PROLETARIAN INSURRECTION IN UKRAINE (1918-1921)
Internationalist Communist Group
Note: The following is an incomplete, unrevised draft translation of an article by the Internationalist Communist Group, a left communist organization. If anyone feels like correcting the translation, please do so. The original French is here.
Human prehistory self caricaturing more than repeating itself, a lot of similarities are to find in our different texts treating that period. Indeed! Far to consider the different revolutionary focuses as many elements separated one from the other, we conceive them of in the contrary as many distinct moments ALL taking part at the same dynamic, at the same revolutionary attempt. It would be methodologically impossible to us to set them apart to pull out lessons at each time distinctive, pretending here or there about objective or subjective differences as done by several leftist schools. (1)
Therefore, it’s normal that a whole of common characteristics is found in what we describe as forces of the revolutionary movement of that period, like in Russia, in Germany, in Hungary, in Belgium, in England, in Argentina, in India,…and in so many other places of the world at that period. We have insisted in our texts on the existing breaking points towards nationalism, trade-unionism, parliamentarianism, etc. We have also tried to describe at each time the process of organisation in force of the revolutionary minorities coming from different political “families” melting into the same communist party, that process of organisation in Party, culminating in the attempt to erect in one and only centralised and international force, the whole of that vanguard.
But if the multiple focuses of struggle of these crucial years ’17 -’23 comprise enormously similarities as for their forces, it goes similarly concerning theirs limits: understanding of internationalism limited at the addition of national parties, limit of the critic of Democracy, limit of the understanding of the dictatorship of the proletariat, etc…The whole of these weaknesses crystallizing in a general limit of that period: the lack of rupture with Social-Democracy.
And we do not speak here about the “formal” Social-Democracy, as often the Capital tempts to limit it to the long string of parties federated within the IInd International, but well, all fused denominations and this under any flag, of the totality of reformist forces having had for practice and as content, the affirmation of counter-revolution, under the form of a bourgeois program for the proletariat. By painting itself to the colours of revolution, Social-Democracy succeeds thus to impose the capitalistic program to workers.
Social-Democracy gathers in the facts and in a practical, concrete way, the most suited forces to fit up the Capital, to mobilize the proletariat for a project which is not of its own, demobilizing at the same time the proletarian struggle, emptying it from all its revolutionary substance. In this way Social-Democracy is the poison against which the proletariat has always fought within its organizations, structures, associations, independent of the flags whatsoever. This relentless fight has reflected beyond all “marxist”, “socialist”, “revolutionary trade-unionist”, “anarchist”, “bolshevik”, “revolutionary socialist” organizational term,… by the struggle, often armed, having taken place also within all these groups, independently of the flag they stuck to. It is well the frontier between revolution and counter-revolution that constitutes the fundamental, essential separation between the world of Wage and Communism, and not any formalistic term where the flag would classify mechanically some in a camp and others in the opposite. Neither the label nor the flag are the guarantees of a real revolutionary practice.
Thus, many of these putting forward the rupture with the Second International, reproduced the totality of its program, under other names! This was the case of Lenin and other bolshevik militants in Russia, for example, that after having resolutely participated in the development of the revolution in Russia, brought back the totality of the process of rupture with Social-Democracy… in the framework of Social-Democracy, understood as program, going finally to assume the local reconstruction of the capitalistic State.
This reminder is fundamental to approach appropriately the question of lessons of the insurrectional movement in Ukraine. Indeed, about all this question, a division between two ideological poles has taken place: on one hand, these, defining as “anarchists”, having supported Makhno, one of the main leaders of the proletarian movement in Ukraine, right into his errors, and on the other hand, self-proclaimed “marxist” militants, refusing most of the time, when they did not assert openly with Lenin that capitalism was better, to open their eyes facing the reconstruction of capitalism in Russia led by the bolsheviks. They have complementarily refused to recognize, in the movement in Ukraine, a moment of revolutionary rupture of our class.
The bourgeoisie can then deal with history: once again, it imposes its stupid methodology aiming to look for some “all goods” and some “all bads”, blind masses and authoritative chiefs,… It succeeds thus to reduce proletarian struggle in Ukraine into a war between bolsheviks and Makhnovists, or even worse, into a war between “communists” and “anarchists”, instead of seeing there a confrontation between revolution and counter-revolution. A confrontation that has effectively taken place between on the one hand, the Red Army struggling for the defense of the Russian capitalistic State in full recomposition and, on the other hand, the Revolutionary Insurgent Armyconstituted on basis of the struggle of proletarians in Ukraine. But the confrontation between revolution and counter-revolution gets materialized as well within the Revolutionary Insurgent Army of Ukraine between on one side, the forces defending the front with such or such bourgeois army, and on the other, those opposing to it, for example! In the same way, this same contradiction, revolution and counter-revolution, was quite as much present within the bolsheviks (cfr. the “communist lefts” that have got free from them) than within these who claimed themselves from anarchism (cfr. the struggle between Makhnovists and individualists or other social-democrat “intellectuals” from the movement).
As an example, here is Arshinov’s comment, active participant of the insurrection in Ukraine by the side of Makhno, about indifferentism of a lot of these invoking the flag of anarchy in Russia at this moment:
“Most of the Russian anarchists that had passed through the theoretical school of anarchism, remained out of the way, in isolated circles having no reason to be at this moment; they sought to go into thoroughly the question to know what was this movement (the insurrection in Ukraine – NfR) and how it was necessary to consider it; and they remained inactive, getting over their inertia with the idea that the movement appeared not to be purely anarchist.”
And further, about “anarchist” individualists:
“But these having no passion of Revolution, thinking firstly about manifestations of their own “ego”, understand this idea (the liberation of the individual – NfR) to their own way. To each time that it concerns practical organization, serious responsibility, they take refuge in the anarchist idea of individual liberty, and being based on the latter, attempt to avoid all responsibility and prevent all organization.”
Arshinov in “History of the Makhnovist movement” – 1921
Let’s explain things clearer. When we approach this part of the history of struggles of our class that has constituted the insurrection of the proletariat in Ukraine, the problem is not (only!) to see what are the avant-guards having asserted theoretically the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, but well above all the real forces having tempted to impose it practically. Thus, the permanent invocation to “Marxism” from the bolsheviks does not bring them closer to the communist program than some “revolutionary socialist” or “anarchist” fractions struggling practically (alongside of “bolshevik” militants in rupture with their own organization, anyway!) for the generalization of the revolutionary war, for example. In Ukraine, the Red Army, under Trotsky’s orders, accomplished the worst treasons under cover of the superior interests of the proletariat, while in its war against the Russian State in reconstruction, proletarians in struggle against its Red Army, tempted themselves to really impose the dictatorship of their needs, the dictatorship of the proletariat.
But things are even more complex: those imposing their needs, these thousands of proletarians in arms, rebels against all capitalistic armies facing them and tempting to recapture their control, these proletarians in war against Denikin’s and Wrangel’s White Armies, Trotsky’s “Red” Army, austro-german armies, Grigoriev’s or Petliura’s nationalistic bands, these armed workers therefore, when they attacked the bourgeois, looted the banks, reappropriated violently the wealths and asserted so their dictatorship. Very often, they refused to call it just as it is, “dictatorship of the proletariat”, for the good and simple reason that it was difficult for them to give to their revolutionary action the same name than the one used by these too busy to develop Capital and to betray the proletariat, to prevent its dictatorship! And this fear to be terminologically assimilated to the enemy has been transformed unfortunately also very often into another ideologized theorisation (while the pretending of anarchism, then!) of the revolutionary practice they assumed, therefore limiting also this practice.
At this stage, and before our enemies transform once more what we tell, it is obviously important to emphasize the importance for the flag to coincide with the action! An indispensable moment of strengthening of communism as movement lies in its capacity to recognize itself theoretically, in the totality of its goal, and therefore in the totality of historical formulations by which it has asserted itself as movement, all along the history of the classes struggle. If we have insisted here (and if we insist so much often!) on the importance of the real communist movement, veiled well often by numerous flags more or less confused, it is because the vulgar logic has an incorrigible and haunting tendency to impose “what appears” as “what is”, to confuse the flag with the movement and to deny thus entire patches of the ruptures of our class.
In a word, with these methodological warnings peppered with examples of the real contradiction between the communism bearing social forces and those defending capitalism, we want to define the framework of our rupture with the bourgeois mechanistic methodology isolating the contradictions around the ideology, chiefs and flags:
- therefore we will describe first briefly in this text the worldwide struggle context in which the class struggle in Russia is part of;
- we will see then – and quite also briefly – how, in the context of the victorious insurrection of the proletariat in this zone, Capital has transformed into fierce agents of its reconstruction those who, some months earlier, organized in minority within the bolshevik party, constituted one of the avant-guards of its defeat;
- then we will deal with the proletariat insurrection in Ukraine, facing Brest-Litovsk peace, another moment of the capitalistic State reconstruction in Russia;
- and in the framework of this uprising, we will see how the proletariat will find one of the highest moments of its struggle centralization into the constitution of the Revolutionary Insurgent Army of Ukraine, around “anarchist communist” militants, whose most famous was Makhno.
With this fast description of the viewpoint guiding us (the proletariat before its “heroes”, the class struggle and not the ideological struggle,…), we want to assert once more what really, essentially separates revolution from counter-revolution, it is the practice, the real practice of the struggle centralization around a revolutionary program.
As we have told it above, this practice found in these struggle years, and independently of its protagonists, a huge limit in the lack of rupture with Social-Democracy, understood as content, as program, as practice: Social-Democracy, understood as historical Party of Capital for the proletariat, it is this force showing Capital defending, maintaining and developing itself by investing the flags of its own enemies, by incarnating itself in the flesh of its enemies! Social-democrat program is thus defended by “anarchists”, “bolsheviks”, “revolutionary socialists”,… pseudo-communists. These are the most convinced opponents to the counter-revolutionary Brest-Litovsk peace that transform themselves into its fiercest defenders! These are the best chiefs of the insurrectional army of Ukraine who associate themselves monstrously with the warrior capitalists of the Red Army!
But the false polarization between “anarchists” and “communists”, as history vision, still dominating today, it is the triumph of social-democrat conception. The kind of criticism confusing the social movement in Ukraine with the flag and coming down to the flag of anarchy’s criticism (criticism generalized from the existence of some black-painted social-democrat ideologies for better cheating), completes perfectly the imbecile opposite critics from “anarchists” criticizing “marxists”. They assimilate all what is called “marxist”, what is equivalent to put in the same bag whole the revolutionaries being called “marxists”, at the same time as “marxism” transformed into a branch of Political Economy or a perfectly honest State doctrine thanks to the works of the (particularly german or russian) social-democrat parties. Facing all this bloody mess of confusions, it is fundamental to reassert clearly that the real frontier delimiting the communist project from the capitalistic project, is not located between “anarchism” or “marxism”, but well between proletarian struggle and Capital development, between revolution and counter-revolution.
Social-Democracy, product of Capital to workers purpose, don’t give a damn of “anarchist” and “marxist” labels, whatever the supporters of the ideological formalism tell, and there is no flag behind which it would not take refuge to cheat workers. In this sense, communist movement, the real and practical movement of established order abolition, considers as well as mortal enemies the bellicose Kropotkin and Kautsky, as ministers Bela Kun in Hungary or Federica Montseny in Spain.
- War and revolution… up to Ukraine!
The triggering of the generalized slaughter of 1914 corresponds to the necessity of the world bourgeoisie to resolve the crisis of overproduction to which Capital was confronted. To survive to its contradictions, the bourgeoisie has to crush the proletariat. It has to liquidate physically the part of excess-proletariat to its needs of valorization, and to do that, to stifle also its communist project of destruction of the money and the exchange, only alternative to the capitalistic barbary. The crossing point of that crushing of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie will be done first, by the National and Sacred Union, that nasty pression that the Social-democracy succeeds to impose between the proletarians and each of the nations where they’re exploited, and second, by the physical liquidation of millions of proletarians forced then to confront militarily each other in battles within which the different capitalist sides had prolonged the relentless competition they went to to conquer such or such part of the world market, under the form of territories,… (2)
The capitalist contradictions were then, as usual, the crossing point of that war against the proletariat led by the world bourgeoisie, during four long years.
During centuries, the french and english States had constituted a gigantic empire from which they succeed to draw huge benefits, while the german State, as an imperialism in full expansion in the race for profits, kept closed in its national frontiers. Unable to find new outlets in faraway colonies, the german bourgeoisie had to fall back on the european continent to answer to its needs of expansion. The strategical objective was the road which came from the heart of the german empire to today’s Irak, symbolized by the Berlin-Baghdad railway line and passing by Istanbul and the strait of Bosphorus. The expansion of the capital in Germany should obviously be opposed to mercantile interests of the empire of the Czars in the Balkans, seeking a way out to the Mediterranean Sea. The politico-military blocks were constituted by a serie of alliances and of counter-alliances. The deflagration could then take place between on one side, the french and english States, shouldered by the empire of the czars, fearing the coming of the german State as a new rival on the world market, and on the other side, the german economical colossus and its austro-hungarian allies, seeking profits at the expense of other less competitive colossus.
