The Bolshevik Myth1
The Makhnovists on the National and Jewish Questions
The Bolshevik Myth, Chapter XXIV2
Yossif the Emigrant
The Bolshevik Myth
Greatly interested in the personality and activities of Makhno, I induced Yossif to sketch his story in its essential features.
áBorn of very poor parents in the village of Gulyai-Pole (county of Alexandrovsk, province of Yekaterinoslav, Ukraina), Nestor spent a sunless childhood. His father died early, leaving five small boys to the care of the mother. Already at the tender age of eight young Makhno had to help eke out an existence for the family. In the winter months he attended school, while in the summer he was "hired out" to take care of the rich peasants' cattle. When not yet twelve years old, he went to work in the neighboring estates, where brutal treatment and thankless labor taught him to hate his hard taskmasters and the Tsarist officials who always sided against the poor. The Revolution of 1905 brought Makhno, then only sixteen, in touch with socialist ideas. The movement for human emancipation and well-being quickly appealed to the intense and imaginative boy, and presently he joined the little group of young peasant Anarchists in his village.
In 1908, arrested for revolutionary activities, Makhno was tried and condemned to death. Because of his youth, however, and the efforts of his energetic mother, the sentence was subsequently commuted to penal servitude for life. He spent seven years in the Butirki prison in Moscow, where his rebellious spirit continually involved him in difficulties with the authorities. Most of the time he was kept in solitary confinement, chained hand and foot. But he employed his leisure to good advantage; he read omnivorously, being particularly interested in political economy, history, and literature. Released by the February Revolution, he returned to his native place, a convinced Anarchist, much ripened by years of suffering, study, and thought.
The only liberated political in the village, Makhno immediately became the center of revolutionary work. He organized a labor commune and the first Soviet in his district, and systematically encouraged the peasants in their resistance to the big landowners. When the Austro-German forces occupied the country, and Hetman Skoropadsky by their aid sought to stifle the growing agrarian rebellion, Makhno was one of the first to form military units for the defense of the Revolution. The movement grew quickly, involving ever larger territory. The reckless courage and guerrilla tactics of the povstantsi brought panic to the enemy, but the people regarded them as their friends and defenders. Makhno's fame spread; he became the avenging angel of the lowly, and presently he was looked upon as the great liberator whose coming had been prophesied by Pugatchev in his dying moments.*
Continued German oppression and the tyranny of the home masters resulted in the organization of povstantsi units throughout the Ukraina. Some of them joined Makhno, whose forces soon reached the size of an army, well provisioned and clad, and supplied with machine guns and artillery. His troops consisted mostly of peasants, many of whom returned to their fields to follow their usual occupations when their district was temporarily freed from the enemy. But at the first sign of danger there would issue Nestor's call, and the farmers would leave their homes to shoulder the gun and join their beloved leader, upon whom they bestowed the honored and affectionate title of bat'ka (father).
The spirit of Makhnovstchina swept the whole southern Ukraina. In the northwest there were also numerous povstantsi units, fighting against the foreign invaders and White generals, but without any clear social consciousness and ideal. Makhno, however, assumed the black flag of the Russian Anarchists as his emblem, and announced a definite program: autonomous communes of free peasants; the negation of all government, and complete self-determination based on the principle of labor. Free Soviets of peasants and workers were to be formed of delegates in contra-distinction to the Bolshevik Soviets of deputies; that is, to be informative and executive instead of authoritarian.
The Communists appreciated the unique military genius of Makhno, but they also realized the danger to their Party dictatorship from the spread of Anarchist ideas. They sought to exploit his forces in their own interests, while at the same time intent upon destroying the essential quality of the movement. Because of Makhno's remarkable success against the occupation armies and counter-revolutionary generals, the Bolsheviki proposed to him to join the Red Army, preserving for his povstantsi units their autonomy. Makhno consented, and his troops became the Third Brigade of the Red Army, later officially known as the First Revolutionary povstantsi Ukrainian Division. But the hope of the Bolsheviki to absorb the rebel peasants in the Red Army failed. In the Makhno territory the influence of the Communists remained insignificant, and they found themselves even unable to support their institutions there. Under various pretexts they interdicted the conferences of the povstantsi and outlawed Makhno, hoping thus to alienate the peasantry from him.
But whatever the relations between the Bolsheviki and Makhno, the latter always came to the rescue of the Revolution when it was threatened by the Whites. He fought every counter-revolutionary enemy who sought to establish his rule over the Ukraina, including Hetman Skoropadsky, Petlura, and Denikin. He eliminated Grigoriev, who had at one time served the Communists and then betrayed them. But the Bolsheviki, fearing the spirit of Makhnovstchina, continually tried to disorganize and disperse its forces, and even set a price on Makhno's head, as Denikin had done. Repeated Communist treachery finally brought a complete rupture, and compelled Makhno to fight the Communists as bitterly as the reactionists of the Right.
