Makhno & the Makhno Movement – Great Soviet Encylopaedia


from the Great Soviet Encyclopaedia



MAKHNO, NESTOR IVANOVICH. Born Oct. 17 (29), 1889. in Guliaipole, now in Zaporozh’e Oblast; died July 6. 1934, in Paris. One of the leaders of petit bourgeois counterrevolution in the Ukraine from 1918 to 1921 during the Civil War. Son of a peasant.

Makhno graduated from a parochial school. During the Revolution of 1905-07 he joined an anarchist group and look part in terrorist actions and “expropriations.” In 1909 he was sentenced to death for killing a police official, but the sentence was reduced to ten years of hard labor, because he was still a minor. He served his sentence in Butyrskaia Prison in Moscow, where he became a convinced anarchist. Set free by the February Revolution of 1917, he went to Guliaipole and in April 1918 organized an anarchist armed detachment. This unit began guerrilla warfare against the Austrian-German occupiers and the hetman’s authorities and won great popularity among the peasantry.

Makhno was noted for his cruelty, despite his personal bravery. In 1919 and 1920 he fought against the White Guards and the followers of Petliura as well as against the Red Army. Three times he made an alliance with Soviet power, and three times he violated his agreements and rose in rebellion. In 1921 his units degenerated into nothing more than robbers and oppressors. On Aug. 26, 1921. he fled to Rumania, moving to Poland in 1922 and then to Paris in 1923, where he worked as a cobbler and printer. He wrote two volumes of memoirs that were filled with hatred toward Soviet power. [15-1559-41]


MAKHNO MOVEMENT (in Russian, Makhnovshchina), an anti-Soviet anarchic kulak peasant movement in the Ukraine from 1918 to 1921, led by N. I. Makhno; one of the various forms taken by the petit bourgeois counterrevolution.

The social base of the Makhno movement was the well-to-do peasantry of the Left-bank Ukraine, especially in Ekaterinoslav and Kharkov provinces, where a considerable stratification of the peasantry could be observed as early as the late 19th century and where the proportion of kulaks was substantial. It was from this region that the Makhno movement drew its forces and material resources and most of its leaders. However, the Makhnovshchina was not a local movement (unlike the Antonov revolt, for example); it covered an extensive territory from the Dnestr to the Don. Makhno’s bands included many nationalities. The small town of Guliaipole in Ekaterinoslav Province became his “capital,” The prosperous strata of the Left-bank Ukrainian peasantry, who after the Revolution had acquired the estates of many large landholders in that area, had a decisive influence on the political orientation of the Makhno movement. At times when there was a threat of restoration of the large landowners (under the German occupation and under the White Guards) relatively broad strata of the peasant masses joined the Makhno movement; in the struggle against Soviet power the followers of Makhno drew their support from the well-to-do people in the countryside. From 1921 the movement was supported only by the kulaks. Declassed elements rallied to Makhno’s banners throughout the existence of his movement — deserters, former White Guard soldiers, and criminals; in the final period these elements came to predominate.

The size of his units fluctuated greatly, but there was always a nucleus of Makhno’s intimates and an elite cavalry corps. Makhno’s units were mainly recruited voluntarily, but at the height of the movement’s success some mobilizations were carried out. At times when Makhno’s “army” expanded, regiments, divisions, and even corps appeared, although their structure and numerical strength were undetermined. When this “army” met with reverses, it would disperse, and Makhno would flee from his pursuers together with his elite cavalry units, Makhno’s bands, consisting of cavalry and mobile infantry mounted on machine-gun carts, had great mobility, sometimes covering as much as 100 km in 24 hours. Owing to the support of the local kulaks, they had well-organized reconnaissance and communications. Their only source of military supplies was materiel captured from the enemy.

With respect to ideology, the Makhno movement espoused the slogans of a “powerless state” and “free Soviets.” which in practice meant a struggle against the proletarian state. Such leaders of Russian anarchism as Volin (Eikhenbaum), Arshinov (Marin), Baron, and Golman had considerable influence on the Makhno movement, Makhno’s staff included a so-called military revolutionary council, in which the anarchists played a major role. The anarchists tried to establish regular propaganda work and published the newspapers Put’k svobodeGolos makhnovtsa, and Vol’nyi povstanets.