There was, of course, never any lack of opportunities to start a war. Constituted blocs were face to face at different times (Tanger 1905, Agadir 1911, Balkans 1912), but the main problem for the bourgeoisie was to succeed to impose war and death as perspective for the proletariat of the different nations. It was the main role of the Social-Democracy: all melted political families, from different national socialist parties to anarcho-trade-unionists, from the “socialist” 2nd International to the “anarchist” international Manifesto of the Sixteen, from trade-unionists of all ideologies to “socialist” MP’s,… all the different social-democrat expressions will call to take part to the war. On one side (around Germany), they claim a democratic fight against the reactionary and despotic Czarism, and on the other side (around France), they invoke the image of the militaristic Teuton to go to defend republican and democratic France, with flowered rifles.
It’s not the right place to develop the whole process used by the Social-Democracy to impose, through its anti-war democratic speech, the need to be slaughtered on the battlefields. We’ll come back soon on that issue, when we’ll talk about revolution and counter-revolution in Germany.
But the murder of an obscure Austro-Hungarian archduke by a more obscure Serbian nationalist was enough to trigger the conflict. Sure of a rapid victory, although other bourgeoisies weren’t ready yet military speaking to face a generalized war, German generals decided to hit westward first. In a few weeks, the Capital of Germany hopes to realise the victorious masterstroke of Bismarck which, in 1870, put an end to Napoleon III and unified in Versailles, under the Prussian king’s authority, the whole German empire. Crashing the French bourgeoisie, Germany could face with all its military and industrial potential the huge “russian human tide” which is on the eve of an invasion.
In a two weeks time, the deals should have been done. But the German bourgeoisie lost its bet; his French homologue was not beaten and it was in tears that it saw the billions of marks supposed to be brought back lost in the adventure. No doubt it was an adventure for the bourgeoisie, but certainly not for the millions of proletarians who, for the benefits of the bourgeoisie, were crushed, torn to shreds, killed under tons of irons and steel during four long and terrible years in the cold, rain, sun, mud, illnesses…
If the bourgeoisie worldwide would have succeeded to make believe to the proletarians the need to be killed for its interests, it was at the condition that the carnage would be merry and short in time. But, it was not really the case! After two years of mutual massacres, proletarians in uniforms refused to go and be killed at the rhythm of the national anthem. With strikes in the back, refusal to carry out orders and fraternization on the front (Champagne 1915, Verdun 1916, Aisne 1917,…) between German and French proletarians, mutinies, revolutionary defeatism… put an end to the carnages. From a common agreement, both staffs had to restore “order”. The same bourgeois order which consist to send brothers of the same class to kill each other. But after two years of butchery, the proletariat was not ready anymore to go whistling on the battlefields.
The year 1916 marked therefore a qualitative change. From the mass grave will emerge the most outstanding revolutionary wave this planet had never known, leading to the October insurgency in Russia, at the prejudice of the different fractions of the Capital, forced to end that butchery to repress the proletariat which was about to reconsider years of exploitation and misery.
No one can imagine today, the effect of the announcement of the success of the proletarian insurgency in Russia among the working class worldwide. All throughout the world, communist movement found a new impulsion. That achieved insurrection took place in a full revolutionary rise, at a time where successive years of sweat and blood for work and war pushed the proletarians to reconsider everything.
We’ll avoid here the way how more and more determined (and numerous!) minorities get constituted and gathered everywhere in the world, to definitely dismantle the old world; we won’t develop the links those minorities constituted and the efforts enterprised to endow in an international organisation aiming the violent overthrow of the old world. Moreover, we can send our readers to our different texts found out in the presentation of this issue to go into thoroughly how, after taking an active part in the organization an the leading of the insurrection, the Bolshevik party get rid of progressively the whole revolutionary elements to, on the basis of the democratic illusions of this old social-democratic organisation, get the agent of a powerful counter-revolution in Russia.
The transformation of the Bolshevik Party into a fierce agent of the capitalistic reconstruction find one of its first and more important cristallizations in the victory that Lenin obtained on all his rivals imposing the signing of the Brest-Litovsk agreement with Germany.
At that time -early 1918-, the contradiction between revolution and counter-revolution is taking place between the partisans of peace and the partisans of revolutionary war. Lenin, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin will heavily insist to impose to the majority of their organization and the whole of the proletariat which is opposed to them, the end of the development of the revolution. For the revolutionaries, it’s clear that the insurrection in Russia was only the starting point of the world revolution, and everybody knew that if the revolution was not going further, Capital would impose its dictatorship. The pursuit of the revolutionary war concentrate thus immediately that stake.
But the capitalistic necessity of reconstruction of the State in Russia will find its fiercest defenders around the pacifist ideology of Lenin who aim to preserve Russia, as economy, as nation, as government, “as stronghold“, as he justifies it. So, under the pretext not having the necessary combativeness to pursue a revolutionary war, Lenin forces the signing in march ’18 of a peace treaty recognizing the occupation by the German state of the regions of Latvia, Byelorussia, Lithuania and Estonia, the same treaty abandoning lateral Ukraine to the imperialistic butchers. But over the given territories, it’s the bourgeois order in the area which is ratified and countersigned by the Bolsheviks, it’s the whole proletarian movement which received a powerful smash-up: the capitalistic peace, the peace of the graves, social peace will be the real winners of those negotiations. Moreover, the treaty will give the opportunity to the German army to pull immense troops out of its eastern front, and to proceed to a huge assault against France, assault which will be stopped at only 60 km out of Paris and we can imagine how bloody it was for the proletarians of the region. The bourgeoisie, not yet reassured, can breath: the imperialistic war is still going on for a while, pushing away the revolutionary developments.
We have the general tendency to underestimate the opposition which manifested itself facing these agreements. It was nevertheless a powerful and violent one, at the image of what it concentrated as contradictions. Most of the proletarian organizations were against the agreements. The majority of the Bolshevik organization as well. Trotsky, who played a determining role in the signing of these agreements, reports:
Trotsky, in “My Life”.
The “socialists-revolutionaries left-wing” were particularly virulent and organised, after the signing, an attempt against the ambassador of Germany in Russia, to break in practice the conclusions of the sinister signature. Soon after, they lead a riot against the peace agreements, in Petrograd. “Anarchists” created Black Guard in Moscow to try to organize the resistance to these agreements. And inside the Bolshevik party, Radek and Boukharin seem to have even consider seriously to arrest Lenin with the help of the “socialists-revolutionaries left-wing”!
Obviously, the Brest-Litovsk agreements were not only the result of the subjective will of the Bolshevik leaders who succeeded imposing it. It was more largely the fact of an objective balance of forces still not in favour to the proletariat, balance of forces marked at that time, for instance, by the delay of the German insurrection (the proletariat in that country being unable to prevent the pursuit of the war!), and more globally, by the limit of ruptures with the pacifist and reformist ideologies the bourgeoisie deployed to offer an alternative to the revolutionary velleities of the proletariat. But we will not insist here about the long developments we have given to that question in our article “La paix, c’est toujours la paix du Capital”, about the Brest-Litovsk agreements in our issues 22 and 23 of our central review in french.
We put an end to this introduction about the development of the war and its revolutionary antagonism, giving a few elements about the stake Ukraine represented in imperialistic terms for the different blocs and nations in presence.
In the gigantic chaos represented by the general mutual tearing of the capitalistic nations in war at that time, Ukraine played a basic strategical role. Grain’store of Europe, the possession of these vast superficies should able Germany to face the maritime blockade imposed by England. Its conquest got a primordial strategic factor as a necessity for the German Capital to feed “its” proletarians on the frontline as well as backward to maintain its social peace, so important for the pursuit of its war’s goals.
In the same line, the different resources of its soil, like the important coal and iron mines Ukraine was overflowed, should replace the colonial imports seized by the French and England navies.
Since the very first days of the war, Ukraine will constitute a fundamental stake that all fractions of Capital will look for. Then, we will see all the armies of the region marching one behind the other to literally loot this gigantic region and to contend ferociously for it: Russians against Austro-Hungarians and Germans, the bloc around Germany against the government of Kerensky, and later, the same bloc with the Ukrainian nationalists against the armies of the Russian State painted in red, and later again, the same “Red” armies against the White armies…
It’s in all that contradictory context, where the development of the revolution is still at the day’s order, with the struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeois war and the progressive affirmation of its perspectives, but also at the moment when the counter-revolution is spreading, finding within the Bolsheviks agents useful to its development, it’s in that context, after the Brest-Litovsk agreements and the entry of the German armies in Ukraine, the proletariat of that region will uprise and organize an insurrection which will last almost three years, against all the bourgeois armies which will tempt to take the control of it.
- Revolutionary war in Ukraine, against Brest-Litovsk (March 1918 – December 1918)
The revolutionary struggle in Ukraine does not obviously date from the reactions to the war. These reactions inserting in an history and a context of particularly rich struggle, that we can represent here in only a few lines.
The great famine of 1891, and the epidemic of cholera of 1892 following it, have awoke the wraths of the rural proletariat against the exactions of the bourgeoisie. And it’s on that encouraging field that “anarchist” revolutionary minorities get organized, acting and asserting communism as perspective.
In 1902, the proletarian insurrection of Kharkov and Poltava started, where the countryside’s proletarians refuse to pay the tax, carry on to massive reappropriations, to expropriations and redistributions of land properties.
In 1905, proletarian revolts in the countrysides, where the “socialist-revolutionary” minorities have enormous influence (cf. self-proclaimed groups of “Zemlia i Volia”: Land and Freedom), open the revolutionary era. In the cities, workers’s riots follow one behind the other particularly in Ekaterinoslav. In the countrysides real jaqueries are taking place: arsons of properties, of large landowner’s estates, destruction of accountabilities, expropriation, and redistribution of lands,… the “Black Share”, or “The land to those who work it”.
The decree of Stolypin in 1906 will try, like the Bolsheviks later, to break the solidarity of the rural proletarians against the great landowners, creating peasants middle “class” (the kulaks), to attempt to put a definitive end to the permanent turmoil in the countrysides.
The story of these very violent clashes with the bourgeoisie and the maintaining of the extremely harsh conditions of living, despite these struggles, won’t lead to a “merry” entry into the war! A lot of proletarians will jib at leaving their poor tiny plot of land to go and be killed thousands of kilometres away for a cause which seems quite obscure for them. The declaration of war to Germany, on august 2nd 1914, arrives short before the harvest’s season, and the proletariat of the countrysides will be mobilised with the troops in its back.
As we have seen it above, two years of war will be enough to destroy social cohesion. It’s over to be russian, german, austro-hungarian, french… In 1916-1917, everything explodes and in February 1917, similar movements to Petrograd’s rise against the government of Kerensky, and its local materialisations in Ukraine. Soviets bloom from everywhere and even an ukrainian parliament (the Rada), where the nationalist tendencies of the local bourgeoisie can find a tribune. The Petliurists (3), those Ukrainian nationalists, will be the more active inside that Rada. Nevertheless, in the countrysides, the “socialists-revolutionaries” and the different “anarchist” fractions will stay predominant. The “anarchists”, under the leading of among others Semeniuta, have until 1910 led a huge work of propaganda, and proceeded to different demonstrations of worker’s direct action: banks lootings, expropriations of important landowners, vengeance against the little chiefs (4)…
With the confusion following the October insurgency and the changes involved in it, several local bourgeoisies try to reply to the local revolutionary movements by the constitution of independent countries: Finland, Poland, Ukraine, Georgia… In February 1918, Austro-German armies invaded Ukraine and, passing up through the Baltic states, come to 150 kms of Petrograd. Then, the Bolsheviks ratify the peace of Brest-Litovsk which, as we have briefly reminded above, will give the signal for the reconstruction of the State in Russia, and allow the progressive smashing of all revolutionary velleity, letting other bourgeois fractions to finish the job in other regions. Therefore, struggling Ukrainian proletarians will be bound hand and foot, send to the Ukrainian and Austro-German bourgeoisies, momently freed of any revolutionary pression.
Therefore, the proletariat can only uprise and fight. And it’s a fundamental point to remind that fact: the proletariat, from its own materialistic interests, could do nothing but to uprise! There was no way at any moment to accept the Bolshevik program imposed by the Brest-Litovsk agreements! Facing all the classical counter-revolutionary justifications of the leftist organizations, from the trotskysts to the maoists not to mention the leftists of “Programme Communiste” or Battaglia Communista and others, who argue the necessities of these peace agreements… “because the proletarians had to feed themselves” (!!!), the facts have to be reminded, to indicate in evidence the historical materiality and to pretend that the only thing these agreements will give to the proletarians in Ukraine (omitting the other questions right here),… was bullets and shells! The peace agreements, it’s the German army which looted the fields and the grain’s stores reappropriated by the proletarians; it’s the come back of the Ukrainian landowners kicked out a few times before; it’s the famine for the proletarians and the bullets if they tried to resist.
By these concrete conditions, which have nothing to care about the so-called historical considerations of the leftists, the proletariat couldn’t materially accept for a single moment “peace agreements” which disarmed them and pushed them to the famine! It was not an ideological question, but a practical one!
