History of Anarchism in Russia
“THE ANARCHIST GROUP FEDERATION.” THE “NABAT” GROUP AND NESTOR MAKHNO. THE “ILLEGAL ANARCHISTS”
WARNING: This document typifies the lies which have for decades been told about Makhno, the Makhnovshchina, and anarchists in general by the Bolsheviks and their descendents. One short extract from the following illustrates clearly the state of the writer’s delusions:
“… the anarchism of Bakunin and Kropotkin gave rise to a movement that hindered the formation of a working class party capable of solving the problems with which history had confronted the working people of Russia – the overthrow of tsarism, the overthrow of the power of the landlords and capitalists. These problems the working people solved under the banner of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, the banner of Communism.”
Yes, indeed. And we all now how well the Bolsheviks’ “working class party” solved these problems, don’t we? Anyway, after reading the following, I suggest reading the relevant sections of the Anarchist FAQ as an antidote.
Nestor Makhno was undoubtedly the most vivid and striking figure in the Russian anarchist movement during the period of the proletarian dictatorship; and the movement that has gone down in the history of the Russian Civil War in his name was the supreme manifestation of anarchist theory and practice. It is impossible to discuss Makhno and the ideas he stood for without showing what the practical application of the teachings of anarchism “on the morrow of the revolution” is like-not in theoretical writings, but in mass action over a large territory. On the other hand, it is impossible to discuss anarchism in Russia without examining in detail the activities of Makhno and his supporters.
First of all, a few words about Makhno himself. The Spanish anarchists to this day call him “our Russian comrade,” but if the Spanish workers knew the truth about Makhno they would hardly call him their comrade.
Under the tsarist government, Makhno was a village schoolmaster in the Ukraine and as such joined a group of young peasants which engaged in robberies and murders of landlords and the government officials. For these activities Makhno at the age of 1g was sentenced to penal servitude, from which he was released by the revolution of February-March 1917 a revolution which certainly was not accomplished by the anarchists. It was in prison that Makhno first came into contact with anarchist ideas. After his release he returned to his native district of Gulyay-Polye, a district of well-to-do peasants in the Ukraine. At first he could not make up his mind whether to join the Bolsheviks or the anarchists, and spoke now as one and now as the other. It was only after the Ukraine was occupied by the Austrian and German troops that Makhno definitely became an anarchist. There was no Bolshevik organization in Gulyay-Polye, the only organizations being those of the anarchists and the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries.
From that time on, assuming the lead of the organization established to resist foreign intervention, Makhno began to gain popularity in the neighboring peasant districts. At the same time he began to rally around himself various prominent anarchists, particularly those belonging to the Alarm (Nabat) group-Baron, Volin, Arshinov, Tepper, Glagzon, and others, who tried to guide the movement along the lines of the anarchist theories.
Let us say in advance that we do not consider the Makhno movement to have been hostile to the revolution at every point from its very beginning. There were times when Makhno and his followers helped the revolution. Nor can it be denied that many of them displayed great personal courage and readiness to sacrifice their lives.
But, taken as a whole, this movement undoubtedly was harmful to the cause of the proletariat, and the crimes it committed were so great and so disgraceful that in the minds of the people of the Ukraine and of the entire Soviet Union “Makhnovism” has remained a synonym for unrestrained banditry, from which the proletarian revolution and its defenders were the first to suffer.
There can be no doubt that in the summer of 1918, when Makhno headed the revolt in the South of the Ukraine against the forces of Hetman Skoropadsky and of the Austro-German occupation, he was of service to the revolution, for at that time he acted in conjunction with the workers’ and peasants’ Red Army and the Soviet government.
At the end of 1918, Makhno together with the insurgent workers of Ekaterinoslav succeeded in dislodging the whiteguards from that town. This was the first. important success of Makhno’s army. Here, in a big working class center, he could have put his anarchist program into practice. What did the anarchist Makhno and his army do with this town they captured? The anarchists in their literature avoid mentioning the fact that the insurgent workers of Ekaterinoslav, with whose help Makhno took the town, were not anarchists, but Bolsheviks. Moreover-and this must be said explicitly-Makhno needed persuasion before he agreed to help the Bolsheviks. In the negotiations with the Bolshevik Party organization, Makhno and some of his commanders wavered, for they had no confidence in their own forces.
