Nestor Ivanovich Makhno (Ukrainian: Нестор Іванович Махно, October 26, 1888 – July 25, 1934) was an anarcho-communist Ukrainian revolutionary who refused to align with the Bolsheviks after the October Revolution. He is credited with organizing an enormous experiment in anarchist values and practice, one which was cut short by the consolidation of Bolshevik power.
Makhno was born into a poor peasant family in Hulyai Pole, Ukraine, the youngest of five children. Makhno's parents registered his date of birth as 1889 (as an attempt to postpone conscription. Some suggest it was done later to avoid execution after his arrest in 1910 for belonging to the Anarchist group and robberies). However, church files show October 27, 1888. He studied at a parochial school between ages of eight and twelve. Soon after the Russian Revolution of 1905 Makhno joined a group of anarchists and was engaged in robberies, money extortions and killings of wealthy merchants and policemen. In 1910 Makhno was sentenced to death by hanging but was sent to Butyrskaya prison in Moscow instead, where he spent 6 years. The time spent in prison allowed him to improve his education, aided by intellectual cellmates (notably Piotr Arshinov). In 1917, after the February Revolution, Makhno was released from prison. He joined the revolutionary movement in Ukraine and helped organize expropriation of property from wealthy landlords and capitalists.
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 soon took an anarchist political tone. 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". 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 put under nominal peasant/worker control, but mayors and many officials were drawn directly from the ranks of Makhno's military, rather than local toilers. It is debatable whether Makhno's government or the RSFSR was more democratic in this period.
Personal and domestic lifeEdit
Nestor Maknho married Agafya (aka Halyna) Kuzmenko, a former elementary schoolteacher (date needed), 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.
In August 1921, an exhausted Makhno was finally driven by the Bolsheviks into exile, fleeing to Romania; then Poland; and finally to Paris. In 1926, joining other Russian exiles in Paris as part of the group "Dielo Truda" (Дело Труда, The Сause of Labour), Makhno co-wrote and co-published 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 at the hand of the Bolsheviks. The document was initially rejected by most anarchists, but today has a wide following. It remains controversial to this day, continuing to inspire some anarchists because of the clarity and functionality of the structures it proposes, while drawing criticism from others (including, at the time of publication, Voline and Malatesta) who view its implications as too rigid and hierarchical. (See Platformism)
At the end of his life Makhno lived in Paris, and worked as a carpenter and stage-hand at the Paris Opera and film-studios as well as on the Renault factory.
Makhno died in Paris in 1934 from tuberculosis. He was cremated three days after his death, with five hundred people attending his funeral at the famous cimetière du Père-Lachaise in Paris.
Makhno's widow and daughter were deported to Germany for forced labor at the end of the WW2. After the end of the war they were arrested by the NKVD and taken to Kiev for trial in 1946 and sentenced to eight years of hard labor.
In Popular CultureEdit
Makhno is featured as a fictional character in Michael Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius series of novels. For example, at the outset of The Entropy Tango, Makhno's 'insurgent army' takes over parts of Canada.
Russian anarchist punk-rock band Mongol Shuudan (Монгол Шуудан) draws much of its inspiration from the events and the legend of Makhno's life.
A 12-part miniseries was made in the Ukraine about Nestor Makhno called "The 9 Lives of Nestor Makhno"