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(en) France, Alternative Libertaire AL #287 - a hundred years ago - Makhno and Libertarian Ukraine (1917-1921) (fr, it, pt)[machine translation]

Date Sun, 4 Nov 2018 06:38:32 +0200


When one thinks of the Russian Revolution of 1917, it is common to oppose the reactionary forces, the " whites ", to the revolutionaries, the " reds ". It is nevertheless necessary to return to the role of a third component: that of the Anarcho-Communists of Ukraine, led by Nestor Makhno, who are experimenting with true self-management from November 1918. ---- This self-managing experience is embedded in an island lost in the immensity of the former tsarist empire that shattered under the blows of a Revolution dominated by the statist vision and authoritarian Bolsheviks. Rich in fertile land, Ukraine offers incomparable crops. Considered the " breadbasket of Europe ", this region has always been marked by a strong feeling of insubordination. " Whatever were the efforts of the Tsars since Catherine II to erase the spirit of the Ukrainian people all trace of" Volnitza "(Free Life), the legacy of the war era XIV es - XV are centuries and" Zaporozhian camp » [1], was preserved anyway, and to this day the peasants of Ukraine have kept a particular love of independence. This love manifested itself in a stubborn resistance against any power seeking to subjugate them " . [2]

Ukraine in the revolution
This reality explains why the effects of the October Revolution were felt only later in Ukraine. While in Great Russia, the Czar Nicholas II abdicates in March 1917, and that Kerensky took the head of the provisional government, is set up in Ukraine a parallel power led by the nationalist petty bourgeoisie, eager to recreate an independent state. This movement, led by Vinitcheuko and Petlioura, settled mainly in the north of the country. In the South, the peasant masses, under the influence of strong-rooted anarchist groups, broke away to form a revolutionary current which, in December 1917 and January 1918, expelled the big landowners and began to organize itself the sharing and land and plant development. Everything is called into question when, on March 3, 1918, Lenin and the Bolshevik Party sign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which delivers to the Austro-German armies Ukraine. The local counterrevolution raises the head. The occupier immediately restores the nobles and the landowners (the agrarians) in their privileges. The appointment of Skoropadsky as head of the Central Rada (Parliament) marks the return to Tsarism and the privileges of the powerful. The owners, who had been hunted a short time before, hastened, in the spirit of revenge, to tighten their hold on the people, who were beset by the violence and robbery of the occupying troops. Faced with this double violence, the whole people stands up. The insurrectional movement of the peasants and the workers declares itself for the integral revolution, with as end the complete emancipation of the work. We attend, then, to a simultaneous organization of bodies of free-rifle partisans, without any slogan coming from any political party but by the peasants themselves. The violence and reprisals of the Ukrainian Rada, supported by the Austro-German troops, are bloody (June-July-August 1918). The need for a response to the repression is felt. It will be the anarchist group of the city of Gulyai-Polie that will take the initiative. Within it, will stand out a leader of the first order, Nestor Makhno. The need for a response to the repression is felt. It will be the anarchist group of the city of Gulyai-Polie that will take the initiative. Within it, will stand out a leader of the first order, Nestor Makhno. The need for a response to the repression is felt. It will be the anarchist group of the city of Gulyai-Polie that will take the initiative. Within it, will stand out a leader of the first order, Nestor Makhno.

Batko Makhno
Nestor Makhno is from the region of southern Ukraine, land of Cossacks made famous by the novelist Nikolai Gogol and his "Tarass Boulba". Son of poor peasants, in adolescence, after the abortive revolution of 1905, he joined the anarcho-communist organizations that were then constituted in Ukraine. After an attempted attack on the local governor, he was arrested by Okhrana, the tsarist police, with 13 of his comrades and sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted to forced labor in perpetuity by the Tsar because of his young age. His rebelliousness and his permanent insubordination make him spend most of his time in isolation. He takes the opportunity to learn and devour the classics of Russian literature. He sits there, too, his political formation through the writings of the libertarian thinkers. In prison, in the humidity of the dungeons, he contracts a tuberculosis which he will never cure and which will eventually prevail.


The insurrection in Moscow on 1 st March 1917, will enable him to regain his freedom and returned to Gulyai-Polye, where he received a hero's welcome. The inhabitants and residents have a nickname, which can surprise because of its ideals, " Batko " (the Father or guide), which demonstrates the confidence it feeds the oppressed masses of the land of Ukraine. He left for Moscow to perfect his militant education. There he meets the old anarchist Piotr Kropotkin but also another figure of the Russian libertarian movement, Peter Archinov which he will become the friend.

Back in Ukraine, Makhno is then charged by a revolutionary committee to form battalions of struggle against the occupying and central Rada of Hetman Skoropadsky. He takes part in numerous meetings, multiplying the calls to the general insurrection. During one of them, he tells the crowd: " To conquer or die - here is the dilemma that stands before the peasants and workers of Ukraine at this historic moment. But to die all we can not, we are too much. We are humanity. But we will not win to repeat the example of past years, put our fate to new masters " . [3]

When the occupying armies protecting the Hetman are recalled to their country after the defeat of the Germanic bloc on the Western Front, it is the rout of the owners, who are fleeing abroad.

Begins, then truly, the mass self-management experience in Ukraine and the implementation of the libertarian organization theory. An experiment which by its ethics and spirit is in direct opposition to Bolshevik achievements in Great Russia and the establishment of the Soviet state.

Self-managed agrarian communes
Until the flight of Skoropadsky, the movement was marked mainly by feats of arms where Makhno and his followers, by their guerrilla practice, perform miracles. Intrepid cavaliers, they melt on the enemy taking him by surprise. " The speed of movement was Makhno's special tactic. Thanks to her and also the extent of the area, he always appeared unexpectedly, to where we least expected " . [4]With the unification of the North and South regions of Ukraine, the Makhnovists specify a plan of organization of the oppressed during the first congress of the Confederation of anarchist groups that takes the name of Nabat (the Tocsin) .

The main decisions are: the rejection of privileged groups ; mistrust of all political parties ; the negation of any dictatorship and the principle of the state (including workers) ; the rejection of a " transitional " period of " dictatorship of the proletariat " ; the self-leadership of the people through workers 'and peasants' councils (soviets).

These different provisions oppose the Bolsheviks' vertical and authoritarian vision in the rest of the country. It is through pedagogy that the Ukrainian libertarian movement presents and explains its ideas to workers, without, however, trying to impose them. The insurrectional army is defined as a group of self-defense, because, for Makhno and his followers, the anarchist ideal of happiness and general equality can not be achieved through the effort of an army, whatever it may be. even if it is formed exclusively by anarchists.

Thus, one can read in The Way to Freedom (Makhnovist organ): " The revolutionary army, in the best of cases, could serve for the destruction of the old abhorred regime ; for constructive work, edification and creation, any army which, logically, can only rely on force and command, would be utterly powerless and even detrimental.

For the anarchist society becomes possible, it is necessary that the workers themselves in factories and enterprises, farmers themselves in their villages, begin to build the anti-authoritarian society, waiting to nowhere decree-laws ".

For six months (from November 1918 to June 1919), there is a real anarchist experience in which the population lives without any power, thus creating new forms of social relations. In addition to the direct management of factories by workers on the basis of economic equality, Free Communes are created, which in 1936 will inspire the farming communities of Catalonia and Aragon. In his memoirs, Nestor Makhno writes:

" Most of these agrarian communes were composed of peasants, some of whom included both peasants and workers. They were based above all on the equality and solidarity of their members. All men and women worked together with perfect consciousness, whether they worked in the fields or were employed in domestic work. The kitchen was common. The refectory also. Members were also required to get up early and get to work immediately with oxen, horses, and other household chores. Everyone had the right to be absent when he wished, but he had to warn his nearest working companion so that he could replace him during his absence. The work program was established in meetings where everyone participated. They then knew exactly what they had to do (...) A new state of mind is born from these experiences, because the peasants quickly come to consider this free communal system as the highest form of social justice. Thus, the members of the group were made to the idea of collective unity in the action and especially in the reasoned and fruitful action. They were accustomed to naturally trust one another, to understand each other, to appreciate each other sincerely in their respective fields. The workers of the communes set to work, to the sound of free and joyous songs, reflecting the soul of the revolution. They were sowing, gardening full of self-confidence, resolved not to allow the old owners to take this land again.» [5]

At the level of the exchanges with the cities, the peasants reject any intermediary. Without going through the structures of the state, they provide the workers with cities of fruits, cereals and food, in exchange for which the workers will exchange their products, on the basis of reciprocal estimation and mutual aid, such as has defined in his work, The conquest of bread , Kropotkin. On the educational level, Francisco Ferrer's pedagogical principles are applied in schools. Masters are recruited all over Russia. Among them: a figure of Russian anarchism, Voline who will become a faithful companion of Makhno.

