Part 02, Chapter 05
Author : Voline
Chapter 5. Wrangel’s Offensive and Defeat
Now opens the fourth act [of our drama], that of Wrangel’s expedition.
The Czarist ex-officer, Baron Wrangel, replaced Denikin at the head of
the White movement. In the same areas — Crimea, the Caucasus, the Don
and Kuban regions — he attempted to reassemble and reorganize the
remnants of Denikin’s troops. He was successful, and reinforced his
basic troops with several successive drafts [on the population]. Since
the disastrous policy of the Bolsheviks had turned increasingly wide
sections of society against them, he finally succeeded in setting up a
well-organized and completely loyal army.
By the spring of 1920, Wrangel began seriously to harass the Bolsheviks,
and, since he was more ingenious and artful than his predecessor, he
soon became dangerous. By the middle of the summer, it was evident that
he was beginning to gain the upper hand. He pushed on slowly but surely,
and soon his advance constituted a grave threat to the whole Donetz
basin. Since the Bolsheviks were deeply involved, and undergoing
reverses on the Polish front, the whole revolution was again in danger.
As at the time of Denikin’s offensive, the Makhnovists decided to fight
Wrangel to the full extent of their strength and ability. But each time
the Red troops struck them from behind, and they had to abandon the
firing line and retreat. At the same time, the Soviet authorities did
not stop slandering and smearing the Makhnovists. Thus, for example,
while continuing to treat them as “bandits” and “defenders of the
kulaks”, they spread the false news of an alliance between Makhno and
Wrangel, and the representative of the Kharkov government did not
hesitate to declare, at the plenary session of the Ekaterinoslav Soviet,
that the authorities had written proof of this alliance. All these
procedures were, to them, “tactics in the political struggle.”
The Makhnovists could not remain indifferent to Wrangel’s more and more
menacing advance. They felt that it was important to fight him without
delay, without allowing him time to consolidate and extend his
conquests. But what was to be done about the Communists? In the first
place, they prevented the Makhnovists from acting. In the second, their
dictatorship was as evil and as hostile to the workers’ liberty as
After having examined the problem from all sides, the Insurgent Council
and the staff of the army decided that, despite everything else, Wrangel
represented the Enemy No. 1 in relation to the Revolution, and that it
was necessary to try and come to an understanding with the Bolsheviks.
The question was then brought before the mass of the insurgents, and the
latter decided at a huge meeting that the destruction of Wrangel might
have important consequences. The assembly agreed with the opinion of the
Council and the staff. It was decided to propose to the Communists that
hostilities between them and the Makhnovists be suspended in order that
together they might wipe out Wrangel.
In July and August, dispatches to this effect were sent to Moscow and
Kharkov, in the name of the Council and the Commander of the
Insurrectionary Army. They received no reply. The Communists continued
their war against the Makhnovists, making war on them and slandering
In September, Ekaterinoslav had to be abandoned by the Communists, and
almost without resistance, Wrangel took Berdiansk, Alexandrovsk,
Gulai-Polya and Sinelnikovo. It was only then that a plenipotentiary
delegation from the Central Committee of the Communist Party, with a
certain Ivanov at its head, came to Starobelsk (in the Kharkov region),
where the Makhnovists were then encamped, to begin negotiations on the
subject of combined action against Wrangel. These negotiations took
place on the spot. They resulted in a preliminary military and political
agreement between the Makhnovists and the Soviet authorities. The
clauses of this preliminary agreement were to be sent to Kharkov to be
officially ratified. For this purpose, and also to maintain subsequent
contact with the Bolshevik staff Budanoff and Popoff left for Kharkov.
Between the 10th and 15th December, 1920, the
clauses of the agreement were put into final form and adopted by the two
contracting parties. In spite of our desire for brevity, this historic
document should be quoted in its entirety, for its contents are very
revealing, while the events that followed the conclusion of the pact
cannot be understood or fully appreciated unless one knows all the
details of the agreement.
“Preliminary Political and Military Agreement between the Soviet
Government of the Ukraine and the Revolutionary Insurrectionary
(Makhnovist) Army of the Ukraine.
“Part I — Political Agreement.
In addition to the above mentioned three clauses of the political
agreement, the representatives of the Council and Commander of the
Makhnovist Army submitted to the Soviet Government a fourth special
clause as follows:
Signed: Commander of the Southern Front: Frunze; Members of the
Revolutionary Council of the Southern Front: Bela Kun, Gussev;
Plenipotentiary Delegates of the Council and Commander of the Makhnovist
Insurrectionary Army: Kurilenko, Popoff.”