But no sooner had Makhno’s army taken the town, than all its weak, negative sides, its lack of discipline and restraint made themselves apparent. Before Makhno had even entrenched himself in Ekaterinoslav, his “partisan army,” accustomed to plunder, began to loot the town. Makhno’s feeble attempts to establish some kind of order and discipline were futile. His drunken soldiers, including many commanders, plundered the houses not only of the bourgeoisie, but of the working people as well. The Jewish inhabitants suffered particularly.
What were Makhno and his staff doing? These “anti-authoritarian anarchists” were bargaining with the Socialist-Revolutionaries about organizing the government of the town and distributing government positions. In the meantime, a large body of Petlura’s troops under General Samokish broke into the town and Makhno’s drunken horde of peasant partisans took to their heels in panic. The detachments of workers’ Red Guards, disorganized by this flight, were unable to offer resistance to Petlura’s troops, and about 2,000 workers and Makhno partisans’ were killed crossing the Dnieper under enemy fire.
The anarchists surrounding Makhno, and their leader himself, carried on propaganda against the Communists and against the Soviet government, trying to prove that no government was needed, that government was against the interests of the working people, and that a society without a government must be organized. We saw above what this kind of talk led to as soon as Makhno and his army took a big industrial town in which tens of thousands of workers were employed and which governed a large agricultural district. This was a splendid opportunity to show how anarchist society without a government should be organized; but the anarchists established nothing of the kind, and anarchy proved to be not the mother of order, as the anarchists claimed, but the cause of the defeat of the workers by the very first detachment of Petlura’s troops, who profited by the disorganization and anarchy for which Makhno and his supporters were to blame.
A month later, in January 1919, Ekaterinoslav was recaptured, but this time by Soviet troops under a Bolshevik, the sailor Dybenko.
What were Makhno and his army doing at this time? They were taking it easy in Gulyay-Polye. Many of Makhno’s peasant partisan detachments had simply fallen to pieces and their members had returned to their homes. Were they violating the anarchist “libertarian” principle of absolute individual liberty? On the contrary, they were acting fully in accord with the anarchist principle of “freedom” from obligatory discipline, from military service regulations – they were displaying “organized indiscipline.”
Unfortunately, many people fail to realize that in time of civil war the strictest discipline is necessary among all those fighting against the enemies of the proletariat. There were people who said, “We do not want discipline that will limit our valor, intellect and sentiments.” There were people who upheld the right of each detachment to act how and when it thought necessary, and not as the common interests of the struggle, the common objective demanded.
Makhno and the other anarchists acting with him were examples of such lack of discipline. They wanted to put their detachments into action where they liked, to act when they liked, and to use the methods of struggle that they liked. But in civil war waged on a large scale partisan detachments can be of use only if their actions are coordinated with those of the revolutionary army, if they help the latter, if they attack the enemy at the necessary point in the common interests of the struggle.
Was this what Makhno did when the Soviet government, after Ekaterinoslav was taken, resolved that all the partisan detachments, including those of Makhno, were to become part of the Red Army? Did he recognize the need for a single military organization, with a single command and a single system of subordination? He did not. He refused to subordinate the interests of his local partisan detachments to the interests of the proletarian revolution throughout the country, he was not concerned about the interests of the proletarian revolution as a whole. Moreover, Makhno was not sincere. He pretended to acknowledge the Red Army command, but actually he went on doing what he chose: he requisitioned for his own use arms, food supplies and coal intended for the country as a whole, hindered the fulfilment of orders of the Soviet government and did not fight against out-and-out enemies of the revolution, but, on the contrary, flirted with them. Hence his early conflicts with the Soviet government.
The Soviet government sincerely wanted to work in cooperation with Makhno and the anarchists in the fight against the whiteguards and foreign intervention, as was proved by the fact that the Red Army command appointed Makhno commander of a division. But the actions of Makhno, his headquarters and his detachments were so repulsive that the poor and middle peasants and the workers, when they saw that Makhno was allying himself with the greedy kulaks and bandit elements who were hostile to the proletariat revolution and the Soviet government, began to desert him.
However, this demoralization of Makhno and his troops did not trouble the anarchist Alarm group, which included anarchist-communists and anarcho-syndicalists, who advanced theoretical arguments in their defense. An anarchist conference held in Kursk in the spring of 1919 adopted a resolution stating that “the Ukrainian revolution will have great chances of rapidly becoming social-anarchist in its ideas.” This was said at a time when Makhno had already begun to gather kulaks and bandits around himself after his actions had repelled the poor peasants and the workers.