Yossif's story was interrupted by the arrival of the friends whom I had met at the datcha on the previous occasion. Several hours were spent in discussing matters of Anarchist organization, the difficulty of activity in the face of Bolshevik persecution, and the increasingly reactionary attitude of the Communist Government. But, as usual in the Ukraina, the subject gradually converged upon Makhno. Someone read excerpts from the official Soviet press bitterly attacking and vilifying Nestor. Though the Bolsheviki formerly extolled him as a great revolutionary leader, they now painted him as a bandit and counter-revolutionary. But the peasants of the South --- Yossif felt confident --- love Makhno too well to be alienated from him. They know him as their truest friend; they look upon him as one of their own. They realize that he does not seek power over them, as do the Bolsheviki no less than Denikin. It is Makhno's custom upon taking a city or town to call the people together and announce to them that henceforth they are free to organize their lives as they think best for themselves. He always proclaims complete freedom of speech and press; he does not fill the prisons or begin executions, as the Communists do. In fact, Nestor considers jails useless to a liberated people.
"It is difficult to say who is right or wrong in this conflict between the Bolsheviki and Makhno," remarked the Red Army man. "Trotsky charges Makhno with having willfully opened the front to Denikin, while Makhno claims that his retreat was caused by Trotsky purposely failing to supply his division with ammunition at a critical period. Yet it is true that Makhno's activities against Denikin's rear, especially by cutting the White Army off from its artillery base, enabled the Bolsheviki to stem the advance on Moscow."
"But Makhno refused to join the campaign against the Poles," the Pessimist objected.
"Rightly so," Yossif replied. "Trotsky's order sending Makhno's forces to the Polish front was meant only to eliminate Nestor from his own district and then bring the latter under the control of the commissars, in the absence of its defenders. Makhno saw through the scheme and protested against it."
"The fact is," the Pessimist persisted, "that the Communists and the Makhnovtsi are doing their best to exterminate each other. Both sides are guilty of the greatest brutalities and atrocities. It seems to me Makhno has no object save Bolshevik-killing."
"You are pitifully blind," retorted Yasha, an Anarchist holding a high position in a Soviet institution, "if you can't see the great revolutionary meaning of the Makhnovstchina. It is the most significant expression of the whole Revolution. The Communist Party is only a political body, attempting --- successfully indeed --- to create a new master class over the producers, a Socialist rulership. But the Makhno movement is the expression of the toilers themselves. It's the first great mass movement that by its own efforts seeks to free itself from government and establish economic self-determination. In that sense it is thoroughly Anarchistic."
"But Anarchism cannot be established by military force," I remarked.
"Of course not," Yossif admitted. "Nor does Nestor pretend to do so. 'I'm just clearing the field,' --- that's what he always tells the comrades visiting him. 'I'm driving out the rulers, White and Red,' he says, 'and it's up to you to take advantage of the opportunity. Agitate, propagate your ideals. Help to release and to apply the creative forces of the Revolution.' That is Nestor's view of the situation."
"It is a great mistake that most of our people stay away from Makhno," Yasha declared. "They remain in Moscow or Petrograd, and what are they accomplishing? They can do nothing but fill Bolshevik prisons. With the povstantsi we have an exceptional chance of popularizing our views and helping the people to build a new life."
"As for myself," announced Yossif, "I am convinced that the Revolution is dead in Russia. The only place where it still lives is the Ukraina. Here it holds out a rich promise to us," he added confidently. "What we should do is to join Nestor, all of us who want to be active.
"I disagree," the Pessimist objected.
"He always disagrees when there is work to be done," Yossif retorted with the inimitable smile that took the sting out of even his sharpest words. "But you, friends" --- he faced the others --- "you must clearly realize this: October, like February, was but one of the phases in the process of social regeneration. In October the Communist Party exploited the situation to further its own aims. But that stage has by no means exhausted the possibilities of the Revolution. Its fountain head contains springs that continue to flow to the height of their source, seeking the realization of their great historic mission, the emancipation of the toilers. The Bolsheviki, become static, must give place to new creative forces."
Later in the evening Yossif took me aside. "Sasha," he spoke solemnly, "you see how radically we differ in our estimate of the Makhno movement. It is necessary you should learn the situation for yourself." He looked at me significantly.
"I should like to meet Makhno," I said.
His face lit up with joy. "Just as I have hoped," he replied. "Listen, dear friend, I have talked the matter over with Nestor --- and, by the way, he is not far from here just now. He wants to, see you; you and Emma, he said. Of course, you can't go to him," Yossif smiled at the question he read in my eyes, "but Nestor will arrange to take any place where your Museum car may happen to be on a date agreed upon. To secure you against Bolshevik persecution, he will capture the whole Expedition --- you understand, don't you?"
Affectionately placing his arm about me, he drew me aside to explain the details of the plan.
