Wednesday 27 September 2017

The woman guerrilla commander who liberated Ukraine

Ukrainian peasant revolutionary anarchist Nestor Makhno quite rightly occupies a special place in the hearts of the oppressed, as his Revolutionary Insurgent Army of the Ukraine, which peaked at 110,000 fighters in September 1919, fought and defeated German and Austro-Hungarian imperialist occupying forces, Ukrainian nationalists, White reactionaries, and anti-Semitic pogromists - before being betrayed by the Bolsheviks whose revolution his forces had quite literally saved from extinction. But it was a woman guerrilla leader, Maria (Maroussia) Nikiforova, who paved the way for the Ukrainian Revolution of 1918-1921, a social revolution that, despite being beset on all sides by enemies, is one of the most powerful expressions of the anarchist idea in practice.over an area encompassing some 7-million people.

In January 1918, Nikivorova and her anarchist Black Guard formed a “Free Combat Druzhina,” the latter word approximating Fellowship, but referring to a band of warrior equals. It was a considerable force, consisting of an armoured train with two artillery pieces, its own cavalry and infantry detachments, five armoured cars, and fast horse-towed machine-gun carts called tatchankas. The Free Combat Druzhina installed revolutionary soviets consisting of anarchists, Bolsheviks and Left Social Revolutionaries in the cities of Kharkiv, Aleksandrovsk and Yekaterinoslav, laying the groundwork not only for the Revolution in those cities, but also for the Makhnovist army which would soon arise. These were not slender victories for Aleksandrovsk alone had a 1917 population of 52,000 and possessed huge industrial works, while Yekaterinoslav and Kharkiv were larger still.

The worker-run Railway Committees which ran the trains were mostly sympathetic to the anarchist cause and both Nikiforova and Makhno would make use of the railways to counter troop deployments by the reactionaries. The railways were also important transmitters of anarchist ideas and practices via the revolutionaries that rode the rails - and suggests deeper research needs to be undertaken into Makhnovist links with the IWW-styled coal miners in the Donbass and with a smaller but almost identical movement in Siberia, far on down the Trans-Siberian line. At the end of 1918, the Bolsheviks traitorously arrested Nikiforova, disarmed her Druzhina  and attempted to have her shot, but she was exonerated in a revolutionary tribunal and was restored to her command. She was shot on 16 September 1919 by Whites after being captured in Sevastopol on a clandestine sabotage mission. It is only since Malcolm Archibald's groundbreaking 2007 biography Atamansha that Nikiforova has started to regain her proper place in revolutionary historiography. 

The armoured train Zamurets, captured by the revolutionaries and renamed Orlik, is the type of train that gave the Free Combat Druzhina its mobility and striking force.