Russian revolutions – the authoritarian cycle (1918/1921)


Russian revolutions – the authoritarian cycle (1918/1921)

By Daniel Aarão Reis*

Considerations on the historical foundations of Soviet socialism.



Studies on the revolutionary process that took place in Russia in the first two decades of the twentieth century emphasize the October 1917 Uprising as a decisive event and founding milestone of Soviet socialism.

The purpose of this article, however, is that a better understanding of this process needs to encompass five revolutions: that of 1905, the two revolutions of 1917 (February and October), the civil wars (1918-1921), to which it is attributed the character of a new revolution and the Kronstadt revolution in March 1921.

The first three revolutions, considered in a previous article, would be part of a first cycle – the democratic cycle: 1905-1917 (AARÃO REIS, 2021). A second cycle – the authoritarian cycle – asserted itself in the context of civil wars, when a new revolution took place, whose victory was confirmed after the defeat of a fifth revolution, the Kronstadt insurrection.

The historical foundations of Soviet socialism lay in the authoritarian cycle, which remained until the final disintegration of 1991. In other words, the cradle of Soviet socialism would not be in the October revolution, but in the process of a new revolution that took place during the civil wars.


The Interregnum: October/1917-July/1918[I]

There is a well-established canon: the October uprising is the cradle of Soviet socialism. The decisive role of the Bolsheviks is unquestionable. But they did not win alone nor were their main actors. The social movements, triggered by the February revolution and their claims, were victorious: soldiers and sailors, peace; workers, control over production; peasants, the land; and non-Russian nations, national independence.

The peace and land claims were approved by the Second Congress of Soviets on October 26, 1917. The self-determination of peoples, including the right to secede, was recognized on November 2, 1917; and workers' control, established by law of November 14 of the same year (Cf. BUNYAN and FISHER, 1934, pp. 283 and 308). Such decrees consecrated de facto realities. In addition, the call for elections for the Constituent Assembly to be held on November 12 was maintained, a historic claim of the struggle against tsarist autocracy (RADKEY, 1950 and ANWEILER, 1974).

Consistently, the revolutionary government, the Council of People's Commissars/CCP, styled itself as “provisional” in the tradition inaugurated in February.

Almost none of this was to the full satisfaction of Vladimir Ilicht Lenin and his faithful followers. However, they bowed to the will of the majority, as they did not make the revolution. Undoubtedly they led it, but expressing the wishes of the social movements and to that will they subordinated themselves, not infrequently, against their will.[ii]. They undoubtedly began to govern, but under the pressure of self-organized social movements in committees, soviets, national assemblies, etc. That's why there was the triumphal march of the soviets, extending the revolutionary order through the territory of the old Russian empire not occupied by the Germans. That is why, according to Lenin, victory was easier than lifting a feather (SERVICE, 1985).

Between October 1917 and July 1918, these claims, converted into legal rights, were gradually attacked or revoked, in a contradictory process, giving rise to the understanding of the period as an interregnum (RABINOVITCH, 2007), a time interval between two periods – the of a government resulting from a radically democratic process; and another, marked by the revolutionary dictatorship, consolidated throughout the civil wars.

How did the interregnum unfold? From the point of view of political power, a historic mistake was made by the socialists who withdrew from the Second Soviet Congress, denouncing the coup perpetrated by the Bolsheviks by leading the insurrection without prior consultation with the soviets.[iii] They remained in opposition to the extent that negotiations, unanimously approved by Congress, in favor of a plural socialist government, uniting recognized socialist tendencies under the name of democracy, failed.[iv].

It is true that, shortly afterwards, leftist revolutionary socialists joined the government, with positions in the CCP and an important presence in the Central Executive Committee/CEC.[v] and other state agencies. However, as long as the alliance lasted, the Bolsheviks retained pre-eminence, retaining control of the central government and its key apparatuses. The alliance, however, lasted only a few months, as the left-wing SRs withdrew from the government in protest against the peace of Brest-Litovski (March/1918), declaring themselves in open opposition to the Bolsheviks from the decrees of May/ June 1918, which revoked peasants' land rights (STEINBERG, 2016).

By not recognizing the government in October or by withdrawing from it, the assessment of the socialist opponents of the Bolsheviks was that, isolated, they would not be able to sustain themselves in power.[vi]. Misinformed or substituting desires for information, many political actors maintained this assessment until the end of the civil wars. The Bolsheviks benefited from it, as they were able to comfort their centralized and, shortly afterwards, exclusive power.

The interregnum, however, did not have a linear development: there was an interweaving of democratizing and centralist tendencies. In the elections for the Constituent Assembly, there was a landslide victory for the socialist parties.8 The revolutionary socialists had more votes, but the Bolsheviks had important support in the big cities and among soldiers and sailors. Among the 703 elected, 380 were linked to the center and right-wing SRs (299 Russians and 81 Ukrainians), 39 to the left-wing SRs (constituted as an independent faction); 168 to the Bolsheviks; 18 to the Mensheviks; 4 to other socialist parties; 15 to the Kadets; 2 to other conservative groups and 77 to non-Russian party formations. In terms of number of votes, the results, by party, were as follows: Center, Right and Left SRs: 20.690.742; Bolsheviks: 9.844.637; Mensheviks: 1.364.826; other socialist parties: 601.707; Kadetes: 1.986.601; other conservative groups: 1.262.418; non-Russian party formations: 2.620.967 votes (ANWEILLER, 1974 and RADKEY, 1950).

In favor of democratic trends, the death penalty, abolished by the February Revolution, but reinstated by the Provisional Government in July 1917, was repealed. Substantial powers were also given to factory committees, as well as to soldiers' and sailors' committees. in the armed forces.[vii] Peasants' rights and those of their autonomous organizations to land were recognized, which triggered a last wave of expropriations in the provinces not yet reached by the agrarian revolution.[viii]

At the same time, however, centralized agencies were created, such as the People's Commissariat for Supply, with full powers to combat speculation. In the same sense, the Superior Council of the Economy was created on December 1, 1917, to manage the economy centrally[ix]. The new body annexed, subordinated, the factory committees, converted into economic and administrative agencies.

