4/6/1918 Trotsky: “Long Live Civil War!”

The revolution in Russia has not brought an end to the country’s problems. The cities are now facing severe shortages of food, which have led to prices spiralling out of reach of ordinary people in the cities. With wages failing to keep pace, many are reduced to selling their possessions to raise money. Ever increasing numbers of women are finding themselves obliged to take up prostitution.

The food crisis has a number of causes. The Russian railways are in a state of collapse, while many trains arrive in the cities empty, their cargoes of grain pilfered en route. The peasants meanwhile are reluctant to sell food at the fixed prices being offered by the Bolsheviks, which have been rendered derisory by inflation.

An effect of the crisis is that Russia’s cities are emptying out as people head to the countryside to be closer to food sources. This exodus appears to affect all classes of society, particularly the labouring poor who have only arrived in the cities relatively recently and have closer links to the land. Meanwhile those who continue to live in the cities are nevertheless spending increasing amounts of time in the countryside, seeking to trade goods for food with farmers (a phenomenon seen also in Germany and Austria-Hungary).

The response of the Bolsheviks to this crisis is to institute a state grain monopoly. Armed cadres are being sent to the countryside to seize the peasants’ surplus in order to feed the cities. Today Trotsky addresses a Soviet assembly, defending the grain seizures as a necessary civil war. “Civil war has to be waged for grain […] Yes, long live civil war! […] Civil war in the name of direct and ruthless struggle against counter-revolution!”

25/5/1918 Trotsky orders the Czechoslovak Legion’s suppression #1918Live

Disaffected Czechs and Slovaks captured from the Austro-Hungarians were recruited into a Czechoslovak Legion to fight alongside the Russians against the Central Powers. The Bolsheviks had agreed to transport the Legion by rail to Vladivostok, from where they would be shipped to Europe to continue their war. However clashes between the Czechoslovaks and the Bolsheviks have seen members of the Legion take over the town of Chelyabinsk, cutting the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Now Trotsky, commander of the Red Army, decides that he has had enough of these troublesome Czechoslovaks. Repudiating the transit agreement, he telegrams Soviets across Siberia, ordering them to suppress the Legion. “Every armed Czech found on the railway is to shot on the spot!”, he demands.

The Czechoslovaks are a disciplined and well-armed fighting force, while the various Soviets still have only Red Guard militia units at their disposal. Trotsky may perhaps have bitten off more than he can chew, initiating an unnecessary war in Siberia that his men will not easily win.

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Czechoslovak legionnaires (SovietJournal: The Czech Legion)

Leon Trotsky (Wikipedia)

30/4/1918 The former Tsar arrives in the House of Special Designation #1918Live

Before the revolution the Tsar wielded absolute power in Russia, at least in theory. His life and that of his family was one of gilded luxury. After his abdication the imperial family were held in conditions of genteel house arrest, continuing to enjoy privileges undreamt of by their former subjects. However the Tsar remained deeply unpopular with the revolutionary public and there were fears for his life if he remained in Russia. During his premiership, Kerensky tried unsuccessfully to arrange for the Tsar to go abroad into exile. However a tentative offer of asylum in Britain was withdrawn following objections by King George V, who feared that his cousin’s arrival would ignite revolutionary sentiment. Other countries declined to take the Tsar for their own reasons.

To protect them from the Petrograd workers, Kerensky moved the imperial family to Tobolsk in Siberia, where they continued to live in comfortable conditions. However, since the October Revolution the situation of the imperial family has deteriorated. They have been denied luxuries and put on more basic rations. Their guards have become more surly. There is increased talk of putting the Tsar on trial.

In truth, the Bolsheviks are not sure what to do with the Tsar. Trotsky favours a show trial in Moscow, with himself as the prosecutor; others are not so sure. In the meantime the Tsar and Tsarina are transferred to a new place of incarceration in Ekaterinburg. They arrive today and are greeted by an angry mob before being taken to the House of Special Designation, the commandeered home of a local businessman. Their son and daughters will join them later.

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Tsar Nicholas II in the early stages of his captivity (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

The House of Special Designation (Wikipedia)

28/3/1918 Trotsky’s big idea: recruiting Tsarist officers into the Red Army #1918Live

Fearing that the Germans will renege on the peace agreement and march on Petrograd, Russia’s Soviet government has removed itself to Moscow, safely in Russia’s interior, where Lenin and his fellow members of Sovnarkom install themselves in the Kremlin. The Bolshevik government nevertheless continues to rest on shaky foundations. Kornilov and Alexeev remain on the loose in south Russia, their Volunteer Army a serious thorn in the side of the regime. The Bolsheviks fear that other armed threats to their power could erupt into being at any moment.

Trotsky has been appointed as People’s Commissar for War, charged with turning the Red Army into an effective fighting machine. The Red Army’s fundamental problem is that it is an army of enthusiastic amateurs, a successor to the workers’ militias that took part in the recent revolution. It is in no state to take on a professionally organised fighting force.

