The russian february revolution of 1917: Nestor Makhno

From Robert Graham’s Anarchist Weblog

Nestor Makhno (1888-1934) is one of the best known (or notorious) of the anarchists involved in the 1917 Russian Revolution. He was from Gulyai-Pole (Huliaipole) in southern Ukraine. He became active in the local anarchist movement in 1906. Two years later he was sentenced to death for his participation in a shoot out with the local police that left a district police officer dead, but his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He spent nine years in Moscow’s Butyrki Prison, where he met Peter Arshinov, who helped solidify Makhno’s commitment to revolutionary anarchism (Arshinov was to reunite with Makhno in Ukraine during the Russian Civil War). After the February Revolution, Makhno and many other political prisoners were amnestied by the Provisional Government. Makhno returned to Gulyai-Pole, ultimately organizing and leading an anarchist inspired insurgency (the “Makhnovshchina”) against the Czarists (the “Whites”), the Bolsheviks (the “Reds”), and Ukrainian nationalists during the Russian Civil War. I included material on the Makhnovist movement, including excerpts from Peter Arshinov’s History of the Makhnovist Movement, in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary history of Libertarian Ideas. Here I present the first chapter from volume one of Makhno’s memoir, The Russian Revolution in Ukraine, in which Makhno describes his imprisonment, his release by the Provisional Government, and his return to Gulyai-Pole to participate in the revolution.

My Liberation

The February Revolution of 1917 opened the gates of all Russian prisons for political prisoners. There can be no doubt this was mainly brought about by armed workers and peasants taking to the streets, some in their blue smocks, others in grey military overcoats.

These revolutionary workers demanded an immediate amnesty as the first conquest of the Revolution. They made this demand to the state-socialists who, together with bourgeois liberals, had formed the Provisional “Revolutionary” Government with the intention of submitting revolutionary events to their own wisdom. The Socialist-Revolutionary A. Kerensky, the Minister of Justice, rapidly acceded to this demand of the workers. In a matter of days, all political prisoners were released from prison and were able to devote themselves to vital work among the workers and peasants, work which they had started during the difficult years of underground activity.

The tsarist government of Russia, based on the landowning aristocracy, had walled up these political prisoners in damp dungeons with the aim of depriving the labouring classes of their advanced elements and destroying their means of denouncing the iniquities of the regime. Now these workers and peasants, fighters against the aristocracy, again found themselves free. And I was one of them.

The eight years and eight months I spent in prison, during which I was shackled hand and foot (as a “lifer”) and suffered from a serious illness, failed to shake my belief in the soundness of anarchism. For me anarchism meant the struggle against the State as a form of organizing social life and as a form of power over this social life. On the contrary, in many ways my term in prison helped to strengthen and develop my convictions. Because of them I had been seized by the authorities and locked up “for life” in prison.

Convinced that liberty, free labour, equality, and solidarity will triumph over slavery under the yoke of State and Capital, I emerged from the gates of Butyrki Prison on March 2, 1917. Inspired by these convictions, three days after my release I threw myself into the activities of the Lefortovo Anarchist Group right there in Moscow. But not for a moment did I cease to think about the work of our Gulyai-Pole group of peasant anarcho-communists. As I learned through friends, the work of this group, started over a decade earlier, was still on-going despite the overwhelming loss of its leading members.

One thing oppressed me – my lack of the necessary education and practical preparation in the area of the social and political problems of anarchism. I felt this deficiency deeply. But even more deeply I recognized that nine out of ten of my fellow-anarchists were lacking in the necessary preparation for our work. The source of this harmful situation I found in the failure to establish our own school, despite our frequent plans for such a project. Only the hope that this state of affairs would not endure encouraged and endowed me with energy, for I believed the everyday work of anarchists in the intense revolutionary situation would inevitably lead them to a realization of the necessity of creating their own revolutionary organization and building up its strength.

Such an organization would be capable of gathering all the available forces of anarchism to create a movement which could act in a conscious and coherent manner. The enormous growth of the Russian Revolution immediately suggested to me the unshakable notion that anarchist activity at such a time must be inseparably connected with the labouring masses. These masses were the element of society most dedicated to the triumph of liberty and justice, to the winning of new victories, and to the creation of a new communal social structure and new human relationships.