Thus, the committees of workers, soldiers and peasants, which had made the revolution, were transformed into state structures, under centralized, hierarchical command, and with functions increasingly dominated by administrative concerns. On the other hand, with functions of managing production and disciplining the workers, the unions assumed pre-eminence since January 1918.[X]

Centralized, hierarchical, bureaucratized, the power structures at the base of society were still called “Soviet”, and the prestige of the name would ensure permanence over time, but from the point of view of its functions – political – and its autonomy – organizational, they shrank, subordinated and directed from above (RABINOVITCH, 2007, part 3).

Repression also gained consistency and strength with the banning of liberal opposition, the closure of newspapers and the establishment of censorship and, in particular, with the reorganization of the political police, dissolved by the February revolution and re-established with the Czech, called extraordinary, but which, in the future, with other names, would become an indispensable element of the revolutionary dictatorship.

Then there was the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, perpetrated by Bolsheviks and left-wing SRs. There was a fear of the Assembly appearing as an alternative power to Soviet structures. The weak resistance to the arbitrary act was due, among other reasons, to the fact that the main demands of the social movements had already been met by the new government, which enjoyed great prestige for that very reason.[xi]

Another aspect of the centralization process occurred with the creation of the Red Army, on January 15, 1918. Based on rigid discipline standards, voluntary-based recruitment was soon abandoned, as it was ineffective, and compulsory military service, imposed from June 1918[xii], incorporating former Tsarist army officers and non-commissioned officers[xiii]. In addition, new soldiers were bound by an oath to "carry out the orders of commanders appointed by the government"[xiv]. In the new army, there would be nothing like the committees of soldiers and sailors vital to ensuring the victory of the revolution.

The slide towards political centralization and dictatorship, however, would find resistance within the organizations and even at the three Soviet congresses that took place in the period, in January, March and July, to discuss, respectively, the closure of the Constituent Assembly, the peace of Brest-Litowski and the new revolutionary constitution. The same was verified in the congresses of trade unions and in the debates that formulated the Law of Socialization of the Land, in February of 1918. Although declining, the characteristics of popular parliament, plural, open to the contradictory debate and to the votes still remained alive in the Soviet organizations. divided. Even among the Bolsheviks, differences were evident, leading to the formation of critical tendencies.[xv]

The resistances, however, were gradually defeated. From top to bottom, executive committees replaced plenaries. At the top, the CEC limited itself to confirming the decrees of the CCP. The ascendancy of the Bolshevik party was strengthened above all after the left SRs left the government in March 1918. The Bolshevik party itself would gradually surrender to the centralization of power.[xvi]

Democratic gains enshrined in October or soon after would be questioned or revoked. The peace agreement signed with Germany ignored the promises made in October. It was a “separate” peace, foreseeing annexations and indemnities, an “obscene” peace, as recognized by Léon Trotsky himself. It was stated, then, that the population would not resist a new war, but there were controversies about it.

Workers' control over production weakened with the subordination of factory committees to state institutions and unions (BRINTON, 1975; MANDEL, 1984 and SMITH, 1983).

The right of non-Russian nations to independence was ignored with the invasion of Ukraine, arguing, then, that the Ukrainian Assembly, the Rada, did not represent the interests and wills of the popular masses.[xvii].

More importantly, the peasants' right to own and manage the land was revoked, breaking the broad alliance between workers and peasants drawn up in October/December 1917, fundamental to the victory of the revolution. The abandonment of the alliance took place through the approval of the decrees of May and June 1918, when compulsory requisitions were defined, undertaken by the iron detachments organized by the Commissariat of Supply, on behalf of the poor peasants, whose committees were summoned to the fight against the “rural bourgeoisie”.

Contradictions were accentuated at the Fifth Congress of Soviets, convened in early July 1918 to confirm the policy of requisitions and approve a first revolutionary constitution. The left SRs denounced the rupture of the alliance between peasants and workers, the compulsory requisitions and also the representativeness of the delegates to the congress, alleging fraud in their accreditation, which would guarantee the Bolshevik majority.

They then attempted a political coup. Strictly speaking, it was not a question of dislodging the Bolsheviks and taking power. The idea was to force them to change their orientation, suspending the decrees against the peasants and resuming the war with Germany. In this regard, they killed the German ambassador in Moscow, imagining that the act would lead to a break in relations and war. However, the Bolsheviks managed to control the situation, outlawed the left-wing SRs, imprisoning their delegates to the Soviet Congress and reinforcing their monopoly on power.[xviii] The frustrated coup and its aftermath radicalized the contradictions between the socialists, leading to armed conflict.

Civil wars, already outlined since October 1917, would now gain new dynamism.


The Civil Wars: 1918-1921

It is not intended here to make the military history of civil wars, only to characterize the main contenders, their objectives and the scope of armed conflicts.[xx] Before proceeding, two remarks on the chronological milestones and on the polarizations that became evident. There are controversies about the chronological milestones. Some claim that the wars began shortly after the victory of the October insurrection, when Cossack chiefs in the Don region announced their non-recognition of the revolutionary government. So did Ataman Dutov, chief of the Cossacks in Orenburg, who threw himself into the fight and was defeated.[xx]

However, the armed struggle aimed at building an alternative power, characteristic of a civil war, would only start later. The invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops, sent by the CCP, in February 1918, was perhaps a more appropriate milestone. However, due to the Brest-Litowski agreements, hostilities were interrupted early and later resumed.

Thus, it seems more appropriate to set the beginning of the civil wars in July 1918, when the coup attempt – frustrated – promoted by the left SRs to pressure the Bolsheviks to resume the war against Germany. From then on, the conflicts would intertwine until they ended with the crushing of the Kronstadt revolution in March 1921.

In this particular, however, there are also controversies. Some suggest that armed conflicts persisted, in the form of guerrillas, undertaken by peasants (the green guerrillas), until 1922, or even 1926, if we consider resistance registered in Siberia (SMELE, 2015). It so happens that the term civil war, as has been said, refers to armed conflicts between contenders who aim to gain power, regardless of their political or military strength. However, with due regard for its relevance, this was not the case of the “green guerrillas”.[xxx]

The second observation concerns the plurality of civil wars. Contrary to another canon, there was not just one civil war, but several civil wars. It is true that the main studies on the subject mention the various armed conflicts that devastated Russia between 1918 and 1921, but, paradoxically, they name the period only according to the main confrontation: the civil war between the reds and the whites,[xxiii] that is, between the Soviet government and supporters of the Tsarist regime, which greatly simplifies the complex process.[xxiii]

Thus, other armed confrontations are hidden or, at the very least, underestimated, their distinct quality and their impacts on the subsequent history of the revolution disappearing. We are referring to armed conflicts between red

red X, that is, between different socialist parties; between reds and whites X blacks, that is, between Bolsheviks and whites against anarchists; between red and white Russians versus non-Russians, that is, between Russians, regardless of political perspective, against the nationalist aspirations of so-called alien peoples. Finally, it is worth mentioning the Kronstadt insurrection, in March 1921. It was much more than a revolt, as it proposed a new conception of class alliance and political power.

