Maria Nikiforova, affectionately thought of as the “anarchist Joan of Arc,” widely known as Marusya.
She was born in the Ukraine in 1885 and by age 16 she was a self described terrorist, staging bombings and expropriation missions. She was sentenced to life imprisonment in Siberia in 1910 but broke out after possibly organizing a prison riot. She traveled to Japan to the US to Paris, meeting many fellow anarchists and anarchist-communists along the way and served in the Macedonian front. When the Russian revolution broke out she organized and spoke at anarchist rallies in Kronstadt.
In 1917 she escaped back to her home in Alexandrovsk and organized a force of Black Guards to terrorize city authorities, especially army officers and landlords. Marusya played an important role in overthrowing Ukrainian nationalists in her city. Throughout the time Free Territory was secured she worked very closely with leader Nestor Makhno, and in fact was far more famous than him when they first met. She was also appointed assistant deputy to the revolutionary committee of her city, though this tie was broken when in August of 1917 she robbed a military storehouse (executing all captured officers) and passing the spoils to Makhno’s Black Guards rather than the Red Army.
In 1919, she was put on trial for pillaging and insubordination by the Bolsheviks (although she had sometimes allied with them, she had expropriated from Red storage at some points because she didn’t think Soviet state banks were actually the peoples’). She was banned from holding any political position afterwards, though she still gave speeches alongside Makhno.
Finally, in June 1919, anarchist armies were outlawed. The Reds had essentially thought they were useful while still fighting the Whites and other anti-revolutionary groups, but were now a threat to soviet State power. Marusya then intended to form terrorist cells (rather than traditional fighting) and took part in a sabotage mission against the Whites, where she was recognized, arrested, and sentenced to death on September 16, 1919.
Despite the impact she held in the revolution, Nikiforova is widely ignored by Soviet historians.
- Atamansha: the Story of Maria Nikiforova, the Anarchist Joan of Arc
- Kontrrazvedka: the Story of the Makhnovist Intelligence Service