The Makhno movement arose in the spring of 1918 as part of the struggle of the Ukrainian peasantry against the Austro-German occupiers. In April, Makhno and a group of anarchists organized a small detachment in the Guliaipole area and carried out a number of raids on the estates of large landowners and on the hetman’s police. By early November his band had grown to 500, and by December it had swelled to 20,000 men. From November 1918 to January 1919, Makhno’s men fought against the Austrians and Germans and then against Petliura’s troops. In February 1919, Makhno’s units became part of the Soviet Ukrainian Second, and later Thirteenth, Army, functioning at first as the Zadneprovskaia Brigade and then as the Ukrainian 7th Division. From March to May they participated in combat against Denikin’s forces on the Mariupol’-Volnovakha sector of the front. However, they sabotaged the orders of the Soviet command, drove off commissars assigned to them, and suppressed the activity of food-requisitioning detachments and committees of the poor in their area. “Congresses of insurgent workers’ and peasants’ deputies,” convened by Makhno’s followers in February and April, adopted resolutions opposing the policies of Soviet power. At this time the leaders of the Makhno movement look advantage of mistakes made by Ukrainian leaders in agrarian policy (for example, the refusal to divide up the estates of the large landowners) and of the dissatisfaction of the middle strata of the peasantry with the surplus-grain appropriation policy.

In late May 1919, Makhno’s brigade was defeated by Denikin’s forces, and on May 29, refusing to submit to the Red Army command, it unilaterally withdrew from the front and retreated to the Guliaipole area, entering into open warfare against Soviet power. On June 8, Makhno and his closest supporters were declared outlaws. Under the Denikin occupation, Makhno’s forces fought against the While Guard troops, achieving a series of successes. In the fall of 1919, Makhno’s “Revolutionary Insurgent Army of the Ukraine,” which was joined by a certain portion of the Soviet troops who had been cut off by the White Guards, grew in numbers, reaching a strength of 30,000-35,000.

Denikin was forced to send a corps, headed by General Ia. A. Slashchov, against Makhno’s men.

In January 1920 the Red Army entered the Makhno movement’s zone of operations, and the majority of the soldiers in the Makhno units joined the Red Army’s ranks, while many others went off to their homes. On January 8 the command of the Fourteenth Army ordered Makhno to transfer the units remaining under him to the Kovel’ area, but he refused and began a revolt. During the spring and summer of 1920, Makhno engaged in warfare against Soviet power; however, he refused offers from Wrangel’s forces for joint operations with them. In September the White Guards occupied most of Makhno’s region, after which the Makhno movement took up armed struggle against them. An agreement was signed in mid-October in Kharkov between Makhno’s representatives and the commanders of the Southern Front for joint operations against Wrangel. Makhno’s cavalry detachment, about 2,000 strong, was directed to the Perekop area. However, after the defeat of the White Guards, Makhno once again refused to submit to Soviet power.

By order of M. V. Frunze the liquidation of the Makhno movement began on November 25. On Dec. 1, 1920, the Crimean group of Makhno’s forces was destroyed. In November and December powerful Red Army forces conducted operations in the Guliaipole-Sinel’nikovo area for the purpose of suppressing the Makhno movement, but Makhno himself escaped with his elite cavalry unit. In the spring of 1921, with the introduction of the NEP, the social base of the Makhno movement shrank considerably. Only a few small bands that survived by robbing the peasants remained under Makhno. In the Ukraine the Permanent Conference for the Struggle Against Banditry under the Council of People’s Commissars of the Ukrainian SSR was created; among its members were M. V. Frunze, F. E. Dzerzhinskii, S. I. Gusev, and M. K. Vladimirov. The overall leadership of military operations was conducted by M. V. Frunze and R. P. Eideman. The All-Ukraine Central Executive Committee proclaimed amnesty for those who would surrender voluntarily. The unit headed by Makhno managed to evade destruction throughout the spring and summer of 1921, conducting raids throughout the Ukraine and southern Russia, until on August 26 near the city of Iampol’, Makhno was forced to flee with fifty cavalrymen across the Dnestr River and surrender to the Rumanian authorities.


Kubanin. M. Makhnovshchina. Leningrad. 1927.

Trifonov, I. la. Klassy i klassovaia bor’ba v SSSR v nachale nepa (1921-1923). part 1. Leningrad, 1964.

Semanov, S. N. “Makhnovthchina i ee krakh.” Voprosy istorii, no. 9, 1966. 

  1. N. Semanov [15-1560-1]

Webmaster’s note: The above texts are entries from the English translation of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd ed. MacMillan, Inc., 1977. Originally published as: Bol’shaia Sovetskaia Entsiklopediia. Moscow, Sovetskaia 


%d bloggers like this: