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January 5, 1919– August 28, 1921
|Born||October 26, 1888
Huliaipole, Russian Empire (present-day Ukraine)
|Died||July 6, 1934
|Political party||Anarchist communism|
|Occupation||Anarcho-communist revolutionary, painter, stagehand|
Nestor Ivanovych Makhno (Ukrainian: ñññ ñ ñ, Russian: Ìñññ Ìñ ñÌ; October 26 [O.S. October 14] 1888  – July 6, 1934) was a Ukrainian anarcho-communist guerrilla leader turned army commander who led an independent anarchist army in Ukraine during the Russian Civil War.
A commander of the peasant Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine, also known as the Anarchist Black Army, Makhno led a guerrilla campaign during the Russian Civil War. He supported the Bolsheviks, the Ukrainian Directory, the Bolsheviks again, and then turned to organizing the Free Territory of Ukraine, an anarchist society, committed to resisting state authority, whether capitalist or communist. This project was cut short by the consolidation of Bolshevik power. Makhno was described by anarchist theorist Emma Goldman as "an extraordinary figure" leading a revolutionary peasants' movement. He is also credited as the inventor of the tachanka, a horse-drawn platform mounting a heavy machine gun.
Nestor Makhno was born into a poor peasant family in Huliaipole, Yekaterinoslav Governorate in Novorossiya region of Russian Empire (now Zaporizhia Oblast, Ukraine). He was the youngest of five children. Church files show a baptism date of October 27 (November 8), 1888; but Nestor Makhno's parents registered his date of birth as 1889 (in an attempt to postpone conscription) .
His father died when he was ten months old.  Due to extreme poverty, he had to work as a shepherd at the age of seven. He studied at the Second Huliaipole primary school in winter at the age of eight and worked for local landlords during the summer. He left school at the age of twelve and was employed as a farmhand on the estates of nobles and on the farms of wealthy peasants called kulaks. 
At the age of seventeen, he was employed in Huliaipole itself as an apprentice painter, then as a worker in a local iron foundry and, ultimately worked as a founder in the same organization. During this time he became involved in revolutionary politics. His involvement in revolutionary politics was based on his experiences of injustice at work and seeing the terror of the Tsarist regime during the 1905 revolution. In 1906, Makhno joined the anarchist organization in Huliaipole. He was arrested in 1906, tried, and acquitted. He was again arrested in 1907, but could not be incriminated, and the charges were dropped. The third arrest came in 1908, when an infiltrator was able to testify against Makhno. In 1910 Makhno was sentenced to death by hanging, but the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and he was sent to Butyrskaya prison in Moscow. In prison he came under the influence of intellectual cell mate Piotr Arshinov. He was released from prison after the February Revolution in 1917.
After liberation from prison, Makhno organized a peasants' union. It gave him a "Robin Hood" image and he expropriated large estates from landowners and distributed the land among the peasants.
In March 1918, the new Bolshevik government in Russia signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk concluding peace with the Central Powers, but ceding large amounts of territory, including Ukraine, to them. As the Central Rada of the Ukrainian People's Republic (UNR) was unable to maintain order, a coup by former Tsarist general Pavlo Skoropadsky resulted in the establishment of the Hetmanate. Already dissatisfied by the UNR's failure to resolve the question of land ownership, much of the peasantry refused to support a conservative government administered by former imperial officials and supported by the Austro-Hungarian and German occupiers. Peasant bands under various self-appointed otamany which had been counted on the rolls of the UNR's army now attacked the Germans, later going over to the Directory in summer 1918 or the Bolsheviks in late 1918–19, or home to protect local interests, in many cases changing allegiances, plundering so-called class enemies, and venting age-old resentments. They finally dominated the countryside in mid 1919, the largest portion would follow either Socialist Revolutionary Matviy Hryhoriyiv or the anarchist flag of Makhno.
In Yekaterinoslav province, the rebellion soon took on anarchist political overtones. Nestor Makhno joined one of such groups (headed by sailor-deserter Fedir Shchus) and eventually became its commander. Due in part to the impressive personality and charisma of Makhno, all Ukrainian anarchist detachments and peasant guerrilla bands in the region were subsequently known as Makhnovists (Russian: ñññ). These were eventually united into the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine (RIAU), also called the Black Army (because they fought under the anarchist black flag). The RIAU battled against the Whites (counter-revolutionaries) forces, Ukrainian nationalists, and various independent paramilitary formations that conducted anti-semitic pogroms. The anarchist movement in Ukraine came to be referred to as the Black Army, Makhnovism or pejoratively Makhnovshchina.
In areas where they drove out opposing armies, villagers (and workers) sought to abolish capitalism and the state by organizing themselves into village assemblies, communes and free councils. The land and factories were expropriated and put under nominal peasant and worker control by means of self-governing committees; however, town mayors and many officials were drawn directly from the ranks of Makhno's military and political leadership.
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Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky, head of a the Ukrainian State, (considered by most historians[who?] as a puppet regime) lost the support of the Central Powers (Germany and Austro-Hungary, which had armed his forces and installed him in power) after the collapse of the German western front. Unpopular among most southern Ukrainians, Hetman saw his best forces evaporate, and was driven out of Kiev by the Directory. In March 1918, Makhno's forces and allied anarchist and guerrilla groups won victories against German, Austrian, and Ukrainian nationalist (the army of Symon Petlura) forces, and units of the White Army, capturing a lot of German and Austro-Hungarian arms. These victories over much larger enemy forces established Makhno's reputation as a military tactician; he became known as Batko (–Father–) to his admirers.
At this point, the emphasis on military campaigns that Makhno had adopted in the previous year shifted to political concerns. The first Congress of the Confederation of Anarchists Groups, under the name of Nabat ("the Bell"), issued five main principles: rejection of all political parties, rejection of all forms of dictatorships (in particular the Marxist dogma of "dictatorship of the proletariat", viewed by Makhnovists and many anarchists of the day as a term synonymous with the dictatorship of the Bolshevik communist party), negation of any concept of a central state, rejection of a so-called "transitional period" necessitating a temporary dictatorship of the proletariat, and self-management of all workers through free local workers' councils (soviets). While the Bolsheviks argued that their concept of dictatorship of the proletariat meant precisely "rule by workers' councils," the Makhnovist platform opposed the "temporary" Bolshevik measure of "party dictatorship." The Nabat was by no means a puppet of Mahkno and his supporters, from time to time criticizing the Black Army and its conduct in the war.
In 1918, after recruiting large numbers of Ukrainian peasants, as well as numbers of Jews, anarchists, naletchki, and recruits arriving from other countries, Makhno formed the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine, otherwise known as the Anarchist Black Army. At its formation, the Black Army consisted of about 15,000 armed troops, including infantry and cavalry (both regular and irregular) brigades; artillery detachments were incorporated into each regiment. From November 1918 to June 1919, using the Black Army to secure its hold on power, the Makhnovists attempted to create an anarchist society in Ukraine, administered at the local level by autonomous peasants' and workers' councils.
The agricultural part of these villages was composed of peasants, someone understood at the same time peasants and workers. They were founded first of all on equality and solidarity of his members. All, men and women, worked together with a perfect conscience that they should work on fields or that they should be used in housework... Working program was established in meetings where all participated. They knew then exactly what they had to make.
–Makhno, Russian Revolution in Ukraine
New relationships and values were generated by this new social paradigm, which led Makhnovists to formalize the policy of free communities as the highest form of social justice. Education was organized on Francisco Ferrer's principles, and the economy was based upon free exchange between rural and urban communities, from crop and cattle to manufactured products, according to the science proposed by Peter Kropotkin.
Makhno called the Bolsheviks dictators and opposed the "Cheka [secret police]... and similar compulsory authoritative and disciplinary institutions" and called for "[f]reedom of speech, press, assembly, unions and the like". The Bolsheviks accused the Makhnovists of imposing a formal government over the area they controlled, and also said that Makhnovists used forced conscription, committed summary executions, and had two military and counter-intelligence forces: the Razvedka and the Kommissiya Protivmakhnovskikh Del (patterned after the Cheka and the GRU). However, later historians have dismissed these claims as fraudulent propaganda.
The Bolsheviks claimed that it would be impossible for a small, agricultural society to organize into an anarchist society so quickly. However, Eastern Ukraine had a large amount of coal mines, and was one of the most industrialised parts of the Russian Empire.
The image of Makhno as leader of the peasant uprising has been called "legendary" and a "colourful personality". However, in the view of the German and German Mennonite community in Ukraine, he was viewed as the instigator of "military ravages", against innocent farmers, an "inhuman monster" whose path is "literally drenched with blood."
