In March 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. The Hetman 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, he saw his best forces evaporate, and was driven out of Kiev by the Directorate of Ukraine. 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, armed troops, including infantry and cavalry both regular and irregular brigades; artillery detachments were incorporated into each regiment.
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Richard Alexander First up, let us thank AK Press for the production job they have done and Paul Sharkey for the translation, which is generally very good. The Insurgent Army was undoubtedly one of the most innovative of its time, with its use of the tatchanka, as four wheeled or two sled horse drawn buggy, with a machine gun mounted on it - believed to have been invented by Makhno himself.
This fearsome weapon was an ideal complement to the cavalry sections of the Makhnovist army and was used to devastating effect in numerous battles. However much of whatever success, the Insurgent army, achieved, was as much due to their support amongst the peasantry in the Ukraine. Both because their political program was unequivocal in its support of peasants taking over the land, but also they were far more disciplined and respectful of the peasants.
They did not enforce conscription, they paid for supplies they requisitioned and they avoided looting and pillaging. Skirda emphasises the point that the Insurgent Army was not under the sole command of Makhno himself. The army was under the command of the Military revolutionary Soviet, and its very existence was dependent on the wishes of the Regional Congress.
Much of the army also operated in smaller detachments each with their own elected leaderships. However, it is true that Makhno had an operational command position but even there he could be out-voted amongst the HQ staff. What he, and several others did possess though was a combination of bravery and tactical skill, which made them the obvious choice in military engagements.
Two of the topics that Skirda does discuss at some length, are the accusations, made mainly by his political opponents, of anti-semitism and drunkenness. These smears are very effectively crushed by both testimony and logic. Makhno severely dealt with any outbreak of anti-semitism amongst his own forces and had the Atman Grigoriev killed for his pograms against the Jews. It hardly needs mentioning but many jewish peasants and intellectuals fought and and many cases died fighting alongside Makhno.
Skirda does point out that in a military situation such as that faced by the Insurgent Army; any commander who abused drink would have been voted out, if he indeed survived contact with the enemy. A clear head was essential in these circumstances.
Another excellent aspect of this book is that it covers in some detail the events after Makhno escaped into Romania in Even after escaping the Bolsheviks, he was hardly free. First interned in Romania, then jailed in Poland on the pre-text of assisting in an uprising, then having made his way through Danzig Gdansk and Berlin he finally arrived in Paris in where, with the assistance of some of the French anarchist movement and fellow exiles he remained for the rest of his life, tolerated as long as he kept out of internal French politics.
Here he spent his time working, and working on various projects, the most notable was the Organizational Platform. This was out together by Makhno with other Makhnovist exiles and attempted to draw out the lessons of their experiences in the Ukraine, their dealings with the Bolsheviks and the rest of the anarchist movement in Russia.
His time in Paris was not an especially happy one, despite the presence of his partner and their daughter Elena aka Lucie. His health was never good, and the life of an exile did not suit him at all. Further he suffered from grinding poverty, only partially ameliorated by subscriptions organised by sections of the French anarchist movement, money that sadly never made its way to its intended recipient in full.
Eventually he died in The book, in an afterword, describes what happened subsequently to Galina and Lucie. They somehow survived the Second World War, having been arrested and deported to Germany to undertake forced labour.
Then they were arrested by the Soviet authorities after the war, and Galina was then sentenced to eight years imprisonment. To return to the description of the book itself. The translation is generally excellent which makes the very rare mistake stand out all the more.
If you can afford it do buy it, and if not make the effort and get your local library to buy a copy. The Struggle for Free Soviets in the Ukraine - Pbk xi, pp. Illus, notes, maps. ISBN
Nestor Makhno: Anarchy's Cossack - Alexandre Skirda
Facing the enemy: A history of anarchist organisation - Alexandre Skirda