28/6/1918 In response to industrial unrest the Bolsheviks nationalise industry #1918Live

Bolshevik rule in Russia is threatened by Denikin and Alexeev‘s White Army in the south and by the Czechoslovak Legion and the Komuch in Siberia. Within the heartland of Soviet Russia the Bolsheviks are facing other threats to their rule. Unrest seems to be particularly prevalent in Petrograd, the cradle of the revolution. The economic crisis has led to a wave of strikes that have paralysed industry there. Harsh counter-measures, including the Cheka’s firing on striking workers, have failed to bring Petrograd’s workers to heel. If anything the situation has worsened with strikes continuing to escalate, threatening to spread from Petrograd to the rest of Soviet Russia.

The Bolshevik leadership fears that labour unrest is a prelude to a coup attempt by their Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary rivals. These fears are accentuated when Volodarsky, a Bolshevik press commissar, is assassinated during industrial unrest. To combat this threat the Bolsheviks now take a bold step: the nationalisation of Russian heavy industry. Previously the revolution had meant that factories were coming under the control of workers’ committees. Now they will be brought under state control, self-management replaced by direction from the centre. Striking workers can then be threatened with dismissal and strike organisers arrested.

The nationalisation decree is issued today by Sovnarkom, the Soviet government. In tandem the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries are expelled from soviet assemblies. The last opposition newspapers are shut down and the Cheka let loose on any leftist opposition to the Bolsheviks.

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Russian factory workers (Libcom.org: Russian Labour and Bolshevik Power after October)

9/5/1918 Bolshevik problems: sulky workers and stingy peasants #1918Live

A problem for Russia’s Bolsheviks is that they are strong in the big cities but weak in the countryside. The danger is that if the peasants (the great bulk of Russia’s population) are not forthcoming with food supplies then the city’s will starve and the Soviet government will collapse. The Bolsheviks do not have much in the way of carrots to offer the peasantry so today they turn to the stick, announcing that henceforth the surplus grain of the countryside is state property. They prepare to despatch armed brigades to scour the countryside for surplus grain, at gunpoint if necessary; the brigades will be free to determine themselves what constitutes a surplus.

Even in the cities the Bolsheviks’ situation is becoming uncertain. Incidents of industrial unrest have been occurring in Petrograd and elsewhere, partly driven by the problematic food situation. The Bolshevik response has been somewhat heavy-handed, with members of the Cheka (the political police) firing on strikers outside Petrograd. A workers’ state firing on workers is deeply embarrassing, but it also fails to quell unrest on the factory floors, with more strikes being planned for coming days.

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Requisitioning Grain, by Ivan Vladimirov (Wikipedia Commons: Ivan Vladimirov)

22/4/1918 Cracow: pogroms and inter-communal violence #1918Live

In Austro-Hungarian Cracow, the tensions of war have led to a disturbing outbreak of intercommunal tensions. Enraged by food shortages, Polish citizens of the town blame not the war, the authorities or the capitalist class but their Jewish fellow citizens, accusing them of controlling the black market and keeping themselves well fed while everyone else goes hungry. Tensions boiled over a few days ago when a mob descended on the city’s Jewish quarter to pillage local shops and abuse the quarter’s inhabitants. The police stood by on that occasion so Cracow’s Jews have taken steps to defend themselves from future outrages. Attempts to extract revenge lead to further outbreaks of violence, with traders at a flea market attacked by club-bearing Jewish youths.

By now the army has been called in to restore order, but the city remains in a tumult. The one thing now uniting the Polish and Jewish citizens of the town is a loathing for the Habsburg authorities. Soldiers find themselves stoned and beaten by angry townsfolk; there are even reports of shots being fired against them.

The situation in Cracow is extreme, but it is emblematic of much that is happening across Austria-Hungary. The pressures and privations of war have caused an unravelling of the ties binding the multi-ethnic empire together, with it looking like Austria-Hungary’s disintegration is inevitable if the war continues for much longer.

3/2/1918 Austria-Hungary’s naval mutiny at Cattaro #1918Live

A wave of war weariness and unrest has swept across central Europe. First Austria and then Germany have seen a burst of strikes and industrial unrest by workers who have had enough of the war and the privations it is inflicting upon them.