* Old tradition. Yemilian Pugatchev, leader of the great peasant and Cossack uprising under Catherine II, was executed in 1775.
History of the Makhnovist Movement
The Makhnovists on the National and Jewish Questions 3
Composed of the poorest peasants, who were united by the fact that they all worked with their own hands, the Makhnovist movement was founded on the deep feeling of fraternity which characterizes only the most oppressed. During its entire history it did not for an instant appeal to national sentiments. The whole struggle of the Makhnovists against the Bolsheviks was conducted solely in the name of the rights and interests of the workers. Denikin's troops, the Austro-Germans, Petliura, the French troops in Berdyansk Wrangel - were all treated by the Makhnovists as enemies of the workers. Each one of these invasions represented for them essentially a threat to the workers, and the Makhnovists had no interest in the national flag under which they marched.
In the 'Declaration' published by the Revolutionary Military Council of the army in October, 1919, in the section dealing with the national question, the Makhnovists stated:
"When speaking of Ukrainian independence, we do not mean national independence in Petliura's sense but the social independence of workers and peasants We declare that Ukrainian, and all other, working people have the right to self-determination not as an ''independent nation'' but as ''independent workers''"
On the question of the language to be taught in schools, the Makhnovists wrote the following:
"The cultural-educational section of the Makhnovist army constantly receives questions from school teach ers asking about the language in which instruction should be given in the schools, now that Denikin's troops have been expelled. The revolutionary insurgents, holding to the principles of true socialism, cannot in any field or by any measure do violence to the natural desires and needs of the Ukrainian people. This is why the question of the language to be taught in the schools cannot be solved by our army, but can only be decided by the people themselves, by parents, teachers and students It goes without saying that all the orders of Denikin's so-called ''Special Bureau'' as well as General Mai-Maevsky's order No. 22, which forbids the use of the mother tongue in the schools, are null and void, having been forcibly imposed on the schools. In the interest of the greatest intellectual development of the people, the language of instruction should be that toward which the local population naturally tends, and this is why the population, the students, the teachers and the parents, and not authorities or the army, should freely and independently resolve this question."
Cultural-Educational Section of the
Makhnovist Insurgent Army
(Put' k Svobode No. 10, October 18, 1919.)
Thus we see that national prejudices had no place in the Makhnovshchina. There was also no place in the movement for religious prejudices. As a revolutionary movement of the poorest classes of the city and the country, the Makhnovshchina was a principled adversary of all religion and of every god. Among modern social movements, the Makhnovshchina was one of the few in which an individual had absolutely no interest in his own or his neighbor's religion or nationality, in which he respected only the labor and the freedom of the worker.
This did not keep the movement's opponents from seeking to discredit it in this field. In the Russian press as well as abroad, the Makhnovshchina was often pictured as a very restricted guerrilla movement, foreign to ideas of brotherhood and international solidarity, and even tainted with anti-Semitism. Nothing could be more criminal than such slanders. In order to shed light on this question, ee will cite here certain documented facts which relate to this subject
An important role was played in the Makhnovist army by revolutionaries of Jewish origin, many of whom had been sentenced to forced labor for participation in the 1905 revolution, or else had been obliged to emigrate to Western Europe or America. Among others, we can mention:
Kogan - vice-president of the central organ of the movement, the Regional Revolutionary Military Council of Gulyai-Polye. Kogan was a worker who, for reasons of principle, had left his factory well before the revolution of 1917, and had gone to do agricultural work in a poor Jewish agricultural colony. Wounded at the battle of Peregonovka, near Uman, against the Denikinists, he was seized by them at the hospital at Uman where he was being treated, and, according to witnesses, the Denikinists killed him with sabres
L. Zin'kovsky (Zadov) - head of the army's counter espionage section, and later commander of a special cavalry regiment. A worker who before the 1917 revolution was condemned to ten years of forced labor for political activities. One of the most active militants of the revolutionary insurrection.
Elena Keller - secretary of the army's cultural and educational section. A worker who took part in the syndicalist movement in America. One of the organizers of the "Nabat" Confederation.
Iosif Emigrant (Gotman) - Member of the army's cultural and educational section. A worker who took an active part in the Ukrainian anarchist movement. One of the organizers of the "Nabat" Confederation, and later a member of its secretariat.
Ya. Alyi (Sukhovol'sky) - worker, and member of the army's cultural and educational section. In the Tsarist period he was condemned to forced labor for political activity. One of the organizers of the ""Nabat" Confederation and a member of its secretariat.
We could add many more names to the long list of Jewish revolutionaries who took part in different areas of the Makhnovist movement, but we will not do this, because it would endanger their security.
At the heart of the revolutionary insurrection, the Jewish working population was among brothers. The Jewish agricultural colonies scattered throughout the districts of Mariupol, Berdyansk, Aleksandrovsk and elsewhere, actively participated in the regional assemblies of peasants, workers and insurgents; they sent delegates there, and also to the regional Revolutionary Military Council.