Indeed, in the Ukraine, given by the Bolsheviks to the White armies, the German troops put the hetman Skoropadsky, a rich landowner, at the head of the State. With the assent of that new government, the German army proceed to the looting of the region, raising everything they needed to keep going its warry campaign and bring back raw material, wheat, cattle,… to the back of the front and even in Germany. Hundreds of thousands of trucks won’t be enough to carry all what the emissaries of the German bourgeoisie have taken.
On the other side, as a price for the looting committed by their Austro-German homologues, the Ukrainian bourgeois can get back the goods expropriated by the revolutionary movement a few times before. The landowners retake their properties and persecute all who are opposed to them. When the proletarians resist and try to defend the goods they have retake to the bourgeois, they are executed without any kind of trial. It’s important to notice here again that independently of all speeches about the liberation or the national independence, Austrian, Ukrainian, Russian or German bourgeois, all agree to crash the proletarians, to send them back to work, to submit them to exploitation and to execute them if they resist.
But from June 1918, the limitless repression which submit the proletarians, will force them to react to bourgeois assaults. Combined to the generalized revolutionary offensive in Russia which reinforce their own combativeness, from every side, insurrectional acts emerge against the Ukrainian landowners and against the Austro-German armed forces. The proletarians from the cities as well as those from the countrysides confront them, evict the landowners, and get armed against the work of police of the Austro-German army.
To these proletarian reactions are opposed the unmerciful White terror. In the villages, the proletarians are massacred by hundreds. The houses are burnt, all what they possess is destroyed. But the determination of the bourgeois forces then the proletariat in Ukraine to realize a first qualitative step in its struggle against those who massacre them: they are organized in groups of franc-tireurs and resort to a war of ambush. From everywhere, and as they were animated by an invisible leader –the communist movement!-, a surprising number of proletarians are organized in groups to lead a war of partisans against the landowners and the Austro-German military forces which protect them. Without any technical coordination in the beginning, but very organically, as emerging from the desire not to die without fighting to the end, units composed by 20, 50 or 100 well armed proletarians and moving with horses, assault the properties by surprise, attack the National Guard (the Varta) and confront all their enemies. The grand landowners who persecuted those they exploited are themselves denounced to the groups of partisans and threatened to be suppressed if they persist in their exactions. The German cops and officers are promised to a certain death. The whole of these actions of Red counterterror will be daily realised in all the Ukraine during all the summer 1918, from June until August.
The wild repression used by the combined forces of the hetman Skoropadsky and the German staff, can only determine the armed fighters of the proletariat to realize a second qualitative step in their fight, regrouping more and more, and progressively centralizing them around their most combative fractions. Great armies of partisans constituted then around proletarian militants like Korilenko in the region of Berdiansk, Shchuss and Petrenko-Platonov in the regions of Dibrivka and of Grichino…
In Southern Ukraine, around the region of Gulai-Pole, the unification of the units of partisans are not setting only for the defence against the White terror. Here, the proletarians are organized in the aim to definitely defeat the counter-revolution led by the grand landowners. The centralism of the insurrectional forces asserts as main objective, the constitution of the revolutionary workers of the cities and from the countrysides, into one organized force to demolish the whole present bourgeois society: their program is the communist revolution, their flag -black-, is a classless one! The most important role in the unification of the partisans and the assert of a revolutionary program is the work of a young communist militant of 29 years old, coming from that region: Nestor Makhno.
A bit later, in November 1918, when the revolutionary movement in Germany and in Austria will reinforce the defeatist movement in the German and the Austrian troops in Ukraine, leading them to progressively withdraw of the region, new enemies will appear at the horizon under the shape of the nationalistic armies of Petliura, and moreover the terrible White Armies of Denikin. From that point, the insurgency in Ukraine naturally -and mainly in its southern part-, is organized, is centralized and unified around the revolutionary program of Makhno, and of other communist militants, finally forming a single Revolutionary Insurgent Army.
The process by which the insurrection in Ukraine get gradually organized around a revolutionary program, shows clearly the importance in similar movement of revolutionary militants’s presence, of a beforehand constituted avant-garde, formed and determined to revolutionize the world in its totality. As one can see, these communist nuclei crystallize the struggle of thousands of proletarians, by clarifying its perspectives, by revealing the program it contains, by organizing the social movement. They do not create the struggle, they lead it. Yes, they lead the struggle, they give a direction, they impose the dictatorship of the needs of the social class within which they fight, with all due respect to all the reformists bleating “marxism” or “anarchism” in fields of democracy (5).
Contrary to the idealistic romanticism, the ukrainian insurrection is obviously not the subjective fact of a lonely brilliant combatant capable to convince people to struggle: it is first and foremost a spontaneous reaction of proletarians in struggle facing the bourgeois terror, often to the initiative of some fractions of more determined combatants.
But if revolutionaries do not create the struggle, they crystallize it and allow the realization of several jumps of quality:
- by asserting permanently speaking the necessity to centralize always stronger, until composing only one great common force facing the class enemy;
- by formulating each time more precisely the Social Revolution and Communism, as the only perspective to definitively put an end to the World of Wage;
- by tracing at each instant the class frontier separating revolution of counter-revolution.
We will see further the immense weaknesses and the huge illusions present in the program of the Insurrectional Army of Ukraine, led by Makhno, but in the framework of the unification realized around the struggle against the several attempts to break the revolutionary movement in Ukraine, it is necessary for us first to underline the force of these militants who, with their guns, managed to formulate the communist revolution as the only perspective, denouncing and organizing the struggle against the Petliura’s and other Grigoriev’s nationalistic bourgeois alternatives, advocating the revolutionary defeatism within the austro-hungarian armies, exerting the red terror facing the white armies and the landowners, even revealing the bolshevik Red Army for what it was: an army of the capitalistic reconstruction in Russia!
In November 1918 therefore, the austro-german troops begin to withdraw, while staying subject to the pressure of the combatants of the Revolutionary Insurgent Army. This pressure consisted in advocating the generalization of the defeatist movement within these armies, by making revolutionary propaganda, while leading repeated attacks against their military forces.
Revolutionary defeatism is a decisive question in the framework of the communist reply to the bourgeois war. For communists, the war is only the continuation of the capitalistic peace or, better says, another moment of the permanent war from bourgeoisie against proletariat. But this “other moment” of the dictatorship of bourgeoisie upon our class requires for the worker struggle, precise orders for action, clear perspectives. In this way, Lenin, Liebknecht, and many other revolutionary militants reaffirmed in the years 1914-1915, facing the soft and without perspective pacifism of the social-democrats, the necessity to struggle against “his own” bourgeoisie, in the form of explicit orders and resolutions.
Where the pacifists were ap-“bleating” to stop the war, without other proposal, the communists opposed the revolutionary perspective by calling for the fraternization between soldiers of the various armies, by proposing to return guns against “their” officers, by denouncing the real enemy of the proletariat in “its own bourgeoisie”,… in a word by encouraging the defeat of “its” own country, the homeland putting policemen in its back!
Revolutionary defeatism is thus the direct realization of the revolutionary confrontation facing the war by which the proletariat shoots against these holding the gun under its throat. It continues by the revolutionary war of which it is matter here, and aiming to lead the confrontation within a bourgeois army by tending always more towards distinguishing these commanding from these suffering some orders, so as to clarify the permanent existence of the class contradiction within the army led by the bourgeoisie, and to encourage the development of the former into a class war, until the contradiction existing within the bourgeois military institution explodes openly obliging everybody to choose his camp, and then transforms itself into a violent crisis standed out by the decomposition of the military structure, then by its final destruction.
Back to the revolutionary war in Ukraine, each time detachments of the Makhnovist army attack the austro-german troops and win (what became increasingly frequent at this moment of full decomposition of the armies of the german imperialism), they proceed to the same way and obey to the same rules: they kill the officers, as relentless defenders of the bourgeois army, and even often executioners of their own soldiers, and liberate the private soldiers made captive, except for these guilty of violence acts towards proletarians. To all the others, they propose to return at home and to tell the social revolution taking place in Ukraine. Revolutionaries distribute also pamphlets and texts so as to encourage the soldiers to join the revolution in Germany and in Austria. Here is Arshinov’s (6) testimony, an “anarchist-communist” revolutionary militant who fought by the sides of Makhno, about the tasks the Makhnovist detachments assumed in the framework of resistance acts taking place in the region:
“Tasks of his company were: a) undertaken actively a propaganda and organization work among peasants; b) to lead an implacable struggle against their enemies. At the basis of this struggle was found the principle: all landowner proprietor persecuting peasants, all agent of police of the hetman, all German and Russian officer, as mortal and implacable enemies of peasants, had to meet no mercy and to be suppressed (…) In a two or three weeks time, this detachment became already the terror, not only of the local middle class, but also of austro-german authorities.”
Pamphlets in german and in several dialects are printed by the revolutionaries to serve as tool of defeatist propaganda, and to dislocate austro-german troops serving as watchdogs to the local bourgeoisie. From that time, the resolutely internationalist side of the movement shows its forces.
Several detachments of partisans will be composed of proletarians of Ukraine, but there are also detachments with proletarians native of Greece (there are important greek colonies around the Black Sea), Germany, Hungary Austria or Jews,… There are also detachments of Great-Russia. Indeed, the defeatist propaganda is a propaganda that, because its aim is generalizing revolution, realizes also an important unification of the proletariat around its real tasks. So several bolshevik detachments, sent from Russia where they were based, whereas they are dispatching on the spot to struggle also against hetman Skoropadsky, disobey to the bolsheviks orders and submit themselves in the struggle to the Makhnovist’s discipline (7). Later, this will be whole of the Red Army regiments that, won over to their cause by the defeatist propaganda, went over to the Revolutionary Insurgent Army of Ukraine.
This way to proceed is the concrete and clear materialization of the revolutionary war, advocated some months earlier by the whole of the revolutionary forces of the proletariat against the bolshevik minority gathered around Lenin, during the Brest-Litovsk negotiations. The activity of the proletarian militants in this region of Russia is the material proof of the possibilities to lead the international revolutionary war, it is the practical negation of all the arguments advanced by Lenin to sign this shameful, demobilizing, and counter-revolutionary peace with the armies of the bourgeoisie!
Whole this take place between November and December 1918. As soon as the austro-german troops have withdrawn, the government of hetman Skoropadsky runs away and provokes the fall of his regime.
The Makhnovshchina(8) is found from then on facing a new enemy, taking advantage of the anti-austro-german nationalistic wave to organize: the Petliura’s ukrainian nationalists.
The social nature of the “petliurovchtchina” is the ukrainian nationalistic bourgeoisie, in search of an independence for the ukrainian patriotic organization of work and exploitation. As always, this kind of autonomist movement was mainly organized around the liberal bourgeoisie, by conciliating the interests of the countryside bourgeois and the liberal “intelligentsia”, while using local proletarian revolts to divert them to their profit.
It is anyway on basis of the immense enthusiasm following the departure of the austro-german armies and hetman Skoropadsky, that this nationalistic movement is booming. Petliura makes everything to put himself to the centre of the victories realized on the imperialistic austro-german armies, and gathering thus quickly huge masses through whole of Ukraine around his own figure of national hero. Southern regions, where proletarian revolts had organized in force around their own program, around the flag of social revolution, are the only regions where the nationalistic movement had only few grip and is directly denounced for what it is: a new recipe to submit the proletariat to work.
But the Petliura’s Government of the National Republic had not the time to take advantage for a long time from his popularity. Hardly set up, in December 1918, while Skoropadsky had withdrawn, he have to run away a month later, in January 1919: the social basis on which was based his power vanishes at the same time that proletarians’s illusions about his capacity to change deeply their situation. Petliurism will collapse as quickly as it had built. The majority of proletarians who had rejoined it for a while withdraws now from its army, hostile to the new established power, rejoining often the forces of the Revolutionary Insurgent Army of Ukraine, gathered around “anarchists-communists”. The rest of its army will remain nevertheless sufficiently active to confront the Red Army, when this will begin to make one’s way towards Ukraine to lay the reconstruction of the Russian State.
4. The doctrinaire anarchism to the service of capitalism (November 1918 – June 1919)
Meanwhile this unsettled time, between November ’18 and June ’19, the “anarchist-communist” militants (9), gathered around Makhno, will try to manage the “liberated region” (a radius of 100 kilometres around Goulai-Pole, populated with more or less two millions of inhabitants). And it is here that the insurrectional movement shows its weaknesses and its contradictions, because it did not manage to break the link joining it to the Capital by the intermediary of its lack of programmatical rupture with Social-Democracy.
This lack of rupture is to understand objectively in the framework of the generalized impossibility at this period to conceive the dictatorship of the proletariat, as the definitive effort to abolish the value and the exchange, this fact being due, among other things, to the work of occultation accomplished by the Second International, around the contributions realized by Marx on this question. But it is also important to denounce this lack of rupture with reformism in its subjective fact, that is to say in the anarchist and managerial ideologies that have been useful as justification to proletarians, and more specifically to the Makhnovist militants, to carry on concretely the non-destruction of the Economy, and therefore the non-destruction of the State, in so far as the former is only the organized expression of the Value.
