18/11/1918 Meanwhile in Russia…

Peace is descending on Western Europe but in Russia the civil war between the Bolsheviks and their opponents continues. The terms of the Western Front armistice oblige the Germans to abandon the gains of the Brest-Litovsk treaty, so now German and Austro-Hungarian troops are withdrawing from Ukraine, forcing the client regime there to stand on its own two feet and face off a likely Red Army invasion. Meanwhile the Germans are also withdrawing from the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, where liberal nationalists are now establishing independent administrations.

The anti-Bolshevik forces within Russia itself hope that the armistice means that they will receive more assistance from the Allies, who have promised the Whites that Russian military stores captured by the Germans will be shipped to them; there is even talk of sending troops to occupy Ukraine. For now though the military situation remains confusing. Baron Wrangel is leading a White army in the northern Caucasus and is successfully clearing the Red Army and Bolsheviks from there. Elsewhere though the Red Army seems to be getting stronger and stronger and is no longer the ineffectual rabble it once was. The White are also suffering from the increased lack of interest by the Czechoslovak Legion in the Russian Civil War; the emerging independence of Czechoslovakia means that the Czechoslovaks do not see why they should remain in Russia any longer.

In southern Russia Denikin is the preeminent leader of White forces, particularly since the recent death by heart attack of Alexeev. In Siberia the situation is more complicated. The Komuch had attempted to establish a liberal and socialist regime but never attracted much popular support and increasingly became puppets of more reactionary military figures; the Komuch also finds itself consumed by infighting between different factions. Now the pretence of democracy is abandoned and a purely military regime is established under Alexander Kolchak, previously the commander of Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

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Pyotr Wrangel (Wikipedia)

Alexander Kolchak (Wikipedia)

13/4/1918 Counter-revolutionary leader Kornilov killed at Ekaterinodar

Generals Kornilov and Alexeev are leading an anti-Bolshevik army in south Russia. Together with a Cossack force they are attacking the town of Ekaterinodar in an effort to regain control of the Kuban region. But Ekaterinodar is proving a tougher nut to crack than expected: the Reds here are well-armed and outnumber the Whites. Kornilov nevertheless is determined to press on with the battle, even if it means the destruction of his army.

In the event, the fighting at Ekaterinodar leads to Kornilov’s destruction: he is killed when a Red artillery shell lands on his headquarters. Denikin, his deputy, takes over command of the army, with Alexeev taking on political leadership. Kornilov is buried in secrecy, his death hidden from his followers lest the loss of their leader provoke a collapse in morale.

Denikin now orders the army to abandon Ekaterinodar. They set off once more across the steppe, now marching back towards the Don region from whence they originally came.

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Lavr Kornilov (Wikipedia)

10/4/1918 Kornilov decides to clear the Reds from Ekaterinodar #1918Live

When the Red Army captured the city of Novocherkassk, Lenin declared the Russian Civil War to be over. Generals Kornilov and Alexeev beg to disagree. They are leading an army of anti-Bolshevik volunteers on a march across the steppes of south Russia, trailed by a refugee horde of those whose lives of privilege and comfort have been turned upside down. Kornilov and Alexeev’s army is supporting itself by looting food and other supplies from the peasant population it passes through, taking revenge on the lower orders for the slights and misfortunes the Revolution has visited upon them. In villages suspected of leftist sympathies the Whites are also carrying out massacres, supposedly as reprisals for Red atrocities in Rostov.

By now the Whites have linked up with Cossack army from the Kuban region, now largely under Red control. Together Kornilov and the Cossacks resolve to take the fight to the enemy, today beginning a march on Ekaterinodar, the Kuban’s capital.

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Commemorative post car of the Ice March (Wikipedia)

23/2/1918 The Ice March: the White Army retreats from Rostov #1918Live

The Bolshevik leaders of Soviet Russia face internal and external enemies. German and Austro-Hungarian troops are advancing into the country, determined to force the acceptance of punitive peace terms. In the south of Russia meanwhile officers of the former Tsarist army have formed a new force in the hope of overthrowing the Bolsheviks. Under Kornilov and Alexeev the Whites, as the Bolsheviks enemies are known, have occupied Rostov. They hope to recruit the Cossacks to their anti-Bolshevik crusade.

The Bolsheviks are unable to resist the German invaders but they have more luck with Kornilov and Alexeev. The Cossacks are less keen on joining the counter-revolutionaries than expected, with many even supporting the revolution. Meanwhile workers uprisings in the towns near Rostov leave the Whites in Rostov dangerously exposed. Rather than fight to the finish there, Alexeev and Kornilov lead their men on a retreat south. Red Army units arrive in Rostov today as the Whites march across the steppe. With the Whites are their family members and the desperate bourgeoisie of the city, who fear the rough justice of the Reds.

