The Southern Front

The Fight Against Wrangel

What is the Meaning of Makhno’s Coming
Over to the Side of the Soviet Power?

Transcribed and HTML markup for the Trotsky Internet Archive by David Walters

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Makhno has offered his services to the Red Army command for joint struggle against Wrangel. This event has amazed many people. And, indeed, Makhno’s troop has for a long time been waging tireless and fierce struggle against the workers’ and peasants’ Red Army: the Makhnovites have disrupted our rear, damaged the railway lines, cut down telegraph poles, set fire to storehouses, blown up bridges, derailed trains and hanged Communists. Naturally the Soviet power has not failed to respond to all this, either. Makhno’s troop has been fiercely pursued, and has received many a hard blow. Makhno himself, apparently, has been wounded more than once, and has still not recovered from his wounds.

How has it happened that Makhno has suddenly swung round? It is admissible for us to make an agreement with the Makhnovites? Would this not be risky?

To answer these two questions, one must understand clearly what the Makhno movement is, what its roots and causes are.

The Ukraine has lagged behind Great Russia in political development. The revolution in the Ukraine was interrupted by the German invasion. The subsequent succession of regimes introduced frightful political confusion in both town and country, and held up the central process of the Soviet revolution, namely, the unification of the working people against the exploiters, the poor against the rich, the poor peasants against the kulaks.

The confusion of regimes in the Ukraine had especially serious consequences in the countryside. The broad masses of the working peasantry feared to lay their hands well and truly upon the land and the implements of cultivation, not to mention power, because they saw how often one government was replaced by another. The poorer peasants did not dare to trust in the revolution, fearing that, in the end, the landlord would triumph and bring down merciless punishment on their heads. Consequently, the many millions of peasants hid behind the kulaks, seeing in them intermediaries between themselves and the previously ruling classes. The Ukrainian peasants took part in the revolution only to the extent that they were allowed to by the kulaks – or, as they are called in Ukrainian, the ↤kurkuls’.

Needless to say, the kulaks took full advantage of the opportunities offered by this situation. The ↤kurkuls’ seized the best part of the former landlords’ land and implements, and armed themselves well. In this way the Ukrainian kulak got the Ukrainian countryside into his clutches.

Naturally, the kulak did not want the landlord to come back, since the best part of the landlords’ land had fallen, at first, into the kulaks’ possession. But he feared still more the rule of the workers and the poor peasants. The return of the landlord threatened the kulak with the loss of part of his new wealth, but the establishment of the rule of the working people would threaten him with the loss of all his privileges. That was why the kulaks incited the peasants to fight against Skoropadsky and Denikin, but as soon as the working class came to power, the kulaks were ready to join not just Wrangel but the devil himself in order to safeguard their domination of the countryside.

Exploiting the backwardness of the rural lower orders, their lack of confidence in the revolution, the kulak took the leadership of the countryside and counterposed it to the town. It seemed as if the entire mass of the peasantry was unanimous in its enmity to the proletariat and the Communist Party. All the Ukrainian petty-bourgeois-kulak parties were formed on this basis. This was the basis on which both Petlyura’s movement and Makhno’s grew up. Petlyura regards himself as a statesman, has dealings with the Pope of Rome and with the French Freemasons, whereas Makhno regards himself as an Anarchist. But they both try to find support in a united countryside, raising this in revolt against the advanced proletariat. The kulaks also united the countryside. Consequently both the Petlyura movement and the Makhno movement relied directly upon the kulak upper stratum in the rural areas. Petlyura did this consciously – Makhno, without thinking.

But during recent months a tremendous shift has taken place in the life of the Ukrainian countryside. The Ukrainian peasantry, that is, the poor lower section thereof, has drawn nearer to the revolution and acquired confidence in it. From the experience of nearly four years it has become convinced that, although many regimes have come and gone in the Ukraine, the Soviet power has returned each time more highly organised and stronger than before. The poor peasants have understood that the ↤kurkul’ has been stealing the revolution for himself, and they have demanded to have their share. The October revolution has made its way into the Ukrainian countryside with a delay of more than two years. The rapidly growing and strengthening Committees of the Poor signify the revolutionary organisation of that section of the Ukrainian peasantry which is friendly to the town workers and hostile to the kulaks. Whereas previously the movement for Ukrainian independence, the Petlyura movement, and soon, seemed to enjoy the backing of the entire countryside, now, when the countryside has split into two camps, it has become quite clear that Petlyura is the military leader of the kulaks in their fight against the rural poor and the town workers.

The horizontal splitting of the Ukrainian countryside has created a new and very difficult situation for the Makhnovites. Civil war has taken very acute forms in the Ukrainian countryside. The kulak is armed and he does not want to give up without a fight the land he has stolen and the implements he has seized. However, the poor peasant, too, is demanding his share, arms in hand. There are peasants of all categories in Makhno’s forces: ↤kurkuls’, middle peasants and poor peasants. So long as the countryside still kept its unity under the leadership of the kulaks, Makhno’s forces moved freely from one place to another, meeting sympathy and support. But, now, every large village in the Ukraine has split into two camps. A choice has to be made between these camps – one must either be with the kulaks or with the poor. The kulaks, as Petlyura’s example shows, are helping to the best of their ability both Wrangel and the Polish gentry, but the poor peasants are only now becoming a firm support for the Soviet power.

The Makhnovites feel ill-at-ease in the Ukrainian countryside. They even tried to quit the Ukraine and move into the Don country. But nothing came of this, for the Don, taught by the bitter experience of three years, has no desire to support a revolt against the Soviet power. Finally, inside Makhno’s troop itself, the split between the poor peasants and the ↤kurkuls’ is bound to have had an effect. Faced with the necessity of choosing at once between the kulaks, Petlyura, the Polish gentry and Wrangel, on the one hand, and, on the other, the poor peasants, the workers, the Communists and the Soviet power, the majority of the Makhnovites have opted to go over to the side of the Red Army.

We, of course, can only welcome the fact that the Makhnovites wish henceforth not to fight against us but with us, against Wrangel. But our pact with the Makhnovites must certainly not be temporary in character. The working class of the Ukraine can never, and especially not in conditions of tremendous military danger, allow particular units sometimes to fight in our ranks and sometimes to stab us in the back. Waging war against the world’s exploiters, the workers’ and peasants’ Red Army says: ‘Who is not with me is against me, and whoever is with me is to remain in my ranks and not leave them till the end.’

The Makhnovites and their sympathisers must draw all the conclusions from past experience and it is necessary, above all, that the Makhnovites themselves purge their troop of kulak bandit elements, quite a lot of which have hitherto remained from the past period. Furthermore, the Makhnovites, who have hitherto lived in isolation, must henceforth get acquainted with all the activities of the Soviet power, with its tasks and aims, with the structure and spirit of the Red Army. Only thus shall we make real friends of the best of the Makhnovites. Finally, there is no need to exaggerate Makhno’s forces, as philistines are doing. Actually, the Makhnovites constitute a very small troop. But in its struggle against innumerable foes, the working class treasures even a little help. All that is required is that the ally who offers this help shall be a truly honest and reliable ally.

October 10, 1920,

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Last updated on: 26.12.2006