The proletariat in Ukraine prevents itself therefore drawing benefit from the victories won against bourgeoisie. Indeed, the bourgeoisie locally defeated, the proletariat has the power in its hands. It assumes the despotic control of the means of production (in countrysides and cities, bourgeois have been expropriated,…), but it does not know what to make with and stays paralysed. Not only that it does not really try to generalize geographically the struggle, but facing economy, it stays without initiative and does not assume its real destruction. From then on, incapable to secrete a real direction and a program to destroy Capital, the anarchist ideology, under its self-managerial and federalist aspects, is going to consolidate the proletariat’s weaknesses by erecting its reformist principles as authority. The proletariat’s incapacity to join together with the other communist forces worldwide, and the lack of link with the history of communism, as program, is going to allow to Social-Democracy (under the features here from the anarchist ideology) to empty ferociously the torrent of the social revolution to bring it to the sweet and calm waters of conversion, improvement of wage surviving and NOT of its destruction. Instead of destroying waged labour, and therefore the very source of Capital, the Makhnovists, by calling upon their “libertarian principles” are going to manage it by the means of “peasant communes”, called: “Communes of Work” (sic!), or “Free Communes” or also “Commune Rosa Luxemburg”.
In these territories where the governmental order has disappeared, and where the disorganization of the Capital reaches its height, the Makhnovists will crystallize the stopping to the decomposition of Economy by advocating its democratic management. Worst, on the pretext of not wanting to impose the authority on this question, they will advocate the federated organization of free agricultural Communes and the self-management of factories and other manufactures, by proposing to city and countryside proletarians to base their relationships on barter, on the mutual exchange of the respective products of work. We might as well say that these “councils” were the authority and made well obviously strength of law, in so far as the influence they had, based on the just trust the proletarians showed to them of whom they had crystallized the direction during their victory on the austro-german armies, materialized directly in force all suggestion made!
This beginning of federated social organization, did obviously not realize the continuation of the immediate struggle that proletarians led practically against work and for the immediate satisfaction of their human needs (struggle against value, for the extension of the worldwide revolution,…), but constituted well rather the self-managed social (re)organization of the existing system of exploitation (10).
The revolutionaries gathered around Makhno had very well understood the importance to oppose by authority, force and terror facing to the bourgeoisie as military force; but this comprehension stopped as soon as they were found facing to the bourgeois program under the form of exchange, facing to the organization of the State under form of the dictatorship of the value. Here, Economy took back whole of its rights. The Makhnovists, of whom their anarchist ideology restricted to them the vision to the bourgeois liberalism, proposed to the proletarians to freely take in hands their destinies by deciding themselves the quantity of time they wanted to work and the way they wanted to manage the results of their work. As if proletarians, alone or organized into Commune, had the time to be free facing to the laws of exchange!!! Economy, as abstracted organization of the valorization movement, was obviously the great winner of the self-management reforms realized to the initiative of the Makhnovists.
Facing the social organization of Work, the Makhnovists did nothing but imposing (could it be by the influence of the ordinary “good advice” they gave, as one has seen it!) its self-management: the Capital continued to prevail, but now, it was the city and countryside workers who managed their exploitation by the Capital. They could thus decide themselves the exchangeable quantities between various products, and deluding themselves that the prices had disappeared. While the foundation -the regulation of exchange by the means of the quantity of work crystallized in each merchandise- therefore the Value, brought them in reality to determine the quantitative relations between the products into exchange.
The monstrosity so produced, was finally to camouflage the reality of waged Labour, Exploitation and Capital, whole forces that perpetuated themselves, behind hazy pseudo-communist ideologies. Volin’s libertarian proposals rhymed here with Lenin’s “socialist” decrees. While the bolshevik thinks suppressing money by decreeing the abolition of the currency, the libertarian believes realizing communism by federating the value and by imposing the barter!
And if militants like Arshinov were very capable to disclose confusingly (11) the traps of the bolshevik Economy…
“… we have to deal with a simple substitution of the private capitalism in a capitalism of State. The communist nationalization of industry represents a new type of reports in the production, with which the slavery, the economic subjection of the working class are concentrated in an alone dawns: the State. In fact, that does not improve the situation of the working class at all. The obligatory work (for workers, of course) and its militarization – is the own spirit of the national manufaccture.” (12)
… they were on the other hand well incapable to make more than the lamentable apology of the Makhnovist limits:
“The peasants and worker liberty, told the Makhnovists, belongs to themselves and can suffer no restriction (…) As for the Makhnovists, they can only help them by either one advice or opinion and to put to their disposition the necessary intellectual or military forces, but they want in no case to prescribe no matter what this is (…) Volin, admired by peasants, translated their thoughts and their aspirations: the idea of free Soviets, working in agreement with desires of the laborious population, links between peasants and city workers, based on the mutual exchange of the respective products of labour, the idea of a libertarian and egalitarian organization of life…” (13)
Arshinov in “History of the Makhnovist movement” -1921-
As one sees particularly well in the former paragraph of this quotation, one only would have to replace Volin by Lenin, and “libertarian” by “socialist”, and we would have the same bourgeois democratic apology of the Soviets! Facing all these evasions about democratic and free self-organization of the Soviets, what proletariat needed the most, is that its avant-garde shows as much determination imposing the liquidation of Value, Exchange and the international generalization of revalorization, as it had to lead the armed insurrection against these who personified it!
The central question was the centralized organisation of production according to the human needs, and therefore against profit. This allows immediately a reduction of the quantity of work (in extension and in intensity), by the immediate liquidation of all that is not useful to human being. From then and the application of the principle “who does not work does not eat”, one forces the officials of the State and other bourgeois to take part to the collective effort against the generalized market production. The suppression of the whole useless functions and the liquidation of industries producing nothing, with a view to increase the wellbeing of the proletarians, involve the growing automation of the whole tasks of production, all these measures being necessary and unavoidable to attack fundamentally the waged slavery. Accordingly this kind of measures (completely insufficient, but marking out the way!), a growing number of proletarians is also thus delivered of the productive tasks and can devote with once more force to the worldwide extension of the social revolution.
The Makhnovists did not make this. As one has seen, they were contented with recreating the separation between city and countryside, between “workers” and “peasants”, between intellectuals and manuals while pushing each of these categories of Capital to ignore themselves, to understand the social revolution only as federal and fragmentary management of his small misery.
The federalist ideology of anarchism allowed only one thing: the isolation and dislocation of the revolutionary movement, its dispersion in localist self-management mirages. The Makhno’s himself regionalist and federalist ideology was a curb to the generalization of the revolution. Thus, when in 1920, he has to define the “Makhnovchtchina’s Aspirations” (extract from a pamphlet written by Makhno: “What is the Makhnovchtchina?”), he says:
“The Makhnovist’s insurrectional movement aspires to create from the revolutionary peasantry, an organized and real force, capable to fight the counter-revolution and to defend the independence of a free region.”
As one can see, the social-democrat idea of socialism in only one region, that will later become with Stalin and Boukharin, “Theory of socialism in only one country”, was as dear to Makhno as to the Bolshevik governmental right wing.
The worst, it is that a revolutionary leader as Makhno stayed captive of the “stalinist” prospect before “stalinism”, and that, in the heat of worldwide revolutionary wave, in a time where from Berlin to Patagonia, from Bombay to Mexico, from Budapest to Toronto, the proletariat struggled for the one worldwide revolution!
The limit of the insurrection in Ukraine will find thus, beyond objective problems of relation force in this period, new agents in the lack of generalization of the revolutionary war. The “anarchists-communists” in Ukraine had perceived and criticized the weapons in their hands, the refusal of the generalization of the revolutionary war through the agreements of Brest-Litovsk, but they have been incapable to understand in what the generalization of the revolution passed also through the as well dictatorial and violent struggle against Economy, against Value.
The ascendancy from the anarchist ideology over the revolutionaries in Ukraine, and in Russia more largely, finds its roots, as a bit everywhere worldwide at this period anyway, in the attempt to give a coherent theoretical substance to the will of revolutionary militants to assume direct action, against the reformist proposals advocated by most of the social-democrat organizations, having transformed Marxism into an ideology. This correct will to break with reformism is going to lead a lot of these militants to theorize their actions, under the form of more idealistic some than others programs, going from self-management and federalist proudhonism to examplative terrorism as catechism (see Netchaiev) in passing by anarcho-trade-unionism.
Under a same flag therefore, and as well often, direct action and reformism, revolution and counter-revolution confronted each other.
Anarchism in Ukraine, as reaction to the legalistic goals of the social-democrats, begins as in the rest of Russia at the 19th century, and becomes established especially at the end of the century, during the famine of 1891. The first group dates from 1903, Bor’ba (Combat). The monthly “Bread and Liberty”, from the followers of the bourgeois anarcho-trade-unionism developed by Kropotkin, circulates then clandestinely in Ukraine.
The movement reaches then Moscow and the capital Saint Petersburg, with as important groups as “Tchernoe Znamia” (Black Flag), “Kleb i Volia” (Bread and Liberty) and “Beznatchalie” (Without Authority). Several groups embrace different practices: “Black Flag” acknowledges Communism as finality; “Bread and Liberty” on the other hand, is a typical reformist group considering “a society” where capitalism would be banished to give way to a gigantic federation of producers directed by labour professional organizations (the trade-unions)! And as one sees here, self-management illusions of a pure capitalism rid of its darkest sides, gangrene the revolutionary movement of both sides of the false polarization in which the Social-Democracy gets enclose then “Marxists” and “anarchists”. As for the militants of the third group, “Without Authority”, they practice more a literary and romantic phraseology without hesitating to raid by throwing some bombs on all what can represent “the so hated authority”.
It is within the self-defined groups as “anarchists-communists” that the ruptures are going to be the most coherent. Against the triumphant kropotkinian pacifism, one sees thus, the “anarchist” militants from Moscow and Saint Petersburg, gathered around Grossmann-Rochtchin, assuming a powerful rupture, mainly with trade-unionism. This kind of very determined rupture, the organization of these militants around very dissociated positions, as well as their efforts of real centralization of proletarians in struggle are anyway most of the time, in deep contradiction with the doctrine of reference -anarchism-, and its “anti-authoritarian” claims.
The communist revolutionary militants, organized under the anarchist flag, took part to the insurrection of October by the side of the other avant-guard proletarian forces, by the side of the “left revolutionary socialists”, the bolsheviks, the “without parti”, etc. In Ukraine, in Ekaterinoslav for example, 80.000 proletarians run in the streets and march behind black flags showing their participation to the current social revolution.
Crushed by the Bolsheviks, at the same time that the left “revolutionary socialists”, after their armed struggle against the agreements of Brest-Litovsk, in April 1918, these having escaped from jail or the firing squad returned to Ukraine (historical cradle of the movement), where they found various centralized organizations within the Nabat (the Alarm), and organized the 1st Anarchist Organizations Conference of Ukraine in November 1918.
Unfortunately, this organ will play no role of centralization in the struggle opposing the proletarians to the whole forces of reaction. As Arshinov and Makhno will criticize it later, Nabat will be only an organization of “theorists”, “phrasors”, “glib talkers” being contented more with making propaganda “of ideas” by means of conferences, discussions, literary circles or libraries, than taking really an active part to the revolutionary movement. Only some, a tiny minority, will rejoin the insurrectional movement and will take an effective part to the struggle of the proletariat.
It is all this context and this history of the struggles, that constitutes the framework in which the movement in Ukraine will be more centralized around these “anarchist” militants than the “bolsheviks” or the “revolutionary socialists”, although these last-mentioned also enjoyed a large listening.
The determining element in the organization of the Revolutionary Insurgent Army around the black flag, being obviously also constituted by the fact that the “anarchist” militants -Makhno in the lead-, from their liberation from czarist jail, returned in Ukraine to assume the tasks of agitation and revolutionary organization.
Makhno is welcomed in hero after his stay of ten years in the russian jails. He found later the first Soviet of Peasants and Workers of Gulai-Pole, that will decree from the end of August 1917, that is to say 3 months before October ’17, the disarmament of the bourgeoisie, as well as the “abolition of its rights on the people”.
Makhno returns then to Moscow (14) to meet his comrade Arshinov, and to consider more largely the possibilities to take part to the revolutionary movement. After a short stay where he witnesses the repression of the anarchists by the bolsheviks but also what he denounces as a caricature of revolution (Moscow appears to him as “the capital of a paper revolution, a vast factory producing resolutions and senseless slogans, while only one political party rises by force and fraud in the position of a ruling class”), he returns to Gulai-Pole to organize resistance on contradictory basis to those of the bolsheviks.
The bolsheviks will found as for them their activity on the more important influence they will have within the great cities and will be from then on almost entirely absent in the countryside. This dichotomy of the proletarian movement will be one of the great problems the various revolutionary fractions (“bolshevik” as well as “revolutionary socialist” and “anarchist”) will not be able to solve in Russia, strengthening at the same time, the capitalistic divisions between city and countryside maintained by the bourgeoisie.