Let us briefly examine how the civil wars unfolded. Let's start with the contradictions between socialists of different tendencies. They became evident throughout 1917, reaching a critical point with the October insurrection. The abandonment by several socialist groups of the Second Soviet Congress, the failure of the negotiations for the formation of a plural socialist government and the closure of the Constituent Assembly excluded the moderate socialist tendencies from the political game, which began to articulate an armed confrontation against the government.

However, the armed struggle between reds and reds only erupted following the coup perpetrated by the left-wing SRs, as mentioned above, in the context of rural conflicts that were gaining intensity.[xxv] Still in July, under the leadership of B. Savinkov, the SRs took the cities of Yaroslav, Rybinsk and Muron, being soon defeated. In other actions, they killed M. Uritsky, a Bolshevik leader, and seriously wounded V. Lenin himself, at the end of August 1918. The actions then shifted to the Volga region, where, in the city of Samara, an alliance between Right and left SRs even constituted a government, gathering elected deputies for the Constituent Assembly, the Komutch, and forming a small army.

They had the help of the Czech Legion, which had risen against the Bolsheviks since May 1918, starting to control an important part of the Trans-Siberian railroad.[xxiv] At one point, there was an attempt to expand the alliance, holding a meeting in the city of Ufa, in Siberia, where a provisional government of Mensheviks, SRs and Kadets was formed, dissolved soon after by Admiral A. Kolchak, leader of the counterrevolution white in Siberia.

At the end of 1918, the non-Bolshevik socialists were defeated, ceasing to have a relevant role. Since then, the white armies have assumed prominence, led by general officers adept at tsarism, allied with the Cossack chiefs. They were supported by the allied powers, who were unhappy with Russia's withdrawal from the war and the damage resulting from the policies adopted by the CCP. To General A. Kaledin, ataman/head of the Don Cossacks, would be joined a little later by General M. Alexeiev, former Commander-in-Chief of the Russian armies, who, together with Generals A. Denikin and L. Kornilov, organized the so-called Volunteer Army, in southwestern Russia, with capital in Novocherkassk. Logistically supported by the British, French and North Americans, the whites reached Voronezh in September 1919 at the best of times, but did not resist the red counter-offensive that pushed them to the Crimea, where, under the command of the baron P. Wrangel, still fought until November 1920, when they were definitively liquidated[xxv]. Long before that, almost all foreign armies re-embarked to their home countries.[xxviii]

White armies would also threaten in the east, from Siberia, under the command of Admiral A. Kolchak. They launched an offensive on the Volga in March 1919, but were defeated.[xxviii]Mention should also be made of a last offensive aimed at taking Petrograd, commanded by General N. Iudenitch, supported by the French and British, which was won in October 1919.

On another front of the civil wars, Bolsheviks and whites had to contend with anarchists. They had been pioneers, since 1905, in the defense of the soviets as an expression of an alternative revolutionary power. From April 1917, when the Bolsheviks adopted this orientation, there were affinities between them and the anarchists. However, throughout the period we call the “interregnum”, the contradictions between them would grow, as the anarchists did not accept the authoritarian tendencies of the Bolsheviks and the CCP. Throughout the civil wars, there were anarchists who joined the Bolsheviks, considered the only real alternative to the whites, but the majority, faithful to their convictions, would remain in critical opposition. Now tolerated, now repressed, they would remain within legal margins, ever narrower, until the Kronstadt insurrection, whose crushing made any kind of agreement or alliance between blacks and reds unfeasible.

In Ukraine, anarchists would be forced to deal with the zigzags of an uneasy and contradictory alliance. Led by N. Makhno, they organized an important political and military force, fighting against the whites, with tacit or formal agreements with the Bolsheviks, with emphasis on the fight against General Wrangel, in 1920. However, after contributing to defeat the counterrevolution, would be summoned by the Bolsheviks to surrender their weapons. Refusing, they were beaten, leaving the remnants for exile.[xxix]

On another front of the civil wars, Russians (white and red) pitted against non-Russian nations. Oppressed within the framework of the tsarist Empire, these nations took advantage of the breakdown of the Empire to self-organize and claim rights to autonomy and independence. Soon after the February revolution, there was recognition of Poland's independence, a symbolic measure, behold, the territory of Russian Poland was occupied by the Germans, but which opened horizons for nationalist struggles.

As mentioned, shortly after the October insurrection, the right of non-Russian nations to secession and national independence was enshrined. However, still at the end of December 1917, the CCP made a ultimatum to the Ukrainians, which was followed by a military expedition, sent to prevent the independence of Ukraine, proclaimed by a nationalist government.

With regard to Finland, which already enjoyed an autonomous status, the Bolsheviks recognized its independence at the end of 1917. With the peace of Brest-Litowski, in March 1918, by German imposition, they had to accept the independence of the Baltic states (Estonia , Latvia and Lithuania), and Ukraine, in addition to the loss of Bessarabia, annexed to Romania, and of Kars and Batum, incorporated by the Ottoman Empire. In the Caucasus and among the Islamic peoples of Central Asia, independence programs were formulated against which the CCP could do little in the short term, busy as it was in consolidating a centralized government on the Petrograd-Moscow axis.

In Finland, after independence, there was a civil war, opposing socialist revolutionaries to white Finns. The CCP supported the revolutionaries, but it could do little for them, who were slaughtered by their enemies.[xxx] In Ukraine and in the Baltic countries, until the end of the First World War, in November 1918, a facade of independence reigned, mediated by the “German peace”.