Such were my cherished thoughts about the development of the anarchist movement in the Russian Revolution and the ideological influence of this movement on revolutionary events.

With these convictions I returned to Gulyai-Pole three weeks after my release from prison. Gulyai-Pole was my home town where there were many people and things close to my mind and heart. There I could do something useful among the peasants. Our group was founded there among the peasants and there it still survived despite losing two-thirds of its members. Some were killed in shoot-outs, others on the scaffold. Some disappeared into far-off, icy Siberia while others were forced into exile abroad. The entire central core of the group had almost entirely been wiped out. But the ideas of the group had struck deep roots in Gulyai-Pole and even beyond.

The greatest concentration of will-power and a profound knowledge of the goals of anarchism are necessary in order to decide what it is possible to gain from an unfolding political revolution.

It is there in Gulyai-Pole, in the heart of the labouring peasantry, that will arise that powerful revolutionary force – the self-activity of the masses – on which revolutionary anarchism must be based according to Bakunin, Kropotkin, and a host of other theoreticians of anarchism. This force will show to the oppressed class the ways and means of destroying the old regime of slavery and replacing it with a new world in which slavery has disappeared and authority will no longer have a place. Liberty, equality, and solidarity will then be the principles which will guide individuals and human societies in their lives and struggles, and in their quest for new ideas and equitable relations between people.

These ideas sustained me through the long years of suffering in prison and now I carried them back with me to Gulyai-Pole.

Nestor Makhno


For a history of the anarchists in the russian revolution, see Paul Avrich‘s Russian Anarchists and the Civil War.  Peter Arshinov‘s History of the Makhnovist Movement (1918–1921), along with Makhno‘s own account, The Russian Revolution in Ukraine (March 1917 — April 1918), are fundamental reading to understand the place of the Makhnovist movement in the russian revolution.  We close with three short texts/manifestos by Makhno. …

Victory or death. This is what confronts the peasants of the Ukraine at the present moment in history. But we shall not all perish. There are too many of us. We are humanity. So we must win — win not so that we may follow the example of past years and hand over our fate to some new master, but to take it in our own hands and conduct our lives according to our own will and our own conception of truth.

The months of February and March [1918] were a time for distributing livestock and equipment seized from the landowners in the autumn of 1917 and for dividing up the landed estates among the volunteers, the peasants and workers organised in agricultural communes. That this was a decisive moment, both in the construction of a new life and in the defence construction, was apparent to all the toilers of the district. Former line soldiers, under the leadership of the Revolutionary Committee occupied with the transfer into a communal fund of all the equipment and livestock from the landlords’ estates and from the wealthy smallholders, leaving their owners two pairs of horses, one or two cows (depending on the size of the family), a plough, a seeder, a mower and a pitchfork, while the peasants went into the fields to finish the job of redistributing the land begun the previous autumn. At the same time, some of the peasants and workers, having already organised themselves into rural communes in the autumn, left their villages with their families and occupied the former, landlords’ estates, ignoring the fact that the Red Guard detachments of the Bolshevik-Left SR bloc had, in accordance with their treaty with the Austrian and German emperors, already evacuated the Ukraine, leaving it to fight with its small revolutionary-military formations an unequal battle against regular Austrian and German units assisted by detachments of the Ukrainian Central Rada. They settled there, nevertheless, losing no time in preparing their forces: part to carry on the spring work in the communes, and part to form battle detachments to defend the revolution and its gains, which the revolutionary toilers, if not everywhere, then in many districts, had won by themselves step by step, thereby setting an example for the whole country.

The agricultural communes were in most cases organised by peasants, though sometimes their composition was a mixture of peasants and workmen. Their organisation was based on the equality and solidarity of the members. All members of these communes — both men and women applied themselves willingly to their tasks, whether in the field or the household. The kitchens and dining rooms were communal. But any members of the commune who wanted to cook separately for themselves and their children, or to take food from the communal kitchen and eat it in their own quarters, met with no objection from the other members of the commune.

Every member of the commune, or even a whole group of members, might arrange matters of food as they thought best, as long as they informed the commune in advance, so that all the members would know about it and could make the necessary preparations in the communal kitchen and storehouse. From experience it was necessary for the members of the commune to rise in good time in the morning to tend the oxen, horses, an other animals, and to perform other kinds of work. A member could at any time absent himself from the commune as long as he gave advance notice of this to the comrades with whom he worked most closely on communal tasks, so that the latter could cope with the work during his absence. This was the case during working periods. But during periods of rest (Sunday was considered a day of rest) all members of the commune took it in turns to go off on trips.

