Nestor Makhno and his mistakes

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RigntfulEmperor
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Aug 13 2017 05:47
Nestor Makhno and his mistakes
Nestor Makhno, a leader of an ukranian anarchist army that held on to a large chunk of land and successfully experimented ancom there. His society he helped create was much better than the Bolshevik one created on his door, but I am inquiring on which mistakes he made we can learn from. If you know any of the ones he may have made, please post them below. Thanks for the help
adri
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Aug 13 2017 16:46
RigntfulEmperor wrote:
Nestor Makhno, a leader of an ukranian anarchist army that held on to a large chunk of land and successfully experimented ancom there. His society he helped create was much better than the Bolshevik one created on his door, but I am inquiring on which mistakes he made we can learn from. If you know any of the ones he may have made, please post them below.

Thanks for the help

Not an expert of the Makhnovists, and I'm not sure whether you mean Makhno throughout his life or only his libertarian communist endeavors in Ukraine. Though I haven't read much about it myself, Arshinov and Makhno's support of platformism was apparently opposed by other anarchists at the time, according to Avrich:

Quote:
Their call for a central committee not only clashed with the basic anarchist principle of local initiative, but was a clear reflection of their leader's "party spirit." (Arshinov's opponents rarely failed to point out that he had been a Bolshevik before joining the anarchists in 1906.) [...] What the Delo Truda group sought to create, in short, was an anarchist party whose mission was to lead the masses rather than to assist them in preparing their own revolution.

With regard to Ukraine, his collaborating with the Red Army, which would later devour their movement and force him into retreat, is something you could argue was a mistake. And if I'm not mistaken their collaboration with the Red Army played not an insignificant role in securing Bolshevik victory in the Civil War. Their failure to link up with other anti-counterrevolution and anti-Bolshevik movements, like the various peasant uprisings, which could have posed a serious challenge to the Bolshevik regime is yet another possible error. Nick Heath talks more about this in this piece. Other issues I believe concern the authoritarian elements that pervaded the Makhnovist movement, conscription and military discipline being among them, as well as the true extent of authority Makhno actually exercised.

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Eocentaur
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Aug 16 2017 21:27

I think it is hard to say if that was truly a mistake. Yes it was their downfall, but if the White Army were to win, they could have called in allies and crushed them anyway.

adri
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Aug 16 2017 22:55
Eocentaur wrote:
I think it is hard to say if that was truly a mistake. Yes it was their downfall, but if the White Army were to win, they could have called in allies and crushed them anyway.

I don't think the workers or peasants who opposed the Bolsheviks necessarily wanted a restoration of the Tsar, though certainly the Whites and other counterrevolutionary elements would exploit any mass uprising against the Bolsheviks for their own purposes, as the Kronstadters themselves noted in the March 6 issue of Izvestiia,

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Comrades, right now you are rejoicing in the great, peaceful victory over the Communists' dictatorship. Now, your enemies are celebrating it too. Your grounds for such joy, and theirs, are quite contradictory. You are driven by a burning desire to restore the authentic power of the soviets, by a noble hope of seeing the worker engage in free labor and the peasant enjoy the right to dispose, on his land, of the produce of his labors. They dream of bringing back the tsarist knout and the privileges of the generals. Your interests are different. They are not fellow travelers with you. [...]

I think you're right that it is hard to say whether any mass attempt at overthrowing the Bolsheviks would have led to counterrevolution, and that they should therefore have been tolerated as the lesser evil. Avrich I think poses some good questions in response to that however, in effect questioning whether they really were the lesser evil,

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If it was true that the Whites would have profited from divisions within the party, were not the dangers of an air-tight dictatorship, insulated against mass pressure, even greater? Would a Stalinist clique have been able so easily to usurp control of a party which had allowed greater participation to the masses and greater freedom to the left-wing opposition?

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SeanP
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Aug 24 2017 23:01

I believe two of the Makhnovists' biggest mistakes were: the infiltration of the army by ideologically unreliable and unruly elements; and the breakdown of troop discipline in autumn 1919 just as they reached the height of their territorial reach. During this period, the kontrrazvedka [Makhnovist counter-intelliegence] was also behaving in an increasingly brutal and authoritarian manner.

I address aspects of these problems in my article about the Eichenfeld massacre, in which Makhnovists, alongside local peasantry, murdered 80 Mennonite colonists in a single night. I should point out that I've yet to see any evidence that directly implicates Makhno or the movement's leadership in such actions, but the massacre of civilians was indicative of a broader breakdown in troop discipline, as well as the deeply rooted animosity between Mennonites and the revolutionary peasantry. My article can be downloaded here: http://jms.uwinnipeg.ca/index.php/jms/article/view/1544

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Serge Forward
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Aug 24 2017 23:45

Article on the Makhnovists and mennonites here:

https://libcom.org/history/makhnos-memory-mennonite-makhnovist-narratives-civil-war-ukraine-1917-1921-sean-david-pa

bootsy
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Aug 25 2017 05:26

This article is probably going to be useful for you: http://libcom.org/files/aleksandr-shubin-the-makhnovist-movement.pdf

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Steven.
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Aug 25 2017 11:31

Another history of the Eichenfeld massacre here: https://libcom.org/history/makhnovists-mennonites-war-peace-ukrainian-civil-war

Sean, thanks for posting up a link to that text. Would you mind if we also hosted it in our history section?

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SeanP
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Aug 26 2017 01:55

No problem.

I want to point out a correction concerning the article. Upon further research, I've come to the conclusion that Makhno's Danzig arrest for crimes against German colonists (which begins the article) is, in fact, a myth. A number of secondary studies mention this story, even in some detail, but its source appears to be a misinterpreted interview with Makhno's wife, Galina Kuzmenko. She mentions that the authorities in Danzig were angry with Makhno because he had "expelled the German colonizers from Ukraine in 1918." Future historians interpreted this comment as referring to "German colonists" (i.e. Mennonites), however, it almost certainly refers to the German army which occupied Ukraine from March to November 1918. Makhno proved a huge annoyance to the Germans and even briefly recaptured Gulyai-Pole in the midst of the occupation. These were the only Germans "expelled" in 1918. Besides, the Mennonites were never expelled per se and only began to emigrate in 1922. This combined with the fact that no other Mennonite or Makhnovist source mentions his arrest for these reasons suggests it is a Makhnovist urban legend passed down without a proper interrogation of the sources. Makhno was arrested (his arrest record still exists in the Polish archives) for much less exciting reasons: visa travel violations.