Such arrangements, however, were reversed by the German revolution in November 1918, when there was a complete reversal in the correlation of forces.[xxxii]. The CCP maintained nolens volens the recognition of the independence of Poland, Finland and the Baltic states. But he did not adopt the same policy towards Ukraine, the peoples of the Caucasus (Armenians, Georgians and Azerbaijanis) and the Muslim peoples of Central Asia. The right to self-determination of peoples and its correlate, the right to secession, enshrined in the Constitution of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic/RSFSR, approved on July 10, 1918, was not formally revoked. However, the Bolsheviks, inspired by I. Stalin, Commissar of Nationalities, formulated a peculiar interpretation of these rights. They should be recognized only for the workers and their organizations, the soviets, and not for the bourgeoisie and its assemblies.[xxxi]

Now, in Ukraine, especially in the eastern part, in the cities of the Caucasus and in Central Asia, the majority of the urban population was not made up of natives, but of Russians or people of other nationalities, not wishing to separate themselves from Russia and their country. government that met their social and political demands. Organized into urban soviets, they would defend ties with Moscow, helping the Red Army to defeat the independenceist aims, accused of being “bourgeois” and “counterrevolutionary”. It was thus possible for the Bolsheviks to defeat, one by one, and separately, the nationalist movements, while recognizing considerable margins of autonomy that did not exist in tsarist times – cultivating their own language, autonomy in the fields of education, culture, local justice, etc.[xxxii]

As for the whites, supporters of a “one and indivisible Russia”, they would also be implacable with non-Russian nations, refusing to admit their independence. They denied this right even to Poles and Finns, losing them as allies in the common struggle against the Bolsheviks. Thus, the allegiance of the white generals to a “one and indivisible Russia” drove them to political suicide.

A last war, based on the national question, still broke out between Poland, restored as a national state, and Soviet Russia. With French support, allied with Ukrainian nationalists, the Poles attacked Ukraine in April 1920. The following month, they took Kiev, looking destined for great victories. But the Russians successfully counterattacked and invaded Poland. The possibility of exporting the revolution to the West, reaching Germany itself, was then imagined. The purpose didn't work. Repulsed at the gates of Warsaw, the reds had to retreat and negotiate peace, after all, signed on March 18, 1921, in Riga.[xxxv]

The last act of the civil wars took the form of a new revolution, waged by the Kronstadt revolutionary sailors. The dissatisfaction of the population against the Bolsheviks and the Soviet government grew. The peasants rebelled against compulsory recruitment and compulsory requisitions. Green guerrillas multiplied, sheltering in areas of dense woods or forests. They were simultaneously opposed to whites and reds, accused of all sorts of exactions. Among others, the peasant insurrection led by A. Antonov in the province of Tambov in central Russia, between 1921 and 1922, was notable, for which it was necessary to mobilize the elite troops of the Red Army.

In factories, workers also complained about living and working conditions. Strikes began to take place in late 1920 and early 1921 in Moscow and Petrograd, sometimes led by Mensheviks and SR remnants.

It was in this context that the Kronstadt revolution broke out in March 1921. Sailors had played a fundamental role in 1917 and in the October uprising. Throughout the civil wars, his libertarian leanings were poorly accommodated. (For contradictions among Bolsheviks on the national question cf. LEWIN, 2007, chs. 1 and 2).

With the civil wars won, however, sailors began to consider the need for radical changes in the organization of political power. In the context of the harsh conditions in which people lived, in cities and in the countryside, they rose up, proposing, on February 28, 1921, a set of measures: solidarity with the strikers in Petrograd; freedom of demonstration for all party currents; immediate release of all political prisoners; formation of an independent commission to investigate forced labor camps; elections to renew the soviets on the basis of secret ballot, controlled by plural institutions and independent of the Government; equality of ration for all with the end of privileges and benefits of any nature, except for those who were engaged in unhealthy work; suppression of armed requisitions; complete freedom for peasants and artisans who did not employ wage labor to do as they pleased with the results of their labor.[xxxiv]

Summoned, the sailors refused to surrender. The Bolsheviks bombed the base and launched the final assault on 17 March. Among the defenders, about 600 dead, 2.500 wounded and 10 prisoners. The assailants also recorded heavy losses: about XNUMX men, between dead and wounded. Most of the leaders, however, managed to escape into exile.

Kronstadt was a libertarian and democratic revolution. It expressed the last echoes of the democratic cycle of Russian revolutions, begun in 1905, reopened between February and October 1917 and concluded in October 1917, despite the authoritarian marks of the victorious insurrection. along the interregnum, between October 1917 and July 1918, anti-authoritarian tendencies remained alive, defended by left-wing SRs, anarchists and internationalist Mensheviks, in the face of the advance of centralist and dictatorial orientations[xxxiv]. They practically ceased to exist during the civil wars, when a revolution within the revolution established another type of regime, the dictatorship of the party-state. Kronstadt tried to reverse this history, but was unsuccessful. The dice for the future of Soviet socialism were at stake.

Throughout the civil wars, the democratic revolutionary trends asserted in 1917 were reversed. The rights enshrined in October were revoked. The worker and peasant alliance was split. The autonomy of workers', soldiers/sailors' and peasants' committees and soviets has shrunk to almost irrelevance. The importance of alternative socialist proposals to the Bolsheviks almost disappeared. Independence for non-Russian nations was denied, where possible.

A revolution within the revolution, that is the reach of civil wars, further evidenced by the construction of the revolutionary dictatorship, by war communism and by the nationalization of a revolution that, in its origins, intended to be international.


Revolutionary Dictatorship and War Communism

Taking shape in the period we call the “interregnum”, and consolidating itself during the civil wars, the process of building the revolutionary dictatorship took place.

Pressured by military circumstances, by the results of their policies, in particular the policy regarding the peasants, but also by the dynamics of urban workers and by the actions of enemies, the revolutionary government and the Bolsheviks, without previously defined planning, made decisions that led to the formation of what is known as "war communism".

With regard to agriculture and peasants, following the decrees of May and June 1918, which broke the alliance established in October 1917, a process of compulsory requisitioning of surpluses began, which aroused general resistance. The bigger – objective – issue is that the government needed to feed the cities and the army and did not have, or had very little, to offer the peasants in exchange for their products.