The anarchists, not taking the trouble to study seriously the relation of class forces, believed that it was possible immediately to introduce anarchist society without a government. What prevented them from doing this? The anarchists considered that they were hindered by the proletarian dictatorship, the Soviet government, which they therefore regarded as an enemy in a war in which all means were fair. In August 1919, when the white guards were approaching Moscow, the group known as the “illegal anarchists” threw a bomb at a meeting of responsible Communists, killing thirteen and wounding several score. How did the Moscow workers react? In the course of two weeks 13,000 workers joined the Communist Party in Moscow alone to take the place of the thirteen the anarchists had killed.
German troops were occupying the Ukraine and overthrowing the Soviet government, and the anarchists actually helped them. It is true that the Kursk anarchist conference did not openly advocate the overthrow of the Soviet government. But it declared that “an anarchist must constantly and persistently agitate for the establishment of genuine, non-party and nongovernment Soviets of workers’ and peasants’ organizations in place of the present Soviets.” It is obvious that if the existing Soviets were to be replaced by others, they had to be dissolved, which during the Civil War meant overthrown.
Perhaps the Makhno anarchists did establish such Soviets, perhaps they proved that such non-government Soviets are possible and that they organize economic life better than the Soviets led by the Communists, that they defend the gains of the revolution better than the organizations led by the Communists? They did nothing of the kind. Their agitation in favor of replacing the existing Soviets of workers’ and peasants’ deputies by non-government Soviets was simply a call to overthrow the Soviets.
The very idea of non-government Soviets was a most dangerous Menshevik, white guard fabrication. It is like saying cold fire, it is an expression of senile impotence, it is an empty pernicious phrase. Unable to overthrow the Soviets, unable to combat the wide popular movement for Soviets, the Menshevik lackeys of the bourgeoisie did actually establish nongovernment Soviets in some places. The first anarchist congress, held in Elizavetgrad, declared outright that the existing Soviets were organs of “democratic centralism, based on the principles of government, state administration, and deadening centralism imposed from above.” For these reasons the anarchist congress “finally and categorically opposed the participation of the anarchists in the Soviets.”
That was how the anarchists in Russia worked against the proletarian dictatorship, fought against the Soviets, set Makhno’s army against the Soviet government and thus helped the counter-revolution.
Who prevented the anarchists from organizing their nongovernment Soviets in the district which they occupied for such a long time-the district of Gulyay-Polye? Nobody interfered with them. But they did not establish anything of the kind. Instead, they appointed commandants with dictatorial powers, who absolutely ignored the opinions and interests of the population.
In the chapter dealing with the Russian anarcho-syndicalists we saw how the latter regarded the first and only army of the victorious proletariat, which was established to defend the gains of the October Socialist Revolution and to suppress the counter-revolution. They thought that it was no better than the tsarist army. The attitude of the Alarm-Makhno group, which regarded Makhno’s partisan detachments as the ideal army, was the same. Thus, the Elizavetgrad anarchist congress declared, in keeping with the ideas of the anarcho-syndicalists:
No compulsory army, including the Red Army, can be regarded as the true defender of the social revolution. In the opinion of the anarchists, only a partisan, rebel army “organized from below,” can be such.
The anarchists failed to realize that in a genuine people’s, proletarian revolution, such as that of 1917, the army of the proletarian revolution is organized both from above and from below. But the amalgamation of forces of the revolutionary army can be achieved only by subordination to a single command. During the civil war in Russia large and small partisan armies arose in Siberia, in the Far East, in Transcaucasia and in other districts on the initiative of local revolutionary workers and peasants, often isolated from the regular Red Army units and acting independently. But these partisan detachments established contact with the Red Army, asked for orders from its command, coordinated their operations with those of the Red Army-and as a result, their blows in the enemy’s rear were very effective. The history of all civil wars shows how valuable partisan, guerilla detachments can be when they act in this way.
The Russian anarchists, however, took up the cudgels for the kulaks who were discontented because the Soviet government requisitioned their surplus products to supply the workers and the army at the front. The anarchists took up the cudgels for speculators and profiteers, and together with the greedy kulaks murdered members of the Soviet government’s food detachments and robbed the cooperative stores in the villages and towns.