Following certain anti-Semitic incidents which occurred in the region in February, 1919, Makhno proposed to all the Jewish colonies that they organize their self-defense and he furnished the necessary guns and ammunition to all these colonies. At the same time Makhno organized a series of meetings in the region where he appealed to the masses to struggle against anti-Semitism.
The Jewish working population, in turn, expressed profound solidarity and revolutionary brotherhood toward the revolutionary insurrection. In answer to the call made by the Revolutionary Military Council to furnish voluntary combatants to the Makhnovist insurgent army, the Jewish colonies sent from their midst a large number of volunteers.
In the army of the Makhnovist insurgents there was an exclusively Jewish artillery battery which was covered by an infantry detachment, also made up of Jews. This battery, commanded by the Jewish insurgent Shneider, heroically defended Gulyai-Polye from Denikin's troops in June, 1919, and the entire battery perished there, down to the last man and the last shell.
In the extremely rapid succession of events after the uprising of 1918-19, there were obviously individuals who were hostile to Jews, but these individuals were not the products of the insurrection; they were products of Russian life. These individuals did not have any importance in the movement as a whole. If people of this type took part in acts directed against Jews, they were quickly and severely punished by the revolutionary insurgents.
We described earlier the speed and determination with which the Makhnovists executed Grigor'ev and his staff, and we mentioned that one of the main reasons for this execution was their participation in pogroms of Jews.
We can mention other events of this nature with which we are familiar.
On May 12, 1919, several Jewish families - 20 people in all - were killed in the Jewish agricultural colony of Gor'kaya, near Aleksandrovsk. The Makhnovist staff immediately set up a special commission to investigate this event. This commission discovered that the murders had been committed by seven peasants of the neighboring village of Uspenovka. These peasants were not part of the insurrectionary army. However, the Makhnovists felt it was impossible to leave this crime unpunished, and they shot the murderers. It was later established that this event and other attempts of this nature had been carried out at the instigation of Denikin's agents, who had managed to infiltrate the region and had sought by these means to prepare an atmosphere favorable for the entry of Denikin's troops into the Ukraine.
On May 4th or 5th, 1919, Makhno and a few com manders hurriedly left the front and went to Gulyai-Polye, where they were awaited by the Extraordinary Plenipotentiary of the Republic, L. Kamenev, who had arrived from Khar'kov with other representatives of the Soviet government. At the Verkhnii Tokmak station, Makhno saw a poster with the words: "Death to Jews, Save the Revolution, Long Live Batko Makhno."
"Who put up that poster?" Makhno asked.
He learned that the poster had been put up by an insurgent whom Makhno knew personally, a soldier who had taken part in the battle against Denikin's troops, a person who was in general decent. He presented himself immediately and was shot on the spot.
Makhno continued the journey to Gulyai-Polye. During the rest of the day and during his negotiations with the Plenipotentiary of the Republic, he could not free himself from the influence of this event. He realized that the insurgent had been cruelly dealt with, but he also knew that in conditions of war and in view of Denikin's advance, such posters could represent an enormous danger for the Jewish population and for the entire revolution if one did not oppose them quickly and resolutely.
When the insurrectionary army retreated toward Uman in the summer of 1919, there were several cases when insurgents plundered Jewish homes. When the insurrectionary army examined these cases, it was learned that one group of four or five men was involved in all these incidents - men who had earlier belonged to Grigor'ev's detachments and who had been incorporated into the Makhnovist army after Grigor'ev was shot. This group was disarmed and discharged immediately. Following this, all the combatants who had served under Grigor'ev were discharged from the Makhnovist army as an unreliable element whose re-education was not possible in view of the unfavorable conditions and the lack of time. Thus we see how the Makhnovists viewed anti-Semitism. Outbursts of anti-Semitism in various parts of the Ukraine had no relation to the Makhnovshchina.
Wherever the Jewish population was in contact with the Makhnovists, it found in them its best protectors against anti-Semitic incidents. The Jewish population of Gulyai Polye, Aleksandrovsk, Berdyansk, Mariupol', as well as all the Jewish agricultural colonies scattered throughout the Donets region, can themselves corroborate the fact that they always found the Makhnovists to be true revolutionary friends, and that due to the severe and decisive measures of the Makhno vists, the anti-Semitic leanings of the counter-revolutionary forces in this region were promptly squashed.
Anti-Semitism exists in Russia as well as in many other countries. In Russia, and to some extent in the Ukraine, it is not a result of the revolutionary epoch or of the insurrectionary movement, but is on the contrary a vestige of the past. The Makhnovists always fought it resolutely in words as well as deeds. During the entire period of the movement, they issued numerous publications calling on the masses to struggle against this evil. It can firmly be stated that in the struggle against anti-Semitism in the Ukraine and beyond its borders, their accomplishment was enormous. We have at hand an appeal published by Makhnovists together with anarchists referring to an anti-Semitic incident which took place in the spring of 1919 - an incident which was undoubtedly linked to the beginning of Denikin's general offensive against the revolution. Here is an abridged version of the text:
WORKERS, PEASANTS AND INSURGENTS
FOR THE OPPRESSED,
AGAINST THE OPPRESSORS - ALWAYS!
