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There young Olesha went to a Classical Gymnazium from which he graduated in In he published his early poems.

The Truce and the Great Retrenchment

In he moved to Kharkov, and his parents emigrated to Poland. In Olesha settled in Moscow. He wrote for 'Gudok' newspaper, where his colleagues were such writers as Mikhail A. Olesha gained recognition among writers as a master of metaphoric writing. He was penned "the king of metaphor" for his talent of hiding a deeper meaning between the innocent lines. Olesha himself admitted the influence of Leo Tolstoy , Herbert G. Wells, and Robert Louis Stevenson on his writing style. In was dedicated to his wife Olga Gustavovna Suok.

One of the characters in the novel, a beautiful lady, was also named Suok. Olesha could not publish his novel for four years until , and then he was criticized for the lack of revolutionary propaganda. However, with the support from the most influential critic Anatoli Lunacharsky , who was also the Comissar of Culture in the Soviet government, Olesha was commissioned to make an adaptation of his novel into a play. Olesha gained a high artistic reputation for his novel 'Zavist' Envy. It was published in , in a Moscow magazine.

Olesha brilliantly criticized the loss of civilized values in the Soviet Union. His satirical metaphor of a sausage, as one of the important values in the Soviet life, became a prophecy in a time of hunger and social degradation under dictatorship of Joseph Stalin. Olesha made a stage adaptation of the novel titled 'A Conspirasy of Feelings', but it was banned. The chief accusation of the Bolsheviks against Marusya was the pillaging of Elizavetgrad both before and after the right-wing uprising there. The other main charge was deserting the Front, although Raskin's troops had left the Front before Marusya's.

The anarchists were indignant at the hypocrisy of the Bolsheviks who used up the strength of the anarchists in the front lines of the Civil War, while stabbing them in the back in the rear areas. A "court of revolutionary honor" was held in late April The judicial bench was composed of two local Bolsheviks, two local Left SRs, and two representatives of the Left Bloc government of Ukraine. The Bolsheviks presented a series of witnesses who accused Marusya of crimes which were punishable by death. But there were also many defence witnesses in the packed courtroom, people who disputed the testimony of the prosecution's witnesses and referred to Marusya's services to the Revolution.

The anarchist Garin noted that Marusya had faith in the justice of the revolutionary court and added, "If I thought she didn't, my detachment would liberate her by force. Marusya and Makhno also present in Taganrog arranged a series of lectures in the local theatre and various workplaces on the topic: "The defence of the Revolution — against the Austro-German army at the front — against the government authorities in the rear". The pair also issued a leaflet on this topic. Marusya and Makhno then split up.

Makhno and other refugees from Gulyai-Pole decided to go home and carry out an underground struggle 19 reputation as a warrior. On April 13 th , units of the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen broke into the city and captured the railway station. In a warehouse nearby the corpse of a young woman, dressed in leather, was found. A rumour immediately spread through the city that the famous Marusya had been killed. Indeed Marusya took part in the battle, but she was very much alive. A day later the Riflemen were driven out of the city and forced to escape down the Dnepr in boats.

On April 18 th the Germans finally entered Aleksandrovsk. The Druzhina was the last detachment to leave the doomed city. Heading east, the Druzhina stopped at the station of Tsarekonstantinovka where Marusya ran into a disconsolate Nestor Makhno. A nationalist military coup in Gulyai-Pole had just resulted in the arrest of the local Revkom and Soviet while Makhno was absent.

Marusya proposed a rescue mission but she knew she couldn't accomplish it alone. First she telegraphed the sailor Polypanov but he refused, as did the sailor Stepanov who was also passing through the station with a train packed with refugees. Finally she lined up a Siberian Red Guard detachment led by Petrenko. Marusya still possessed a couple of armoured cars which she proposed to use as spearheads for the attack Gulyai-Pole was 8 kilometres [about 5 miles] from the nearest train station.

Just then Marusya received word that the Germans had occupied Pologi, on the line she would need to use to get to Gulyai-Pole. She had to abandon her plan and head further east. The Bolsheviks had no hope of hanging on to any part of Ukraine and, so as far as they were concerned, the anarchist troops were no longer necessary. In fact, with their constant agitation against the politics of the party state, they were an ideological liability. The authorities in the Moscow had already taken steps to get rid of their obnoxious allies. On April 12 th the Moscow Federation of Anarchist Groups was suppressed and almost people arrested.

The Bolsheviks propagandized this event as a police action against criminal elements rather than the elimination of political competition. The anarchists in Russia were too feeble to counter this action but in Ukraine it was a different story. Arriving in Taganrog, Marusya found herself accused of leaving the Front against the Germans without permission.

The task of arresting her and disarming the Druzhina fell to the Red Guard unit commanded 18 The first Cossack train which tried to break through was met with heavy fire and started to back up suddenly, colliding with the train behind and causing a wreck with loss of life to both men and horses. Soon a new truce party of Cossacks arrived which capitulated to the Aleksandrovsk Revkom. They gave up their weapons but insisted on keeping their horses and saddles for "cultural" reasons.

