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The Ukrainian Revolution (4 July 1918 - 30 December 1922) was a pivotal period in the history of Ukraine. The Ukrainian Revolution was led by Nestor Makhno and the Anarchists and marked the first anarchist revolution of the twentieth century. In early 1918, the new Bolshevik government in Russia signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk making peace with the Central Powers, but ceding large amounts of territory to them, including Ukraine. The people living in Ukraine did not want to be ruled by the Central Powers, and so rebelled. Partisan units were formed that waged guerilla war against the Germans and Austrians. This rebellion turned into an anarchist revolution. Nestor Makhno was one of the main organizers of these partisan groups, who united into the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine (RIAU), also called the Black Army (because they fought under the anarchist black flag), "Makhnovists" or "Makhnovshchina" (i.e., "Makhnovism"). The RIAU also battled against the Whites (counter-revolutionaries) and anti-semitic pogromists. In areas where the RIAU drove out opposing armies, villagers (and workers) sought to abolish capitalism and the state through organizing themselves into village assemblies, communes and free councils. The land and factories were expropriated and self-management implemented.
Triumph and defeat
By November 1918 the Central Powers had been decisively beaten by the Allied Nations and could by no means hold onto the Ukraine in the face of the fierce partisan warfare being waged against them by Nestor Makhno and almost every worker and peasant in the Donetz Basin. Thus, the Austro-Germans left the Ukraine and the brutal dictatorship of the Hetman Skorapadskiy collapsed without them. But almost immediately after the people had freed themselves, a new government, led by the Ukrainian Nationalist Symon Petlura, installed itself in Kiev. Petliura had completely misjudged what the Ukrainian people wanted the immediate abolition of capitalism was what most Ukrainians were striving for. His regime was easily vanquished by the invading Bolsheviks. But all these assorted Palace Revolutions went unnoticed by the mostly Anarchist peasants of the South-Central region of the Ukraine where Makhno and Kropotkin were far more popular than Lenin or Marx. It was in that region where freedom was valued just as much as equality, that the Revolution flourished. From November 1918 to June 1919 there were no governors or slaves, no policemen or gendarmes, no capitalists or landowners, no capital or private property, only the communes and councils of a truly free people. Of course this state of affairs could not last in the face of a massive invasion of the Free Territory by the counter-revolutionary troops of Anton Denikin's White Army. The Makhnovists were driven out of their home region and were forced to retreat along the Left Bank of the Dniepr river all the way to the small town of Peregonovka. There they reassembled their troops and prepared for one mighty last stand of the Ukrainian Revolution.
Peregonovka and after
It was at Peregonovka that the Makhnovists fought the bloodiest battle of the Russian Civil War. The fighting was intense from the beginning and the Makhnovists were heavily outnumbered by the Whites. There the brave Makhnovists stood and died, united in their revolutionary fervour and battling against ten times their number. But even the bravest troops cannot triumph on courage alone and all seemed lost when suddenly, Nestor Makhno himself charged into the Whites rear guard, along with a company of his bravest soldiers, the famous Black Sotnia. Suddenly, hope was on the horizon. The exhausted Makhnovists found new hope at the sight of their exceptionally daing Guerilla Hero hack the Whites to a bloody death. The battle took on even savager proportions as the fighting grew ever more brutal and the battle turned into nothing more than a veritable orgy of bloody death as the rifles were tossed away and the sabres were pulled out. Faced with this awesome onslaught the Whites could do nothing but run as fast as they could back to their privileged Mansions and Estates. The Makhnovists galloped after them and the route of the Whites retreat was strewn with the bodies of dead Whites for over two miles. But the Makhnovists left more than just dead counter-revolutionaries in their wake. Everywhere they went freedom and equality were reinstated. The Police Stations and other oppressive institutions were burnt down and peasant communes were set up as the basis for a new society of truly free and truly equal individuals, without any governments and without any capitalists. The Revolution was back.