Now Trotsky reveals his controversial plan for the reformation of the Red Army: officers of the former Tsarist army will be recruited in order to bring their military experience and training to bear. This shocks many of Trotsky’s Bolshevik comrades, who fear that the these officers will undermine the revolutionary character of the Red Army. They also suspect that the officers will be unreliable, more sympathetic to the cause of their former associates in Kornilov’s force than the Revolution. But the military threats to the Bolshevik regime concentrates minds; Trotsky has his way and the recruitment of the officers begins.

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Leon Trotksy and Red Army troops (La Granda Guerra + 100: Lev Trotsky)

14/3/1918 Trotsky takes over as commander of the Red Army #1918Live

Lenin declared the Russian Civil War to be over when his men captured the city of Novocherkassk, capital of the Don region. But this may have been premature. Kornilov and Alexeev‘s army remains at large since it evacuated Rostov. The cossacks of the Kuban region are restive. Across Russia the Bolsheviks‘ enemies are waiting for the right moment to strike against Lenin’s government.

The Bolsheviks have already started to form a Red Army to replace the now disbanded army of the former Tsarist regime. However it is still a ragtag and disorganised body, little more than a workers’ militia and certainly not something that can be expected to fight and win a war against determined enemies. In order to transform the Red Army into an effective fighting force, Trotsky is now appointed as Sovnarkom‘s war commissar, making him effectively both the Red Army’s political director and its commander-in-chief. But although Trotsky is a man of many talents, he has no military experience whatsoever. How is he to remodel the Red Army?

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Leon Trotsky in military uniform (Marxists Internet Archive: the Military Writings of Leon Trotsky, Volume 1 (1918))

3/3/1918 Brest-Litovsk: Germany and Russia agree a peace treaty #1918Live

Germany’s unstoppable advance in the East has forced the capitulation of Soviet Russia. Today a Soviet delegation signs a peace treaty with the Germans at Brest-Litovsk. The terms are harsh. Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia are all detached from Russia, notionally independent but effectively German colonies.Russia has lost a third of its population, more than half its industry and nearly 90% of its coal mines. Russia has also lost much of its railways and sources of iron ore, as well as the rich agricultural lands of Ukraine. Within Russia itself the treaty grants privileges to Germans: their businesses are immune from nationalisation or other interference by the Bolshevik regime. And Russia must pay an indemnity to the Germany.

Germany has done well out of the treaty, acquiring both the territories in the East it has already overrun and effective control of Ukraine. Austria-Hungary has done less well, having to make do with promises of a share of the grain to be extracted from Ukraine. The other beneficiary of the treaty is Turkey. Russia is obliged not merely to withdraw to its frontiers from before the war but also from the three provinces of Kars, Batum and Ardahan it gained from Turkey in 1878. The future status of the three provinces is to be determined by plebiscite, but one to be conducted by the Turks. Turkish forces are now pushing eastwards to not merely occupy the territory they are being awarded at Brest-Litovsk but as much of Transcaucasia as they can.

Acceptance of the Brest-Litovsk treaty is controversial within Russia. Many leading Bolsheviks oppose the treaty while the support of Trotsky is lukewarm at best (he has resigned as foreign minister to avoid having to sign it himself). The Left faction of the Socialist Revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks’ coalition partner, sees the treaty as turning the country into a German client state; so incensed are the Left SRs that their ministers resign from Sovnarkom (Soviet Russia’s government). But Lenin sees peace as essential to give socialism the breathing space it needs in Russia. With time revolution will spread across Europe, negating the treaty.

For Germany the treaty’s signature is a relief. Grain from Ukraine should alleviate the country’s food problems. And crucially it stops the country’s leaders from having to worry about the Eastern Front. Ludendorff is now free to concentrate on the great offensive he is planning in the West.

images source (Wikipedia)

24/2/1918 Lenin accepts the Germans’ final peace terms

After Trotsky walked out of the Brest-Litovsk peace talks the Germans and Austro-Hungarians launched Operation Faustschlag, an offensive intended to force the Bolsheviks to accept their draconian peace terms. Their advance has faced little or no resistance, in a short time making gains that would have been unimaginable even a year ago. Meanwhile the Turks too are advancing unopposed into territory seized from them earlier in the war. Today the Turks arrive in Trebizond, where a Russian army brass band plays to welcome them into the city.

Yesterday Germany communicated its final peace terms to the Russians. The Germans are now demanding all the territory captured since the start of Operation Faustschlag, which means that Estonia will now be theirs as well as Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and much of Byelorussia. Ukraine is also to be separated from Russia, notionally independent but effectively a German client state.

In Petrograd Lenin argues that if the German terms are rejected then even worse ones will be forced on Russia in a few more weeks, ones so draconian they could spell the end of Bolshevik rule. By threatening to resign he secures Trotsky’s abstention at the Bolshevik central committee, which votes to accept the peace, though Bukharin and his faction then resign in protest. The Soviet Executive then approves the peace proposals by 116 to 85 votes, with Left SRs and many of Lenin’s own party shouting “Judas!” at him.

Early today Lenin sends to the Germans an unconditional acceptance of their terms.

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Vladimir Lenin (Marxist Internet Archive: V.I.Lenin – Founder of the Soviet State (October 1917-1918))