Immediate release of all Makhnovists and Anarchists imprisoned or in
exile in the territories of the Soviet Republics; cessation of all
persecutions of Makhnovists or Anarchists (only those who carry on armed
conflict against the Soviet Government are not covered by this clause).
Complete freedom for all Makhnovists and Anarchists of all forms of
public expression and propaganda for their principles and ideas, by
speech and the press, with the exception of anything that might call for
the violent overthrow of the Soviet Power, and on condition that the
requirements of the military censorship be respected. For all kinds of
publications, the Makhnovists and Anarchists, as revolutionary
organizations recognized by the Soviet Government, may make use of the
technical apparatus of the Soviet state, while naturally submitting to
the technical rules for publications.
Free participation in elections to the Soviets; and the right of
Makhnovists and Anarchists to be elected thereto. Free participation in
the organization of the forthcoming Fifth Pan-Ukrainian Congress of
Soviets, which shall take place next December.
Signed (By mandate of the Soviet Government of the Ukrainian
SSR): Yakoleff. Plenipotentiaries of the Council and the Commander of
the Revolutionary Insurrectionary (Makhnovist) Army of the Ukraine:
“Part II — Military Agreement.
The Revolutionary Insurrectionary (Makhnovist) Army of the Ukraine will
join the armed forces of the Republic as a partizan army, subordinate,
in regard to operations, to the supreme command of the Red Army. It will
retain its established internal structure, and does not have to adopt
the bases and principles of the regular Red Army.
While crossing Soviet territory, at the front, or going between fronts,
the Insurrectionary Army will accept into its ranks neither detachments
of nor deserters from the Red Army.
The units of the Red Army, as well as isolated Red soldiers, who have
met and joined the Insurrectionary Army behind the Wrangel front, shall
reenter the ranks of the Red Army when they again make contact with it.
The Makhnovist partizans behind the Wrangel front, as well as all men at
present in the Insurrectionary Army, will remain there, even if they
were previously mobilized by the Red Army.
For the purpose of destroying the common enemy — the White Army — the
Revolutionary Insurrectionary (Makhnovist) Army of the Ukraine will
inform the working masses that collaborate with it of the agreement that
has been concluded, it will call upon the people to cease all action
hostile to the Soviet power; for its part, the Soviet power will
immediately publish the clauses of the agreement.
The families of combatants in the Insurrectionary (Makhnovist) Army
living in the territories of the Soviet Republic shall enjoy the same
rights as those of soldiers of the Red Army and for this purpose shall
be supplied by the Soviet government of the Ukraine with the necessary
“Fourth Clause of the political agreement.
“One of the essential principles of the Makhnovist movement being the
struggle for self-administration of the workers, the Insurrectionary
Army believes it should insist on the following fourth point: ‘In the
region where the Makhnovist Army is operating, the worker and peasant
population will create its own free institutions for economic and
political self-administration; these institutions will be autonomous and
joined federatively — by means of agreements — with the governmental
organs of the Soviet Republics.’”
* * *
In practice it was a question of reserving for the Makhnovist insurgents
two or three departments of the Ukraine in which they could carry out
their social experiments in complete freedom, while maintaining
federative connection with the USSR. Although this special clause did
not constitute part of the signed agreement, the Makhnovists naturally
attached very great importance to it.
We urge the reader to examine closely the text of this agreement. It
clearly distinguishes the two opposed tendencies: the one, statist and
defending the usual privileges and prerogatives of authority; the other,
popular and revolutionary, defending the usual demands of the
subjugated masses. It is extremely significant that the first part of
the agreement — which contains the political clauses and demands the
natural rights of the workers — contains only Makhnovist theses. In this
matter, the Soviet authorities had the classic attitude of all
tyrannies: they sought to limit the demands formulated by the
Makhnovists, bargained on all points, did everything possible to reduce
the rights of the working people, rights which were inalienable from and
indispensable for their real freedom.
Under various pretexts, the Soviet authorities delayed for a long time
publishing this agreement. The Makhnovists felt that sign augured little
good, and aware of the lack of sincerity of the Soviet authorities,
they declared firmly that as long as the Agreement was not published,
the Insurrectionary Army could not act according to its clauses. It was
only after this direct pressure that the Soviet government finally
decided to publish the text of the agreement. But they did not do the
whole thing at once. They first published part II (the military
agreement); then, after an interval, part I (the political agreement).
The real meaning of the pact was thereby obscured. The greater
proportion of the readers did not understand it precisely, which was
what the Bolsheviks wanted. As for the special political clause (No. 4),
the Ukrainian authorities separated it from the agreement, pretending
that they had to confer with Moscow on this subject. Between October 15th and 20th,
the Makhnovist army set out to attack Wrangel. The battle front
extended from Sinelnikovo to Alexandrovsk-Pologui-Berdiansk. The
direction (of the attack) was towards Perekop.