The disarming of the Cossacks was spread over many days and the local politicians took the opportunity to try to win them over to the Revolution. At one outdoor meeting thousands of Cossacks were addressed by a series of socialist orators, with little effect. The Cossacks stood around smoking, occasionally laughing at the speakers. Then Marusya stepped to the podium and began to speak.

Now the Cossacks were paying attention. Will you continue to be so in the future, or will you acknowledge your own wickedness and join the ranks of the oppressed? Up to now you have shown no respect for the poor workers. For one of the tsar's roubles or a glass of wine, you have nailed them living to the cross. Soon some of them were weeping like children. A knot of Aleksandrovsk intellectuals was standing in the crowd.

They told each other: "The speeches of the Left Bloc representatives seem so pale in comparison with the speeches of the anarchists and, in particular, with the speech of M. After the Cossacks had been disarmed, Marusya and Makhno returned to their duties on the Aleksandrovsk Revkom. Makhno had been assigned the "dirty" job of heading a tribunal which passed sentence on various political prisoners collected by the new political order. Among the prisoners who came before him was Mikhno, the former Provisional Government commissar who had threatened him repeatedly and jailed Marusya.

Makhno released him, saying he was an honest man who was only following orders. Makhno was not inclined to be magnanimous with another prisoner, the former prosecutor Maksimov. When Makhno was a prisoner in the Aleksandrovsk prison many years earlier, Maksimov had made sure his stay was as unpleasant as possible. Considering the evidence against him, Makhno felt justified in sentencing Maksimov to be shot.

But the other members of the Revkom, including Marusya, interceded on his behalf. Although they agreed he was a counter-revolutionary, their regime was too shaky to be executing someone who was well regarded in the city. Makhno didn't give in easily and it was only after an all-night meeting that li he agreed to remand Maksimov for further review of his case. Makhno was soon fed up with the Aleksandrovsk Revkom among other things, they wouldn't let him blow up the prison and decided to return to Gulyai-Pole with his detachment.

The other members of the Revkom came to the train station to see them off — most went there by automobile, Marusya on horseback. At the station the detachment sang the anarchist battle hymn, then embarked. Marusya was able to hold her Black Guard detachment together and began to act as an independent military commander. It was at this point that Marusya became a player on the national stage rather than just a local figure. The target was a battalion stationed in Orekhov where the anarchists had enjoyed success earlier. The soldiers in the battalion, part of the 48 th Berdyansk Regiment, were about evenly divided between supporters of the Ukrainian Central Rada and supporters of General Kaledin.

Again the operation was a success. The regional Bolshevik commander, Bogdanov, was ecstatic about the seizure of arms, which included some mortars. Apparently he assumed that since Marusya was still the deputy of the Aleksandrovsk Revkom, the weapons would end up in his hands. Instead all of them went to Gulyai-Pole. This incident marked the end of Marusya's loyalty to the Left Bloc authorities. From now on she acted independently. The commander of the Soviet forces in Ukraine was Vladimir Antonov- Ovseyenko, one of the few Bolsheviks who had attended a military academy. Marusya enjoyed considerable influence with him as she had helped to establish Soviet power in three important Ukrainian cities.

He appointed her "commander of a formation of cavalry detachments in steppe Ukraine" and allocated a significant sum of money to her which she used to equip the so-called "Free Combat Druzhina". She was the only woman commander of a large revolutionary force in Ukraine — an atamansha. The Free Combat Druzhina was equipped with two large guns and an armoured flatcar. The wagons were loaded with armoured cars, tachankas, and horses as well as troops which meant that the detachment was by no means restricted to railway lines. Kotovsky had been a real bandit before the Revolution, leading a gang specializing in armed robberies and blackmail.

The Revolution had saved him from execution. But now he insisted the Berezovkans not give Marusya a single kopeck. Given his superior firepower Marusya was forced to back off. The Druzhina now detrained and travelled cross-country as a cavalry unit. The detachment made quite an impression as their horses were arranged according to color: "a row of black, a row of bay, and a row of white — and then again, black, bay, and white. Bringing up the rear were accordionists sitting in tachankas filled with carpets and furs. As usual the Druzhina excited the envy of the Red Guards who referred to it as a "dog's wedding" or even worse names.

A rendezvous for the retreating Red detachments had been established on a huge estate near the village of Preobrazhenka. Summoned to his office, she told him she was willing to take orders from him "until such time as all the detachments have arrived and it's clear who has the most people. She had already carried out an inventory of the dresses, jackets, and skirts hanging in the huge wardrobes.

Uncollected Articles, Letters and Speeches on Russia, 1917–1920

Let the people take what they want. Marusya stormed out, slamming the door. The Bolsheviks decided to disarm the Druzhina before any more anarchists showed up. They called a general meeting of all the detachments where they intended to seize the anarchists and disarm them. This was a huge outdoor gathering in the center of the estate. Marusya attended with some, but not all of her troops. The Bolsheviks started off by talking about the necessity of unity and discipline. Marusya caught their drift and when one of the speakers started complaining about the anarchists, she gave a signal for them to leave.

