot through by several bullet wounds he had received in the previous two weeks fighting.
22. This platform is now known more by the name of ‘Arshinov’s Platform’, international pseudo-anarchist circles having put so much energy into masking the collective will at its origin, by reducing the initiative to Arshinov’s personal effort. Thus, Makhno’s character could be saved for the nice ‘Robin Hood’ image and the Bolshevik nature of the platform could be confirmed by the fact that Arshinov ended up Bolshevik! The potted history is that Arshinov returned to Russia in 1933 and was executed in 1937 ‘for having wanted to restore anarchism to Russia!’
23. We refer the reader to the excellent work by the honourable citizen of the French Academy, Mr Joseph Kessel, who found expression to his traumatism at the time by means of the most vulgar Leninism, in writing his famous, ‘Makhno and his Jewess’
24. There are nevertheless many testimonies relating the growing dissatisfaction in the Red Army itself and the possibilities of turning this situation to a revolutionary viewpoint during this period. Here are some extracts from a text, published in 1928, by a former sailor on the Black Sea, in the newspaper, Dielo Truda!: ‘At the moment of the conclusion of the treaty between Makhno and the Bolshevik power in October 1920, the state of mind of the sailors was bellicose and hostile to the commissioners of the Tcheka. Makhno’s name was very popular. If there had been an organisational connection with Krondstadt, the crews of the ships would have organised unanimously. The Tcheka had no influence on us... We had projects for a long time on the subject of the Tcheka. We had decided to blow up the building that accommodated it near a park [at Mariupol, where the Black Sea fleet was based]. Success was possible therefore, but not only was there no connection with Krondstadt, but also we heard no talk of Makhno and we have remained with our vague impulse to action... Thus, because of the absence of organisation, the best revolutionary possibilities were neglected’.

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Dec 15 2005 20:29


Attached files


Oct 9 2009 11:13

Coulkd have done a darn sight better with the translation into English

Mar 12 2016 11:17

This was published as a 'draft' only. We are currently working on a revised issue for publication here.

May 11 2016 21:11

An improved translation of this text can now be found here:

May 11 2016 22:14
Schmoopie wrote:
An improved translation of this text can now be found here:

Instead of adding a duplicate version of the text elsewhere, could you please edit the improved text into this version? Then we can delete the duplicate (as there may already be hyperlinks elsewhere on the internet to this version, so moving to a new version will lose the search engine priority so to speak)

May 12 2016 06:55

Will do Steven.

The ICG on the revolutionary anti-Bolshevik uprising in Ukraine.

I will have to amend the existing intro as well. The uprising in Ukraine was not simply 'anti-Bolshevik'. The insurgents fought against many different foes. Will this intro be acceptable?

The ICG on the revolutionary uprising in Ukraine.

May 12 2016 09:54

I have now submitted my revised version of this text with an accompanying explanation. Needless to say the primary purpose of revising the draft are for the reasons expressed by Battlescarred above. I consider that the value of the text is such that it merits my exertions.

May 13 2016 11:45

Sorry, still a very bad translation.

May 13 2016 11:47

That's cos you didn't finalise your revisions by clicking Revert, which I now have done myself!

May 14 2016 07:41

I hope my poor translation did not detract from what you gained from reading it. Please, no apologies, Battlescarred!

My translation above now replaces the original draft translation which can still be accessed here,

May 14 2016 16:36
Battlescarred wrote:
That's cos you didn't finalise your revisions by clicking Revert, which I now have done myself!

just FYI, battlescarred can do this because he is an editor, whereas most users can't. Thanks for updating this

May 14 2016 16:37

Although on this flag, a Russian poster commented on the duplicate version of this article that the Makhnovists never had such a flag (unfortunately I deleted the comment before I saw that the image had been used here as well, so I don't have the link to the source he linked to)

May 15 2016 05:07

The banner reads:


Thanks for updating the text.