Two Ukrainian Anarchists:
Mykhailo Drahomanov and Nestor Makhno

Andrew Chrucky

April, 2011

Suspend your "ordinary" understanding of anarchism as some movement striving for chaos, and take stock of a very sophisticated political stance which goes under the technical name of Anarchism." Anarchism is not against government, it is against Centralized Government; it is not against democracy, it is against Mass Democracy which supports a top-down governing structure. Anarchism is for small-scale democracy, electing representatives from the bottom-up. Anarchism is for small-scale communities organizing into larger cooperatives through federations, i.e., through expanding agreements.

The present political, and hence economic situation, in Ukraine is the result of the 1996 Constitution, which in many respects mimicks the U.S. Constitution with all its inadequacies. Like the U.S. Constitution, it has constructed a Centralized Government elected through Mass Democracy. A better model would have been the Swiss Constitution.

What is wrong with Mass Democracy?

Mass democracy occurs when huge masses of people elect a politician. The higher the office, the bigger the masses who do the electing. What is wrong with that? First, the masses are composed of ignorant and uninterested people who have to make a choice between a group of strangers. Second, these candidates are self-promoting individuals who are rich or have the support of the rich. Why do you have to be rich or have the support of the rich to run for office? Because the way to win an election is to persuade the masses to vote for you. And how is this done? Through the quantity and quality of advertisements. And it helps if you have on your team experts in crowd persuasion. To do this, it takes money -- lots of money. It takes money to buy billboards; it takes money to run campaign advertising on TV and radio. It takes money to organize some event for the masses. The more money, the better the advertisement, and the better chances of winning the elections.

You would think that some civic-minded intellectual would offer himself as a candidate. But such individuals are rare. Why? Because they are not stupid. They know they will not win against a candidate with money, and those with money will not support such a civic-minded candidate. The result is that political candidates are pretty much the same. And voting is pretty much an exercise in futility! It is a choice between Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum: between a greedy jerk and a greedy baffoon.

Just as in the U.S., so in Ukraine you have a choice between which oligarchs to elect, and the result will be a so-called democratically elected Oligarchy. Once you elect the President, he will nominate candidates for ministry and justice posts, which the Rada will confirm; just as it is done in the U.S., the President nominates the Secretaries and the Chief Justices, and the Senate confirms them. But in Ukraine, it is worse. In the U.S. governors of states are elected by the residents of the states; in Ukraine, the governors of oblasts are appointed by the President. What power! All these ministers and governors doing the will of the President! And the President doing the will of the Corporations and Oligarchs. So, ultimately such a country is run by business interests, and such a government is rightly called Fascism. If you look at World War II, it was a defeat of Germany, Italy, and Japan, but a triumph -- ironically -- of Fascism!

The people's enemy is always a Centralized Government -- either as a Monarchy, a Dictatorship, or as a Republic. Actually, a Monarchy and Dictatorship could be a Benevolent Monarchy and a Benevolent Dictatorship based on the whim of the ruler; but a benevolent Republic -- never heard of such a thing!

Two Ukrainian anarchists saw through the evil of centralized government and took formidable stands against it. And both were brushed off by Ukrainians into the dustbin of Ukrainian history. Mykhailo Drahomanov was an ardent Ukrainian patriot who devoted his life to studying Ukrainian culture and proposing for Ukrainians how to attain their ethnic and cultural autonomy without encroaching or subjugating minorities in the mileau of a pan-Slavic federation. This was to be done through the autonomy of small groups of people organized into a federation with others small groups. While he flourished, 80% of the population lived in villages, and the unit of an autonomous group was to be the village. The village was to elect a council (a "rada" in Ukrainian; a "soviet" in Russian). Such councils would have representatives or deputies which would organize with other representatives of councils into a higher level council, and so forth, until you have a Supreme Council. This is a very limited centralised body, elected not by Mass Democracy, but by a bottom-up structure of several layers of small-sized democratic elections.

His vision was misunderstood, and never pursued by leading Ukrainian politicians. This misunderstanding was continued by Ivan L. Rudnytsky (the author who made me conscious of Drahomanov as an anarchist). Rudnytsky's shortcoming is to conflate the idea of federalism between nations and within a nation. Rudnytsky writes that from a pragmatic point of view, Drahomanov did not envision the possibility of an Independent "Integral" Ukrainian Nation, and, consequently, he did not strive for such a thing. Rudnytsky is, I think, correct in this view. Drahomanov had sympathy with the thoughts of the Brotherhood of Cyril and Methodius (Shevchenko, Kostomarov, Kulish) and with the aspirations of Antonovych and Hrushevsky, who were all federalists in the sense of trying to create autonomous zones within either a Polish or a Russian State. By contrast, the dominant political effort of many Ukrainian leaders was for a Centralized "Integral" Government over an Independent and Autonomous State. It was missed by everyone that given Ukraine as an independent, autonomous Nation or State, Drahomanov was against such a state with a Centralized "Integral" Government. He strove for a decentralized government. He was familiar with the anarchism of Proudhon and Bakunin, and was in agreement with them that people should organize themselves from the bottom-up through a hierarchical structure of radas, beginning with organic small units such as a village.

