Nestor Makhno, leader of the largest peasant army in modern times, cast his lot with the Bolsheviks and only narrowly lived to regret it.
The Bolsheviks saw the counter-revolutionary White Army as a greater threat than Makhno’s Black flag waving anarchists (See Nestor Makhno Anarchist General and the Origins of the Green Army for more details), and came to an agreement that allied the Red and Black armies together. Dubbed the “Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of the Ukraine” with Makhno as their leader his group began to accept strategic orders from the Bolshevik high command. The Makhnovshchina (commonly referred to also as the Greens), promised arms and support from Moscow that never came, attacked the White Army and Allied Interventionist forces in the Southern Ukraine and Crimea in the spring of 1919. He threatened the port of Odessa and even caused a panic that caused the Interventionists forces there to abandon the region temporarily. His forces swelled again with captured White prisoners and deserters from all sides. In September 1919 near the crossroads of Peregonovka the anarchist army blunted the Whites summer offensive. This action is credited by many historians with preventing the White Army of General Denikin from linking up the Siberian White Army of Admiral Kolchak and thus saving the war for the Reds. The close of 1919 saw Makhno at the head of an 110,000-man force that had known nothing but victory for nearly a year. This force included captured armored trains, heavy artillery, armored cars and primitive tanks. His troops by that time had largely turned to open banditism as they had no resupply train of support.
Bolshevik double-cross and the destruction of the Anarchist Army
The Bolshevik leadership, aware that Makhno had been responsible for almost as much violence against them as against the Whites, began a clandestine series of infiltrations and assassinations in the Makhnovshchina villages while the anarchists were at the front to the south. Makhno and his forces helped bottle up the last of the White Armies in the Ukraine led by General Wrangle in the Crimea in 1920. It was the Black Flag that fluttered over Sevastopol alongside that of the Reds when Wrangle evacuated his defeated refugee forces on November 14, 1920. In a carefully constructed move just two weeks after Wrangle’s defeat, the Bolsheviks liquidated Makhno’s senior leadership across a broad expanse of the Ukraine. The Red Army began open warfare on the Black Flag units and Makhno again found himself a hunted man. By August 1921, with his force dwindled to just fifty beaten followers, he crossed the border into exile in the Rumanian. His followers continued a low level guerilla war for a few years until finally being snuffed out.
Makhno and his legacy in defeat and exile
Makhno eventually settled in France where he lived in exile among the very White Russians that he helped defeat. He wrote two books on anarchism and his activities and died as he had lived, improverished, in 1934 of the tuberculosis he acquired in the Tsar’s Butyrki prison as a teenager. The 46-year old Anarchist General was cremated and laid to rest at the Pere-Lachaise cemetery in Paris where is grave is very popular with anarchists from around the world. A bronze monument in modern Huliaipole, now in an independent Ukraine, was recently erected. His legacy is continued by The Anarchist Black Cross organizations of today that chose the very name of their groups from the Makhnovshchina. Tragically, when his politics are considered, his face is immortalized on t-shirts and other merchandise almost as much as that of his 1960’s counterpart Che Guevara.