No Harmless Power

No Harmless Power

The Life and Times of the Ukrainian Anarchist Nestor Makhno

By Charlie Allison, Illustrated by N.O. Bonzo and Kevin Matthews


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Lively, incendiary, and inspiring, No Harmless Power follows the life of Nestor Makhno, who organized a seven-million-strong anarchist polity during the Russian Civil War and developed Platformist anarchism during his exile in Paris as well as advising other anarchists like Durruti on tactics and propaganda. Both timely and timeless, this biography reveals Makhno’s rapidly changing world and his place in it. He moved swiftly from peasant youth to prisoner to revolutionary anarchist leader, narrowly escaping Bolshevik Ukraine for Paris. This book also chronicles the friends and enemies he made along the way: Lenin, Trotsky, Kropotkin, Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman, Ida Mett, and others.

No Harmless Power is the first text to fully delve into Makhno’s sympathy for the downtrodden, the trap of personal heroism, his improbable victories, unlikely friendships, and his alarming lack of gun safety in meetings. Makhno and the movement he began are seldom mentioned in most mainstream histories—Western or Russian—mostly on the grounds that acknowledging anarchist polities calls into question the inevitability and desirability of the nation-state and unjust hierarchies.

With illustrations by N.O. Bonzo and Kevin Matthews, this is a fresh, humorous, and necessary look at an under-examined corner of history as well as a deep exploration of the meaning—and value, if any—of heroism as history.

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“A biography that reads like a great adventure story, this tale of freedom-fighting and myth-making in early-twentieth-century Eastern Europe is as entertaining as it is necessary.”

– Stephanie Feldman, author of Angel of Losses and Saturnalia

“Charles Allison has turned his talents to a topic that was colorful and interesting even before recent global events gave Ukraine fresh relevance. Allison’s accessible and humorous writing saturates the book with passages that are chock-full of the sort of informational nuggets that readers will enjoy passing along to friends and family.”

– Matt Hongoltz-Hetling, author of A Libertarian Walks into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (and some Bears)

“Charlie Allison’s examination of Nestor Makhno’s life is the most well-researched and cool-headed assessment I have yet to read. Makhno’s idealism was matched by his skills as a military strategist, his growing political sophistication and his commitment to Ukrainian independence. His revolutionary ideas were innovative and effective, and he remains a great Ukrainian hero both for his courage and for his intelligence. How Ukrainian history might have played out through the 20th century had Trotsky and his fellow Bolsheviks not betrayed Makhno is of particular and urgent interest to today’s political students and commentators. Allison’s research is both more thorough than anything we have seen for many years and displays the reality behind the myth of a great Ukrainian hero. I cannot recommend it more enthusiastically. To read Allison today is to understand not only yesterday’s conflicts but also tomorrow’s politics.”

– Michael Moorcock, author of the Pyat Quartet and London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction

No Harmless Power is an exhilarating ride through the revolutionary life and times of Nestor Makhno. With wry humor, original research, and an unforgettable cast of characters, Charles Allison gives a vivid account of a tumultuous period in the history of Ukraine and the Russian Revolution that ripples to the present day.”

– Tauno Biltsted, author of The Anatomist's Tale


Preface A Japanese Anarchist in Paris (1923)
Chapter 1 Pugachev’s Uprising and Beyond: Setting the Stage for Makhno’s Ukraine (1772–1861)
Chapter 2 Makhno’s Childhood (1888–1904)
Chapter 3 Makhno’s Political Awakening (1905–9)
Chapter 4 Capture and Imprisonment (1908–10)
Chapter 5 The Modest One’s Life in Prison (1911–17)
Chapter 6 Makhno’s Education in Prison (1910–17)
Chapter 7 The Kerensky Jailbirds (1917)
Chapter 8 Makhno Returns to Moscow (1918)
Chapter 9 Makhno Returns to Huliaipole (1918)
Chapter 10 A Teacher and Terror as Method in Ukraine (1918)
Chapter 11 The Terrible Summer (1919)
Chapter 12 The War behind the Lines (1919)
Chapter 13 Retreating to Victory and Conspiracy (1919)
Chapter 14 Second Alliance with the Bolsheviks against the White Army (1920)
Chapter 15 The Sudden yet Inevitable Betrayal (1920–21)
Chapter 16 Nestor Makhno En Route to Paris (1921–25)
Chapter 17 Enemies and Friends in Parisian Exile (1925–34)
Chapter 18 Makhno’s Writings outside the Platform in Exile (1926–34)
Chapter 19 Makhno and the Platform (1925–33)
Chapter 20 No Gods, No Masters: Nestor Makhno’s Death and Legacy (1934)
Chapter 21 Anarchists You Should Know: Minibiographies
Selected Bibliography
About the contributors