He Black Guards

'Forward beneath the block flag of Anarchy, on to the great struggle!' - poem by Nestor Makhno.

One of the most remarkable chapters in the history of guerrilla warfare was written in the Ukraine from 1918 to 1921. Here, a part of the larger Anarchist Federation called Nabat (Alarm), specifically the military forces of the Makhnovshchina (Makhno Movement), fought all powers in an attempt to establish free sovlets and self-governance. The man behind this struggle was 'Batko' (Little Father) Nestor Ivanovich Makhno, a peasant variously vilified as a bandit and monster, or worshipped as a hero.

F.xtant source documents on the Makhnovshchina are fragmentary. The Bolsheviks destroyed many Anarchist papers and most of the Black Guard leaders were executed or killed in battle. Nevertheless, three accounts from senior commanders survive; those of Peter Arshinov, who was involved from start to finish, those of Nicholas Voline, who served for six months, and Makhno's own.

Nestor Makhno was born in 1889 (some sources state 1888} into a poor peasant family residing In Gulyai-Polye, east-central Ukraine. Implicated in anarchist political activity after the Revolution of 1905, he was sentenced to !ife imprisonment at the infamous Hutyrkl penitentiary in Moscow. After serving nearly nine years, most of the time in chains or in solitary confinement in dank cells reserved for the unruly, he was released shortly after the February Revolution of 1917 under the general amnesty granted to political prisoners by the Provisional Government.

At Butyrki he had studied the theory of anarchism under fellow prisoner Peter Arshinov and had given himself a rudimentary education by reading a variety of books, courtesy of the prison library. Although a professed Anarchist, Makhno preferred direct action to theory; indeed, most of his followers understood as little about Anarchist ideology as they did about communism.

According to Russian-American Anarchist Emma Goldman, Makhno's partisans were 'a spontaneous, elemental movement, the peasants' opposition to all governments being the result not of theories but of bitter experience and of Instinctive love of liberty. [However], they were fertile ground for Anarchist ideas.'

Based on several eyewitness accounts, Makhno stood just under average height, had piercing grey-blue eyes, long, dark or chestnut hair, a snub nose with a prominent forehead, sometimes had a brown moustache, spoke with a high-pitched voice and was strongly built. Often he was seen with two ammunition belts crossed over his chest and two or more grenades suspended from his vestments, sometimes with a rifle, sometimes with a sabre, and usually with two or more handguns, usually Colt or Nagant revolvers and a Mauser 'broom-handle' automatic. He was considered a crack shot with the handguns and could serve artillery, a skill he required of all his immediate staff. Always a courageous fighter in the front ranks, he survived a dozen wounds.

Makhno himself had no military training. However, he proved himself a brilliant tactician who was able to respond quickly to a multitude of challenging circumstances. Any ruse was acceptable, from using enemy uniforms to feigning retreats or surrender, to moving or attacking in inclement weather.

Speed was a prime ingredient of success, and his army of mobile cavalry, tacharika (two- to four-horse machine-gun carts), and

Flag Makhno

A Makhnovist tachanka (centre). Makhno (left display photo). Right display photo depicts Makhnovist cavalry raiding the Berdiansk-Mariupol sector in autumn 1919.The flag, which is a reproduction modelled directly from a period photograph, carries the message of death to those exploiting the labour of working people. (Bullock photo from the Gulyai Polye Historical Museum, Ukraine)

A Makhnovist tachanka (centre). Makhno (left display photo). Right display photo depicts Makhnovist cavalry raiding the Berdiansk-Mariupol sector in autumn 1919.The flag, which is a reproduction modelled directly from a period photograph, carries the message of death to those exploiting the labour of working people. (Bullock photo from the Gulyai Polye Historical Museum, Ukraine)

cart-borne infantry could make 100 kilometres a day. Tired horses were exchanged for fresh ones at each village, a system not unlike the American Pony Express a generation earlier. A high ratio of machine guns to soldiers was another prime ingredient. For example, the Makhnovists had a machine gun for every 24 men whereas the Red Army's ratio was one to 67.

On the march, his main column was several kilometres long, with any mobile supply train going first (daily supplies and supplementary munitions), infantry carts and tachanki in the centre and the cavalry in the rear - in other words the slowest part of the formation first and not last as was the custom with many armies. Based on descriptions of his battle lines, this was so that the slower wagons could pull up, the carts and tachanki could form a defence in the centre, both types of vehicles disgorging troops and positioning the machine guns, while the cavalry could react by coming up on the flanks. This column would seldom be ambushed because cavalry outriders were in the van and rear, and along parallel paths and roads. At night, the carts and tachanki made a circle similar to the 16th-l7th-century Cossack encampments.

