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But this brings us to a consideration of Nestor Makhno.

Makhno's driving motivation was a peasant based class struggle broadly free of any attachment to political nationalism, yet in the area where he was operating, in what is now the Zaporozhia oblast on the left (East) bank of the Dnieper, the peasants were ethnically Ukrainian while the class enemy, large scale owners of the land, were largely German. From the age of eight or nine, Makhno, whose father had died while he was still an infant, was working as a farmhand in the area round Huliaipole, dominated by the sprawling Mennonite owned Schönfeld colony. (13) In 1905, according to Patterson (p.46) the average Mennonite holding in the area consisted of c65 dessiatines (71 hectares) while the average Ukrainian holding was c6.5 dessiatines (6.9 hactares). Makhno's family held 4.4 hectares of poor quality land. After Emancipation in 1961 peasants in the Kherson, Tauride (North of Crimea) and Katerynoslav (modern Dnipro) areas owned 57% of all farms on only 12% of the land. The temptation to sell was considerable and the Mennonites were willing to buy. Peasants reduced to farm labourers were competing with immigrant labour.

(13) This account is based largely on Sean Patterson: Makhno and memory: anarchist and Mennonite narratives of Ukraine's civi war, 1917-1921, University of Manitoba Press, 2020. Patterson, himself a Canadian Mennonite, had developed a romantic interest in Makhno's anarchist rebellion before being confronted with Mennonite memories of various massacres committed by his followers.

Between 1863 and 1873 there were 88 peasant uprisings in 188 villages. The violence reached a climax in 1902 when Makhno, born in 1888, was 14 years old. Three years later, in 1905, he became involved with the 'Union of Poor Peasants' based in Huliaipole, founded by Voldemar Antoni, a young anarchist who, following his Wikipedia account, organised 'reading groups to spool through the works of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Max Stirner, Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin'. In 1907, in reaction to Stolypin's reforms aiming to solve the agrarian problem through the creation of a substantial farming class, the UPP organised a wave of 'black terror against the kulaks and pomeschiks [nobles - PB] … setting fire to the landlords' property and fields wherever possible' (Patterson p.50). Following the assassination of a local police officer Makhno was sentenced to death but this was commuted to life imprisonment with hard labour. He served seven years before being released as part of an amnesty in March 1917. 

Under his leadership a number of estates were converted into free communes even prior to the October Revolution. In the confrontation between the Ukrainian Nationalists and Bolsheviks he encouraged support for the Bolsheviks, becoming the representative of the anarchists on the Revolutionary Committee in Oleksandrivsk (modern Zaporozhia). But he was forced to flee when the Ukrainian Rada, backed by the Germans, took control of Huliaipole. He went to Moscow where he met Kropotkin and had a long conversation with Lenin. He returned (on a false passport supplied by the Bolsheviks) in July 1918. By this time the Germans had installed Skoropadsky in power in Kiev and were conducting an intense and murderous war to restore landlordism and to requisition grain, their main motive for the occupation. In this they had the support of the German landowners. The Mennonites were notionally pacifists but from Summer 1918 they began to organise self defense units - previously, in 1905 for example (Patterson p.96), they had employed Cossack guards to defend their properties.

In late October 1918 there was a major battle in Dibrivka when the Ukrainians led by Makhno defeated a much larger force of Austrian troops (the area was part of the Austrian area of responsibility) and German colonists. Turning to the Wikipedia account:

'Makhno's victory in the battle of Dibrivka provoked a vicious retaliation from the occupation forces. Velykomykhailovka was subsequently attacked by Austrian troops reinforced by National Guard and German colonist units. The village was set on fire, killing many inhabitants and destroying some 600 houses. Makhno, in turn, led a campaign of retributive attacks against the occupation forces and their collaborators, including much of the region's Mennonite population. Makhno also focused much of his energies on agitating amongst the peasantry, gathering much support in the region through impassioned impromptu village speeches against his enemies.'

Patterson (p.58) gives the text of a speech of Makhno directed to his enemies:

'The road is open to you to join the toiling peasantry … But speak freely to those of the bourgeois class who are close to you and let them know why we burned your rich homes and killed your fathers, husbands, sons … The crimes of the bourgeoisie will call forth retaliation by the Ukrainian toilers on a level such as the world has never seen before. No-one will be spared unless they come to their senses and voluntarily renounce the position of lording it over the country.'