The management of each commune was conducted by a general meeting of all its members. After these meetings, each member, having his appointed task, knew what changes to make in it and so on. Only the matter of schooling in the commune was not precisely defined, because the communes did not want to resurrect the old type of school. As a new method they settled on the anarchist school of F. Ferrer [1] (about which reports were frequently read and brochures distributed by the Group of Anarchist-Communists), but not having properly trained people for this they sought through the Group of Anarchist-Communists to obtain better educated comrades from the towns and only as a last resort to invite to their communal schools teachers who knew only the traditional methods of instruction.

There were four such agricultural communes within a three- or four-mile radius of Gulyai-Polye. In the whole district, however, there were many. But I shall dwell on these four communes because I myself played a direct part in organising them. In all of them the first fruitful beginnings took place under my supervision, or, in a few cases, in consultation with me. To one of them, perhaps the largest, I gave my physical labour two days a week, during the spring sowing in the fields behind a plough or seeder, and before and after sowing in domestic work on the plantations or in the machine shop and so on. The remaining four days of the week I worked in Gulyai-Polye in the Group of Anarchist-Communists and in the district Revolutionary Committee. This was demanded of me by members of the group and by all the communes. It was demanded too by the very fact of revolution, which required the grouping and drawing together of revolutionary forces against the counter-revolution advancing from the west in the form of German and Austro-Hungarian monarchist armies and the Ukrainian Central Rada.

In all of the communes there were some peasant anarchists, but the majority of the members were not anarchists. Nevertheless, in their communal life they felt an anarchist solidarity such as manifests itself only in the practical life of ordinary toilers who have not yet tasted the political poison of the cities, with their atmosphere of deception and betrayal that smothers even many who call themselves anarchists. Each commune consisted of ten families of peasants and workers, totalling a hundred, two hundred or three hundred members. These communes took as much land as they were able to work with their own labour. Livestock and farm equipment were allotted by decision of the district congresses of land committees.

And so the free toilers of the communes set to work, to the tune of free and joyous songs which reflected the spirit of the revolution and of those fighters who prophesied it and died for it or who lived and remained steadfast in the struggle for its ‘higher justice’, which must triumph over injustice, grow strong, and become the beacon of human life. They sowed their fields and cultivated their gardens, confident in themselves and in their firm resolve not to allow the return of those who had never laboured on the land but who had owned it by the laws of the state and were seeking to own it again.

The inhabitants of the villages and hamlets bordering on these communes, who were less politically conscious and not yet liberated from their servility to the kulaks, envied the communards and repeatedly expressed the desire to take away all the livestock and equipment that they had obtained from the former landlords and distribute it among themselves. ‘Let the free communards buy it back from us,’ they would say. But this impulse was severely condemned by an absolute majority of the toilers at their village assemblies and at all the congresses. For the majority of the toiling population saw in the organisation of rural communes the healthy germ of a new social life which, as the revolution triumphed and approached its creative climax, would grow and provide a model of a free and communal form of life, if not for the whole country, then at least for the hamlets and villages of our district.

The free communal order was accepted by the inhabitants of our district as the highest form of social justice. For the time being, however, the mass of people did not go over to it, citing as their reasons the advance of the German and Austrian armies, their own lack of organisation, and their inability to defend this order against the new ‘revolutionary’ and counter-revolutionary authorities. For this reason the toiling population of the district limited their real revolutionary activity to supporting in every way those bold spirits among them who had settled on the old estates and organised their personal and economic life on free communal lines.

To All Peasants and Workers of the Ukraine (1920)

To be transmitted by telegraph, telephone, or post to all villages, townships, districts, and provinces of the Ukraine. To be read in village assemblies, factories, and workshops.

Brother toilers! The Revolutionary, Insurgent Army of the Ukraine (Makhnovists) was called into being as a protest against the oppression of workers and peasants by the bourgeois-landlord authorities on one side and the Bolshevik-Communist dictatorship on the other. Setting itself the goal to fight for the complete liberation of the toilers of the Ukraine from the yoke of this or that power and to create a true soviet socialist order, the Insurgent Army of Makhnovists has fought persistently on several fronts to achieve these objectives and at the present time to finish the struggle against Denikin’s army, liberating district after district from every coercive power and every coercive organisation.