The insurgent army's organization consisted of three battalions to a regiment, three regiments to a brigade and three brigades to a division. These units varied in size with no set number of men being allotted to a particular establishment. Commanders were elected or sometimes appointed by Makhno personally from his trusted clique. All primary commanders came from peasant or working-class stock, most having had experience as non-commissioned officers in World War One. Discipline was swift and harsh and included summary execution by pistol.

In his memoirs, Makhno stated he had 30,000 in his army with arms and another 70,000 that he could draw on when weapons became available. These numbers, however, continually fluctuated. Late in 1918, the combined partisan forces of Makhno and l-'yodor Shchuss numbered about 1,500. By 1919, these had swelled to 20,000-40,000. These totals decreased In 1920 to 10,000-15,000 and reached a low point of 1,000-5,000 in 1921. lied Army reports from autumn 1919 estimated the insurgent army at 14,000-40,000 infantry, 6,000-15,000 cavalry and 5,000 gunners and machine gunners. Hardware included 48 field guns, 1,000 machine guns, four armoured cars and four armoured trains.

Konstantin Paustovsky witnessed two of these trains passing through the station at Pomoshnaya in early autumn 1919. On the first, 'I saw young men roaring with laughter, hung all over with weapons -curved sabres, broadswords, naval silver-hilted daggers, rifles, revolvers, cartridge belts. Streaming in the wind, enormous red and black ribbons flew from peaked caps, bowlers and sheepskin hats of every shape and size.' One soldier carried a small black flag with a white sunrise emblem mounted on a lance.

The second train 'carried a magnificent, glossy landau [s/c- horse carriage] with a prince's gilded coat of arms on the door. From one of its shafts, raised like a flag pole, fluttered a black banner bearing the motto "Anarchy Breeds Order". A machine gun stood at each corner of the wagon, a soldier in an English greatcoat squatting beside it.' Paustovsky then glanced into the 'fierce and vacant' eyes of liatko Makhno himself.

The insurgents, in fact, had many colourful characters: the romantic freebooter Fydor Shchuss; Semyon Karetnik, considered the second best strategist after Makhno and chief of staff; Viktor Belash, a talented Organizer, he was chief of staff after Karetnik and the last commander; the final chief of staff, Taranovsky; Tomas Kozhin, commander of the elite tachanka machine-gun regiment; Ivan Kartashev, who wrote the 'Ballad of the Makhnovists' to the older tune of 'Stenka Razin'; and Roger 'the Frenchman' who commanded a squadron

'Makhno's Staff on the March' by E. Cheptzov.The flag reads:'Staff of the Makhnovist Insurgent Army of the Ukraine'. CasimirTeslar reported seeing this same flag flying in Gulyai Poyle in November 1920. Another Anarchist banner read: 'Liberty or Death - the Land to the Peasants, the Factories to the Workers'. The Reds portrayed Makhno's bands as dissolute, drunken hordes. The Anarchists, in return, despised the 'Red Statists'. (Art card. Museum of the Revolution. 1928)

of Belgian armoured cars - given to Russia in World War One-against Denikin in spring 1919.

Some units fighting in the Ukraine pretended to be a part of Makhno's army in order to obtain some measure of political legitimacy, but were only common bandits. Other units, such as the Anarcho-Makhnovist Combat Detachment raised by Comrade Korshun (an alias) in August 1920, formed independently and sought to coordinate their activities with Makhno's main forces. Ossip Tsebry, in his first-hand account, Memories of a Makhnovist Partisan, recalled the detachment's winter quarters at Tetiev in 1920-21:

Korshun deckled to sit out the winter in the village of Tetiev, which was fortified for the purpose, His fighters were shared around the village homesteads: they were to lend them a hand with the chores and, in the event of the alert being sounded, to muster immediately at an agreed spot to confront the enemy. Thirteen small Ullages were organized along these lines, each with its own detachment and commander.

Anarchist Black GuardBlack Union Sailor

Band of Makhno's men led by Fyodor Shchuss (centre). Shchuss wears a Russian Hussar tunic and a sailor's cap. According to eyewitnesses, this cap read (in gold letters) either'Free Russia', or'St John of the Golden Tongue'. The latter inscription is borne out in at least one period photo.The tall, long and dark-haired Shchuss was an experienced kickboxer and wrestler who habitually packed a Mauser automatic and Colt revolver along with a Caucasian sabre - and a rifle and two grenades when on campaign, A consummate poseur, this brave and reckless Anarchist wore long boots and heavy spurs as Commander of the Cavalry Brigade, while his horse was caparisoned with ribbons and flowers and even 'pearl bracelets' just above the hooves. Shchuss was a notorious Casanova and as late as 2002, locals in the town of Gulyai Polye regaled the author with stories of his local paramours. (Bullock photo from the Gulyai Polye Historical Museum, Ukraine)

Many villages welcomed the arrival of Makhno's forces, either because they had no choice or because a mutually beneficial relationship had been established. These were 'safe zones' where insurgents could return, liooty or commodities could be exchanged for supplies, and medical attention could be secured for the sick and wounded. Based on period accounts, the Makhnovists had telegraph and field telephone operators in these villages so that each could act as a communications centre reporting events, watching enemy movements and coordinating operations. An approaching enemy could be ambushed or the insurgents could retreat, leaving behind an outwardly peaceful Ukrainian village. This system proved resilient. From 1917 to 1921, Makhno's main headquarters at Gulyai-l'olye (Field of Pleasure) changed hands 16 limes, yet remained a potential 'safe zone'.

