INTERVIEW WITH PIO TURRONI
It was considered more interesting for readers to entrust the presentation of Makhno’s memoirs to the voice of a comrade who was in contact with him during the final years of his life.
Pio Turroni met the Russian revolutionary in Paris, where both were in exile (the former fleeing Fascism, the latter Bolshevism). By answering a number of questions (irrespective of any personal vision regarding the anarchist struggle) he provides us with valuable testimony regarding the most famous participant in and promoter of the anarchist communist experience in Russia.
Luciano Ferraresi: For the Ukrainian population, Makhno had been a legendary hero. How did this comrade behave towards the others who certainly did not enjoy the same prestige as him?
Pio Turroni: Two things struck me in particular about Makhno which I liked – the gentleness of his personality and his brotherly and modest behaviour towards his comrades. His modesty was truly exemplary – although he was an extremely accessible person, he showed a notable reluctance whenever he had to talk about himself or the events of which he was the protagonist.
I was also struck by a trait which he shared with the other Russian exiles, which was the extreme dignity which drove him to avoid the assistance of comrades and which speeded on his death, as he lacked the treatment which could have been of benefit to his health. I recall often having seen him dine on a coffee and croissant.
LF: In his books “My Life” and the “History of the Russian Revolution”, Trotsky does not even mention Makhno and this omission seems quite strange if one remembers that it was our comrade who beat the armies of the Austro-Germans, the Ukrainian bourgeoisie and the “Whites” (Denikin, Petliura and Wrangel respectively) and for quite some time held at bay the Red Army (created and led by Trotsky himself) which had the task of destroying and preventing the realization of anarchist communism in Ukraine. What did Makhno think of the man who preceded Stalin in the mass elimination of those who stood against his policies (he in fact massacred and deported hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians)?
PT: It was Trotsky’s perfidy above all which disgusted him, his system of destroying the adversary first through lies, then physically. A system which was inherited later by Stalin and others.
In the same way, I remember that it was in Paris that the Bolsheviks began to accuse Makhno of having persecuted Jews (and we know well that Volin, who was Jewish, had been won over by Makhno also because of the protection that the latter had always assured the Jewish communities).
Our comrade challenged the Bolsheviks to a public debate which was held at the “Salle Wagram” (a conference hall often used by the whole progressive movement) where he denounced their lies and embarrassed them by producing evidence and witnesses who had participated in the events which the Bolsheviks were talking about.
LF: Reading “The Russian Revolution in Ukraine”, there is an episode (the Leon Schneider episode) which gives the impression that the anarchist federations and groups behave in an extremely hard way towards those militants who were the cause of public scandal by behaving in a way which was not worthy of the public functions which they were supposed to be carrying out. What can you say with regard to this?
PT: The Schneider case came about during a particularly serious moment: the anarchists had to respond to the peasants regarding the accusations that Schneider, through his conduct, had brought on them by the counter-revolutionaries. The anti-authoritarianism of the Makhnovists was however amply demonstrated by the characteristics of their communes and by their army, the only one to be exclusively composed of volunteers.
LF: Makhno had been a fervent supporter of the single front of all revolutionary forces against the common enemy. After the tragic experience of the alliance with the Marxist forces, what revolutionary solution did he propose to anarchists in the fight for communism, keeping in mind the presence of other forces hostile to the status quo?
PT: Makhno, in his contact with the peasants, had noticed how difficult it was to make an anarchist revolution with men who were attached to paternalistic forms (he himself was known as the “batko”, or little father) and had no political education.
The first task of the anarchist revolutionaries was therefore the education of the masses.
As can also be read in his memoirs, he attributed great importance to organization, which could have given real force to anarchism and the absence of which among Russian anarchists had facilitated the triumph of the Bolsheviks.
Naturally, given the unhappy experience, the alliance with the marxists was no longer possible – their Machiavellianism at the service of the party and the authoritarian state can only make them potential enemies. Anarchist communists will have to wage the struggle against the conservatives by themselves.
LF: I remember you once said that you had seen Makhno shortly before his death. Is there something you would like to tell us about that?
PT: A few days before he died I was informed, through a telegram from a comrade, that Makhno has expressed a desire to see me. I went to the Ténon Hospital where he had been admitted; he knew his death was imminent but he was not bothered about it. I remember the way his face lit up when he told me how sure he was that the eyes of the workers would be opened to the horrors of Bolshevism – they would finally see in anarchist communism the only authentically revolutionary way possible and would discover the great revolutionary impetus to bring it to success, the fruits of which would really belong to everyone.
This is how we should remember our comrade Makhno, smiling and trusting in our Revolution. Let us also try to make the most of his valuable experience as valid instruments for today’s struggles.
Pio Turroni – Luciano Ferraresi
From the first Italian edition of the first volume of Makhno’s memoirs, “The Russian Revolution in Ukraine (March 1917 – April 1918), published in Italy in August 1971 by Edizioni “La Fiaccola”.
Translation by Nestor McNab.