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Russian: Чёрная Гвардия, 'Chёrnaya Gvardiya'
|Participant in the Russian Revolution of 1917 and Russian Civil War|
Black flags were used by guards in several modifications and variations.
|Active||Summer 1917-Spring 1919
(Became core units of the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine by mid 1919.)
|Ideology||Anarchism (primarily anarchist communism)|
|Leaders||Various militia leaders, including Maria Nikiforova, Lev Chernyi and Nestor Makhno.|
|Russia, Russian SFSR, and Ukraine|
|Part of||Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine (after 1918)[when?]|
|Allies||Various anarchist organizations|
|Opponents|| Russian SFSR
Russian Provisional Government
Pro-independence movements in Russian Civil War
Russian Civil War
Black Guards (Russian: Чёрная Гвардия, 'Chёrnaya Gvardiya') were armed groups of workers formed after the Russian Revolution and before the final Bolshevik suppression of other leftwing groups. They were the main strike force of the anarchists. They were created in the Summer of 1917 in Ukraine by Maria Nikiforova, and expanded in January 1918 to Moscow, under the control of anarchists at industrial enterprises by Factory and Plant Committees and by Moscow Federation of Anarchist Groups cells.
Like most anarchists collectives since the 1880s, the Black Guards have the word, “black” in their groups name as a reference to the, black flag symbol. On a more basic level some theorists simply think of black as, “the color of negation,” which is fitting for groups attempting to negate state authority.
Maria Nikiforova organized the Black Guards’ first unit. Nikiforova, often known by her nickname Marusya, was a Ukrainian anarchist leader who put together the first Black Guards cell in the city of Alexandrovsk in the Ukraine. Nikiforova, who is often compared to Joan of Arc, due to her important leadership in a male dominated conflict from a young age, started the first Black Guards cell in an attempt to bring the land reform and wealth redistribution called for by the peasants to fruition. Nikiforova, a self-proclaimed terrorist, directed her unit of Black Guards to terrorize the Alexandrovsk local government in order to achieve the political change she desired. Later similar cells were established by Nestor Makhno throughout other portions of the Ukraine. Soon after the establishment of some of the first Black Guards cells, it became apparent that this small terrorist cell structure of organization was ideal for the anarchist political and military leader to utilize to attempt to violently bring about the ideological changes their party desired. The Black Guards were eventually into a more structured set of cells by the Moscow Federation of Anarchist Groups under Lev Cherny's leadership.
The Black Guards formed in order to give the anarchist movement military backing. While some anarchists joined the Bolsheviks in an attempt to moderate their policies to fit more congruously with the anarchist agenda, more extreme factions of the movement decided that this would not suffice and formed military units, the Black Guards. The Black Guards were often said to have, Robin-Hood-like goals of wealth redistribution. The anarchist ideology behind the movement called for very small incredibly localized councils to be democratically elected and simply oversee that goods and property were being evenly distributed throughout the communities. The councils would ideally on have to exist for the interim transitional period from their current political set up to absolute self-rule and anarchism.
Moscow Federation of Anarchist Groups
The Moscow Federation of Anarchist Groups, which assisted in the organization of the Black Guards was formed in March 1917. The Moscow Federation of Anarchist Groups had many important anarchist thinkers as political and military organizers for the group. Lev Chernyi served as the secretary for the organization. The group’s foremost goal was the organizing of underground anarchist groups as well as the dissemination of pro-anarchist propaganda to Moscow’s working class, following the abdication of Tsar Nicholas the II. It was suggested by anarchist associated critic, Victor Serge, that far too much of the Black Guards money and effort was focused on wasted military conflicts and more resources should have been directed towards the largely failed political propaganda campaign. The Black Guards and the Moscow Federation of Anarchist Groups never gained the political or even popular support that they desired.
Militarization in Ukraine and suppression in Russia
On the night April 11 to 12 1918 Dzerzhinsky, president of the Cheka, had a force of approximately 5,000 soviet troops attack anarchist group headquarters in Moscow. The headquarters Moscow Federation for Anarchist Groups was raided, known as the, “House of Anarchy” and all present members were arrested. These raids were prompted by a series of armed aggressions against Cheka officials that were believed to be carried out by Moscow Federation for Anarchist Group supported Black Guard units. The credit for the murders of the two Cheka officials was later taken by a Black Guards unit, solidifying the state”s justification for aggression against the Moscow Federation of Anarchist Groups.
There was no need to mount a negative political campaign as part of the suppression of the Black Guards because the Black Guards had no political power or support, their power was simply derived from their military strength. Russian revolutionary writer, Victor Serge, who was initially part of anarchist movement believed that much of the Black Guards real capacities was, “wasted on small and chaotic struggles.”
Ultimately the legacy of the Black Guards is most important due to its contribution in serving as a model for the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine, otherwise known as the Black Army. Following the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk Nestor Makhno formed a Black Guards unit in Ukraine that would later grow into what was formally known as the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine (RIAU). The RIAU may have simply been referred to as a continuation of the Black Guards if it were not on a far larger and more organized and unified scale.
- David Bullock, “The Black Guards,” in The Russian Civil War 1918-22 (New York: Osprey Publishing, 2008), 89.
- Edward R. Kantowicz, The Rage of Nations (Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing, 1999), 173.
- Richard Polenberg, Fighting Faiths: The Abrams Case, the Supreme Court, and Free Speech (New York: Cornell University Press, 1987), 348.
- Victor Serge, Year One of the Russian Revolution (Chicago: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970)
- Victor Serge, Year One of the Russian Revolution (Chicago: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970),158.
- "Азбука анархиста" (Russian)
- Махно Нестор Иванович (Russian)
- Нестор Иванович Махно (Михненко) (Russian)
- "С большевиками против Центральной рады, гетмана Скоропадского и украинской Директории" (Russian)