24/12/1918 Striking back against the Bolsheviks: Kolchak routs the Red Army and storms Perm #1918Live

With the defeat of Germany on the Western Front the main threat to the established order of Europe is now Bolshevism. Lenin and his Bolsheviks have taken power in Russia and overturned the prevailing order of society there, executing the royal family, seizing property and reversing traditional hierarchies. Across Europe and beyond the fear of those in power is that something similar might now happen in their own countries. Consequently their policemen are on guard for any sign of Bolshevik contagion spreading to their own disgruntled working classes.

The end of fighting on the Western Front and the Middle East has freed up large numbers of Allied troops. Large stocks of war materials are no longer needed for the struggle against Germany and Turkey. Could some of these soldiers and some of this materiel be sent to aid the White armies fighting against the Bolsheviks? Allied troops have already established themselves in ports on the periphery of the former Russian Empire: Archangelsk and Murmansk in the north, Vladivostok in the far east, and Odessa, Sevastopol and Novorossiysk in the south. The Allied forces thus far deployed are too small to seriously affect the outcome of the Russian Civil War, but White leaders hope that they are just the advance guard of larger intervention forces. Allied material aid to the Whites has also been relatively modest thus far, but again, the anti-Bolshevik leaders hope that more is on its way.

Trotsky‘s reorganisation of the Red Army had seen it win a number of victories but now perhaps the pendulum is swinging in the other direction. Admiral Kolchak has reinvigorated White forces in the Siberian theatre, with his troops no longer needing the backing of the Czechoslovak Legion to take on the Red Army. Today Kolchak’s men capture Perm, an industrial city in the Urals. In the fighting large numbers of Red Army troops surrender to Kolchak; they appear to have been sent into the battle without adequate training or winter clothing. The Red Army troops appear also to be suffering from food shortages, a consequence of disorganisation in the Bolsheviks’ rear and the alienation of the peasantry by the Red Terror. This is all very promising for Kolchak, as it suggests that the Red Army might just be on the brink of disintegration.

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Kolchak reviewing troops (Wikipedia: Russian Civil War)

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)

5/8/1918 Allied intervention in Russia and the defence of Baku

Russia is now in the grip of civil war between the Bolshevik government in Moscow and its various enemies. However the chaotic situation in the country is not merely an internal matter, as foreign powers are now beginning to intervene. This is mainly a matter for the Allies, as the Central Powers are too busy with the territories they wrested from Russia at Brest-Litovsk to actively take sides in the civil war. Allied intervention in Russia however is somewhat confused, with a lack of clear goals or a consistent approach.

In the Russian Far East, Japanese and American troops have landed in Vladivostok, to secure the city for the Czechoslovak Legion. This is implicitly an anti-Bolshevik intervention, as the Czechoslovaks are fighting the Bolsheviks on behalf of the Komuch government in Samara. British forces meanwhile have established themselves in the north Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangelsk. They landed initially to secure military supplies that had been sent there to support the Russian war effort. The British were also keen to deter German or Finnish expansion in this region, which meant that there was some tacit support for their landing on the part of the Bolsheviks. Since then though there are suspicions that the British are working with anti-Bolshevik elements.

In Baku British intervention is fighting to block Turkish expansion in the Caucasus region. Turkish forces have been expanding here since Russia signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, seeking to recover territory lost in previous conflicts with Russia. Their attempts to advance into Georgia had put them at loggerheads with the Germans, who favour Georgian independence. It seemed briefly as though the Turco-German alliance would collapse over the issue, but instead Enver, Turkey’s war minister, backed down and redirected his men towards Azerbaijan.

Following inter-communal violence in April, Baku is now largely devoid of Azeris and is under the control of the Central Caspian Dictatorship, an alliance of Armenian nationalist and various anti-Bolshevik forces that recently seized power in the city. The Dictatorship is now facing a Turkish army under the command of Nuri Pasha, Enver’s half brother. The defence of Baku is aided by an amphibious British force, which arrives today from Persia. The British are only too happy to take on the Turks, fearing that if they are victorious in Baku they will then attempt an overland march on India. Their expeditionary force is nick-named Dunsterforce, after its commander, General Lionel Dunsterville, who is reputedly the real-life model for the eponymous character in Rudyard Kipling’s Stalky & Co.

The arrival of Dunsterforce at Baku proves decisive. The Turks are forced back. For now at least Baku remains a safe haven for Armenians.
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British troops advancing to the aid of Baku (Wikipedia: Battle of Baku)

Armenian fighters (Wikipedia: Sebastatsi Murad)

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)

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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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)