How the Slandering of Makhno Began

by Marcus Graham.
Black Flag – organ of the Anarchist Black Cross. VOL. III – No 10. (1974)

In the 1920’s the Jewish-language press in the United States unleashed a series of attacks against Nestor Makhno and the Makhno movement in the Ukraine – where they were valiantly fighting every White Guard Counter-revolutionary movement that rose – accusing the first-named of carrying out pogroms against the Jewish people.

In the forefront of these attacks was the daily morning Freiheit (Freedom), financed by the Bolshevik government (which considered the anarchist Makhno movement a thorn in its flesh). The Jewish daily Forwer (Forward), although vehemently opposed to the Bolshevik government, nevertheless joined in the anti-Makhno movement, as did also the supposedly ”liberal” daily Der Tag (The Day).

The supposedly anarchist Freie Arbeiter Stimme (Free Workers Voice) edited at that time by Sh. Yanovsky – kept a cowardly silence. Yanovsky ended his anarchist career by becoming a paid writer for the socialist Forwer.

I penned a reply to the darstardly attacks against the Makhno movement and sent it to the Der Tag, and received the following reply:

”The Day” March 29, 1926.
”Sh. Marcus, 17 E 107th St., New York, N. Y.

Dear Sir,
Regrettfully we cannot use your article for the ”Day”. We therefore returning it back to you.
With respect,
R. Etkin, editorial secretary.

I thereupon forwarded the article to the monthly Zukunft (Future), edited by the poet A. Liesen, in the hope that his poetic conscience would out weight the fact that the magazine was financed by the Forwerts.

Liesen’s poetic conscience evidently did not bother him as the following reply shows:

”Dear Sh. Marcus,
No, the Zukunft cannot come out with a justification of Makhno. He was not at all the conscientious anarchist as you picture him, and it would be much better if you did not identify Makhno’s movement with the anarchist movement of the world.
Makhno certainly allowed the slaughter of Jews under the name of ”Capitalists”. His followers slaughtered a mass of Jewish colonists in Ekaterinoslav as one of my acquaintances wrote me. It is of no consequence that with him were Grshun, Slovke and other Bialistoker anarchists.
They were blinded and refused to hear and see, and didn’t know. Liesen the editor of Zukunft is very angry with you declaring that it is indeed a shame that a Jew should nevertheless defend a pogrom-maker. I personally would like to discuss the matter with you. Come over to the office of Zukunft.
P.S. Your article is included herewith.
With respect,
Kreplitch.”

The letter carried no date, but it was penned no doubt in 1926, soon after the article was returned from the Der Tag. I presume that Kreplitch was Liesen’s secretary.

I accepted the invitation but it was Liesen himself, and not Kreplitch, that I met. In defence of his refusal to print my article, he was ready to bring Abba Gordin, the anarchist to testify as to the pogroms carried out by the Makhno movement. I declined to meet him for the principal reason that he at no time went to the Ukraine and therefore could only speak of hearsay, and his having become a paid writer in the Zukunft, a socialist monthly would also make his hearsay testimony most questionable.

The following is a translation of the article that Der Tag and the Zukunft refused to print:

The Accusations against the Makhno Movement: What the Other Side Has To Say About It.

In every court of ”justice”, it is customary that the accused not only has a right to self-defence, but the State even appoints a defender for the poor. Many know that in all court-houses two kinds of justice are dispensed: on for the rich, and a different sort for the poor. For appearances sake, the poor man is thus given a chance to be heard before being meted a portion of ”justice”.

Nestor Makhno has less luck than a poor man in a court-house. This is especially true in relation to the entire Jewish press. In the Forwerts Nestor Makhno and the Makhno movement have been described in the blackest colours of a pogrom-maker by a special correspondent who gathered his information sitting in Warsaw – and from Warsaw the pogroms that the Machnovtzes are supposed to have carried out in the Ukraine… in the Freiheit, M. Olgin wrote about ”the thousands of stomachs of Jewish women”, that Makhno himself had cut open in the Ukraine… and the information he had received from the ”holy” great rulers of Moscow… If this was not enough, David Markiewitch comes along and tells in his ”Those Days” how he was told about stories concerning what the Machnovtzes have carried out …

D. Tcharney, in the 28th, 1926 of Der Tag speaks about a biography of Makhno, without naming it, stating that:

”Makhno himself liked the title ”batko” (fatherly) and has totally forgotten that he was a plain bandit supposedly an anarchist that deals with all passing powers, he placed himself on the side of the Reds in the struggle with the Whites, and then on the side of the Whites against the Reds.”

Further on D. Tcharney brings the following ”extraordinary fact” that is intended to tighten the rope around Makhno’s name:

”In Navazlatofel, as said, something very good had taken place, because it had a splendid self-defence of 200 men, and ammunition this self-defence obtained … imagine – from Makhno himself. Thus Makhno’s 200 guns protected the colony against the same Makhnovtes.”

I have quoted at length from D. Tcharney – since he embodies the main accusations and self-contradictions that are being made against Makhno and the Makhno movement in the Jewish press.