5. Against Denikin. First alliance with the Bolsheviks (March 1919 – June 1919)
As we have seen, in a short time the Revolutionary Insurgent Army of Ukraine repulsed definitively the austro-german troops and their set up ukrainian ally, Skoropadsky. Similarly, the nationalistic Petliura has rapidly seen his social basis crumble once he started governing. In January 1919 therefore, a small year after the beginning of the uprising in Ukraine, the various armies of bourgeoisie have been repulsed and defeated.
But if in Ukraine, Makhno has managed to gather isolated bands to defeat the remains of the austro-german troops in full rout, it goes not similarly with the bolshevik power that is threatened from all sides. In addition to the “sanitary cord” imposed by allied troops, the white troops equipped and organized by the French, American and English, threaten to invade by the east (Siberia, Koltchak’s troops), by the south (Black Sea, Sea of Azov, Crimea, Denikin’s troops), and by the west (Poland, Romania and Czechoslovakia,…). Moreover, in the north of Ukraine, the remain of Petliura’s troops continues fighting and giving the bolsheviks a lot of trouble.
Denikin and his white army chooses this moment to enter in Ukraine, hoping to progress rapidly to the north, thanks to the fact that the bolsheviks were at grips with the Petliura’s nationalists. He was quite surprised to come across the determined and well organized army of Ukraine insurgents. From there, the Insurrectional Army of Ukraine succeeds to organize a more than 100 kilometres front of struggle against Denikin’s Whites, nevertheless well superior in men and material.
It is also at this moment, and whereas the threat, as well from Denikin’s white armies as the petliurists, begins to be done urgent, that the Soviet of Gulai-Pole concludes a first alliance, considered as a purely military one, with the Bolsheviks through Dybenko and Antonov-Ovseenko, military commander of the Ukrainian front for the Red Army.
This first compromise is once more marked by the difficulty to assume until the end the importance on no account to make a front with the enemies of the revolution, in the circumstances here, with a Red Army, that continues the work of reconstruction of the State in Russia, of the development of Capital. By making prevail the defense of the Ukrainian territory (ideologically justified by its assimilation to the defense of the revolution), the revolutionaries of the Revolutionary Insurgent Army are going to make the same error than that contained in the negotiations of Brest-Litovsk: the abandonment of the revolutionary war assumed by the proletariat in arms by the assimilation of revolutionary energy into a “Red” Army, mechanically constituted from the same principles than any bourgeois army (obligatory conscription, military hierarchy and discipline, etc).
This alliance materialized by a kind of inter-classist front where the revolutionary movement tends to dilute itself in the defense of national interests. The Insurrectional Army is incorporated in the Red Army, but the insurgents keep nevertheless their army as well as their own discipline, commandment, organization, etc… As we will see further on, this front did not succeed, and the Makhnovist insurgents reconquered later whole of their autonomy.
It is clear so that for Moscow, in total coherence with its policy, the alliance with the Red Army meant the allegiance of the Revolutionary Insurrectional Army to the bolshevik power and at the same time the crushing of all revolutionary focus that could claim to continue the social revolution.
When the insurgents of Ukraine stay stuck to this alliance, by supporting in this front the defense of Ukraine, the revolutionary movement dilutes itself into the defense of the armed policy of the Capital, and mark thus the pace by a non rupture, or an inadequately clear rupture, with the bolsheviks’s bourgeois policy, considered as revolutionaries. It is only in the attempts of ruptures, and denunciation of the bolsheviks’s counter-revolutionary character, that the revolutionary movement will regain its strongest moments. At the opposite, it suffers only massacres, isolation and dispersion.
And effectively, “war communism” the bolsheviks intend to impose does not find any support in Ukraine. Very rapidly, the insurgent proletarians do no longer acknowledge the bolshevik authority, newly established, from the agreements with the Makhnovists. They are opposed to requisitions and disperse the extraordinary commissions entrusted with the “struggle against sabotage and counter-revolution” (Tchekas), in fact led against them. To Kamenev, entreating him to take a stand against Grigoriev (a band chief who turns against the Red Army -see lower down- in the province of Kherson, west of the Makhnovist army), Makhno, who confronts hardly the Denikin’s offensive, wants already to dissociate himself from the bolshevik policy and replies:
“… My troops and I will remain unshakeablely faithful to the workers and peasants Revolution, but not to the institutions of violence, such as your commissariats and your Tchekas that practise the arbitrary upon the laborious population.”
It is in the alliance and the front (this usual tactics of bourgeoisie, to dissolve democratically antagonical interests), that Bolsheviks, are going to try to liquidate the Makhnovist insurrectional movement, of which they distrust and want to destroy, so as the white army. They send weapons very sparingly, they refuse to send machine-guns and cannons, they try to dissolve Makhno’s brigade into the Red Army, they make outlaw the Military Revolutionary Soviet that directed the activity of the Makhnovist Army, they try to assassinate Makhno, and because this sabotage is considered as insufficient, in June, Trotsky keeps Antonov-Ovseenko (15) away from the local commandment of the Red Army, because he was suspected of sympathies for the Makhnovists since he had denounced these sabotage practices.
In the face of all these wangles and always greater danger of white armies busy to topple over the Red Army, the Revolutionary Military Soviet decides to form again in an autonomous way the Revolutionary Insurrectional Army (while communicating its displacements, and by continuing momentarily to submit to the necessities of general strategy of the Red Army’s senior staff).
But the bolshevik repression intensifies with Trotsky’s arrival in Ukraine. Antonov-Ovseenko is dismissed, the “anarchist” accused of “conspiracy against the State” are executed, without considering the calumny campaigns led against them. Decimated and disorganized by the bolshevik repression, without weapons, the Makhnovists are outflanked by the white armies that take successively Mariupol and even Gulai-Pole.
Facing this terror falling on them in the very framework of the agreement the bolsheviks had proposed to them, the Makhnovists denounce the Red State’s forces in rebuilding, while preserving to the end some illusions, about the bolsheviks’s “honesty”. In this way Makhno, because he thinks naively the bolshevik hate is led against him personally, decides to withdraw from his commandment position in the Red Army, while leaving there the Ukrainian combatants “prove” their combativity and their adherence to the revolution facing Trotsky’s calumnies:
“In an article titled “The Makhnovchtchina” (in the newspaper “Forward”, No.55), Trotsky asks the question: “Against who Makhnovist insurgents do they uprise?” And he deals all along his article to demonstrate the Makhnovshchinawould be in fact nothing else other than a front of battle against the power of the Soviets. He have no word about the effective front against the Whites, of an extent of more than one hundred kilometres where the insurgents have suffered since six month and suffer always innumerable losses. The order No.1824 declares I am a conspirator and an organizer of rebellion in the way of Grigoriev. (…) This hostile attitude, and that becomes currently aggressive, from central authorities against the insurrectional movement leads inescapably to the creation of a particular internal front, from both sides of which the laborious masses having faith in the Revolution will be found. (…) The most sure means to avoid the authorities does not commit this crime consist, in my opinion, to leave the position I occupy.”
Letter from Makhno to Trotsky and the 14th Army’s Senior Staff – June 9th 1919
Despite the white armies’s pressure, Trotsky puts a price on Makhno’s head, preferring Ukraine falls into Denikin’s hands, rather than to see the Makhnovshchinawinning a force that could turn against Bolsheviks.
Makhno is then called back by the Revolutionary Insurgent Army. He escapes to a trap laid by the bolsheviks (trap in which several chiefs of the Revolutionary Insurgent Army Headquarters are going to fall, of whom Mikhailov-Pavlenko who is executed). Makhno withdraw with a small group of cavalrymen in the vicinity of Alexandrovsk.
The white armies offensive, and the Trotsky’s total disorganization of the revolutionary forces, provokes the Red Army’s rout, during this month of July 1919. It withdraws at 300 kilometres of Moscow, abandoning completely the proletarians of Ukraine to themselves.
The situation is completely chaotic. Denikin’s Whites win victory after victory. Makhnovist insurgents receive the order from the Revolutionary Insurgent Army Headquarters to leave the Red Army’s troops on the run, and scatter in the countrysides. On the other hand, Grigoriev, ally of the bolsheviks, decides to turn against the Red Army when Trotsky proposes to this bourgeois band chief… to show internationalism towards Hungarian proletarians while going to struggle against Romanian Army that sought to crush them!!!
This same Grigoriev is going to propose a bit later to Makhno to join his imperialistic war against the bolsheviks. Despite all the treacheries and treasons his army had submitted from the bolsheviks, Makhno keeps proudly the flag of Social Revolution as the Revolutionary Insurgent Army combat objective: to the pact the bourgeois Grigoriev proposes him, July 27th 1919, during of a congress organized by the Makhnovists, he replies by shooting and proclaiming well strong “the struggle against the bolsheviks will be truly revolutionary only to the one condition it is led in the name of Social Revolution”!
Whole of units desert the bolshevik army to rejoin Makhnovists. Up to 15.000 soldiers from the Red Army, disgusted with the “tactics” of their “Napo” Leon Trotsky (16), rejoin thus the Makhnovist battalions! It is so for example with several bolshevik battalions from Crimea, led by the Makhnovist chiefs Kalachnikov, Dermendji and Budanov. Other important detachments of the Red Army from Novo Bug, dismissed their chiefs and went in search of Makhno’s scattered and disorganized army. The junction of these troops was made in August 1919, at Dobrovelitchkovka. The Revolutionary Insurgent Army dispersed combatants converged in large numbers in this district near Odessa. At this moment only the army could restructure itself, around almost 15.000 combatants, formed into four infantry and cavalry brigades, an artillery division and a regiment of machine-guns.
6. The victorious Insurrectional Army (September 1919). Revolutionary terror and social organization attempts.
The divorce with the Bolsheviks seemed total and definitive. To bolshevik responsibles who ask Makhno again to struggle together, under the red officers commandment, he replies:
“You have deceived Ukraine (sic!!) and, more serious, you have executed my comrades in Gulai-Pole; your units will go over to my side anyway, then I will proceed with you all, the responsibles, in the same way you have proceeded with my comrades.”
If it is clear the movement remains dominated by great weaknesses, -the defense of Ukraine at all costs-, the revolutionary movement begins to determine more clearly its enemies and to denounce them as such. The Revolutionary Insurgent Army turns from then on its weapons as well against Denikin’s whites as against the bolsheviks.
Facing the Red Army’s complete rout, and the Makhnovist army disorganization following upon the front with the bolshevik militaries, the white fraction of bourgeoisie has resettled in Ukraine, with Denikin’s help. Repression against proletariat intensifies, with its procession of lootings, massacres, rapes. Men, women, children rejoin the Revolutionary Insurgent Army on the perpetual run, pursued without a break by the white armies. It is a gigantic caravan of some one hundred twenty thousands of people stretching on nearly 40 kilometres long, and resisting somehow to the various fractions of the bourgeoisie attacks during more than 600 kilometres.
From a last victorious burst, at Peregonovka (near Uman) September the 25-26th 1919, the Revolutionary Insurgent Army reverses the situation in ten days. Defeating Denikin’s backs, it liberates at the same time Moscow from the white armies’s growing hold (17). Indeed, Denikin, underestimating the Makhnovists, had thrown the bulk of his troops on Moscow. Cut of his back bases, his means of communication, his supply, Denikin’s army suffers a real rout. We must see in this rout, the real starting point of the defeat the White Army will suffer in Russia, contrary to the legend of the Red Army victory, thanks to Trotsky’s “military science” (18).
Sweeping away the white army, that had engaged a last repression, as a result of the Peregonovka revolutionaries’s victory, liberating the cities from the bourgeois hold, the Makhnovists annihilate thus in autumn 1919 Denikin’s counter-revolution by applying a real revolutionary terror:
“The landowners, the big farmers, policemen, priests, mayors, shirked officers,… whole was swept away on the Makhnovchtchina’s victorious path. Jails and police stations, in brief, all the symbols of the popular servitude were destroyed. All these one known to be active enemies of peasants and workers were doomed to death. Especially the big landowners and the big farmers exploiters of the people, the “kulaks”, perished then in great number.”
Arshinov in “History of the Makhnovist movement” – 1921
The Makhnovists, drawing the lessons, refuse the proposition of the coming back Bolsheviks to share the power -in fact the disarmament of the proletariat!- with them: the army to the “Red” bourgeois, and the administration and charge of the cities to the Makhnovists.
They are going to try self-organizing (banks are emptied, one organizes “Free Communes”, etc, -cf. above), but it is a failure. Their no rupture with “anarchist” Social-Democracy, their self-managementism and federalism, their refusal to put themselves really at the head of the open struggle against the red repainted State, but also the gigantic granted war effort (the army is decimated by the typhus), whole of that, and also the refusal to generalize the struggle beyond southern of Ukraine, is going to lead right to the disaster.
Thus, in the cities, during this short period in October and November 1919 where the Insurrectional Army of Ukraine was in control of Alexandrovsk and especially Ekaterinoslav, the anti-authoritarian ideology broke from all its contradictions. Forgetting the right methods by which they had, authoritatively, led the class war facing the various bourgeois armies, the Makhnovists decreed now democratically the total freedom of press and association, and the possibility to get reorganized therefore, for all the pseudo-socialists who tried to strangle revolution by all means:
“1. All the parties, organizations and socialist political currents have the right to propagate freely their ideas, theories, viewpoints and opinions, orally as well as in writing. No restriction of the liberty of the socialists, the Press and the expression will be admitted, and they will not be the subject of prosecutions for that.”
