Our group of convicts was standing near the jail gates for about an hour. Suddenly an iron bar banged, the gates opened, and we were led into an insatiable throat of the stone monster. More than one generation of revolutionaries were led through these gates. My wife (she is older than I) told me later, that she had been imprisoned there in 1912 for taking part in a demonstration on the occasion of the execution on the Lena river.
Our group was separated into smaller units, one of them was taken away immediately. Women were left on the first floor, and a small group, including me, was led upstairs to the second floor, where we were dressed in striped clothes, each of us was given a pair of underwear and a round cap resembling those that academicians were wearing. We were distributed to cells. I was pushed into a stone cell with a narrow bar of window, overlooking deserted Pollevaya street. Soon I learned that our cell was ment to prisoners sentenced to death, which fact left little hope. Our cell contained 18 prisoners, and the next one contained more than hundred.
The chief of the jail was some Belokoz, he remained here from prerevolutionary time; my wife, who had been in the jail before the revolution, still remembers him.
In two cells rather mixed groups of prisoners were collected: social revolutionaries (S.R.’s), anarchists, bolsheviks, members of Boond, zionists, makhnoists, a counterfeiter and just people that took part in actions against government. The largest group were peasants from Novomoskovsk, who were charged of participation in the rebel against Denikin. The peasants in our cell were considered instigators, the rest were scattered about the jail. The makhnoists in our cell were born in Goulyay-Polle or in the surroundings of this center of Makhno movement. All of them were men of Makhno units. One of the prisoners, a man of delicate appearance with a very intelligent face, with a high forehead and a small beard was sitting in a corner and did not take part in conversations. Brodsky, the prisoner, arrested for fabrication of false money, especially, marks, told me that the silent man was a brother of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the head of V.Tch.C. There was also a left social revolutionary that totally denied the participation of “S.R.’s” in the attempt on Lenin’s life, as well as in the murder of Volodarsky and Uritsky. Contrary to general opinion he claimed that S.R.’s were principally against individual terror. At the same time he condemned Maria Spiridonova, the leader of left S.R.’s, accusing her in political carreerism because of her taking part in bolsheviks’ government.
One of the makhnoists in our cell, Moskalenko, a clever and educated man, a convinced anarchist, who had been imprisoned for many years in tzarist jales, disproved in a peculiar way Marx’s theory of economical factor in historical process. He said: “According to Marx, the working masses only want to eat, consequently, the history is advanced only by hungry people. And only landlords and capitalists are to blame for their starving conditions. Really, - he continued, - the working people suffer first of all from the state: bureaucracy, army and police.” On his opinion, the politics is the decisive force of social development, and in politics it is first of all necessary to struggle with those, who hold tight to their personal interests. Moskalenko thought that Lenin in his statements pursued only gaining his personal power, thinking little of freedom for people. In those faraway times I did not agree with such opinions, though already in 1921 when Lenin became the head of the government and the defeat of the workers’ oppositions, expressing the interests of the advanced workers, was going on, I started to meditate on the position that anarchist Moskalenko had expressed in jale.
One of the young makhnoists Grigory Karetnikov, a relative of well-known at that time ataman Karetnikov, a nearest associate of Nestor Makhno, described in detail the life of N. Machno. I reproduce the story that he told me in jail cell, precisely enough.
Ataman Nestor Ivanovitch Makhno was born in a poor peasant family in Goulyay Polle, Alexandrovsk region, near Yekaterinoslav. In his early years he became a orphan, was a beggar, often slept in hay stacks and stables. In summer he worked as a farm hand, in autumn and winter helped a blacksmith for food and shelter.
He learned to read and write on his own, liked to read adventure novels very much. In 1905 he joined a terrorist group. They set on fire landlords estates and even killed provocateur agents and especially cruel policemen. Makhno was sentenced to penal servitude. There he became intimate with anarchists, especially with Volin, a Jew.
