History of the Makhnovist Movement (1918–1921)

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(1886 - 1937) ~ Russian, Anarchist Revolutionary and Makhnovist Partisan : In prison he met Makhno. Both Makhno and Arshinov were released in 1917 and Arshinov joined Makhno in the Ukraine when the Makhnovite Insurrectionary Army took control. (From : Anarchy Archives.)
• "For the masses sense the futility of contradictory notions and avoid them instinctively; in spite of this, in a revolutionary period, they act and live in a libertarian fashion." (From : "The Old and New in Anarchism: A Reply to Comrade ....)
• "Libertarian communism cannot linger in the impasse of the past; it must go beyond it, in combating and surmounting its faults." (From : "The Old and New in Anarchism: A Reply to Comrade ....)
• "The question for anarchists of all countries is the following: can our movement content itself with subsisting on the base of old forms of organization, of local groups having no organic link between them, and each acting on their side according to its particular ideology and particular practice?" (From : "The Old and New in Anarchism: A Reply to Comrade ....)


This document contains 14 sections, with 90,085 words or 580,884 characters.

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The present work is the first English translation of Peter Arshinov’s Istoriya Makhnovskogo Dvizheniya, originally published in 1923 by the “Gruppa Russkikh Anarkhistov v Germanii” (Group of Russian Anarchists in Germany) in Berlin. It was translated into English by Lorraine and Fredy Perlman. The English translation follows the Russian original very closely, except in instances when the translators could not find suitable English equivalents for Russian words. The words kulak (wealthy peasant), pomeshchiki (landlords, or gentry), and Cheka (Ch K, the initials of “Extraordinary Commission,” the Bolshevik secret security police) were in general not translated into English, since they refer to very specific Russian phenomena which would be erroneously identified with very different phenomena by available English terms. The Russian territorial division, guberniya, was translated as “govern... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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There has not been one revolution in the world’s history which was carried out by the working people in their own interests — by urban workers and poor peasants who do not exploit the work of others. Although the main force of all great revolutions consisted of workers and peasants, who made innumerable sacrifices for their success, the leaders, ideologists and organizers of the forms and goals of the revolution were invariably neither workers nor peasants, but elements foreign to the workers and peasants, generally intermediaries who hesitated between the ruling class of the dying epoch and the proletariat of the cities and fields. This element was always born and grew out of the soil of the disintegrating old regime, the old State system, and was nourished by the existence of a movement for freedom among the enslaved masses. Because of their class characteristics and their aspiration to State power, they take a revolutionary position in relation to the... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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To clarify the development of the Russian revolution, it is necessary to examine the propaganda and the development of revolutionary ideas among the workers and the peasants throughout the period from 1900 to 1917, and the significance of the October upheaval in Great Russia and in the Ukraine. Beginning with the years 1900–1905, revolutionary propaganda among workers and peasants was carried out by spokesmen of two basic doctrines: state socialism and anarchism. The state socialist propaganda was carried out by a number of wonderfully organized democratic parties: Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, Socialist-Revolutionaries and a number of related currents. Anarchism was put forward by a few numerically small groups who did not have a sufficiently clear understanding of their tasks in the revolution. The field of propaganda and political education was almost completely occupied by the democracy which educated the masses in the spirit of its political program and ideals. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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The Brest-Litovsk treaty concluded by the Bolsheviks with the Imperial German government opened the doors of the Ukraine to the Austro-Germans. They entered as masters. They did not confine themselves to military action, but became involved in the economic and political life of the country. Their purpose was to appropriate its products. To accomplish this easily and completely they reestablished the power of the nobles and the landed gentry, who had been overthrown by the people, and installed the autocratic government of the Hetman Skoropadsky. Their troops were systematically misled by their officers about the Russian revolution. The situation in Russia and the Ukraine was represented to them as an orgy of blind, savage forces, destroying order in the country and terrorizing the honest working people. This way they provoked in the soldiers a hostility towards the rebel peasants and workers, thus creating the basis for the absolutely heartless and plundering entry of the Austro-... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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The counter-revolution of the Ukrainian pomeshchiks, personified by the Hetman, was without a doubt artificial, since it was implanted by the force of German and Austrian imperialism. The Ukrainian pomeshchiks and capitalists could not have held out for a single day during the tempestuous year of 1918 if they had not been supported by the power of the German army. According to one estimate, at least half a million Austro-German and Hungarian troops occupied the Ukraine. There may even have been more. All these troops were regularly spread out throughout the Ukraine in such a manner that more of them were assigned to revolutionary and turbulent regions. From the first day of the occupation, all these troops were placed at the service of counterrevolutionary interests, and in their relations with the working peasants they conducted themselves as conquerors in a vanquished country. Thus, during the entire period of the counter-revolution the Ukrainian... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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The revolutionary insurrectionary movement of the Ukrainian peasants and workers at first had the character of a tempestuous sea. Throughout the immense stretches of the Ukraine, the masses seethed, rushing into revolt and struggle. Highhanded pomeshchiks and representatives of power were killed or chased from their midst. The destructive side of the movement was dominant. The positive side seemed to be lacking. The movement did not yet offer a clear and precise plan for the organization of the free life of the peasants and workers. But gradually, in the process of its development, the real content of the movement was revealed and formed. After the unification of the majority of the insurrectionary currents under Makhno’s leadership, the movement found the unity which it had lacked, its backbone. From this time on it represents an accomplished and clearly defined social movement with its specific ideology and its own plan for the organization of the life of the peo... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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On May 12, 1919, the following telegram was received at the Makhnovist headquarters in Gulyai-Polye: “Gulyai-Polye, forward to Batko Makhno. “The traitor Grigor’ev has delivered the front to the enemy. Refusing to execute battle orders, he turned his guns around. The decisive moment has come: either you will march with the workers and peasants of all of Russia, or else you will in practice open the front to the enemy. There can be no hesitation. Send immediate information on the disposition of your troops and issue a proclamation against Grigor’ev, sending me a copy at Khar’kov. A lack of response will be considered a declaration of war. I have faith in the honor of revolutionaries — yours, Arshinov’s, Veretel’nikov’s, and that of others. “(Signed) Kamenev. No. 277 Revolutionary Military Inspector,... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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As we already mentioned, Makhno retired with a small cavalry detachment when he left his post as commander of the insurrectionary army. He went to Aleksandrovsk. There, in spite of the fact that the Bolsheviks sought his head on the front in the vicinity of the Gyaichur Station, he succeeded in officially turning over the command as well as the affairs of the insurrectionary division to the new brigade commander who had just been appointed by the Bolsheviks. Makhno did this because he desired to leave his post openly and honestly so that the Bolsheviks would have no pretext for accusing him of anything with regard to the affairs of the division he commanded. Makhno needed to act with prudence. Forced to play their game, Makhno did it honorably. In the meantime Denikin’s offensive dealt a heavy blow to the laboring masses. A large number of fleeing peasants set out to look for Makhno whom they considered their popular leader. Numerous insurgents, scattered thro... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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The exertions of the Makhnovists in their struggle against Denikin were colossal. The heroism of their six-month struggle had been visible to everyone. Throughout the extensive area of the liberated region, they alone carried the revolutionary thunder and prepared the grave for Denikin’s counter-revolution. This is how the broad masses of the cities and villages understood the events which took place. This circumstance led many Makhnovists to the conclusion that they were now protected from all Communist provocations in view of the understanding of the workers and peasants. It was thought that the Red Army, coming from the north, would now understand the falsity of the Communist Party’s accusations of the Makhnovists; that this army would not be taken in by a new hoax or provocation by the Party, but would on the contrary make common cause with the Makhnovists as soon as the two met. Furthermore, the optimism of certain Makhnovists went so far as to cons... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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During the summer of 1920, the Makhnovists more than once attempted to engage in battle against Wrangel. On two occasions they had military encounters with his troops, but each time the Red troops struck the Makhnovists from behind, and the Makhnovists had to abandon the firing line and retreat. The Soviet Authorities did not stop slandering the Makhnovists. Throughout the Ukraine, Soviet newspapers spread the false news of an alliance between Makhno and Wrangel. In the summer of 1920, the Plenipotentiary of the Khar’kov Government, Yakovlev, declared at the Plenary Session of the Ekaterinoslav Soviet, that the Soviet authorities had written proof of the alliance between Makhno and Wrangel. This was obviously an intentional lie. The Soviet authorities made use of this tactic in order to mislead the masses of workers who, disturbed by Wrangel’s successes and the Red Army’s retreat, began to look toward Makhno and to invoke his name more frequently. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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All that has just been said about the Makhnovshchina shows that it was a true popular movement of peasants and workers, and that its essential goal was to establish the freedom of workers by means of revolutionary self-activity on the part of the masses. From its beginnings, the movement included poor peasants of all nationalities who lived in the region. The majority naturally consisted of Ukrainian peasants. Six to eight percent were peasants from Great Russia. Then there were Greeks, Jews, Caucasians and other poor people of various nationalities. The Greek and Jewish settlements scattered in the region of the Sea of Azov maintained constant links with the movement. Several of the best commanders of the revolutionary army were of Greek origin, and until the very end the army included several special detachments of Greeks. Composed of the poorest peasants, who were united by the fact that they all worked with their own hands, the Makhnovist movement... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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The Makhnovshchina is a revolutionary mass movement created by the historical living conditions of the poorest sectors of the Russian peasantry. Whether or not Makhno had existed, this movement would inevitably have risen from the depths and would have expressed itself in original forms. From the very first days of the revolution, it rose out of the depths of the people in various parts of Russia. If it had not appeared in the Ukraine, it could just as well have appeared elsewhere. Its seeds were carried by the Russian revolution. The conditions in the Ukraine in 1918 helped the movement to break through in a torrent and to consolidate its position to some extent. From its very beginnings, this movement, stemming from the lowest depths of society, thrust forward an impressive array of personalities who were until then unknown, but who possessed an indomitable spirit, a remarkable revolutionary instinct, and enormous abilities in the field of military strategy. Such individuals at... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Anarchism embraces two worlds: the world of philosophy, of ideas, and the world of practice, of activity. The two are intimately linked. The struggling working class stands mainly on the concrete, practical side of anarchism. The essential and fundamental principle of this side is the principle of the revolutionary initiative of workers and their self-liberation. From this naturally flows the further principle of statelessness and self-management of the workers in the new society. But until the present, the history of the proletarian struggle does not contain a massive anarchist movement in its pure, strictly principled form. All of the workers’ and peasants’ movements which have taken place until today have been movements within the limits of the capitalist regime, and have been more or less tinged with anarchism. This is perfectly natural and understandable. The working classes do not act within a world of wishes, but in the real world where they are daily subjected... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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[Makhnovist Movement.] In addition to the large quantity of articles which have appeared in various Russian and foreign newspapers, and which demonstrate an extraordinary talent for slander or an unbelievable literary shamelessness on the author’s part, there are already fairly extensive works which pretend to have a certain ideological or historical importance, but which in reality are conscious falsifications or inept fables. For example, we can cite the book of Ya. Yakovlev, Russian Anarchism in the Great Russian Revolution (published in several Russian as well as foreign editions) — a steady stream of falsifications and outright lies. Or we could cite the long and pretentious article of a certain Gerasimenko in the historical-literary anthology Istorik i Sovremenik (published by Olga D’yakov and Co., Book III, Berlin, 1922, p. 151, article on “Makhno”), where such fantasies are reported that one i... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)


1923 :
History of the Makhnovist Movement (1918–1921) -- Publication.

July 08, 2019 ; 3:31:48 PM (America/Los_Angeles) :
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September 18, 2021 ; 4:37:22 PM (America/Los_Angeles) :
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