During the war, Mahkno and his Black Army raided many German and Mennonite villages and estates in the Katerynoslav Oblast. The larger rural landholdings of pacifist Mennonites were prominent targets. Makhno's anarchist army generally targeted Mennonites because their wealthy and prosperous communal estates were thought of as Kulaks - wealthy and landed gentry with more advantages than the surrounding Ukrainian peasants. Makhno was also staunchly anti-religious, and viewed Mennonites as enemies on these grounds.
While prohibited by their religion from serving in the Tsar's army, many Mennonites had assisted the Tsar's war effort by performing national service in non-fighting roles, including forestry and hospital units. The Mennonites' Germanic background also served to inflame negative sentiment during the period of revolution, as many peasants in the Black Army had families who had suffered previous depredations by German, Austro-Hungarian, and Hetmanist forces (though one of the high commanders of the Makhnovist Army named Klein was said to be of German descent). It is believed that Makhno himself had worked as a cattle herder on a Mennonite estate in his youth and harbored negative feelings based on treatment he had received while employed there.
In 1919, with the advance of General Denikin's White Volunteer Army into Ukraine, depredations and expropriations by Black Army detachments increased, including the burning of crops and destruction of livestock (what was not seized was often destroyed, either to deny supplies to the advancing White armies, or simply out of retaliation). In response and in the context of a complete collapse in government authority, some Mennonites discarded their pledge of non-violence and, together with other German communities, formed self-defence (or Selbstschutz) units. These units were initially somewhat successful in protecting their communities against Makhno's partisans but were overwhelmed once the anarchists aligned themselves with the Red Army, which had entered Ukraine in February 1919. Hundreds of Mennonites were murdered and robbed during this period, primarily in areas surrounding the villages of Chortitza, Zagradovka, and Nikolaipol. The combination of Tsarist resettlement of Germans in World War I and attacks during the civil war reduced the German population from 750,000 in 1914 to 514,000 in 1926. The remainder had their lands expropriated by the Soviet government.
Like the White army, the Ukrainian National Republic and forces loyal to the Bolsheviks, Makhno's forces were accused of conducting pogroms against Jews in Ukraine during the civil war, based on the Bolshevik accounts of the war. However, these claims have never been proven. Paul Avrich writes, "Maknno's alleged anti-Semitism...Charges of Jew-baiting and of anti-Jewish pogroms have come from every quarter, left, right, and center. Without exception, however, they are based on hearsay, rumor, or intentional slander, and remain undocumented and unproved." Avrich notes that a considerable number of Jews took part in the Makhnovist anarchist movement. Some, like Vsevolod Mikhailovich Eikhenbaum, a/k/a "Volin" were intellectuals who served on the Cultural-Educational Commission, wrote his manifestos, and edited his journals, but the great majority fought in the ranks of the Anarchist Black Army, either in special detachments of Jewish artillery and infantry, or else within the regular anarchist army brigades alongside peasants and workers of Ukrainian, Russian, and other ethnic origins. Together they formed a significant part of Makhno's anarchist army. Significantly, during the Russian civil war, the Merkaz or Central Committee of the Zionist Organization in Russia regularly reported on many armed groups committing pogroms against Jews in Russia, including the Whites, the Russian Ukrainian 'Green' nationalist Nikifor Grigoriev (later shot by Black Army troops on Makhno's orders) as well as Red Army forces, but did not accuse Makhno or the anarchist Black Army of directing pogroms or other attacks against Russian Jews. According to the Cambridge University Press, –He was a self-educated man, committed to the teachings of Bakunin and Kropotkin, and he could not fairly be described as an anti-Semite. Makhno had Jewish comrades and friends; and like Symon Petliura, he issued a proclamation forbidding pogroms.– The book goes on to explain that "the anarchist leader could not or did not impose discipline on his soldiers. In the name of –class struggle– his troops with particular enthusiasm robbed Jews of whatever they had.–
While the bulk of Makhno's forces consisted of ethnic Ukrainian peasants, he did not consider himself to be a Ukrainian nationalist, but rather an anarchist. His movement did put out a Ukrainian-language version of their newspaper and his wife Halyna Kuzmenko was a nationally-conscious Ukrainian. In emigration, Makhno came to believe that anarchists would only have a future in Ukraine if they Ukrainianized and he stated that he regretted that he was writing his memoirs in Russian and not in Ukrainian. Makhno viewed the revolution as an opportunity for ordinary Russians - particularly rural peasants - to rid themselves of the overweening power of the central state through self-governing and autonomous peasant committees, protected by a people's army dedicated to anarchist principles of self-rule.
