Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, August 5, 2019

Nestor Makhno, Anarchist – Another Side of the Russian Civil War, Part 2

Russian Dramatization of Makhno Exhorting His Troops

By Michael Kintopf

(Continued from yesterday on Roads to the Great War)

Petliura’s army was entrenched around the city and supported by artillery. Makhno’s plan of assault used ideas from previous attacks. Some of his group infiltrated the city as workers and took control of the railway station. Then, on 26 December, Makhno sent an empty train toward the city to draw fire.  The nationalists took the bait and concentrated on destroying the empty train. Too late, they realized it was a diversion. A second armored train full of assault troops came from another direction.  Ambushed by the infiltrators and attacked from without, Petliura’s men nevertheless continued the fight. Even when the nationalist artillery contingent changed sides, the fighting went unabated from street to street and house to house for two days. In the evening of the second day, the nationalists left the town to regroup. Their counterattack drove the Anarchists-Bolsheviks back through the streets and houses that were left. Casualties among the Anarchists-Bolsheviks were high. Out of 1000, only 400 managed to escape. Makhno’s men pulled back to the Sinel’nikovo region where they organized a defense. Sadly for them, the location placed them between the nationalist to the west and the White army to the southeast.  

In early January 1919, the Whites began to move. Makhno was unable to hold Hulyai Pola, Orikhiv, Polohy, and Haichur. At Hryshyne, the Anarchist-Bolshevik force consolidated a 150-mile front with 15,000 soldiers, 1000 cavalry, and 40 machine guns. Luckily, the Directory’s soldiers had withdrawn toward Zhitomir after a second invading Russian Red army had seized Kharkov. For three months the front seesawed. In April, Denikin’s army attacked at the juncture of the Red Thirteenth Army and Makhno’s Anarchists. The brunt of the attack fell on the Red 9th Division. They panicked and broke while the anarchists remained firm. The Whites took Mariupil and Luhansk. The losses became seeds of distrust between the Reds and the Anarchists. Red Army leaders called for an evaluation of the anarchist leaders in an effort to shift blame.  The Cheka, or secret police, was sent to find the defeatist culprits. Makhno saw this as an affront to his authority. He viewed his force as an ally to the Reds and not a part of the Bolshevik movement. The Cheka agents were rounded up and sent back with a heated message stating that they had no authority over the Anarchists. The Bolsheviks reacted by sending soldiers. Facing the Whites in the front and a new enemy in the rear, Makhno’s men folded and allowed Denikin’s soldiers to advance 37 kilometers. The salient that was created separated the Anarchists from the Red Army. Makhno’s men retreated unmolested by either side toward their homes in the remains of the Anarchist enclave. There, Makhno resigned his command and broke up his army; however, his non-involvement was very short lived.

Perhaps heralding later rock group styles, these
Makhnoists take time for a camaraderie photo.

In early June, Denikin sent the Kuban Cossacks against Makhno’s enclave. With a thousand of his followers, Makhno led the resistance. The White forces easily routed the anarchists, but a spirited rearguard action delayed a rapid advance. The compression of the Anarchist stronghold exposed the Red Army’s flank. To strengthen their numbers, Bolshevik commanders quickly forgave Makhno’s past transgressions and once again asked for his cooperation against Denikin. Makhno accepted.  Mobilizing the peasants and workers, Makhno brought 15,000 to the field. The combined manpower was still not enough to stem the Whites' advance. The Anarchists became part of the Bolsheviks’ westward retreat. The Russians soon split from the Anarchists preferring to retreat toward Russia rather than remain in Ukraine.  

Nearing Uman, Makhno’s army entered an area controlled by the Ukrainian nationalist forces of Petliura. Makhno saw a chance to gain a respite. Appealing to Petliura as a brother revolutionary, Makhno asked him to keep his Ukrainian army neutral and allow the Anarchists time to rest within his sphere of control. He surmised that the Whites would not risk facing the Ukrainians and the Anarchists at the same time. Petliura allowed Makhno’s army to settle near Tekuche. Ukrainian combat patrols covered a front to the north and west of the area. But Makhno’s previous transgressions were not forgiven by Petliura, who saw an opportunity to exterminate the Anarchists in this truce. Discreetly, the Ukrainian patrols allowed five of Denikin’s regiments, detached from the main thrust at Moscow, to outflank their line and come up in the rear of Makhno’s force. Petliura’s soldiers watched from their “neutrality” as the Whites slowly surrounded the Anarchists. Makhno became aware of the encirclement on 24 September, but rather than prepare defenses, he commanded his men to attack the Whites near Kruten’koe.  

