Birthday: November 7, 1888
Died At Age: 45
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Also Known As: Nestor Ivanovych Makhno, Bat'ko Makhno
Born Country: Ukraine
Born in: Hulyaipole, Ukraine
Famous as: Revolutionary
Height: 5'3" (160 cm), 5'3" Males
Spouse/Ex-: Agafya Kuzmenko (m. 1919)
father: Ivan Rodionovich Makhno
mother: Evdokia Matveevna Makhno
siblings: Emelian Makhno, Grigory Makhno, Polycarp Makhno, Sava Makhno
children: Yelena Makhno
Died on: July 25, 1934
place of death: Paris, France
Cause of Death: Tuberculosis
Founder/Co-Founder: Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine
Who was Nestor Makhno?
Nestor Makhno was a Ukrainian anarchist revolutionary who led an independent army in Ukraine during the Russian Revolution. Born into a poor family in Ukraine (part of the erstwhile Russian Empire), he had worked as a shepherd in his childhood to make ends meet. After working at a few other places during his later teenage years, he became interested in national politics. His entry into revolutionary politics was mostly caused by the injustice that he had faced at work. In 1906, he joined an anarchist organization in Huliaipole. He was arrested many times before he was finally given a death sentence in 1910, but he was eventually released from prison after the February Revolution of 1917. The Russian Civil War began in the same year, and Nestor took command of the ‘Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine.’ The peasant revolution, which had started in Huliaipole, eventually spread to the entire Southern Ukraine. He adopted the political ideology known as anarcho-communism and tried to recruit more people for the cause. He took up arms against the ‘White Army,’ the ‘Red Army,’ the Hetmanate State, and the forces of the Ukrainian National Republic. After facing strong resistance from the ‘Red Army,’ Nestor fled to Paris, France, with his family. In 1934, he died from tuberculosis in Paris.
Childhood & Early Life
Nestor Ivanovych Makhno was born on October 26, 1888, in Huliaipole, Russian Empire. Huliaipole is presently a city in Ukraine. Born into a poor peasant family, Nestor lost his father when he was 10 months old. His was a Christian family, and he had four elder siblings. He was baptized on October 27, 1888. However, in order to avoid conscription, his parents marked his birth year as 1889 in all official documents.
He was born into a family that struggled financially. Moreover, his father’s death pushed the family into extreme poverty. His elder siblings worked to make ends meet. By the age of 7, Nestor had also started working as a shepherd.
Around that time, he studied in a local primary school in the winters and worked as a shepherd for the local landlords during the summers. At the age of 12, he finally decided to leave school and work full-time in the estates of wealthy landlords.
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Foray into Politics
Around the age of 17, he began working as an apprentice painter in the city of Huliaipole and then began working in a local iron foundry. He was later promoted to the position of a foundry-man in the same organization. While he worked there, he understood how the upper classes exploited the working class. This led him to develop a keen interest in politics.
He also experienced the terrorism committed by the Tsarist regime during the 1905 revolution. Nestor began idolizing many anarchist revolutionaries, and in 1906, he himself joined an anarchist organization.
However, the organization lacked funds, and they believed in gathering money by hook or by crook. In 1906, Nestor was arrested for robbery. He was tried in court and acquitted. He was arrested yet again in 1907, but the charges on him were dropped yet again.
In another arrest, in 1908, he was found guilty of many charges. In 1910, he was sentenced to death. However, the death sentence was later turned into life imprisonment and he was kept in the ‘Butyrskaya Prison’ in Moscow. There, he came in touch with the intellectual Piotr Arshinov. Both of them got along well, and this became a formative time in the life of Nestor. He was released from prison in 1917, after the February Revolution began.
As a Political Leader
Nestor began working as soon as he was freed from prison. He organized a peasants’ union and became a “Robin Hood” of sorts, as he snatched away wealth from the rich and gave it to the poor. He took large private estates from rich landowners and distributed them among poor peasants. To be successful in his mission, he gathered a large group of armed men. This helped him become a local leader after the Russian Revolution began.
In March 1918, the ‘Treaty of Brest-Litovsk’ was signed by the new Bolshevik government. This led the German army to march into Ukraine. Although Nestor had planned a counter-attack, he realized that his men were too weak to offer a strong resistance. He thus went into hiding.
He reached Russia and met Peter Kropotkin, who had been his hero. He also met Lenin, who told Nestor about the difference between anarcho-communists and communists. Nestor returned to Ukraine in July 1918. Back then, the Austrian troops were still occupying Ukraine and also had a puppet leader ruling on their behalf.
Nestor gathered his men and started raiding the regime. He always had a black flag and a group of armed men with him. The gang indulged in guerrilla warfare. He was hailed as a strong battle strategist and an effective orator. In many instances, he had managed to gather more than 10 thousand men to fight for him.
Nestor wanted to establish a libertarian society in the southern part of the Russian Empire, which would serve as a model for the whole of Russia. He set up his first commune in Pokrovskoye, which was named in honor of Rosa Luxemburg.
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He was given the title of “Little Father” after he led his troops to defeat an Austrian army in a conflict at the Dibrivki village. Following the culmination of the First World War, all the foreign troops left Ukraine, and the puppet government was abolished by Nestor with the help of the ‘Red Army.’
The Bolsheviks and the ‘White Army’ led by General Anton Denikin had armed conflicts with Nestor. Nestor successfully resisted them for a while. However, eventually, the agricultural communes set up by Nestor were dissolved by the ‘White Army.’ Later, in September 1919, Nestor launched a counter-attack, and Denikin and his ‘White Army’ were defeated.
In November 1920, the ‘White Army’ was defeated yet again, but Nestor’s commanders, who had secured the win, were captured and executed by the ‘Red Army.’
By then, the Bolsheviks had turned against Nestor and his forces, and an attack was orchestrated on the latter at their headquarters in Huliaipole. Many of Nestor’s key men were captured and killed, but Nestor managed to escape.
For an entire year, he went into hiding in Ukraine. However, he was eventually arrested. Nevertheless, he escaped and fled to Poland, where he was caught yet again. However, he became acquainted with Alexander Berkman and moved into exile in Paris.
While in Paris, Nestor continued to put his ideas out. He also made it clear that he hated big cities and wanted to return to his village. He said that his struggle for liberty and social justice would continue. However, he spent the last few years of his life in poverty and misery.
Personal Life & Death
Nestor Makhno married a schoolteacher named Agafya in 1919. She later became his aide. They had a daughter, Yelena.
Two of Nestor’s older brothers supported him fully and were later captured and killed by the German troops.
Nestor is remembered as a true anarchist who had an uncompromising nature. He was also a heavy drinker.
Nestor passed away on July 25, 1934, in Paris, after suffering from tuberculosis for a few months.