“Revolutionary Military Council of Makhnovist Guerrillas, Ekaterinoslav, November the 5th 1919.”
But on the other hand, perceiving confusingly the absurdity contained in the fact to exert red terror on the battlefields, and not on the economical, ideological and political ground, the Makhnovists, “forgave all parties to impose any political authority against the worker masses”, going even to execute those infringing this rule (19)!!!
The Red Army benefited by this moment of disarray in the “how to continue the struggle”, in order to come resettling itself in the region, bringing with a new white repression. Counter-revolution triumphs once again: facing the Revolutionary Insurgent Army leaders’s criminal inconsistencies, bogged down into the imbecile anti-authoritarian and anti-substitutionist ideology, the bolshevik rectifiers of State have all the time to reconquer the insurgent regions of Ukraine, by imposing their program, as early as January 1920.
7. Nine month of new “Red” repression
Weaken, at all viewpoints, the Makhnovists leave then the Red Army to occupy the ground deluding themselves once again on the latter by considering it as the last possibility to get rid definitively of Denikin, by preventing his return.
In fact, the Makhnovists can not manage to break with their tendency to come closer to Bolsheviks. They see in them only bad worker leaders and not the bourgeois State taking back in their hands the reorganization of Capital. Moreover, by refusing to assume the revolutionary directorship role, they organize proletarians… to withdraw afterwards, by advocating self- organization!!! They leave them thus isolated and vulnerable facing the bolshevik repression.
Some long discussions had brought the insurgents to these criminal conclusions. Revolution and counter-revolution have effectively confronted within the Revolutionary Insurgent Army, as we noted at the beginning of this text. Indeed, a part of the forces considered to be necessary to continue the revolutionary war by advocating, during the struggles led against Denikin, the generalization of the movement. They argued correctly the situation by describing the revolutionary state of mind not only of the region, but whole of the proletariat in Russia, ready for accomplishing what they called the “Third Social Revolution” (20).
And indeed, during this war against Denikin, many detachments of insurgents rallied to the Makhnovists, considering spontaneously in there the directorship of a force ready for submerging difficulties, and the knocks struck to the revolution by the various bourgeois social forces. Some detachments of the Red Army flocked even from Central Russia to join the Makhnovchtchina’s flag: this was the case of the very numerous bolshevik troops, commanded by Ogarkov, for example, coming from the government of Orel, to struggle for the social revolution, by the sides of the proletarian insurgents of Ukraine.
And besides the rallies in large numbers of proletarians of the region, many other organized forces of the revolution rejoined the Revolutionary Insurgent Army. Besides some ex-“Bolsheviks”, “Left Socialists-Revolutionaries” joined the “anarchists-communists”, like Victor Popov, this ex-sailor of the Black Sea who had led the uprising of the “Left Socialists- Revolutionaries”, against the Bolsheviks, in July 1918.
But all these favourable forces to the generalization of the revolutionary war were, like in Brest-Litovsk, defeated by a majority of glib talkers like Volin, who advocated the positive construction of “anarchist” federated communes, inviting the revolutionaries to withdraw in the “liberated” regions around Gulai-Pole, their bastion, and dropping thus literally all a part of the proletariat to repression and terror imposed by the bolshevik agents of the capitalistic reconstruction in Russia.
Social-democratic anarchist version ideology of the non directorship will make easier thus the repressive campaign of the Bolsheviks during nine months. Everywhere the Red Army occupies the ground clear by the Makhnovists to found there the authority of Capital. Jails are reconstructed and filled, police and Tcheka arrest and execute the revolutionaries, as well as all these who are susceptible to help the Makhnovists accused to be “traitors to the Ukrainian people”.
It is the beginning of the “civil war” between Bolsheviks and Makhnovists. To avoid fraternizations between the Red Army and the latter, the Bolsheviks send to take part to the repression estonian, letton and chinese soldiers (what does not prevent some fraternizations and desertions). It is a real slaughter, the lowest estimations speak about 200.000 deads and so much deported in Siberia only during the year 1920. The year 1920, marked by “war communism”, strengthens thus the hate against the Bolsheviks. These are only cattle and crops requisitions, entailing the famine, in what one calls nevertheless the “wheat granary of Europe”. In spite of that, the Red Army suffers still reverses facing proletarians in arms who lead, once more, a guerrilla without mercy against those who want to perpetuate their situation to be exploited.
During several months, the struggle is relentless between the Bolsheviks and the Makhnovists, and without mercy on both sides. Nevertheless, the methods of combat are fundamentally different. The Red Army proceeds like any called “occupation” bourgeois army: it executes massively and indifferently in the villages, knowing it is mainly there the Makhnovists find a basis. And when “anarchists-communists” are arrested, they are immediately executed -apart from their place in the Insurrectionnal Revolutionary Army- or thrown into jails, submitted to tortures and blackmails, to oblige them to renounce their adherence to the Makhnovist movement, or to make them giving informations or to be used to serve as double agent.
For the Makhnovist side, the proletarian and revolutionary war remains the means of struggle against the enemy armies, as they made already at the time of the austro-german occupation. The bolshevik responsibles and other “red” officers are executed without pity, while soldiers have the choice between rejoining the insurgents’s army or coming back home disarmed. They advocate also the defeat of the enemy army by means of pamphlets and other materials of defeatist propaganda:
“Brothers red soldiers! (…)
Now, one sends you again to combat us, we the ‘Makhnovist insurgents’, in the name of a so-called ‘worker-peasant’ power, that brings you again chains and slavery! Wealth and joys go to this gang of bureaucrats-parasites that suck your blood (…).
Are you going again shedding your blood for the newly blossomed bourgeoisie and for the commissioners it created, and that send you, as livestock, to the slaughter! Did you not have still understood that we, ‘Makhnovist insurgents’, we combat for the political and economical workers’ complete emancipation, for a free life without these commissioners and other agents of the repression? (…)
Each time you meet us, so as to avoid to cause fraternal bloodshed, send us some delegates to negotiate, but if it is not possible for you and that commissioners oblige you nevertheless to combat us, throw your guns and come to our fraternal encounter.
Down with the fratricide war between workers!
Long live peace and fraternal union of workers from all countries and all nations!”
“Down with the fratricide combat!”, pamphlet from the Makhnovist insurgents – May 1920
The revolutionaries’ calls had sometimes spectacular results upon soldiers of the Red Army. Here is an extract from the Call launched by the soldiers from the 522nd regiment of the Red Army, when they decided to desert and to rejoin the Revolutionary Insurgent Army:
“We, Red soldiers from the 522nd regiment, we are gone over June the 25th 1920, without any gunshot and with all our equipment and our weapons to the Makhnovist insurgents’ side. The communists have pestered us and have attributed our passing to the Makhnovist insurgents’ side to an anger and a tendency to banditry. Whole that is only a low and coward lie from the commissioners who used us up till then as cannon fodder. During our two years service within the Red Army, we came to the conclusion that the whole social regime of our lives is based only on the domination of the commissioners and that it will bring us at the end to a slavery never seen before in the history (…).
“The Red soldiers of the 522nd regiment, today Makhnovists”
Facing the growing defeatism of the Red Army’s soldiers, and to reply to the Makhnovists’s revolutionary methods, the “red” generals installed commissions specially instructed to recuperate the soldiers released by the Revolutionary Insurgent Army, and to enrol them again in other units.
The resistance of the insurgents’s army encounters some success facing the Bolsheviks, during all the beginning of this year 1920, but a new threat appears to the horizon under the form of the white armies reorganized under the authority of general Wrangel.
8. The new white offensive (April 1920), the defeat (November 1920) and the exile (August 1921)
Wrangel takes the head of the white army and his success, strengthened by the extreme weakness of the Red Army (defeated by Pilsudsky’s army in front of Warsaw), urges this last -the Red Army- to ask once more the alliance with the Makhnovists.
These for their part, decimated by the bolshevik repression, exhausted by the war they fought against them, as well as by their resistance to the successive white offensives, also isolated by the calumnies spread by the Bolsheviks about a so-called alliance of Makhno with Wrangel, the Makhnovists therefore, reach the breaking point during the Summer of 1920 under the pressure of Wrangel’s offensive, with which Polish army and Petliura’s Ukrainian nationalists become associated in the north.
From then on, they sign a new military and political agreement with the Red Army some months later, in October 1920 (21).
The “anarchists-communists”‘s army gives up on behalf of the same logic of “lesser pain” that had animated them during the first alliance: rather the alliance with the soviet State than the death with the Whites.
Thus the all recent lessons and experience are not assumed. The decision to collaborate once again with its enemies corresponds with a real suicide. Remains of the revolutionary movement are thus quickly found destroyed as well morally as physically. Indeed, in the framework of this alliance, refusing any rest to the insurgents, the Bolsheviks send them continually in front line, first to eliminate them while retreating the Whites, then to better control them (back they could lead their subversive propaganda within the Red Army) (22).
The Makhnovists get little by little decimated, notably because their units composed of revolutionaries, known for their combativity, do not retreat in front of losses. And the Bolsheviks’s four stars generals know that! So for example, they send them in a 10 kilometres unprotected charge in an Isthmus of Crimea, giving them a chance on one hundred of success. They achieve there and get the victory, but at the cost of huge human losses. Whites are beaten, but the Makhnovist’s movement ends exsanguinous.
The Russian State turns then against the Makhnovists, and mid-November 1920, the Bolsheviks attack by surprise Makhnovists’ Headquarters and troops in Crimea. At the same time, they seize Makhnovist representatives of Kharkov, attack the “anarchists-communists” of Gulai-Pole, and destroy their organizations everywhere in Ukraine.
A bit later, liberated from the pressure of Wrangel’s armies, repulsed outside Russia, the Red Army can devote itself to defeat definitively the Makhnovists. With an infinitely superior in numbers army, it needs nevertheless more than six months to beat the Makhnovists.
The situation was particularly perilous for the Bolsheviks in early 1921. In Petrograd, big strikes broke out and in Cronstadt, the proletariat rose up. During this period, many armies of organized proletarians tried to struggle through all Russia against reconstruction of the State by the Bolsheviks. In Tambov, the “socialist-revolutionary” Antonov organizes an army of 50.000 men. 60.000 proletarians rise up in a district of western Siberia. In Carelia, in central Asia, in the Caucasus,… one asks the new Kremlin masters for an explanation. This “small civil war” as the soviet historians named it, made nearly 200.000 deaths.
Also at this moment the Makhnovists’ revolutionary defeatist propaganda finds still many echoes. Thus the 9th February 1921, 1st brigade of the 4th division of the “Red” cavalry rejoins a Makhnovist detachment near Pavlograd. And it is at this same time the Makhnovists tried really to generalize the revolution. Brova and Maslakov go away in the Don and Kouban region; Parkhomenko takes away a detachment in the Voronej region, in Russia; a third group of a thousand of insurgents makes one’s way towards Kharkov, with at its head another Makhnovist combatant, Ivaniuk.
But it is unfortunately too late. The proletariat is getting beaten everywhere it has uprisen. A period of white terror begins then, as each time the revolution is defeated, through all Russia, but particularly in this insurgent region of Ukraine.
The Red Army passes systematically through each of the villages and cities of the region, and exterminates there all of these suspected of any sympathy towards the Makhnovist movement.
Separated from any revolutionary movement, during the Summer of 1921, the last nuclei gathered around Makhno, are cornered and brought to run away in Romania, where they disperse definitively.
This article aims to translate into lessons the general teachings of this proletarian attempt to assume the revolution, as alternative to the reorganization of the State by the Bolsheviks. In such an article, it is difficult to render the combativity that has animated these militants of our class, these real avant-garde fighters in struggle to impose communism.
To have a more complete and precise idea of that, we can only refer comrades to the works describing at length the smallest details of this fierce struggle of more than three years against Skoropadsky’s, Petliura’s, Grigoriev’s, Denikin’s, Dybenko’s, Trotsky’s, Wrangel’s, etc. armies. Independently of the weaknesses and illusions of their authors, the stories of the revolutionary fighters themselves, -those of Makhno and Arshinov-, have left us an amount of crude materials that restores the level of combativity and intensity of this tremendous communist wave that has broken between 1917 and 1923 upon the world.
As one will see by reading these documents, the communist movement in Ukraine is absolutely not reducible to Makhno’s personality. We have resituated in this text, the context in which this “anarchist-communist” militant succeeded to crystallize the revolutionary direction, at the same time that he passes on to it his own programmatical weaknesses. But it is important to resituate his own combativity (23), in the framework of the generalized will to fight it out with the State of thousands of unknown proletarians.