Now unrest has spread to the Austro-Hungarian navy. Sailors at the naval base of Cattaro mutinied on the 1st of February, initially demanding better treatment from their officers but soon progressing to demands for an immediate end to the war. The mutineers’ demands develop an increasingly revolutionary character and seem to be inspired by the example of the Russian Revolution.

If the Cattaro mutiny had coincided with industrial unrest within the empire then perhaps Austria-Hungary might have found itself facing a revolution. Unfortunately the mutineers are too late: the unrest within Austria has already been contained. Now the authorities move against the mutineers at Cattaro, bringing loyal naval units and soldiers to face them down. After a short skirmish the mutiny is defeated and the mutineers placed under arrest.

The incident is nevertheless a worrying one for the Austro-Hungarian leadership, as it shows that anti-war sentiment has spread into the armed forces. The rule of Emperor Karl now rests on increasingly shaky foundations.

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Mutineers at Cattaro (Wikipedia)

31/1/1918 German strikes suppressed, trouble-makers sent to the front

Germany is in the grip of industrial unrest, which has spread from Berlin to other industrial centres. Hundreds of thousands or more workers have downed tools and millions have taken part in demonstrations.

This unrest has rattled Germany’s leaders. Now they respond with a crackdown. A state of emergency is declared and strike organisers arrested. Striking workers are drafted into the army. Some are sent back to work in their factories under pain of military justice if they demure, but the more militant are simply sent off to the Western Front, where they will bulk up the numbers of those taking part in the offensive Ludendorff is planning. They travel in trains daubed with such cheery slogans as “Cannon fodder for Flanders”.

For Germany’s leaders, even though they have been suppressed for now, the strikes are still worrying. Germany cannot continue the war indefinitely; if this is tried then industrial unrest will one day return and perhaps sweep away the established order. It is therefore vital that Ludendorff’s offensive brings the war to a victorious end.

28/1/1918 A wave of industrial unrest grips Germany #1918Live

Austria-Hungary has seen an outbreak of industrial unrest, with a reduction in the flour ration triggering an upsurge of dissatisfaction at the never-ending privations caused by the war. But the unrest does not progress to a full-scale attempt to overthrow the existing order in the Empire. Austria’s socialists are cautious and are not yet pushing for revolution; they appear to be following the masses rather than leading them. The Austrian authorities are able to placate the strikers by promising increased food rations once peace with Russia leads to improved access to grain from Ukraine.

But now unrest spreads to Germany. War weariness and anger at the erosion of their standard of living lead to an eruption of industrial action in Germany. Mass walk-outs in Berlin spread rapidly to other cities across the country. In the capital industrial action is co-ordinated by Richard Müller and his network of radical shop stewards.

Russia’s Bolsheviks had hoped that the Austrian strikes were a sign that their revolution was beginning to spread into central Europe. The German unrest ignites similar hopes. For the German authorities, this hope is a fear. They are determined to crush the industrial unrest, both to prevent revolution and continue the war but also to show Trotsky and the other Russian negotiators at Brest-Litovsk that revolution in Germany will not save them from having to agree to Germany’s harsh peace terms.

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Strikers demonstrate in Berlin (Poppycock – 24 January, 1918: All We’re Saying…)

19/1/1918 Discontent boils over in Austria-Hungary #1918Live

Thanks to German help, the military situation for Austria-Hungary looks good. The cheeky Serbs have been overrun, Italy has been chastened by the hammer-blow of Caporetto, Romania has sued for peace and the Russians have agreed an armistice and are negotiating a peace treaty. But the empire’s domestic situation is disastrous, with inflation and declining supply of food leading to industrial unrest and tensions between town and country and the empire’s separate regions.

These pressures are now starting to boil over. Austrian authorities recently announced that the already meagre flour ration was being halved. Workers have not taken this lying down: Vienna is now in the grip of a general strike and unrest has spread to Galicia and Bohemia, with workers in Budapest too having downed tools.

In Russia the Bolsheviks take heart from news of the unrest in Austria-Hungary. Their assumption was that socialist revolution would begin in Russia and then spread across Europe and the world. The strikes in Austria-Hungary seem to indicate that revolution is spreading to the heart of Europe, which would mean that Trotsky can abandon his negotiations with the Germans at Brest-Litovsk.

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Cis und Trans (a cartoon suggesting that the greedy Hungarians are starving their Austrian fellows) (Die Welt der Habsburger)