Many peasants and workers have raised the question: What will there be now? What is to be done? How shall we respond to the decrees of the evicted authorities? etc. To all such questions the final answer will be given by the All-Ukrainian Workers’ and Peasants’ Congress, which must meet at once, as soon as the workers and peasants are able to attend it. This congress will discuss and decide all urgent questions concerning worker and peasant life.

In view of the fact that such a congress will soon be convened, the Insurgent Army of Makhnovists deems it necessary to issue the following declaration concerning the questions of worker and peasant life:

1. All decrees of the Denikin (Voluntary) Army are hereby abolished. Those decrees of the Communist authorities which conflict with the interests of the peasants and workers are likewise abolished.

Note: In this connection, which of the decrees of the Communist authorities are harmful to the toilers must be decided by the toilers themselves in their village assemblies and in the factories and shops.

2. The land of the gentry, the church and other enemies of the toilers with all its livestock and equipment must be transferred to the peasants, who will live on it only by their own labour. The transfer will take place in organised manner, according to the decisions of peasant assemblies, which must take into account not only their own local interests but also common interests of the whole oppressed labouring peasantry.

3. The factories, workshops, mines, and other means of production are to become the possession of the working class as a whole, which through its trade unions will take all enterprises in its own hands, resume production, and strive to link together the industry of the whole country in a single united organisation.

4. It is proposed that all organisations of workers and peasants begin to create free workers’ and peasants’ soviets. These soviets must consist only of toilers engaged in some form of labour that is necessary for the national economy. Representatives of political organisations have no place in workers’ and peasants’ soviets, for their participation will transform the latter into soviets of party deputies, which can only bring about the demise of the soviet order.

5. The existence of Chekas, party committees or similar coercive, authoritarian, and disciplinarian institutions is impermissible among peasants and workers.

6. Freedom of speech, press, assembly, trade unions and the like is an inalienable right of every worker, and any limitation of this right represents a counter-revolutionary act.

7. State militias, police and armies are hereby abolished. In their place people will organise their own self-defence units. Self-defence must be organised only by workers and peasants.

8. The workers’ and peasants’ soviets, the self-defence units of the workers and peasants, and the individual peasant and worker must not allow any counter-revolutionary manifestations by the bourgeoisie or military officers. Nor must they allow the emergence of banditry. Anyone convicted of counter-revolutionary acts or of banditry will be shot on the spot.

9. Soviet and Ukrainian money must be accepted along with all other kinds of money. Violators of this rule will be subject to revolutionary punishment.

10. The exchange of goods and products, until taken over by workers’ and peasants’ organisations, will remain free. But at the same time it is proposed that the exchange of products take place for the most part between toilers.

11. All individuals who attempt to hinder the distribution of this declaration will be regarded as counter-revolutionaries.


The Anarchist Revolution


ANARCHISM — a life of freedom and creative independence for humanity.

Anarchism does not depend on theory or programs, which try to grasp man’s life in its entirety. It is a teaching, which is based on real life, which outgrows all artificial limitations, which cannot be constricted by any system.

Anarchism’s outward form is a free, non-governed society, which offers freedom, equality and solidarity for its members. Its foundations are to be found in man’s sense of mutual responsibility, which has remained unchanged in all places and times. This sense of responsibility is capable of securing freedom and social justice for all men by its own unaided efforts. It is also the foundation of true communism.

Anarchism therefore is a part of human nature, communism its logical extension.

This led to the necessity of formulating anarchism’s basic theories by the use of factual material and by systematized analysis. Some people (enemies of freedom, enemies of solidarity) were to try and conceal anarchism’s truths or to slander its ideals; others (fighters for man’s right to lead a proper life) were to develop and clarify this ideal. I think that Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, Most, Kropotkin, Malatesta, S. Faure, and others never believed, that they could harness anarchism, a framework of immutable scientific dogma, by their theories. Instead, the teachings of anarchism represent a concerted effort to show its roots in human nature, and to prove that man’s creative achievements never deviate from it; anarchism’s fundamental trait, the negation of all bondage and servitude, is likewise to be found in human nature.

Anarchism means freedom; socialism cannot destroy chains or bondage.

