No Harmless Power: The Life and Times of the Ukrainian Anarchist Nestor Makhno in Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly

Historian and activist Allison debuts with an energetic and admiring chronicle of 20th-century Ukrainian rebel Nestor Makhno (1888–1934), who organized peasant uprisings and led armed raids against both Imperial Russia’s forces and the Bolsheviks, and who has been called a “hero, revolutionary, small god of anarchism, demonic force inflamed by the fires of burning mansions and prisons, bandit, liberator, drunk, and idealist.” Characterizing Makhno as “a moral person, stuck in deeply immoral times,” Allison relates piquant details from his subject’s childhood as the son of ex-serfs; his formative years as a member of the Union of Poor Peasants; his imprisonment in Moscow from 1911 to 1917, where “in chains” he learned the “deeper tenets of revolutionary ethics”; his 1919 meeting with Lenin, whom he regarded as “an asshole”; his troubled alliance with the Red Army; the “daring hit-and-run raids” he led during Russia’s Civil War; and his tumultuous life abroad from 1921 until his death in Paris in 1934. In conversational prose, Allison playfully addresses his readers and tries to make Makhno’s life story seem relevant and worthy of emulation. (“You know that feeling at the end of a long day, when your muscles begin to loosen and a sigh of relief leaves your lungs? I am convinced that feeling didn’t exist during the Russian Civil War.”) It’s a fun introduction to a captivating historical figure. (Aug.)