Like the Communists, the anarchists have always proclaimed that they are opposed to private property in the instruments and means of production, that they are fighting to establish a social system of economy. But the town and village cooperative societies organized by the workers and peasants during the revolution were not private property: they were social property, they were organizations established with the hardearned money of the workers and peasants. By raiding these cooperative stores, Makhno’s gangs showed that their anarchist banner only served as a screen for criminal bandits, with whom they acted to the detriment of the interests of the working people, of the peasants and workers. They very skilfully exploited the discontent of the kulaks and others harboring a grudge against the revolution. No revolution can satisfy all classes. Every revolution which brings about the transference of power from one class to another means the complete break-up of the old economic and political relationships, and dissatisfies those whom it deprives of power, whom it deprives of the opportunity of making easy profits by robbing and exploiting the masses.
The proletarian revolution in Russia dissatisfied many people-it dissatisfied all the landlords, all the capitalists, all the clergy, nearly all the old government officials, and most of the officers of the old tsarist army; it dissatisfied fairly large numbers of people who under tsarism, under the bourgeois landlord system, led the life of parasites.
No wonder, therefore, that numerous counter-revolutionary revolts of people dissatisfied with the proletarian revolution broke out throughout the country during the period of the Civil War. But who took part in these rebellions? It was those whom the revolution had deprived of the opportunity to exploit the labor of others. We know that the anarchists put the kulaks in the category of “working people”; and in connection with these kulak revolts, the Nabat, the anarchist publication, wrote:
Every revolt that springs from the discontent of the working people with the government is in its essence revolutionary, for the working people instinctively tend to the Left rather than to the Right.
There were also many counter-revolutionary revolts in which the kulaks succeeded in securing the following of the middle and even part of the poor peasants in their counterrevolutionary movement. The anarchists proclaimed all these revolts to be popular and revolutionary in nature.
When Makhno and his henchmen began to defend the kulaks and profiteers against the poor peasants, against the Soviet government and against the workers, the best of those who had joined his army deserted him. But the anarchist leaders surrounding Makhno failed to realize the significance of this. They took it as a sign that the revolution was dying. The anarchist, Baron, wrote: “The revolution is dying. Black reaction is setting in.” But the revolution in Russia was not dying. Eventually, the revolution in Russia succeeded in crushing all its enemies. It destroyed part of the intervention troops, and compelled the rest to leave Soviet territory. It routed all the whiteguard generals and their armies. Foreign intervention proved unavailing. It was not the Russian revolution, but Russian anarchism, Makhnoism, that was dying.
The Makhno anarchists’ attacks on the Soviet government, their support of the kulaks, their refusal to coordinate their operations with those of the Red Army, played into the hands of the whiteguard generals. Soviet towns and districts were taken one after another by the whiteguard general Denikin, who was supplied with arms and ammunition by the foreign imperialists, as General Franco is now being supplied by the German, Italian and Portuguese fascists. Denikin’s troops were advancing on Kharkov and Ekaterinoslav, two of the most important cities of the Ukraine. It was with great difficulty that the Red Army withstood the onslaught of the whiteguards. Did Makhno come to its assistance? No, Makhno had other things to do. In June igtg he convened another anarchist congress in Gulyay-Polye to organize an anarchist state in that district.
Makhno could not and would not subordinate his actions to the interests of the revolution; he did not help the Red Army at this most critical moment. But that is not all. He acted as a traitor by withdrawing his army to another district and causing a breach in the front for the Whites to penetrate. Thanks to this the bloodthirsty White general Shkuro took the Red Army in the rear, which cost the Soviet government not only territory but the lives of tens of thousands of working people who were tortured by the White terror of General Shkuro’s brutal gangs. Makhno retreated far into the rear, where his men spent their time disarming, robbing and murdering Red Army men. The White generals could have asked for no better allies than these anarchists. Most of Makhno’s men adopted the same slogans as the whiteguards-“Kill the Commissars, Communists and Jews!”
At the beginning of this chapter we said that we do not regard the Makhno movement as having been counterrevolutionary from beginning to end. We do riot deny that sometimes Makhno arid his army fought against the counterrevolution and helped the revolution. Such was the case after the troops of General Denikin had succeeded, as a result of Makhno’s treachery, in seizing the peasant districts he had ‘abandoned. Denikin restored the rule of the landlords and proceeded to take revenge on the peasants. The peasant war flared up again, and since it was not only the land of the poor and middle peasants, but also that of the kulaks which Denikiri was seizing in order to return them to the landlords, this war affected Makhno’s detachments, which by this time included many kulaks. Now Makhno could not help taking part in the struggle against Denikin, the more so since the Red Army, receiving fresh reinforcements, had begun to press on Denikin’s army from the North. The defeatist plans of Trotsky had been abandoned and this Southern army was led by Comrade Stalin. Makhno was faced with the alternative of either engaging in the struggle against Denikin or of losing his last supporters.