The Bolsheviks imagined they could count on the support of the so-called poor peasants, the bedniaks: they would help the armed detachments sent from the cities, denouncing where the stores hidden by the rich peasants, the kulaks. In exchange, they would receive a part of the same and other material stimuli. It was a conception of the Bolsheviks: in the first stage, to accept a broad alliance of the peasants to overthrow tsarism (held in October). In a second stage, from the perspective of building socialism and collective production units, promoting a split between the peasants, privileging the poor peasants and the rural proletarians, the batraks, who, due to their living and working conditions, would be more able and interested in achieving socialist objectives.

The theory did not work in practice. The agrarian revolution, undertaken by the agrarian committees, without achieving full equality of conditions, reduced inequalities remarkably, in addition to building unprecedented levels of solidarity among those who worked the land. As a result, the middle peasants – the seredniaks, who, for the most part, were unwilling to collaborate with government policies.

The Bolsheviks insisted on laws encouraging the collectivization of land. At a certain point, still at the end of 1918, Lenin even said that it would be possible to implement socialism in the countryside. In February 1919, the National Economic Council, in a new decree, passed detailed legislation regarding Soviet collective farms, to be managed by responsible persons appointed by, and responsible to, the Commissariat of Agriculture.[xxxviii]. Free grain trade was criminalized and coercion was established as a method[xxxviii]

As if that were not enough, the policy of forced conscription into the ranks of the Red Army also affected the peasants.

Requisitions and conscription would be two scourges that peasants had to deal with throughout the civil wars. They would be squeezed by them, by white terror and by red terror, and by the ravages inherent in military engagements.[xxxix].

In the cities, as mentioned, centralization bodies were created in 1917, such as the National Economic Council. However, the nationalization of industries acquired a fast, unplanned dynamic, often imposed by the workers themselves who preferred state management, even because private owners often sabotaged and/or abandoned management posts. Thus, by the end of the first half of 1918, all the most important industrial sectors were already nationalized and managed centrally, including transport, the metallurgical, electrical, chemical, textile and paper industries.[xl]. At the end of 1919, about 90 trusts State-owned companies articulated industrial units, subject to central directorates, responsible to the National Council for the Economy. The circumstances of the wars further boosted the process: in November 1920, legislation was passed determining that all companies with more than five workers (with motive force) or with more than 10 workers (without motive force) were nationalized (CARR , 1973, p. 186 and NOVE, 1990).

Factory committees, local soviets, and trade unions became bodies limited to the tasks of controlling, encouraging, and disciplining the workers. The central managements prevailed and, in each factory, they sent the so-called “specialists”[xi] to whom broad powers were attributed. In March 1920, the IX Congress of the Bolshevik Party enshrined these guidelines, despite protests from trade union leaders and some political leaders.[xliii].

Supporters of centralism claimed that historical achievements of workers under capitalism, such as the freedom to go on strike and establish collective labor contracts, no longer made sense when it came to defending the workers' state and the socialist revolution. The workforce ceased to be a commodity, since, under the new conditions, work had become a service. To set an example, shock workers, the udarnikis, better paid, were encouraged in all industries where piecework wages were introduced.

In 1920, when the civil wars were coming to an end, a debate began on the militarization of work. Soldiers would now be called into the war against hunger and for the development of socialist society. Factory directors would become a kind of official corps, and the government would gain the right to direct the work force where it had priority, according to needs that it itself determined. The proposal, defended, among others, by L. Trotsky and M. Bukharin, aroused great opposition among workers' leaders and was, after all, defeated at the Tenth Congress of the Bolshevik Party, in March 1921[xiii].

The failure of the agrarian policy and the general ruin caused by the civil wars generated an acute supply crisis in the cities: food and fuel. The cold and hunger started to haunt the urban centers, leading to the exodus to the fields. To a large extent, the working class, the fundamental protagonist of the October revolution, was dispersed.[xiv]. The larger the city, the greater the losses. Petrograd lost 57,5% of its population, Moscow, 44,5%, provincial capitals, on average, lost a little more than a third of the employed workforce48.

The disorganization of agricultural and industrial production and transport, and the need, imposed by the civil wars, to direct the bulk of resources to the army and war industries, exacerbated and radicalized price control policies, monopolization of supply of products and rationing that had been on the agenda since before the October revolution. At the end of 1919, there were about 20 categories with differentiated access to consumer goods, but the government's effort was far from meeting the basic needs of the people, as it was estimated that more than half of consumption was met by the parallel, informal market, where prices were up to 50 times higher than those set by the government (CARR, 1973, pp. 254-255).

Uncontrolled inflation practically made currency circulation unfeasible. Taxes were not collected and the country no longer had a budget. The barter market came into force within the framework of a return to the natural economy. It made virtue of necessity, arguing that the “future communist society presupposed the end of money… and the suppression of currency was a condition for the development of a socialist economy” (CARR, 1973.) In a voluntarist spasm, Russia it would have skipped over the stage of capitalism, reaching socialist society in the form of war communism.

In an attempt to provide for needs of all kinds, extraordinary commissions multiplied, overlapping with dubious effectiveness. The political police, the Cheka, was one of the first, endowed with ever-increasing powers to investigate, interrogate, judge and punish. Recent studies estimate that the Red Terror, unleashed in July 1918, killed around 500 people by the end of the civil wars in a context of severe repression, including the first network of concentration camps for common and political prisoners. (LITVIN, 1993; RAM'KOVSKII, 2018 and FEL'SHTINGSKII, 1991)49.

War communism would be gradually abandoned after the Tenth Congress of the Bolshevik Party in March 1921. Within the framework of the New Economic Policy, the NEP, some peasant rights were once again recognized, private trade was regulated, the currency was recovered , the value of balanced budgets, and margins of freedom opened up for business activity and cultural debate.

However, important and decisive political aspects remained unchanged, and even strengthened: the undisputed pre-eminence of the Party, its fusion with the State, the subordination of the peasants, transformed into sub-citizens, the centralization of the government and the economy, the nationalization of strategic sectors and the definitive marginalization of alternative parties within the framework of the political dictatorship[xlv]. And also, unchanged, as positive values, the exalting and epic images of civil wars, the exercise of Red Terror, coercion as a necessary method, the celebration of communist voluntarism. In this sense, and for many, the NEP was just a tactical retreat, an expedient imposed by adverse circumstances. Once these are outdated, the legacies of war communism could or should be triggered again and updated.[xlv].


