A great job from Skirda -- but it is a truly horrible, careless attempt from AK Press. Skirda deserves 5 stars, AK deserve 2 stars. How did AK mess up such a great subject?
Skirda has collected a vast array of sources on Makhno, ranging from a presentation of his speeches and prison memoirs to Communist screeds against him, to personal reminiscences from family members. There is a wealth of material here,and it is engrossing, giving us reasonable insight into Makhno's motivations and character. Skirda does his best to recreate Makhno's youth, describing how grinding poverty and beatings at the hands of employers created a sense of injustice in Makhno which was only reinforced from his youthful meetings with other Anarchists.
The cover art is good, and there is a collection of rarely seen photographs, including pictures of Makhno's fellow anarchists, his immediate family, and of his living relatives taken in the 90's.
Skirda is to be commended for a work of care and love, with attention to the historical record combined with a good narrative progression to draw in the leader : much of the story is inspiring, and exciting to read. Makhno led an extraordinary life, the life of a true free spirited rebel who would not bow down to any master on the left or the right. Makhno loathed and despised the 'left' as much as he did the Capitalists -- a true Anarchist who despised all 'isms' and restriction.
However -- AK really did a truly horrible editing job here. Whole chunks of the book are just embarrassingly badly written in translation : Makhno, and Skirda's significant body of work surely deserve more respectful treatment. Some of the prose is so hackneyed it is painful to read on to the next page.
Secondly, there is no index, and the sourcing is vague and unclear. AK have done a really bad job here -- how can we take a text seriously -- if there is no complete and careful record of sources?
So -- a great work from Skirda -- but AK, you really did a horrible job here.
Why are Anarchist books so often badly translated, badly written, badly edited and presented? Here, Skirda's commendable work is lessened by poor publishing approach.
Makhno and the wider Anarchist heritage surely deserve better treatment.
This is an excellent history, not only of a fascinating historical figure, but also of the Ukrainian insurgents who fought against oppression both white and red. It is also very accessible and doesn't presuppose too much knowledge on the part of the reader. It is based on primary sources i.e. accounts by protagonists and eye witnesses, combined with a wide range of soviet archives, which the author has studied critically and in depth. The author begins by giving us an overview of the principal centre of action, the Ukraine, from which we get a general idea of its history, economy, geography and ethnic makeup. We even get a vignette of an embryonic anarchism in the practices of the Zaporog Cossacks. Skirda affectionately traces the growth and development of Makhno from his birth in poverty, his formative influences and prison education through to maturity as a struggler, totally devoid of self-seeking concerns, for a better and fairer society; a man who would dream of a life in which there would be "neither slavery, nor falsehood, nor despised divinities, nor chains, where love and living space will not be for sale." The author details key events and factors in the 1917 revolutions and the ensuing civil war and gives detailed accounts of the Makhnovists' actions while also providing a multitude of revealing insights into the mentality and practices of Lenin and the Bolsheviks and exploring the underhand machinations of Trotsky. We see Makhno's bravery and intelligence as a military tactician as Skirda unravels the complicated and shifting alliances on the Ukrainian fronts, detailing the military history exhaustively together with Makhnovist policy and declarations. Makhno's meetings with Kropotkin, Lenin and (later) Durruti are covered and Skirda also reports on and evaluates the many and diverse opinions of Makhno's personality, his skills and his military and political contribution. He thus builds up a portrait of the life of a man for whom human liberation was not empty rhetoric, but something to be fought for courageously. The book also includes a selection of declarations and statements from the Makhnovists setting out their principles and beliefs.