Hard pressed by the Red Army, Denikin’s troops were retreating rapidly to the South. Makhno’s detachments managed to take Ekaterinoslav for the second time. The Ekaterinoslav workers had not forgotten how Makhno’s troops had sacked the town at the end of 19 18 and disgracefully surrendered it to Petlura’s troops under Colonel Samokish, from whom they fled in panic. Nor had they forgotten how, abandoned by Makhno’s anarchists, thousands of workers had drowned in crossing the river under the lire of Petlura’s troops.
What did Makhno do now, when he again found himself in Ekaterinoslav together with the whole anarchist organization? How did he carry out the doctrine, the program of anarchism? As an anarchist he had advocated absence of all authority, but actually he established unlimited dictatorial authority. He did not establish the “free non-government Soviets” about which the anarchists had talked so much, but put to death the Bolsheviks who wanted to establish Soviets of Workers’ Deputies. (One of these was the Bolshevik Polonsky.) Makhno appointed a commandant whom he invested with unlimited military and civil authority. This was an absolutely unlimited anarchist dictatorship. The commandant robbed, raped and executed with impunity. The treatment meted out to the Communists was particularly brutal. Makhno’s men plundered not only the bourgeoisie, but the workers as well. The least protest against this intolerable regime brought on the most brutal punishment without trial from the secret service established by Makhno and run by the two Zadov brothers, professional criminals capable of the vilest atrocities. Those they caught were either shot or put to death in some more painful manner, for Makhno surrounded himself with sadists who, like himself, took pleasure in torturing human beings. The Chief of Staff of Makhno’s army, formerly a worker, in giving evidence to the Soviet authorities explained that the anarchists – Makhno, Levko, Zinkovsky, Golik, Petrenko and others used torture to inspire terror in their enemies.
Makhno practiced the most inhuman tortures from the first days of his activities – people were cut to pieces, and their bodies were thrown into the fire-boxes of railway engines. Cases occurred when this was done to people who were sentenced to death but were still alive.
It was necessary to organize the economic life of this big town, to organize the workers and peasants and establish supplies. But Makhno and his anarchists cared nothing for all this. When the railwaymen and telegraph operators appealed to Makhno to be paid wages and supplied with food in return for their work, the latter replied: “We are not Bolsheviks, to feed you at the expense of the state, we don’t need the railways, and if you do then get bread from those who want your railway and telegraph.” Was this the answer of a serious statesman who is responsible for the economic life of a big city? And yet this was the answer Makhno gave to other workers’ organizations as well. The anarchists were absolutely incapable of organizing a new, more perfect, socialist system of economy in place of the old capitalist system.
This proved the utter futility of anarchism. The anarchists believed that a centralized organization was superfluous. But can the railways, the telegraphs, telephones and other means of communication, can the industry of a big state or even of a large region exist without centralized organization and administration? Can an organized system of national economy exist without organizations to govern it, to help the villages, factories, collective enterprises and individual peasant farms? Anarchism proved incapable of organizing national economy.
The relations that existed between Makhno and Ataman Grigoryev are extremely interesting. At one time Ataman Grigoryev had helped the Soviet government capture Odessa and take the Crimea. These successes turned Grigoryev’s head, leading him to conceive the plan of becoming Ataman of the entire Ukraine. But Makhno also entertained this idea. The composition of Grigoryev’s army differed but little from that of Makhno, apart from the fact that the latter included many anarchists, both genuine and spurious. The march of Grigoryev’s army was accompanied by a series of pogroms against Jews. In Cherkassy and Elizavetgrad the Grigoryevites killed about 6,000 people – not only Jews, but poor people in general.
The Soviet troops succeeded in halting this wave of pogroms and in disarming Grigoryev’s detachments. Did Makhno help the revolution to do this? No, he did not. Makhno’s gang later murdered Grigoryev not because they wanted to defend the revolution, but because Makhno regarded Grigoryev as a rival whom he wanted to put out of the way. During this period Makhno was no more reliable a supporter of the revolution than Grigoryev. Makhno got rid of his rival in order to be able to act the more freely under the flag of anarchism.
