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.

image sources:

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.

image source:

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.

image sources:

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

The killing of the Romanovs (La República: El centenario de la revolución 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.

image source:

Wilhelm von Mirbach (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.

image source:

Leon Trotksy and Red Army troops (La Granda Guerra + 100: Lev Trotsky)

3/3/1918 Brest-Litovsk: Germany and Russia agree a peace treaty #1918Live

Germany’s unstoppable advance in the East has forced the capitulation of Soviet Russia. Today a Soviet delegation signs a peace treaty with the Germans at Brest-Litovsk. The terms are harsh. Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia are all detached from Russia, notionally independent but effectively German colonies.Russia has lost a third of its population, more than half its industry and nearly 90% of its coal mines. Russia has also lost much of its railways and sources of iron ore, as well as the rich agricultural lands of Ukraine. Within Russia itself the treaty grants privileges to Germans: their businesses are immune from nationalisation or other interference by the Bolshevik regime. And Russia must pay an indemnity to the Germany.

Germany has done well out of the treaty, acquiring both the territories in the East it has already overrun and effective control of Ukraine. Austria-Hungary has done less well, having to make do with promises of a share of the grain to be extracted from Ukraine. The other beneficiary of the treaty is Turkey. Russia is obliged not merely to withdraw to its frontiers from before the war but also from the three provinces of Kars, Batum and Ardahan it gained from Turkey in 1878. The future status of the three provinces is to be determined by plebiscite, but one to be conducted by the Turks. Turkish forces are now pushing eastwards to not merely occupy the territory they are being awarded at Brest-Litovsk but as much of Transcaucasia as they can.

Acceptance of the Brest-Litovsk treaty is controversial within Russia. Many leading Bolsheviks oppose the treaty while the support of Trotsky is lukewarm at best (he has resigned as foreign minister to avoid having to sign it himself). The Left faction of the Socialist Revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks’ coalition partner, sees the treaty as turning the country into a German client state; so incensed are the Left SRs that their ministers resign from Sovnarkom (Soviet Russia’s government). But Lenin sees peace as essential to give socialism the breathing space it needs in Russia. With time revolution will spread across Europe, negating the treaty.

For Germany the treaty’s signature is a relief. Grain from Ukraine should alleviate the country’s food problems. And crucially it stops the country’s leaders from having to worry about the Eastern Front. Ludendorff is now free to concentrate on the great offensive he is planning in the West.

images source (Wikipedia)

25/2/1918 Lenin proclaims the Russian Civil War to be over #1918Live

The Don region of Russia has seen fighting between supporters and opponents of the Bolshevik regime. This conflict has already assumed a brutal character, with both sides killing or torturing their real or suspected enemies, using terror to cow their potential enemies. The Whites had hoped that the Don Cossacks would rally to their cause, but their support has been lukewarm at best. Instead the Reds have had the upper hand in the fighting and today Novocherkassk, the region’s capital, falls to the Red Army.

When Lenin hears the news, he is jubilant. Having just signalled acceptance of the Germans’ harsh peace terms, the Bolshevik leader needs all the good news he can get. The Whites have already been forced from Rostov, so now Bolshevik control of the Don is complete. Lenin proclaims the Russian civil war to be over.