When the Bolsheviks finally issued a call to seize the anarchists, they had already slipped away from the estate with their horses and tachankas. The Druzhina reached a railway line and boarded echelons. Marusya decided to head for her home town, Aleksandrovsk, and try to defend it from the German invaders. The city was full of retreating Red Guard detachments. Since Marusya had left a few weeks earlier, relations between the Anarchist Federation and the Bolsheviks had gone downhill. Nevertheless the Bolsheviks were glad to see Marusya because of her 17 thousand workers with a light battery and machine guns.

They advanced to the attack with Marusya's troops. The Red Guards did not fare well in the battle. They lost their artillery and machine guns to the VKR troops and 65 of them were taken prisoner. Meanwhile the artillery of the defenders had the advantage of reconnaissance by airplanes, which also dropped bombs. The anarchist attack got bogged down short of the enemy trenches. They were forced to retreat still further, to the station of Znamenka. The VRK authorities in the city declared for the Central Rada and sent emissaries to the approaching German-Ukrainian forces requesting immediate help.

But it was already too late. In battling Marusya north of the city, the VRK had left the south side unprotected. An armoured train known as "Freedom or Death" steamed into the city under the command of the Bolshevik sailor Polypanov. The guard units in the city fled without giving battle. The sailors went directly to the VRK authorities and demanded the release of all prisoners, including Marusya's soldiers.

The VRK was forced to comply. The VRK troops north of the city discovered that it was effectively in Bolshevik hands. Marusya and Muravyev now entered the city. There was more looting and not just by the anarchists. But there were no mass reprisals; in fact Polypanov said at a mass meeting that the three-day battle had been the result of a misunderstanding. The Reds remained in power in Elizavetgrad until the night of March 19 th when they abandoned the city. Three days later the first German train arrived. The battles at Elizavetgrad were typical of the Civil War in Ukraine — desperate encounters between fanatical opponents, with a more powerful third party picking up the spoils.

Elizavetgrad was destined to change hands several more times before the Bolsheviks finally took over. The Long Retreat The Left Bloc tried to organize resistance to the German forces in the name of the puppet government they had set up in Khar'kov.

See a Problem?

This was a very unequal contest: comparing numbers alone, the German armies and their allies totalled , to , soldiers versus Left Bloc forces of around 30,, including several thousand in anarchist detachments. Nevertheless there was more than token resistance and the occupation of Ukraine by the Central Powers took up most of the spring of The Druzhina stopped in the town of Berezovka in south Ukraine and tried to extort a large sum of money from the inhabitants. Resistance 16 many of the Red Army units. Although there were no official uniforms, the soldiers certainly had a sense of style.

Long hair not common in that era , sheepskin caps, officers' service jackets, red breeches, and ammunition belts were much in evidence. The Druzhina was composed of a core of militants devoted to Marusya and a larger group which came and went on a fairly casual basis. The militants included a fair number of Black Sea sailors, noted for their fighting qualities throughout Ukraine. With their black flags and cannons, Marusya's echelons resembled pirate ships sailing across the Ukrainian steppe.

One observer, the Left- SR I. Steinberg, compared the trains to the Flying Dutchman, liable to appear at any time, anywhere. Travelling in echelons, the Druzhina advanced to meet the enemy, which in January , meant the White Guards and the Ukrainian Central Rada. The anarchists took part in establishing Soviet power in Crimea. The Druzhina and another anarchist detachment captured the resort city of Yalta and pillaged the Livadia Palace. Several dozen officers were shot.

Marusya next headed for Sevastopol where eight anarchists were languishing in prison. The Bolshevik authorities released the prisoners without waiting for the atamansha. Marusya spent some time in the city of Feodosia where she was elected to the executive of the Peasant Soviet and was able to organize more Black Guards. Its presence allowed the local Bolshevik organization to take over the city Soviet in a bloodless coup, ousting Ukrainian SRs and Kadets, and set up their own Revkom.

Soon Marusya was engaged in her usual brand of mayhem. Hearing numerous complaints about the local military commissar, Colonel Vladimirov, she went to his quarters and shot him. Then she organized systematic looting of the city's stores, distributing the goods to the poor. Noticing that people were ending up with things they didn't need, she authorized the bartering of goods although this had been expressly forbidden by the Bolshevik Revkom. Next Marusya met with the Revkom and sharply criticized its activities.

She said its members were "tolerant towards the bourgeoisie". She favoured the merciless expropriation of all property acquired through the labour of others and a violent response to any attempt at resistance. Belonging to the class of exploiters was a crime in itself, according to Marusya, and she included even the members of the Revkom in this group. She threatened to disperse the Revkom and shoot its chairman for the Druzhina was opposed to any kind of government organ and had not overthrown the 13 Soviet only to have it replaced by another bureaucratic organ. The Bolshevik administration in the city was extremely troubled by this kind of talk and responded in typical bureaucratic fashion by setting up a special "Committee for the Regulation of Relations with Marusya".