During the painful days of reaction, when the situation of the Ukrainian peasants was especially difficult and seemed hopeless, you were the first to rise as fearless and unconquerable fighters for the great cause of the liberation of the working masses. . . This was the most beautiful and joyful moment in the history of our revolution. You marched against the enemy with weapons in your hands as conscious revolutionaries, guided by the great idea of freedom and equality. . . But harmful and criminal elements succeeded in insinuating themselves into your ranks. And the revolutionary songs, songs of brotherhood and of the approaching liberation of the workers, began to be disrupted by the harrowing cries of poor Jews who were being tormented to death. . . On the clear and splendid foundation of the revolution appeared in delible dark blots caused by the parched blood of poor Jewish martyrs who now, as before, continue to be innocent victims of the criminal reaction, of the class struggle.... Shameful acts are being carried out. Anti-Semitic pogroms are taking place.
Peasants, workers and insurgents! You know that the workers of all nationalities - Russians, Jews, Poles Germans, Armenians, etc. - are equally imprisoned in the abyss of poverty. You know that thousands of Jewish girls, daughters of the people, are sold and dishonored by capital, the same as women of other nationalities. You know how many honest and valiant revolutionary Jewish fighters have given their lives for freedom in Russia during our whole liberation movement. . . The revolution and the honor of workers obliges all of us to declare as loudly as possible that we make war on the same enemies: on capital and authority, which oppress all workers equally, whether they be Russian, Polish, Jewish, etc. We must proclaim everywhere that our enemies are exploiters and oppressors of various nationalities: the Russian manufacturer, the German iron magnate, the Jewish banker, the Polish aristocrat. . . The bourgeoisie of all countries and all nationalities is united in a bitter struggle against the revolution, against the laboring masses of the whole world and of all nationalities.
Peasants, workers and insurgents! At this moment when the international enemy - the bourgeoisie of all countries - hurries to the Russian revolution to create nationalist hatred among the mass of workers in order to distort the revolution and to shake the very foundation of our class struggle - the solidarity and unity of all workers - you must move against conscious and unconscious counter-revolutionaries who endanger the emancipation of the working people from capital and authority. Your revolutionary duty is to stifle all nationalist persecution by dealing ruthlessly with all instigators of anti-Semitic pogroms.
The path toward the emancipation of the workers can be reached by the union of all the workers of the world.
Long live the workers' international!
Long live the free and stateless anarchist commune!
Executive Committee of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Gulyai-Polye region.
"Nabat" Anarchist Group in Gulyai Polye.
Commander of the Makhnovist Insurrectionary Army, Batko Makhno.
Chief of Staff of the Makhnovist Insurrectionary Army, B. Veretel'nikov.
Village of Gulyai-Polye May 1919.
Appendix to Chapter 10
Order No. 1
[This order was published at the time of the unification and organization of all the insurrectionary forces into a single army; when, after the forced retreat from the region of Gulyai-Polye, the detachments who had served under Grigor'ev and the Red Army troops who had come from Novy Bug to join the Makhnovists were incorporated into the insurrectionary army in the region of Elisavetgrad Pomoshchnaya.]
From the Commander of the Ukrainian Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army, Batko Makhno. To all the commanders of the infantry: corps, brigades, regiments, batallions, companies, platoons, and sections; cavalry: brigades, regiments, squadrons, and platoons; artillery: divisions, bat teries. To all heads of staffs, garrisons. To all revolutionary insurgents without exception.
1. The goal of our revolutionary army, and of every insurgent participating in it, is an honorable struggle for the full liberation of the Ukrainian workers from all oppression. This is why every insurgent should constantly keep in mind that there is no place among us for those who, under the cover of the revolutionary insurrection, seek to satisfy their desires for personal profit, violence and plunder at the expense of the peaceful Jewish population.
2. Every revolutionary insurgent should remember that his personal enemies as well as the enemies of all the people are the rich bourgeoisie, regardless of whether they be Russian, or Jewish, or Ukrainian. The enemies of the working people are also those who protect the unjust bourgeois regime, i.e., the Soviet Commissars, the members of repressive expeditionary corps, the Extraordinary Commissions which go through the cities and villages torturing the working people who refuse to submit to their arbitrary dictatorship. Every insurgent should arrest and send to the army staff all representatives of such expeditionary corps, Extraordinary Commissions and other institutions which oppress and subjugate the people; if they resist, they should be shot on the spot. As for any violence done to peaceful workers of whatever nationality - such acts are unworthy of any revolutionary insurgent, and the perpetrator of such acts will be punished by death.
