Makhnovist Insurgent Army

April 1920

Followed by

Summons to the

4th Extraordinary Congress of Peasant, Worker and Partisan Delegates

(Telegram No.416)

Executive Committee of the Military Revolutionary Council

Followed by

Manifesto of the Insurgent Army of the Ukraine

(January 1st 1920)

The Revolutionary Councils of the Ukrainian Army (makhnovitsi)

Followed by

The "Makhnovitsi" appeal to their Brethren in the Red Army

The Makhnovitsi Revolutionary Insurgents

Followed by


Daniel Guérin



Makhnovist Insurgent Army

April 1920

1. Who are the "makhnovitsi" and for which cause do they fight?

The makhnovitsi are peasants and workers who rose up as long ago as 1918 against the brutality of the bourgeois, German, Hungarian and Austrian authorities and against that of the hetman of the Ukraine.

The makhnovitsi are toilers who have unfurled the banner of struggle against Denikin and against any form of oppression, violence and falsehood, whatever its provenance.

The makhnovitsi are those same toilers who, through their life-long labours, have enriched and fattened the bourgeoisie in general and, today, the soviets in particular.

2. Why are they called "makhnovitsi"?

Because, during the darkest and gravest moments of the reaction in the Ukraine, our ranks included our indefatigable friend and condottiere, Makhno, whose voice rang out across the whole of the Ukraine, in protest at every act of violence against the toilers, summoning them all to the struggle against the oppressors, robbers, usurpers and political charlatans who deceive the toilers. To this very day that voice rings out among us, within our ranks, unchanging in its exhortation to struggle for the ultimate goal of the libertarian and emancipation of toilers from each and every oppression.

3. How do you intend to bring that liberation about?

By overthrowing the monarchist coalition government, the republican, social democratic government, the Bolshevik-Communist government. In their place, through free elections, toilers' councils must be elected and these will not constitute a government, complete with written, arbitrary laws. For the soviet arrangement is not authoritarian (unlike the Social Democrats and Bolshevik Communists who purport to be the soviet authorities today). It is the purest form of anti-authoritarian, anti-State socialism, articulated through free organization of the social life of toilers, independent of authorities: a life where happiness and his own complete well-being, in accordance with the precepts of solidarity, amity and equality.

4. What is the "makhnovitsi" view of the soviet regime?

The toilers themselves must choose their own councils (soviets) which are to carry out the wishes and instructions of those same toilers: so they are to be executive councils, not authoritative councils. The land, factories, forms, mines, transport, etc., should belong to the toilers who toil, so they must be socialized.

5. Which are the paths leading to the "makhnovitsi" final objective?

A consistent and implacable revolutionary struggle against all falsehoods, arbitrariness and violence, from wherever these may emanate, a struggle to the death: free speech, just deeds and struggle under arms.

Only through the abolition of each governor, every representative of authority, through radical destruction of every political, economic and statist falsehood, through destruction of the State by social revolution can a genuine system of worker and peasant soviets be achieved and progress towards socialism assured.

Drafted by the cultural and educational branch of the Makhnovist Insurgent Army.

Summons to the

4th Extraordinary Congress of Peasant, Worker and Partisan Delegates

(Telegram No.416)

Executive Committee of the Military Revolutionary Council

To all district, cantonal, communal and village executive committees in the governments of Ekaterinoslav, Tauride and neighbouring regions; 

To all units of the First Insurgent Division of the Ukraine, known as the Father Makhno Division;

To all Red Army troops stationed in the same areas.

To one and all.

At its sitting on May 30, the executive committee of the military revolutionary council, after scrutiny of the impact upon the front of the onslaught of White gangs, and consideration of the overall political and economic situation of soviet power, came to the conclusion that only the toiling masses themselves, and not individuals or parties, can devise a solution to this. Which is why the executive committee of the Gulyai-Polye regional military revolutionary committee has decided to summon an extra-ordinary congress in Gulyai-Polye on June 15.

Electoral procedure:

1. The peasants and workers are to choose one delegate per three thousand members of the population.

2. Insurgents and Red soldiers are to delegate one representative per troop unit (regiment, division, etc.).

3. Staffs: the staff of the Father Makhno Division will send two delegates: the brigade staffs will send one delegate per rank.