This Committee visited Marusya at her headquarters and asked her politely to leave the city, hinting that the Revkom disposed of significant armed forces. Marusya was hardly impressed with this threat, but did leave a few days later after loading up with weapons from a local officers' college after its student body had joined the haidamaks.

The Central Rada had been losing territory to the armies of the Left Bloc and one of the provisions of the treaty allowed the imperial troops of Germany and Austria-Hungary to establish "order" on Ukrainian soil. German and Austro-Hungarian troops then invaded Ukraine, and, assisted by the haidamaks of the Central Rada, proceeded to push back and mop up the revolutionary forces. Meanwhile in Elizavetgrad events unfolded tragically. The city was subjected to the full horrors of civil war. With German forces approaching the city the Bolsheviks hurriedly began to evacuate their troops and institutions, leaving a power vacuum.

Its members were drawn from the parties belonging to the previously overthrown Soviet. Any Bolsheviks remaining in the city were arrested and imprisoned.

Elizavetgrad (Four Empires War Book 1) by St. Wishnevsky

The new authorities, realizing they would need a military force to protect them from retreating Bolshevik troops, recruited officers who had been in hiding and scoured the countryside for returned military personnel. Peasants were conscripted from nearby villages and their wagons requisitioned. Arms were offered to anyone willing to fight the Left Bloc and its allies.

Unexpectedly the Druzhina returned to the city. Marusya's detachment was at full strength and its arsenal included five armoured cars. At first there were several days of peace between the new civic authorities and the anarchists. The Druzhina took over the railway station and annoyed the citizens mainly by singing anarchist songs.

The anarchists sent a truck out every day to collect "contributions" from the bourgeoisie. The Bolshevik prisoners remained in jail. Then a crisis erupted. There was a robbery at the huge Elvorta plant — 40, roubles were stolen from the payroll office and the workers could not be paid. Wild rumours circulated that the anarchists were responsible and intended to take their revenge on the city for the imprisoned Bolsheviks.

Marusya decided to go to the factory herself and explain the situation to the workers which she evidently regarded as a provocation by right-wing elements. Leaving her escort at the door, she entered the hall alone and took the stage. But she wasn't allowed to use her oratorical skills — there was ceaseless shouting and cursing. Frustrated at not being allowed to speak, Marusya pulled two revolvers out of her belt and opened fire over the heads of the audience.

Panic ensured.


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Doors were smashed and people jumped through broken windows. Marusya's companions rushed into the hall and rescued her. On the way back to the station her car was fired on and she was slightly wounded. The alarm was sounded in the city and the new government's militia advanced on the train station.

Street fighting went on for several hours. There were many casualties as the anarchists defended themselves with machine guns and grenades. But they were outnumbered many times over by the attackers and Marusya was forced to make a difficult withdrawal to the steppe, stopping at Kanatovo, the first station on the line. At this point Marusya realized that some of her soldiers had been taken prisoner and she resolved to re-engage the enemy to rescue them. An attack on the business office of an agricultural machine plant in Aleksandrovsk resulted in the chief cashier and a guard being killed and 17, roubles stolen.

When the police finally closed in, Maria tried to kill herself with a bomb, but it didn't explode and she ended up in prison. At her trial in she was accused of the murder of a policeman and taking part in armed robberies at four different locations. The court sentenced the young anarchist to death but later, because of her age in the Russian Empire adulthood began at 21 , the sentence was commuted to 20 years at hard labour. She was transferred, first to Petro-Pavlovsk Fortress in the Russian capital and then conveyed to Siberia to serve her sentence.

It's hard to determine exactly when, but at some point in her life Maria Nikiforova began to be known as "Marusya", one of the many Slavic diminutives for "Maria". In folklore she is always referred to as Marusya and she certainly tolerated the name herself, allowing even strangers to address her as Marusya. Therefore we shall use it here. Marusya didn't spend long in Siberia.

According to one version, she organized a riot in the Narymsk prison and escaped through the taiga to the Great Siberian Railway. Eventually she reached Vladivostok, and then Japan. There she was helped by Chinese student-anarchists who bought her a ticket to the U. She found a temporary home among the large group of anarchist-emigrants from the Russian Empire, mainly of Jewish origin, who had settled in New York and Chicago.

Apparently Marusya published propaganda articles in the anarchist Russian language press under various pseudonyms. Around Marusya returned to Europe, settling in Paris. In she paid a visit to Spain where she was able to share her knowledge of "actions" with the Spanish anarchists. While taking part in an anarchist bank robbery in Barcelona, Marusya was wounded and had to undergo treatment secretly at a clinic in France.

In the autumn of she turned up in Paris again, hanging around the cafes and meeting poets and artists as well as the various Russian politicos, including the Social Democrat Vladimir Antonov-Ovseyenko who was later to help her out of some sticky situations. She discovered in herself a talent, or at least a predilection, for painting and sculpture and attended a school for artists.

