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Letters of Nestor Makhno

Page history last edited by Malcolm Archibald 4 years ago

Letters of Nestor Makhno


Nestor Makhno left no archive (as least none which made its way to a library) but a number of his letters have survived, scattered in various places. This is an attempt to make an inventory of these letters, most of which remain unpublished.


NM’s letter to Peter Kropotkin, dated May 30 1919, was found in Kropotkin’s papers in Moscow. It has been published many times. An English translation can be found here: Nestor Makhno, Under the Blows of the Counterrevolution (Edmonton, 2009), pp. 178-179.


Peter Arshinov reproduced a long letter by NM in his History of the Makhnovist Movement. The original of this letter has disappeared to the best of my knowledge.


The IISH has nine letters by NM written in 1924–1925. These letters are in  the Alexander Berkman archive. Some of them have been cited by Dittmar Dahlmann in Land und Freiheit (Stuttgart, 1986). An article by Dmitry Rublev in the Russian journal "Historical Expertise" (No. 4, 2016, p. 51-66), entitled "I"m waiting for a visa, any kind of visa!", transcribes and annotates these letters, along with an introduction. The letters were addressed to Vsevolod Voline, Alexander Berkman, and a certain "Comrade Theodore". They include information about the terrible conditions for Russian and Jewish immigrants in the internment camps of Danzig, and the various tribulations endured by NM.


NM wrote a letter or postcard dated May 26 1926 from Puy de Dôme to Senya Fleshin. This item is in the Fleshin archive at the IISH and has been cited by Dahlmann. Makhno was in a sanatorium at the time being treated for tuberculosis.


L’ Institute français d'Histoire sociale in Paris has three letters by NM to Jean Grave written in 1927. These letters were used by Alexandre Skirda in preparing his biography of NM.


The Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan has one letter by NM to Mark Mrachny in 1925 (a nasty one, NM was not on good terms with Mrachny).


Several letters by NM from 1923–1924 have been published (in Polish translation) in Michał Przyborowski and Dariusz WierzchośMachno w Polsce (Poznań, 2012). The most interesting of these letters are three to Peter Arshinov and one to Ivan Khmara, all written in early 1924 when NM was living in ToruńPrzyborowski and Wierzchoś also published two letters received by NM in Toruń: one each from Arshinov and Khmara written in January 1924. The Toruń letters were retrieved from a police archive – Makhno’s mail was being copied. The authors identify Ivan Khmara incorrectly as a Makhnovist ataman; he actually fought in the civil war as a Ukrainian nationalist and Makhno met him in a Polish concentration camp (thanks to Yu. Kravetz for this information).


A number of letters by NM to comrades are found in the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF): F. P-9145, op. 1, d. 587-a. Also included are letters NM wrote to various periodicals requesting that his articles be published. This collection originally belonged to the Russkiy Zagranichniy Istoricheskiy Arkhiv [Russian Foreign Historical Archive] in Prague which was carted off to Moscow after WWII. These letters have been consulted by Russian historians.


Michael Palij, in the bibliography to The Anarchism of Nestor Makhno (1976) mentions three letters of NM:

Letter to Fuks. Paris (?), June 15, 1926.

Letter to Fuks and Piza. Vincennes, October 21, 1926.

Letter to [Lev] Chykalenko. [Paris], May 20, 1927.

Palij doesn't indicate where these letters may be found, but he did consult archives in Paris. "Fuks" may be René Fuchs, mentioned by Skirda as serving on an "anarchist honour board" to mediate the acrimonious relations of Makhno and Voline [The Struggle Against the State and Other Essays (1996), p. 113]. "Chykalenko" is Lev Yevhenevich Chikalenko (1888–1965), a well-known Ukrainian emigré intellectual. His connection to Makhno is unknown. Thanks to Yu. Kravetz for help with these identifications.


A spurious letter: a  letter dated April 16 1923 and allegedly written by NM in Paris was published in Aleksei Nikolaev, Zhizn' Nestora Makhno [The Life of Nestor Makhno] (Riga, 1936). This "letter" was cited by both Michael Palij and Sergei Semanov, despite the fact that the subtitle of Nikolaev's book is "A Novel"!


The book For Nestor Makhno's Gold (in Ukrainian) by Oleksandr Skripnik (Kiev, 2011) includes eight letters by N. Makhno gleaned from police archives in Ukraine. These letters were written in 1923–1928, mostly to former activists in the movement. The two earliest letters were written from Poland, the rest from Paris. One letter is written to the sister of Pavel Zaitzev, a Makhnovist who died tragically in January 1922.


NM wrote two letters in the 1920s to his old comrade from pre-revolutionary days Voldemar Antoni, who emigrated to Uruguay and parted with NM for the last time in 1908. These letters have not survived, but Antoni has left a description of their contents. Of particular interest is NM's assertion that he met with Lenin on two occasions, since his memoirs mention only one meeting.





Comments (2)

Mikhail Tsovma said

at 1:51 am on Jan 16, 2015

Makhno's letter to Spanish anarchists Angel Pestaña and Eusebi Carbó dated 29/4/1931 was published in Russian anarchist magazine (in exile) Probuzhdeniye (No.23-27, June-October 1932). Russian text: http://www.nestormakhno.info/russian/ispanskim.htm

Malcolm Archibald said

at 1:07 pm on Jan 16, 2015

Yes, some of Makhno's journal articles took an epistolary form, for example, "An Open Letter to Comrade Maximoff" (1926) and "An Open Letter to the All-Union Communist Party and its Central Committee" (1928). These letters have been reprinted in the original Russian in Aleksandr Skirda, "Na chuzhbinye: zapiski i stat'i 1923–1934" (Paris, 2004).

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