August 11, 1918 – Lenin’s Hanging Order
Pictured – Victims of the Cheka.
Both sides of the Russian Civil War embarked on terror campaigns against their enemies. The difference was that the White Terror was usually disorganized brutality against civilians, such as workers and Jews. The Red Terror, though no less brutal, was on the other hand was keenly focused on eliminating threats to the new Bolshevik regime.
In the summer of 1918 Lenin faced a food crisis. The cities of European Russia were loyal to the Bolsheviks, but the rural hinterland was not. That was a problem because it controlled the food supplies, and cities like Moscow were on the brink of starving. Lenin ordered requisitioning – called “War Communism” – to balance the situation, but peasants resented having their food pilfered, often for no compensation. Many country-dwellers resisted the Bolsheviks, by hiding food, burning crops, or even taking up arms against the Reds.
These “Green armies” of peasants were a major threat to the Bolsheviks, as great as the White armies. Lenin telegraphed his commissars south-east of Moscow to deal with the problem.
Comrades! The revolt by the five kulak volosts [regions] must be
suppressed without mercy. The interest of the entire revolution demands
this, because we have now before us our final decisive battle with the
We need to set an example. You need to hang – hang without fail, and
do it so that the public sees – at least 100 notorious kulaks, the rich,
and the bloodsuckers. Publish their names. Take away all of their
grain. Execute the hostages – in accordance with yesterday’s telegram.
This needs to be accomplished in such a way that people for hundreds
of miles around will see, tremble, know and scream out: let’s choke and
strangle those blood-sucking kulaks. Telegraph us acknowledging receipt
and execution of this.