Seeing that Makhno was planning a new betrayal and doing great damage to the revolution by his arbitrary actions, the Military Command of the Red Army ordered him to hand over his division to another commander. Makhno pretended to obey this order, but at the same time put his own men in various parts of the division with instructions to demoralize it.
After handing over the division he still retained a detachment of his own, with which he began his raids in the Ukraine in the beginning of 1920. This was a new phase in Makhno’s struggle against the Soviet government. It was characterized by pogroms, raids on Soviet institutions, murders of Communists and Red Army men. This period is very vividly portrayed in the diary of Makhno’s mistress, who traveled with him. Here are some excerpts from this diary:
Feb. 23, 1920. Our boys captured some Bolshevik agents, who were then shot.
Feb. 25, 1920. We moved to Mayorovo. Three graincollecting agents were caught and shot.
Mar. 1, 1920. Soon the boys arrived and reported that Fedyukin, a Red Army commander, had been taken prisoner. Makhno sent for him, but the messenger returned with the news that the boys had not been able to mess around with him-he was wounded-and had shot him at his own request.
Mar. 7. In Varvarovka. Makhno got very drunk, began swearing loudly in the street in unprintable language. We arrived in Gulyay-Polye, and something incredible began under Makhno’s drunken orders. The cavalrymen used their whips and the butts of their rifles against all the former Red partisans they met in the streets. They charged like a mad horde into innocent people…. Two had their heads broken and one was driven into the river. . . .
Mar. 11, 1920. Last night the boys took two million rubles and today they all got a thousand apiece.
Mar. 14, 1920. Today we moved to Mikhailovka. One Communist was killed here.
Three months later the picture was still the same:
June 5, 1920. At Zaitsevo station Makhno had telephone and telegraph communications cut, the track in front and behind train No. 423 torn up, the property on the train plundered and all Communists hacked to pieces.
July 16, 1920. Makhno made a raid on Grishino Station, where he stayed three hours. Fourteen officials of Soviet and workers’ organizations were shot, telegraph communications destroyed and the railwaymen’s food storehouse looted.
July 26, 1920. Makhno broke into Konstantinograd junction and eighty-four Red Army men were killed in two days.
Aug. 12, 1920. In Zenkovo, Makhno killed two Ukrainian Communists and seven officials of workers’ and rural organizations.
Another four months later:
Dec. 12, 1920. A raid on Berdyansk. In the course of three hours the Makhno anarchists, led by Makhno himself, killed 83 Communists, including Mikhalevich, one of the best Ukrainian workers, twisting their arms, hacking off legs, ripping up stomachs, bayonetting and hacking them to death.
Dec. 16, 1920. A train was derailed between Sinelnikovo and Alexandrovsk. About fifty workers, Red Army men, and Communists were killed.
Such is the horrible unvarnished truth about the activities of the anarchist Makhno and his henchmen. After this, will any honest anarchist say that Makhno was a revolutionary leader and “our comrade”?
All this was done at a time when the workers and peasants of the Soviet state had to withstand the onslaughts of the Polish whiteguards and the forces of Baron Wrangel, who were armed by the foreign imperialists for the purpose of restoring capitalism. Shooting and torturing Communists, overthrowing the Soviets, the Makhno anarchists did not even think of establishing the “free” Soviets they wrote about in their papers; they simply appointed dictators.
But perhaps exemplary order prevailed in Makhno’s army? For the anarchists never cease to repeat that “anarchy is the mother of order.” V. Ivanov describes this “order” as follows:
A brutal regime, iron discipline. . . . The men getting knocked about for the least misdemeanor…. The revolutionary Military Council, an institution never elected, never controlled and never re-elected. A special department of the Revolutionary Military Council which deals secretly and ruthlessly with insubordinates.
At the end of 1920 the white army commanded by Baron Wrangel threatened the Donetz Basin and the Ukraine. Wrangel openly wrote that Makhno was helping him. Many of Makhno’s supporters deserted him, and in an attempt to regain his popularity he offered the Soviet government his services in the struggle against Wrangel. Notwithstanding the crimes Makhno and his henchmen had committed against the revolution, the Soviet government accepted their services and concluded an agreement with Mahno, according to which his units were to retain their separate organization but were to be subordinate to the Soviet Army Command. The Makhno anarchists were permitted full freedom to carry on propaganda for their views, provided they did not call for the overthrow of the Soviet government. All anarchists imprisoned for various offences against the Soviet government and against the working people were freed. The anarchists were allowed to publish in Kharkov the Nabat, organ of the secretariat of the Ukrainian Anarchist Federation, and the Golos Makhnovtsa, organ of the Ukrainian Revolutionary Rebels-Makhno’s group.
