“And three with a new song’s measure can trample an empire down.”
“And three with a new song’s measure can trample an empire down.”
September 10, 1918 – Reds Retake Kazan
Pictured – “Forward to Kazan!” Trotsky’s reforms helped turn the Red Army from a revolutionary mob into an effective force.
The Russian Civil War could have ended quickly in 1918, and with it the Bolshevik revolution. Certainly that is what most foreign observers, and perhaps even most Russians anticipated. Several strong and growing centers of anti-Bolshevik resistance had grown, including in Kazan, where a group of Socialist Revolutionaries had established a government called KOMUCH, a Russian abbreviation for “Constituent Assembly.” Calling for Russians to destroy an unrepresentative Moscow government, the Komuch People’s Army marched to the Volga.
With aid from the crack troops of the Czech Legion, and commanded by the skilled General Vladimir Kappel, the Komuch White forces captured the city of Kazan on August 7, and with it the entire gold reserve of the Russian Empire. From Kazan the Whites could cross the Volga, maybe even linking up with another White force, the Volunteer Army of South Russia.
They might have were it not for Leon Trotsky. The Russian War Commissar sped for Kazan in a special armored train, rallying the beaten Red Army. Trotsky created an efficient logistics system to bring rifles and ammo to his men, and boosted their morale.You know what your task is, Trotsky and his lieutenant told their troops: “To prevent the enemy from taking a
single step forward: to wrest Kazan from his grasp: to throw back the
Czech mercenaries and the officer-thugs, drown them in the Volga, and
crush their criminal mutiny against the workers’ revolution.”
And where speeches did not work, Trotsky used brute force to impose discipline. One battalion of Reds who had fled from Kazan was decimated, Roman-style. Trotsky also created blocking detachments with orders to shoot any troops that ran from the fight. His methods worked, and on September 10 Bolshevik soldiers re-took the city with help from gunboats, artillery, and bombers, new forces and methods which owed much to Trotsky’s reorganization of the Red Army.
September 9, 1918 – “Red Terror” in Full Swing
Pictured – The chief targets of the 1918 Red Terror were the Russian bourgeois. Many Russians saw a chance to get even with a bourgeois class that had trampled over them for centuries.
After surviving a failed assassination attempt in August, Lenin ordered for extreme counter-measures to be taken. A state of “terror” was legalized, under which all enemies of the Bolshevik revolution were to be punished. Lenin’s first targets were the Socialist Revolutionaries, a left-wing party but one which opposed the Bolsheviks. It had been an SR named Fanny Kaplan that had tried to shoot Lenin.
The Bolshevik’s internal security force, the Cheka, went to work with relish. In Kiev, the Cheka news organ announced the Terror as a period of regenerative violence.
“We reject the old morality and ‘humanity’ invented by the bourgeoisie
in order to oppress and exploit the lower classes. Our morality does not
have a precedent, our humanity is absolute because it rests on a new
ideal: to destroy any form of oppression and violence. To us, everything
is permitted because we are the very first to raise our swords not to
oppress and enslave, but to release humanity from its chains… Blood?
Let blood be shed! Only blood can dye the black flag of the pirate
bourgeoisie, turning it once and for all into a red banner, flag of the
Revolution. Only the old world’s final demise will free us forever from
the return of the jackals.”
For many Russians, however, the Terror was not about ideology, but about getting even with a monarchy that had oppressed them and kept them in miserable conditions for centuries. (Such as in Finland, where a failed revolution that summer led to thousands of workers being executed.) The bourgeois were the chief victims of the Terror. Several thousand bourgeois prisoners were massacred in the first weeks. Years of resentment bubbled up into two months of ultraviolent bloodshed, with the Cheka executing perhaps 10-15,000 by the end of October 1918.
“One Tsar, one faith, one nation.”
White Russian troops, September 1918.
September 7, 1918 – Doughboys Land in Russia
Pictured – American troops were preceded by a landing party of US Navy sailors, who had accompanied the original British landing in August.
The first American ground troops landed in north Russia in September 1918, reinforcing the growing Anglo-Canadian force at Archangel. The “Polar Bears” were America’s largest contribution to the Russian Civil War. Although more Yankees landed at Vladivostok in the Far East, they would take no part in fighting, while the Americans at Archangel were swept into a trench war against the Red Army. 144 Americans would die in north Russia during the war.
September 6, 1918 – World Learns of the Romanovs’ Deaths
Pictured – The sad fate of the Tsar of Russia.
The world already knew that Nicholas Romanov, former Tsar Nicholas II of the Russian Empire, had been executed by Red Guards in Ekaterinburg in July. It did not know that the rest of the Tsar’s family – the Tsarina, son Alexei, and the four daughters – had been murdered as well. Some thought the news was anti-Bolshevik propaganda.
One of the people most affected by the news was British King George V. The British government has proposed giving sanctuary to the Romanovs after the Tsar’s abdication, but George had personally vetoed the plan, fearing that bringing his unpopular cousin to England might flare up revolutionary sentiment at home. Nevertheless, when the King heard of the death of the Tsar’s family, he blamed Whitehall for leaving them out in the cold. Although he did not mourn the Tsarina Alix, who he had disliked, he was gripped by guilt about the fate of the children. For the rest of his life George would oppose normalizing relations with the Bolsheviks, the “murderers of my family.”
Japanese troops stand by Cheka operatives they have killed in the Russian far east.
A Cheka death squad during the Russian Civil War. The Cheka were the Bolshevik secret police, charged with rooting under counter-revolutionaries in a campaign of “Red Terror.”
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.
August 31, 1918 – Bolsheviks Attack British Embassy in Petrograd, Kill Naval Attaché
Pictured – Francis Cromie, who died defending the embassy.
The assassination attempt on Lenin on August 30 panicked the Bolsheviks. Like the French revolutionaries in 1793, the Reds were gripped by a sudden fear of counter-revolutionaries living in their midst while a war went poorly on the front. Explicit orders were sent to the Cheka, the Bolshevik secret police, to conduct a campaign of “Red Terror” which would destroy any lurking fifth column.
Members of the Cheka, however, were not chosen for their diplomatic skill. One of their favored execution methods was to place an iron tube filled with rats on a victim, and then start heating the far side of the tube, causing the rats to gnaw their way through the unfortunate human on the other side.
Fearing that the British were hiding counter-revolutionaries, the Cheka broke into the embassy in Petrograd on August 31. A naval officer named Cromie was in the building, working as an attaché to the diplomatic staff. Cromie drew his revolver and shot down several of the assailants before being killed himself. Afterwards the Bolsheviks arrested most of the diplomatic staff, including a man named Bruce Lockhart who was on an intelligence-gathering mission to Russia. Brave Cromie’s death and the arrest of Lockhart and others contributed significantly to British distrust and hatred of the Bolsheviks.