Alexeev and Kornilov are marching towards the Kuban region, where they hope to regroup. Perhaps the Cossacks there will be more amenable to joining their war against the Bolsheviks. In the meantime they are living off the land, feeding themselves from whatever they can loot from the local peasantry.

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The Ice March, by Dmitri Shmarin (Art and Faith [a Russian art blog])

22/12/1917 As civil war begins in Russia, Soviet and German delegates meet at Brest-Litovsk

At Brest-Litovsk German and Russian delegates are attempting to negotiate a settlement that will bring a final end to the war between the two countries. The Germans are representatives of the Kaiser‘s imperial government, which effectively means that they are the agents of Hindenburg and Ludendorff; the Russians have been sent by Sovnarkom, the Soviet government of Lenin‘s Bolsheviks. The Germans hope that peace with Russia will allow them to send large numbers of troops to the Western Front; they also hope to seize territory and extract resources from the Russians. The Russian delegates however are playing for time, hoping to spin out negotiations until revolution spreads to the other belligerent nations of Europe. They try to advance the revolutionary agenda by making lofty calls for a peace based on no annexations and no indemnities and call for an immediate ceasefire on all fronts in Europe.

At home meanwhile there are signs that the Soviet government in Petrograd may soon have to fight for its survival. Fighting has broken out in the southern Russian city of Rostov, where Bolshevik forces are under attack from the newly formed Volunteer Army, led by Generals Kornilov and Alexeev. This force is top heavy, with a surfeit of officers, and greatly outnumbered by the pro-Bolshevik forces in Rostov. However the military discipline of the Volunteers means that they have the upper hand in the fighting, a worrying portent for the Bolsheviks if this fighting spreads.

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Soldiers of the Kornilov Shock Battalion (World Socialist Web Site: Volunteer Army captures Rostov)

14/9/1917 The Petrograd Soviet swings behind the Bolsheviks #1917Live

Kornilov‘s coup against Kerensky‘s government has failed. Alexeev, Kerensky’s new army commander, takes over at the Mogilev headquarters. Kornilov is placed under arrest, albeit in very agreeable circumstances. Krimov, who had led his march on Petrograd, is less fortunate. After a fraught meeting with Kerensky, in which he accuses the prime minister of having betrayed Kornilov, Krimov shoots himself, believing Russia to be doomed.

Kerensky attempts to reassert his authority. In place of his recently dissolved cabinet, he forms a five man Directory headed (naturally) by himself. He declares Russia a socialist republic, formally ending he monarchy that everyone had forgotten about. He orders all militias to disarm. But the workers militias that formed in Petrograd to oppose Kornilov keep their weapons.

Russia is still in a chaotic state, gripped by agrarian and industrial unrest. And the Kornilov affair has weakened Kerensky. Conservatives hate him for failing to support the general. Others suspect him of intriguing with Kornilov before their rupture. With Kerensky’s support ebbing away leftwing groups like the Bolsheviks find themselves in the ascendant. Now the Petrograd Soviet for the first time has a Bolshevik majority. Today it agrees to a motion, proposed by the Bolshevik Kamenev, calling for the establishment of a Soviet government.

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A meeting of the Petrograd Soviet (Awful Avalanche: Biography of Bolshevik Leader Lev Kamenev)

15/3/1917 Russia’s provisional government formed as the Tsar abdicates

In Petrograd the revolution has swept away the Tsarist regime. Now a provisional government is proclaimed. The prime minister is Prince Georgy Lvov, a liberal politician active in the cooperative movement. Some of the other members of the government are more obscure, but one prominent figure is the Minister for Justice, Alexander Kerensky. Kerensky is the only socialist in the provisional government, having been elected to the Duma as a member of the Trudovik Party, a split from the Socialist Revolutionaries. Kerensky is also a member of the executive of the Petrograd Soviet, and so he straddles the parliamentary and more radical aspects of the new order.

Meanwhile, what of the Tsar? In an unlikely sequence of events his train has got stuck in the town of Pskov. There he is assailed by telegrams from Alexeev, the Russian army’s chief of staff, and other leading generals, including Brusilov. They all say that it is essential that the Tsar abdicate. Otherwise disorder will spread inexorably through Russia and it will be impossible to continue the war.

The Tsar gives in. He renounces the throne of Russia, naming his brother, Grand Duke Mikhail, as his successor (bypassing his son Alexei, whose haemophilia means that he is not expected to live long).

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The Tsar abdicates (Wikipedia)