I am an anarchist and a revolutionary myself, and I took part in the activities of the revolutionary peoples of the Ukraine. The Ukrainians are a people who grasp instinctively the meaning of the anarchist ideas and who act them out. They suffered incredible hardship, but have never ceased to talk of their freedom and freedom in their form of life. I often made tactical errors on this difficult path, as I was often weak and unable to make judgements. But because I correctly understood the goal towards which I and my brothers were working and I was able to observe the effect of living anarchism during the struggle for freedom and independence. I remain convinced on the grounds of my practical fighting experience that anarchism is as revolutionary, as diverse, and as sublime in every facet as is human life itself. Even if I only felt the remotest glimmer of sympathy for anarcho-revolutionary activity I would still call on you, reader and brother, to take up the struggle for the ideal anarchism, for only if you fight for this ideal and uphold it will you understand it properly. Anarchism is revolutionary in this and many other aspects. The more awake a man is, the deeper his thoughts about his situation are. He will recognize his state of slavery and the anarchistic and revolutionary spirit within him will wake and show itself in his thoughts and actions. It is the same for every man and woman, even if they could never have heard of it.

Anarchism plays a considerable role in the enrichment of human life, a fact recognized by the oppressors as well as by the oppressed. The oppressors do their best to distort the ideal of anarchism; the others do their best to carry it further. Modern civilization has succeeded in making anarchism ever more prominent for both masters and slaves, but has never been able to lull or extinguish this fundamental protest of human nature, for it has been unable to stamp out the independent intellects who have proven that God does not exist. Once this has been proven it was easy to draw back the veil which hides the artificiality of the priesthood and the hierarchies which it supports.

But various other ideas have been propounded alongside anarchism: “liberalism”, socialism and bolshevik communism. These doctrines, despite their large influence on modern society, despite their triumph over both reaction and freedom, are on shaky ground because of their artificiality, their disavowal of organic development and their tendency towards paralysis.

The free man, on the other hand, has thrown away the trammels of the past together with its lies and brutality. He has buried the rotten corpse of slavery and the notion that the past is better. Man has already partially liberated himself from the fog of lies and brutality, which enslaved him from the day of his birth, from the worship of the bayonet, money, legality, and hypocritical science.

While man frees himself from this insult he understands himself better, and once he has understood himself, the book of his life is opened to him. In it he immediately sees that his former life was nothing but loathsome slavery and that this framework of slavery has conspired to stifle all his innate good qualities. He sees that this life has turned him into a beast of burden, a slave for some or a master over others, or into a fool who tears down and tramples on all that is noble in man when ordered to do so. But when freedom awakes in man, it treads all artificialities into the dust and all that stands in the way of independent creativity. This is how man moves in his process of development. In former times he moved in spans of a generation or so, but now the process is moving year by year; man does not wish to be an academic mouthpiece of the rule over others or to tolerate the rule of others over himself. Once man is free from earthly and “heavenly” gods, free from “good manners” and from his morality, which depends on these Gods, he lifts up his voice and struggles against the enslavement of mankind and the distortion of his nature.

The man of protest, who has fully grasped his identity and who now sees with his eyes fully open, who now thirsts for freedom and totality, now creates groups of free men welded together by the ideal and by the action. Whoever comes into contact with these groups will cast off his status of lackey and will free himself from the idiot domination of others over him. Any ordinary man who comes from the plough, the factory, the bench of the university or from the bench of the academic will recognize the degradation of slavery. As man uncovers his true personality, he will throw away all artificial ideas, which go against the rights of his personality, the Master/Slave relationship of modern society. As soon as man brings to the fore the pure elements in his personality through which a new, free human community is born, he will become an anarchist and revolutionary. This is how the ideal of anarchism is assimilated and disseminated by men; the free man recognizes its deep truth, its clarity, and its purity, its message of freedom and creativity.

The idea of anarchism, the teaching of a renewed life for man as an individual and as a social being, is therefore bound up with man’s self-awareness and his awareness of the suppurating sore of injustice in modern society. Anarchism exists therefore only illegally or semi-legally, never in total legality.

