September 1, 1918 – The Red Terror Begins

September 1, 1918 – The Red Terror Begins

Pictured: The banner reads: “Death to the bourgeois and their helpers. Long live the Red Terror!“

In 1793, the armies of Old Europe marched on Paris to destroy the nascent French Republic. But the Republic also had many internal enemies, French who believed the Revolution had already gone too far. Faced with enemies both external and internal, the panicked revolutionaries embarked on a “Reign of Terror” to weed out any fifth column within the Republic. Royalists, aristocrats, and other suspected enemies were led to the guillotine in their hundreds.

The Bolshevik revolutionaries often modeled themselves on their French predecessors. In 1918 anti-Bolshevik armies were pressing east from Siberia towards Moscow, while counter-revolutionaries had surfaced in heart of Red Russia itself. At the end of August a Socialist Revolutionary named Fanny Kaplan shot but did not kill Lenin. The assassination attempt sparked an immediate response. The Cheka, the Bolshevik secret police, recieved explicit orders to crack down on any and all opposed to the revolution. The first victims were members of the Socialist Revolutionary party. Over 800 were executed in the next weeks.

The Terror’s objectives were simple: kill internal enemies of the Revolution, and cow everyone else into submission. The Cheka proved enthusiastic torturers and executioners, devising horrible ways to kill people, such as feeding them into sawmills or letting them be eaten alive by rats. The Red Terror killed thousands and succeeded almost entirely. The anti-Bolshevik White armies unleashed their own reigns of White Terror, but whereas these were haphazard campaigns of pointless violence (often directed against Jews) the Reds used Terror like a scalpel, eliminating internal enemies and preventing new ones from arising.