Bolshevik hostility to Makhno and his anarchist army increased after the defection of 40,000 Red Army troops in Crimea to the Black Army in July 1918. The Nabat confederation was banned and the Third Congress (specifically Pavel Dybenko) declared the "Makhnovschina" (Ukrainian anarchists) outlaws and counter-revolutionaries. In response, the Anarchist Congress publicly questioned, "[M]ight laws exist as made by few persons so-called revolutionaries, allowing these to declare the outlawing of an entire people which is more revolutionary than them?" (Archinoff, The Makhnovist Movement). Relying largely on a September 1920 report from V. Ivanov, a Bolshevik delegate to Makhno's camp, Moscow justified its hostility to Makhno and the anarchists by claiming that
The Bolshevik press was not only silent on the subject of Moscow's continued refusal to send arms to the Black Army, but also failed to credit the Ukrainian anarchists' continued willingness to ship food supplies to the hungry urban residents of Bolshevik-held cities.
Lenin soon sent Lev Kamenev to Ukraine, who conducted a cordial interview with Makhno. After Kamenev's departure, Makhno claimed to have intercepted two Bolshevik messages, the first an order to the Red Army to attack the Makhnovists, the second ordering Makhno's assassination. Soon after the Fourth Congress, Trotsky sent an order to arrest every Nabat congress member. Pursued by White Army forces, Makhno and the Black Army responded by withdrawing further into the interior of Ukraine. In 1919, the Black Army suddenly turned eastwards in a full-scale offensive, surprising General Denikin's White forces and causing them to fall back. Within two weeks, Makhno and the Black Army had recaptured all of the southern Ukraine.
Having consolidated their base, Makhno and the other Ukrainian anarchists turned once more to the political administration of the territory they controlled, destroying prisons and guardhouses, freeing prisoners, and granting freedom of speech, conscience, association, and the press. When nearly half of Makhno's troops were struck by a typhus epidemic, Trotsky resumed hostilities; the Cheka sent two agents to assassinate Makhno in 1920, but were captured and after confessing, were executed. All through February, 1920 the Free Territory - Makhnovist region - was inundated with Red troops, including the 42nd Rifle Division and the Latvian & Estonian Division – in total at least 20,000 soldiers. After the souring and dissolution of Makhno's Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine with Bolsheviks the captured Red commanders and comissars were similarly summarily executed. However, Makhno usually preferred to release the disarmed enlisted men that were captured, as "proletarian brothers", with a choice of joining his army or returning home, after all commanding officers were executed. This happened to an Estonian Red Army unit that surrendered to Makhno in 1920. Viktor Belash noted that even in the worst time for the revolutionary army, namely at the beginning of 1920, "In the majority of cases rank-and-file Red Army soldiers were set free". Of course Belash, as a colleague of Makhno's, was likely to idealize the punishment policies of the Batko. However, the facts bear witness that Makhno really did release "in all four directions" captured Red Army soldiers. This is what happened at the beginning of February 1920, when the insurgents disarmed the 10,000-strong Estonian Division in Huliaipole. To this it must be added that the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine included a choir of Estonian musicians. The problem was further compounded by the alienation of the Estonians by Anton Denikin's inflexible Russian chauvinism and their refusal to fight with Nikolai Yudenich.
There was a new truce between Makhnovist forces and the Red Army in October 1920 in the face of a new advance by Wrangel's White army. While Makhno and the anarchists were willing to assist in ejecting Wrangel and White Army troops from southern Ukraine and Crimea, they distrusted the Bolshevist government in Moscow and its motives. However, after the Bolshevik government agreed to a pardon of all anarchist prisoners throughout Russia, a formal treaty of alliance was signed.
By late 1920, Makhno had successfully halted General Wrangel's White Army advance into Ukraine from the southwest, capturing 4,000 prisoners and stores of munitions, and preventing the White Army from gaining control of the all-important Ukrainian grain harvest. Eventually, after shifting forces from the Polish-Soviet campaign, Red Army units also participated in the southern campaign that pursued Wrangel and the remainder of his forces down the Crimean peninsula. To the end, Makhno and the anarchists maintained their main political structures, refusing demands to join the Red Army, to hold Bolshevik-supervised elections, or accept Bolshevik-appointed political commissars. The Red Army temporarily accepted these conditions, but within a few days ceased to provide the Makhnovists with basic supplies, such as cereals and coal.
