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)

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)

7/10/1918 Twilight of the Komuch

In Siberia the leftist government of the Komuch (the Committee of Members of the Constituent Assembly) attempted to present itself as a progressive alternative to the Bolshevik dictatorship (as opposed to conservative figures like Denikin and Kornilov). Soon after the Komuch formed an alliance with the Czechoslovak Legion, which took control of the Trans-Siberian Railway and carved out an impressive swathe of territory they then placed under the Komuch’s notional control. An early acquisition by the Legion was the city of Samara, which the Komuch then made its capital.

Now though the Czechoslovaks’ power is eroding; many of their soldiers have become demoralised and are wondering why they are fighting against the Bolsheviks instead of returning to Western Europe to fight for the creation of independent Czechoslovakia. The Red Army meanwhile is becoming ever more powerful. They have already recovered Simbirsk, birthplace of Lenin, and now they chase the Komuch from Samara itself.

The Komuch retreat to Ufa to lick their wounds, but here they find themselves falling under the influence of more reactionary forces of the White Russian counter-revolution. The Komuch never managed to establish much of a popular following for itself. Now it appears that its attempt to present itself as a progressive rallying point for opposition to the Bolsheviks appears to have failed.

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)

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)

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)