Black Guards

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Black Guards
Чёрная Гвардия
Chjornaya Gvardiya
Participant in Russian Revolution of 1917 and Russian Civil War
Black flag.svg
Black flags were used by guards in several modifications and variations
ActiveSummer 1917–Spring 1919
(became core units of the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine by mid 1919)
IdeologyAnarchism (primarily anarcho-communism)
LeadersVarious militia leaders, including Maria Nikiforova, Lev Chernyi and Nestor Makhno
Area of operations Russia,  Russian SFSR and Ukraine
Part ofRevolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine
Allies Various anarchist organizations
Opponent(s) Russian SFSR
Russia Russian Provisional Government
Russia White Movement
Pro-independence movements in Russian Civil War
Battles and war(s)October Revolution
Russian Civil War

Black Guards (Russian: Чёрная Гвардия, Chjornaya Gvardiya) were armed groups of workers formed after the February 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.


Maria Nikiforova organized the Black Guards' first unit. Nikiforova, often known by her nickname Marusya, was a Ukrainian anarchist organiser 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 role 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. Makhno led a "Robin Hood-like existence" during the revolution, seizing land and distributing wealth among the peasants.[1]

Militarization in Ukraine and suppression in Russia[edit]

On the night of April 11, 1918, Dzerzhinsky, director of the Cheka, had a force of approximately 5,000 Soviet troops attack the anarchist headquarters in Moscow.[2]

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."[3]

Ultimately the legacy of the Black Guards was its 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 been considered a continuation of the Black Guards if it were not on a far larger, more organized, and unified scale.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Edward R. Kantowicz (1999). The Rage of Nations. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 173. ISBN 0802844553.
  2. ^ Richard Polenberg, Fighting Faiths: The Abrams Case, the Supreme Court, and Free Speech (New York: Cornell University Press, 1987), 348.
  3. ^ Victor Serge, Year One of the Russian Revolution (Chicago: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970)
  4. ^ Victor Serge, Year One of the Russian Revolution (Chicago: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970),158.

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