Marusya also acquired a husband, the Polish anarchist Witold Bzhostek. This was surely some sort of marriage of convenience for the couple spent long periods apart and Marusya continued to use her own surname. Nevertheless they seemed devoted to each other and ultimately shared the same fate. At the end of , Marusya attended a conference of Russian anarcho-communists held in London.

She was one of 26 delegates and signed the registration sheet as "Marusya". One of the main concerns of this conference was the lack of anarchist educational and agitational tracts, especially in comparison with their Marxist competitors. This almost idyllic life came to an abrupt end with World War I.

The war split the left-wing groups into pro-war and anti-war factions. The anarchists were no exception with the anarcho-communists close to Kropotkin taking an anti-German position. Marusya seems to have sided with Kropotkin and not just in theory for she enrolled in a French military school and graduated with the rank of an officer. According to her own story, she was eventually posted to the Salonika theatre of the war and was there when revolution broke out in Russia.

Like many left-wing Russian emigrants, Marusya made her way back to Russia in Reaching Petrograd, she immediately threw herself into revolutionary activity. Revolutionary Days in Petrograd. Petrograd was the seat of two competing organs of power — the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet. The Provisional Government, lacking in legitimacy since it had never been properly elected, was run by liberal and right-wing socialist politicians.

Unwilling and unable to end Russia's participation in the World War and solve the land question in the countryside, the Provisional Government lurched from one crisis to the next. The Petrograd Soviet included more radical groups such as the Bolsheviks who were determined not to stop with destroying the tsarist system but to finish off the bourgeois order as well. The Russian anarchists, as was often the case in , acted as shock troops for the better-organized groups on the extreme left. The revolutionary activities of the anarchists brought down repression from the Provisional Government which arrested 60 of them in June, , in Petrograd.

One of those remaining in freedom was the anarcho-communist I. Bleikhman, a popular deputy of the Petrograd Soviet. Bleikhman planned a huge anti-government demonstration for July 3 which would involve military personnel as well as militant workers. The participation of sailors from the nearby Kronstadt naval base was crucial and the anarchists put together a team of agitators to persuade the sailors to take part. Having recently arrived in Russia, Marusya was one of the anarchists who went to Kronstadt.

She gave a series of speeches on the huge Anchor Square to crowds as large as 8, to 10, sailors, urging them not to stand aside from their brothers in the capital. Partly thanks to her efforts many thousands of sailors went to Petrograd to march in the demonstrations of July 3 and 4 which almost toppled the Provisional Government. Although some Bolshevik organizations supported the demonstrations, that Party's leadership rejected the uprising as "premature", dooming it to failure.

The government began hunting down the Bolsheviks and anarchists. Some of the Bolsheviks, including Marusya's friend Alexandra Kollontai, ended up in prison while others escaped to nearby Finland. Bleikhman was given sanctuary by the Kronstadt sailors who protected him from arrest. Marusya decided it was a good time to return to Ukraine and help revive the anarchist movement there. In July she arrived back in Aleksandrovsk, after an eight-year odyssey which had taken her around the world. At this point in her biography it seems appropriate to take up the perplexing question of Marusya's sexuality.

According to some published sources, admittedly written after her death by people who were hostile to her, Marusya was what would now be called an "intersex" person. This view is reflected in several physical descriptions, for example the former Makhnovist Chudnov writes of meeting her in "This was a woman of 32 — 35, medium height, with an emaciated, prematurely aged face in which there was something of a eunuch or hermaphrodite.

Her hair was cropped short in a circle. The Bolshevik agitator Kiselev writes in his memoirs about meeting her in "Around 30 years old. Thin with an emaciated face, she produced the impression of an old maid type. Narrow nose. Sunken cheeks. She wore a blouse and skirt and a small revolver hung from her belt. Most of the Bolshevik descriptions of Marusya are at this level. An exception is the Bolshevik Raksha who met Marusya in the spring of "I had heard that she was a beautiful woman Marusya was sitting at a table and had a cigarette in her teeth. This she-devil really was a beauty: about 30, gypsy-type with black hair and a magnificent bosom which filled out her military tunic.

Carelessly sprawled in it was a young brunette wearing a kubanka at a rakish angle. Standing on the footboard was a broad-shouldered chap wearing red cavalry britches. The brunette and her bodyguard had all sorts of weapons hanging from them. Generally the physical descriptions fall into these two camps, one emphasizing attractiveness, the other repulsiveness. One suspects the Bolshevik memoirists, finding her ideology unattractive, tried to make her external appearance ugly as well.

What we do know for certain is that Marusya was a charismatic individual who made a strong impression on people she met and was capable of influencing them purely on the strength of her personality. Her comrades-in-arms were fiercely loyal to her and she returned their loyalty in kind. Marusya's political views are well known from her numerous speeches. Prison, hard labour, and her global wanderings only strengthened the convictions of her youth. She frequently said: "The anarchists are not promising anything to anyone.