Betrayal and death
Throughout all this drama the Bolsheviks had played an already disgraceful role by persecuting Makhnovists outside the Free Territory and by surrendering the Front to Denikins Whites. But now they were to prove themselves an even more nefarious enemy of the people than Denikin was! As soon as the Ukraine had been liberated from the Denikinist yoke by the Makhnovists, the Bolsheviks set about destroying them. Their attacks against the Makhnovists were always accompanied by brutal reprisals against the civilian population of the Ukraine and over a million Ukrainians died as a direct result of the Bolsheviks forced wheat "requisitioning". But the Bolsheviks had spent too much time destroying the true Peoples Revolution and too long ignoring the Counter-Revolution led by General Peter von Wrangel in the Crimea. This new White Revolt soon exploded all over the Southern Ukraine. The Bolsheviks were completely incompetent and thus were easily pushed back by Wrangel. The Makhnovists had the benefit of outstanding military tactics, strategy, courage and dedication but were also suffering from the repeated Bolshevik attacks against them and a severe lack of arms. So the decision was made to sign a treaty with the Bolsheviks in order to fight off the Counter-Revolution better. The fight against Wrangel was fierce and unforgiving but eventually, thanks almost entirely to the courage of the Makhnovists, the Crimea was taken by November 1920. During this time the Revolutionary base of the Makhnovists (the small town of Gulyai-Polye, the centre of Revolutionary activity in South-Central Ukraine since 1905 and Makhnos birthplace) had organised a highly developed Anarchist School for illiterate and semi-literate peasants on the basis laid out by the Anarchist educationist Francisco Ferrer. PLays and musicals were also written and staged by local peasants at the Gulyai-Polye Theater. And throughout this time the free Communes remained caring and productive, a true model for a new society. Unfortunately all this productive activity was soon to be crushed by the Bolshevik betrayal.
As soon as Wrangel was defeated the Bolsheviks set about waging an unrestrained warfare against the Makhnovists. All the Makhnovist units of the Red Army were swiftly culled in their barracks by the Bolshevik Commisars and all the free Communes were savagely destroyed by the Red Fist. Thus began a period of hopeless Guerrilla Warfare against the Red Troops. The Makhnovists remaines just as brave and loyal as ever but this time their efforts were doomed. The guns of the Cheka roared continuously in the once harmonious villages of the Free Territory. Every day was a battle and every week brought Makhno a new wound. The situation was untenable. By the Summer of 1921 Makhno had more lead in his veins than blood. Reluctantly, Makhno was forced to leave the Ukraine and seek refuge in Romania. On his way there he sustained the worst injury of his violent life when a Bolshevik bullet hit him in the neck, travelled through his entire left cheek, and eventuallt left via the side of his mouth. Despite the constant attacks he faced on his way, Makhno survived and lived the rest of his life in exile with his longtime lover, Galina Kuzmenko, and daughter Lucie Makhno, in Paris among other Makhnovist exiles.
For some time after Makhno escaped, the Makhnovist insurgency carried on fighting the Leninist regime in the Ukraine, even carrying on throughout World War 2 when many Ukrainian partisans fought against Nazis and Stalinists alike and after Stalin died in 1953 there was a mass insurrection in a Ukrainian gulag which flew the Anarchist Black Flag and carried Makhno in its name. But the insurgency never reached the State-destroying levels it had once attained. The Ukrainian Revolution had been shot dead by the Bolsheviks but "one day, just maybe, the people of the Ukraine will fly the Black Flag once more".
- Peter Arshinov, History of the Makhnovist movement, (1918-1921), London : Freedom Press, 1987, ISBN 0-900384-40-9
- Volin, The unknown revolution, 1917-1921, Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1975, ISBN 0-919618-25-1
- Alexander Skirda, Nestor Makhno - anarchyâ€™s cossack: the struggle for free Soviets in the Ukraine 1917-1921, Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2004, ISBN 1-902593-68-5
- Nestor Makhno, The struggle against the state & other essays, San Francisco, CA: AK Press, 1996, ISBN 1-873176-78-3
- (Russian) Nestor Makhno, Vospominaniya (Memoirs), Moscow: "Respublika", 1992, ISBN 5-250-01754-1