In the first battles, between Perekop and the city of Orekov, an
important group of. Wrangel’s troops, commanded by General Drozdoff, was
beaten and 4,000 soldiers taken prisoner.
Three weeks later, the region was liberated from Wrangel’s troops. They
withdrew towards the Crimea, and at the beginning of November, the
Makhnovists, together with the Red Army, were already before Perekop.
A few days later, with the Red Army blocking Perekop, a part of the
Makhnovist troops, following the orders of the staff, went thirty
kilometers to the left of the isthmus and set out over the ice of the
Sivach Strait, which at this time was frozen. The cavalry, commanded by
Martchenko (an anarchist peasant, originally from Gulai-Polya) marched
at the head, followed by a machine-gun regiment commanded by Kojin (a
revolutionary peasant and a very brave commander). The crossing was made
under violent and continuous fire from the enemy, which cost many
lives. But the boldness and perseverence of the attackers finally broke
the resistance of Wrangel’s troops, who took flight. Then another
Makhnovist army, the Crimean, under the command of Simon Karetnik
(another anarchist peasant from Gulai-Polya) moved to the right towards
Simferopol, which was taken by storm on the 13th and 14th of November. At the same time, the Red Army forced Perekop.
It is incontestable that, having entered the Crimea by [crossing the
Strait of] Sivach, the Makhnovists contributed greatly to the taking of
the Perekop Isthmus, hitherto reputed impregnable, by forcing Wrangel to
retreat into the interior of the Crimea in order to avoid being
surrounded in the gorges of Perekop. Wrangel’s adventure was over. The
remnants of his troops embarked in all haste from the southern shore of
the Crimea and left for abroad.
We have mentioned that, with the abandonment of Ekaterinoslav and the
second conflict with the Bolsheviks, followed by Wrangel’s expedition,
events of a military nature once again prevented all creative activity
on the part of the laboring masses of the insurgent region. An
exception can, however, be made of the village of Gulai-Polya.
We should here note that, while considered a village, Gulai-Polya is
really a city and even a fairly large city. To be sure, at the time we
are considering, its population was composed almost entirely of
peasants, but it numbered from 20,000 to 30,000 inhabitants. The village
had several primary schools and two high schools. Its life was active,
and the mentality of its population was very advanced. A number of
intellectuals — teachers, professors and others — had been established
there for some time.
Although, during the bitter struggle against Denikin, the Bolsheviks and
Wrangel, Gulai-Polya changed hands many times, and although the Soviet
government, despite the agreement, maintained a semi-blockade of the
region and did as much as it could to prevent the free activity of the
workers, the active core of the Makhnovists residing at Gulai-Polya
carried on very energetic constructive work, with the help and
enthusiastic support of the whole population.
First of all, they were concerned with the organization of a free local
workers’ Soviet. This Soviet was to lay the foundations of the new
economic and social life of the region, a life based on the principles
of liberty and equality, free from all political authority. To this end
the inhabitants of Gulai-Polya organized several preliminary meetings
and ended by creating a Soviet which functioned for a few weeks. It was
later destroyed by the Bolsheviks. At the same time, the Insurgents’
Council drew up and published the Fundamental Laws of the Free Soviet.
They also devoted themselves actively to academic instruction and public
education. This work was very urgent since the repeated armed invasions
had involved terrible repercussions in the field of education. The
teachers, having received no remuneration for a long time, had
dispersed, and the school buildings were abandoned. In so far as
circumstances permitted, the Makhnovists and the whole population of
Gulai-Polya undertook the task of rebuilding the educational system.
What deserve special attention are the leading ideas on which the initiators based this work. [They were as follows]:
At Gulai-Polya there were some intellectuals who were supporters of the principles of the Free School of Francisco Ferrer.
Under their guidance, a lively movement developed and rapidly began to
sketch out a widespread educational enterprise. The peasants and workers
undertook the maintenance of the necessary teaching personnel for all
the schools of the village and its environs, and a mixed commission,
composed of peasants, workers and teachers, was created in order to take
charge of providing for all the needs, economic as well as pedagogical,
of the academic life. This commission drew up, in record time, a plan
for free education, inspired by the ideas of Francisco Ferrer. At the
same time, special courses for adults were organized and classes in
“political” or rather social and ideological subjects began to function.
Soon many persons who had previously abandoned their activity as
teachers and even left Gulai-Polya, became aware of the revival and
returned to their posts, while a number of specialists, who lived
elsewhere, came to the village to take part in the movement. In this way
the work of education was restarted on a new basis. We should also
mention the resumption of theatrical performances which were inspired by
the new ideas and accomplished some very interesting results.
