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))

2/3/1919 Preparing for world revolution: the first congress of the Communist International

Karl Marx had demonstrated that the collapse of capitalism is inevitable and Lenin showed that the socialist transition would begin in Russia, capitalism’s weakest link. The Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia is therefore seen by its supporters as merely the first stage of a revolutionary wave that will soon sweep the world. Unrest in Germany and elsewhere indicates working people are ripe for revolution: perhaps only the slightest push is needed for the capitalist house of cards to fall.

To hasten socialist revolution, the Bolsheviks (now renamed the Russian Communist Party) call a meeting of sympathetic socialist parties in Moscow. Their aim is to replace the now largely defunct Second International of socialist parties with a new Third International, one that will be explicitly communist and which will allow the various parties to better coordinate their efforts to overthrow capitalism. And, crucially, this Communist International will be under Moscow’s control, to ensure that the affiliated parties do not slip into unsound thinking or act in ways contrary to the interests of Soviet Russia.

The founding congress of the Communist International opens today. Transport difficulties and the Allied blockade of Soviet Russia mean that it is difficult for delegates to travel to Moscow; many of those present are exiles who have been living in Russia for some time. Leading Russian communists such as Kollontai, Trotsky and Lenin himself present material to the congress. Zinoviev is appointed chairman of its executive. He reports confidently: “in a year, the whole of Europe will be communist”.

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Delegates at the first congress (World Socialist Web Site: One hundred years since the formation of the Communist International)

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)

3/9/1918 As Lenin recovers, the Cheka unleashes Red Terror #1918Live

Lenin‘s life hung in the balance after he was shot by Fanny Kaplan, but now he appears to be on the mend, to the relief of his Bolshevik followers. Kaplan meanwhile has been interrogated and probably tortured by the Cheka, the Soviet political police. They are keen to discover whether she was working as part of a wider plot, either with underground members of the Socialist Revolutionary Party or with foreign powers. She denies any involvement with others, though in actual fact she appears to have been part of a network of SR cadres operating independently of the SR-led government in Samara.

Today the Bolsheviks decide that they have interrogated Kaplan for long enough. Deeming a trial to be an unnecessary bourgeois frippery, she is summarily shot; her body is then burned before burial in an unmarked grave. The Cheka meanwhile has unleashed a Red Terror on the real or imagined enemies of the Revolution. The attempt on Lenin’s life showed the danger of allowing malcontents free rein; under the direction of Dzerzhinsky, the Cheka is now free to round up, interrogate and kill any potential threats to Soviet power. As the Cheka operates completely outside any legal restraints, no one in Bolshevik controlled areas is safe from them. Which is as it should be: the purpose of the Red Terror is to terrify.

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Fanny Kaplan (Wikipedia)

In the Basement of the Cheka, by Ivan Vladimirov (Wikipedia Commons: Ivan Vladimirov)

Note: I recommend having a look at more of the pictures by Ivan Vladimirov. In his later careeer he produced socialist realist hackwork, but his pictures from the Civil War and the early stages of the Revolution are quite chilling depictions of social breakdown.

30/8/1918 Lenin shot #1918Live

Bolshevik rule in Russia rests on shaky foundations. In Siberia the party’s writ is challenged by the Komuch government in Samara, whose Czechoslovak allies are a powerful military force. Meanwhile in southern Russia, Denikin has established himself in Novorossiisk in the Kuban region, from where his White Army represents a potent threat to Bolshevik power. But surely the Bolsheviks are secure in Moscow and Petrograd, the heartlands of the revolution?

Lenin certainly thinks so when he heads off today to urge some Moscow factory workers to remain unrelenting in their defence of the revolution. While there has been some industrial unrest in the big cities, the Bolsheviks have successfully faced it down and now face a more pliant workforce. The uprising by their erstwhile allies, the Left SRs, has been crushed. So Lenin should have nothing to worry about.

News of the assassination of Moisei Uritsky, Cheka commander in Petrograd, appears not to have engendered any caution on the part of the Bolshevik leader. Lenin’s nonchalance however proves almost fatal when, as he leaves the factory, a woman emerges from the crowd and produces a pistol. She fires three times at the Bolshevik and then attempts to escape.

