Peter Arshinov* first met and befriended Nestor Makhno in prison in 1911, a friendship that that was to continue after their release following the February Revolution in 1917. In 1919 Arshinov became Makhno’s secretary, and remained with the Makhnovischina until 1921. The following year, 1922, he escaped into exile in Berlin where he published the Russian edition of the Makhno story. Arshinov’s history of the Makhnovists is one of the most important primary sources on the life of the Ukrainian anarchist guerrilla leader.
Makhnovism refers to various related political and economic theories elaborated by Ukrainian anarchist revolutionary leader Nestor Makhno, and by other theorists (Peter Arshinov etc.) who claim to be continuing Makhno’s work. During Makhno’s lifetime Makhnovism was anarchistic, and opposed the state and political parties, as well as bureaucracy, favouring highly decentralized communes run by peasants and workers. Makhnovism builds upon and elaborates the ideas of Peter Kropotkin, and serves as the philosophical basis for anarchist communism.
In early 1918, the new Bolshevik government in Russia signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk making peace with the Central Powers, but ceding large amounts of territory to them, including Ukraine. Partisan units were formed that waged guerrilla war against the Germans and Austrians. Nestor Makhno was one of the main organizers of these partisan groups, who united into the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine (RPAU), also called the Black Army (because they fought under the anarchist black flag) and “Makhnovists” or “Makhnovshchina”. The RPAU also battled against the Whites, the Reds and anti-semiticpogromists. In areas where the RPAU drove out opposing armies, there were villagers (and workers) who sought to abolish capitalism and the state through organizing themselves into village assemblies, communes and councils. Land and factories were expropriated and workers’ self-management implemented. The economy the Makhnovists in Ukraine implemented was based on free exchange between rural and urban communities.
Paul Avrich’s The Russian Anarchists records the history and ideas of Russian anarchism from the 19th century through to its brutal suppression by the Bolsheviks in the 1920s. All the major personalities are discussed in detail: Bakunin, Kropotkin, Baron, Rogdaev, Chernyi, Makhno, Volin, Shapiro, Maksimov. The well-documented study includes comprehensive end notes, a chronology and an annotated bibliography. Part I focuses on the events and personalities leading up to 1905, while part II deals with the events following on from February 1917 to the Bolsheviks’ final suppression of the Russian anarchists in the early 1920s. Analysing the role of the anarchist movement in post-revolutionary period, Avrich traces its relations with the Bolsheviks and shows that most of them foresaw that the Marxist “dictatorship of the proletariat” would replace the tyranny of the tsars with the tyranny of commissars.
Paul Eltzbacher (18 February 1868 – 25 October 1928) was a German law student whose professorial appointment was due, largely, to his PhD on anarchism, which became the basis for the present book, first published in English in 1907. ‘Anarchism’ is an overview consisting of seven chapters which deal, principally, with Eltzbacher’s academic take on the various elements and trends of anarchism as defined by the leading anarchist thinkers of the time: Godwin, Proudhon, Stirner, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Tucker, Tolstoy.
Every person who examines this book at all will speedily divide its contents into Eltzbacher’s own discussion and his seven chapters of classified quotations from Anarchist leaders; and, if he buys the book, he will buy it for the sake of the quotations. I do not mean that the book might not have a sale if it consisted exclusively of Eltzbacher’s own words, but simply that among ten thousand people who may value Eltzbacher’s discussion there will not be found ten who will not value still more highly the conveniently-arranged reprint of what the Anarchists themselves have said on the cardinal points of Anarchistic thought. Nor do I feel that I am saying anything uncomplimentary to Eltzbacher when I say that the part of his work to which he has devoted most of his space is the part that the public will value most.
An anti-statist communist manifesto by Joseph Lane with a profile of Joseph Lane by Nicolas Walter. First published by Joseph Lane in 1887 (Bethnal Green). Second print edition (with intro by Nicolas Walter) by Cienfuegos Press, Sanday, Orkney 1978.
Joseph Lane defended liberty, equality and solidarity — what would now be called libertarian socialism. He attacked authority, whether religious or political, and declared himself both atheist and anti-statist neither God nor master! He avoided the word anarchist, preferring to call himself a revolutionary socialist or a free communist. He opposed both mere radicals and mere secularists, both individualist anarchists and collectivist socialists. He opposed Parliament as a symbol of what was wrong with public life and marriage as a symbol of what was wrong with private life (though he was himself happily married with several children). He rejected such panaceas as imperialism and emigration, co-operation and land nationalisation, teetotalism and vegetarianism, or so-called Malthusianism (birth control), and such palliatives as a legal eight-hour day or public relief far the unemployed. He attacked the welfare state as well as the warfare state. He wanted social revolution, not social democracy.
Peter Kropotkin’s (1842-1921) autobiographical account of his journey from privileged childhood, through military service and two years in prison to anarchist thinker and activist; it was originally serialised in The Atlantic Monthly from September 1898 to September 1899, and provides a fascinating account of his intellectual development and radicalisation, of life under tsarist rule, and of the early European socialist movement.
The following footage is of Kropotkin’s funeral procession from the village of Dmitrov, where he died, to Moscow on 13 February 1921. It turned into a protest — the last anarchist demonstration in Russia until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. The accompanying sound track is a choral rendition of a traditional Russian folk song: ‘The Sun Descends Over the Steppe’.