It is only necessary to add that D. Tcharney declared himself that his ”information” he has obtained from a ”just published book: ‘The Jewish community in the Revolution’.”

I have not seen one friendly word for Makhno in the Jewish daily press of the United States – from any Jewish writer.

I expect that Der Tag will at least give space to one who desires to answer all these attacks against Makhno and the Makhno movement, proving thereby that in one part of the Jewish press someone condemned can obtain at least as much justice that is given to a poor man in a court-house.

It is not my purpose to go into a polemic with all those who have made attacks on Makhno and the movement around him. My main reason for not doing this lies in the fact that all these writers have based their attacks upon information from other people’s assertion. Not one of them supports the assertions by their own experiences.

Consequently, my reply can only be a general one. I do not expect that after reading it, all those who hold Makhno and the Makhnovtzes as pogrom perpetrators will change their opinion. I only hope that they will meditate a bit upon what I am about to express, and then ask themselves: Can there not be a spark of truth on the part of the other side, although the accused has been painted with the blackest of colours…?

No one has, I believe, dared to accuse the world’s anarchist movement of antisemitism. Consequently the question that must arise in the mind of any impartial thinking person how it happens that during the entire times of Nestor Makhno’s activity there should co-operate with him such well-known Jewish anarchists as D. Volin, A. Baron, Fania Baron and tens of other Jewish-speaking anarchists? How can it be that not one of these should raise their voice to support the accusations against the Makhno movement? Could it be that they all became Jewish antisemites?… Or, how is it possible that Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman, A. Souchy of Germany and Vilkins of France who were in the Ukraine where the Makhno movement was active, have, on the contrary, written about it with love, enthusiasm and admiration? Can one imagine that these spokesmen of International anarchism – some obtaining their information, not from other sources – thousands of miles away from the Ukraine, but direct on the spot – have seen everything just as opposite from that of the traducers – and therefore became antisemites?… Or, how does it happen, that now – four or five years after the Makhnovtzes were driven out of the Ukraine by the Russian Government, and Makhno with some of his co-workers were ”tried” in Bolshevik controlled Poland, that the entire anarchist press of the world should feel proud about the activity of Nestor Makhno and the Makhno movement in the Ukraine? Is it because the entire anarchist world press has become antisemitic?

Ridiculous!

For anyone who wants to learn the truth, it is only necessary to read Archinov’s ”The Story of the Makhno Movement”, a well known Russian anarchist who worked with the Makhno movement, and is at present an exile living in France, where he edits a monthly journal, in order to readily understand what has really happened there where the Makhno movement was active.

In this book the reader will find facts and documents that will astound one. From it one learns that one of the infamous pogrom bandits in the Ukraine – Grigoriev – was shot to death by none other than Nestor Makhno himself… From this book the reader will also learn as to how Makhno and his comrades felt and acted upon entering in a Jewish populated town and found walls pasted with calls to pogroms against the Jews in the name of the Makhno movement… Death was the threat and sentence by the Makhnovtzes upon anyone who dares to incite to pogroms under any name against anyone.

One learns also from this book that not more than once had the bolshevist ”revolutionary” government placed in jepoardy the entire revolution – by witholding ammunition and provisions – from the 70,000 Makhnovtzes that were in a daily combat with the White Guardist hordes of the Denikins, the Koltchaks and the Wraangels… Also one will see from the documents that prove how Bela Kun, representing the Bolshevist government and Popov representing the Makhno movement signed an agreement how to fight in unison every counter-revolutionary movement, and also to tolerate one another (as anarchists and bolshevists) on the economic field. (This document will remain forever an exemplary act of tolerance and mutual aid – upon which basis every future revolution will only be able to succeed.) And, likewise, one will learn from Arhinov’s book how the Bolshevist government spat upon its own agreement with the Makhnovtzes as soon as the last of Wrangel’s counter-revolutionary hordes were driven out of the Ukraine. And it immediately instituted the most despicable reign of persecutions and even murder against the active anarchists in the Ukraine!

If Nestor Makhno and the Makhnovtzes are to be held guilty of the pogroms that real pogrom-hordes carried out – hiding under the name of the Makhno movement, then one has to hold responsible the Bolshevist government for the pogroms that were carried out under the name of Bolshevism. In either instance it would be not only ridiculous, but also slanderous to do so.

The anarchist movement and press of the world has not become antisemitic not has it ever been, and never could become – as long as its ideal is anarchism. It is therefore not at all ashaamed to be proud of the activity of Nesstor Makhno and the Makhno movement.

In the heat of the revolution some rush to pen ”history” – as in the slanderous attacks against Makhno and its movement. But such ”hisstories” will sooner or later be forgotten because of the falsehood that they embodied.

The true history, the role that the anarchists in general, and the Makhno movement in particular have played in the Russian revolution has as yet not been written by impartial observers and seekers of the true facts. When such a history is penned the present slanders that have been cast upon the Makhno movement will be transformed into flowers.

Sh. Marcus*

*(Sh. Marcus – In later years used the name Marcus Graham).

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