The anarchists only want people to be conscious of their own situation and seize freedom for themselves. On a tactical level, Marusya was influenced by the veteran anarchist Apollon Karelin whom she met in Petrograd. Karelin represented a tendency known as "Soviet anarchism" which encouraged anarchists to participate in Soviet institutions so long as they were acting to push the Revolution along in the right direction — the direction of more freedom. As soon as the Soviets began to deviate from this path, the anarchists were to rebel against them. Karelin himself became a member of the highest organ of Soviet power in Many anarchists disapproved of this tactic, especially since they were usually a distinct minority in the organs of Soviet power.

Arriving in Aleksandrovsk, Marusya found a local Anarchist Federation had been set up with about members but not much influence on local events. Marusya shook things up — she had an instant following among the factory workers and carried out the successful expropriation of one million roubles from the Badovsky distillery possibly the one where she had worked.

Part of the money was donated to the Aleksandrovsk Soviet. Aleksandrovsk happened to be the capital of the uyezd in which Gulyai-Pole was situated. This "village" of 17, was the home of Nestor Makhno, the leading figure of the local Anarcho-Communist Group which had a membership in the hundreds. Makhno maintained close relations with the Aleksandrovsk Anarchist Federation, visiting it frequently although he was sceptical of its activities or lack thereof.

The Aleksandrovsk anarchists were also critical of Makhno, accusing him of leading a political party striving to seize power. Marusya took it upon herself to travel to Gulyai-Pole about 80 km. On August 29, she addressed a well-attended open-air meeting, chaired by Makhno, in the village's public garden. Marusya preached the gospel of insurrection — rebel, rebel until all organs of power are eliminated.

Carry the Revolution through to the end now, she said, or Capital will revive.

Karol Szymanowski: Correspondence, Volume 1: 1902–1919

Immediate action was also called for because of the assault on the Revolution by state power in Ukraine connected with the appearance of the government of the Central Rada. Not beating around the bush, Marusya called for terrorist action against supporters of the fledgling Ukrainian state.

While Marusya was haranguing the locals, Makhno was suddenly handed two telegrams. Interrupting Marusya, he told the stunned audience "The Revolution is in danger! Both told of General Kornilov's mutiny and his advance on Petrograd to put an end to the Revolution. The Soviet's telegram suggested forming local "Committees for the Salvation of the Revolution".

As the crowd buzzed a voice rang out: "Our brothers' blood is already flowing but here the counter-revolutionaries are walking around laughing. Marusya immediately jumped down from the platform and "arrested" Ivanov who was now surrounded by an angry mob. But Makhno intervened to save the life of the former cop whom he described as "harmless".

Its first activity was confiscating all the weapons in the hands of the local bourgeoisie. Marusya had something slightly different in mind. In the nearby town of Orekhov were stationed two regiments of the regular army. Marusya proposed to seize their weapons. She organized a group of about militants and on September 10 they travelled to Orekhov by train. They were poorly armed having only a couple dozen rifles and a similar number of revolvers confiscated from the Gulyai-Pole police station. Arriving in Orekhov, they surrounded the headquarters of the regiments. The commander succeeded in escaping but some of the junior officers were captured.

Marusya dispatched them with her own hand, showing her willingness to kill anyone who belonged to the despised "officers' caste". The rank-and-file soldiers were only too glad to turn in their arms and disperse to their homes. The weapons were taken to Gulyai-Pole and Marusya returned to Aleksandrovsk. The organs of the Provisional Government in Aleksandrovsk were headed by a chief commissar B. Mikhno a liberal and a military commissar S. Popov an SR. These authorities were disturbed about the goings-on in Gulyai-Pole, in particular, the confiscation of weapons from the property-owning class and the dividing up of large estates among the peasants.

The local organs in Gulyai-Pole, thoroughly infiltrated by the anarchists, began to receive threatening orders from the higher authorities. These orders were ignored in Gulyai-Pole; in fact, Makhno took the offensive by travelling to Aleksandrovsk with another delegate, B. Antonov, to meet directly with workers' groups.

The two anarchists were shown around the city by Marusya who took them to a number of workplace meetings. Since Makhno and Antonov had mandates from the Gulyai-Pole Soviet, the authorities didn't dare touch them. With Marusya it was a different story, and after Makhno and Antonov had left the city she was arrested at her apartment and taken to prison by car. Matters soon took an unpleasant turn for the authorities. Marusya enjoyed great popularity among the workers of Aleksandrovsk and news of her arrest spread like wildfire.

On the morning after her arrest a delegation of workers visited the commissars to demand her release. Their demand was refused. But there was also a Soviet in Aleksandrovsk which shared power with the official government. A procession of workers was organized which marched to the Soviet to demand justice. Plants sat idle with their sirens wailing while the march took place. On the way the demonstrators encountered the chairman of the Soviet, Mochalov a Menshevik , who was literally forced into a horse-drawn cab with some worker delegates and dispatched to the prison.

Marusya was released and brought back to the demonstration where she was passed over the heads of the workers to the front of the crowd massed outside the building of the Soviet. Marusya, who possessed a powerful voice used the occasion to make a stirring speech calling for the workers to struggle against the Government and for a society free of all authority. Meanwhile news of Marusya's arrest was causing havoc in Gulyai-Pole. Makhno managed to reach Commissar Mikhno by telephone; threats were exchanged and Mikhno hung up.

