European studies blog

07 July 2014

Back in tachanka days…

80 years ago, on 6 July 1934, one of the most controversial historical figures of the 20th century, Nestor Makhno, died from tuberculosis in Paris. The life and works of the Ukrainian anarchist and commander of an independent anarchist army in Ukraine still attract a lot of attention. The recent tragic events in eastern Ukraine brought to light such unaccountably  forgotten terms as “Makhnovism”  and “Anarchist communism”.

NESTORMAKHNOPORTRAIT1921__~1Portrait of Nestor Makhno in 1921 (from Wikimedia Commons)

The British Library holds a few academic monographs about Nestor Makno, amongst them  a study by Michael Palij, The Anarchism of Nestor Makhno, 1918-1921 (Seattle-London, 1976; British Library  X.800/26698), a monograph  by Michael Malet from the London School of Economics and Political Sciences, Nestor Makhno in the Russian Civil War (London, 1982; X.809/52694), works by French historian Alexandre Skirda as Nestor Makhno – Le Cosaque de l’Anarchie (Paris, 1982; X.809/60837) and its English-language translations, as well as books by the first historian of Makhnovist movement, a friend of Makhno, Peter Arshinov.  

Works by Nestor Makhno himself – his three-volume Russian-language memoirs Russkaia revoliutsiia na Ukraine (‘Russian Revolution in Ukraine’, Paris, 1929-1936; are part of our collections, as well as English translations of his essays The Struggle against the State and Other Essays (Edinburgh, 1996; YC.1997.2506) and smaller publications (the bibliography of English-language translations of Makhno’s works  is available on the website of the Kate Sharpley library. Four surviving Russian-language poems by Makhno are published in Azbuka anarkhista (Moscow, 2005; YF.2006.a.8479)

During perestroika and after the collapse of the USSR in 1991 new works about Nestor Makhno appeared in Ukraine and the Russian Federation, based on materials from Soviet special archives. The small booklet 40 dnei v Guliai-Pole (‘40 days in Huliaipole’ ) – memoirs by Makhno’s wife Galina Kuzmenko (written in Ukrainian and translated into Russian) appeared in Vladimir in 1990 (YA.1995.a.738). In 1999 the grandson of  Nestor Makhno’s brother Karp, Viktor Yalanskyi, and Ukrainian journalist Larisa Veryovka prepared a book of previously unknown family photos and memoirs about the Makhno family, Nestor i Halyna. Rozpovidaiut’ fotokartky (‘Nestor and Galina. The photographs tell the story’ – Kyiv-Huliaipole, 1999; YA.1995.a.738).

DSCN3973Recent acquisitions (photo by Rimma Lough)

The legacy of Nestor Makhno lives on in Ukraine. The Museum in his capital Huliaipole tells the story of the fierce fighting in eastern Ukraine in 1917-1921. The legendary tachanka  (invention of Makhno) is displayed in front of the  museum.

 800px-Tachanka_in_Huliaipole_MuseumTachanka from the museum in Huliaipole  (Picture by Yakudza, from Wikimedia Commons).

In 2006 a 12-part TV serial, Deviat’ zhiznei Nestora Makhno (‘Nine lives of Nestor Makhno’), with Russian and Ukrainian actors, was released.  Songs about Makhno or  ‘father Makno’ (as he was called) are  performed by modern singers. Some of them are available on Youtube as well as rare footage of Nestor Makhno himself.

The life and ideas of Makhno inspire poets in many cultures. The title of my blog is taken from a poem by the Australian poet John Manifold, Makhno’s Philosophers (the whole text is available here) . The 80th anniversary of Makhno’s death will bring new research about his life and the history of the 20th century revolution in Ukraine, and modern philosophers worldwide will continue “to discuss The State”.

Olga Kerziouk, Curator Ukrainian Studies


I don't think the British LIbrary has copies of the three volumes of Makhno's autobiography in English. The Russian Revolution in Ukraine, Under the Blows of the Counterrevolution and The Ukrainian Revolution are available in English thanks to the efforts of Malcolm Archibald and Black Cat Press in Edmonton. Essential reading!

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