Alexandre Skirda, Nestor Makhno - Anarchy's Cossack : The Struggle for Free Soviets in the Ukraine, 1917-1921 [Review]

The phenomenal life of Nestor Makhno (1888-1934) provides the framework for this breakneck account of the downfall of the tsarist empire and the civil war that convulsed and bloodied Russia between 1917 and 1921.

The combatants were drawn from several camps: Budyenny's Red cavalry, the Don and Kuban Cossacks (allied with the Whites), Ukrainian nationalists… Against these, Makhno, a formidable and daring strategist, headed an army of anarchist insurgents - a popular peasant movement which bore his name.

Makhno and his people were fighting for a society "without masters or slaves, with neither rich nor poor." They acted towards that ideal by establishing "free soviets." Unlike the soviets drained of all significance by the dictatorship of a one-party State, the "free soviets" became the grassroots organs of a direct democracy - a living embodiment of the free society. However, once the Makhnovschina had beaten the Whites of Denikin and Wrangel, they were betrayed and smashed by the Red Army.

Delving into a vast array of documentation to which few other historians have had access, this study illuminates a revolution that started out with the rosiest of prospects but ended up utterly confounded. Nestor Makhno: Anarchy's Cossack brings to life this dramatic turning point in contemporary history.

Alexandre Skirda is a French historian and student of the Russian revolution. He has edited a selection of Nestor Makhno's writings The Struggle Against the State and Other Essays (AK Press, 1996). He is also the author of Facing the Enemy: a history of Anarchist organization from Proudhon to May 1968 (AK Press, 2002). Nestor Makhno: Anarchy's Cossack is the English translation of Nestor Makhno: le cosaque de l'Anarchie (1982, new editions in 1985 and 1999)

Comments on the French editions:

"Full and lively… enriched by lengthy quotations from contemporary documents, the use of rare materials published by exiled Russian Anarchists… interviews with contemporaries of Makhno, its uniquely detailed treatment of Makhno's life in exile and the inclusion of some interesting photographs." The Russian Revolution and Civil War, 1917-21: An Annotated Bibliography, Jonathan D. Smele.

"Alexandre Skirda's book reads like revenge for all of those written off in the official histories as the defeated." Le Monde diplomatique

Published by AK Press and the Kate Sharpley Library. 414 pages, Illustrated. ISBN 1-902593-68-5 paperback £13 / $21.95. Copies available now.

Skirda draws on memoirs of other Makhnovist insurgents like Viktor Belash and offers a critical assessment of Soviet, Anarchist and other sources on the Makhnovist movement. As well as an appendix of Makhnovist proclamations and mentioning some of Makhno's appearances in fiction, Nestor Makhno Anarchy's Cossack gives the story of Galina Kuzmenko, Makhno's wife. We will have a full review in our next bulletin.