7/10/1918 Twilight of the Komuch

In Siberia the leftist government of the Komuch (the Committee of Members of the Constituent Assembly) attempted to present itself as a progressive alternative to the Bolshevik dictatorship (as opposed to conservative figures like Denikin and Kornilov). Soon after the Komuch formed an alliance with the Czechoslovak Legion, which took control of the Trans-Siberian Railway and carved out an impressive swathe of territory they then placed under the Komuch’s notional control. An early acquisition by the Legion was the city of Samara, which the Komuch then made its capital.

Now though the Czechoslovaks’ power is eroding; many of their soldiers have become demoralised and are wondering why they are fighting against the Bolsheviks instead of returning to Western Europe to fight for the creation of independent Czechoslovakia. The Red Army meanwhile is becoming ever more powerful. They have already recovered Simbirsk, birthplace of Lenin, and now they chase the Komuch from Samara itself.

The Komuch retreat to Ufa to lick their wounds, but here they find themselves falling under the influence of more reactionary forces of the White Russian counter-revolution. The Komuch never managed to establish much of a popular following for itself. Now it appears that its attempt to present itself as a progressive rallying point for opposition to the Bolsheviks appears to have failed.

7/10/1918 New states begin to emerge from the ashes of German and Austro-Hungarian defeat

Germany has sent a request for an armistice to President Wilson. Austria-Hungary meanwhile is visibly on the brink of collapse. With defeat staring the Central Powers in the face, nationalists are seeking to establish new countries from the ruins of their empires. In Zagreb a council has proclaimed the independence of those parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire inhabited by Croats, Slovenes and Serbs; should they join with the inhabitants of now resurgent Serbia they will be able to establish Yugoslavia, land of the southern Slavs. Now in Warsaw the German-appointed Regency Council (an advisory body that has proved itself to have an unruly streak) declares an independent Poland, comprising both former Russian territory (still under German occupation) and Austro-Hungarian Galicia. In Prague Czech nationalists are also meeting, preparing both to declare their independence from Austria but also to detach Slovakia from Hungary and create a new state of Czechoslovakia.

These nationalist visions are still somewhat dreamlike; they remain vulnerable to any unexpected resurgence of German and Austro-Hungarian military fortunes. But with the power of the German and Austro-Hungarian emperors visibly waning it looks like these dreams could soon become reality.

10/9/1918 Kazan: the Red Army pushes back against the Czechoslovak Legion #1918Live

Bolshevik rule in Russia has many enemies. Within the Bolshevik-controlled zone there are malcontents plotting against Soviet rule; these are being dealt with by the Cheka. Elsewhere the Bolsheviks’ enemies are a matter for the Red Army. And there are many of these enemies. Denikin‘s army is on the loose in the south while the Komuch government in Siberia is presenting itself as the true government of Russia. Foreign armies have also started inviting themselves into the country, with Japanese and American troops landing in Vladivostok while British-led forces have landed in Murmansk and Archangelsk, bringing influenza with them.

One of the most effective forces in the field against the Bolsheviks is the Czechoslovak Legion, made up of Czechs and Slovaks who had been serving in the Tsar’s army and are now seeking their homeland’s independence from Austria-Hungary. Heavily armed and highly motivated, the Czechoslovaks triumphed over the Bolsheviks earlier in the summer. Now though the dominance of the Legion is eroding. Thanks to the organising work of Trotsky, the Red Army is now a more effective opponent. The Czechoslovaks meanwhile are becoming demoralised, fearing that they are doomed to fight endlessly in Russia when their real interest is in returning to Europe to fight for their homeland.

For the last few days the Red Army has been battling elements of the Czechoslovak Legion and Komuch forces defending Kazan. Today the Red Army successfully storms the city, driving away their enemies. With a separate Red Army column preparing to recapture Simbirsk (birthplace of Lenin), it looks like the tide of battle may now be turning against the Komuch and its Czechoslovak allies.

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Red Army cavalry march into Kazan (The Russian Revolution 1917-1922: Fifth Army horse units oust the White Guards out of Kazan, September 1918)

3/9/1918 As Lenin recovers, the Cheka unleashes Red Terror #1918Live

Lenin‘s life hung in the balance after he was shot by Fanny Kaplan, but now he appears to be on the mend, to the relief of his Bolshevik followers. Kaplan meanwhile has been interrogated and probably tortured by the Cheka, the Soviet political police. They are keen to discover whether she was working as part of a wider plot, either with underground members of the Socialist Revolutionary Party or with foreign powers. She denies any involvement with others, though in actual fact she appears to have been part of a network of SR cadres operating independently of the SR-led government in Samara.

Today the Bolsheviks decide that they have interrogated Kaplan for long enough. Deeming a trial to be an unnecessary bourgeois frippery, she is summarily shot; her body is then burned before burial in an unmarked grave. The Cheka meanwhile has unleashed a Red Terror on the real or imagined enemies of the Revolution. The attempt on Lenin’s life showed the danger of allowing malcontents free rein; under the direction of Dzerzhinsky, the Cheka is now free to round up, interrogate and kill any potential threats to Soviet power. As the Cheka operates completely outside any legal restraints, no one in Bolshevik controlled areas is safe from them. Which is as it should be: the purpose of the Red Terror is to terrify.

