Makhno's Ukraine

7 posts / 0 new
Last post
Makhno's Ukraine
Printer-friendly version

Like the 'communes' of the Spanish civil war, the society that existed in the region occupied by the Makhnovchina is consistently upheld as the true heir of the October Revolution / the great revolutionary wave.

"Thirdly, and even more embarrassingly for the Leninists, numerous examples exist both from revolutionary Russia at the time and from earlier and later revolutions that suggest far from Bolshevik tactics being the most efficient way of defending the revolution other methods existed which looked to the massive creative energies of the working masses unleashed by the revolution.

During the Russian Revolution the biggest example of this is found in South-Eastern Ukraine. For much of the Civil War this area operated without a centralised state apparatus of the Bolshevik type and was, instead, based on the anarchist idea of Free Soviets. There "the insurgents raised the black flag of anarchism and set forth on the anti-authoritarian road of the free organisation of the workers." [Arshinov, The History of the Makhnovist Movement, p. 50] The space in which this happened was created by a partisan force that instead of using the "efficiency" of executions for desertion, tsarist officers appointed over the rank and file soldiers' wishes and saluting so loved by the Bolsheviks instead operated as a volunteer army with elected officers and voluntary discipline. This movement was the Makhnovists, named after its leader, the Ukrainian anarchist Nestor Makhno. The Black Flag which floated over the lead wagon of the Insurgent Army was inscribed with the slogans "Liberty or Death" and "The Land to the Peasants, the Factories to the Workers." These slogans summarised what the Makhnovist were fighting for -- a libertarian socialist society. At its height in the autumn of 1919, the Maknovists numbered around 40,000 and its extended area of influence corresponded to nearly one third of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic, comprising a population of over seven million.

It is this that explains the importance of the Makhnovists. As historian Christopher Reed notes, the "Bolsheviks' main claim to legitimacy rested on the argument that they were the only ones capable of preventing a similar disaster [counter-revolution] for the workers and peasants of Russia and that their harsh methods were necessary in the face of a ruthless and unrelenting enemy." However, Reed argues that "the Makhno movement in the Ukraine suggests that there was more than one way to fight against the counter-revolution." [From Tsar to Soviets, pp. 258-9] This is why the Makhnovist movement is so important, why it shows that there was, and is, an alternative to the ideas of Bolshevism. Here we have a mass movement operating in the same "exceptional circumstances" as the Bolsheviks which did not implement the same policies. Indeed, rather than suppress soviet, workplace and military democracy in favour of centralised, top-down party power and modify their political line to justify their implementation of party dictatorship, the Makhnovists did all they could to implement and encourage working-class self-government.

As such, it is difficult to blame the development of Bolshevik policies towards state-capitalist and party-dictatorship directions on the problems caused during the revolution when the Makhnovists, facing similar conditions, did all they could to protect working- class autonomy and freedom. Indeed, it could be argued that the problems facing the Makhnovists were greater in many ways." - Makhno FAQ

Is it accurate to say that 'no state' existed in revolutionary Ukraine? How were the workers and peasants organized?

I did a cursory search but didn't find much relating to the Ukraine under Makhno's army in the ICC's press back issues- it seems like an important topic, as there are several texts concerning the Spanish civil war and the 'communes'.


I think that it is an

I think that it is an important issue, and as far as I know we haven't covered it. Personally it isn't something that I know much about. I read the Arshinov book about twenty years ago, but that is about it.

I don't think that the lack of coverage implies a lack of interest, more just the limited resources of a small organisation. The ICC has written nothing about the Paris commune for example, which is even more striking when you think that the biggest section is in France.

Do you know much about it? Would you consider writting something for us on it?





Unfortunately I don't know

Unfortunately I don't know much about it either. Most of the articles I've been able to pull up on political, economic and social organization of 'revolutionary Ukraine' have been puff pieces (such as the one quoted in the original post from the 'Makhno FAQ').

Discussion with various libertarian tendencies about the Bolsheviks and red October is difficult without a decent analysis of Makhno and Ukraine. The GCI wrote an article about it, but I haven't gotten around to reading it yet.

"Proletarian Insurrection In Ukraine 1918-1921"

For a perspective less

For a perspective less hostile to the Bolsheviks, there is The Makhno Myth at

Just a detail: Makhno's meeting with Lenin and Sverdlov, about which Makhno wrote such a fascinating account, is entirely put in to question. It's quite shocking for me to think that Makhno would make this all up.. Makhno talking to ghosts, like in a scene from the Shining.

Thanks for the link, d-man. I

Thanks for the link, d-man.

I find many statements about the 'good ideas' of the Makhnovists to be extremely disingenous, as they are very similar to those of the Bolsheviks (and of modern day communists), such as:

"Two distinct aspects of the anarchist movement existed in the Ukraine at this time, a political and non-military structure called the Nabat (Alarm) federation which operated through the soviets and collectives and a military command structure usually known after is commander Nestor Makhno as the Makhnovshchina (which means the "Makhno movement") although its proper name was the Revolutionary Insurgent Army of the Ukraine."

Though elsewhere on the same site the Bolsheviks are criticized for, as the class party, operating in the soviets in a similar capacity.

I'll try and help.. I think

I'll try and help..

I think this gives a fair account of the wrongs and rights of the RIAU:

In Olexandrivsk they held two initial conferences and urged the workers to restart production under their own self-management and to open up direct exchange with the peasantry. The workers however looked to the Makhnovista to pay them wages, including back pay for the period under the whites. Makhno responded in the case of the rail workers that they get the trains running and change sufficient tariffs to generate their wages. However he exempted military traffic from this tariff which was of course unpopular as most of the traffic was military.  Despite these problems some trains were got running and a few factories reopened. However the problems were multiplied by the Olexandrivske congress when the unions only sent observers, 1/3 of whom walked out after Makhno called them "lapdogs of the bourgeoise". After the congress 18 plant committees stated that they and their unions would disclaim all connection with the congress. Makhno responded by calling those delegates who had walked out "thieves and cowards". At this stage the Makhnovista left Olexandrivske in the face of Red Army assaults.  Katerynoslav saw some minor successes, the tobacco workers won a collective agreement that had long been refused, the bakery workers where importantly there was an anarcho-syndicalist influence undertook the socialisation of the industry, drawing up plans to feed

Colin Darch, Paul Avrich, Skirda, Malet, Volin of course Arshinov are all worth a read when considering the RIAU.

Altogether they appear to have relied to heavily on the peasantry and a very strange form of "workers self-management", which was actually pretty bad in cases such as the railway workers', without some form of socialisation of industry.. this is added to by his attempt to appeal to all sections of the peasantry, which the Bolshevik "committees of the poor" opposed.

History of the Makhnovist Movement (1918-1921) - DiText

Nestor Makhno, the Bandit Who Saved Moscow - DiText

Volin: The Unknown Revolution: Book III - The Nestor Makhno Archive

The myth of Nestor Makhno (PDF)

please can i have some

please can i have some infomation on clashes between the red army and makhnov's?


i am for now less interested in the claim that the successes of makhnov deminstrates that anarchism is viable. i think it unlikely, no less than the claim that the counter revolution shows "state" communism must fail and degenerate.