But Makhno’s anarchists did not keep the agreement. Only a small detachment was sent to the front, while the main forces remained in the rear and engaged in plundering the Red Army units. Comrade Frunze, Commander of the Southern Front, wrote in an appeal, dated December 20, 1920:
Makhno and his staff have soothed their consciences by sending a handful of their supporters against Wrangel, while they themselves have preferred for some reason to remain in the rear. Makhno is hastily organizing new detachments, arming them with the weapons we have captured from the enemy.
At the same time Makhno tried to mobilize peasants for his army by force. It was announced that the mobilization was voluntary, but anyone who failed to report was ruthlessly dealt with by Makhno’s secret police. Nor was Makhno’s treatment of Red Army men in any way different from that meted out to them by the whiteguards. On November 12 Makhno’s men killed and stripped twelve Red Army men in the village of Mikhailovka. On November 16 they robbed the men of the 124th Red Army Brigade in the village of Pologi. On November 17 the commander of the 376th regiment was attacked in the same village. On November 7 Makhno’s men killed six Red Army men in the village of Ivanovka, and so on.
This was the blackest treachery. Makhno disobeyed the explicit orders of Comrade Frunze, Commander of the Southern Front, to set out for the front, and the Soviet government could not treat his army as anything else than traitors.
The anarchist organizations never intended to fulfil the obligations they had undertaken. Moreover, they assumed the leadership of the backward, self-seeking sections of the working class. In retaliation to the measures taken by the Soviet factory managers and trade unions against absences from work they declared a strike. It was necessary to restore the country’s industry, which had been dislocated by seven years of imperialist war and civil war, but the anarchists never stopped to think about that. They bluntly declared that they “refused to take an organized part in the economic bodies of the republic.” Thus they refused to do any constructive work. Their talk about “the spirit of destruction” being at the same time “a creative spirit” proved that they had no intention of doing any constructive work. Only after the treachery of Makhno and the anarchists supporting him had become absolutely obvious, did Comrade Frunze issue orders to dissolve Makhno’s units and draft his men into the Fourth Red Army. Thereupon most of Makhno’s working class and peasant supporters deserted him.
Deserted by his troops, Makhno fled with his miserable handful of supporters across the Rumanian border and took shelter from the judgment of the revolutionary people, of the workers and peasants, under the wing of the Rumanian boyards, the exploiters and enemies of the people. Such was the inglorious end of the career of this adventurer whom some anarchists represent as a hero of the revolution. But the revolution of the proletariat, the revolution of the working people, has no use for such heroes.
Thus we have seen that a large anarchist organization, occupying extensive territory and a large town, having a whole army and large funds at its command, and publishing several newspapers, proved absolutely incapable of developing the forces of the revolution, organizing any constructive work and establishing a collective, socialist system of economy in place of the capitalist, bourgeois system that had been destroyed.
We have seen that, while denying the need for any state organization, Makhno and his supporters established the worst form of personal dictatorship; while rejecting all organs of government, they set up a secret police answerable to no one, which dealt without trial with every worker or peasant who was in Makhno’s way, torturing, executing, hacking to pieces and burning alive thousands of people.
We have seen that Makhno repeatedly helped the enemy. From a leader of detachments of rebellious peasants which fought against the foreign intervention and Russian whiteguard forces, he became a defender of the kulaks and bandits and acted against the workers and poor peasants. Makhno’s troops consisted largely of kulaks, which explains their hatred of the poor peasants and the workers.
Like the Ekaterinoslav workers, the workers of the Donetz Basin, who hacl supported Makhno at the beginning of his career, eventually realized that he was their enemy. The anarchist theoreticians surrounding Makhno-Arshinov, Volin, Baron, Tepper and the rest-had every opportunity to apply the anarchist principle of construction and of the organization of society; but they created nothing. Finally, they became a mere appendage of the kulaks, fighting against the proletariat, against the poor peasants and their committees.