4. The district executive committees will return one delegate per fraction (party representatives).

5. District party organizations - the ones acepting the foundations of "soviet" rule - will return one delegate per organization.


a. Elections for workers' and peasants' delegates are to take place at village, cantonal, workshop of factory general assemblies.

b. On their own, the assemblies of the members of the soviets or committees of these units may not proceed with these elections.

c. In the event that the military revolutionary council is not sufficiently numerous, delegates will have to be issued with provisions and money on the spot.


a. Report from the executive committee of the military revolutionary committee and delegates' reports.

b. News.

c. The object, role and tasks of the soviet of peasants', workers', partisans' and Red soldiers' delegates of the Gulyai-Polye region.

d. Reorganization of the region's military revolutionary council.

e. Military disposition in the region.

f. Supply issues.

g. The agrarian question.

h. Financial business.

i. Peasant labourers' and workers' unions.

j. Public security business.

k. The matter of the administration of justice in the region.

l. Matters in hand.

Signed: The Executive Committee of the Military Revolutionary Council

Dated: Gulyai-Polye, May 31, 1919.

Manifesto of the Insurgent Army of the Ukraine

(January 1st 1920)

The Revolutionary Councils of the Ukrainian Army (makhnovitsi)

To all of the Ukraine's peasants and workers!

For transmission by telegraph, telephone or courier to all of the Ukraine's villages!

For reading at peasants' meetings, in factories and in forms!

Brother toilers!

The Insurgent Army of the Ukraine has been created to resist the oppression of workers and peasants by the bourgeoisie and by the Bolshevik-Communist dictatorship. It has set itself the task of fighting for the complete liberation of Ukrainian toilers from the yoke of any sort of tyranny and for the creation of a genuine socialist constitution of our own. The Insurgent Army of makhnovitsi partisans has fought with gusto on many fronts in order to achieve that goal. It is presently bringing to a successful conclusion the fight against Denikin's army, liberating region after region, wheresoever tyranny and oppression existed.

Many peasant toilers have asked themselves the question: what to do? What can and what ought we to do? How should we conduct ourselves with regard to the laws of the authorities and their organizations?

To which question the Ukrainian Union of Toilers and Peasants will reply anon. Indeed, it must meet very shortly and summon all peasants and workers. Given that the precise date on which that assembly of the peasants and workers will proceed, at which they will have the chance to come together to debate and resolve the most important problems facing our peasants and workers, is not known, the makhnovitsi army deems it useful to publish the following manifesto:

1. All ordinances of the Denikin government are hereby annulled (...) Likewise annulled are those ordinances of the Communist government which conflict with peasant and worker interests. It will be for the toilers themselves to resolve thye question which ordinances of the Communist government are damaging to the toilders' interests.

2. All estates belonging to monasteries, big landowners and other enemies pass into the hands of the peasants who live by the labour of their arms alone. Such transfer should be determined at meetings after discussion by the peasantry. Peasants will have to bear in mind and take account not just of their personal interests but also the common interests of the toiling people, bowed down under the exploiters' yoke.

3. Factories, firms, collieries and other means of production become the property of the working class as a whole, which assumes the responsibility for their direction and administration, encouraging and pursuing development with the benefit of experience and seeking to gather the whole production of the country under the umbrella of a single organization.

4. All peasants and workers are invited to set up free peasants' and workers' councils. Only workers and peasants playing an active part in some useful sector of the popular economy may be elected to such councils. Representatives of political organizations are to play no part in the workers' and peasants' councils, because that might harm the interests of the toilers themselves.

5. The existence of tyrannical, militarized organizations which are at odds with the spirit of the free toilers will not be countenanced.

6. Freedom of speech, of the press and of assembly is the right of every toiler and any gesture contrary to that freedom constitutes an act of counter-revolution.

7. Police organizations are hereby abolished: in their place self-defence bodies will be set up and these may be launched by the workers and peasants.

8. The workers' and peasants' councils represent the toilers' self-defences: each of them must struggle against any manifestation of the bourgeois and the military. Acts of banditry must be resisted and bandits and counter-revolutionaries shot where they stand.

9. Either of the two currencies, the soviet and the Ukrainian, shall be accepted as the equivalent of the other: all breaches of this ordinance will be punished.

10. The exchange of work produce or luxury goods remains free, unless overseen by peasant and worker organizations. It is proposed that such exchanges should proceed between toilers.

11. All persons hindering diffusion of this manifesto are to be deemed counter-revolutionaries.

January 1, 1920

The "Makhnovitsi" appeal to their Brethren in the Red Army

The Makhnovitsi Revolutionary Insurgents




Red Army comrade!