Drahomanov died in 1895, and his anarchism found no influential disciples. But anarchism is a very primitive and basic idea, and it materialized in 1905 with the creation of soviets in St. Petersbug. When the Russian Revolution occurred a system of soviet organization already existed forming as it were a shadow government next to the Provisional Government which took power in Feb. 1917. In Oct. 1917, Lenin, with the complicity of Trotsky (a Menshivik) who at that time was the president of the Supreme Soviet (and who became a Bolshevik), made a coup and transferred power from the Provisional- Government to the Bolshevik controlled Soviet Government. So far so good. Everywhere there was clamor for a Constitutional Assembly which was convened, but realizing that the Bolsheviks were in minority, it was dissolved, and a dictatorship of the Bolsheviks led by Lenin ensued. The bottom-up soviets were turned upside-down and became a centralized structure. Low level elections were stocked with Communist Party candidates.

With the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks, civil war followed, lasting from 1917 till 1921. Though it is unknown or omitted from histories of the Civil War (due primarily to Bolshevik propaganda), there was a sizeable anarchist interest in Ukraine, centered in Kharkiv. This is voluminously documented in Voline's "The Uknown Revolution" and in Arshinov's "The Makhnovist Movement," and since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, all sorts of memoirs, documents, books, and a film relating to anarchism and Nestor Makhno have surfaced.

Although Nestor Makno was already involved in anarchist activities beginning in 1906. In 1910 he was arrested and convicted, and sent to the Butyrskaya prison in Moscow, where he met Arshinov and crystallized his understanding of anarchism. On release in 1917, he eventually returned to Hulai-Pole, his home town, and quickly got involved in putting anarchistic ideas into practice by expropriating large landholdings and redistributing them to the peasants who formed themselves into democratic village communities. At the same time he resisted any take-over by armies fighting for centralized governments. Thus, at first he fought against the German occupiers. He fought against the Whites, who were either Monarchists or Republicans -- twice allying himself temporarily with the Bolsheviks. He fought against the Bolsheviks, allying himself once with the armies of the Ukrainian Central Rada; but he also fought against the armies of the Ukrainian Central Rada. In other words, he fought against all forces which tried to take away the autonomy of the village and city councils: his motto was "soviets without the communists."

Nestor Makhno, for three years -- between 1918 and 1921 -- put into practice what Drahomanov advocated in his political writings. In a sense, Drahomanov and Makhno were spiritual or philosophical brothers. Both were influenced by the theories of Proudhon, Bakunin, and, in addition, Makhno was also influenced by the teachings of Kropotkin, whom he met, and who greatly impressed him.

It is somewhat troublesome that Drahomanov and Makhno are little know in Ukraine for their political views. Drahomanov is known as the uncle of Lesya Ukrainka; while Makhno is known as a bandit.

It is clear today that Ukraine's centralized government is working for oligarchs and not for the ordinary people, and that the problem cannot be solved by electing a Yushchenko or a Tymoshenko -- both of them are oligarchs. The problem can only be solved by getting rid of a centralized government altogether, by rejection of the Constitution, and by returning the power and autonomy to local units of the community. Ukraine has to return to its deep rooted anarchism as expressed in the lives of the Zaporozhian Sitch, as expressed in the political writings of Drahomanov, and as expressed in the deeds and the political writings of Nestor Makhno.

What is to be done?

During the Russian Revolution, there existed a formal Provisional Government and an informal Soviet Organization. When the time was ripe, this Soviet Organization was sufficiently organized to step-in and take-over the functions of government. In 1881, Drahomanov foresaw such a thing, and urged people to organize on an informal manner in various ways. Eventually such organized people would be in a position to influence elections and even take over the government. Here are Drahomanov's thoughts:

"It will be a long time before the Parliament and the Diet, as they are now constituted, can do any good for the working people in Galicia, particularly for the Ukrainians. . . . The Ruthenian papers admit that the peasants, out of fear of the lords and the officials, or bribed by money and gin, sell their votes. . . . Even if we should manage to elect a dozen deputies to the Diet, and four or five to Parliament, would these deputies be able to be useful to their people, assuming that they understood the welfare of the people. . . ? You may ask what is to be done. Should we rebel, although we have neither the weapons nor the strength to do so, or should we fold our hands and look passively on while our enemies rule our land and our people? Those who place their hopes in the Parliament and the Diet will have to learn that it is useless to want to build a house from the roof to the foundation. A unified, organized people is necessary for any political action -- for revolution, for peaceful progress, and of course for winning elections. Men can best be organized for things that are near to them and that they can understand easily. Those who believe that education is most important, and who feel best suited to work in the field of education, should found educational groups and reading halls. Mutual aid societies, credit unions, etc. should be founded by men with concerns for them. No one should think that he will be able to reform the world that way, but he will be able to make a real, if modest, contribution to the welfare of his people, and, most important, he will bring them together. Similarly, political groups should be organized, and public meetings called, in which all political matters can be discussed. The whole land must be covered by a network of various associations and councils, which the people will be able to develop in their own manner. This network will not be superimposed over the people, like the present Parliament and Diet; it will not promise a blessing from above; it will be the organized people. It will be, so to speak, a sort of popular parliament, very different from the official parliament which is so constructed that it conceals the true desires of the people. The official parliaments and diets will have to respect the force of such "popular parliaments." Then, if the moment comes when it is possible and desirable to represent the interests of the people in the official parliamentary institutions, the organized people will be in a position to ensure the election of men it can trust."

Drahomanov, "The Moral of the Story," Hromada, No. 2 (Geneva, 1881), pp. 220-222.