The revolution and international relations: from internationalism to national communism

At the end of the XNUMXth century, socialists of different tendencies believed that the revolution in the main capitalist countries would assume an international character. The hypothesis of social revolution in the national framework of a given country was not conceived.

The Bolsheviks shared these references. When they took the decision to lead the October uprising, the revolution was imagined as a prologue to the international revolution. A historical, objective coincidence was recognized between the Russian revolution and the international revolution. If this did not break out, the Russian revolutionaries would be defeated.

This conviction remained unchanged during the first phase of the period we call the “interregnum”. However, the Brest-Litowski peace, signed in March 1918, aroused opposition among Russian socialists and among the Bolsheviks themselves. Acceptance of the terms of the treaty would amount to abandoning essential principles. It was alleged, however, in his defense, that the survival of the revolution was at stake. The question raised and still raises controversies. Something unexpected, however, had happened, unthinkable before the revolution: the hypothesis of a non-coincidence between the immediate interests of the victorious revolution and those of the international revolution still in gestation. Would it be possible to encourage the international revolution and, at the same time, defend the victorious revolution? In Brest-Litowski the knot was cut for the sake of defending and saving the victorious revolution.

Shortly afterwards, in August 1918, this orientation would be reiterated. Threatened by different oppositions and, in particular, by the alternative Reds on the Volga, and also by the landing of foreign troops in the North, South and Far East, the revolutionary government signed three secret agreements with Germany in Berlin. It pledged to pay indemnities and recognize the independence of the Baltic countries against the German promise not to invade Russia or support any alternative force to the Bolsheviks in Russian territory, which allowed the transfer of troops to crush the socialist government of the Komuch, installed in Samara .

The victory of the German revolution, in November 1918, seemed to renew the encounter between the international revolution and the Russian revolution. However, expectations that the German revolution would assume a socialist character soon faded. The Russian model would not be repeated. Likewise, other revolutionary experiences, in Hungary and Bavaria in 1919 and in northern Italy in 1920, were also quickly neutralized.

Would the Russian revolution remain isolated?

The year 1919 was critical for the Bolsheviks. Harassed by the white armies, coming from the South, Siberia and the Northwest, supported by the French and English, the revolutionary government was in peril. It was a year of total isolation. The foundation of the Communist International, in March 1919, was nothing more than a symbolic act, without effective results. At the same time, in the context of civil wars, the defense of socialism asserted itself as the defense of the socialist homeland, a slogan that mixed nationalism and internationalism in an expression that sounded strange, but had real content: the revolutionary government fought simultaneously for socialism, or that is, for the defeat of the whites, and for Russia, that is, against foreign invaders, whose strength, though magnified by propaganda, was real and threatening. Not a few, from different persuasions and orientations, grouped around the Red Army not exactly interested in socialism, but to save Russia (CARR, 1974, vol. 3; DROKOV, 1994; NEJINSKI, 1991).

In 1920, hopes of international revolution were briefly rekindled. The Polish government, encouraged and supported by the French, launched a military offensive in Ukraine in May. However, already in June, the Soviet counter-offensive brought Russian troops close to Warsaw.

The Soviet invasion of Poland raised another unforeseen question: was it possible to export a social revolution by arms? The Bolsheviks took the gamble... and lost. The result was the peace of Riga in March 1921, ending the conflict.

On the same occasion, in July 1920, the Second Congress of the International was held in Moscow. The euphoria with the victories of the Red Army in Poland soon cooled down. But hopes for an international revolution remained alive, now with no set deadline. To undertake it, the International was organized as a general staff, unified and centralized. The national communist parties would not be mere tentacles of an octopus located in Moscow, but incorporated methods of organization and revolutionary conceptions that would hardly escape Soviet hegemony. In its proclamations, the International asserted that Soviet Russia was the fundamental axis from which the international revolution would unfold. To defend it would be to defend the international revolution. A remarkable reversal. It was no longer the Russian revolution that depended on the international revolution, but the latter came to depend on the Soviet state.

A similar pattern would be resumed in relation to Asian peoples, considered colonial or semi-colonial. The issue was discussed by the International. On the one hand, V. Lenin defended the idea that in agrarian societies revolutions would occur under bourgeois hegemony, but, if there was an international revolution, countries in Asia and Africa could transition to socialism without going through capitalism. But MN Roy, Indian delegate maintained that communists should mainly support peasant struggles for land. Considering the ties between the local bourgeoisies, landlords and foreign capital, such struggles could acquire a socialist dynamic. As the dreams of an immediate revolution in Europe did not come true, the idea grew that revolutions in the East, weakening European imperialism, could be an encouragement.

Lenin's and Roy's theses were approved as non-incompatible. On September 1, 1920, the First East People's Congress was held in Baku. With the presence of almost two thousand delegates, coming from different countries, and under intense revolutionary fervor, a clear connection was established between the Russian revolution and the Asian revolutions.

However, as in Europe, the question arose very quickly: negotiating with nationalist but not socialist (or anti-socialist) governments or unreservedly encouraging peasant social movements? When these orientations were excluded, which allies would be considered preferred? It was not without anguish on the part of many Bolsheviks, nor without bitterness on the part of the Asian revolutionaries, that it was found that the nascent Soviet state would not hesitate to place its immediate interests as the decisive criterion for guiding its choices, even if the small communist parties that were then constituted following the Baku Congress. In the East, too, the debatable equation would be affirmed that the revolution in Asia depended more on the Soviet state than the other way around.

So that, in a very short time, an international revolution in purposes and hopes would become a national revolution, even if international perspectives were not abandoned. But they began to be instrumentalized according to the interests of the Soviet State, considered the touchstone of the revolutionary movement on a world scale.


The Metamorphoses of Soviet Socialism

The democratic revolutions in Russia (1905 and 1917) culminated in October 1917, inspired by a clear internationalist orientation. Despite the coup perpetrated by the Bolsheviks in Petrograd, the radical democratic and internationalist dynamic was much stronger than the pretensions of any political parties. Thus, the demands of the social movements that made the revolution were imposed, legally enshrined in October and November 1917.

However, insidious processes of various natures soon began to erode the democratic substance and internationalist aims of that revolution. At first, during the period we call the “interregnum” (October/1917/July/1918), amid debates and controversies, this substance and these purposes, already in decline, would still be maintained, facing, however, increasing difficulties.