The Anarchists opened the attack at 3:00 in the morning against a weak forward guard. The Whites had to give ground but, amazingly, the Anarchists did not press their advantage. Instead, they broke off the attack and returned to their former lines. Within a few hours, the main body of the Whites had arrived and they went on the offensive smashing into the Anarchist lines. Makhno’s defenses began to fold by 9:00. The Whites, in their zealousness, created an inward bulge in the Anarchists’ line, which exposed their own flanks and rear. At that moment, Makhno, at the head of his cavalry, miraculously appeared. He had taken his horsemen around the Whites’ flanks in a perilous, desperate night march and brought them up just in time as his line had given ground. Leading his saber wielding horsemen, he charged into the First Officers Regiment of Simferopol and the Second Labzinki Regiment.  Denikin’s regiments broke into flight toward the Sinyukha River where they hoped to cross and make a stand. At the fords they found an additional Anarchist cavalry group. The Whites were caught between the two, which took no prisoners.

Red Army commander Pavel Dybenko and Nestor Makhno, 1919

The battle over, Makhno found that the five regiments he had destroyed were the only tangible force between himself and Denikin’s rear echelons. Makhno turned his retreat into a counteroffensive. By 6 October, the Anarchists were threatening Denikin’s supply ports and bases on the Azov Sea.  To counter the anarchists, Denikin withdrew two divisions from the Moscow march and a Cossack brigade from the defense of Tsaritsyn. This redeployment probably contributed to Denikin’s defeat at Oryol as well as the loss of the Volga River city. Within a few months, Denikin’s counterrevolutionary movement was reduced to a collection of broken units which were evacuated from Black Sea ports.

Makhno withdrew from the conflict and returned to Hulyai Pola as the White movement collapsed.  The Bolsheviks, on the other hand, switched their priorities toward bringing the Anarchists into political line. Anticipating a war with the new nation of Poland, the Revolutionary Military Council of the XIV Corps ordered Makhno’s Insurrectionary Army to the Polish border on 19 December 1919. Makhno saw the order for what it was and resisted it. According to the last agreement he had with the Red Army, his soldiers were not to be deployed outside Ukraine or to fight any other forces but Denikin’s. The Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky had expected Makhno’s reaction. In reprisal, he sent Red Army units to disarm and arrest the Anarchists. What should have been an easy mopping-up action proved to be very costly. Safely entrenched around Hulyai Pola, the Anarchists withstood numerous attacks, but they were not invulnerable. They were close to capitulation when the Red Army’s interest shifted first to the Poles, who launched an invasion of Ukraine accompanied by Petliura’s nationalists, and secondly by the resurgence of the White Army in the Crimea. Once again, the Bolsheviks turned to Makhno for help in keeping the Whites in check while they dealt with the Polish threat. Makhno accepted.

The Anarchists proved that they had a greater hatred for the Whites than they did for the Bolsheviks.  After a year’s fighting, the Whites were isolated on the Crimea and the Anarchists were pushing toward victory. Makhno’s cavalry and a machine gun company crossed the ice on the Sivash Strait on 6 November 1920 and set up a bridgehead that the Red Army used to pour more soldiers into the Crimea. Simferopol, the Whites' Crimean capital, fell to the Anarchists on 14 November. But there were no celebrations. While the fighting had been raging, Trotsky had sent Red Army units to infiltrate the Anarchist conclave. With the proclamation that the White forces were finally defeated came a declaration against the Anarchists. Calling them threats to the revolution, Trotsky called for their disarming and arrest. In the Crimea about 1500 men were rounded up; 250 escaped. In Hulyai Pola, a pre-positioned Red Army attacked the trenches and took the town. Makhno managed to escape to the steppe, where he raised nearly 1000 horsemen and 1500 infantry. Seven days later he returned to his town to capture 6000 Red Army soldiers, 2000 of which joined his ranks. The others were released to return home.  

After the Fighting
Makhno in Paris
Despite his successes, Makhno decided to evacuate the area and go northeasterly toward the Don Cossack regions, where an autonomous government existed. The Reds chased after him but were defeated again at Andreevka, where the Anarchists allegedly captured 8000 to 10,000 soldiers. Still Makhno did not attempt to consolidate an area.  

The capitulation of the Don Cossacks just a few days later made him change direction toward Kiev, where he had heard that Petliura’s nationals were still offering resistance. The long trek toward a perceived safe zone was arduous. Casualties were left behind, as were horses, artillery, and transport vehicles. Petliura’s resistance proved to be a myth, and the Anarchists were forced to flee even farther westward. The last fight with the Bolsheviks took place on 28 August 1921 near the Dniester River. The Anarchists were pushed up against the river and in the melee; Makhno was wounded in the neck and unable to rally his men. His lieutenants got him across the river into Romania. There he was interred for a number of months. Once released, he made his way to Paris, where he died of tuberculosis in 1934.

No comments:

Post a Comment