18/3/1919 Red Army blues

Counter-revolutionary forces continue to pose a threat to Soviet Russia, but the Red Army has been enjoying considerable success against its enemies. Much of this is down to Trotsky‘s recruitment of former Tsarist officers, whose efforts have given the Red Army a much-needed professionalism. This policy has however led to considerable disquiet within the Communist Party. The opponents of Trotsky’s policy, a loose group known as the “military opposition”, fear that the Red Army is in danger of itself becoming a counter-revolutionary organ, led by reactionary officers and with a rank and file made up of conscripted peasants who are not true believers in socialism. Tensions boil over at the Communist Party congress now taking place, with the military opposition arguing that the Red Army needs to be brought under party control.

Lenin appeals for party unity and Trotsky is obliged to compromise. Officer training for party members is stepped up so that they will eventually be able to move into Red Army leadership positions. More crucially though is the appointment of political commissars to all units, to keep an eye on the officer corps and prevent them from deserting to the Whites or acting in a counter-revolutionary manner. This is not a role for the faint-hearted, with Trotsky stating that the commissars will be personally responsible for the performance of units they are attached to. But the commissars’ appointment makes clear that the Communist Party is asserting its control over the Red Army.

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Leon Trotsky and a Red Army officer (BBC: Reasons for the victory of the Reds in the Civil War)

Lenin and some of the 400 congress delegates (Wikipedia: 8th Congress of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks))

15/2/1919 Pogrom in Proskurov: Ukrainian Cossacks massacre Jews

Germany’s defeat has rendered the peace of Brest-Litovsk void, leaving Soviet Russia free to invade territories in the west that it had been forced to abandon. Ukraine in particular is now a zone of war as the Red Army battles against Ukrainian nationalists, other local forces and White armies seeking to overturn the Revolution. The Red Army is enjoying some success, including the capture of Kiev earlier this month. But the fighting is not all going the way of the Soviets. Ukrainian Cossack forces capture the town of Proskurov from the Bolsheviks today. Their leader then orders a massacre of the town Jewish population. His men are happy to oblige, brutally killing more than 1,500 people. Smaller atrocities of this type are occurring all across the country.

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Pogrom victims, Proskurov (The Jewish Voice – February 1919: Horror Comes to Ukrainian Jewish Community in the Town of Proskurov)

Ukraine (Wikipedia: Ukraine Offensive (1919)

11/1/1919 The Prodrazvyorstka: Soviet Russia steps up confiscation of food from the peasantry

The Red Army has had some successes against its enemies, but Soviet Russia’s situation is still precarious. White armies and their foreign allies threaten the Bolshevik zone from without, but a more insidious problem is the shortage of food. Much of Russia’s most productive agricultural areas are outside Soviet control, while the dislocation caused by war, revolution and now civil war has disrupted the production and distribution of food; as a result, the cities are increasingly going hungry. The urban centres are the heartland of the Bolshevik regime, so food shortages there pose a mortal threat to its survival.

The Bolsheviks have been confiscating the peasantry’s grain surpluses since last May, but now they go one step further, with Sovnarkom (the Soviet government) issuing a decree on prodrazvyorstka, or food apportionment. Instead of taking the farmers’ surpluses, food confiscation quotas are issued to each locality, with the quota to be seized from peasants whether they can afford to part with it or not. If the peasants’ own supplies of food are confiscated then they may starve, while famine may result if seed stocks are seized, but Lenin and his associates hope that the new grain levy will ensure that the cities at least remain adequately fed.

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In search of an escaped Kulak, by Ivan Vladimirov (Wikipedia Commons)

9/1/1919 As the Red Army advances, Latvia seeks German volunteers

Civil war rages in Russia. In Siberia the counter-revolutionary forces of Admiral Kolchak have stormed Perm and are threatening to advance westwards. Elsewhere though the tide may be turning in the Bolsheviks‘ favour, as the increasingly powerful Red Army exploits the disorganisation and lack of unity among the Bolsheviks’ enemies. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk obliged the Bolsheviks to abandon vast territories in the west of the former Russian Empire. That treaty has however been rendered null and void by the German armistice with the western Allies. Now the Red Army is expanding into Ukraine and the Baltic States, keen to bring them back into the Russian orbit and introduce them to the delights of socialism. The Bolsheviks have captured Riga, Latvia’s capital, and have also taken Vilna (or Vilnius), which is separately disputed between Poland and Lithuania.

Fearing that the Red Army is about to snuff out their recently achieved independence, the leaders of Latvia now take a desperate step: they advertise in Germany for volunteers to come and aid them in their struggle against the Red Army. The Latvians hope that there are enough demobilised soldiers in Germany who miss the comradeship and certainties of army life, and that these men will be keen to join their struggle against Bolshevism. Whether these German volunteers will be an easily controllable force is of course another matter, but Latvia’s desperate situation obliges its leaders to offer what may prove to be a faustian pact.

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Red Army propaganda poster (The Charnel-House: Плакаты СССР- Будь на страже! (Д. Моор) 1920)

Holding the line

I am a bit tied up with Important Things right now and so am falling a bit behind in this important Great War endeavour. These are some of the things that happened since the my last post, which I hope to return to shortly.

29/12/1918 The Independent Social Democrats leave Ebert‘s coalition in protest at the German Chancellor’s decision to send troops against the People’s Navy Division on Christmas Eve.

31/12/1918 In less than two months flu has claimed the lives of 20% of Western Samoa‘s population.

2/1/1919 Criminal investigations open into atrocities ordered by Turkey’s leaders during the war.

3/1/1919 Emir Faisal reaches an agreement with Zionist leader Chaim Weizman to support Jewish immigration into Palestine.

3/1/1919 The Red Army occupies Riga. In response to the Bolshevik invasion, Latvia’s government seeks to form an armed force of German volunteers.

4/1/1919 A bizarre and ultimately unsuccessful attempt by an American officer to kidnap the Kaiser.

5/1/1919 Demonstrations in Berlin by the far left Spartacists escalate into an armed uprising against Ebert’s government.

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Spartacists (Wikipedia: Spartacist uprising)

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)