In the modern world, society does not live for itself but for the preservation of the Master/Slave relationship, the State. One could go further and say that society has completely de-personalized itself. In human terms, it does not exist at all. It is widely believed however that the State is Society. But is “Society” a group of men who live it up while sitting on the shoulders of all humanity? Why is man as an individual or as a mass numbering hundreds of millions nothing in comparison with this slothful group of “political leaders”? These hyenas, rulers both of right and left wing, are rightly upset with the idea of anarchism. The bourgeois at least are frank about this. But state-socialists of all denominations, including Bolsheviks, are busy swapping the names of bourgeois rule with those of their own invention, while leaving its structure essentially unchanged. They are therefore trying to salvage the Master/Slave relationship with all its contradictions. And although they are aware that these contradictions are totally irreconcilable with their professional ideas, they nevertheless uphold them in order to forestall the putting into practice of Anarchist Communism. In their programs, the state-socialists said that man must be allowed to free himself “socially”. But of man’s spiritual freedom, of his human freedom, no word was spoken. Instead, they are now making sure that such a liberation of man outside their tutelage cannot be carried through. “Liberation” under the management of any government or political set-up — what’s that got to do with freedom? The bourgeois, who never applies himself to the task of making anything beautiful or useful, says to the worker: “Once a slave, always a slave. We cannot reform social life because we have got too much capital in industry and in agriculture. Besides, modern life is pleasant for us; all the kings, presidents, and their governments cater for our wishes and bow before us. The slaves are their responsibility.” Or he says: “The life of our modern society is full of great promises!”

“No, no!” screams the bourgeois socialists and communists. “We disagree!!” Then they rush to the workers, marshal them into parties, and call on them to rebel as follows: “Drive out the bourgeois from their positions and hand their power over to us. We will work for you. We will liberate you.”

So the workers, whose hatred of government is even greater than their hatred of parasites, rise up in revolution to destroy the machinery of power and its representatives. But either because of clumsiness or naivete, they allow socialism to come to power. This is how the communists got into power in Russia. These communists are real dregs of mankind. They tear down and shoot innocent people and hang liberty; they shoot men exactly as the bourgeois did. They shoot men who think differently to them in order to subjugate all to their power, in order to enslave him to the throne of government they have just taken over. They hire guards for themselves and killers for dealing with free men. Under the weight of the chains made by the new “Workers’ Republic” in Russia, man groans and sighs as he did under bourgeois rule. Elsewhere, man is groaning under the yoke of the bourgeoisie or under that of the bourgeois socialist. The hangmen, both old and new, are strong. They have mastered the art of tactical suppression of opposition, and man only flares up briefly to contest his rights before sinking down again under the burden of authority and despair. He drops hi hands as the noose is thrown around his neck again, shutting his eyes like a slave before the gleeful hangman.

From these unfolding vistas of human misery and from personal misery, man must forge convictions, call other men his brothers, and fight for freedom. Man is only free if he is prepared to kill every hangman and every power magnate if they do not wish to stop their shameful tasks. He is only free if he does not put a prime on changing his government and is not led astray by the “Workers’ Republic” of the Bolsheviks. He must vouch for the establishment of a truly free society based on personal responsibility, the only really free society. His pronouncement on the State must be one of total destruction: “No. This must not be. To rebellion! Rise up, brothers, against all government, destroy the power of the bourgeoisie and do not allow the socialists and bolshevik government to come to life! Destroy all authority and drive out its representatives!”

There are even moments when the authority of the socialists and communists is worse than the bourgeois, for they tear down their own ideas and trample on them. After fumbling about in secret for the keys to bourgeois government, the communists became guilty and furtive; they do not want the masses to see what they are doing, so they lie and cheat and deceive. If the masses notice this, they seethe with indignation. So the government falls upon them in an orgy of irresponsibility and butchers them in the name of “socialism” and “communism”. The government has of course long since thrown these ideas into the dustbin. At such moments the rule of the socialists and Bolsheviks is more degraded than that of the bourgeoisie for it is even unoriginal in its recourse to the mechanics of bourgeois oppression. While a bourgeois government strings a revolutionary up on the gallows, socialist or bolshevik-communist governments will creep up and strangle him in his sleep or kill him by trickery. Both acts are depraved. But the socialists are more depraved because of their methods.