But it was during the civil wars, with their demands and devastation, that a centralized and dictatorial political regime was built, liquidating democracy. The crushing of the Konstadt insurrection in March 1921 would consolidate the process. At the same time, the threats and isolation of the revolution led the revolutionary government, not without hesitation, to choose guidelines that privileged, first and foremost, national interests, the survival of the Soviet state. In the future, reforms of different orientations would not alter these historical foundations of Soviet socialism.

Thus, a democratic and international revolution turned into an authoritarian and nationalist revolution. And socialism, an internationalist and radically democratic project, adopted nationalist and authoritarian orientations, indelibly conditioning socialism in Russia and throughout the world throughout the XNUMXth century. Such metamorphoses originated and were consolidated throughout the civil wars which, for this very reason, can be considered the cradle and genesis of Soviet socialism.

*Daniel Aaron Reis is a professor of contemporary history at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF). Author, among other books, of The Revolution that Changed the World – Russia, 1917 (Company of Letters).

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ANWEILER, O. The Soviets: The Russian Workers', Peasants', and Soldiers Councils, 1905-1921, New York, 1974.

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BUTT, VP and alii. The Russian Civil War. Documents from the Soviet Archives, Macmillan Press, London, 1996.

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FIGES, O. Peasant Russia, Civil War: The Volga Countryside in Revolution (1917-1921), Clarendon Press, Oxford 1989.

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[I] Until January 1918, when there was a change of calendar, the dates will be recorded according to the Julian calendar in force in Russia (a thirteen-day delay in relation to the Gregorian calendar, adopted in Europe, its dependencies and colonies, and in the Americas).

[ii] For the emphasis on context and social movements, Cf.: SUNY, 1990.

[iii] Almost all socialist parties and groups withdrew from the Second Congress of Soviets, excluding themselves from elections to the Central Executive Committee/CEC and the CCP. Among others, the SRs of the right and the Mensheviks, of the right and left (AARÃO REIS, 2021). For the Socialist-Revolutionaries (BAYNAC, 1979). For the Mensheviks, cf. BROVKIN, 1987, COHEN, 1990.

[iv] In Russian: демократия/democracy. Several Bolshevik leaders, in protest against the end of negotiations for a plural socialist government, resigned from the government and from the Central Committee of the Party, among others V. Nogin, A. Rykov, V. Miliutin, Y. Larin, A. Shliapnikov (BUNYAN and FISHER, p. 202.) Later, however, they reincorporated.

[v] The left-wing SRs maintained hegemony in the Peasant Section of the CEC throughout the interregnum.

[vi] The Bolsheviks themselves also doubted the survival of the revolutionary government if an international revolution did not break out in Europe, particularly in Germany. The same skepticism, with other motivations and interests, would be cultivated by the right in Russia and in the main capitalist countries. Elections were held between November 12 and 14, 1917. Voting was universal, equal, secret and direct. Men, women and soldiers could vote from the age of 20 (soldiers from 18). The distribution of seats obeyed the proportional system and the vote was given to the parties (closed list). Cf. ANWEILER, 1974, p. 261, note 1.

[vii] Decree of December 16, 1917. Among other measures, it determined the election of soldiers' committees and the abolition of degrees, titles, greetings and decorations, leveling uniformed men as “soldiers of the revolutionary army” (WADE, 1991, p. 68 ).

[viii] The II Congress of Peasant Deputies, attended by 800 delegates, took place between November 26th and December 12th, 1917. The majority sided with the left SRs. Cf. BUNYAN and FISHER, p. 209 et seq.

[ix] A day earlier, the state monopoly on the production of agricultural machinery and implements was established. Cf. BUNYAN and FISHER, 1934, p. 336.

[X] Decree signed on December 25, 1917, dealing with the “rights and duties” of Soviet organizations, determined that revolutionary military committees would be abolished and local soviets obliged to obey laws and decrees of central or superior institutions. Cf. BUNYAN and FISHER, 1934, p. 280.

[xi] The representativeness of the Assembly was also questioned, and rightly so, since the lists defined by the parties, in particular the list of the SRs, did not reflect the change in the correlation of forces registered since the Kornilov coup, at the end of August 1917. The Assembly closed at dawn on January 6, 1918, at the close of its first and only session. (BUNYAN and FISHER, 1934, Chap. VII)

[xii] Decree of June 9, 1918. Cf. FOOTMAN, 1961, p. 141

[xiii] Of the approximately 130 officers in the Tsarist army, around 40 served or were coerced into serving in the new army, assisted and controlled by political commissars. At the beginning of the civil wars they were about ¾ of the officers, reducing to 1/3 by the end of 1921. (CHAMBERLIN, 1935, vol. 2, p. 32)

[xiv] For the oath, cf. BUNYAN and FISHER, 1934, pp 568 et seq.

[xv] During the debates concerning the Brest-Litovski peace, the Bolsheviks who opposed the terms of the treaty constituted a left current, advocating, like the left SRs, the “revolutionary war”, an armed resistance that could take the form of war of guerrillas. Cf. CARR, 1974, vol. 3, chap. 21

[xvi] At the VII Party Congress, in March 1918, the 46 delegates limited themselves to expressing, and in a narrow way, the “old guard”. The “October harvest”, as Lenin referred to new recruits, was not even consulted. Cf. R. Service, 1985, vol. 2, pp 326-335.

[xvii] Since December 4, 1917, Sovnarkom had issued an ultimatum to the Ukrainians, followed by the invasion of the country by military units under Bolshevik command. Cf. MAWDSLAY, 2008, pp 16 et seq. The decrees were issued respectively on May 13 and June 11, 1918.

[xviii] Cf. RABINOVITCH, 2007, part III, pp 213-309. The author characterizes the action of left-wing SRs as “political suicide”.

[xx] For the civil wars, cf. BUBNOV, 1928-1930; BUTT and alii, 1996; FIGES, 1989; KAKURIN, 1925-1926; MAWDSLEY, 1987; YAKOVLEV, 2018

[xx] There were 13 Cossack regions on the borders of the Tsarist Empire, with relative autonomy and the ability to elect their own chiefs, the atamans. The largest was on the Don. The others spread out, in border regions, to the extreme east of the Empire. Cf. CARR, 1974, pp. 321 et seq.

