Free Territory

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Free Territory (also known as Makhnovshchina) was a region in the south of Ukraine during the Russian Civil War. It is principally associated with anarchism. Its military was the Black Army, which originally allied with the Bolsheviki. Although both Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky were at first hesitant to disestablish the territory,[1] after several falling outs they came into conflict and towards the end of the civil war the Red Army intervened and discontinued it.[2]


Nestor Makhno established Free Territory with the help of other anarchists. Most of the inhabitants were landless peasants, but some petit-bourgeois peasants (kulaki) existed as well.[3] The petite-bourgeoisie did not like Makhno, but considered him preferable to the Bolsheviki.[4]


In line with social anarchist theory, the Makhnovists also tried to introduce collective forms of farming. These experiments in collective working and living were called ‘free communes.’ Despite the difficult military situation communes were established, principally near Hulyai Pole, in the autumn of 1917. This activity was resumed in February to March of 1918. They re-appeared in early 1919, once the threat of counter-revolution had been (temporarily) defeated.

There were four of these communes within five miles of Hulyai Pole itself and many more further afield. According to Makhno, these agricultural communes ‘were in most cases organised by peasants, though sometimes their composition was a mixture of peasants and work[ers]. Their organisation was based on equality and solidarity of the members. All members of these communes — both men and women — applied themselves willingly to their tasks, whether in the field or the household.’ Unlike many communes, people were given the personal space they desired, so ‘any members of the commune who wanted to cook separately for themselves and their children, or to take food from the communal kitchens and eat it in their own quarters, met with no objection from the other members.’ The management of each commune ‘was conducted by a general meeting of all its members.’ In addition, the communes decided to introducing anarchist schooling based on the ideas of Franciso Ferrer. Makhno himself worked on one for two days a week for a period.

Peter Arshinov nevertheless acknowledged that there were only four communes, ‘and included only a minority of the population—especially those who did not have well-established farmlands.’[5]

Free Territory also validated all currencies, but this policy lead to high inflation.[2]


  2. 2.0 2.1
  4. Palij, Michael 1976, The Anarchism of Nestor Makhno 1918-1921 An Aspect of the Ukrainian Revolution, p. 56.
  5. History of the Makhnovist Movement, 1918–1921, p. 87.