Any political revolution in which the bourgeoisie, the socialists and state-communists struggle with each other over political ascendancy while dragging in the masses will show the traits outlined above, the most obvious example being the Russian Revolutions of February and October 1917. When the working masses that made up Tsarist Russia felt themselves partially freed from reaction, they began to work towards total freedom. They expressed this wish by expropriating landlords and monasteries and by handing over their lands to the people who wished to cultivate it with hired labor. Sometimes factories, works, presses, and other businesses were taken over by those who worked in them. Attempts were made to create liaisons between towns and villages. And while they were engaged in this activity the people were of course unaware that there were governments sitting about in Kiev, Kharkov, St. Petersburg, and elsewhere. The people were in fact laying the foundations for a new, free society that would throw out all parasites and governments and the idiocy of power. This healthy activity was especially noticeable in the Ural, in Siberia, and in the Ukraine. It was remarked upon by the old as well as the new regimes in Petrograd, Moscow, Kiev, and Tiflis. But the socialists as well as the Bolsheviks had (and still have) a widely dispersed party membership and a well-distributed network of professional killers. It must be added that, besides these professional killers, they also hired people from our own ranks. With the help of these people they managed to nip the people’s freedom in the bud. And they did a good job. The Spanish Inquisition would have been green with envy.

We now know the real truths behind government. To the Bolsheviks and socialists we say: “Shame! Dishonor! You talked such a lot about the terror of the bourgeoisie and you took the side of revolution with great zeal. But now that you are in power you show yourself the same old fools, the same lackeys of the bourgeoisie, and slaves of their methods. You have turned yourselves into bourgeois.” Looking at the experiences of bolshevik communism during recent years, the bourgeois know perfectly well that this particular brand of socialism can never manage without using their methods or without hiring them in person. It knows that the exploitation and suppression of the working majority is inherent in this system, that the vicious life of sloth is not cast aside in socialism, but that it merely masquerades under another name before spreading and taking root again.

This is the Truth! You’ve only got to look at the bolshevik vandals and their monopoly over the people’s revolutionary conquests! Look at their spies, their police, their laws, prisons, jailers, and their armies of bailiffs. The “Red” Army is only the old army under a new name.

Liberalism, socialism, Bolshevism; they are three brothers who go their different ways to grab power over man. This power is used to block man’s advance towards self-realization and independence.

To Rebellion!

This is the cry of the anarchist revolutionary to the exploited. Rebel, destroy all government and see that it never takes root again. Power is used by those who have never really lived by the work of their hands. Government power will never let workers tread the road to freedom; it is the instrument of the lazy who want to dominate others, and it does not matter if the power is in the hand of the bourgeois, the socialists or the Bolsheviks, it is degrading. There is no government without teeth, teeth to tear any man who longs for a free and just life.

Brother; drive out power in yourself. Never let it fascinate you or your brothers. A true collective life is not built with programs or with governments but with the freedom of mankind, with its creativity and its independence.

The freedom of any individual carries within it the seed of a free and complete community without government, a free society that lives in organic and decentralized totality, united in its pursuit of the great human goal: Anarchist Communism!


Anarchistic Communism is a great community in total harmony. It is formed voluntarily by free individuals who form associations and federations according to their needs. Anarchist Communism fights to secure man’s freedom and his right to boundless development; it fights against all the evils and injustices that are inherent in governments.

The free, non-governed society aims to embellish life with its intellectual and manual work. It will have as its resources all that nature gave man as well as nature’s own inexhaustible riches; it makes man drunk with the beauty of the earth and exhilarated by his own, self-made freedom. Anarchist Communism will let man develop his creative independence in all directions; its adherents will be free and happy with life, guided by brotherly work and reciprocity. They will need no prisons, hangmen, spies, or agents, which are products of the bourgeoisie and socialists, for they will have no need ofthe idiot robber and murderer that is the State. Prepare yourselves, brother, to create this society! Prepare organizations and ideas! Remember that your organizations must be safe from attack. The enemy of your freedom is the state personified in five figures:

The property owner

The lover of war

The judge

The priest

Academics who distort the truth about man

These last make up “historical laws” and “judiciary norms”, and scribble slickly in order to get money; they are busy all the time trying to prove the rightfulness of the first four’s claims to power that degrades human life.