Quote simply here finally, some of the other historical leaders who were at the avant-garde of the insurrection in Ukraine: Simon Karetnik, Martchenko, Gregoir Vassilevsky, Veretelnikov, Pierre Gavrilenko, Basil Korilenko, Victor Belach, Vdovitchenko, Zonov, Kalachnikov, Mikhalev Pavlenko, Makecv, Basil Danilov, Tchernoknijny, Shchuss, Isidor Luty, Thomas Kojin, Lepetchenko, Sereguin,… Most of these fighters, listed by Arshinov at the end of his book about insurrection in Ukraine, were “anarchist-communist” militants, having prolonged their years of militancy by their consequent presence to the leading functions of the insurrection in Ukraine. Only, one or the other survived to the various battles led facing the bourgeois armies.
These of the Makhnovists who survived to the several battles and escaped the terrible stalinist repression, started against the revolution, left in exile.
It is to note that Arshinov and Makhno tried to organize the revolutionary movement around an “Organizational Platform” (24) published in Paris, in October 1926, in the “Dielo Truda” newspaper (The Cause of Work), on behalf of the Anarchist Communist Group of Russians Abroad (GARE in French), of which they are the main organizers. Their will is to assume a rupture with the ambient anti-organizationalism, and to gathered “anarchist-communist” militants around this project. The “organizational Platform” is the result of discussions and debates led by these militants since 1925 (date they could gather in Paris) around the lessons and perspectives to draw, from the failure of the revolutionary struggles they have participated to in Ukraine, in Russia and in the world, during these years ’17-’23. The publication of the “Platform” was followed by a real will to break with the social-democrat program organized around the flag of anarchy and raised a general outcry from all the partisans of ideological anarchism.
That is the way these same Russian militants linked together with other comrades of exile in France, and tried to set up an international opposition to break with this “anarchist family milieu”. They organized for that purpose, an international meeting in March 1927, preceded by a preliminary meeting a month earlier. The content of rupture and the efforts of programatical clarification these comrades intended to realize, -at the moment where the communist movement collapsed a bit everywhere in the world-, were undeniable. Arshinov insisted on the necessity to “seek to organize revolutionary forces working in the worker avant-garde… by creating an homogeneous movement based on the principle of the collective responsibility and acting within the national and international organization”; it is necessary, he says, “to make a selection of forces” by no longer recognizing neither anarcho-syndicalism, nor individualism as currents linked to the movement. French militants (Odéon, Dauphin-Meunier,…), Spanish (Carbo, Fernandez,…), Italian (Ugo Fedeli, who presided the preliminary meeting), Polish (Ranko), Chinese (Cen),… marked their agreement to organize an International Union on basis of the rupture with “anarchist” democratism. “Our goal is to gather all the militants of our tendency and to struggle against the Anarchist Sacred-Union.” (Ranko)
The international meeting was the place of sharp discussions between its participants, but a clarification began to carry out. The meeting was interrupted by the arrival of the police.
The discussion between “platformists” and “anti-platformists” polarized during all this time all kind of organizations, provoking many splits more or less clarifying. Under way, the organizers of the meeting assumed some continuity to their proposal, then, completely exhausted by the international repression, by the proletarian struggles decline, by their own weaknesses and by the insults conveys against them by the followers of ideological anarchism, the initiative disappeared in the long night of counter-revolution.
Well obviously, the same glib talkers of lounge and ideology anarchism denounced this project from the beginning, going until to call the “Platform” and its main author, Arshinov, as… “bolshevik”, he who had fought with guns in his hands against the “Red” Army, by the sides of Makhno, during nearly 4 years!!! The “anarchists” of literature as Volin, Nettlau,… played the same slanderous role towards the “anarchist-communist” revolutionary militants as their stalinist enemy brothers against the “communist lefts”! Whole that brought Makhno and Arshinov to break with Volin, Sébastien Faure and other democrats disguised in revolutionary. With the help of counter-revolution, and completely disgusted by his former anarchist friends, Arshinov returned in Russia, recognizing for that reason the stalinist power, what allowed to his former friends to confirm he was really mistaken with his “organizational Platform”!
Makhno as for him, remembered until the end the lesson about organization he had drawn in the very heat of class struggle, and so he declares on the occasion of a meeting with “expropriator anarchists” Ascaso, Durutti and Jover:
“It is the organization that ensures the triumph in depth of each revolution”!!!
May all of these who would want to transform Makhno into an inoffensive icon, meditate this sentence… or cease to claim vainly the Makhnovchtchina!
9. Forces and weaknesses!
During all this worldwide revolutionary wave, from more or less 1916 to early twenties, the focuses have often moved about, coexisting sometimes in several places. And while it is often recognized that in 1917, the main revolutionary focus spread to the Russian Empire and that the more burning embers consumed Moscow and Saint-Petersburg, other centres of the Revolution are born, often denied, hidden, forgotten, disfigured voluntarily by counter-revolution.
And even when revolutionary movements are recognized and glorified, they are only in so far as their subversive aspects are curtailed, falsified, defused. By imposing its ideology, bourgeoisie recognizes the proletarian revolution in Russia (it could not hide it so its effect was universal!) only by misrepresenting it totally and by establishing a formal and direct filiation between the communist movement and the capitalistic State painted in red by the Bolsheviks.
On the other hand, the bourgeois will conceal until the excessive falsification, the movements judged explosive to reduce the class struggle to an individual conflict to “the power”. Proletarian insurrections and attempts of destruction of the State become “putsches”, by bringing out unilaterally a network of facts strayed from their globality.
One of the methods used to manage to empty a revolutionary movement from its content is to make appearing these class movements as so much acts from “brilliant” or “barbarian” individuals: history shows men to hide better the antagonism between revolution and counter-revolution. The insurrection in Ukraine is not an exception to the rule.
Reduced to the only personality of Makhno, it is misrepresented, so by the Bolsheviks who look upon the proletarians in struggle against their power as a gang “of anarcho-bandits, counter-revolutionaries”, indeed of “anti-semites” (25); than by the “anarchist” apologues of Makhno seeing him as the “saviour of the social revolution”. The ideological anarchism salutes as much better Makhno today than it called him still yesterday in his Parisian exile, “an anarcho-bolshevik”, as we have briefly reminded above.
Indeed, when him and other “anarchist communists” (Russian, Italian, French, Spanish) evoked the necessity to lead the movement, the necessity to ask the question of “the anarchist organization”, not in itself but as a necessity resulting in the lessons drawn from the Ukrainian insurrection (cf. above: The Platform of the Anarchist Communist Group of Russians Abroad (GARE) 1926), it is by an outcry and a general banishing the ideological anarchism reacts.
Beyond even therefore the personality of Makhno, so brilliant military strategist and clear-sighted he was, a situation appeared, as usual, well more complex, more contradictory. Beyond these who have personalized it, a movement is asserting, authentically proletarian, with its forces and its weaknesses.
The great force of the Makhnovshchinacomes from it has been capable to centralize, to organize the proletarians in struggle, so against White armies, than against the “Red” armies. It is necessary once again to insist here, beyond the scholastic debate between “Marxists” and “Anarchists”, that this centralization of the proletarian forces gathered revolutionary forces as various as “Bolsheviks”, whose one, Novitsky, was even elected member of the Military Revolutionary Soviet in October 1919, “left social revolutionaries” such as Victor Popov or Veretelnikov, “non-party” revolutionaries such as Kozhin and many others, “anarchist communists”, and a lot of other proletarians from very various militant origins, sign if necessary that the Makhnovshchinawas the real expression of an organization in force, gathering militants determined to give the final assault to the State.
This organization, it is the centralization of the struggle of proletarians against the bourgeoisie. To the arming, the discipline and the rigor of the bourgeois army will answer for the insurgents of Ukraine, the enthusiasm and the revolutionary fervour.
This enthusiasm will be alone able to compensate the lack of weapons and military rigor: about an army from until one hundred thousand men, only thirty thousand were armed, the others intervening sometimes with clubs and pitchforks! Just even when the Red guards in Russia exposed to the bolshevik repression were dissolved, and when, gradually disorganized and disarmed, they were replaced by the Red Army, restructured thanks to the former officers of the czarist army and under the leadership of “comrade” Trotsky, the composition of the Revolutionary Insurgent Army of the Ukrainian proletarians sounded as a cutting and alive denial to assertions of bolshevik chiefs, about the impossibility to organize a proletarian army otherwise than by using the bourgeois methods and officers.
The forced mobilization (on pain on death) and the reinstitution of the bourgeois discipline faked under a “revolutionary” word for the circumstance, constituted the bourgeois basis of the foundation of the Red Army, just as young revolutionary militants, without any military experience, organized an army of proletarians from the cities and the countrysides that, without hierarchy, without bourgeois officers, and with its own discipline of class, was going to give each of the innumerable “red” or white armies it was going to confront a good hiding! It is the most beautiful lesson the proletariat at arms of this period leaves us as for the necessity to destroy from top to bottom the bourgeois army, its rules, its methods, its content, its discipline and its chiefs, during the revolution.
We have also insisted on weaknesses of the movement, all along this text. They can be briefly reminded and summarized here: lack of clear direction as for the finality of the movement, what led to the substitution of the dictatorship of the proletariat upon the value to a glorification of management and self-management of the capitalist exploitation; lack of centralization, even if in the facts their practice contradicted often their ideology of reference, federalism; lack of generalization of the revolution; anti-substitutionism leading the Makhnovists to leave the “masses” to take care assuming the dictatorship of the proletariat, real resignation of the direction of the movement; frontism through the successive alliances with the bolshevik State painted in red; anti-authoritarism and refusal of the “power”…
Nevertheless the insurrection in Ukraine testifies many a respect, the existence of the class struggle against the bourgeois State, that through the reorganization of capital by the militarization of the economy (or “communism of war”) had for function to liquidate physically the revolutionaries.
The interest and the forces of the movement organized around the Revolutionary Insurgent Army come from that their revolutionary practice has often exceeded (when it was not its pure negation!), their theoretical idea:
• thus, their anti-statism of principle is continually denied by their practice of installation the elements of a proletarian State, aiming to institute the red terror, and to organize the expropriations, as well as the social production. Even if this are attempts that fail because of the repression and the general power struggle between the classes, or also because of the limits (practical, and also ideological) as themselves required.
• thus, their anti-statism of principle is continually denied by their practice of installation the elements of a proletarian State, aiming to institute the red terror, and to organize the expropriations, as well as the social production. Even if this are attempts that fail because of the repression and the general power struggle between the classes, or also because of the limits (practical, and also ideological) as themselves required.
• similarly, their anti-organizationalism, as well as their refusal to submit to the least authority, are in fact denied. Their army is the flagrant proof. Not only it is very organized and well-disciplined, but besides it is subordinated to the Military Revolutionary Soviet, that is in fact the central organ of the several regional congresses. We see therefore there also an embryo of proletarian power.
But also once here, the revolutionary practice remains decisive as long as it confronts in fact and exceeds the contradictions present in its watchwords and its flags; on the other hand, when it is necessary to go more forwards in the affirmation of the real communist project, and the theories that confuse it with the democratic occupation in the existing order ( managerism and anti-authoritarism here) are not exceeded, then, these same flags assert violently as a practical barrier that, seizing the masses, transforms into a counter-revolutionary force and curbs physically the development of our movement!!!
We find this process unfortunately many times all along the combats organized under the flag of anarchy, and this sometimes until the absurd. The “anarchists” like Volin have given more than once a solid caricature.
Thus, in October 1920, while delegations of several units of the Red Army came in Kharkov where Volin and Nabat’s militants were gathered, to propose them to “take the power” and to arrest themselves the central committee of the local bolshevik party that had just executed the Makhnovists, these – the Nabat’s “anarchists” – refused to asssume any direction by declaring brandly that the masses had to act for their own part and that “anarchists” did not want the “power”! Misery of Democracy and anti-authoritarism! It’s a shame that the violent break from some Makhnovists with Volin in 1926, was not materialized by bullets some years earlier on the occasion of this criminal and imbecile irresponsibility.
Another big limit of the movement was the difficulty to extend the revolution. The same question as in Brest-Litovsk was asked to the militants of the “Third Social Revolution”. The Makhnovists will try in concrete terms to extend the revolutionary movement of which they were one of the centres within the worldwide wave that surges at the time, but they made it only much too late, on the eve of the defeat of their movement. This is only in 1921 they will come into contact with other fractions of the revolutionary movement, and particularly in Kronstadt, Kiev, Moscow and on the other side of Urals. They proposed them a “collaboration” facing the red State “that had betrayed workers and peasants”.
But the myth of the Bolsheviks and their “revolutionary State” was at the time so powerful that even for revolutionaries as consequent as the insurgents of Ukraine or Kronstadt, the rupture could not be made so brutally. The illusion to be able voluntarily to return the tendency towards the revolution acted to full capacity its counter-revolutionary role. The Bolsheviks, with Lenin at their head, could on no account symbolize for them the complete counter-revolution on the move. The weight (because it concerns well a weight here!) of the memories of October 1917, and the Bolsheviks’ image who were a part of the avant-garde, were so that very few were these who perceived and struggled in an intransigent and consequent way, against the Bolsheviks, as agents freshly co-opted for the reconstruction of the bourgeois State in Russia (26).
The almost mystical Makhnovists’ withdrawal on Ukraine had for function, not to maintain a revolutionary “focus” facing a State symbolizing practically the active counter-revolution, but whole on the contrary to allow to Capital to isolate them and defeat the “focuses” some after the others, parcel by parcel.