When General Wrangel's White Army forces were decisively defeated in November 1920, the Communists immediately turned on Makhno and the anarchists once again. After refusing a direct order by the Bolshevik government to disband his anarchist army, Makhno intercepted three messages from Lenin to Christian Rakovsky, the head of the Bolshevik Ukrainian Soviet based in Kharkiv. Lenin's orders were to arrest all members of Makhno's organization and to try them as common criminals. On November 26, 1920, less than two weeks after assisting Red Army forces to defeat Wrangel, Makhno's headquarters staff and many of his subordinate commanders were arrested at a Red Army planning conference to which they had been invited by Moscow, and executed. Makhno escaped, but was soon forced into retreat as the full weight of the Red Army and the Cheka's Special Punitive Brigades was brought to bear against not only the Makhnovists, but all anarchists, even their admirers and sympathizers.
In August 1921, an exhausted Makhno was finally driven by Mikhail Frunze's Ukrainian Red forces into exile with the remainder of his anarchist army, fleeing to Romania, then Poland, Danzig, Berlin and finally to Paris. In 1926, he joined other Russian exiles in Paris as part of the Group of Russian Anarchists Abroad (ññ¿¿ ññññ ññññ ññ) who produced the monthly journal "Dielo Truda" (» ññ, The Cause of Labour). Makhno co-wrote and co-published the Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (often referred to as the Organizational Platform of the Libertarian Communists), which put forward ideas on how anarchists should organize, based on the experiences of revolutionary Ukraine and the defeat by the Bolsheviks. The document was initially rejected by many anarchists, but today has a wide following. It remains controversial to this day, continuing to inspire some anarchists (notably the platformism tendency) because of the clarity and functionality of the structures it proposes, while drawing criticism from others (including, at the time of publication, Volin and Malatesta) who viewed its implications as too rigid and hierarchical.
At the end of his life Makhno lived in Paris and worked as a carpenter and stage-hand at the Paris Opera, at film-studios, and at the Renault factory. He died in Paris on July 6, 1934, from tuberculosis. He was cremated three days after his death, with five hundred people attending his funeral at the famous cimetire du Pre-Lachaise in Paris. Makhno's widow and his daughter Yelena, were deported to Germany for forced labor during World War II. After the end of the war they were arrested by the NKVD. They were taken to Kiev for trial in 1946 and sentenced to eight years of hard labor. They lived in Kazakhstan after their release in 1953.
In 1919, Nestor Maknho married Agafya (aka Halyna) Kuzmenko, a former elementary schoolteacher (1892-1978), who became his aide. They had one daughter, Yelena. Halyna Kuzmenko personally carried out a death sentence of ataman Nikifor Grigoriev, a subordinate commander who committed a series of anti-semitic pogroms (according to other accounts, Grigoriev was killed by Chubenko, a member of Makhno's staff or Makhno himself).
Two of Makhno's brothers were his active supporters and aides before being captured in battle by the German occupation forces and executed by firing squad.
According to Paul Avrich, Makhno was a thoroughgoing anarchist and down-to-earth peasant. He rejected metaphysical systems and abstract social theorizing.
Volin, one of his biggest supporters who was active for several months in the movement, reports that Makhno and his associates engaged in sexual mistreatment of women: "Makhno and of many of his intimates -- both commanders and others... let themselves indulge in shameful and even odious activities, going as far as orgies in which certain women were forced to participate." However, Volin's allegations against Makhno in regards to sexual violations of women has been disputed by some on the grounds that the allegations are unsubstantiated, do not stand up to eyewitness accounts of the punishment meted out to rapists by the Makhnovists, and were originally made by Volin in his book The Unknown Revolution which was first published in 1947, long after Makhno's death and following a bitter falling-out between Makhno and Volin. It has also been pointed out by A. Skirda that Makhno's wife often traveled alongside Makhno during the war years in Ukraine and that she, and other armed insurgent women who were members of the Makhnovists movement, would not likely have tolerated such infidelities and abuse towards women on the part of her husband or other male insurgents.
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