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.

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

Trotsky addressing Red Army soldiers (Alpha History: The Red Army)

17/7/1918 The Tsar and his family killed #1918Live

Since the end of April the former Tsar has been imprisoned by the Bolsheviks in Ekaterinburg. At first he and his wife were held there alone, in the ominously named House of Special Designation, but they were subsequently joined by their five children.

The Bolsheviks have had difficulty deciding what to do with the Tsar. Trotsky favoured a show trial, relishing the prospect of leading the prosecution. But other Bolshevik leaders were less enthusiastic; the Tsar remained imprisoned while his captors dithered.

Then events force a decision. The Czechoslovak Legion is expanding its area of control and now has Ekaterinburg surrounded. With the town likely to fall, the Bolsheviks fear that the Tsar will become a focal point of counter-revolutionary resistance. To prevent this, orders are sent from Moscow (possibly by Lenin himself) to kill the Ekaterinburg prisoners.

In the early hours of the morning, the Tsar, the former Tsarina, their four daughters, their haemophiliac son Alexei, and their last four retainers are herded into the basement of their prison, ostensibly because they are about to be transported to a more secure location. But then armed men burst into the cellar and Yurovsky, the chief jailer, reads out the execution order. The Tsar is confused and asks him to repeat it, which he does. Then the execution squad opens fire.
It somehow takes the squad more than 20 minutes to kill all their victims, with some having to be finished off by bayonet, but at the end of that time the former royals and their retainers are all dead. The only surviver is Joy, Alexei’s pet spaniel.

The bodies are then taken away to be buried in secret.

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The House of Special Designation (Wikipedia: Execution of the Romanov family)

The killing of the Romanovs (La República: El centenario de la revolución rusa pasa inadvertido en Rusia)

7/7/1918 The Bolshevik regime secure once more as the Left SR uprising fizzles out #1918Live

The Left faction of the Socialist Revolutionaries (the Left SRs) used to be allies of the Bolsheviks but now they are enemies. After murdering Count Mirbach, the German ambassador, the Left SRs have taken up arms and are calling on the masses to overthrow the Bolsheviks as betrayers of the revolution. Yesterday the situation hung in the balance, with Bolshevik forces in Moscow heavily outnumbered by the Left SRs, who controlled most of the armed militia of the Cheka, the political police.

But now the Left SR rising is over. The masses have failed to rally to the Left SRs while the rebels failed to capitalise on their temporary advantage by storming the Kremlin and arresting the Bolshevik leaders. Instead the uprising runs out of steam, with the Bolsheviks managing to round up Maria Spiridonova and other Left SR leaders (who have conveniently all gone to attend a meeting of the Soviet Congress without any armed guards) and muster enough forces of their own to oblige the surrender of the rebellious Cheka units.

With the Left SRs defeated, the Bolsheviks are once more secure in Moscow. Left SR supporters can now be purged from the Cheka and other Soviet bodies. The reformed Cheka will then be free to ensure there is no fresh challenge from the Left SRs or other disgruntled parties on the left.

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Anarchist allies of the Left SRs (Alpha History: the Left SRs)

Pro-Bolshevik troops guarding the Bolshoi Theatre (Wikipedia: Aufstand der Linken Sozialrevolutionäre)

6/7/1918 The Left SR uprising: a deadly threat to the Bolsheviks at the heart of their power

The Bolsheviks in Russia are embattled, with counter-revolutionary forces threatening their rule across the country. The Czechoslovak Legion provides a particularly potent threat, controlling the Trans-Siberian Railway; working in alliance with the Komuch government in Samara they threaten to bring an end to Bolshevik rule. Vladivostok has fallen to the Legion, which they now proclaim to be an Allied protectorate. The Allies begin to think of using the port to aid anti-Bolshevik forces in Russia, with the ultimate aim of bringing the country back into the war against Germany. President Wilson goes so far as to suggest that Japan could send forces to secure Vladivostok, allowing the Czechoslovaks to redeploy further to the west.