But if it is true that the great weakness of the insurgents in Ukraine was their federalism, their objective incapacity (but also it seems, their subjective will) to (not) extend the movement right from the start beyond Ukraine, the fact is that revolutionary defeatism on basis of which they fought, contained the internationalist dimension of the struggle against all homelands from all these who have confronted, at a moment or another of the history, the imbecile persecutions from the world of exploitation:
“The exploited of all nationalities, whether they are Russians, Poles, Latvians, Armenians, Jews or Germans, have to unite in a great workers and peasants community in solidarity, then by a powerful attack, carry the last decisive knock to the class of capitalists, imperialists and their servants, so as to get definitively rid of the chains of the economic slavery and the spiritual enslavement.
Down with Capital and power!
Down with religious prejudices and national hate!
Long live the Social Revolution!”
Report of the 2nd Soviets’ regional congress, in Gulai-Pole -February 1919-.
1. We draw the attention of the reader notably on all the idiotic things distilled by the various schools of social-democracy finding in these events the justification of their counterrevolutionary positions. As an example, the traumatism of some cockroaches has remained blocked to the subjective role of the bolshevik party seen as the monolithic and unique actor of the Russian revolution while it has always been crossed by currents in total opposition (as the Miasnikov’s Worker Group) and that often, it was in tow of the real revolutionary movement materializing itself to quite different levels. It is similar with the pitiful subtleties developed about an opposition between a “peasant” Russia not having been ahead of the feudalism stage and an “industrial-capitalist-modern” Germany with a strong proletariat but “unfortunately without a party of the same kind than the Russian Worker Social Democrat Party”, hence the much more idiotic conclusion drawn from it: “bolshevik parties everywhere!”. To the other end, the Russian revolution having seen the bolshevik party found itself as relentless defender of capitalism, the solution advocated by councilists and other anarchists is summarized to advocate the “liberty of opinion of the proletarians”, the refusal of all organization and the worker parliamentarianism seen as the universal panacea to their pacifist refusal of the revolutionary violence, of the necessary organization of the former to put an end to the hell that we daily suffer.
2. See our text “Totality” in the same issue.
3. From Petliura, the leader of that movement.
4. We will describe further and briefly the origins and the reasons why the “anarchists” were so influential in Ukraine.
5. It would be good about this that the “anarchists” of ideologies, these libertarians turned to their navel, these free-examinist and inconsistent individualists, -violently denounced by Makhno and Arshinov, anyway!-, break once and for all with their opportunism from after the battle and are consequent with themselves by denouncing the terrible dictator who was Makhno, by revealing the red terror that he has led, by giving away also the terrible name of the program he defended: communism! For all these worthy libertarian intellectuals praising Makhno only for his struggle against the Bolsheviks, pining the old Nestor’s picture to their sad reformist ideologies, it is trying to make from him the armed arm of their democratic project! Therefore, they make to Makhno, what the stalinists have made to Marx, by hanging this last to the walls of their bourgeois ideologies painted in red!
6. Arshinov is not any kind of Makhno’s travelling companion. He formed him politically while he was still in jail some years before. Arshinov is a communist militant (he will prefer to say “anarchist communist”) who continued all his life struggling to give an organization to the struggles, to the revolutionaries. For this reason, he was criticized as an “anarcho-bolshevist” from large Parisian “anarchist” circles, a sad equivalent of the Kropotkinian intellectuals in Russia, denounced by Makhno as pedant indifferentists.
7. Revolutionaries, from any kind of side they are, organize themselves instinctively around the strongest revolutionary fraction, that really manages, centralizing the revolutionary activity. Thus the detachment of bolshevik partisans known under the name of “Kolossov’s detachment” (from the name of its commander) will act often together with the Makhnovist’s detachments in their struggle against the austro-german troops. It is exactly the same revolutionary practice when the Makhno’s detachment came closer to the small village of Nijne-Dnieprovsk (near Ekaterinoslav) where the bolshevik tendency committee of the city handed over the commandment of the worker detachment as well as that of the party into his hands!
8. The suffix “-vshchina” has a derogatory connotation and was attributed by the bourgeois (“red” and white) to the Insurrectional Army of Ukraine to “criminalize” it, to reduce it to a “association of criminals”, but proletarians reappropriated positively this expression and claimed it. One rediscovers this same attempt of negation of the political content of these who confront to the State, in the media’s favourite expression to describe proletarians in revolt: the “gang” (see the “Baader’s Gang” for the german “Red Army Fraction”, or also, the “Bonnot’s Gang” for these expropriator “anarchists” early in the century in France, etc…).
9. It is important to note that this denomination of anarchist-communist is the own denomination of the Makhnovist militants. Arshinov uses it abundantly in his book about the insurrection in Ukraine, in order to dissociate himself from the lounge “anarchists”, these theorists generally fundamentally anti-communist, and of whom the democratic and free will roamings have nothing more to do with the communist movement than the democratic centralism of their stalinist enemy brother.
10. For a more deep critic of this conception, we refer the reader to the magnificent critic of the proudhonnism by Marx in “Misery of the philosophy”, as well as our critics of self-management inLe Communiste28 in French: “The social-democrat conception of transition to socialism”.
11. We say “confusingly”, because the State management by the Bolsheviks has nothing modified in the deep nature of the production relations, as Arshinov presents it; it did nothing but perpetuate under another form the exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie. Similarly, capitalism under the bolshevik policy has perpetuated itself under its same essential characteristics; describing the stalinist management as “State capitalist”, it is, besides the confused pleonasm containing by this expression, opening the door to all these leftist separations trying to justify us such or such detail difference, to bring us considering on basis of pseudo-objective nuances a differentiated support according to the “capitalisms”.
12. We let here the continuation of the quotation, the exemplification Arshinov makes of it:
“Let’s quote an example. To the month of August 1918, workers of the ancient manufacture of Prokhorov, to Moscow, shook and threaten to revolt against the insufficiency of salaries and the detective regime established to the manufacture. They organized in the even manufactures several meetings, hunted the committee of factory (that was only a cell of the party) and took for salary a part of what they had produced. Members of the central administration of the union of workers of the textiles (union NfR), after that the mass of workers had refused to process with them, declared: ‘The conduct of workers of the manufacture of Prokhorov throws a shade known the prestige of the soviet power; all ulterior action of these workers would defame soviet authorities to eyes of workers other establishments; this is inadmissible; consequently, the manufacture has to be closed, workers returned; a commission has to be created which will be able to establish in the manufactures a severe regime; afterwards, it will be necessary to recruit new workers surroundings.”
13. Later, in exile in Paris, Arshinov (and Makhno, and other Russian militants in exile) made a deep criticism and end by a violent confrontation with Volin. In 1927, in an “Answer to the confusionists of Anarchism”, provoked by a previous answer from Volin and other answers to the “Organisational platform” of the GARE where Arshinov collaborated (cf. further), this is what the group writes:
“A whole category of individuals proclaiming to be anarchists has nothing in common with the anarchists. to gather this people (and on what basis?) in “a family” and name that grouping an ” anarchist organisation”, would be not only nonsense, but absolutely harmful. (…) This is not an universal blend, but in the contrary sound anarchist forces and their organisation in an anarchist-communist party which is essential for the movement. (…) To stabilize the movement, it is necessary to get rid of these trends and deviations; but the stabilisation is in an important manner avoided by the frank or disguised individualists who are part of the movement. The authors of the “Answer to the platform” undoubtly belong to this latest category”.
14. Makhno will found Lenin at that time, doubtless also blinded (like Szamuelly, for instance, who will go from Budapest to Moscow to ask Lenin to correct the politic of Bela Kun in Hungary!) by the idea that Lenin could not agree with the development of the bolshevik party as force of reconstruction of the State.
15. Antonov-Ovseenko had denounced the punitive measures envisaged against Makhno and was kept away for this reason by Trotsky, June 15th. End April 1919, Antonov-Ovseenko wrote to the Izvestia of Karkhov editorial staff: “In your 5th April issue, you have published an article titled “Down with the makhnovchtchina”. This article is full of untrue facts and contains an openly provocative tone. Such attacks harm our struggle against the counterrevolution. In this struggle, Makhno and his brigade have demonstrated and demonstrate an extraordinary revolutionary bravery, they deserve not insults from officials, but the fraternal recognition of all the worker and peasant revolutionaries”. Antonov-Ovseenko will unfortunately not always have the same attitude facing the revolutionaries: he will be one of the main responsibles in the stalinist repression in Spain in 1936.
16. More stalinist than Stalin then, Trotsky intended “to put back order in the Donetz’s basin” with an iron grip on behalf of the soviet State. In the framework of the prohibition he decreed to hold a “Makhnovist” peasants and workers congress, event that was the chosen pretext to start the repression against partisans of the Insurrectional Army, Trotsky concluded: “I order (…) to seize all traitors abandoning voluntarily their units to rejoin Makhno and to defer them to the revolutionary Court as deserters (…). I proclaim order will be restored with an iron hand. Enemies of the worker and peasant Red Army, profiteers, kulaks, rioters (it lacks only “hooligans” -NfR!!!), Makhno’s or Grigoriev’s agents will be pitilessly eliminated by sure and firm regular units. Long live revolutionary order, discipline and struggle against enemies of the people!”
17. Lenin thought at this moment that all was lost and had asked and obtained asylum in Finland!
18. If the Red Army has won some victories thanks to Trotsky’s so-called “military science”, this bourgeois science found its foundations into white terror (red painted, and widely described in his famous book: “Terrorism and Communism”!) he imposed on troops and he has well summarized, it seems, by asserting that if “moving forward carried out to a possible death, retreating led to a certain death”!
19. In this same month of November 1919, the commander of 3rd Makhnovist insurrectional regiment, Crimea Polonsky, was executed with other members compromised, like him, in an “authoritarian organization”!
20. Speaking of “Third Social Revolution” is obviously an absurdity, if we consider -and we do it so!- there is only one communist social revolution, as there will be only one and only passage from the bourgeoisie worldwide dictatorship to the one as well worldwide of the proletariat. But in the context of reconstruction of the State in Russia around the same Bolsheviks who had taken part to the insurrection of October 1917, the fact to assert the necessity of a “Third Social Revolution”, concentrates the proletarian criticism of the February and October limits, and denounces the Soviets government as a bourgeois government!
21. Point 2 of this agreement stipulated “the Revolutionary Insurgent Army (Makhnovist) of Ukraine, by passing through Soviets’s territory, and encountering the front, or crossing the fronts, will not accept in its ranks detachments of the Red Army, neither deserters of this same army.” As one sees, the Bolsheviks felt enormously difficulties to struggle against the numerous rallies of their army to Makhno’s!
22. One finds here already, a prefiguration of what will happen in ’36-’37 in Spain (then in the world), where the republicans will succeed to transform the revolutionary civil war into imperialistic war. There also, the army of the Republic will transform the revolutionary proletarians into cannon fodder, under the pretext of alliance against “the main enemy”, the fascists of Franco in this case.
23. Makhno was considered as a real death-dodger, having personally and on horse-back led, at the head of detachments he commanded,more than two hundred assaultsagainst enemy armies! He passed the romanian frontier, the osselets of a foot completely broken into pieces, the thigh, the appendix, the chin and the cheek shot through by several bullets received during the last weeks of fighting!!!
24. This platform is now more known under the name of “Arshinov’s Platform”, so much the international pseudo-anarchist small circles put some energy to disparage the collective step that was at the origin of, and to reduce it then to the initiative of Arshinov! One saved thus Makhno’s head for his nice “Robin Hood” imagery, and one could confirm the bolshevik character of the platform (and to invalidate the discussion from), by insisting on the fact that his author had finished bolshevik! For the little history, Arshinov returned in Russia in 1933 and was executed in 1937 “for having wanted to restore anarchism in Russia”!
25. We refer the reader to the excellent work from the honourable citizen of the French Academy, Sir Joseph Kessel who at that time found to express his traumatism in the most vulgar leninism by writing the famous “Makhno and his Jewess”!
26. There is nevertheless many testimonies relating the growing displeasure in the Red Army itself, and the possibilities to lead this situation to a revolutionary viewpoint, during all this period. Here are some extracts from a text published in 1928 by a former sailor of the Black Sea, in the newspaper “Dielo Truda”: “In the time of the conclusion of the treaty between Makhno and the bolshevik power in October 1920, the sailors’ state of mind was bellicose and hostile to the commissioners of the Tcheka. Makhno’s name was very popular. If there had been an organizational connection with Cronstadt, the crews of ships would have organized unanimously. Tcheka had no influence on us. (…) We had projects for a long time about the Tcheka. We had decided to blow up the building that accommodated it near a park (in Mariupol, where the Black Sea fleet was based – NfR). The success was possible therefore, but not only there was no connection with Cronstadt, but also we did not at all heard speaking about Makhno and we have retained our vague impulses of action. (…) Thus, because of the absence of organization, the best revolutionary possibilities were neglected.”
Source: Article taken from Communisme, No.35, French-language journal published by the Internationalist Communist Group (ICG). Draft translation by ICG.