Makhno's forces were not part of Petliura's triumphal entry into Kyiv in December. With the departure of the Germans he controlled the whole area round Huliaipole. The Germans of the Schönfeld colony fled en masse to the more southern Molotschina colony. At this time Makhno was allied with the Reds, his forces in January being incorporated into the Red Army as the '3rd Trans-Dnieper Brigade' later, still under Makhno's leadership, becoming the 7th Ukrainian Soviet Division. Denikin was beginning the White advance into Southern Ukraine and many of the colonists saw him as a potential saviour. Makhno however overran the Molotschina colony in March. Throughout 1919 the level of violence, as throughout Ukraine, was increasing. Makhno's former lieutenant, the Jewish anarchist Vsevolod Mikhailovich Eikhenbaum ('Volin'), later complained (Patterson, p.68) of 'an army élite, drunk with power and obsessed with violence.' 

The Bolshevik leadership was divided in its attitude to Makhno who operated quite independently of the supposed chain of command but eventually in late May/early June the breach became irreparable. Makhno was denounced by Trotsky who called for his arrest. Anxious to preserve a united opposition to the Whites, Makhno resigned his position in the 7th Ukrainian Soviet Division but formed his own following concentrating on guerrilla tactics. 

By early July Makhno had been pushed back into the Kherson area controlled by Grigoriev but during a quarrel as Makhno accused Grigoriev of tolerating pogroms and negotiating with the Whites Grigoriev was shot by Makhno's lieutenant, Oleksiy Chubenko. As the Bolsheviks retreated under the White onslaught Makhno gathered together remnants of Grigoriev's army as well as scattered groups left behind by the Reds but was still pushed back to Uman in the extreme West, one of the few territories still held by Petliura. However Denikin, thinking Makhno was finished as a force, neglected his defenses. This was apparently the low point for the Reds and the high point for the Whites as Denikin in September ordered a march on Moscow, taking Kursk on September 30th, Voronezh on October 6th, Chernigov on October 12th. At the same time, General Iudenich, backed by the British fleet, launched an offensive against Petrograd, taking Tsarskoe Selo on October 16th (Pipes, pp.121-125).

But behind Denikin's troops, Makhno launched a spectacular counteroffensive, seizing the coastline - Zaporozhia, Huliaipole, Berdiansk, Melitopol and Mariupol, cutting Denikin off from his supply lines from the Black Sea. In the course of the advance the Makhnovites seized the Mennonite colonies of Molotschina, Chortitza, Jasykowa and Sagradowka. The iron seems to have entered his soul. He established a counterintelligence organisation, the Kontrrazvedka, which soon began to resemble by its methods the Cheka and was regarded with horror by Volin. Makhno took Katerinoslav (Dniepropetrovsk/Dnipro) on 20th October. On 8th November there was a famous massacre of Mennonites in the village of Eichenfeld, part of the Jasykowa estate. Following the Wikipedia account ('Eichenfeld massacre'):

'Going from door-to-door, the insurgents executed the village's landowners and their adult sons. After interrogating them about their property holdings, those that were found to own land were systematically murdered, while the landless peasants were left alive. The insurgents appeared to be under orders to specifically target landowning men, in an attempt to eliminate Mennonite property claims and the possibility of inheritance. After the men were dispensed with, the insurgents then raped many of the women and girls that were left over, infecting them with a number of venereal diseases … Houses were burnt down and belongings looted before the insurgents left the village, where 75 people had been killed, while 61 more people were killed in the surrounding area … Between 8 November and 18 December 1919, 827 Mennonites were murdered in the insurgent-occupied colonies, accounting for two-thirds of all Mennonites murdered during the war. Further massacres were documented at Blumenort, in Sagradowka, where insurgents indiscriminately killed over 200 Mennonite men, women and children, and Borosenko, where no Selbstschutz [self-defence] unit had ever been present.'

The extent of Makhno's personal responsibility is a matter of controversy.

I think I have to finish here, though there's much more to be said. I had hoped to cover the process by which the Red Army finally managed to gain control of the whole area with the final defeat of the Ukrainian Nationalists, the Whites, the various 'atamans' and Makhno but this will have to wait for the next article, together, perhaps, with an account of the ensuing terrible famine.