3. All acts of individual requisition or confiscation as well as any exchange of horses or vehicles with the peasants without written authorization from the supply commander will be severely punished. Every insurgent should realize that requisitions of this type would only attract to the ranks of the insurrectionary army hooligans of the worst type, individuals thirsting for wealth and eager to carry out shameful acts which distort our liberatory revolutionary movement under the very cover of the revolutionary insurrection.
I appeal to all insurgent militants to take it upon themselves to protect the honor of our truly revolu tionary insurrectionary army by opposing every unjust act either among ourselves or among the working people whom we are defending.[ i.e. to struggle against injustice in the insurgents' own environment and in the insurgents' relations to the environment of the working people - P.A.] We cannot practice injustice among ourselves. We cannot mistreat even one son or daughter of the working people for whom we are fighting. And every insurgent who takes part in such an act covers himself with shame and brings upon himself the punishment of the popular revolutionary army.
4. In the interests of the revolution and of a just struggle for our ideals it is necessary to maintain the most rigorous fraternal discipline in our ranks. The greatest respect and obedience in military matters toward your chosen commanders are absolutely indis pensable. This is required by the importance of the cause which has fallen to us to defend, which we will honorably carry to its conclusion, but which we will lose if we do not maintain discipline among ourselves. This is why I require the commanders and the insurgents to maintain strict discipline among themselves and in all their actions.
5. Drunkenness is to be considered a crime. It is a still greater crime for a revolutionary insurgent to show himself drunk in the street.
6. Every insurgent travelling from one village to another should be ready for combat. The relations with the peaceful population in the villages and on the roads should be above all amicable and comradely. Remember, comrade commanders and insurgents, that we are the sons of the great working people, that all the workers are our brothers and our sisters. The cause for which we fight is a great one, which demands that we be untiring, generous, full of brotherly love and revolutionary honor. That is why I call on all revolutionary insurgents to be real friends of the people and true sons of the revolution. This is the source of our power and the guarantee of our victory. (signed)
Commander of the Ukrainian Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army, Batko Makhno.
Hamlet of Dobrovelichkovka,
government of Kherson.
August 5, 1919.
The Bolshevik Myth, Chapter XXIV4
Yossif the Emigrant
A short, slender man of thirty, with lustrous dark eyes set wide apart, and a face of peculiar sadness. The expression of his eyes still haunts me: now mournful, now irate, they reflect all the tragedy of his Jewish descent. His smile speaks the kindliness of a heart that has suffered and learned to understand. The thought kept running through my mind, as he was relating his experiences in the Revolution, that it was his patient, winsome smile which had conquered the brutality of his persecutors.
I had known him in America, him and his friend Lea, a sweet-faced girl of unusual self-control and determination. Both had for years been active in the radical movement in the United States, but the call of the Revolution brought them back to their native land in the hope of helping in the great task of liberation. They worked with the Bolsheviki against Kerensky and the Provisional Government, and co÷perated with them in the stormy October days, which "gave so much promise of a rainbow," as the Emigrant remarked sorrowfully. But soon the Communists began to suppress the other revolutionary parties, and Yossif went with Lea to the Ukraina, where they aided in organizing the Southern Confederation of Anarchist Groups under the name of the Nabat (Alarm).
As the "Emigrant," his pen name in the "Nabat," the organ of the Confederation, Yossif is widely known in the South and is much loved for his idealism and sunny disposition. Energetic and active, he is tireless in his labors among the Ukrainian peasantry, and every where he is the soul and inspiration of proletarian circles.
I have repeatedly visited him and his friends in the Anarchist bookstore Volnoye Bratstvo (Free Brotherhood). They have witnessed the numerous political changes in the Ukraina, have suffered imprisonment by the Whites, and have been maltreated by Denikin soldiers. "We are hounded no less by the Bolsheviki," the Emigrant said; "we never know what they will do to us. One day they arrest us, and close our club and bookstore; at other times they leave us alone. We never feel safe; they keep us under constant surveillance. In this they have a great advantage over the Whites; under the latter we could work underground, but the Communists know almost everyone of us personally, for we always stood shoulder to shoulder with them against counter-revolution."
The Emigrant, whom I had formerly known as a most peace-loving man, surprised me by his militant enthusiasm regarding Makhno, whom he familiarly calls Nestor. He spent much time with the latter, and he regards him as a thorough Anarchist, who is fighting reaction from the Left as well as from the Right. Yossif was active in Makhno's camp as educator and teacher; he shared the daily life of the povstantsi, and accompanied them as a non-combatant on their campaigns. He is deeply convinced that the Bolsheviki have betrayed the people. "As long as they were revolutionary we co÷perated with them," he said; "the fact is, we Anarchists did some of the most responsible and dangerous work all through the Revolution. In Kronstadt, on the Black Sea, in the Ural and Siberia, everywhere we gave a good account of ourselves. But as soon as the Communists gained power, they began eliminating all the other revolutionary elements, and now we are entirely outlawed. Yes, the Bolsheviki, those arch-revolutionists, have outlawed us," he repeated bitterly.