The anarchists loaded up a train with militants and set out to attack the government in Aleksandrovsk. En route they received news of Marusya's release and held a celebration instead. One practical result of all this was new elections to the Aleksandrovsk Soviet which produced a more left-wing body, including some anarchists, which was prepared to tolerate the revolutionary activities in Gulyai-Pole.

The October Revolution in Ukraine. Like most anarchists, Marusya received news of the October Revolution with enthusiasm. The anarchists regarded the coup by the Bolsheviks and the Left SRs forming the so-called Left Bloc as a further stage in the withering away of the State. Following the demise of tsardom and the bourgeois state, they thought the Left Bloc government was a temporary phenomenon which would soon disappear. Marusya spent the fall organizing "Black Guard" detachments in Aleksandrovsk and Elizavetgrad, a central Ukrainian city, which also had a strong anarchist federation.

According to one historian, Marusya was responsible for the murder of the chairman of the Elizavetgrad Soviet. After the October Revolution, the soviets in many Ukrainian cities oriented themselves towards the Ukrainian Central Rada in Kiev rather than the Soviet government in Petrograd.

In Aleksandrovsk the decision was made on November 22, and the vote was to 95 in favour of becoming part of the Kiev-based Ukrainian National Republic. When the nationalist government in Kiev refused to recognize the Left Bloc government in Moscow, the Left Bloc invaded Ukraine with a motley force composed of various Red Guard units. Both sides engaged in an "echelon war", advancing and retreating along the railway lines, much like the contemporaneous Mexican Revolution. In December Marusya formed an alliance with the Bolshevik organization in Aleksandrovsk with the aim of overthrowing the local Soviet.

The Bolsheviks received a secret shipment of arms while the anarchists were able to arrange the support of a detachment of sailors from the Black Sea Fleet led by M. On December 12, , Mokrousov appeared at a joint meeting of the Aleksandrovsk Soviet and factory committees and demanded the Soviet be re-constituted with members who were Bolsheviks, Left SRs, or anarchists. The members of other parties Mensheviks and SRs fled the scene and the new Soviet took over.

On December , , Marusya's detachment went to Kharkhov and helped the Left Bloc establish soviet power in the city. Her troops engaged in an action there which became her trademark — looting the shops and distributing their goods to the inhabitants. On December her Black Guards took part in battles with the haidamaks at Ekaterinoslav, successfully establishing Soviet power in that city as well.

According to her own version of events, her detachment was the first to enter the city and she personally disarmed 48 soldiers. Lacking a strong base in the population, especially in the countryside, the Left Bloc needed allies and only the anarchists shared their implacable hatred of the bourgeoisie. The Left Bloc sought help especially from the anarchists in Ukraine where there were a number of groups like Marusya's and Makhno's which had military capabilities.

Meanwhile in Aleksandrovsk the new regime was under threat by troops of the Central Rada. The forces the Soviet was able to muster were not as numerous or as well armed as the haidamaks who had armoured cars. The revolutionaries decided not to use Mokrousov's artillery in order to avoid destroying the city. After three days of street fighting, the Bolsheviks and anarchists were forced to withdraw. The balance shifted when Red Guards from Moscow and Petrograd arrived.

On January 2, , the haidamaks retreated to the right bank of the Dnepr and power in the city fell to the hands of the newly formed Revolutionary Committee Revkom. Nestor was invited to join the Revkom and the Federation of Anarchists was allowed to appoint two delegates, one of whom was Marusya who became the deputy leader of the Revkom. The haidamaks had retreated, but now a new danger was threatening the revolutionary city. A convoy of echelons loaded with Cossacks and their horses was approaching the city from the External Front on their way to the Don to join the counter-revolutionary movement of the reactionary General Kaledin.

Realizing the danger the Cossacks represented to the Revolution, the Aleksandrovsk insurgents decided to stop them. The anarchists led their detachments across the nearby Kichkass suspension bridge over the Dnepr and dug in along the railway tracks. Soon the Cossacks showed up. Contact was established by telephone and a meeting arranged between representatives of the two sides. Makhno and Marusya were part of the delegation which travelled by locomotive to the meeting point.

The Cossack officers were in a belligerent mood and claimed they had 18 echelons of Cossacks and another seven echelons of haidamaks and no one was going to stop them. Negotiations were broken off. The first Cossack train which tried to break through was met with heavy fire and started to back up suddenly, colliding with the train behind and causing a wreck with loss of life to both men and horses.

Soon a new truce party of Cossacks arrived which capitulated to the Aleksandrovsk Revkom. They gave up their weapons but insisted on keeping their horses and saddles for "cultural" reasons. The disarming of the Cossacks was spread over many days and the local politicians took the opportunity to try to win them over to the Revolution. At one outdoor meeting thousands of Cossacks were addressed by a series of socialist orators, with little effect.