The occupation of other villages, however, such as the Mennonite Colonics, was less benign. Makhno had no respect for the prosperous, ethnically German colonists who had been invited into the Russian Empire to improve agriculture and trade in the 18th-19th centuries. Consequently, the several colonies stretching from Alexandrovsk into the 'Fauride were systematically garrisoned and plundered throughout the civil war period. Gerhard Schroeder's poignant and touching eyewitness account of the repeated sack of one colony, Chortitza, sheds light on the less savoury side of the insurgent movement. Malnutrition and disease followed each occupation, men were routinely beaten and women were violated at will.

Simeon P. Pravda, or 'Batko I'ravda' ('Little Father Truth'), commanded the Black Guards at Chortitza. Pravda had lost both legs above the knee in a railway accident, and without the benefit of artificial limbs simply walked on his stumps. A stern disciplinarian, 'Senjka', as he was familiarly known, claimed to have killed 56 men, either with hand weapons or while commanding his tachanka. He died in battle in summer 1921 during the liquidation of the Makhnovshchina by the Red Army. Pravda blew out his own brains with a revolver after a wheel of his tachanka had broken, rather than be taken alive.

Primarily a rural movement, the Makhnovshchina were less at home in the larger cities. They occupied Ekaterinoslav (currently Dnepropetrovsk) and Alexandrovsk (now Zaporoszhye) in October-November 1919, Despising bank ownership and the role of money, Makhno recognized all currencies, duplicating them at will and overprinting them with a variety of messages - 'the smart money is on Makhno', or, as the author himself witnessed at the Zaporoszhye Historical Museum, 'Hey man, don't be sad, Makhno's got some money now', and, more insidiously, 'Anyone not wanting this money will get his (behind] kicked.'

Although intended as an act of defiance and a 'liobin Hood' gesture to the people, the result was economic uncertainty and inflation. The movement was more adept at distributing propaganda which could find listeners in both town and village. The movement's own newspapers were The Roihi to Freedom and The Makhnovist Voice.

Makhno's personal security was always a matter of concern. The Bolsheviks had tried to assassinate him in May 1919 and General Denikin had put a price of half a million roubles on his head that same year. The Black Sotnia', a mounted unit of 100-200, acted as his bodyguard. Raised primarily from the Gulyai-Polye area and personally known to each other, they guarded, or fought or commanded partisan bands as needed. At night, Makhno's sleeping quarters were guarded by five to seven men, no one being permitted to come too close while armed. Once, while attending a risky meeting with Petlyura, 20 cavalry went in front and 20 rode behind while Makhno remained in the centre with four tachanki. Two shadowy organizations, the Razvedka and the Kommissiya Protivmakhnovskikh Del, acted as an Anarchist equivalent to the Cheka.

As for his opponents, Makhno spoke derisively about Red cavalry, including Budenny's vaunted Konarmtya. 1 lowever, he grudgingly admired the cavalry of the Whites, their ability to change formations quickly, attack immediately and charge with sabres drawn as in the days of old. His battles with General Shkuro's Kuban Cossacks, the notorious 'White Wolves', were particularly savage in June 1919.

Makhno cooperated with the Red Army against Wrangel in autumn 1920, helping break the White Army's lines on the Dnieper and in the Tauride. Next, the Makhnovlsts were instrumental in forcing the Sivash, which outflanked the While Crimean defences. In appreciation, on 25 November the Bolsheviks surrounded, disarmed and executed thousands of the Black Guards. Another surprise attack struck the insurgents' headquarters at Gulyai-Polye the following day. Over the next months, the Reds methodically liquidated all suspected Anarchists. One by one, battle after battle, in the face of overwhelming odds, the old commanders fell, including Shchuss. On 28 August 1921, the last 83 survivors, including Makhno, made their way across the Dniester River into Romania and internment at Brasov, Transylvania. Refusing Bolshevik demands for his extradition, the Romanians nevertheless encouraged him to move on. Subsequently, the Poles did likewise. Makhno next travelled to France in 1925, a country known for its tolerance of political exiles, and died in Paris in 1935, a broken man.

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