The enemy is strong. For millennia he has spent his time accumulating experience in robbery, violence, expropriation, and murder. He underwent an inner crisis and is now busy changing his outward aspect, but he is only doing this because his life has been threatened with the new, emerging knowledge. This new knowledge is waking man from his long sleep, freeing him from prejudices implanted by the five, giving him a weapon to fight for his true society. This change in the outer appearance of our enemy can be seen in reformism. It was evolved to combat the revolution in which he took part. In the Russian Revolution, the five seemed to have vanished off the face of the earth. .. but this was only appearance. In reality our enemy changed his features momentarily and is now calling up new recruits to fight against us. Bolshevik communism is especially revealing in this matter; but it will be a long time before this doctrine will forget man’s struggle for true freedom.

The only reliable method for waging a successful struggle against enslavement is social revolution that engages the masses in a continual struggle (evolution). When it first erupts, social revolution is elemental. It flattens the path for its own organizations while smashing any dam that is artificially set against it. These dams in fact only increase its power. Anarchist revolutionaries are already working for this, and any man who is aware of the burden of slavery on himself has a duty to aid the anarchist; at the same time every man should feel responsible to the whole of mankind when he struggles against the five of the State. Every man should also remember that the social revolution will require appropriate methods of realization; that is especially true of the anarchist who is scouting ahead along the road of freedom. During the destructive phase of the revolution, while slavery is being abolished and freedom beginning to spread in an elemental outburst, organization and steadfast methods are essential to secure the gains. In this phase the revolution needs you most urgently. The Russian Revolution, in which anarchists played a considerable role (which they could not carry through because action was denied them), brought home to us the truth that the masses who have torn themselves loose from their chains had no desire to put on others of a different make. In their revolutionary momentum, they sought immediately for free associations that would only aid their efforts to build up a new community but which would defend them against the enemy. If we look at this process closely, we come to the conclusion that the best method to create new collective freedom is the “Free Soviet”. Proceeding from this conviction, the anarchist revolutionary will call the enslaved to struggle for these free associations. He will believe that social revolution will thus create freedom while smashing slavery altogether. This belief must be cherished and defended. The only people who can possibly provide the defense for this belief are the masses themselves who have made the revolution and who equate their lives with their principles. While the human masses create the revolution they instinctively cast about for free associations and rely on their inherent anarchism; they will uphold above all the Free Soviet. As the masses make a revolution they are bound to come upon this themselves and the anarchist must help them formulate this principle.

Economic problems in the free society will be resolved by the producer-consumer co-operatives in which the Free Soviets will act as co-ordinators and clarifiers. The nature of the Free Soviet during the social revolution must be to consolidate the masses’ position by urging them to take their rightful inheritance (land, factories, works, mineral and coal mines, shipping, forestry, etc.) into their own hands. While groups according to interest or inclination are formed, the masses will build up an entire social fabric, freely and independently.

The struggle along this road will demand great sacrifice, for it will be the final effort of nearly free man. In this struggle there will be no hesitation, no sentimentality. Life or Death!? — This question will stand before every man who considers his rights and those of humanity to be a better life. As the healthy instincts of man will have preponderance, he will embark upon this road to life as victor and creator.

Organize yourselves, brothers, call every man to your ranks. Call him from the factory, from the school; call the students and the learned. It may be that nine out of ten academics will not come to you, or it may happen that they will come in order to deceive you if they are servants of the State’s five. But the tenth man will come. He will be your friend and will help you overcome the deceit of the others. Organize yourselves; call every man to your ranks; call on all the governors to stop their stupidity and the brutalizing of human life. If they do not desist, disarm the police, the army and other organizations of the five’s defense. Burn their laws and destroy their prisons, kill the hangmen, the bane of mankind. Smash authority! Call to your ranks the press-ganged army; there are many killers in the army who are against you and who are bribed to kill you. But there are friends for you even in the army. They will confound the mobs of murderers and will hurry to your side.

After we have collected ourselves into a great, universal family, brothers, we will go further in the fight against darkness. On to the universal human ideal! We will live as brothers, enslaving no one. The brute force of the enemy will be answered with the force by our revolutionary army. If our enemies do not agree with our ideal, we reply by building our new life based on individual responsibility. Only hardened criminals who belong to the five will not wish to tread the road to a new life with fruitful activity. They will try to fight us in order to regain their power. They must die.

Long live the ideal of universal human harmony, and man’s fight towards it!

Long live the ideal of anarchist society!

All of the texts above we share from the Anarchist Library.  Available at the same library is a collection of essays by Makhno.

la makhnovtchina …

This entry was posted in Commentary and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.