You have been despatched by your commissar-commanders to fight the makhnovitsi insurgents and revolutionaries.

On the order of your commanders you will bring ruination to peaceable areas, you will carry out searches, make arrests and murder folk whom you personally do not know, but who will have been pointed out to you as enemies of the people. You will be told that the makhnovitsi are bandits or counter-revolutionaries. They will order, not ask, but make you march like a humble slave to your commander. You will arrest and you will kill! Who? Why? On what grounds?

Reflect, Red Army comrade! Reflect, toilers, peasants and workers forcibly subjected to the new masters who go by the ringing title of the "worker-peasant authorities"!

We are the makhnovitsi revolutionary insurgents, peasants and workers like you, our Red Army brethren!

We have risen up against oppression and degradation; we fight for a better and more enlightened life. Our ideal is to atain a community of toilers, with no authority, no parasites and no commissars.

The government of the Bolshevik-Communists sends you to mount punitive expeditions. It is a hurry to make peace with Denikin and with the wealthy Poles and other White Army scum, so that it may the more easily harass the popular movement of revolutionary insurgents, of the oppressed risen up against the yoke of authority, all authority.

But the threats from the White and the Red commands do not scare us! We will answer violence with violence!

If need be, we, a tiny handful of men, will rout the divisions of the government's Red Army. Because we are free and enamoured of liberty! We are insurgent revolutionaries, and the cause we champion is a just cause.

Comrade! Reflect upon whose side you are on and against whom you fight. Do not be a slave. Be a man!


Daniel Guérin

It had been relatively easy to liquidate the small, weak nuclei of anarchists in the cities, but things were different in the Ukraine, where the peasant Nestor Makhno had built up a strong rural anarchist organization, both economic and military. Makhno was born of poor Ukrainian peasants and was twenty years old in 1919. As a child, he had seen the 1905 Revolution and later became an anarchist. The Tsarist regime sentenced him to death, commuted to eight years' imprisonment, which was spent, more often than not in irons, in Butyrki prison, the only school he was ever to attend. He filled at least some of the gaps in his education with the help of a fellow-prisoner, Peter Archinov.

Immediately after the October Revolution, Makhno took the initiative in organizing masses of peasants into an autonomous region, a roughly circular area 480 by 400 miles, with seven million inhabitants. Its southern end reached the Sea of Azov at the port of Berdyansk, and it was centered in Gulyai-Polye, a large town of 20,000 to 30,000 people. This was a traditionally rebellious region which had seen violent disturbances in 1905.

The story began when the German and Austrian armies of occupation imposed a right-wing regime which hastened to return to their former owners the lands which had been seized by revolutionary peasants. The land workers put up an armed defense of their new conquests. They resisted reaction but also the untimely intrusion of Bolshevik commissars, and their excessive levies. This vast jacquerie [1] was inspired by a "lover of justice," a sort of anarchist Robin Hood called "Father" Makhno by the peasants. His first feat of arms was the capture of Gulyai-Polye in mid-September 1918. The armistice of November 11, however, led to the withdrawal of the Austro-German occupation forces, and gave Makhno a unique opportunity to build up reserves of arms and supplies.

For the first time in history, the principles of libertarian communism were applied in the liberated Ukraine, and self-management was put into force as far as possible in the circumstances of the civil war. Peasants united in "communes" or "free-work soviets," and communally tilled the land for which they had fought with the former owners. These groups respected the principles of equality and fraternity. Each man, woman, or child had to work in proportion to his or her strength, and comrades elected to temporary managerial functions subsequently returned to their regular work alongside the other members of the communes.

Each soviet was simply the executive of the will of the peasants in the locality from which it had been elected. Production units were federated into districts, and districts into regions. The soviets were integrated into a general economic system based on social equality; they were to be independent of any political party. No politician was to dictate his will to them under cover of soviet power. Members had to be authentic workers at the service of the laboring masses.

When the Makhnovist partisans moved into an area they put up posters reading: "The freedom of the workers and peasants is their own, and not subject to any restriction. It is up to the workers and peasants themselves to act, to organize themselves, to agree among themselves in all aspects of their lives, as they themselves see fit and desire .... The Makhnovists can do no more than give aid and counsel .... In no circumstances can they, nor do they wish to, govern."