The February revolution set Makhno free and he returned to his homeland. Makhno was elected to worker-peasasnt council in Goulyay-Polle, he made violent massacre of land lords, and turned over their land to poor peasants. He was a great authority in his homeland and in all the Ukraine. When Yekaterinoslav region was occupied with Germans, Makhno created partisan groups of the most brave fellows and stroke painful blows on the Germans. German Headquarters estimated the ataman’s head at million roubles, but nobody betrayed him. Makhno had to escape to Moscow, where he renewed his connections with anarchists. He returned again to his homeland with an anarchist group and created a large detachment of peasants, faught with German invadors and hetman Skoropadsky troops. Exactly then Makhno developed a peculiar tactics of fight and used famous machine-gun carts. Simulating peasant weddings and burials, Makhno penetrated on machine-gun carts into positions of German forces and hetman Skoropadsky units, swiftly moved in the rear of Denikin army, seizing arms and ammunition. In all the towns, which even for a short time surrendered to Makhno units, all the prisoners were realesed from jails, irrespective of their political views. Karetnikov continued his story. “Our countryman managed to form several large detachments, which were headed by atamans Schous, my relative Karetnikov, Marchenko, Vasilevsky, Kourilenko and others.” My neighbour spoke with delight of organization talent of his ataman, compared him with haydamaks’ (Ukrainian Cossacks) leaders Gonta and Karmelouk. Karetnikov thought that only Makhno sincerely wanted to give the land to the peasants. He spoke also of gathering of Makhno units and representatives of 72 small Ukrainian regions. There several important decisions were accepted, including organization of “communes without authority”. All of Makhno’s groups were formally united into a separate brigade under the leadership of Makhno, subordinate to Soviet Zadneprovsky battalion under the command of famous Dybenko, one of the leaders of October revolution. Later I got to know that responsible messengers from Moscow repeatedly visited Makhno, including Kalinin, Manuilsky, Karl Radeck. They tried to arrange somehow cooperation of Makhno’s groups with Red Army, but without success. I listened to Karetnikov with great interest, I was fascinated with the biography of modern Stepan Razin. Seeing my interest to the personality of Makhno, Karetnikov gave many interesting facts, testifying that Nestor Makhno undoubtedly was a very outstanding person of our unfortunate epoch.
The military tactics of Makhno could arise exactly in the period of civil war. Native wit of the peasant leader perplexed experienced military men. The units of Makhno with their machine-gun carts smashed regiments and divisions under the command of experienced military specialists.
At the end of August the Makhnoists from our cell were called to meet their relatives, who brought them luxurious parcels from the country. They came back with sacks full of Ukrainian lurd, fried geese, cucumbers and tomatos, melons, apples and Ukrainian bread. The lads laid out all of the food on beautifully embroidered towels and invited all the cellmates to share a meal with them. One of them found a note, skilfully shoved under the skin of fried goose. It told that soon the ataman would enter the town with his men and release all of the prisoners from jail.
One night, when all of us were lying on the floor, we heard remote peals. We thought that thunderstorm was beginning. Brodsky told me that somebody stroke a hollow iron barrel in the jail yard. Makhnoists slept soundly. A lamp glimmerd above the cell door, I heard snorring of the guardian in the corridor. I crawled noiselessly to the narow bar of the window, overlooking Polevaya Street. I peered into the darkness, suddenly a lightning flashed, followed by a crash. No doubt, it was a cannon fire. Hearing steps in the corridor, I quickly lay on the floor and did not move. Soon I heard machine-gun bursts. Morning came. The next cell, the largest in the jail, was unusually quiet. Suddenly the keys jingled, the heavy door of our cell opened. A group of guardians entered, in front of them in a black great coat was the chief of the jail Belokoz, known for his ferocity. He ordered everybody to lie down and announced. “For the least violation of jail regime, for loud talks we will shoot up”. We lay quietly on the stone floor, I heard the thump of my heart. We were not led out to wash, only allowed to carry out close-stool. When Brodsky and I were carrying close-stool, we were escorted with increased convoy. At night two anarchists were taken away from our cell, one of them shouted, “Good bye, brothers, they are leading us to execution.”
Soon we heard shots from the prison yard. At night nobody slept, each one said last farewell to his life in his thoughts.
Suddenly something banged deafeningly in the jail yard, we could hear hum of a great mass of people and sounds: “Hurrah! Brothers, come out to freedom! The town is in the hands of ataman Makhno!”
In the corridor there was hum and song, it was anarchist hymn: “Down with shameful and slavish love, we will drown the people’s grief in blood…” In some cell the prisoners began to sing Marcelleze. We began to beat on the cell door, it seemed to us that we could be forgotten. But already near our cell somebody shouted: “Move away from the door!” After several violent strokes with a hammer from the corridor the door came off its hinges. We rushed into the corridor with a cry, ran off downstairs, mingled with the crowd of released prisoners from other cells, and continuing to shout we ran out into the jail yard. It was pouring. But we, coming out of Yekaterinoslav Bastilia, suffered little from it. The rain seemed to us a delight, we felt refreshed after our cells, soaked with rotten and stinking air of close-stool and the breath of the doomed ones. For the first time in my life I felt so deeply the spirit of freedom.
When the croud of people in striped clothes came out of the prison gates to the square, all of them saw an extraordinary picture. In the huge space between two jales hundreds of machine-gun carts stood with handsome and well-fed horses, harnessed to them. There were machine-guns on all the carts, makhnoists were seated near them, dressed in leather jackets and raincoats above them. The makhnoists met each group of prisoners that was running out of the prison gates with shouts: “Long live freedom, long live anarchy, down with casemates!” They gave a loaf of bread and a sausage to each one of the released prisoners. We heard that Belokoz, the chief of the jail, who did not manage to make off, was thrown down from the roof.