"Could not some way of reapproachment be found?" I suggested, referring to my intention of broaching the matter to Rakovsky, the Lenin of the Ukraina.
"No, it's too late," Yossif replied positively. "We've tried it repeatedly, but every time the Bolsheviki broke their promises and exploited our agreements only to demoralize our ranks. You must understand that the Communist Party has now become a fullfledged government, seeking to impose its rule upon the people and doing it by the most drastic methods. There is no more hope of turning the Bolsheviki into revolutionary channels. Today they are the worst enemies of the Revolution, far more dangerous than the Denikins and Wrangels, whom the peasantry know as such. The only hope of Russia now is in the forcible overthrow of the Communists by a new uprising of the people."
"I see no evidence of such a possibility," I objected.
"The whole peasantry of the South is bitterly opposed to them," Yossif replied, "but, of course, we must turn their blind hatred into conscious rebellion. In this regard I consider Makhno's povstanisi movement as a most promising beginning of a great popular upheaval against the new tyranny."
"I have heard many conflicting stories about Makhno," I remarked. "He is painted either as a devil or as a saint."
Yossif smiled. "Ever since I learned that you are in Russia," he said earnestly, "I have been hoping you would come here." In a lowered voice he added: "The best way to find out the truth about Makhno would be to investigate for yourself."
I looked at him questioningly. We were alone in the bookstore, save for a young woman who was busying herself at the shelves. Yossif's eyes wandered to the street, and his look rested on two men conversing on the sidewalk. "Tcheka," he declared laconically, "always sneaking around here."
"I have something to propose to you," he continued, "but we must find a safer place. Tomorrow evening I shall have several comrades meet you. Come to the datcha---," he named a summer house occupied by a friend, "but be careful you are not followed."
At the datcha, situated in a park in the environs of the city, I found a number of Yossif's friends. They felt safe in that retreat, they averred; but the hunted look did not leave them, and they spoke in lowered voices. Someone remarked that the occasion reminded him of his university days, in the time of Nicholas II, when the students used to gather in the woods to discuss forbidden political questions. "Things have not changed in that respect," he added sadly.
"Incomparably worse in every regard," a dark-featured Ukrainian remarked emphatically.
"Don't take him literally," smiled Yossif, "he is our inveterate pessimist."
"I do mean it literally," the Ukrainian persisted. "There isn't enough left of the Revolution to make a figleaf for Bolshevik nakedness. Russia has never before lived under such absolute despotism. Socialism, Communism, indeed! Never had we less liberty and equality than today. We have merely exchanged Nicholas for Ilyitch."
"You see only the forms," put in a young man introduced as the Poet; "but there is an essence in the present Russia that escapes you. There is a spiritual revolution which is the symbol and the germ of a new Kultur. For every Kultur," he continued, "is an organic whole of manifold realization; it is the knowing of something in connection with something else. In other words, consciousness. The highest expression of such Kultur is man's consciousness of self, as a spiritual being, and in Russia today this Kultur is being born." "I can't follow your mysticism," the Pessimist retorted. "Where do you see this resurrection?"
"It is not a resurrection; it is a new birth," the Poet replied thoughtfully. "Russia is not made up of revolutionists and counter-revolutionists only. There are others, in all walks of life, and they are sick of all political dogmas. There are millions of consciousnesses that are painfully struggling toward new criteria of reality. In their souls they have lived through the tremendous collision of life and death; they have died and come to life again. They have attained to new values. In them is the coming dawn of the new Russian Kultur."
"Ah, the Revolution is dead," remarked a short, smooth-shaven man of middle age, in a Red Army uniform. "When I think of the October days and the mighty enthusiasm which swept the country, I realize to what depths we have sunk. Then was liberty, indeed, and brotherhood. Why, the joy of the people was such, strangers kissed each other on the highways. And even later, when I fought against the Czecho-Slovaks on the Ural, the Army was inspired. Each felt himself a free man defending the Revolution that was his. But when we returned from the front, we found the Bolsheviki proclaimed themselves dictators over us, in the name of their Party. It's dead, our Revolution," he concluded, with a deep sigh.