Rather Denikine
The model of free communism that is developing in Ukraine is based on values that are at odds with what the Bolshevik power is putting into practice in the rest of Russia. In the countryside, there is no question of free association of the moujiks [6]as in Ukraine. On the contrary, they are forced to integrate state farms, led by People's Commissars. In the factories, workers and workers do not authorize the means of production. On the contrary, they find themselves attached to their machines as in the dark times of tsarism. And often the foremen who shout their orders in the workshops remain the same as before 1917. The control and discipline are applied with the same severity, by means of a Worker's Booklet which connects the exploited to their place of work . The press is muzzled. Opposition parties, including other revolutionary forces, severely repressed.

The " Communism of Barracks " of the Bolshevik Party must nevertheless deal with the libertarian reality prevailing in Ukraine. Revolutionary legitimacy is anti-authoritarian, and whether they like it or not, Lenin must do with it. And especially since a common enemy threatens the Revolution in Ukraine: the monarchist troops of General Denikin. An agreement between Bolsheviks and Makhnovists formalizes this sacred union of circumstance against the " whites ". Leon Trotsky recognizes the merits of Makhno's insurgent revolutionary army, whose fighters are called " brave partisans ". On the ground, Denikin's troops are stopped in their progress. At the political level, however, and despite the unity of action with the " blacks ", the Kremlin increasingly bears the existence of this " other communism ", which is developing in Ukraine and threatens to spread to the rest of the country.

The agreement is broken. The Bolshevik regime hardens and accentuates the repression in the rest of the country against the libertarians. Prisons fill up with anarchists. The Nabat newspaper is forbidden. The vise tightens around Makhno and his followers. Conscious of the seriousness of the situation, the Makhnovists convene a Congress of Workers, Peasants and Partisans Delegates . Trotsky is formal: Anyone attending this Congress will be arrested. He adds: " It is better to surrender the whole Ukraine to Denikin than to allow an expansion of the Makhnovist movement: the movement of Denikin as being openly counter-revolutionary could easily be compromised by the class way, while the Makhnovstchina develops at the bottom of the masses and raises precisely the masses against us ". [7]The Makhnovist army is facing setbacks in the field against " white " armies . Trotsky multiplies the attacks: inadequacies of the self-management command of Makhno's " black " army , accusations of looting and anti-Semitism. Pure slanders, Makhno is committed precisely to condemn any type of abuse within his troops. [8]The damage is done. Trotsky and the Bolsheviks prepare the ground to justify the final blow that will put an end to the libertarian dreams of the rebellious Ukraine.

Militarily, the situation goes from bad to worse: half of Makhno's troops are decimated by an epidemic of typhus. Faced with the forces of Denikin, the " blacks " and " reds " retreat. Situation all the more worrying as opened a new front with the armies " white From Wrangel, who come to lend a helping hand to those of Denikin. New circumstance agreement between Trotsky and Makhno in the face of the common enemy. Makhnovstchina still agrees to help the Red Army. The tsarist danger definitively eliminated, the Bolsheviks implement their plan to eliminate the black army. Makhno intercepts three messages from Lenin to Rakovsky, president of the Council of People's Commissars of Ukraine. The orders are clear: stop all anarchist militants and judge them as criminals of common law. The Makhnovist movement is beaten. Soon it will be the turn of the Commune of Kronstadt to fall. This is the Bolshevik model, " that turned Great Russia into a huge prison "who triumphs. In August 1923, Makhno, exhausted, chased by the Cheka [9], fled to Romania, then Poland, to finally end his life in Paris in misery and abandonment.

Jérémie Berthuin (AL Gard)

[1] Zaporogues, a term meaning " beyond the rapids ". It refers to the name of the Ukrainian Cossacks, from 1552 to 1775, who fought against Tatars, Poles, Ottomans and Russians. Although led by a military and political leader, the Hetman, decisions were made in common, according to the principles of direct democracy, within the framework of the Zaporozhye Assembly.

[2] Piotr ARCHINOV, The History of the Makhnovist Movement , page 39, Bélibaste Publishing , 1969.

[3] Idem, page 62.

[4] VOLINE, The unknown revolution , page 527, Belfond editions, 1986

[5] Nestor Makhno, The Russian Revolution in Ukraine, 1918-1921 , pages 188-189, Belfond editions.

[6] Poor farmers.

[7] Piotr ARCHINOV, The History of the Makhnovist Movement , page 212, Bélibaste Editions, 1969.

[8] " Was Nestor Makhno anti-Semitic ? » , Published in Alternative Libertaire, September 2018

[9] Political police of the Bolshevik party that will later become, under Stalin, the GPU.

http://www.alternativelibertaire.org/?Makhno-et-l-Ukraine-libertaire-1917-1921
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