When, in 1920, Makhno's men were brought to negotiate with the Bolsheviks, they did so as their equals, and concluded an ephemeral agreement with them, to which they insisted that the following appendix be added: "In the area where the Makhnovist army is operating the worker and peasant population shall create its own free institutions for economic and political self-administration; these institutions shall be autonomous and linked federally by agreements with the governing organs of the Soviet Republics." The Bolshevik negotiators were staggered and separated the appendix from the agreement in order to refer it to Moscow where of course, it was, considered "absolutely inadmissible."

One of the relative weaknesses of the Makhnovist movement was its lack of libertarian intellectuals, but it did receive some intermittent aid from outside. This came first from Kharkov and Kursk where the anarchists, inspired by Voline, had in 1918 formed a union called Nabat (the tocsin). In 1919 they held a congress at which they declared themselves "categorically and definitely opposed to any form of participation in the soviets, which have become purely political bodies, organized on an authoritarian, centralized, statist basis." The Bolshevik government regarded this statement as a declaration of war and the Nabat was forced to give up all its activities. Later, in July, Voline got through to Makhno's headquarters and joined with Peter Archinoff to take charge of the cultural and educational side of the movement. He presided at the congress held in October at Alexandrovsk, where the "General Theses" setting out the doctrine of the "free soviets" were adopted.

Peasant and partisan delegates took part in these congresses. In fact, the civil organization was an extension of a peasant army of insurrection, practicing guerrilla tactics. This army was remarkably mobile, covering as much as 160 miles in a day, thanks not only to its cavalry but also to its infantry, which traveled in light horse-drawn carts with springs. This army was organized on a specifically libertarian, voluntary basis. The elective principle was applied at all levels and discipline freely agreed to: the rules of the latter were drawn up by commissions of partisans, then validated by general assemblies, and were strictly observed by all.

Makhno's franc-tireurs gave the White armies of intervention plenty of trouble. The units of Bolshevik Red Guards, for their part, were not very effective. They fought only along the railways and never went far from their armored trains, to which they withdrew at the first reverse, sometimes without taking on board all their own combatants. This did not give much confidence to the peasants who were short of arms and isolated in their villages and so would have been at the mercy of the counter-revolutionaries. Archinov, the historian of the Makhnovtchina, wrote that "the honor of destroying Denikin's counter-revolution in the autumn of 1919 is principally due to the anarchist insurgents."

But after the units of Red Guards had been absorbed into the Red Army, Makhno persisted in refusing to place his army under the supreme command of the Red Army chief, Trotsky. That great revolutionary therefore believed it necessary to turn upon the insurrectionary movement. On June 4, 1919, he drafted an order banning the forthcoming Makhnovist congress, accusing them of standing out against Soviet power in the Ukraine. He characterized participation in the congress as an act of "high treason" and called for the arrest of the delegates. He refused to give arms to Makhno's partisans, failing in his duty of assisting them, and subsequently accused them of "betrayal" and of allowing themselves to be beaten by the White troupe. The same procedure was followed eighteen years later by the Spanish Stalinists against the anarchist brigades.

The two armies, however, came to an agreement again, on two occasions, when the extreme danger caused by the intervention required them to act together. This occurred first in March 1919, against Denikin, the second during the summer and autumn of 1920, before the menace of the White forces of Wrangel which were finally destroyed by Makhno. But as soon as the supreme danger was past the Red Army returned to military operations against the partisans of Makhno, who returned blow for blow.

At the end of November 1920 those in power went so far as to prepare an ambush. The Bolsheviks invited the officers of the Crimean Makhnovist army to take part in a military council. There they were immediately arrested by the Cheka, the political police, and shot while their partisans were disarmed. At the same time a regular offensive was launched against Gulyai-Polye. The increasingly unequal struggle between libertarians and authoritarians continued for another nine months. In the end, however, overcome by more numerous and better equipped forces, Makhno had to give up the struggle. He managed to take refuge in Romania in August 1921, and later reached Paris, where he died much later of disease and poverty. This was the end of the epic story of the Makhnovtchina. According to Peter Archinov, it was the prototype of an independent movement of the working masses and hence a source of future inspiration for the workers of the world.


1. Jacquerie was the name given, to the French peasant revolt of 1358 (from Jacques, the nickname of the French peasant). [Translator's note.]

1 Source: Daniel Guérin, No Gods, No Masters.

2 extract from "Anarchism: From Theory to Practice".