[xxx] This is not to underestimate the relevance of guerrillas. green, in particular the largest of them, led by A. Antonov in the province of Tambov, between 1920 and 1922. Just to point out that, contrary to the other conflicts mentioned above, and despite their relative strength, they never had the perspective of placing themselves as power alternatives. For the insurrection led by A. Antonov, cf. LANDIS, 2008 and DANILOV and SHANIN, 1994.

[xxiii] Since the French Revolution, the color white has been associated with royalty and, in general, with the counterrevolution.

[xxiii] It should be noted that Bolsheviks and whites invested heavily in a memory that favored the polarization in which they were protagonists. With that, they intended to hide the reality and relevance of the other wars, setting themselves up as the only contenders, a proposition that does not withstand the analysis of the evidence.

[xxv] According to official data, there were 245 peasant uprisings against Bolshevik power in the summer of 1918. In 1919 entire regions came under the control of armed peasant movements. Cf. WERTH, 1992, p. 162.

[xxiv] The so-called Czech Legion consisted of about 30 armed men. Of Czech and Slovak nationality, they fought with the Russians against the Austrians. After the peace of Brest-Litowski, his departure to France was negotiated through the Trans-Siberian. However, on the way, conflicts with local soviets provoked the Czechs to rebel. Further negotiations allowed them to continue on their way to Vladivostok, where they embarked for France. Cf. CHAMBERLIN, 1935, vol.2, pp 1-24; and MAWDSLEY, 1987, p. 46-49.

[xxv] The British landed south of the Caucasus and also north, at Murmansk, in March 1918 and, with French support, at Arkhangelsk. In the Far East, in Vladivostok, about 70 Japanese soldiers and a small US army landed, but they did not play a relevant military role in the civil wars. For foreign interventions, cf. CARR, 1974 vol. 3, caps. 21-26, 1974; ACTON and alii, pp 659-656; and NEJINSKI, 1991.

[xxviii] In France and England there were protests and strikes against the intervention in Russia. Another factor that contributed to the withdrawal, in addition to the military defeat of the whites, was the difficulty, between the powers, of understanding each other regarding the future of Russia.

[xxviii] The white armies wanted to reach Moscow, which had become the capital of the country of the soviets, just after Brest-Litovski, on March 12, 1918. In the context of the counteroffensive that would defeat A. Kolchak, he was arrested and shot in February 1920. regarding A. Kolchak, cf. DROKOV, 1994.

[xxix] For the study of anarchist participation in the period of civil wars, cf. VERSTIUK, 1991 and VOLIN, 1969.

[xxx] In March 1919, the Bolsheviks encouraged the formation of a new International, the Communist International, or Third International, in opposition to the Socialist International. Founded in Moscow in March of that year, it held its second congress in that same city in July 1920. However, apart from proclamations, its role in the civil wars was irrelevant.

[xxxii] In November 1918, the German revolution overthrew the Kaiser and proclaimed the Republic, constituting a government formed by the different wings of social democracy.

[xxxi] The orientation would be approved by the Third Congress of Soviets, held in January 1918, cf. BUNYAN and FISHER, p. 394

[xxxii] Although the statistics were uncertain, there is a consensus that non-Russian nations made up about 50% of the population of the Tsarist Empire. With the exception of Ukraine, more populous (about 38 million inhabitants compared to 78 million Russians) and the smaller Belarus (about five million inhabitants), the

[xxxv] The proposal of exporting the revolution was defended by V. Lenin, against the opinion of L. Trotsky and I. Stalin, among others. The idea would be implemented years later, in the final part of World War II, when the Soviet armies occupied almost all of Central Europe, exporting the Soviet model, imposed on the people who lived there. For the Russo-Polish war, cf. CARR, 1974 vol. 3.

[xxxiv] For studies on the Kronstadt revolution, cf. AARÃO REIS, 2017; AVRICH, 1975; WERTH, 1992; NAUMOV and KOSAKOVSKII, 1997.

[xxxiv] Cf. STEINBERG, 2016 and VOLIN, 1969 For the complex relationships between Bolsheviks and other socialist alternatives, cf. SERGE, 2001.

[xxxviii] Cf. CARR, 1973 vol. 2, p. 159 et seq. The

[xxxviii] At the IX Congress of the Bolshevik Party and at the Eighth Congress of Soviets, in 1920, coercion would be admitted as “inevitable”. At the Congress of Soviets, Lenin went so far as to say that “our fundamental mission is to try to impose state pressure to increase production in the countryside”. Cf. CARR, 1973, p. 182 et seq.

[xxxix] Not to forget that the whites, where they could, not only did not recognize the achievements of the agrarian revolution, but also expropriated what they could from peasant families.

[xl] It should be noted that, even before the October 1917 revolution, the so-called war effort had imposed a high level of centralized management of transport and industrial production.

[xi] In general, engineers or technicians, if not former owners of the companies. Among the unions, dissatisfaction was rife with the recommendations of “absolute submission” and “unconditional and strict unity of the will that directs work”. Cf. CARR, 1973, p. 188. The debate over specialists was also expressed in the army, where the so-called military opposition questioned the pre-eminence of ex-commissioned officers in the tsarist army to the detriment of revolutionary soldiers, sailors or non-commissioned officers.

[xliii] The so-called Democratic Centralism tendency came to articulate an opposition that was largely defeated in the IX Congress, in March 1920.

[xiii] The Workers' Opposition was formed, a minority tendency, but which was partially successful in preventing the approval of the policy of militarization of work.

[xiv] As early as March 1918, on the occasion of the Seventh Congress of the Bolshevik Party, the subject was raised. 48 Cf. CARR, 1973p. 206. The great migration of the most combative labor activists to political and trade union leadership posts and to the Red Army is also noteworthy. 49 The White Terror would claim an equivalent number of victims.

[xlv]The X Party Congress, while approving the first references that would later become known as the NEP, took drastic decisions towards party centralization (the prohibition of factions and internal tendencies) and political dictatorship.

[xlv] There are controversies regarding V. Lenin's position: would the NEP be a retreat or a tactical expedient? or the wording in nuce of a new strategy? Cf. LEWIN, 2007. Be that as it may, it is undeniable that the perspective of the NEP as a temporary retreat has always been very popular among party militants.

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