Lenin is gravely hurt; his comrades fear that his death may be imminent. His would-be assassin meanwhile is apprehended and interrogated by the Cheka. She is Fanny Kaplan, a Socialist Revolutionary, who declares to her captors that she shot Lenin because he has betrayed the Revolution.

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The attempted assassination, by Vladimir Pchelin (Wikipedia: Fanny Kaplan)

17/7/1918 The Tsar and his family killed #1918Live

Since the end of April the former Tsar has been imprisoned by the Bolsheviks in Ekaterinburg. At first he and his wife were held there alone, in the ominously named House of Special Designation, but they were subsequently joined by their five children.

The Bolsheviks have had difficulty deciding what to do with the Tsar. Trotsky favoured a show trial, relishing the prospect of leading the prosecution. But other Bolshevik leaders were less enthusiastic; the Tsar remained imprisoned while his captors dithered.

Then events force a decision. The Czechoslovak Legion is expanding its area of control and now has Ekaterinburg surrounded. With the town likely to fall, the Bolsheviks fear that the Tsar will become a focal point of counter-revolutionary resistance. To prevent this, orders are sent from Moscow (possibly by Lenin himself) to kill the Ekaterinburg prisoners.

In the early hours of the morning, the Tsar, the former Tsarina, their four daughters, their haemophiliac son Alexei, and their last four retainers are herded into the basement of their prison, ostensibly because they are about to be transported to a more secure location. But then armed men burst into the cellar and Yurovsky, the chief jailer, reads out the execution order. The Tsar is confused and asks him to repeat it, which he does. Then the execution squad opens fire.
It somehow takes the squad more than 20 minutes to kill all their victims, with some having to be finished off by bayonet, but at the end of that time the former royals and their retainers are all dead. The only surviver is Joy, Alexei’s pet spaniel.

The bodies are then taken away to be buried in secret.

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The House of Special Designation (Wikipedia: Execution of the Romanov family)

The killing of the Romanovs (La Rep├║blica: El centenario de la revoluci├│n rusa pasa inadvertido en Rusia)

6/7/1918 The Left SR uprising: a deadly threat to the Bolsheviks at the heart of their power

The Bolsheviks in Russia are embattled, with counter-revolutionary forces threatening their rule across the country. The Czechoslovak Legion provides a particularly potent threat, controlling the Trans-Siberian Railway; working in alliance with the Komuch government in Samara they threaten to bring an end to Bolshevik rule. Vladivostok has fallen to the Legion, which they now proclaim to be an Allied protectorate. The Allies begin to think of using the port to aid anti-Bolshevik forces in Russia, with the ultimate aim of bringing the country back into the war against Germany. President Wilson goes so far as to suggest that Japan could send forces to secure Vladivostok, allowing the Czechoslovaks to redeploy further to the west.

But the Bolsheviks face other threats further to home. When the Bolsheviks seized power last November, they did so in alliance with the left faction of the Socialist Revolutionary Party (the Left SRs). However the Left SRs were not supportive of the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty with Germany, seeing it as a betrayal of the revolution. Left SR commissars resigned from Sovnarkom, the Soviet government, but the party remained broadly supportive of the soviet regime, a kind of loyal opposition. Since then they have become increasingly disenchanted by the Bolsheviks’ authoritarianism and their perception that the country is being transformed into a German client state.

Now the Left SRs decide to act. One of their activists assassinates Count Mirbach, the German ambassador, an act of propaganda by deed intended to ignite a general uprising of the masses against the Bolsheviks. When Dzerzhinsky, Lenin’s head of the Cheka (the political police), tries to arrest the murderers he is himself arrested: most members of the Cheka in Moscow are in fact loyal to the Left SRs rather than the Bolsheviks.

The Germans are understandably furious at the murder of their ambassador. Lenin is summoned to the German embassy where he issues a grovelling apology. His situation is now desperate. The Left SRs have far more armed men in the capital than he does: if they press their advantage the Bolshevik regime could find itself decapitated.

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Wilhelm von Mirbach (Wikipedia)