In the Gulyay-Polye district, which was in the hands of Makhno, power fell into the hands of the kulaks, who installed a system of forcible exploitation and suppression of the workers and poor peasants. While fighting against the conscious revolutionary discipline of the Red Army, they enforced unquestioning obedience by means of fear in their own army. This army served the kulaks and not the proletariat. In the districts under their rule Makhno and his supporters did not abolish either hired farm labor or the most brutal exploitation of the workers.
What actually happened was that, having entered the struggle against the Soviet government for the sake of anarchy, the Makhno anarchists set up a kulak state, with their own army, their own secret police, their own executioners, and their own prisons, with tyrannical commandants who were answerable to no one, destroying all freedom of the press, and all political liberty.
No wonder the whiteguards carried on direct negotiations with the anarchists with a view to joint action against the Soviet government. The anarchists wrote about it themselves. An editorial in Anarchia, No. 34, stated that criminal robberies and counter-revolutionary acts committed under the name of anarchy were becoming ever more frequent. The anarchists realized that:
These are the vile, dark deeds of the whiteguards. A large part of these robbers are former army officers and people with university education. . . . The picture is clearly one of counter-revolutionary provocation-a counterrevolutionary organization is at work. They have made attempts to establish contact with the Federation. After a number of unsuccessful attempts and proposals which we rejected, they have decided to act independently, and they are doing so.
Is not this statement by the anarchists a deadly indictment of themselves? And indeed, in the midst of a ruthless civil war between the workers and the monarchists, whiteguards, landlords and capitalists, whose power the October Revolution had overthrown, replacing it by the Soviet government of the workers and peasants-would the whiteguards, the counter-revolutionaries have approached the anarchists if the latter had been revolutionaries; would they have attempted to negotiate with them with a view to joint counter-revolutionary action against the Soviet government? And yet they did do so, and more than once, though the anarchists claim to have rejected their proposals.
Some of the anarchists attempted to break through the vicious circle into which their theories had driven them. We have seen that after futile attempts to carry out anarchosyndicalist ideas in the revolution, some of the anarchy-syndicalists, convinced of the harmfulness of these ideas, joined the Communists. Another attempt to find a common ground with the proletarian revolution by abandoning their hostile attitude towards the dictatorship of the proletariat and ridding themselves of the bandits and whiteguards was made by the group known as the Anarcho-Universalists. An anarchist named Gordin, the leader of this movement, maintained that “the transitional period is inconceivable without a dictatorship.” “If unorganized violence can be used against individual bourgeois,” he wrote, “why cannot organized violence be used against them as a class?” The conclusion he arrived at was: “Without a dictatorship during the transition period there can be no transition to anarchy and freedom.” Thus, the Anarcho-Universalists raised the fundamental question, the question of government. Accordingly, they proposed that their attitude towards the Soviet government and towards the part they should play in the revolution be changed. While remaining anarchists, they came somewhat nearer to a correct understanding of the revolution, of its course and tasks. We shall not give a detailed exposition of the history of AnarchoUniversalism. The Anarcho-Universalists even had a legally existing club in 1920-21. But when the Kronstadt rebellion broke out most of them supported it. In a leaflet issued during this period they called for an insurrection against the Soviet government.
The anarchist majority excommunicated Gordin for his “heretical” advocacy of the dictatorship of the proletariat during the period of transition from capitalism to socialism. Anarcho-Universalism was a faint gleam of true ideas in the chaos of Bakuninist and Kropotkinist contradictions in which the Russian anarchists got themselves hopelessly entangled.
We have reviewed the development of Russian anarchism from its cradle to its grave. Born at a time when the proletariat had not yet come forward as an independent force, the anarchism of Bakunin and Kropotkin gave rise to a movement that hindered the formation of a working class party capable of solving the problems with which history had confronted the working people of Russia – the overthrow of tsarism, the overthrow of the power of the landlords and capitalists. These problems the working people solved under the banner of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, the banner of Communism.
During the period of the proletarian revolution in Russia, anarchism went completely bankrupt. By repudiating the dictatorship of the proletariat after the socialist revolution, the anarchists of various trends came into direct conflict with the interests of the revolution, they began to fight the proletariat and to betray the interests of the proletarian revolution, defending the kulaks and allying themselves with the enemies of the revolution.
These lessons are edifying. Every anarchist and anarchosyndicalist must study them carefully and draw his conclusions from them.
Source: Anarchy Archives