But the Bolsheviks face other threats further to home. When the Bolsheviks seized power last November, they did so in alliance with the left faction of the Socialist Revolutionary Party (the Left SRs). However the Left SRs were not supportive of the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty with Germany, seeing it as a betrayal of the revolution. Left SR commissars resigned from Sovnarkom, the Soviet government, but the party remained broadly supportive of the soviet regime, a kind of loyal opposition. Since then they have become increasingly disenchanted by the Bolsheviks’ authoritarianism and their perception that the country is being transformed into a German client state.

Now the Left SRs decide to act. One of their activists assassinates Count Mirbach, the German ambassador, an act of propaganda by deed intended to ignite a general uprising of the masses against the Bolsheviks. When Dzerzhinsky, Lenin’s head of the Cheka (the political police), tries to arrest the murderers he is himself arrested: most members of the Cheka in Moscow are in fact loyal to the Left SRs rather than the Bolsheviks.

The Germans are understandably furious at the murder of their ambassador. Lenin is summoned to the German embassy where he issues a grovelling apology. His situation is now desperate. The Left SRs have far more armed men in the capital than he does: if they press their advantage the Bolshevik regime could find itself decapitated.

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Wilhelm von Mirbach (Wikipedia)

28/6/1918 In response to industrial unrest the Bolsheviks nationalise industry #1918Live

Bolshevik rule in Russia is threatened by Denikin and Alexeev‘s White Army in the south and by the Czechoslovak Legion and the Komuch in Siberia. Within the heartland of Soviet Russia the Bolsheviks are facing other threats to their rule. Unrest seems to be particularly prevalent in Petrograd, the cradle of the revolution. The economic crisis has led to a wave of strikes that have paralysed industry there. Harsh counter-measures, including the Cheka’s firing on striking workers, have failed to bring Petrograd’s workers to heel. If anything the situation has worsened with strikes continuing to escalate, threatening to spread from Petrograd to the rest of Soviet Russia.

The Bolshevik leadership fears that labour unrest is a prelude to a coup attempt by their Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary rivals. These fears are accentuated when Volodarsky, a Bolshevik press commissar, is assassinated during industrial unrest. To combat this threat the Bolsheviks now take a bold step: the nationalisation of Russian heavy industry. Previously the revolution had meant that factories were coming under the control of workers’ committees. Now they will be brought under state control, self-management replaced by direction from the centre. Striking workers can then be threatened with dismissal and strike organisers arrested.

The nationalisation decree is issued today by Sovnarkom, the Soviet government. In tandem the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries are expelled from soviet assemblies. The last opposition newspapers are shut down and the Cheka let loose on any leftist opposition to the Bolsheviks.

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Russian factory workers (Libcom.org: Russian Labour and Bolshevik Power after October)

20/6/1918 Arthur Griffith wins East Cavan by-election from his English prison cell #1918Live

British plans to introduce conscription in Ireland have alienated wide swathes of opinion there. After a series of strikes and demonstrations against the measure, plus pledges by Irish women not to take the jobs of conscripted men, the British authorities have back pedalled on their plans and effectively abandoned plans to draft Irishmen. The successful resistance to the German offensives on the Western Front and the increasing numbers of US troops arriving in Europe have in any case reduced the need for Irish soldiers.

Nevertheless, Ireland remains tense. Sinn Féin leaders have been arrested by the British, accused of treacherous plotting in support of a German invasion of Ireland. One of these is Arthur Griffith, founder of the party but no longer its leader. Today he finds himself elected to the House of Commons in a by-election held in the East Cavan constituency, where the sitting MP had died. Griffith soundly defeats the candidate from the more moderate Irish Parliamentary Party, reversing a run of by-election defeats suffered by his party.

Sinn Féin’s policy is for its MPs to not take their seats in Westminster. The British authorities assist Griffith in this regard, preventing him from leaving Gloucester jail.

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poster (Fr Michael O’Flanagan, from Cliffoney to Crosna: Fr O’Flanagan’s Suppressed Speech, May 1918)