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)

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)

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))