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Fanny Kaplan (Wikipedia)

In the Basement of the Cheka, by Ivan Vladimirov (Wikipedia Commons: Ivan Vladimirov)

Note: I recommend having a look at more of the pictures by Ivan Vladimirov. In his later careeer he produced socialist realist hackwork, but his pictures from the Civil War and the early stages of the Revolution are quite chilling depictions of social breakdown.

30/8/1918 Lenin shot #1918Live

Bolshevik rule in Russia rests on shaky foundations. In Siberia the party’s writ is challenged by the Komuch government in Samara, whose Czechoslovak allies are a powerful military force. Meanwhile in southern Russia, Denikin has established himself in Novorossiisk in the Kuban region, from where his White Army represents a potent threat to Bolshevik power. But surely the Bolsheviks are secure in Moscow and Petrograd, the heartlands of the revolution?

Lenin certainly thinks so when he heads off today to urge some Moscow factory workers to remain unrelenting in their defence of the revolution. While there has been some industrial unrest in the big cities, the Bolsheviks have successfully faced it down and now face a more pliant workforce. The uprising by their erstwhile allies, the Left SRs, has been crushed. So Lenin should have nothing to worry about.

News of the assassination of Moisei Uritsky, Cheka commander in Petrograd, appears not to have engendered any caution on the part of the Bolshevik leader. Lenin’s nonchalance however proves almost fatal when, as he leaves the factory, a woman emerges from the crowd and produces a pistol. She fires three times at the Bolshevik and then attempts to escape.

Lenin is gravely hurt; his comrades fear that his death may be imminent. His would-be assassin meanwhile is apprehended and interrogated by the Cheka. She is Fanny Kaplan, a Socialist Revolutionary, who declares to her captors that she shot Lenin because he has betrayed the Revolution.

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The attempted assassination, by Vladimir Pchelin (Wikipedia: Fanny Kaplan)

4/8/1918 Gaelic Sunday: Irish athletes defy the British Empire

With failure of the German offensives on the Western Front the threat of conscription in Ireland has receded. Nevertheless the country remains in a ferment, with nationalists continuing to campaign against any proposal to introduce conscription. Many are now preparing plans to sever the link between Ireland and Britain, bringing an end to the United Kingdom. The British authorities have responded with repression. Leaders of Sinn Féin have been arrested under wartime emergency powers, accused of working to assist a planned German invasion. Nationalist public meetings have been banned.

The ban on nationalist meetings includes sporting events organised by the Gaelic Athletic Association. GAA members play camogie or hurling and Gaelic football rather than hockey and rugby or soccer, which marks them out as suspicious to the authorities. Many in the GAA are supporters of Irish nationalism and the British see their fixtures as occasions for sedition. In support of the ban on nationalist gatherings, members of the Royal Irish Constabulary have been breaking up GAA matches, baton-charging onlookers.

Now the GAA strikes back in an event that becomes known as Gaelic Sunday. Today at 3.00 pm across the country some 1,800 Gaelic games take place, with tens of thousands of men and women taking part in these matches and many more watching. Against a widespread protest of this scale the authorities are powerless. The act of defiance has the deserved effect: the British authorities retreat from their policy of direct confrontation with the GAA.

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Freeman’s Journal report on Gaelic Sunday (Come Here To Me: Camogie and protest on the streets of Dublin: Gaelic Sunday, 1918)

29/7/1918 Trotsky drafts the Tsar’s officers #1918Live

The military situation for the Bolsheviks is grim. The Czechoslovak Legion, allied to the anti-Bolshevik Komuch government in Samara appears to be unstoppable. Simbirsk in the Volga region has fallen to them, a target of symbolic importance as it is the birthplace of Lenin. Ekaterinburg too is now in their hands, falling to the Czechoslovaks a week after the Bolsheviks there had killed the Tsar and his family; the Czechoslovaks find no trace of the dead royals although a British officer serving with them manages to rescue Joy, the Tsarevich‘s pet dog, the only survivor of the executions.

Desperate times require desperate measures. Trotsky, the war commissar, has already shocked socialist sensibilities by seeking to recruit former Tsarist officers into the Red Army. Now he goes further, ordering the mass conscription of all former officers in the hope of professionalising the Red Army’s officer corps. To avoid leftist opposition to this measure he abolishes the Red Army’s soldiers’ committees.

For those Tsarist officers who find themselves in the zone controlled by the Bolsheviks, the choice is now simple: either they join the Red Army and take up arms against their former comrades now serving with Denikin and Alexeev, or they face imprisonment and other reprisals at the hands of the Bolsheviks. Further encouraging them into the Red Army’s ranks is the fact that many of these former officers are now effectively destitute as a result of the revolution. With no real choice they join the Red Army in large numbers, to the dismay of those who see their presence as symbolising a betrayal of revolutionary principles.

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Joy the Spaniel (Maja the Most Happy: the Fate of Joy)