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New from Black Cat Press: Under the Blows of the Counterrevolution

Posted on December 11th, 2009 in AK Distribution, Anarchist Publishers, Recommended Reading

Black Cat Press, Canada’s foremost anarchist publisher, has had a busy year. We’ve recently received a whole new batch of books from them. Featured here is the much-anticipated second volume of Makhno’s memoirs, Under the Blows of the Counterrevolution (April–June 1918). (The first volume can be found here.) This is a first English translation of the 1936 Russian edition. Malcolm Archibald completed the translation, which includes the introduction and notes from its original editor, Voline. As well, Black Cat have been kind enough to include a glossary, three-part appendix, chronology, and index.

Memoirs offer an exciting, if highly subjective, viewpoint—and Makhno’s are no exception. So enjoy the Russian Revolution from his up close and personal perspective.

Readers of this blog certainly constitute a core audience for Black Cat’s efforts. Please consider supporting these efforts by purchasing their books and lobbying your local library to pick them up. Our support will help bring these and many more interesting projects to light.

Without further ado, here’s an excerpt from Chapter 6, “En Route with the Echelon of the Red Artillery Base”:

Because of the traffic jam on the railway line caused by the movement of refugees, we took about 48 hours to travel from Rostov to Tikhoretskayaya. Since we hadn’t stocked up on bread and other foodstuffs, in Tikhoretskayaya the commander of the echelon sent our comrades to the bazaar to buy food, counting on the recently promulgated law according to which each Red Guard detachment was entitled to acquire food from vendors either without paying anything or paying only one-third of the regular price.

The comrades went, dragging me along with them. They had a list of food to buy which would be sufficient to get us to the city of Tsaritsyn, which we expected to reach in about a week.

The vendors loaded the goods on wagons, but when it came time to settle up and they saw that their goods were being re­quisitioned, they complained bitterly. Their protest relied on the insecurity of the Bolshevik-Left SR government in this region. At the time there were hundreds of White Guard units operating in the area and the population silently supported them. Reacting to this protest of the vendors, the Red authorities panicked. They ordered the Tikhoretskayaya garrison to cordon off the echelon of the artillery base and not allow it to continue on its way without special authorization.

When the echelon had been cordoned off by loyal troops (who, it was evident, were not eating their own rations, or even requisitioning food, but simply grabbing stuff from various vendors), the Tikihoretskaya “revolutionary” government ordered the command of the echelon of the artillery base to send two people to explain the attempt to requisition essential goods.

Commander Pashechnikov prevailed upon me and Comrade Vasilyev (of the Yuzovsk Anarchist organization) to answer the summons of the Tikhoretskayaya authorities and try to reason with them.

We went, and the authorities arrested us and politely informed us that we were subject to being shot under martial law.

At first I thought the representative of the government was joking, and replied:

“It’s nice that we’re being shot under martial law, instead of the normal way…”

But then I saw they weren’t joking. They assigned two armed Cossacks to guard us, and these dunderheads, without standing on ceremony, began to discuss out loud how well dressed we were and that their only regret was that my clothes would be too small for them.

Comrade Vasilyev said to me:

“We must demand to see the chairman of the Revkom. For quite possibly it was reported to him that two robbers from some kind of echelon were being held, and he responded: ‘Shoot them’. Then protests wouldn’t be of any use. They would finish us off right away…”

So we demanded to see the chairman of the Revkom. But their response was to accuse us of being counterrevolutionaries. The ruckus we raised with our arguing with the guards drew the attention of a “revolutionary” petty official, who yelled at us and at the guards. The latter, in order to vindicate themselves, beat on us with their rifle butts. This riled me so much I smacked one of the guards and began yelling in a loud voice: “Get the comrade chairman of the Revkom. I want to tell him that he’s got a bunch of thugs here who are using the banner of the Revolution as a cover to carry on their own rotten, counterrevolutionary activities…”

My yelling and cursing was heard in all the rooms of the Revkom, and many representatives of the government came running. However, none of them helped us. We kept raising a row for about an hour and were so obnoxious that our guards finally left the room and closed the door.

And from Chapter 7, “The Battle of Petrenko’s Detachment with the Tsaritsyn Government and the arrest of Petrenko”:

The refusal of Petrenko’s detachment to surrender its weapons to the Tsaritsyn Revkom provoked an armed attack against it. Red Army units streamed out of the city. Only a few days earlier these units had been calling themselves Red Guards but that name had been discarded and the troops supposedly went to battle more content with the prestige of being members of an army. Behind them they dragged machine guns and heavy artillery. The inhabitants of the city were uneasy. “Who knows what’s going to happen?” they said to each other.

And the counterrevolutionary swine circulated everywhere through the crowds and sniffed the air: if Cossack White Guard detachments were to approach Tsaritsyn, they were ready to begin their dirty counterrevolutionary activities more resolutely and openly. But when these swine learned the White Cossack detachments were too far away from Tsaritsyn to take advantage of the fratricidal battle which was starting, they lost their nerve and had to mask their own true feelings.

We Ukrainian revolutionaries were seized with horror. After retreating from Ukraine we hoped in Russia to encounter our free and independent fellow toilers who were embarked on a project of revolutionary construction. Instead we encountered political adventurers who approached us under the flag of socialism and promised to help us rid ourselves of centuries-old slavery. Everywhere we encountered a lie, and the orders and bullying of the leaders who supported this lie.

The armed attack against Petrenko’s detachment especially emphasized the triumph of a lie over the truth, the truth on the basis of which the toilers from the first days of the Revolution had tried to lay the foundation of their new free society. With this goal they had allocated their own forces – some to build this society and some to defend it. I wanted to throw myself in front of the Red Army columns advancing against Petrenko’s detachment and scream: “Where are you going? They are leading you to kill your own – those who fought honourably at the front of the Revolution and were forced to retreat through no fault of their own and now have no other thought but to strike another blow against the Counterrevolution from another direction, from another sector…” I also wanted to stop these columns because they outnumbered Petrenko’s detachment by a factor of six or seven to one and were better armed. However the fact these units had already been psyched up and were on the move meant that no one and nothing could stop them aat that point. This restrained me from interfering and I hung my head with shame and found myself in the ranks of neutral observers of this black deed of the government – a new government which billed itself as “socialist”…

The Tsaritsyn Red Army troops had already passed the North Caucasus railway station, and were stretched out in the direction of the Olshansk khutor, where the echelon of Petrenko’s detachment had halted. It seemed they would overwhelm him. But … forged in long battles with the forces of the Central Rada and the German-Austro-Hungarian armies, the workers and peasants of Petrenko’s detachment believed in their own righteousness, and this belief inspired in them the spirit of revolutionary fortitude. No one had compelled them to hold weapons in their hand, they had all volunteered to fight for the genuine liberation of the toilers.

“With this healthy attitude,” soldiers from Petrenko’s detachment told me later, “we went to the Front against the Counterrevolution of the Ukrainian Rada and its allies – the Germans, Magyars, and Austrians. With this same attitude we decided to meet those people who had sold out to the government and were coming to kill us.”

I watched the start of the battle. I saw how both sides fought courageously. I also observed that Petrenko’s detachment enjoyed the support of the whole population of Olshansk khutor and the khutors adjacent to it. They brought water, bread, and salt to Petrenko’s detachment. They collected rifles and ammunition for it, and provided timely information about the movement of the government troops.
I saw, finally, how Petrenko’s detachment, outnumbered by a factor of six or seven to one by their would-be killers, put the latter to flight, forcing them to abandon not only damaged armoured cars, but intact ones which were filled with dead and wounded soldiers.

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