"You are wrong, my friend," Yossif protested. "The Bolsheviki have indeed retarded the progress of the Revolution and they are trying to destroy it altogether, to secure their political power. But the spirit of the Revolution lives, in spite of them. March, 1917, was only the revolutionary honeymoon, the lisping of lovers. It was clean and pure, but it was inarticulate, impotent. The real passion was yet to come. October sprang from the womb of Russia itself. True, the Bolsheviki have turned Jesuits, but the Revolution has accomplished much --- it has destroyed capitalism and undermined the principles of private ownership. In its concrete expression today Bolshevism is a system of the most ruthless despotism. It has organized a socialistic slavery. Yet, notwithstanding, I declare that the Russian Revolution lives. For the leaders and the present forms of Bolshevism are a temporary element. They are a morbid spasm in the general process. The paroxysm will pass; the healthy revolutionary essence will remain. Everything that is good and valuable in human history was always born and developed in the atmosphere of evil and corruption, mixing and interweaving with it. That is the fate of every struggle for liberty. It also applies to Russia today, and it is our mission to give aid and strength to the fine and the true, the permanent, in that struggle."
"I suppose that's why you are so partial to Makhno," put in the Red Army man.
"Makhno represents the real spirit of October," Yossif replied with warmth. "In the revolutionary povstantsi, whom he leads, is the sole hope of the country. The Ukrainian peasant is an instinctive Anarchist, and his experience has taught him that all governments are essentially alike --- taking everything from him and giving nothing in return. He wants to be rid of them; to be left alone to arrange his own life and affairs. He will fight the new tyranny."
"They are kulaki with petty bourgeois ideas of property," retorted the Pessimist.
"There is such an element," Yossif admitted, "but the great majority are not of that type. As to the Makhno movement, it offers the greatest field for propaganda. Nestor, himself an Anarchist, affords us the fullest opportunity to work in his army, even to the extent of supplying us with printed material and machinery for the publication of our newspapers and leaflets. The territory occupied by Makhno is the only place where liberty of speech and press prevails."
"But not for Communists," retorted the soldier.
"Makhno justly considers the Communists as much counter-revolutionary as the Whites," replied Yossif. "But for the revolutionists --- for Anarchists, Maximalists, and Left Social Revolutionists --- there is full liberty of action in the povstantsi districts."
Makhno may call himself an Anarchist," spoke up M---, an Individualist Anarchist, "but I disagree entirely with Yossif about the significance of his movement. I consider his 'army' merely an enlarged band of rebel peasants without revolutionary purpose or consciousness."
"They have been guilty of brutality and pogroms," added the Pessimist.
"There have been excesses," Yossif replied, "just as they happen in every army, the Communist not excepted. But Nestor is merciless toward those guilty of Jew-baiting. Most of you have read his numerous proclamations against pogroms, and you know how severely he punishes such things. I remember, for instance, the incident at Verkhny Takmar. It was characteristic. It happened about a year ago, on the 4th or 5th of May, 1919 Makhno, accompanied by several members of his military staff, was on his way from the front to Gulyai-Pole, his headquarters, for a conference with the special Soviet emissaries sent from Kharkov. At the station of Verkhny Takmar Nestor noticed a large poster reading: 'Kill the Jews! Save Russia! Long live Makhno!' Nestor sent for the station master. 'Who put up that poster?' he demanded. 'I did,' replied the official, a peasant who had been in fights against Denikin. Without another word Makhno shot him. That's the way Nestor treats Jew baiters," Yossif concluded.
"I have beard many stories of atrocities and pogroms committed by Makhno units," I remarked.
"They are lies willfully spread by the Bolsheviki," Yossif asserted. "They hate Nestor worse than they do Wrangel. Trotsky once said that it were better the Ukraina were taken by Denikin than to allow Makhno to continue there. With reason: for the savage rule of the Tsarist generals would soon turn the peasantry against them and thus enable the Bolsheviki to defeat them, while the spread of Makhnovstchina, as the Makhno movement is known, with its Anarchist ideas threatens the whole Bolshevik system. The pogroms ascribed to Makhno upon investigation always prove to have been committed by the Greens or other bandits. The fact is, Makhno and his staff keep up a continuous agitation against religious and nationalistic superstitions and prejudices."
Though radically differing concerning the character and significance of the Makhnovstchina, those present agreed that Nestor himself is a unique figure and one of the most outstanding personalities on the revolutionary horizon. To his admirer Yossif, however, he typifies the spirit of Revolution as it expresses itself in the feeling, thought, and life of the rebel peasantry of the Ukraina.
1 This is an extract from The Bolshevik Myth by Alexander Berkman. The entire work is available at the Anarchy Archives by clicking on the title.
2 This is an extract from The Bolshevik Myth by Alexander Berkman. The entire work is available at the Anarchy Archives by clicking on the title. Source: The Anarchy Archives. The text is from Dana Ward's copy of Alexander Berkman, The Bolshevik Myth, New York: Boni and Liveright, 1925.
3 This extract from Arshinov's History of the Makhnovist Movement answers Trotskyist slanders that they were a nationalist or an anti-Semitic movement.
4 This is an extract from The Bolshevik Myth by Alexander Berkman. The entire work is available at the Anarchy Archives by clicking on the title. Source: The Anarchy Archives. The text is from Dana Ward's copy of Alexander Berkman, The Bolshevik Myth, New York: Boni and Liveright, 1925.