All this creative spirit of the masses was brutally destroyed by a new
and furious Bolshevik attack, which was unleashed over the whole Ukraine
on November 26th, 1920.
After all that had happened, no one among the Makhnovists believed in
the revolutionary integrity of the Bolsheviks. They knew that only the
danger of Wrangel’s offensive had forced the latter to deal with Makhno.
And they were certain to find some pretext for a new campaign against
the Makhnovitchina. No one believed in either the solidity or
the continuation of the agreement. But in general the Makhnovists
supposed that, the alliance would last for three or four months, and
they hoped to take advantage of this lapse of time to carry on energetic
propaganda in favor of the Makhnovist and libertarian ideas and
movements. This hope was illusory.
The way in which the Bolshevik government had applied the clauses of the
agreement was already significant and suspicious. It was evident that
they had no idea of fulfilling the treaty honestly or effectively. They
released only a trifling number of imprisoned Makhnovists and
Anarchists, and they continued to prevent, by all possible methods, the
ideological activity of the libertarian militants.
Absorbed by their military tasks, the Makhnovists could not for the
moment concern themselves with this irregular situation. However, a
certain amount of Anarchist activity was reborn in the Ukraine. Some
propaganda was resumed and a few newspapers reappeared.
The interest and sympathy of the laboring population for the
libertarian ideas and movement surpassed all expectation. Coming out of
prison in Moscow and returning to the Ukraine, I was surprised to see
crowds filling our meeting hall in Kharkov, every evening and for every
lecture that was announced. Each time, we had to turn away hundreds of
people. And in spite of the already intense cold at that season, many
people would remain outside, listening to every word through the
Soon the ranks of the Ukrainian Anarchists were enlarged by a number of
militants who came from Great Russia, where the Bolsheviks paid hardly
any attention to the agreement concluded with Makhno, and every day the
movement gained strength. This state of affairs could only hasten the
reaction of the Bolsheviks, who were enraged at such success [for the
The Makhnovists counted heavily on the effects of the famous Fourth
Clause of the political agreement. They insisted on the urgency of
examining it and reaching a decision, for they were anxious to obtain
the Bolsheviks’ recognition of the right of economic and social
self-government by the workers and the peasants. They demanded that the
Soviet authorities choose between two possibilities; either to sign the
article in question or to explain frankly why they were against it.
Little by little, it was on this question that the Anarchist propaganda
concentrated. By the middle of November, this Fourth Clause had
attracted public attention everywhere, and promised to assume capital
importance in the future. But it was precisely this clause which seemed
absolutely unacceptable in the eyes of the Bolsheviks.
It was around this time that an Anarchist congress was planned at
Kharkov to establish the type of Anarchist activity to be carried on in
the new circumstances. And it was around the same time that Lenin,
reassured by the liquidation of Wrangel’s adventure, began to prepare
slyly for a new attack on the Makhnovists and the Anarchists, and ended
by sending, one after another, his famous secret telegrams, of which the
Anarchists were warned too late.
The workers themselves should supervise the process of educating the younger generation of workers.
The school should not merely be a source of indispensable knowledge, but
also a means of developing conscious and free men, capable of
struggling for a truly human society, and of living and acting in
To fulfill these two conditions, the school should be independent and therefore separate from the Church and the State.
The teaching of the youth should be the wqrk of those with the ability,
aptitude, knowledge and other qualities necessary for this purpose.
Naturally, it should be placed under the effective and vigilant control
of the workers.
“As soon as Simon Karetnik’s dispatch — announcing that he was with the
insurrectionary troops in the Crimea and marching on Simferopol — had
been sent to Gulai-Polya, Gregor Vassilevsky, Makhno’s aide-de-camp,
exclaimed: ‘This is the end of the agreement. I wager that in a week the
Bolsheviks will be on our backs.’ That was said on November 16th, and on the 26th
of the same month, the Bolsheviks treacherously attacked the Makhnovist
staff and troops in the Crimea; they threw themselves at the same time
on Gulai-Polya, seized the Makhnovist representatives at Kharkov,
destroyed all the recently established Anarchist organizations there,
and imprisoned all the Anarchists, of whom several had come for the
congress. They proceeded in the same way all over the Ukraine.” (P.
Archinov, op. cit. pp. 297–8.)
From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.
November 30, 1920 : Part 02, Chapter 05 -- Publication.
February 23, 2017 : Part 02, Chapter 05 -- Added to http://www.RevoltLib.com.
March 20, 2019 : Part 02, Chapter 05 -- Last Updated on http://www.RevoltLib.com.
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