The Cossacks stood around smoking, occasionally laughing at the speakers. Then Marusya stepped to the podium and began to speak. Now the Cossacks were paying attention. Will you continue to be so in the future, or will you acknowledge your own wickedness and join the ranks of the oppressed? Up to now you have shown no respect for the poor workers. For one of the tsar's roubles or a glass of wine, you have nailed them living to the cross. As Marusya continued in this vein many of the Cossacks removed their caps and bowed their heads. Soon some of them were weeping like children.

A knot of Aleksandrovsk intellectuals was standing in the crowd. They told each other: "The speeches of the Left Bloc representatives seem so pale in comparison with the speeches of the anarchists and, in particular, with the speech of M. After the Cossacks had been disarmed, Marusya and Makhno returned to their duties on the Aleksandrovsk Revkom. Makhno had been assigned the "dirty" job of heading a tribunal which passed sentence on various political prisoners collected by the new political order.

Among the prisoners who came before him was Mikhno, the former Provisional Government commissar who had threatened him repeatedly and jailed Marusya. Makhno released him, saying he was an honest man who was only following orders. Makhno was not inclined to be magnanimous with another prisoner, the former prosecutor Maksimov. When Makhno was a prisoner in the Aleksandrovsk prison many years earlier, Maksimov had made sure his stay was as unpleasant as possible. Considering the evidence against him, Makhno felt justified in sentencing Maksimov to be shot.

But the other members of the Revkom, including Marusya, interceded on his behalf. Although they agreed he was a counter-revolutionary, their regime was too shaky to be executing someone who was well regarded in the city. Makhno didn't give in easily and it was only after an all-night meeting that he agreed to remand Maksimov for further review of his case.

Makhno was soon fed up with the Aleksandrovsk Revkom among other things, they wouldn't let him blow up the prison and decided to return to Gulyai-Pole with his detachment. The other members of the Revkom came to the train station to see them off — most went there by automobile, Marusya on horseback. At the station the detachment sang the anarchist battle hymn, then embarked. Marusya was able to hold her Black Guard detachment together and began to act as an independent military commander. It was at this point that Marusya became a player on the national stage rather than just a local figure.

The target was a battalion stationed in Orekhov where the anarchists had enjoyed success earlier. The soldiers in the battalion, part of the 48th Berdyansk Regiment, were about evenly divided between supporters of the Ukrainian Central Rada and supporters of General Kaledin. Again the operation was a success. The regional Bolshevik commander, Bogdanov, was ecstatic about the seizure of arms, which included some mortars.

Apparently he assumed that since Marusya was still the deputy of the Aleksandrovsk Revkom, the weapons would end up in his hands. Instead all of them went to Gulyai-Pole. This incident marked the end of Marusya's loyalty to the Left Bloc authorities. From now on she acted independently. The commander of the Soviet forces in Ukraine was Vladimir Antonov-Ovseyenko, one of the few Bolsheviks who had attended a military academy. Marusya enjoyed considerable influence with him as she had helped to establish Soviet power in three important Ukrainian cities.

He appointed her "commander of a formation of cavalry detachments in steppe Ukraine" and allocated a significant sum of money to her which she used to equip the so-called "Free Combat Druzhina". She was the only woman commander of a large revolutionary force in Ukraine — an atamansha. The Free Combat Druzhina was equipped with two large guns and an armoured flatcar. The wagons were loaded with armoured cars, tachankas, and horses as well as troops which meant that the detachment was by no means restricted to railway lines.

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The soldiers were better fed and equipped than many of the Red Army units. Although there were no official uniforms, the soldiers certainly had a sense of style. Long hair not common in that era , sheepskin caps, officers' service jackets, red breeches, and ammunition belts were much in evidence. The Druzhina was composed of a core of militants devoted to Marusya and a larger group which came and went on a fairly casual basis.

The militants included a fair number of Black Sea sailors, noted for their fighting qualities throughout Ukraine. With their black flags and cannons, Marusya's echelons resembled pirate ships sailing across the Ukrainian steppe. One observer, the Left-SR I. Steinberg, compared the trains to the Flying Dutchman, liable to appear at any time, anywhere. Travelling in echelons, the Druzhina advanced to meet the enemy, which in January, , meant the White Guards and the Ukrainian Central Rada.

The anarchists took part in establishing Soviet power in Crimea. The Druzhina and another anarchist detachment captured the resort city of Yalta and pillaged and the Livadia Palace. Several dozen officers were shot. Marusya next headed for Sevastopol where eight anarchists were languishing in prison. The Bolshevik authorities released the prisoners without waiting for the atamansha. Marusya spent some time in the city of Feodosia where she was elected to the executive of the Peasant Soviet and was able to organize more Black Guards.


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On January 28, , the Druzhina appeared in Elizavetgrad, an important city in south-central Ukraine. Its presence allowed the local Bolshevik organization to take over the city Soviet in a bloodless coup, ousting Ukrainian SRs and Kadets, and set up their own Revkom. Soon Marusya was engaged in her usual brand of mayhem.